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By Kylie Kaden   

Another year over, a new one just begun… 

January: it’s the month of resolutions, gym memberships, and new beginnings.  

But in the wake of all that Christmas merriment, glitter and lights, (and lots of family togetherness) all of us can feel a little flat and exhausted come the new year. But once the fairy dust settles and the last light is snuffed out, often it’s also the time of year we have a good hard look at our lives. And for many, they find themselves wanting. Wanting – a new job? A new kitchen? A new dress- size?  

While some vow to quit bad habits in the new year, others make plans to quit their partner.  

Here’s how it might start. They hear a fuzzy recording of an old Christmas favourite, remember dancing to it in the first flush of love, and think now it just sounds schmaltzy. They discover, when they actually spend more than a few hours together at a time, they no longer have anything in common.  They might even go as far as realising they’d rather poke sticks in their eyes than put on this charade again for another year. These common January scenarios can push those high festive season emotions to breaking point.    

In fact, many divorce lawyers worldwide consider January divorce month.  

Yep. It has its own season.  

Whether the surge in couples presenting with problems after Christmas is simply a backlog of cases (a hangover of families wanting to give the kids ‘one last Christmas’ before the split), the stress of the holidays incubating relationship-ending fights, or purely a return to reality after sugar coating problems, no one can be sure.  

But what is certain, is the rise in phone enquiries, internet searches about separating, lodged applications for divorce and appointments scheduled at family lawyers swells by about a third, each January.   

Lawyers who have consoled hundreds of struggling couples in their armchairs say there are several common signs of relationships on the precipice of a permanent split: 

  • Money – they fight over finances. If a spouse is hiding money or spending it crazily on personal items without discussing it first, it can lead to more serious troubles; resentment, anger and broken trust. Rising debt also increases anxiety and pressure on the main breadwinner, and can make individuals feel the need to ‘keep score’ on who brings what to a relationship instead of viewing themselves as a team.   
  • Communication – they stop talking. Work and family commitments can reduce time spent together to the point that they simply don’t share their concerns, let alone talk them through to a satisfactory resolution. Once intimacy is lost, they may start resenting their partners attempts to express emotion as they have their own issues to deal with, or simply stop caring and become indifferent. After months or years, these patterns of communication can become entrenched. Individuals may find themselves withdrawing from one another and either break-down emotionally, or seek support outside the marriage. 
  • Fulfillment – Marriage just doesn’t look and feel the way one or both partners expected it to. In many cases, it is the change of dynamic once young children are on the scene that can feed these ideas of expectations not being met. When one parent feels the pressure of being the sole breadwinner while the other stays home with the daily stress of raising the kids and managing a household, it is easy for both partners to find it harder to empathise with where the other is coming from.   

Even with these signs of relationships under strain, it is important to accept that divorce can be expensive, both emotionally and financially (costing as much as wedding, potentially) and shouldn’t be a rushed decision based on a bad month or seasonal slump.   

The good news is, not all of these separation enquiries end in divorce, and once the saturated stress levels of the holidays simmer down, some stick it out. Perhaps we all need to accept a little low-point after the (unrealistic?) expectations of the festive season, and that every calendar year, as with every marriage, has boring patches, stressful periods and times of contentment.     

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, divorce rates in Australia are lower than they were twenty years ago. (This may be a result of couples choosing to cohabitate instead of tying the knot formally, but a positive trend nonetheless).  

Perhaps in future years, we could aim for an increase in romantic gestures, couple therapy, date nights and selflessness in the first month of the year, and coin the term ‘Prioritising marriage January’?  

Or perhaps someone has been sniffing a bit too much fairy dust…    

By Kylie Kaden 

Novelist Kylie Kaden is the mother of three spirited boys, and first to admit that despite having an honours degree in psychology, the wheels fall off at her place on a daily basis.  

Read more here 

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