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Why do divorce rates skyrocket at Christmas?

By Jasper Vardag-Hunter -

Winter is coming, so brace yourself for the season-to-be-jolly and all that it implies. Tensions inevitably rise as events are organised, holidays arduously arranged, and of course vast sums of money lavishly spent because, hey, it’s Christmas. I’m sure we’ve all observed our parents fretting to and fro, our mothers clucking anxiously like festive chickens and our fathers removing handfuls of greying hair like frantic and exhausted roosters as they confront the bills, or vice versa. This fleeting (but nonetheless remarkably damaging) period of merriment and celebration is actually, believe it or not, the time of the year with the greatest number of divorces, according to government statistics. Behind the portly man in red and the exuberant holiday spirit lies a simmering cauldron of conflicts and pressures, that can boil over into the Christmas cataclysm. So why is Christmas such a stressful time? How much strain could one holiday bring?

Let’s assess the various factors that Christmas can introduce. First and foremost is the fact that Christmas is a holiday, which means that some people joyfully take off their work hats and leave the office, racing home for two weeks of blissful liberty, only to realise, to their astonishment and dismay, that they can’t actually stand the person they’re with. It’s an unavoidable fact of human nature that anyone will end up hating anyone if they’re with them for too long; cabin fever just seeps in and you need a break (did you ever see The Shining?).

Secondly I suppose it follows that the impact of visiting relatives can drastically augment stress levels – if you decide you don’t like your wife then you definitely don’t want to be dumped with her mum, who essentially represents a more shrivelled and cantankerous vulture-version of her – the terrifying and wrinkly vision of a dismal Christmas Future.

Then there are the hideous expenses: all that hosting parties, going on holiday, purchasing presents etc. cuts enormous swathes through your meticulously accumulated finances. A couple of swigs of eggnog and a misplaced sense of giddy Christmas invincibility and the money’s all but gone the next day. Still, the kids said that they just wouldn’t be happy without their ludicrously expensive superconducting BB laser cannon that can also perform open heart surgery whilst simultaneously updating their Twitter, and the whole “you don’t need toys, play with your imagination” thing just wouldn’t cut it. Financial strain seamlessly connects to domestic tension, and so the statistical spike in divorces really is unsurprising.

Disappointing presents might also aggravate an already sensitive family climate. Many of us have seen the scene from Love Actually where the wife receives a CD instead of the dazzling gold necklace she’d found in her husband’s pocket the day before. It could be the tiny spark to the enormous powder keg and ought never to be underestimated.

Of course, there are so many other ways that Christmas can injure a marriage – the fact that it’s dark and chilly can constitute an oppressively gloomy atmosphere, the copious amounts of alcohol (everyone does it… I don’t have a problem, right?) can also exacerbate existing tensions, and the occasional misdemeanour or tipsy indiscretion at the office party with the Christmas Mistress – any of these might well contribute to the overall feeling of suffocating despair and irascibility cultivated so finely by this most charming and hallowed of holidays.

I think the final nail in the coffin is simply the fact that Christmas will strive so very hard to be Christmas. By this I mean that the expectations are so high, and the Disney image of the idyllic sing-along family around the fire so gooey, that it all just becomes too much. Our expectations are forcibly elevated, and a constant paralytic fear of failure runs rife. We are simply more likely to feel dissatisfied. We have this fluffy occasion inflicted on us and everyone is compelled to be happy. It’s exceedingly coercive; in fact, if you’re not happy at Christmas then you must not be a very happy person at all, and so maybe you should divorce your partner and get a haircut and radically reform your languishing lifestyle etc. Happy Christmas, one and all!

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Jasper Vardag-Hunter

Jasper Vardag-Hunter is a Vardags Ambassador and undergraduate at the University of Cambridge. He specialises in identifying and recruiting talented students...