It’s the third day of Christmas, and we’ve hit the middle of the week in which it’s traditional to look at one’s true love, think “actually, I’m not sure you’re my true love at all” and apply for a decree nisi. Last year one legal firm predicted a 332% rise in divorce inquiries in January, compared with the preceding four months, with hundreds of thousands of people apparently gritting their teeth through Christmas and new year, in order to make it to the first working day of January, nicknamed “divorce day”, before ending their marriage.
This is a desperately sad state of affairs, but it makes sense. As we reach the end of the old year and prepare for a fresh start, it’s natural to take stock, assess the areas of our lives that aren’t working and vow to make dramatic changes. Everyone who has ever read a magazine is familiar with the cliched “new year, new you”. It’s much easier to reinvent yourself when you’re no longer with the person who is familiar with your flatulence and pillow drool. Perhaps more significantly, festive celebrations tend to put your relationship in the spotlight, and its glare is often unforgiving.
Throughout December, the emotional advertising is relentless. We see thousands of images of idealised romantic love, expressed through the giving of diamonds. We don’t always stop to ask why these couples are almost always white, heterosexual and wearing improbably well-laundered satin dressing gowns. Instead, a nugget of dissatisfaction lodges in our subconscious, and grows and irritates until we’re in front of the Queen’s speech, anxious and tearful, with a partially unwrapped Kärcher steam cleaner at our feet.
In Christmas advertising, women – always the first in advert land to be forced behind the sink, frowning thoughtfully at a plate of congealed gravy – are expected to become an unlikely combination of Nigella and Jesus, capable of feeding 5,000 people while looking hotter than a fresh batch of roast potatoes. Advertising is designed to make us dissatisfied, desperate to replace our cars, appliances and shampoo. Because Christmas advertising is especially emotive and family focused, it arguably helps plant the seed that makes us think about replacing our partners too.
In-laws are another major factor in the swirl of marital and romantic dissatisfaction. Most of us don’t spend the Christmas period sequestered in a love nest, our spouse topping up our champagne glass and fetching a freshly laundered robe for us each day. We’re with our families, and their families, and when you’ve been chatting to your partner’s sister for half an hour, taking deep breaths as she interrupts your every reply with “yup yup yup … yeah”, or you’ve been struggling to weather their mum’s passive aggression as she lays disdainful eyes on your tray of pigs in blankets, there is no one in the world you wouldn’t divorce. How can you possibly stay with your partner when their family is so terrible? The very least they could do is take your side, and loudly talk about disowning all their relatives. But there’s another way of looking at this. The flaws of our in-laws should be what force us to take stock and appreciate how miraculous it is that our partner turned out the way they did.
The truth is, while Christmas has become associated with romance for some – it’s apparently a popular time for a proposal – this period is, in fact, a relationship assault course. It’s a chance to be with our loved ones, and tell them how much they mean to us, but it’s also filled with seemingly infinite obstacles. We’re under pressure to perform perfectly, and when we’re exhausting ourselves to make sure everyone has a nice time, we need our partners to make us feel loved and appreciated. However, they’re working equally hard and waiting for us to present them with the pony/puppy/ticket to a tropical island that will make them feel they are loved as much as they love us. No one wins, apart from the in-laws, who eat all the cheese and Celebrations.
No one should have to stay in a relationship that makes them unhappy, and in some instances ending a relationship is the very best way to begin the new year. But I think we need to be more honest about the fact that Christmas is hard, and it’s normal to spend at least part of it hating your partner. The way you feel about each other at the end of December might not accurately reflect your relationship during the rest of the year. If you’re still talking to each other at this point, it’s probably worth seeing how January goes before you get serious about serving papers.