Number of couples filing for divorce peaks at the end of the summer says top lawyer
Will your marriage make it through that long-awaited trip? The end of this season is when divorces peak, explains lawyer Ayesha Vardag
When it comes to holidays, most people spend all year longing for quality time with their loved ones. A few languorous weeks in the sun will be the perfect chance to 'get away from it all'; to leave the stresses of work and routine behind; to focus on your relationships - whether on an intimate couples' getaway, complete with toe-curling PDAs à la Sting and Trudie Styler, or a wholesome, screen-free adventure for all the family.
Yet, all too often, that long-awaited summer holiday can turn into torturous weeks of sun, sea and strife. We've all heard about the post-Christmas divorce rush but, actually, it is the end of the summer holidays where divorces really peak.
In Ireland, we don't get a monthly breakdown of when couples split, but studies in the US show that August is the highest point for divorce petitions. British relationship charity Relate reported a 20pc spike in calls last September, compared to an average month, and my own experience as a divorce lawyer echoes this, with more enquiries coming into our law firm in October alone than the entire first quarter of the year.
People in struggling relationships often put a lot of pressure on their holidays - a golden opportunity to enjoy each other's company away from the stresses and strains of ordinary life. Sadly, for many couples, it ends up as the moment they realise it is those strains that have been masking deeper flaws in their marriage.
Two weeks in each other's company can often become the exact opposite of the tonic people expect. Rather than bringing families together, it can highlight how far apart they have grown. Whether it is because one person cannot be separated from their work phone, disagreements over how to look after the children, or over-indulgence in alcohol, holidays often reveal whether couples really are working together or not.
As a lawyer, my autumn is often filled with people whose holidays didn't just fail to live up to their expectations, but exposed much deeper fault lines in their marriage.
Sometimes the blow-up can be dramatic. One wife arrived at our London office fresh from the Eurostar. She and her husband had gone for a romantic break in Paris, but when a small row about how much she was spending down the Champs-Élysées escalated, she realised she could no longer cope with his controlling behaviour. She walked away from their lunch and jumped on a train straight back home. She had filed her divorce petition before the day had ended.
On other occasions, the holiday marks the end of a far slower slide to separation. One husband who came to see us was constantly frustrated by his wife being distracted by work. He'd planned an exotic holiday for the whole family - two weeks on an exquisite Caribbean island with minimal phone reception and only the patchiest of Wi-Fi. When his wife chartered a boat to get her to somewhere with better signal to check her emails, he realised he'd had enough of her workaholic obsession and left her to continue her relationship with her smartphone in peace.
Of course, it is not just family holidays that create problems for relationships. Where spouses have strayed, the other woman or man often wants their share of time in the sun. Once upon a time it was easy - a convenient "business trip" could crop up and provide the perfect cover. But such subterfuge is harder in our technologically advanced times.
One philanderer came to see us after being caught out by his holiday snaps. When his smartphone synced to the family account, his latest photos showed that rather than being at a dull business conference, he was lying on a beach with a lady who was definitely not his wife. Another was rumbled when his wife checked the family bank account and saw the bills that her husband's mistress had run up on designer bikinis.
These stories may sound amusing to many, but each one represents the sad end to a relationship. Often couples have worked very hard to keep things going and have pinned their hopes on a big summer getaway to finally take them back to a better place.
Instead, they find that the pressure of keeping children entertained whilst trying to find time to relax only creates even more tension. Combined with being cooped up in the close quarters of a hotel or holiday let, those tensions can easily explode into the end of a marriage.
When you can't even enjoy a holiday with your spouse, it can highlight that your busy and separate lives back in the real world are not just the consequences of hectic calendars, but distractions you have both built up to avoid dealing with the reality of a failing relationship.
It's a trend that is mirrored in the celebrity world. While their summer breaks might be more glamorous than a week in Dingle, many do still try to take time off from their busy, jet-setting schedules for a couples' holiday. The results are similar to those of us mere mortals. Last July, Drew Barrymore's marriage to Will Kopelman fell apart, as did Mary J Blige's 12-year marriage. Even super-couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie fell prey to the summer curse, separating after a fight on a flight in September last year.
It might sound like 2016 was just a bad year all round, but it's no anomaly. The previous summer saw the end of just as many high-profile couples. Gwen Stefani ended her marriage to Gavin Rossdale in August 2015, just weeks after being pictured celebrating July 4th as a family, while Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner split that June. 2017 seems to be following a similar pattern - earlier this week, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announced their separation after eight years.
There is a lesson from all of this we can take - namely, about the gap between expectations and reality. Summer escapes can never be the cure for floundering marriages. Our relationships need to work on a day by day basis, rather than limping along in the hope of a summertime shot in the arm. The family break is rarely the idyll we hope for - what with delayed flights, unruly children and nowhere to escape. If you are going to make a marriage that works, it is vital to cherish the ordinary days together instead of praying that two weeks away will cure all ills.
And if you do go on a summer holiday and find it a real challenge, perhaps it is time to accept that your relationship needs a more drastic form of rehab before you spend another summer arguing with your partner over paella.
Summer of love - how to make it work
Disconnect to reconnect: With Wi-Fi, holidays can easily become a case of different scenes, same old screens. Compulsively checking work email will wind yourself up, as well as your partner; Instagram and Facebook updates can wait until you get home.
Plan proper time with the children: Quality family time will only be quality if you put some thought into it. Find something that all your tribe will enjoy, or take turns to choose activities.
...and without them: Make sure you spend some time, be it an afternoon, evening or week, kid-free. That reminder of why you fell in love with your spouse - be it via wakeboarding or Wagner - can do wonders for a relationship.
Indulge yourself: Family holidays can often feel like a working holiday, not least on a villa break, when you bring arguments over cooking/cleaning/washing up with you from home. Plotting in some mandatory beach/reading/relaxing time will ensure you still leave recharged.
...but don't over indulge: Nothing sours a family holiday like one member regularly getting well and truly sloshed. The worst relationship bust-ups always involve alcohol, so think twice before accepting the waiter's offer of another bottle.