So, you’re back from summer vacation; you’ve returned to work, and the kids are back in school? Well, beware: you might be headed for a divorce! It’s true – new research finds that divorces tend to rise following vacations.
This study, from the University of Washington, discovered that divorce is seasonal during the periods following both winter and summer vacations. That suggests divorce might be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar that governs family behavior. And more specifically, that vacations may exacerbate underlying tensions and conflict for couples.
The study was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association by researchers Julie Brines and Brian Serafini. According to a summary of the research, they found divorce consistently peaks during the months of August and March – times that follow winter and summer holidays.
In the research summary, Brines reported that troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships; and they might believe that if they have a happy time “away from it all,” then everything will be fixed and their lives will improve.
But in reality, those vacation periods and time off can be both emotionally charged and stressful for many. And, that may expose cracks in a marriage. That is, the researchers point out that seasonal nature of divorce filings may reflect the disillusionment unhappy spouses experience afterwards — when vacation time doesn’t live up to their high expectation.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” says Brines. “They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense. They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture,” she adds.
When that doesn’t pan out as hoped, some couples may make a conscious decision to file for divorce in August – following the family vacation, and before the kids start back at school.
Similarly, the researchers found that divorce also spikes in March, a few months after the winter holidays. Brines suggests that the same issues may be involved during both peak periods – like finances, finding an attorney, taking the actual steps leading to divorce – but it may be that the start of the school year hastens decisions for couples with children in August.
The researchers began by looking at divorce rates throughout the state of Washington, and considered multiple factors that might play a role, such as current economic and employment issues. But even accounting to those possible issues, they found the same pattern: heightened filings emerging in March and August. “It was very robust from year to year, and very robust across counties,” Brines says.
The researchers hypothesized that if the pattern was tied to family holidays, other court actions involving families – such as guardianship rulings – should show a similar trend. And that proved correct.
Future research will examine if the trends noticed in Washington also apply to other states. Brines and Serafini have already analyzed data for Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona . Those states that have similar laws to Washington but have different demographics and economic conditions.
The upshot of this study, in my view? Pay attention to your relationship throughout the year, and deal with whatever issues are brewing along the way. Don’t wait for vacation time to heal any conflicts. When you return you might conclude that your relationship is already beyond repair.