Family lawyers are once again preparing for what they predict will be a ‘spike’ in divorce filings as more relationships are expected to hit the rocks in January. January is well established as the landmark month for divorce filings to spike, with the first full working day now coined as ‘D Day’. Divorce tends to spike at pivotal points in the family calendar, such as Christmas, which can be the inevitable melting pot for the increase in tensions and the magnifier of disputes. 

Financial pressure is known to be one of the biggest catalysts for relationship breakdown. So, it’s no surprise that the crippling cocktail of soaring energy, food and household bills, inflation and looming recission has led to a record spike in divorce filings and inquiries. Financial uncertainty and hardship creates fear, anxiety and inevitable tension and conflict as couples clash over budget priorities, debt management and spending patterns. Let alone the unthinkable prospect of unemployment. Even the healthiest of relationships are going through the mill right now and, sadly, the situation looks set to get worse before it gets better.  

It’s a sad fact that, when we do spend quality time with our partners, any cracks will start to show up. We don’t have the common distractions of daily routine, so we have more time to focus on the relationship. If the foundations are already rocky then holidays have a way of holding a mirror up to the relationship and it could well mean make or break time. 

The good news is that, if you are aware of these pitfalls, there are things you can do to help your relationship survive. Please be reassured that you are not alone and there are steps you can take now to help get things back on track. Being aware of the common triggers can help you to manage tensions ahead and help your relationship survive over the next few months. While the financial crisis is frightening, it is important to take care of the relationship that you share by facing the challenges together, as a partnership, as allies. My advice is:

  1. Don’t let problems fester                                                                                                                     

I’ve yet to meet a spouse who can read minds, but I’ve met so many people who expect their partner to just know what they need. I’ve also seen many people push away their own needs as a way to feel invulnerable. If there are issues or needs you have that aren’t being met, then raise these in advance with your partner and work together to try and sort them out before it gets to boiling point and irreparable damage is done.

  1. Take stock of finances and agree a plan  

Money is one of the biggest causes of arguments and with so much economic uncertainty, these pressures can lead to chronic stress and conflict. How (and when) you spend it, save it or make it can easily trigger tension in a marriage. Money impacts lifestyles and security and this can be frightening as it causes a lot of uncertainty. Where couples have fundamentally different risk profiles to money this can be extremely tricky to navigate. Talk honestly and openly about your finances and map out a worst-case scenario so you both know what the difficulties and expectations are. Agree budgets in advance and to stick to them, especially around big events like Christmas where financial pressures will be even more difficult to manage. Remember that help is available if you’re struggling – there are some fantastic organisations who can support you in different ways, from managing debt, to advice on benefits. Think of the crisis as a problem you are battling together, once you’re on the same page, you can work together to find a way through this. 

  1. Take some time to reappraise your personal relationship with money 

Whilst you are a couple, you are also individuals within that relationship and have your own personal relationship with money. Perhaps you’re a spender, or a shrewd saver? Very often couples counterbalance each other on these roles. Take some time to think about where you stand and how you can better that or support your partner with their needs. Once you have a greater understanding of your patterns, it can help you balance your individual behaviours and align towards your shared goal. 

  1. Keep the communication lines open 

When stress goes up, communication often goes down. Find a way that works for you both and remember that you will both have different methods of communicating how you feel. Sticking your head in the sand isn’t a great way to deal with issues and it’s always best to nip them in the bud right away. However, it’s never too late to start communicating better with your partner. Be kind, respectful and empathetic towards each other and you will find that your relationship can overcome many obstacles.

  1. Cut them some slack 

Understand that loved ones will be much more stressed than usual and give them a bit more allowance for this. Letting your partner know you are there for them and you have their back can make a world of difference. 

  1. Create your inner sanctuary 

We all need our own personal space and calving this out has never been more important. Whether you’re a couple or a family of five, find some time to think about and discuss your needs with your partner and how you can support each other to prioritise each other’s needs. It might be a candlelit bath, holing yourself up with a boxset or even waking early at 5am and downloading a meditation – taking some time out for personal space and self-care is essential and healthy. 

  1. Avoid overindulging in alcohol 

Having a glass of wine may help to take the edge of your worry right now, but if your drinking has increased significantly this will have a negative effect on your mood and ability to make good decisions. Overindulgence can shorten fuses and surface simmering arguments increasing the strain and potentially bringing you to breaking point. 

  1. Kindness is king  

This may sound basic but it’s a fundamental foundation and one to keep reminding yourself of when tensions mount. Make an agreement now to keep being kind to one another – whether you’re a couple or a family – and create a safe space for each other to express any concerns without blame or repercussions so you can work together to tackle and dissolve any issues, tensions or concerns. A safe space might just mean agreeing not to get angry or frustrated with each other while you have these discussions.

  1. Keep the love alive 

Remember that everyone is having a tough time and love and romance is never more important during times like this. Again – keep kindness in mind and find small ways to show your affection and love for each other.  It might be breakfast in bed, or a romantic dinner when the kids are in bed – but create a romantic space to spend quality time together and enjoy each other away from daily chores or worries.

  1. Keep On Moving 

Not only is exercise a great way to release stress and get the endorphins pumping so we feel good, it also improves our ability to sleep which reduces stress. 

  1. Actions speak louder than words

Being the change you want to see in your partner can be the most effective way to bring them around. You may find they reciprocate and make more effort with you without you actually having to ask them.