Will your marriage survive a holiday?
That long-awaited summer trip is more likely to end in divorce than the post-christmas period, explains lawyer Ayesha Vardag
Why your summer trip could be a fast track to divorce
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 longawaited summer holiday can turn into torturous weeks of sun, sea and strife. We’ve all heard about the postchristmas divorce rush, but actually, it is the end of the summer holidays where divorces really peak.
In the UK, 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.
Relate, the relationship charity, reported a 20 per cent spike in calls last September, compared with an average month, and my own experience 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 that they realise it is those strains and distractions 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 overindulgence in alcohol, holidays often reveal whether couples really are working together or not.
As a divorce 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 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 to London. 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 find somewhere with a better signal to check her emails, he realised that 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. And another was rumbled when his wife checked the family bank account and saw the bills that her husband’s mistress had run up on very expensive 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 while trying to find time to relax only creates 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 work, social and family calendars, but distractions you have both built up to avoid dealing with the reality of a failing relationship.
Being forced into each other’s company by the summer break can make it plain that couples are missing out on love and affection not because extraneous forces are coming between them, but because that love just isn’t there any more. One client once tearfully confessed: “I just couldn’t wait to get back to work,” as he felt so awkward around his wife.
It’s a trend that is mirrored in the celebrity world. While their summer breaks might be more glamorous, 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 union. Even Hollywood 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 demise of just as many high-profile couples. Gwen Stefani ended her marriage to Gavin Rossdale in August 2015, just weeks after being pictured celebrating the Fourth of July as a family, while Ben
Affleck and Jennifer Garner parted ways that June. Even Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy fell foul of the summer split, announcing their divorce in August of that year.
There is a lesson from all of this that 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 over paella.
Breaking up for summer: a getaway can be an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, like Sting and Trudie Styler, bottom, but it can also expose flaws in a relationship, says divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag, below
Celebrity splits: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, above, and Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, below, fell foul of the summer split in 2015