Those in the divorce industry will tell you that January is the start of divorce season, meaning the number of divorce filings spikes after the first and through the end of March or April. Why is that? And what do you do if your spouse just said, “Honey, I want a divorce?” Answers to these questions can be found in my Love Essentially column, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press.
Ringing In The New Year Means Taking Off The Ring For Some by Jackie Pilossoph for Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press
The new year means so many different things to people. Some celebrate with Champagne and parties, others say good riddance to the prior year, and of course, most people implement resolutions, which – let’s be honest – have probably already gone by the wayside. But for some, ringing in the new year means taking off a very significant piece of jewelry – a wedding ring.
Known as “Divorce Month” to those who work in the divorce industry, January has been known to produce a spike in new divorce cases.
“I don’t have the statistics, but I would estimate that there are twice as many divorces filed in January than every other month,” said Daniel Stefani, a Chicago-based divorce attorney who has been in practice for 22 years. “This past week alone, I think I’ve taken on six new clients.”
Stefani said he attributes the uptick to clients feeling like this time of year makes sense psychologically.
“Typically what I’ve seen is one spouse is more unhappy than the other, but because of the kids they want to get through the holidays,” he said. “The new year is a logical time for them. It’s a new beginning.”
So what happens after one or both people take off the ring and decide the marriage is over? According to a reader who emailed me a few days ago, confusion and numbness:
“My husband told me New Year’s Day he was done, and moved out last Sunday,” this reader wrote. “I knew things hadn’t been perfect for awhile but had no idea it was to this point. We’ve been married 21 years and have 4 kids together. I am totally confused and numb. So many things to figure out and I have no idea where to start.”
Having gone through a divorce personally, I can agree firsthand that being confused, feeling numb and even shocked at the beginning is typical. I can remember feeling dazed for several weeks, unable to accept the reality of what was happening. I felt lost, along with an intense fear of the unknown.
“People argue and fight and might even throw out the divorce word, but you never really think it’s a real threat and when you finally see those papers it’s human nature not to believe that your spouse of many years would really leave,” Stefani said.
Dr. Anne Brennan Malec is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed clinical psychologist, who specializes in couple’s therapy. Malec said the level of shock depends on the couple’s style of communication.
“If a spouse is conflict avoidant, he or she might not share concerns during the marriage because they are afraid of the reaction,” said Malec, who has been in practice for over 13 years. “So, they grow quietly resentful until they’ve had enough and then they announce, ‘That’s it. I’m done.’ Meanwhile, the spouse is thinking, ‘Yes, we struggle, but every couple I know struggles. I didn’t think we were different than anyone else. I had no idea he or she was that unhappy.'”
So when the rings come off, where do you start?
“From a legal standpoint, we have to talk first and foremost about protecting yourself financially, as well as how to protect your kids from the process as best you can,” Stefani said. “It’s very important to come up with a parenting plan that fits the couple and that is in the best interest of the children.”
Stefani described the divorce process as “typically emotionally draining,” and therefore recommends clients seek emotional support, such as a therapist, faith, and friends and family.
“I would encourage her to ask her husband to meet with her if he is willing,” Malec said of the reader who emailed. “If this was a shock, this needs more conversation. She needs to understand how he made this decision without consulting her. She needs clarity, and maybe finality.”
Malec said it’s not easy to ask for finality and that hearing a marriage is really over can be heartbreaking.
Based on my own experience, here is my January to-do list for those who have just become separated:
1. Start seeing a therapist.
3. Don’t be shy about leaning on friends and family.
4. Visit the gym regularly and start doing yoga.
5. Get massages.
6. Contact your physician if you are having sleep and/or anxiety issues.
7. Give your mind a rest from the pain for part of every day. Find distractions such as good television, books, hobbies or get-togethers with friends.
8. Meditate for 10 minutes every morning and every night. It really helps!
9. Lean on faith and your spirituality.
10. Let yourself grieve and cry as much as you need.
“Marriage is a commitment…(click here to read the rest of the article, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press.)
Like this article? Check out my blog post, “I Got Served Divorce Papers. Now What?”