Happiness fills the holidays for most couples, but sometimes the quest for peace and goodwill goes awry.
In striving to be the perfect Santa, some parents end up with an unexpected box of agitation. The financial strains that come in this economy only heighten when mom and dad stretch their dollars.
Other lingering problems also rise to the surface. Free time away from work can mean tension time at home.
Sometimes the stress grows when you load up the kids to go over the river and through the woods to grandma's house. Dad threatens to pull the car over if they don't stop fighting in the back seat. Then mom admonishes dad.
The well-meaning relatives don't help: You guys were fighting last year. Why are you still together?
Soon, Joy To The World gives way to joyless assessments. Husbands and wives come to the sad realization that Frosty the Snowman is no match for a frosty relationship. An annual assessment comes with the new year and some decide the best resolution is a dissolution.
It's all too familiar for family law attorneys, who will tell you January always brings an increase in divorce filings. Business swells the first Monday kids go back to school.
"People decide they don't want to start the year doing what they did last year," said Ingrid Hooglander, a Brandon attorney who has practiced family law for 11 years. "It's, 'I'm not spending another Christmas with this person.' They want to do something new and if that means walking away from their spouse that's what they do."
• • •
Mark Moon, another family law attorney in Brandon, said there is a definite correlation between the holidays, which can be a crucible, and the desire to act on New Year's resolutions.
"They want the kids to remember the holidays with fond memories," Moon said. "If all they remember is a Christmas of mom and dad fighting, it causes them to re-evaluate. 'What am I really doing here? Is this in the best interests of children?' "
Of course, making such a life-altering decision with recently frayed holiday nerves requires careful consideration. Moon says he goes through an extensive process of educating the potential client about Florida divorce law, exploring how they will deal with the mental aspects of turning their lives inside-out and, finally, inquiring if it's a necessary step because of domestic abuse.
Hooglander noted that she encourages counseling and establishing certainty because once a spouse begins the process, reconciliation grows increasingly difficult.
"You can't unring the bell and it breaks a lot of trust once you start going down this path," Hooglander said.
James Messina, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor in Tampa, cautioned that over-inflated expectations for the season can result in holiday blues.
"It's probably not the best time to make any decision," Messina said. "You have to say, 'Slow it down. (Revisit) this in six months.' "
Messina added that some couples spend more time communicating during the holidays and that's why they decide to break up. He suggests spending time talking outside of the holidays.
It's good advice, but I suspect this trend won't slow. I'm saddened that the season of joy can turn into the winter of discontent. It may be for the best, but before taking that giant leap, step back and reflect. Be sure.
After all, it's supposed to be a time of hope.
That's all I'm saying.