Relate counsellors at Mid Thames and Bucks are preparing themselves for an anticipated spike in calls this September in the immediate post-holiday period in line with national trends. Relate saw a nine per cent increase in calls last year and is ready for a similar onslaught this. Relate wants couples to be aware that as well as a break, holidays can be a difficult time. And it is offering tips to help couples cope with this.
There is something psychological about September. Even though we’re not at school anymore the memory of fresh beginnings, a new satchel, pencil case and uniform is seared into us. We may make New Year’s resolutions but there’s something equally if not more profound about September. Often we invest it with more meaning. So though we may not make resolutions in the same way as on New Year’s Eve, we may still resolve to change a situation that’s been making us unhappy for some time. We do always see a spike in September and before that a bit of a lull in June, July and August when there isn’t the same focus.
Relate centres across the country answered 19,527 calls in September – a nine per cent increase on the monthly average of 17,879 calls.
With so much investment in a holiday – emotional as well as financial – the levels of expectation can be very high and when that happens there may be, as with Christmas, a huge risk of disappointment. Some couples may think their holiday is a chance to sort things out but find they are unable to.
If one of you is unhappy you can be sure both of you are. We suggest couples use their holidays, if they can, to really talk to each other. See it as an opportunity. People may think they’re hearing their other half talking when in fact what they’re doing is tooling up their army with ready responses! Using terms such as, ‘I feel this…’ rather than, ‘You make me feel’ is a way to create a dialogue that doesn’t put someone on the defensive. It’s about owning your feelings rather than blaming someone else for them.
Rather than just saying, “We need to talk,” counsellors suggest couples use the reflection technique so they really communicate. The couple face each other and take it in turns to talk for a few minutes about something on their mind. Their partner then reflects this back to them what they’ve said to show they’ve heard and understood. No advice is given, no contradiction. It’s a straightforward hearing exercise that can be very powerful. Counsellors suggest when doing this the first time couples pick an item or issue that isn’t the most important to them in order to get used to what may feel rather novel. So for example, talk about an annoyance at the shops or a minor issue at work rather than directly talking about the relationship straightaway. Then gradually build up to the big stuff. If you can do this exercise on a regular basis it can make an enormous difference.
Relate also gets a spike in calls in early January but couples are more likely to proceed with a divorce after the summer holiday than the Christmas break. September is a more energetic time of year whereas January can be very bleak and resources depleted after dealing with Christmas. The New Year spike can be a “get it off your chest” call or a cry for help. The September spike is potentially much more serious. Communicating with each other during the break may save some from the divorce courts afterwards.
However if a couple does decide to separate after their holiday they are still very welcome to contact Relate for help. Counsellors have a great deal of experience helping couples to separate as amicably as possible. All the research tells us it’s not divorce itself that causes the greatest stress but how it’s carried out. Relate is there for people who do wish to split up. It needn’t be a catastrophe – happy parents apart are a lot better than unhappy parents together. But if you are going to separate after September, you need to recognise that you’ll be co-parenting from now on.