Angry couple sitting in bed considering divorce, representing How to Handle a "January Relationship Crisis"

Relationship on the Brink? Don’t Panic: It’s Just January.

Christmas shopping is over… and now you are shopping for a marriage counselor.

Welcome to the January Relationship Crisis. 

I’ve been a marriage counselor and couples therapist for a long time, and I know that certain times of year are particularly difficult for couples. The period just after the holidays is one of them. Why? Holidays, despite being fun and fantastic in many ways, often put strains on a relationship. Stressful trips and time spent with extended family, financial strains, and sheer busyness can sap the energy out of a marriage.

But also, more insidiously, people who have had issues with their relationships and who have been considering making changes (as in, breaking up or asking for a divorce) often table those discussions until after the holidays. Then, with fresh energy to make sweeping changes around the time of the new year, they sometimes blindside their partner with all the things they’ve been keeping to themselves since October.

If this is happening to you right now, and you’re feeling scared and hurt, there is something I want you to know:

This is a good thing.

I’m sure that you would prefer to not be going through this. However, the fact that you two are talking about your relationship — or even fighting about it — is a positive sign. It means that you both care enough to try to fight for your relationship, and make it better.

How do I know this? Because I’ve been a marriage counselor for a long time. When relationships are really in trouble, one of the things that happens is that fighting stops. When someone stops fighting, it means that they no longer believe that change is possible. They’ve given up. They might not even care anymore. And that, my friend, is when a relationship cannot be saved, and the drum-beat of a breakup or divorce starts looming on the horizon.

So if you’re fighting right now, take heart: It means that you’re both still in the ring. (Even if you’re currently verbally punching each other in the nose.)

Here are a few tips to help you use this opportunity as a turning point for positive change in your relationship:

What To Do When Your Relationship is in Crisis

  • Seek to understand your partner’s point of view, non-defensively.
  • Let your partner know you’re willing to work on it.
  • Communicate that you care that your partner is hurting.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship.

What NOT to Do When Your Relationship is in Crisis

  • Get defensive. 
  • Launch a counter-attack. 
  • Refuse to discuss issues. 
  • Minimize or invalidate your partner’s feelings
  • Become over-focused on problems at the expense of everything else. 

Of course, all these things are difficult to do when you are feeling angry or hurt. That is normal. Many couples require the support of a good couples counselor to help them talk through emotionally loaded topics without it turning into a fight. In my opinion, couples who use this opportunity to get some help get a chance to increase their understanding of each other, make necessary changes to their relationship, and do important work that will make their relationship better, stronger, happier, and more fulfilling than ever before.

So many couples who go through this together, and use it as an opportunity for constructive change, get to the other side and say: “We’re so glad this happened.” Because without that rocky patch, nothing would have changed.

Growth is scary. It is not always comfortable. It takes an enormous amount of courage, hope, and love to stay in the ring with each other and work through tough stuff — especially when you’re hurting and angry. But saving your marriage is worth it.

So hang in there, and use this time to launch a positive new chapter in your relationship.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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