Christmas is a time of extremes. It’s enchanting but decadent, whimsical but despairing, beautiful but stressful. It brings out the best and worst in us. For some couples, the extremes of Christmas reinforce long-standing issues with their marriage. The first Monday of the New Year has been dubbed divorce day by lawyers due to the spike in married couples filing for divorce. So why do so many couples divorce after the festive period?
An idealised version of Christmas has been seared into us like a brand on a cow. Think the McCallister family in Home Alone, only they don’t forget to bring Kevin.
How we perceive Christmas is socially contrived. Its presents under the tree, its happy families coming together to sit by the fire and reminisce about times gone by. Its a turkey and all the trimmings. This archetypal picture of Christmas sets an expectation we all desperately try and conform too. But it’s an unrealistic expectation.
For some, the reality is the arguments when someone in the family opens a gift and didn’t get what they wanted. Your uncle telling the same tired stories he’s had on repeat for years. Or Christmas dinner where everyone politely chews through those raw roast potatoes for fear of stoking another argument.
The desire to conform creates heightened expectations and with it comes stress. This places a burden on couples whose relationships are already rocky. But these expectations don’t just exist around Christmas. Social expectations of success influence our lives. We’re all in a rush to keep up with the Joneses.
Keeping up with the Joneses
Everyone has an inert desire to conform to social norms. Our urge for acceptance within a social group influences our behaviour. In modern society what makes us feel accepted (us being a married couple in this case)?
We base success on the jobs we have, the lifestyles we lead and the materials our lives afford us to buy. Couples try and keep up with the Joneses, the family who seemingly has it all.
Conforming to this social expectation gives couples the feeling of having made it. In a society basing success around materials that’s a big deal.
Not keeping up with the Joneses is a sign of social failure. This can place unwanted stress on couples who start to resent one another. Couples blame the other person in the relationship for their social failing. A feeling of not quite being good enough.
Christmas, like no other time, shows up this social failing. Creating resentment where there was love, bitterness where there was harmony, spitefulness where there was encouragement.
Does it have to end in divorce?
The media projects images reinforcing this social expectation. The subliminal message is this norm will make us fulfilled and happy. But the pressure to conform by being fashionable, having the latest car or new smartphone is never-ending.
Our desire for more is a product of our economy. The success of companies revolves around profits. Companies must continually cajole us to keep on buying things so they can reap the benefits of us doing so.
Everything’s arranged around us wanting more. And so when you see the Joneses with the 60” T.V, well it’s only right you get a 62” T.V.
We buy shit we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.George Carlin
As individuals, our function is to generate wealth for these companies. The potential side effects of wealth generation aren’t considered. As long as we’re spending, we’re serving our function.
Don’t get me wrong, a marriage is a complex thing. It’s difficult to maintain a healthy relationship, but social expectations don’t do anyone any favours.
When you look back at Christmas what sticks in the mind? The presents you opened or the time you spent with friends and family arguing over board games? People bring us together, materials divide us. It’s the simple things we cherish, not the expensive, forgettable presents.
Disattaching from a social expectation that doesn’t bring fulfilment or happiness is the first step in appreciating what we do have.
Sure, relationships will continue to break down, people will still file for divorce, but let’s hope it won’t be because they’re not able to keep up with the Joneses.