It’s Valentine’s Day this Sunday. Have you finished your shopping and dinner plans yet? Maybe you scheduled some spa services as a gift? Did you get a sitter for the kids? Who’s going to let the dog out? It’s not surprising that family strife seems to escalate around holidays. There’s pressure to entertain, pressure to cook and clean up for company, and of course, pressure to smile the whole time like you’re having a blast. However, when it comes to holiday-induced stress, Valentine’s Day is probably the worst.


Let’s face it. At the end of any other holiday, you get to show everyone the door. Valentine’s Day is a celebration for two, and most of the time, you already live together. You can’t go to your corner after the fight and nurse your wounds. You both live in the corner!

So for Valentine’s Day, stress is already off the charts due to the high expectations of “getting it right.” If you and your partner aren’t getting along, that just adds another layer of misery to the occasion. And unfortunately, you can’t escape the hype. Why? Because it’s everywhere! Walk away into Wal-Mart and there is row upon row of heart-shaped merchandise. Local supermarkets set up special stand-alone Valentine boutiques where all of us are expected to select fabulous gifts for our partner or prospective partner. Some of them are drive-through! Even Papa Johns has heart-shaped pizzas! Expectations are super high, as is fear of failure.

Psychologists will advise couples in turmoil to examine their situation in logical steps. Define the problem first. Often the problem will look different to each partner, and by stating it out loud (either together or in front of a mediator or other unbiased third party), they may be able to boil it down to a single statement or two that makes sense to both. Of course, this may not be possible, but you have to try. Second, it is important to determine what the underlying factors might be. Sometimes, the loss of a job can cause mental as well as physical issues. Aging results in changes to the bond and mind. Couples sometimes report a feeling of lethargy and uselessness once the kids leave the nest for school. Retirement by one or both parties often causes the same reaction. Once the problem or problems are identified and you both agree why, it is often possible to find a way forward.

But it may be that the problem issues are too ingrained, or you both have become too locked into your positions. And this realization, whether you realize it or not, can turn a normal holiday into an excruciating curse. How do you fake romance and empathy when you don’t feel it? Unless you have a handful of Oscars on your mantle, it can’t be done. And this is why holidays like Valentine’s Day can become the proverbial straw the breaks the camel’s back. At some point, the fear of breaking up gives way to the fear of staying together.

If you and your significant other are having problems, by all means seek counseling. Divorces are rarely a joy-filled experience. But if you have realistically exhausted all avenues of reconciliation, give us a call at The Essex Law Firm. We know relationships are very difficult and we don’t judge. But if we begin the process while relations are still relatively civil, the process can be faster, less expensive, and far less painful.