Relate prepares for new year calls
Money worries and a "Hollywood ideal" of relationships are among the reasons counselling service Relate expects a spike in calls in the new year.
Some couples and families will have had a "really difficult time" over the festive period, with so much expectation to have a great Christmas, and for some people issues "add up and become this big pressure cooker that just explodes".
Calls to Relate's national phone line rose by 53% on the first Monday of January 2014 compared with the first Monday of December 2013, with appointment bookings increasing by 86%.
Priscilla Sim, a relationships counsellor at Relate, said January is "a time of reflection" which many see as an opportunity for a new start.
"People are thinking about their lives, their relationships, and they kind of want to go into the new year fresh and they don't want to bring in all the burdens of the past year and the past few years if the relationship hasn't been going that well.
"So I think we see quite a high volume of calls in January due to that. It's kind of like, you have three choices: You either stay as things are, you leave the relationship or you try and change. And a lot of people do opt to try and change and work things out," she said.
Ms Sim said that along with other occasions such as Valentine's Day and anniversaries, Christmas can bring a lot of expectation and pressure.
"People want to have this great family time and sometimes it's just not like that. So it can be quite difficult, with particularly money worries.
"That's like the highest concern at the moment for people that have been surveyed in Relate surveys. I think 40% of people are worried about money and not being able to buy the right presents, having big arguments within families on Christmas Day," she said.
"The pressure on couples to provide for children, if they want to get them the latest toy that's out or the latest computer games - things are expensive.
"And inviting people round and making big dinners, all of that costs money. And that's just an extra pressure on the relationship when there's maybe stuff that's going on already for them."
Ms Sim said she believes the "Hollywood ideal" of having a perfect relationship, a perfect family, and a perfect Christmas, is "really damaging" as it causes people to question their own situations.
"I think in society, in glossy magazines, and on TV, we're kind of expected to have this Hollywood ideal of relationships.
"So when they have an argument it's the end of the world, when actually research shows that arguments are healthy. Obviously if you're arguing all the time that's difficult, but I think the ratio is one in five.
"If you're having five positive interactions to one difficult interaction you've got a healthy relationship. It's important to have arguments because that shows that you're still two individual people," she said.
Ms Sim said sometimes people think that they "should be having sex all the time", adding: "Unfortunately, sometimes we're just too busy, we're just tired, it does fall off the agenda. But that doesn't mean that your relationship is doomed."
The counsellor said people should recognise a healthy relationship.
"Sometimes people do panic a little bit because they're given all of these messages - these messages from the media - and from society, that their relationship should be a certain way, when actually what they've got is really normal and actually really healthy," she said.
Ms Sim added: "So I think the whole idea of never arguing, never fighting, having this perfect idea of Christmas, perfect idea of a relationship, perfect idea of a family, is really damaging, because then whenever anything goes wrong, it's like 'Well this isn't how it's supposed to be'."
Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of Relate, said: "January is always very busy for Relate. Sadly many couples and families face a tough time over Christmas as people spend concentrated time together and that can bring any underlying issues bubbling to the surface.
"Also New Year is a time when many of us naturally assess how life is going and this can make people think about how their relationships are faring.
"The high number of calls we receive in January suggests that many people are considering what they want from their relationships and what their next steps will be. Contacting Relate is a positive step - it can be the first stage in working out what's best for your relationships."
Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said t he number of divorces in England and Wales in 2012 was 118,140, an increase of 0.5% since 2011, when there were 117,558 divorces.
The number of divorces in 2012 was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44.
For those married in 1972, 22% of marriages had ended in divorce by their 15th wedding anniversary, whereas for those married in 1997, almost a third of marriages had ended by this time, according to the ONS.
In 2012, 10.8 people divorced per thousand married population, a decrease of 19% compared with 13.3 in 2002.
Caroline Watson, a divorce lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said: "Any tensions or issues in a relationship are likely to come to the forefront in the lead up to new year.
"There is a lot of pressure on families over the festive season to ensure that everything is perfect so if there are weaknesses in a relationship they can become apparent very quickly, despite the best intentions of everyone involved.
"We are often contacted by clients both as the New Year approaches and particularly after who decide that the tension and the arguing has just gone on for too long.
"The New Year is a natural time for people to assess their lives and relationships can come under more scrutiny. Especially if one has been putting in a lot more effort that the other to fix the problems in the relationship."