This Is When You're Most Likely To Get Divorced

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While the the idea that the divorce rate is rising may be a myth, there may be some truth to other divorce patterns. According to new research from the University of Washington, divorce rates might actually be seasonal, peaking twice a year — after winter and summer holidays.

The research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, reported "what is believed to be the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce," according to a press release. After analyzing divorce filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015, researchers found that couples tended to split up in higher rates in March and August, the periods following winter and summer holidays. They found similar patterns in Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona, which “have similar divorce laws as Washington, but differ in demographics and economic conditions.” However, the study's findings are based only around the data pulled from Washington state.

The researchers explained that the reason for the two-season spikes could be pretty simple: People tend to feel more hopeful during the holidays, and are likely to use them as a last-ditch attempt to mend a relationship. They believe, as the press release says, “troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships and start anew: We’ll have a happy Christmas together as a family or take the kids for a nice camping trip, the thinking goes, and things will be better.

Additionally, "winter and summer holidays are culturally sacred times for families," said Julie Brines, one of the researchers and a sociology professor at the University of Washington. Filing for a divorce during those holiday periods can be seen as "inappropriate, even taboo."

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Brines said. “They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense."

The consistent pattern in divorce filings that follows, the researchers said, could signal the disillusionment that couples feel when the holidays don't quite live up to their expectations, as emotionally-charged getherings can expose weaknesses in a relationship. The divorce pattern remained consistent in Washington over the 14 years that researchers analyzed, though it was slightly disrupted at the height of the recession, likely due to changes and uncertainties in the economic climate.

And as for the summer spike in particular, Brines believes that the same reasons might apply, although the start of the school year might also hasten the timing for couples who have children. Couples may have decided on divorce months before, and needed time to get finances and attorneys in order. Brines also wonders if longer days and increased activity in the springtime following the winter holidays motivates people to act.

It's important, however, to note that the researchers analyzed a relatively small sample size, and it's hard to pin down exact reasons for individual divorces — every relationship, after all, is unique. While there can be warning signs for divorce in particular relationships, it's difficult to make sweeping generalizations based on five states in the U.S. Not to mention, this research doesn't suggest that the holidays cause divorce; it just shows a correlation between divorce and the post-holiday seasons.

It'll certainly be interesting to see if the findings hold up as researchers expand their study to more states, but for now, this is a pretty intriguing look into what could be a pattern in divorces — and maybe even breakups in general.
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