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March is a popular divorce month. Here’s what to know if you’re considering a breakup

Plus, ideas for keeping the flames alive

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The holidays are over. Winter doldrums have set in. And, for some people, it’s time to rethink romance. March and August are said to be the most popular months for divorce, both following seasonal holidays. While you can probably fake your way through a festive dinner with an annoying partner just to appease your in-laws, all bets are off after the new year. COVID has also thrown relationships into sharper focus, for better or, sometimes, for worse.

“I’ve seen an influx of couples coming to me for help. The pandemic really put a spotlight on relationships. Some little cracks have really burst open,” says Susan Trotter, a sought-after relationship coach and therapist based in Natick.


I talked to her about how to recalibrate partnerships as we head into spring (all while my own spouse was sitting in the next room, working from home. He’s great! Really). How do we improve the relationships we have — or what do we do when it’s clearly time to move on?

Parents might not prioritize themselves because they’re trying to take care of their kids, but we’re also human beings who need to deal with what’s right in front of us. What do you wish was better understood about how people find themselves at this crossroads? Is it big things like infidelity or addiction, or a small series of resentments that pile up and get to a breaking point?

I think it’s twofold. I mean, certainly: There are those big events that can happen in a couple’s life in which one person strays outside of the marriage. Infidelity is a huge reason that people sometimes choose to get divorced. Oftentimes, when somebody strays outside of a marriage, it’s because there’s stuff going on — or not going on — inside the marriage that leads them to get their needs met elsewhere.


I find for a lot of couples, particularly couples with young children, there isn’t a lot of time, energy, or capacity to focus on the relationship. So then, the kids are getting older and needs aren’t getting met between the parents. Over time, that can lead to disconnection. It’s partly a function of paying attention and making the relationship a priority as much as you make everything else a priority. If you’re ignoring the relationship in the early years, especially if you have children, your kids are going to grow up — and you’re going to find yourself sitting across the table not knowing who the other person is.

When you talk about nurturing a relationship: How does that look? I’m really not going out on a date once a week because I don’t have time. What are subtler ways to prioritize this connection?

If you can do a date night even once a month, that’s great. But even finding 10 minutes a day, or even at least a few days a week, where you just sit down with each other, put the phones away, the kids are in bed, TV is off, computers are shut down, and you talk. Sometimes that can feel hard, too. But there are also all kinds of creative things that have been developed in recent years to prompt this.

There’s a wonderful couples therapist, Esther Perel, who created these lovely cards called Where Should We Begin — they help prompt you with questions to use to just continue to get to know each other, and that can really help nurture the relationship. I think people sometimes feel like they’ve been together a long time, they know everything about each other. But as human beings, we’re always changing. When you first get married, you’re not the same person you’re going to be in 5, 10, 20 years.


I also think it can be helpful for couples, a couple of times a year, to just sit down and get clarity about what each of your goals are for the relationship. What do you want for each other, for yourselves, for the relationship, for the family? It’s just a good way to check in and make sure that you’re on the same page.

Also, try to find some shared interest. Maybe it’s watching a show. Maybe it’s a dance class, something you can do together that takes you out of all the other roles that you have in your life as parents and as workers.

The last thing I would say is to be mindful of how you respond to each other. People have choices in any given moment to respond in a way that either moves you toward each other, moves you away from each other, or moves you against each other. It can be something as simple as, you’re in the middle of 10 million things, and your spouse says: “I want to tell you about something.” And instead of ignoring them or telling them in a stressed way that you can’t talk right now, you just might acknowledge: “Oh, I’d love to hear it. Can we talk in 10 minutes?” It can be as simple as that.


Let’s talk about divorce. What do people really need to think about as they embark on the process, emotionally?

I think that people often worry about, if they have children, that divorce is going to damage them. So often, they’ll put it off until their kids go off to college or get launched into adulthood, or they just stay together, even though there’s a lot of conflict or distance.

One of the things that parents don’t realize is that children do best when they have two happy parents, even if it means that they’re not together. The other thing that people don’t necessarily think about is that our children are watching us. They’re learning from us about love, marriage, and relationships. It’s important for parents to think about what message they’re teaching their children about these things. Research shows children do better when they have happy parents, not living with parents who are in high conflict or two ships passing in the night.

What if there’s one happy parent and one unhappy parent, when divorce isn’t a mutual decision? Maybe it’s one happy household and one scorned household.

Usually, there’s often one person who wants a divorce and initiates it. This is some of the work I do: It’s really incumbent upon the person who’s not happy about it to do their work to get to a different place for themselves and for their children, frankly, because again, then they’re also modeling something that’s not so great for their kids.


One of the things I think a lot about is how much we don’t always have control over what happens to us. For the parent who is scorned, ideally, they get some professional help so that they can move forward. When someone gets stuck in anger, bitterness, and sadness, it’s as if they’re still giving power over to their ex-spouse. Really, they’re hurting themselves and their children the most, because again, their children are still going to be watching them.

It’s hard. There’s no getting around that. My hope is that parents at some point will realize that they have choices in how they think and how they feel and what they do and will go on to create a better life for themselves. Ultimately, that’s what’s best for their children in addition to themselves.

How do you tell your kids about the divorce?

In an ideal world, parents will sit down together with the child to tell them about the plan and present it as a unified decision, even if it’s not. The reason that this is best is because you don’t want to put your kids in the middle. They don’t need to know the details of the divorce. They don’t need to be messengers. They don’t need to be worrying about you. It really is best for them to think or feel like this is something that you are deciding together, and you’re going to move forward together in that regard.

It’s important to reassure them that, while some things will change, as parents, you’ll do your best to keep things as consistent as possible. This isn’t always possible if somebody is really angry about the divorce and not cooperative or collaborative. I’m just presenting what’s ideal for helping children in this process. It’s really important that parents not talk negatively about the other parent. This is one of those things that people don’t always think about. But children come from both parents. If one parent is talking negatively about the other one, it’s as if they’re saying something negative about that child. Children then can internalize it, and that can be emotionally damaging.

Is this a conversation where you all sit down on the couch and say: This is what’s happening? And then you go from there?

Ideally, parents have the discussion first. They’re clear about the decision and agree to sit down together with the kids. I think it’s best to do it at home so kids can have whatever reaction they have without worrying about being in public.

I also encourage parents to keep it simple in that initial conversation. As adults, especially in situations like this, where we’re anxious, we have a tendency to overshare things. I think it’s important to keep it simple and to just tell kids: “We haven’t been happy for a while. We’ve decided that we’re going to separate and get divorced. We want you to know how much we love you. We’re going to do our best to keep things the same as possible.”

Some kids might have been waiting for it to happen, because maybe the parents have been fighting all the time. Some young kids might just want to know: “Can I bring my blankie back and forth to the houses? Who’s going to take care of the dog when I’m not here?” It’s best to present it in a really simple way, and then just answer their questions and don’t overexplain things.

Even if the other parent is being difficult, children generally will do well in divorce as long as they have at least one parent or parental figure who’s stable. I always tell my clients: Be that parent, even if the other parent is not behaving well. If you can be that parent, your children will generally do OK. That’s really important to understand. It’s not easy. You’re not going to get it right every time because we’re all human. But, to the extent that you can, it will make a huge difference for your children seeing you do the right things, even when the other parent isn’t.

Last thing: Divorce is not new. But is there anything new in terms of the climate we’re living in now?

There’s a lot of talk more about “gray divorce” or “silver divorce.” People are living longer. Baby Boomers now are at that stage. There’s definitely an increase in the number of divorces of people over the age of 50 and 60. I have a couple of clients in their 80s who are getting divorced after 40- or 50-year marriages. People are realizing that they might live longer, and it makes them reflect more on their life and their relationships.

On a positive note, I’m also seeing younger couples asking for help to nurture their relationship, learn how to connect, communicate better. That’s actually been really lovely.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.