Family law specialists
"Avoid making this Christmas a winter blunderland" is the advice to lovers from family law specialists Irwin Mitchell.
The Sheffield-based experts say Christmas, far from being the season to be jolly, is the time of year relationships finally reach breaking point for too many people whose liaisons were already under strain.
Irwin Mitchell estimates that 20 per cent of the divorce and separation cases it handles each year involve couples who decide to part over the festive period.
Family law expert
Family law expert Martin Loxley, national head of the family team at Irwin Mitchell's Riverside offices in Sheffield, said: "Yuletide can be stressful for relationships, often providing the final straw for those where cracks were already apparent. This is shown by January to March being easily our busiest time of year, because of new cases coming in and divorce petitions being launched by people whose marriages fell apart during the holiday two years earlier. One of the grounds for divorce proceedings is couples living apart for this length of time and neither contesting the annulment."
Mr Loxley said money worries, being forced to spend more time together, increased drinking, illicit text messaging and the temptation to stray at office parties and other social functions were just a few of the festive factors that could be death knells for relationships.
He said: "There are many reasons why the Christmas holidays can leave couples frazzled and fractious with one another. The combination of partying, constant organising and planning, excessive amounts of food and alcohol and time at home can dampen the festive spirit and leave couples seething with irritation.
"The good news is by taking simple steps and avoiding pitfalls which spelt the end for thousands of partnerships in years gone by, couples can avoid tears with the turkey this time."
He pointed to these seven seasonal snares that can trap the unwary:
* Money, Money, Money
Cash crises and the arguments they produce are often the last rights for love affairs at any time of year but are increased by pressures to spend at Christmas.
* Time on Their Hands
The twelve days of Christmas bring couples together for longer than usual...which can mean rows being as much a part of the holiday as presents and plum duff. Issues that are normally ignored are often magnified and tiny tensions can become massive, with the traditional visits to parents being just one frequent cause of friction.
* Putting it in Writing
Text messages lead to ever-more relationship rifts...and experts expect over two billion of them to be sent in the UK this December. It is likely many will be clandestine contacts with secret lovers, risking distress for existing partners... research shows nearly half of women and almost a third of men secretly check their partners' mobile messages.
* A Time for Giving
Carelessly abandoned gifts for illicit partners and receipts proving their purchase are also frequent causes of rows at Christmas.
* Tempted by the Fruit of Another
We all become party people at Christmas office parties and other social gatherings fuelled by drink and high spirits. These can produce anything from a peck on the secretary's cheek under the mistletoe to a fling with a fellow worker that leads to marital meltdown.
* Suspicious Minds
It is harder for people to cover-up romantic rendezvous over the holiday through excuses such as the hackneyed "working late in the office." Their inability to think of convincing alternatives often causes partners' suspicions to rise.
* Soul Searching
Research shows one person in five thinks about leaving their partner over Christmas, which is not surprising as this is traditionally a time to take stock over things like jobs and relationships. Many deciding "there must be more to life than this" then make new year resolutions to put their verdicts into practice.
Mr Loxley said: "Trust, respect and love are needed for partnerships to survive. Hopefully our advice can make couples aware of the problems that can arise at Christmas time and help their relationships stay intact."
Can we help you? If you or someone you know has been involved in a similar incident the visit our relationship breakdown and divorce section to find out if we can help you.