One last chance: why a family holiday may not be the answer to a rocky marriage

It’s a scenario that many couples on the verge of a marital breakdown will find familiar. Their relationship is at breaking point, yet a family summer holiday has been booked, paid for and is firmly in the diary.


Holiday to save marriage.Perhaps this is a last chance to rekindle the relationship and save it, on a make or break holiday in the sun? Most importantly, no parent wants to ruin the children’s summer holiday.


Sadly, probably not. In a survey of over 2000 married and divorced couples conducted by a family law firm:

  • 40% of couples went on holiday to try and save their marriage
  • 60% who thought the family would help their marriage said it actually didn’t
  • 30% of couples split up within weeks of returning from a family holiday 28% actually split up with someone whilst on holiday


All day, every day

The reason is often the amount of time couples have to be together. If a relationship is already strained during everyday contact hours (i.e. when not at work, or out and about), the additional contact time may be more stressful. 15% of those surveyed said they realised they no longer loved their partner while on holiday, and 15% spent the entire holiday not talking to their partner at all.



Give me a break


Many couples may feel that a holiday will give them a much-needed break from the daily grind, and that will alleviate their problems. The problem is that, however lovely the holiday is, it won’t solve outstanding problems that will still be there when a couple return home.
What a holiday can do is give couples the space to discuss their problems and perhaps come to a more amicable arrangement. The survey showed that 5% of couples spent their holiday discussing getting a divorce.



On holiday with the kids

The survey doesn’t mention how many couples went on holiday with their children. The very same opportunity to relax and enjoy time together is also an opportunity for more disagreements, arguments or strained relationships, all in front of the kids. There are so many unusual stress factors potentially involved: the hassle of air travel with kids, the smaller living space of a hotel room, unfamiliar food for the kids, the heat, and hours of time to fill (tricky for workaholics).



As child and adolescent psychotherapist Jane Cassidy said in an article for the Mail Online:

“All these factors are made much worse if the children are present, not just because they need attention and can be demanding, but because they are very tuned in to the emotional atmosphere between their parents. They pick up on vibes, and are aware of discord. If there have been problems for some time, the children will be very sensitive to the interaction, or lack of it, between their parents. It just adds to the strain on the adults if they are constantly having to pretend that everything is all right.”

Her advice on family holidays is simple:

“Don't go on a make-or-break holiday. Mending a relationship takes time and needs intense moments of communication with breaks of normal life in between. If you have been sleeping apart, the enforced intimacy of a hotel room could exacerbate the awkwardness and emotional distance between you. (and) Don't take the children.”


The healing power of holidays

The picture isn’t all negative. In the survey, an impressive 36% of couples said a holiday actually saved their marriage. For example, celebrity couple Patrick and Jillian Dempsey cancelled their January divorce and have been spotted on a Caribbean holiday in the sunshine with their children.



Divorced parent holidays

Being a divorced parent doesn’t signal the end of holidays with the kids, far from it. In fact, you can finally do the kind of holiday you want to go on rather than what your ex partner wanted to go on. A survey by match.com showed that almost 50% of couples surveyed refused to compromise on what kind of holiday they wanted, and that their partner just had to go along with it.

The main consideration before taking the kids on holiday as a divorced parent is communication. You will need to inform your ex of your plans, and gives them holiday dates and location, although this might be difficult if relations are strained. At LGFL, we often write letters on behalf of clients to make holiday arrangements, which is much more time and cost effective than applications to the court.
If, however, you have concerns that a holiday abroad with your ex might place your children at risk of not returning home from a visit to family, for example, talk to us first. There are specific safeguards that can be put in place without affecting the children’s rights to see family abroad or travel to more unusual locations.