Divorce and the Holidays How to Cope with Courage and Confidence
by Kim Johnson
Dealing with separation and divorce is difficult enough without having to navigate anything else of significance in your life. Add in the holiday season and suddenly you are overwhelmed, overstressed and completely overloaded. There is the constant reminder of happier times, the realization your holidays will be different now, and maybe even some fear about finances. You end up feeling panic, sadness and dread.
Unfortunately, there is no magic to making this time of year easy. The stress and strain will likely give you a huge holiday headache. However, with some pre-planning and purpose, you have the potential to avoid some of the problems and pain. It might even be your best season yet.
Strategy for Success
No matter where you are on the journey with your divorce (just separated, finishing your agreement, or having a signed Judgement), there are many things that can still feel out of your control. This doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t have choices.
Control and choice are not always synonymous. Just because you can’t control a situation doesn’t mean you cannot make changes. There are things within your power to manage and you can choose how to make them work. You’ll just need some planning and purpose.
Steps for Surviving
Any good plan requires prior organization. Following are six tips to help you get prepared to handle the coming holiday season.
1. Identify your feelings.
Before you make your plan for the holidays, it is good to understand how you are feeling. This can keep you from being blindsided by some emotions you weren’t expecting. Ask yourself these questions:
• If this is the first one without your ex-spouse, how are you feeling? (Scared? Overwhelmed? Lonely? Sad?)
• If you’ve already experienced a holiday season without your ex, what are your feelings about this year? (Stressed about money? Angry? Depressed? Calmer?)
• Are you already dreading family get-togethers? Are you isolating from friends?
• Are you feeling guilty if you don’t want to be with your extended family?
• Consider some other feelings you may be having.
The good news is, no matter how you feel — it is okay. Going through this situation is what it is. Your feelings are your feelings. There are no right or wrong emotions so don’t add extra pressure by thinking you should be feeling something else.
There is one caution, however. As you think through your emotions, take extra care to identify whether or not they are extreme. This would be thoughts of suicide or sinking deep into severe depression. If this is true, it is time to reach out and even get some professional help.
Otherwise, be truthful with yourself, don’t stuff your feelings or pretend you’re ok. Own your emotions and work through them.
2. Establish Realistic Expectations.
Divorce is a major life change. That means your responsibilities have changed, your financial situation has changed, how you spend your free time has changed, and the list can go on. Before you do anything, think about these changes and how they factor into your plans for the holiday season. Having a practical and honest outlook will help alleviate stress and eliminate surprises. Don’t indulge in fantasies of how your holidays ought to (or used to) be. You’ll be defeating yourself even before the holidays begin.
3. Don’t Isolate on Purpose.
There is a myth about the holidays that persists through advertisements, movies, and songs. You know, the ones that portray festive events, happy family gatherings, or lavish gift giving. Unfortunately, that’s not the norm. In fact, walk into any Starbucks on the morning of Christmas and you will find it packed with people. Why? Because they have nowhere else to be. Yet, our expectations and hopes for the holidays can open the door to feeling lonely and depressed.
Be aware if you find yourself getting trapped. Give yourself permission to enjoy this season the way you choose. You don’t have to be lonely, even if you happen to be alone. “Loneliness is an attitude that can be changed, and aloneness is nothing more than a temporary absence of other people,” says Dr. Wayne Dyer, author of No More Holiday Blues. Plan ahead if you think you’re going to be alone over the holidays. Take the opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do.
3. Be Practical Financially.
For the most part, going through a divorce means you’ll likely be in a different place financially during this time of the year. So, you need to be realistic about that aspect. In our material-driven society, it’s really hard to keep our focus on what is truly the important things about life. And as much as we’d love to have the ability to shower our kids or loved ones with gifts, it’s the relationships that are the most valuable. Sometimes a gift of time and attention can mean way more than something store-bought.
4. Plan Ahead.
This could be the most important thing you do for your holidays. Don’t wait until the week before the holiday to decide what you are going to do. If you have kids, communicate ahead of time with your former spouse so you’ll have clear expectations. Have a plan A and a plan B. What if someone is sick or weather stops the party? And remember, the holiday can be celebrated on another day besides December 25th. Don’t get stuck believing it’s the date that matters. Instead realize it’s the time spent with family that is the most important.
Also, be willing to make some new plans and start new traditions if the situation warrants. You can take this opportunity to get together with an old friend, volunteer or serve at your church, or plan to enjoy a quiet day reading or binge-watching Hallmark movies. Be proactive in your approach.
There is no reason to allow yourself to sink into despair during the holidays. Choose how you are going to find joy in this journey. Sure, there are many things about it that are just plain crumby. But how you handle the holidays is entirely up to you. Your attitude and outlook will make or break how you survive this season.
5. Take Care of You.
Working to make it through this time of the year can take a lot out of you. So, take time to focus on your physical well-being. Make healthy eating choices (even though the holiday desserts call your name). Wise eating can help you keep your strength and fight depression. Make sure to get out for exercise or just to get some air. Staying couped up inside can be a downer for your mood. And especially, don’t try to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol. Many times, this only intensifies your feelings and can make you more miserable.
Don’t be afraid to let your family and/or friends know what you can and can’t do. Good intentions can sometimes make you feel guilty, but don’t take on more than you can handle. You know yourself. Don’t let others “tell” you how you ought to be feeling.
And don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. There may be times that even with all of your planning and work, your emotions will blindside you. Have the phone number of your counselor, pastor, church, close friend or hotline already handy. Decide beforehand that you will call someone if negative thoughts get you down.
6. Accept the New Normal.
Continue to be aware of your feelings. Struggling with and refusing to accept your new life can be exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to remain angry and frustrated, and it keeps you focused on something you cannot change. Now this doesn’t mean to give up or give in. You still have control over yourself – and your attitude. Instead of saying, “I can’t take this,” try saying, “What can I do to make this better?” It is all in how you look at it. Attitude makes a huge difference in how you will heal from your divorce. Once you make a change in your reaction to this situation, you can change how it is affecting you.
Life is fluid no matter if you are married or single. And things will continue to change. Divorce is difficult and challenging. However, it’s not the end of your happiness, it’s not the end of your life and it’s not the end of your holidays. Charles Swindoll said, “Do you need strength? Peace? Wisdom? Direction? Ask for it! God will hear you.” Don’t be afraid to turn to God for help.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10
You can succeed and survive this journey. What will give you joy this season? How can you get there? The answers don’t have to be complicated. Just realize that now is your chance to make these holidays what you want. Pick the traditions you love, throw out the ones you don’t, and start new ones. Choose to celebrate your way and keep your joy.