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Facing Your First Holidays After Divorce

You made it through Thanksgiving, but the rest of the holidays seem daunting. It’s the first holiday season since your marriage ended. It’s always been a complicated time of year but this year.... emotions are complicated, logistics are complicated, finances are complicated, and it all just seems overwhelming. What can you do to make the next month more survivable?

One of the biggest challenges we face is that we compare our ‘insides’ to the ‘outsides’ of others. When we look at ourselves we see the mess of emotions and fears that we carry around inside of us. But when we look at friends and family all we see are happy faces, holiday decorations, and joyous occasions. It’s easy to compare the turmoil we feel with the perfect images we see splashed across Facebook and other social media. It’s important to remember that, although they may not be going through the same challenges you are, it is likely that behind all of those smiling faces are others feeling lonely, isolated, frustrated, and scared.

One of the best things you can do is to plan for the holidays. That means your plans for Christmas, Hanukah, New Year’s Eve, and other December holidays need to begin now. If you have children and don’t already have a visitation schedule set, you should talk to your former spouse as soon as you can. Your children may not ask questions about what the schedule is but they are certainly thinking about it. As soon as the arrangements are made, you should sit with them to explain how the schedule will work and answer any questions they may have. Be upbeat and supportive of these plans even if they aren’t exactly as you had hoped they would be. You may need to encourage questions but they are likely wondering where they will be and when, how traditions will be carried out, and, maybe most importantly, will Santa be able to find them.

If you’re going to be by yourself for a holiday, make sure YOU plan to be with family or friends and don’t stay home alone. It is important to be proactive about seeking a plan and not wait for others to reach out. Others may be unsure of what you need but you know that you need to be surrounded by those who love you. Make your calls in advance and don’t procrastinate. You may feel embarrassed to admit that you’ll be alone but it is more likely others will be welcoming and encouraging when you reach out.

It is easy to dream about holidays past and wish that they could be relived but it is better not to try to replicate all the old traditions. This is a time to establish new traditions for you and your family. If you can’t be with your children on the holiday, plan a separate celebration with them and include new traditions. Try to remember that the holiday is not about a date on the calendar but about recognizing the meaning behind the holiday with those we care about. These new traditions will soon be an important part of future celebrations so remember to be consistent in carrying them out.

Maybe the hardest thing to do during the holidays is to manage our expectations. We may be looking forward to this as a time of joy that will help to make up for a difficult year. We may be dreading this time and assume that this new version of the holidays will be horrible. It is unlikely that either of these things will be true. Our expectations must be realistic in understanding it won’t all be good or bad. Instead, we should expect that we will feel the full spectrum of emotions. The joy of the holiday tempered with sadness as we grieve the loss of our marriage. By understanding that this is a new experience with complicated emotions, we can be better prepared for both the highs and lows that are likely to accompany this time of year.

We may have to cut back this year. We may not be able to have the same number of gifts, decorations, or dishes on the table that we have expected in the past. You shouldn’t feel guilty about these changes. Remember holidays are not about the “stuff”, they are about the love we share with others. Explain to family, friends, and your children that things will be different this year but the way you feel about them remains the same. This is a great year to exhibit more creativity in how you celebrate and how you express your love to those around you.

The best we can do for ourselves and those we care about is to focus on the things that we can control and let go of those we can not. Some of the most impactful things we can do are to take care of ourselves by not using food and alcohol to compensate for the things we are feeling. We can stay healthy by managing our diet, sleep, and getting exercise. Another thing we can do is to find something to do for others; whether it is helping an elderly neighbor, volunteering with a food bank, or donating to a worthy cause - this is a season of giving. Sharing with others helps us feel better about ourselves.

As we enter this season, keep in mind that it’s important to be patient, flexible, nix guilt, focus on others, and let happiness happen. Often holidays are a time of soul searching, reflection, and re-evaluation of priorities. Use this year’s season to focus on the true meaning of the holidays including the value of friends and family and the role of God in your life. You can emerge from this difficult time stronger and healthier as you enter the new year.

If you need help sorting through all of these emotions and developing tools to help you through the holidays, you can make an appointment for a free 30-minute consultation below.

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