Along with all the joy the holidays bring there is often a lot of discussion about the challenges and stresses of being with family. All the holiday hype can make it difficult to get to those warm feelings of home, the deep connection we have with our loved ones, and the joy of being together. When we add divorce to the mix all sorts of difficult questions and stresses show up.
But despite the to-be-expected potential irritations of being thrown together for a yearly visit with family, I think this time of year gives us a unique opportunity to have a really great holiday outcome, whatever form your family may be in at the time.
Specifically, we have the opportunity to choose to see the good that is possible by having a vision for the kind of holiday and family experience we want to have.
That said, when people are in the middle of what some might call a family crisis – a separation or divorce – there can be even more obstacles to seizing that opportunity. So here’s how it tends to go in the typical divorce or separation. It starts with assumptions like:
“It’s going to be awful or stressful.”
“We’re going to fight about where the kids go.”
“It’s going to be heartbreaking.”
“We’re not going to agree on what to do.”
“This is going to be really artificial.”
These are only a few of the stressful thoughts we might encounter. Some of these end up as self-fulfilling prophecies:
We are so on edge, we end up responding to things we think will happen instead of creating what we hope can happen.
So, how can we make the shift from just getting through the holidays to actually enjoying aspects of them without a full load of stress?
Even though the stages of uncoupling can be difficult – and even though everyone’s situation is different, and even if you might prefer to simply escape – there is much you can do to make things better.
Those of you who’ve worked with me on divorcing differently know that putting your vision first, and making inspired choices that bring you a better outcome, is key to not just surviving, but to thriving during a separation or divorce.
Here are a few tips that will help you create a peaceful and hopefully joyful holiday, despite all the challenges you might be facing. Use them as a your guide to approaching divorce differently this holiday season.
1) Be prepared for that rise in your emotions. Being prepared can actually help you stay more balanced.
2) Consider how you can keep your usual holiday routine – especially if separation or divorce is new to you. For example, if going to that great vacation spot is what you’ve always done, figure out how you can still do just that.
3) Think about what you really cherish about the holidays and present it clearly and simply with “I” statements in order to begin a discussion about options for how to celebrate. If you’re making a request, be ready to suggest a compromise or alternative. For instance, you might say, “Christmas Eve has always been the most special time in my family and I would like to take Sally to see her grandparents that night. How would you feel about taking her to be with your parents on Christmas afternoon?”
4) If your focus is keeping the family together, find a way to keep the continuity of family by planning a special, time-limited event. You can also design certain guidelines regarding behavior if you’re concerned that tension will cause emotions to erupt. Example: Decide together that provokers of bad feelings (sarcasm, criticism, harsh tone, petty arguments) are off limits for the event – and remember to think creatively: you can take separate cars or decide together what topics to avoid. Essentially, you are making an agreement to keep things agreeable for those moments or events, which is a great way to build a foundation for going forward when children are involved.
5) Envision what is meaningful to you while also considering what’s meaningful to others: What do you know about what is important to your soon-to-be ex partner, or your children, about the holidays, and how can their wishes be incorporated?
6) Know when it’s best not to try to be together and plan accordingly.
There is no one correct way to do this – and there is no rule that says this new way of doing the holidays has to be terrible.
There is no rule that says your way has to be typical, traditional, or the way it was.
This is a time to create new traditions. Traditions that fit your personal circumstances and that bring a new and different focus into the holiday mix.
And, certainly, there may also be sadness and a yearning for what you thought would be wonderful for a very long time. So, allow yourself to honor that sadness and begin to create something that you are comfortable with for this year.
You may change how you do things next year, but listen to yourself regarding what you need this season – YOUR VISION – and have a heartfelt holiday.
Wising you the best in the New Year,
Liz Goll Lerner
Your Inspired Choices
P.S. Be the first to get my new Divorce Well & Thrive webinar for more on what it means to divorce well and how to begin to create YOUR OWN PERSONAL VISION for a very different kind of separation or divorce. It will arrive in your in-box as soon as it is ready!