By: Sheila Gutterman and Diana Powell
The holidays are a particularly challenging time for families going through divorce. There are all these images out there of perfect family holidays, yet your own family is coping with a situation that is anything but perfect. Holidays are a time when the difference between fantasy and reality can be very painful, and this is particularly true if you are going through a divorce. Whether this is the last holiday before the divorce starts, is a holiday during the divorce or is a holiday immediately after divorce, you may be feeling overwhelmed, sad and perhaps a bit anxious.
In offering 10 tips to minimize divorce trauma during the holidays, we certainly do not suggest you put yourself under additional pressure to be perfect. There is no one right way to minimize the trauma of divorce during the holidays. Nevertheless, a few tips from those who have worked with many others going through divorce may lighten your burden:
1. Recognize you are not alone. In the United States, 52% of first marriages and 62% of second marriage end in divorce. The greeting card images of warmth and loving families are not the reality for many, many families. You are not alone if you or someone you love is in the middle of a divorce or just finalized a divorce.
2. Acknowledge that you need to take care of yourself. You are preoccupied, forgetful, clumsy and accident prone. You need to create a health promoting environment around you, and do what you need to relax. Take a walk alone, go to movies, get a massage, or take a fitness class.
3. Stay in the present. This is not the year to dwell on holidays past or worry over holidays future. The past is especially non-productive. Whether the holidays with your “ex” were wonderful or terrible, you will not find it helpful to mull them over right now. Now is the time to make new traditions for yourself and your family.
4. Choose to be a survivor. With any trauma, such as divorce, you have a choice between being a survivor or a victim. The challenge of divorce can actually make you stronger, if you choose survival. To be a survivor, you must stop processing and reprocessing the same old stuff. We know it is not easy to stop digging through the remains of your feelings, but you need to
5. Put the legal and financial side of the divorce “on hold” until January, unless you have a hearing this month. Be careful not to make decisions or large expenditures while under the influence of the holidays.
6. Be the adult parent for your children. Every parenting exchange is likely to be somewhat more emotionally charged as the holidays approach. The parental divorce involves a deliberate decision to keep the trauma away from your children. Remember that the goal is for the children to remember the holidays as a time of joy. You don’t want the children to remember their folks always fought for the holidays.
7. The spousal divorce gets tricky this time of year. Feelings are escalated. You may want to exchange holiday greetings with your extended “ex” family. If you have a relationship with a former sister-in-law, call her but don’t discuss the divorce. Don’t be shocked if some of your “ex-in-laws” treat you as an “ex human being,” though, and don’t assume that the discomfort of this Christmas will plague all future Christmases.
8. Celebrate your mood swings. You might as well simply acknowledge that you will have mood swings, and treat the ups and downs as a normal component of the divorce process. Try to avoid exaggerating the mood swings with excessive use of alcohol, however, as the reality is that alcohol acts as a depressant, and clouds your judgment. (See, your high school health teacher was right.)
9. Plan what you will do with the rest of your life. This time of year presents wonderful opportunities for reflection. You are now free to guide your own destiny, based on what is meaningful to you. Think about the things you always wanted to do, but never made room for. The divorce process, painful as it can be, also is a liberation to make plans that suit your interests, needs and personality. Do you have a vocation you have never developed? Think of moving, regenerating, reenergizing, gaining both health and perspective. Plan to participate in a charity project, to help yourself by helping others.
10. Have Fun. Think of what makes you smile…get away from the intensity. Give yourself some space to actually celebrate and have a good time with friends and family. You are not betraying your sorrow at saying good-bye to a failed marriage if you actually have some fun.
Remember, after the holidays you have an entire lifetime to deal with the changes in your life. It is not necessary to force yourself to get every emotional issue handled right now. Take time in this time of celebration and peace to give peace to yourself, so you will have strength to give peace to others.