Your first holiday divorced; now what?

Every year, my clients brace for November and December when the dreaded holiday season begins. Recently, a client informed me he was relieved to have “survived” Thanksgiving and bracing himself for Christmas morning without his children this year.

For those newly out of a marriage, the emphasis on being close to loved ones at this time of year can be excruciating. There’s the loneliness factor, the confusion factor, and the worst factor of all: Will I wake up alone on Christmas morning? There’s no way to avoid being exposed to the holiday ads, TV shows, billboards, and messages that highlight this “most wonderful time” of year, short of never going out of your house and not looking at any media.

 Do Holidays Have to Suck? You get to choose!

Absolutely not! You may not get around all the loneliness or sadness during the holidays, but you will be happy to learn that there are things you can do to feel better and things you can do to make the holidays darker and worse: You get to choose.

I know it can be difficult to be in good self-care when you’re feeling down, deflated, and depressed but the truth is, it doesn’t take much effort to take steps to feel better. It does take willingness, however, to dig yourself out of the dark hole divorce can put you in.

Here are a few ways people tend to make this time of year worse for themselves:

  • They tell themselves how incredibly happy all the couples are (not realizing that many of these people are simply putting on a happy face “for the kids,” and that some may even be planning to file divorce papers of their own come January.
  • They go over and over in their minds about what a failure they are and all the things they “shoulda, coulda, woulda” done to still be part of their marriage and/or family (happy or not).
  • They hang around with couples and feel like the odd person out.
  • They subject themselves to people who shame them for going through a divorce.
  • They allow friends to tell them about things their ex has said and done (especially when there is a new person in their ex’s life).
  • They pretend to be fine and don’t ask for help.
  • They stay alone when they need to be with others and hang out with others when they need to be alone.
  • They cling to the past hurts and don’t move past them.
  • They put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own.

In the many years that I’ve been working with divorcing men, I’ve seen people who were terrified of feeling lonely and depressed take control of their situation and turn things around.

Here are a few ways you can feel empowered and make the holidays less hellish for yourself and your kids:

  • Be flexible with your co-parent to accommodate a changing parenting schedule.
  • Support your children in celebrating your co-parent. Take them shopping & help buy a gift for their other parent. It’s a great life lesson for your children to see you show respect & kindness.
  • Own your holidays by doing exactly what YOU want to do.
  • Create new traditions for you and your children.
  • Don’t split the holiday in half. This causes too much disruption for you & the kids. Rather have one parent have Christmas Eve & the other, Christmas day.
  • Doing your best to stay centered, will help your children feel secure during this stressful time.
  • Focus on where you are heading instead of the past.
  • Don’t take on other people’s feelings or opinions about their divorce.
  • Eating well, plenty of rest, and exercise are key to keeping your mind & body healthy.
  • Seek out emotional support.
  • Take time to journal and read inspirational books.
  • Avoiding social media if you know it’s a trigger.
  • Seek out a new community of people in a similar position or transition.
  • Allow yourself to sit in the space of grief, disappointment, etc. It’s healthy to allow yourself to “feel” all the emotions that divorce & holidays bring.
  • Know there is another side to this period of your life, this is only “for now.”

With all the stress the holidays carry, you may not always be able to think and act from your highest and most mature self. Do your best to focus on the blessings you do have, especially when you’re with your children. Teaching them gratitude is an incredibly valuable life lesson.

Also, keep in mind that the first year is often the hardest (especially for those who did not want the divorce) but, for most people, as each year passes, it does get easier, and you may end up feeling better than you would have if you were still married.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach for Men