If you’re working your way through a divorce, the upcoming Valentine’s Day may be the last thing on your mind. So much of your energy is devoted to the details of everyday life – especially if you’ve moved to a new home or made a career change, too.
Yet even though the holidays may not seem worth a thought right now, they tend to heighten feelings of sadness, loss and failure among people who are divorcing, especially if this is the first Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year’s Eve after your marriage dissolved.
A FAMILY HOLIDAY WITHOUT FAMILY
Many people find being away from their children to be the hardest part. Custody agreements for younger children, or simply the demands of college and adult life for older ones, may keep them from getting together with us. The anguish of seeing other happy families everywhere, celebrating the season may fill you with a sense of longing for the love and stability you once had.
Adjusting to the holidays as a single person can be stressful, too. Some people visit their parents or siblings, but this choice may leave them feeling they’ve somehow gone back to childhood. Since this is exactly the time they need to feel they’re moving forward, the plan can backfire.
Another common problem is overspending in an effort to drown out the pain. If you’re thinking that a rush of holiday shopping or luxury travel will chase the blues away, you may begin the New Year with more debt, feeling lower than ever.
Even if your life isn’t exactly where you’d like it to be right now, the good news is that you can create meaningful new traditions for yourself and your family. Here are some suggestions for enjoying – rather than avoiding – the holiday season.
REFRAME YOUR THINKING
No More Holiday Blues by Dr. Wayne Dyer is an inspirational little book that offers positive suggestions in a quick-read format. “We’ve come to believe that the holiday season is really only for children [and therefore] adults must suffer through them,” Dr. Dyer writes. But, he adds, there’s no reason you can’t recapture some of the joys you experienced as a child. Choose something you loved to do – ice skating, sledding, walks in the woods – and give yourself the time to enjoy it.
Don’t wait until right before the holiday to make plans, especially if there are children involved. The sooner you discuss things with your ex, the easier it will be on all of you. Older children can get involved in the planning, too – giving them a sense of choice at a time they may feel they have none. If children are sad, too, and don’t want to participate in activities as they once would, the best strategy is to offer comfort and understanding. Maybe this isn’t the year to chop down a live tree in the woods or go skiing in Aspen – but there will be other years.
If you’re single, remember that this is the busiest time for friends and family. Getting in touch to arrange a get-together early can help ensure you’re not alone. However, you may choose to be solo, and in that case, it’s wise to make a spa date, reservations for dinner or at least scribble out a list of wonderful shows to binge-watch with delicious takeout at home. Having your own plans will prevent feelings of loneliness and deprivation, which can arise when you see and hear others celebrating all around you.
CREATE NEW TRADITIONS
The holidays are steeped in sentiment and tradition, which is why people who are divorcing sometimes feel left out. If you’ve always celebrated the season in a certain way, you may miss the comfort and familiarity of what you’ve left behind.
The best approach is to decide how you will celebrate in the future, realizing you can choose any ritual or routine that feels good to you. One newly single mom purchased festive new dishes and tall mugs to create a Christmas morning brunch for her children. In her past marriage, the kids had always been rushed to their grandmother’s house with little attention to breakfast – so the new ritual felt luxurious and loving.
SHIFT SOCIAL OBLIGATIONS
Knowing your limits is the key to feeling happier this season. If you can’t bring yourself to join a dinner party where you know that most of the other guests will be couples, don’t feel obliged to attend. You can invite friends and family to celebrate with you at your home instead. Or create a new “friend family” of people who, like you, may be celebrating solo this year. Whatever the size of your group, being together will increase your sense of connection and joy.
LOOKING FORWARD WITH HOPE
Whatever happens, it will help you to realize that there is nothing inherently depressing about the holidays. “If you anticipate that things will be depressing, you will rarely disappoint yourself,” Dr. Dyer writes. “You must look within yourself and resolve to have a positive attitude, regardless of the tasks that lie ahead of you, or the fullness of your holiday schedule.”
Many people find they need to talk more about what’s happening in their lives when the holidays draw closer. As an experienced couples counselor, I have worked with hundreds of couples at all stages of marriage, separation and divorce. I understand the conflicting feelings and needs you’re facing and will be happy to meet with you. We can outline a personal strategy that will help you feel more comfortable throughout the holiday season and beyond.