by: Sharon Rivkin, MA, MFT
After a separation or divorce, the first holiday season can bring tremendous stress and sadness, in addition to feeling overwhelmed and frightened.
Coping with loss and grief, coupled with changes in familiar patterns and traditions, can magnify your feelings about the separation or divorce during the holiday season. Up to this point, you may have felt you were making progress in moving on with your life, but the holidays seem to emerge with feelings of grief all over again! Many people experience regression during this time, which brings discouragement and frustration, as well as doubt about their decision to separate or divorce. Because the holidays bring up emotions about the past and memories of the family unit, couples often think about reconciliation. This is understandable because it is a highly emotional time, but being prepared for this emotional roller coaster can help reduce some of the stress that the holidays may bring.
Where to begin is when planning for the holidays is one of the biggest stressors.
You may feel displaced, sad, angry and confused, yet you still want the holidays to be a happy occasion. Remember, it is normal to feel all of these feelings! You are in uncharted territory. The familiar celebrations of the past have dissolved, and no new traditions have been developed. You are in a state of transition. But the first holiday season after a separation or divorce means you can honor some of the old traditions that may still work and incorporate them with the start of new traditions. New traditions take time and years to create, and part of the difficulty is that the holidays remind us of the reality that our family is really different. However, remember that although it’s going to be hard in the beginning, it does get easier as time goes on.
New traditions that reflect your new family dynamics.
To form new traditions, if you have children, start by thinking of what is best for the kids. Usually children want to be with the whole family, so if you and your partner are on good enough terms in the separation, you might carve out a couple of hours where everyone can be together. If that’s not possible, then try to divide the time between partners as equally as possible. But remember to have fun, make it special, and allow the kids, both young and older, an opportunity to contribute to the creation of new traditions! The family dynamics may have changed, but new memories are always to be made.
Even if you don’t have children, you have still created traditions around the holidays that might include other family members – parents, siblings, etc. Every couple and situation is different, so tailor your holiday to what fits for you individually and together. If you are on good enough terms with each other to discuss the holidays, do so. If not, that is okay, too. Remember, there is no one right way to ‘get through’ this first holiday season after a separation or divorce.
A lot of feelings will be triggered, so don’t try to make everything happy when it simply isn’t.
Memories of past holidays, good and bad, can make us sad…but it’s okay to be sad during the holidays. Unrealistic expectations that we need to be happy during the holiday season only make us feel guilty and bad when we actually experience loneliness and sadness. Understand that we are all very vulnerable around the holidays and our emotions are heightened. Therefore, have a good support system and keep it simple. Don’t take on too much and don’t try to make it “perfect” for the family. Think ahead about what you can handle and start creating new traditions. Most importantly, be grateful that you have your family, no matter what form of family or celebration the holiday may take.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in O Magazine, O Newsletter, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Time.com, CNN.com, Prevention.com, and WebMD.com. Sharon’s appeared on TV, Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. Sharon is also a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org,DivorceSupportCenter.com, FamilyShare.com, and CupidsPulse.com. For more information, please visit http://www.sharonrivkin.com