Divorce and the Holidays: How to Survive this Holiday Season

By: Wendi Schuller
Last Update: December 27, 2017

Dealing with divorce and the holidays? Consider replacing traditions that no longer fit with ones that are meaningful and enjoyable.

The holiday season is right around the corner and this can be a challenging period during divorce. It is hard to celebrate when your world is crumbling. Experiencing intense anger, fear, or hurt will stop even the sunniest of personalities from bubbling over with Christmas cheer.

Divorce and the Holidays: You Can Choose to Stay In and Nurture Yourself

Perhaps this is the year that you sit out the frenetic round of parties. Most people know that divorce can be a very traumatic experience, and they'll understand if you're not up to participating in festivities. Pick what is most meaningful for you and let go of the rest. When invited to events, feel free to say that you are unavailable and cannot attend. Explanations are not required.

You can choose to curl up on the couch and catch up with reading, or watching classic television specials, or binging an entire season of an entertaining show on Netflix instead of trying to make small talk at one cocktail party after another. It is fine to have downtime, recharge your emotional batteries, and get ready for what lies ahead in your divorce proceedings. Do what is best for you – and don't feel pressured into attending events that are more duty than fun.

Divorce and the Holidays: You Can Also Choose to Go Out and Have Fun

Extroverts, such as myself, may choose to have an active holiday season. Many of us get a big energy boost when being around others, which aided me during my own divorce. Keeping busy is a way to avoid dwelling on your situation and heading down a long, dark tunnel of grief or anger. There are plenty of fun distractions during the holiday season to help take your mind off divorce and to reduce stress.

However, not being paired up anymore can feel lonely or awkward, and those feelings may tempt you to forego going out altogether. Some newly single people feel more comfortable being in places where it is not apparent they are by themselves. There are various ways to feel connected to others when attending events alone. One is enjoying concerts (often free) in different settings, such as churches. Another is being part of a crowd awaiting the lighting of a town square or tree. For me, it was thrilling to see a dark Oxford Street in London spring to life with thousands of Christmas lights and live music. Sharing this exciting experience with so many others kept me from feeling lonely during my divorce.

Divorce and the Holidays: Consider Hanging Out with Single Friends and Co-Workers

A woman I interviewed suggested hanging out with single co-workers of different ages. The twenty-somethings she works with are not yet married, and her buddies near retirement age have been married for so long that their spouses are fine with them having a bit of fun without them. She was surprised how much” spunk and energy” some of these 60 to 75-year-olds have and enjoys their company – including during the holiday season. While you were married, you may not have paid much attention to socializing with colleagues. Let them know that you would like to join their get-togethers.

See what your single friends are doing and accompany them to holiday gatherings. My divorced friend and I are willing to go to each other’s events, and can deflect unwelcome questions or prying from acquaintances if necessary. My married pals will meet up during the day and are happy to indulge in decant Christmas desserts and lattes.

Your Family Can Help Fill a Gap During Divorce and the Holidays

During divorce and beyond, many people I talked with said that they spend holidays with family who may live nearby, across the country, or even in another country altogether. They feast a large part of the day and partake in other activities that may bring back happy childhood memories or create brand-new traditions. These individuals explained that their families helped to fill a gap – keenly felt on special holidays – left by a departing spouse.

After my divorce, my two sons and I went away for several Christmases. I am an only child and my parents are deceased. Getting away helped my family of three start new traditions post-divorce as well as end the ones that no longer fit our family. If you have children, consider asking them which traditions they feel are the most meaningful or fun and plan to continue them. Ditch the other ones.

Look for the Upside to Divorce and the Holidays

There are perks to being divorced over the holidays. I am no longer spending hours in the kitchen instead of spending time with my kids. My motto is simple, quick, but elegant. I get quiche for brunch from a fabulous bakery. A few delicious foods, instead of the large spread I did when married, is quite satisfying for a Christmas dinner. The three of us go to a movie both on Christmas and New Year’s Day. We are entertained by a film instead opening a lot of presents post-divorce. Stockings and a few items to unwrap is all we need.

Look for the positives during or after divorce with the holiday season and you will find them. Focusing only on sadness and loss leads you to have such a negative outlook that you'll be unable to recognize the silver linings that came with your divorce.

For example, I used to give extravagant Christmas parties for my husband’s colleagues, clients, and friends. I spent days shopping, baking, cooking, and cleaning up afterwards. It was a nightmare – and I am so glad that those days are over. I did not realize how much all that work drained my energy, plus attending endless cocktail gatherings when I would rather have been home with my boys. Divorce taught me to be with those that I cherish and to celebrate holidays in a way that is most meaningful – to me and to my children.

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