Many couples continue to live together while going through a divorce. As lives and calendars continue to move during the divorce process, there are times when divorcing couples still living together face potentially awkward situations such as the holidays. Here are five tips for navigating the holidays if you are still living together but in the process of divorce.
One of the nice things about holidays is that unlike many of life’s other events, we know when they are going to happen. This gives you and your spouse the opportunity to make a plan that works for everyone. If the two of you work together to develop a strategy, then by all means do that. However, if you’re in a situation couples need assistance when tensions are high, it may help to have a third-party work with the two of you to put that plan together. Divorce processes such as Mediation or Collaborative Divorce promote this type of communication.
If you have children, holidays are a time of memory making and traditions. Evaluate which traditions feel most meaningful and important to maintain for your kids. Be realistic about how these traditions might need to be adjusted given the relationship with your spouse. Some traditions might be easier to maintain, such as reading, “Twas the night before Christmas” or going ice skating during winter break. On the hand, more demanding and time consuming ones such as an all-day gathering with both families might feel too long and intense with the current level of stress. Keeping some traditions intact and engaging in them as a family allows your children to see that even if your family structure is going to change, you and your spouse can still be around each other at special times for the children.
Sometimes traditions survive beyond their expiration date. Holidays are meant to be a time for connection. Holding on to traditions that everyone hates does nothing to create greater connection. If there are gatherings or activities that become so stressful that they inevitably lead to conflict, replace them with new. When you have two separate households, you will naturally create new ones. A divorce provides a transition period where your family can try new things and create new memories and traditions to fit your new family structure.
It is important to let your loved ones know what you need during this time. Too often, people take sides and create a Greek chorus effect of telling someone how they should approach divorce. Let you family know, “Our goal during and after the divorce is to maintain respectful interactions with each other and help our kids not feel stuck in the middle. It would help if you wouldn’t say bad things about (spouse name) to me or the kids. I appreciate your support during this time.” Loved ones want you support you, but they benefit from knowing specifically what is and what is not supportive. If they are unable to assist you in your goal of a healthy divorce, you may need some space from them during the process.
If your kids already know that a divorce is happening, you should be clear and direct with them to help them understand how things are changing. For example, “This year, we will be doing the first night of Hanukkah together, but only you and your dad are going to Grandma’s to see your cousins.” Allow your kids the space to express their feelings, even if their sadness/anger/sense of loss is hard to hear. If your kids do not yet know about the divorce, then you and your spouse need to manage conflict and maintain some consistency until you are ready to tell the kids.
Going through a divorce is complicated and messy. Not everything can be anticipated and feelings are intense. Holidays are already emotionally loaded for many people, so developing strategies that allow for maintaining and adjusting traditions helps create realistic expectations. This is also a time of year to remember self-care: nothing is better if you are depleted, so build in physical, emotional, and social outlets to take care of yourself. That’s a holiday gift that will benefit everyone!