Navigating the holidays with your former spouse can be challenging if you are going through a divorce or if you have been recently divorced.  Here are 7 tips on how to survive divorce during the holidays.

Why are the holidays so stressful for divorcing or divorced couples?

Holidays are simultaneously joyful and stressful for many, especially for divorcing or divorced couples. 

In addition to the added stress of hosting or scheduling family events, entertaining guests, preparing holiday dishes or meals, divorcing or divorced couples have the added pressure of navigating the holidays with shared friends or managing holiday parenting time among themselves and their children. 

First and foremost, maintaining your mental health is paramount.  It is essential to acknowledge the stress the holidays bring with them and taking proactive measures to handle that stress.

Tip 1:  Do a Brief Self-Assessment. 

It may be helpful for you to reflect a little bit on how you tend to cope with stress in advance of the holidays.  Most people tend to react to stress in one of two ways, which is often referred to as the “fight or flight response.”

Spend a little time reflecting on your own personality and habits in dealing with stress.  Do you tend to hunker down and avoid conflict?  Will you then avoid socializing?  Or are you the type of person who will overcommit to holiday events or struggle with adapting to your “new normal” of dividing time with shared friends, family and children? 

Reflecting on how you tend to react to stress may help you in being better organized and reflecting on problem solving rather than negatively reacting to issues as the arise.

Tip 2:  Commit to Self-Care.

Hand-in-Hand with the self-assessment goes self-care.  Positive coping strategies include regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and using tools like meditation or hobbies to held you decompress. Often routines are abandoned around the holidays.   Make the time for yourself each day to exercise, meditate or do your hobby for 30-45 minutes.  You can spare that time and it will make a world of difference.  You can keep it simple.  A 30-minute brisk walk is fine if that is what fits in your life right now. 

Tip 3:  Carve Out Some “Me Time”.

Self-assessment, Self-Care, Me Time? What is this all about in dealing with holiday stress you may ask?  When you think about the tasks ahead in managing the holiday schedules in the context of a recent (or ongoing) divorce, there can be a lot more to manage.  And, like the airlines remind us every time we fly, you have to put your own mask on before you can help others.  That’s what all this is all about. 

So, each week leading up to the holidays, carve out a treat for yourself.  Maybe it’s a show you like on TV or listening to you favorite music by yourself for a little while.  It could be a facial, or a massage or manicure, or something as simple as reading a chapter of a good book.  Do something for you once or twice a week in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

Tip 4:  Have an Open Conversation with Shared Friends.

This one can feel a bit awkward.  But, what happens with shared friends? You may consider reaching out to shared friends and having that conversation.  If your divorce is recent or ongoing and it would be too difficult or uncomfortable for you to visit with shared friends and have the other spouse present you may want not to visit certain people this time around, or you may want to host a small gathering for a few shared friends so that you can avoid having the other spouse present.  And, while you may acknowledge that you have divorced or are getting divorced it may be best not to make that the focus of your discussion with friends. 

Tip 5:   Be Proactive in Establishing Parenting Time.

If you have children, establishing holiday parenting time can sometimes be difficult and a bone of contention.  It is advisable to have separation agreements that specifically spell out what holiday parenting time will be in the event that parents cannot otherwise agree on holiday parenting.  If you do not have such language in your agreement, or your divorce is ongoing, getting ahead of this issue well in advance of the holidays is your best strategy.  Compromise is the best policy.  Absent a situation where holidays are going to rotate so that one parent has, for example, Thanksgiving in one year and the other parent has Thanksgiving in the other year, parties often have to share the holiday itself.   That means in the Thanksgiving example that the children may have dinner with one parent and dessert with the other.  Broach this subject early with the other parent.  It is often advisable to memorialize the agreement in an email or text so that everyone is clear about the agreement and to avoid misunderstanding.

Tip 6:  Avoid Social Media.

Social media posts have been the cause of argument and emotional flare ups in countless divorce cases.  The best advice I can give, is to stay off of the other person’s media pages and refrain from posting on your media pages during the holiday.  If you want a post of picture of the kids with the relatives from out of town, do it the next day. 

Tip 7:  Set Expectations on Gifts with the Other Parent.

Watch out for the compensating spouse (it might be you) who is making up for the divorce by overdoing it with gift giving to the children.   When this happens, the other spouse may perceive that they are now in a competition for the best or most lavish gift, which can quickly escalate and get completely out of hand.  When possible, discuss gifts with the other spouse.  Perhaps even consider at least one “joint gift” that is from both parents.  For example, if a child has an interest in music, one parent could buy the instrument and the other could buy the accessories for the instrument.  Uncoupling doesn’t mean that you cannot or should not continue to co-parent.  And to co-parent, you must co-operate.