Ugh... The Holidays & Divorce


The holidays are an ever-present and recurring reminder of the challenges created by divorce. From lost traditions to new opportunities. From loose calendars to fixed schedules. From warm celebrations to grief and angst. Like the rest of life, divorce can provide improvements and enhancements to the holiday experience but can also push bad things to worse. Knowing what to expect, preparing for different contingencies ahead of time, and being firm but flexible generally help make the holiday season more bearable.


Regardless of whether divorce was wanted or accepted by both or either party, there will be both good and bad times created by the divorce for both during the holidays. Some are expected and anticipated, but many are not. Those invitations which have routinely appeared for years to traditional holiday gatherings may suddenly and inexplicably vanish. Those parties which you looked forward to attending become yet another opportunity for uncomfortable stares and awkward conversations. Those longed-for family gatherings take on a new dynamic with your spouse missing but provide further occasions for difficult conversations that you would rather not have – or not have again. And when children are involved, the complications and challenges presented by the holidays are magnified exponentially.


Where children are concerned, including very specific schedules and protocols in any proposed court order is critical to helping the holiday process go as smoothly as possible. Knowing who is supposed to be where, when, and how is important if any sense of structure and planning is to be maintained – and they must. But equally important is realizing the impact of that schedule on the schedule of others. Sometimes there will be unavoidable conflicts. Expect them. You cannot be two places at once, and neither can your children. Prioritize what’s important.


Regardless of the advanced planning and preparation for contingencies, things will come up. Plans will change or need to be changed. Opportunities will arise. Things will happen that are beyond your control or beyond your ex-spouse’s. It helps to be flexible, but you must also be firm. Some give and take, some compromise, is generally a good idea. While this isn’t the time to be petty, it certainly isn’t the time to be a doormat. Be thoughtful but be careful. Decisions made now could have an impact on future events, arguments, or positions. When in doubt, ask. And be reasonable. Reactively fighting fire with fire generally only works with forest fires. The best way to fight fires is strategically.


Here are a few tips on how to survive the holidays:

  • Focus on the present, not the past.

  • Things will not be the way they were (good and bad), but you must make the best of them.

  • Remember that your divorce does not just impact you.

  • Be patient with all those affected by your divorce.

  • Things will get easier and will get better.

  • You have lots to be thankful for – focus on those things.

  • Do something nice and unexpected for someone else – focusing on giving joy to others can have a seriously positive impact on you.

  • Keep a good and healthy perspective on what’s really important.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.