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Tips For Surviving The Holidays During Divorce

Written by: Kara Francis, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Earlier today before I sat down to write this article, I was looking up flights to travel home to visit my family for the holidays. As I reviewed the pricey options and tried to plan ahead, I let out a frustrated sigh. Between paying for expensive flights and trying to avoid all the cold and flu viruses going around these days, the holidays seem more stressful than ever.

It's a stark contrast from years ago when I was a kid ‒ I attended holiday parties less than 20 minutes away from our house, and I eagerly woke up on Christmas morning to see that long-desired gift under the tree. It was a day of joy, celebration, and positive emotions.

Getting through the holidays as an adult can be an exhausting experience in and of itself. But if you are thinking about getting divorced, in the middle of a divorce, or facing your first post-divorce holiday season, it can add an extra layer of uncertainty, sadness, stress, and a host of other feelings. You may be asking yourself if this really IS the most wonderful time of year.

In this article, I break down some tips for surviving the holidays in relation to divorce, from the perspective of an individual who does not have children, and/or for a single parent when the kids are spending time with the other parent. Let's dive in!

Listen to your gut

No matter which stage of divorce you find yourself in, this year was undoubtedly challenging for you. Divorce entails so much transition and change ‒ financially, emotionally, and logistically. So if you feel like your life got turned upside down, that is perfectly normal and expected.

In a year where so many things were outside of your control, how you spend the holidays is one way of taking back some of that control. This year is your "free pass." You get to do whatever you want, and your friends and family will understand. And if for some reason, they do not, this is where setting and enforcing healthy boundaries will come into play (more on that below).

Take advantage of this opportunity, and do whatever feels most healing and supportive for you this holiday. Do not cave into others' expectations of what you "should do" or are "supposed to do" for the holidays. This will only cause you to feel resentment, anger, and/or anxiety because you are doing something you don't want to do.

Simply put, listen to your gut. If following the traditions of years past with your family and friends feels more consistent and stable for you, then lean into that for the holidays. However, it's also 100% okay to plan a trip (solo or with a friend), volunteer somewhere, stay at home and do absolutely nothing, or create new traditions and memories for yourself this holiday.

One of my favorite holidays was the year of my divorce: I stayed home, avoided all of the stress, cost, and hassle of traveling, stayed in my PJs most of the time, cooked nourishing meals, watched movies, and just relaxed. I healed in solitude.

Because I did what I wanted to do for the holidays, I felt aligned and content. And guess what? My family and friends understood.

Be flexible and gentle with yourself

Even if you decide to partake in some of the usual holiday traditions, it doesn't mean you have to participate in EVERYTHING. You may be excited to go home for the holidays, and then by the third party, your mood may start to sour if you feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

Be flexible and gentle with yourself. Check-in with yourself throughout the holidays. What do you need to support yourself? If you need to take breaks during a party to have some quiet time alone, allow yourself to do that. If you need to get out of the house and away from everyone for a few hours to decompress, go for it. And if you need to skip out on some traditions entirely, that's okay.

The important thing to keep in mind: know yourself. If you know that big social events tend to overwhelm you and make you feel anxious, then maybe sit out the huge extended family party and stay home with a cup of tea and a movie. On the other hand, if you are an extrovert and feel energized by socializing with people, then consider this holiday season a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and refill your tank with family and friends.

Either path is acceptable when it comes to divorce, so long as you stay true to who you are and how you want to feel this holiday season.

Set and enforce healthy boundaries

No matter how you decide to spend the holidays, be prepared to set and enforce boundaries with your family and friends.

Dealing with boundaries can be difficult and uncomfortable, regardless of whether you are setting them or on the receiving end, especially this time of year. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you navigate.

Keep it short and sweet.

The more information or reasons you provide to justify your decision, the more threads you provide for the other person to grab and pull on. Staying clear and concise will decrease room for debate.

Be kind, yet assertive.

Now is the time to exercise those empathy muscles. For some people, keeping up with traditions and seeing family for the holiday is very important, even if it may not hold as significant of a place in your heart. Try to see things from their perspective when choosing your words.

However, do not allow your kindness to serve as a bridge for your loved ones to walk over your boundary. Be assertive. Do not leave any room for doubt about your decision. Avoid leading with "I'm sorry, but..." or "Unfortunately..." It will be harder to enforce the boundary later if the recipient senses any guilt or uncertainty on your end.

It's not you, it's me.

Setting boundaries is all about telling another person what YOU are going to do, not what you want them to do. Keep the focus on you. You are responsible for processing your feelings and making decisions accordingly, regardless of what others may say or do. Take ownership of your decision, and don't cast blame or responsibility on anyone else.

Stay firm.

Setting a boundary is one thing, but enforcing it is another. It's only natural to want to back down when someone challenges your boundary ‒ it helps you avoid further conflict, and it's not fun to feel like you're disappointing someone you love and care about.

However, if you do not stay firm with your boundaries this holiday season, then this person will likely never respect your boundaries moving forward, because they know if they push on you just a little bit, you will give in.

It's not because they are manipulative or don't love you. On the contrary, it's because they love you and want to spend time with you! But, this doesn't align with your goal of doing what YOU want for the holidays, and it sets a bad precedent for future boundaries.

No matter how many times someone tries to negotiate, challenge, or push back on your boundary, repeat the boundary in a calm, firm manner. Try not to deviate from the original language ‒ restate the same boundary as many times as you need to. Eventually, it will get through to the other person.

And if for some reason, it does not, be prepared to respond accordingly. For example, explain that you have communicated your boundary several times, but they have not respected it multiple times, and until they respect your boundary, you will not be engaging in further communications with them.

What does this look like?

Some examples of setting healthy boundaries about the holidays might look like this:

  • Given everything I went through with my divorce this year, I am going to stay home for the holidays and rest. Please know this has nothing to do with you. This is just what my mind and body need this year.

  • I feel overwhelmed being around big groups of people right now, so I won't be attending the big extended family party this year. I'm excited to celebrate with our immediate family later this week.

  • I need some alone time right now. I'm going to go to the gym and then to a coffee shop for a few hours. I'll talk to you when I get home.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Kara Francis, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kara is a former divorce attorney turned divorce coach. She also went through her own divorce, so she has seen divorce from all angles. As a coach, Kara guides her clients through a goal oriented process designed to help them unpack their emotions and take ownership of their divorce and future. Kara's mission: Ensuring that her clients feel seen, heard and empowered through all stages of the divorce journey.



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