Christmas After a Separation or Divorce
We asked our in house therapist and divorce consultant Jo Harrison for her thoughts on coping with Christmas after a separation or divorce.
What might be difficult about Christmas for someone who is going through a separation?
I think generally it is difficult when there are all these expectations about Christmas being about closeness and family and being a happy enjoyable time when someone might feel all the opposite of those things – perhaps alone, isolated and not in the mood for enjoyment. So it’s really important to think about how you might support yourself through Christmas and this can involve more thinking than you are used to in relation to Christmas – or at least different thinking.
Everyone has their own personal relationship with Christmas and gives it their own meaning. Going through a separation can then interact with this meaning that someone has about Christmas.
So for example, someone who really enjoys Christmas and enjoys all the traditions of Christmas may find it really painful to be facing Christmas without some of the traditions that they enjoyed with their partner or if perhaps their children are spending time with their co-parent then they have to face up to not enjoying those traditions.
Or perhaps someone who didn’t have happy memories of Christmas growing up might find that the Christmas they are facing now is going to stir up memories of difficult Christmases from the past.
These are all so nuanced and personal and I think that what can be helpful is to take some time to tune into these ideas by reflecting on what Christmas means personally and by becoming more aware of how that links to the current situation.
How can someone support themself through Christmas?
Particularly if it is the first time someone is going through Christmas after a break-up I do think it’s important to start thinking now about ways to keep yourself supported and to make plans that will make you feel like you are doing what you need to do for your own wellbeing. If you feel like you actually really aren’t in the mood for socializing or seeing people then perhaps think is there a way that you can nurture yourself that you would enjoy. If on the other hand you are worried about feeling lonely then you may need to be more proactive in making plans with people. Doing this can feel like exerting very new muscles as maybe you haven’t had to do this before and that can feel quite difficult but hopefully it is a help to know that that is a common feeling to have.
I have heard different stories of different creative ways that people have found to protect themselves over what can be a difficult time. For example, by trying out something new like volunteering or by booking a trip so that the backdrop of their Christmas was also different.
If you have children with your ex then as far as possible try to have a dialogue about how Christmas is going to work for you and your children so that all of you can have plans to enjoy different aspects of Christmas. If you are struggling to agree on anything then this may be a sign you could benefit from some input with your relationship.
I think the other way to support yourself is particularly if you are feeling very fragile is to think about what boundaries you need to help you get through the season. If, for example, going to stay with your extended family feels overwhelming, then perhaps you can think about what might work better e.g. a day visit or staying in accommodation nearby so that you can take a time out if you need it. Ask yourself – is this thing I’m thinking of doing actually going to be biting off more than I can chew at the moment? And if it feels like more than you can then perhaps that tells you that there is a need to look after yourself and to find a creative way to simplify things or to say no. If being with your good friends is going to help your wellbeing more than being with your family then this may be the time to embrace that.
Is it okay to feel sad over Christmas?
Feeling sad is part of the process of mourning the loss of the relationship and so it’s important not to swallow those feelings away and to seek help if the sad feelings start to become overwhelming. Christmas can stir up a lot of longings and feelings and even more so if you are feeling raw after a relationship. If you are feeling very alone or overwhelmed and feel that you can’t access your usual support system because of the time of year then The Samaritans is open 24 hours a day every day of the year.
What about the new year?
I think new year can be hard too and perhaps there are expectations around new year to do with couples that can feel difficult. Again it’s about thinking ahead about what might work best for you. The new year can feel daunting particularly if you are at the start of a divorce process and a good focus for the new year can be to think about finding the best support system you can around you – both through friends and family and community and also through professionals such as legal representatives and therapists or counsellors.
Jo is very experienced in working as a therapist with individuals and couples who are separating. A former family lawyer, Jo has a depth of experience in being able to understand the legal process. She can work with clients, either individually or as a couple, to support them through the process. Clients can meet with Jo for an initial consultation at our offices in Central London to think about what help is required. This can be at any stage before, during, or after a divorce or separation.
The counselling team at FLiP is able to work with couples to help support these kinds of conversations and can be contacted below. Joanna also has a book Five Arguments All Couples (Need To) Have which is full of advice and tips on how to communicate about these sorts of issues and which is available to buy here .