As I sit in my office on this quiet Monday afternoon before Thanksgiving, looking out over the beautiful pastureland and red barn owned by NC State University, I am fully aware that the peace and tranquility of this scene stand in stark contrast to what for many will be the hectic pace, busyness, and stress of the approaching holiday season, even in the midst of joyful holiday family traditions.
I am especially thinking, though, of my current clients, men and women who either have recently separated or are anticipating separating soon, of my former clients who are building new holiday traditions this year from two homes, and of my future clients – some of whom may be having to go through another holiday season within a troubled marriage, or waiting until after the holidays to have the difficult conversations with their spouses about separation.
My hope for all of my clients – and for all who have separated or are anticipating separation – is that you find useful tools to help you navigate the holiday season with the least amount of struggle and anxiety. Here are some suggestions:
- Maintain healthy habits. The strain and grief of the separation process alone can feel overwhelming, and the holiday season can serve to amplify these feelings. Be kind to your body by resting, even when you think you don’t have time to do so, by trying to eat nutritionally in the midst of holiday “goodies,” and by getting some exercise.
- Be realistic and simplify. If you have children, you may be feeling guilty that their holiday traditions will have to change and that any new traditions will not measure up to the old ones. Many parents somehow feel responsible for providing a “picture perfect” holiday scenario for their children, when in actuality “picture perfect” doesn’t exist. In this transitional period, you may want to simplify your traditions and consciously try not to go overboard in order to create the “picture perfect” holiday for your children. Your children will benefit if you and your spouse or former spouse can plan ahead and cooperate about the children’s holiday schedule and can communicate without acrimony.
- Give your children some one-on-one time. Your children may be experiencing some confusing and uncomfortable feelings and grief during their first holiday season after their parents have separated. Spending some one-on-one time with each child and listening to whatever (if anything) they want to share with you will be deeply comforting and reassuring to them.
- Be kind to yourself. You have been through, or are going through, a major life transition, and even under the best of circumstances, it can take a toll. Consider the types of things that bring you joy, and plan to incorporate some of those things into your holiday plans, whether that be laughing and relaxing with a friend, going to a movie or play, or doing something that you love to do that perhaps your spouse or former spouse did not enjoy.
- Take advantage of available resources. You do not have to deal with the stress of the holidays alone. Do not be afraid to seek help from counselors, clergy, or other professionals with whom you can talk about your emotions and deep-seated feelings rather than keeping them to yourself. If you want to understand the legal process of separation and divorce, and would like to learn about the collaborative divorce process, please feel free to contact me.
- Cultivate gratitude. If each day, we all can take the time to consider even one thing for which we are grateful, our whole mindset and approach to life can shift for the better. When undergoing an agonizing separation process, almost exclusively focusing on our pain and loss understandably can be the tendency. Consciously taking even five minutes to count our blessings can be life-enriching.
To all of you – my past, present, and future clients – while this holiday season may be different from those you experienced in the past, may it also bring unexpected blessings.