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Divorce

Top Three Mistakes Divorcing People Make During the Holidays

Three easy and inexpensive strategies that can help.

Key points

  • November and December generally show an increase in depression levels.
  • Being newly single will make the holidays even harder.
  • Being mindful, creating a gratitude list, and journaling can help alleviate depression during the holidays.

The holidays put a huge spotlight on your single status because of all the emphasis on family and togetherness. When you are alone and lonely, a common distortion happens where it appears that everyone around you is from one big happy family, and they are all loving the holiday season. It can be very painful, indeed.

The truth is that November and December see an uptick in depression. This is so for various reasons – social pressure to feel good, sadness over the loss of loved ones, and, of course, your family not being what it once was. Or all of the above.

Without better tools, many people will be at risk of unwittingly falling into some thoughts or behaviors that exacerbate negative emotions. Here are the top three mistakes divorcing people make during these couple of months that can make everything feel so much worse.

Mistake #1: Comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.

There’s no shortage of TV ads, billboards, or Hallmark specials about love and togetherness to make you feel like you’re walking around with a big “L” on your forehead.

Even though you are not a loser, you may experience extra vulnerability to feeling hurt or sad and believing others see you as a loser. This can be true even if you initiated the divorce. This comes as a surprise to many, but I promise you, these are normal emotions during November and December.

Unhappy couples stick it out until after the New Year so as not to ruin happy memories for the kids or to avoid the emotional association of their break up with the holidays.

Fix:

Remember that looks can be deceiving. What you may not know is that January has been dubbed “Divorce Month” by divorce professionals because there is an onslaught of new divorce filings from those who have hung on through the holidays by their fingernails.

Mistake #2: Looping about how you failed.

The one thing I really want you to hear is that you did not fail, and you don’t have a “failed marriage.” These are terms and ideas that are rooted in shame. We have a culture that says if your marriage doesn’t look like the traditional, one-size-fits-all concept, you are doing something wrong.

Relationships end for all kinds of reasons, and rather than look at it with judgment, ask yourself what you can learn from your experience and how you can grow and change.

Going over and over in your mind about what you did wrong and what you should have done differently can be torturous. Some “shoulda, woulda coulda” are a normal part of the grief process, but if you find that, you can’t stop having these thoughts. They are creating a stuck-on response. You may want to consider seeking professional help, as this could indicate an underlying anxiety issue. Medical doctors and therapists are well-versed in this common ailment. There is no shame in going on medication or talking to a professional to relieve from relentless perseverating.

However, not everyone will need to go to that level of intervention, and there are several low- or no-cost things you can do at home to get relief.

Fixes:

  1. Mindfulness. Keep your mind focused on this present moment. Notice the water hitting your head when you are in the shower, feel the chair around you when you’re sitting on your couch, listen to the birds outside, and check out the stars in the night sky. These are all ways of staying present at the moment—not dwelling on the past or tripping out on what might happen someday.
  2. Another tool is to keep a gratitude list. This will focus your thoughts on what is going well rather than on what you have lost or what you wish you had done differently.
  3. Journaling about your pain can also move the emotions through your system, and it’s a tool I always recommend.

Mistake #3: You hang around couples, friends, and families.

Of course, you will tend to want to hang out with your loved ones during Thanksgiving, Hannukah, and Christmas, but when you spend time with families or couples and are single, it can make you feel worse about your situation. Being different can make you feel like you’re the fifth wheel, even when your loved ones are trying to make you feel included. Just seeing everyone else paired up can be triggering.

If others don’t acknowledge your situation, you might feel like people are oblivious to your pain. If your aunt and sister ask you how you’re doing, you might feel like they feel sorry for you. Let them know in advance what you think you will need and understand that this might change when the big crowd arrives.

It’s up to you. Certainly, suppose you can feel comfortable enough with other family and/or friends to tell them how you’re feeling. In that case, that may be enough to make things tolerable but pushing yourself to be social with couples and families is not a good strategy. If you do push, you may actually feel worse than if you had stayed home alone or gone to a movie by yourself.

Fix:

The ideal would be to find other single people, possibly even other divorcing people who will know what you’re going through. With this crowd, you can feel more part of because you will have things in common with these folks but, depending on where you live and what stage you are in life, it might be very hard to find others going through this transition (The older you are, the more likely you will know someone else divorced or divorcing.

Additionally, if you live in a more urban area, chances are higher that you’ll know someone else splitting up if for no other reason that there are more people).

Conclusion

The holidays are, without a doubt, one of the toughest times of the year. There are many more things you can do to get through this time. If you’d like more tips, refer to this short article I wrote some years back. And feel free to contact me for a full list of tips for better holidays.

No matter what, be gentle with yourself and know that, come the New Year, things won’t appear so bleak.

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