The holidays are a time for introspection and taking stock, and if you are going through a divorce, they simply suck. As a divorce attorney for over 20 years, I see up close and personal just how emotionally grueling the holiday season can be for my clients, especially for people in the early stages of splitting. Don’t get me wrong, some divorcing couples are able to navigate holidays seamlessly. In the recent movie “A Marriage Story” Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver are seen happily trick or treating together with their 6 year old son after a bitter custody battle (spoiler alert: she even ties her ex-husband’s shoe at the end of the movie!) But, more often than not, holidays can be very triggering, resurrecting old wounds and deepening new ones. Being without your kids on Christmas morning is up there on the list of life’s most painful experiences. And having to watching a friend or family member go through it can be hard on you, too.
So what can you do to support a family member or loved one who is navigating the holidays during divorce? Here’s some advice:
- First, don’t pretend that everything is fine. It is not fine! Divorce can blow up your life for a time. “A Marriage Story” beautifully renders how devastating and destabilizing divorce can be. Like Adam Driver’s character who punches his fist through a wall, I have seen even my most calm cool and collected clients completely lose it during the holidays. It’s important to acknowledge what is happening.
- Reach out. Divorce is often an isolating experience. You can be around a ton of people and still feel stranded. The splitting and newly single experience guilt, sadness, shame, stress (financial and otherwise), loss and a general longing for a rose-colored past. People often decline holiday party invites because they can’t deal with the stress of talking about it.
- Keep reaching out! If your friend or loved one didn’t RSVP to a holiday event, pick up the phone and call them. Offer to go to a yoga class or come over to watch Netflix. Not being alone is key. On the other hand, if they give you a firm “no” respect it. Ask them what they need.
- Take their cues. Everyone processes divorce and the experience of loss differently, so leave it up to the processor to decide how they want to handle. Instead of doing what you think needs to be done (we all know the holiday monsters who won’t take “no thank you” for an answer), sit, listen, be open, and let your friend take the lead. This one is not about you.
- Keep them off social media and watch the booze. We have all sent an emotional email after a couple glasses of wine. As a divorce attorney, I have read countless numbers of them. I have also seen people use photos of their ex partying in court proceedings. Just don’t do it.
You can find out more and pre-order my upcoming book New Rules of Divorce here!