How to have a merry Christmas when you’re separated or divorced

Christmas can be a challenging time of year when you’re together, let alone when you’re divorced or separated. Many of my clients are worried and nervous about Christmas.

I understand. I remember feeling anxious about Christmas the first couple of years after my divorce, especially the first time that our children were spending Christmas with their Dad. I knew I had a choice – to let it get me down or to find new ways to enjoy Christmas.

Change is always challenging, but the truth is that, whatever your new reality, you always have a choice.  You can let it control and define you, or you can choose to take back your power and consciously put yourself back in the driving seat.

These techniques might challenge you at first, but I promise they will help you in the long run.

“It won’t be the same as before”

Whilst it’s true that Christmas won’t be the same as before, and there is little you can do to change the situation, you can change your approach and focus. Ask yourself how could you make it better for you? What new traditions might you be able to start? Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t? By making this Christmas different, you avoid comparing to Christmases past. And you may even create a new tradition that you love.

Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, ask yourself what you CAN do. Be open to possibilities.

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“I am dreading spending Christmas day on my own”

Ask yourself what is it you are most dreading? Is it waking up on your own, or spending the day alone, or something else? Be honest with yourself. Once you know what the worst part of it is for you, then you can think about ways in which you might be able to overcome that bit.

What would you like instead? What would be the best gift you could give to yourself this year? On a piece of paper, jot down any ideas that you have, however crazy. Then think about how you might be able to do some of those things. I never thought I would go on holiday over Christmas, until in 2013 I went to Morocco. One of my friends spent Christmas Day last year volunteering with Shelter to help the homeless at Christmas.

Do you know other people in your position? Knowing someone who has handles Christmas post-divorce successfully gives an opportunity to ask how they did it.  How did they get through it?  Are they doing something you can join in with?

Ask yourself if there was one good thing about the situation, what would it be? It might be that you no longer have to watch the Queen’s speech or cook sprouts which you hate.

Give yourself the gift of taking power over your time.

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“My children won’t be with me, and I don’t know how I’ll cope”

Flip it and focus on the time you DO have together, rather than on the time you don’t.

Your children will take their cue from you. If you are down and negative, they will be too. If you are angry and resentful, they are likely to feel conflicted and stressed. When you are upbeat and make plans to do things that you all enjoy in the time you are together, they will do the same. Get ideas from them about things they’d like to do, traditions they’d like to start. Focus on arranging a few things you will all enjoy.

Ultimately, Christmas Day is just a day, and you can have yours whenever you want. When my children are at their Dad’s for Christmas day, we have a full-on Christmas on a different weekend – turkey, all the trimmings, stockings, gifts, family over, the lot. These days, their question is “when’s our Christmas this year Mum?”.

Last week, I asked my 14-year-old son how he feels about Christmas – “it’s great, we have two Christmases!” he shot back with a cheeky grin. When you frame this new reality positively, your children will follow your example.


“I feel angry that my ex gets to spend Christmas with the children when I don’t”

Put yourself into your children’s shoes – and I mean really put yourself in them.  Close your eyes and imagine you are them, seeing, hearing and experiencing things from their perspective. This can be challenging, but it’s worth doing. What do they want? Most children just want to be able to see both parents, have fun at both houses, and be free to love both Mum and Dad. Put the children’s interests right at the top. No child wants to see their parents arguing over where they will spend Christmas Day.

Take a step back from the emotion, and try to put aside your differences over Christmas. Consider how you usually respond to your ex, and make a conscious decision to respond rather than react. Breathe and slow down your reactions - although you can’t control your ex, their behaviours, their reactions, you can control your own, and take the heat out of the situation.

You have the remote control to your brain, so shift your focus away from feeling angry about the time you don’t have, and focus instead on the time you do have, and on making it matter – both for the children and for yourself.

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“I will have to see my ex on Christmas Day, and I’m dreading it”

Your brain doesn’t know the difference between what you imagine and what you remember, and you can prepare for seeing your ex by becoming the Steven Spielberg of your own mind. Use a Mind Movie to prepare for those times when you know you’ll have to see your ex.

Imagine the scene, and run it like a movie in your mind, with you watching it on a big screen. See yourself in the movie. Imagine yourself zipping up a Teflon suit, being composed, saying exactly what you need to say, acting confidently, calmly and exactly as you wish. Rehearse what you want to say out loud. Now rewind the scene and run it again, asking yourself what you could do to make it even better. Make the colours vivid and bright and make the picture bigger and bigger. Feel yourself in the scene, so that you are no longer watching, and have become part of the movie in your mind. Repeat until you feel in control of the scene, and that you’ve given your very best performance.

Notice how you feel now that you know what you want to say and how you want to feel and act.  Now when you meet your ex, your brain will remember your mind movie, and will know what you need to do.

  In the end, it takes as much effort to worry and stress about Christmas as it does to plan for how you can flip things around and make it better for yourself. 

It’s up to you which you choose.

The key is to shift your focus, stop worrying about Christmas Day, and concentrate on what you can do to make Christmas as good as it possibly can be. It may not be perfect this year, and it may not be exactly as you really want, but you can make the best of it, and make it as free from stress as you can. And you never know, you might create a tradition that you really love!

If you would like to know more about coaching with me, please get in touch!

Claire Black