Christmas Divorce: Surviving the Holidays in an Unhappy Marriage

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You know it to your very core. You're done! Watching your husband stuff himself at Christmas parties is unbearable. Listening to that fake laugh your wife puts on when she is trying to be social makes you cringe. You hate the way your spouse looks, acts, talks, and smells. Even the sound of your spouse breathing makes you crazy! Holiday spirit be damned! All you want this year is a Christmas divorce!

How Not to Be the Grinch Who Ruined Christmas

The problem, of course, is that, as much as you want your marriage to be over yesterday, announcing that you want a divorce for Christmas will make the Grinch look like Santa Claus compared to you.

You don’t want to ruin Christmas for your kids. You don’t want to make your entire extended family feel awkward and uncomfortable. Most of all, you don't want to make a mistake. Not now.

So, even though your spouse gets on your very last nerve, you've decided to suck it up and soldier through the holidays.

Figuring out how to do that, without spending the entire holiday season swimming in a vat of egg nog, however, can be a challenge.

Sad beagle under a Christmas tree decorated with hanging sausages.

The Christmas Divorce Dilemma

If you’ve never been particularly adept at hiding your feelings, getting through the holidays with a smile on your face while tears are streaming out of your heart isn't easy.

You feel fake. You can barely contain your anger.  Mostly, though, what you feel is ... alone.

You feel the soul-shattering loneliness that comes from being disconnected with the one person you thought you'd be connected to for life.

At the same time, you understand that NOW may not be the best time to start a divorce. The holidays are already going to be stressful and difficult enough. The last thing you want to do is make them even more difficult by blowing up your marriage too!

So, what do you do?

Christmas divorce shown by decorations on an empty dinner plate with a wedding ring on it

3 Steps for Managing a Difficult Holiday Season

1. Decide what matters. 

Life is full of conflicting choices. If you want a relatively peaceful holiday, you may have to be "inauthentic" and not tell your spouse that you're thinking about divorce.

On the other hand, if you decide to come clean and spill your guts about what's going on in your head, your holiday (and your kids' holiday!) will likely be trashed. Given the fact that the past few years have been pretty rough for everyone, that might not be what you want to do.

2. Commit to Your Decision.

It's one thing to "decide" that you're going to tough it out this holiday season. Committing to honor that decision without exploding before the holidays are over, however, is an entirely different thing.

When you commit to a decision, you stop questioning it. You stop torturing yourself by wondering every single day whether you're doing the right thing. Instead, you accept that you've made your decision. If you've decided that you're not going to get a Christmas divorce, then you need to commit to making the best of life as it is until after the holidays are over.

3. Find Joy Where You Can

Even if your life right now isn't perfect (and whose life IS perfect?!) you can probably still find many things to be grateful for. You can find many things that will make you happy - if even for a moment. The only problem is, you're not looking for them.

As human beings, we're always looking for danger. We're trying to be aware of and avoid what could hurt us, or what we DON'T want. The problem is, what you focus on expands. So instead of looking for what you HATE, or what you DON'T WANT, try looking for what you love, and what brings you joy.

That small shift can make a huge difference in how you feel, and how you get through these next few weeks. 

Of course, there's more you can do too.

Here are 10 tips you can use to help you make it through the holidays with at least a little more peace, and joy.

Santa pointing a finger at you.

10 tips for making your holidays bright(er)… or at least bearable!

1. Forget about Norman Rockwell.

The more you try to make this holiday season “perfect,” the more energy you’re going to throw at creating an image of something that doesn't exist.   Doing that will be exhausting and frustrating.

This year, let go of your expectations of having the best holiday ever and just aim for a holiday that is “happy enough.” While that might not be perfect, you will feel much better doing that than you will if you're aiming for a fabulous holiday that you have no chance of achieving this year.

(If things are really bad, you may just want to focus on surviving the holidays and putting them behind you! I know that sounds kind of depressing, but sometimes just surviving is an accomplishment!)

Blurry picture with hands holding a frame. Inside is a clear picture of a tree in focus.

2. Focus on What You Want.

What you focus on expands.

If all you think about is how much you hate your spouse or how much you want out of your marriage, you are dooming yourself to a holiday full of misery. The same thing will be true if you focus on all the things you CAN'T have this Christmas because your marriage sucks or times are hard.

Focusing on everything you lack will only make you feel worse.

So, instead of focusing right now on getting a Christmas divorce, focus on getting through this holiday with as much happiness as you can muster. Remember, too, that next year will be better. 

3. Start Wrestling Your Fears Now.

Getting a divorce will force you to plunge headfirst into the icy unknown, with no guarantee of how everything will turn out. No matter how convinced you are that you're doing the right thing,  going through a divorce can be terrifying.

Treat the holidays as a time of introspection. Instead of running around and "doing" a thousand things, make time to get quiet. Make a list of the things you're worried or scared about. Then start working on crossing things off that list.

How? 

You can start by educating yourself about divorce and finances. Knowledge is power. It is also empowerment. The more you know about divorce, and the more prepared you are before you start, the better you're likely to do.

You can also find someone to talk to right now. That could be a good friend, or it could be a therapist. If you don’t have a therapist check out BetterHelp, the world's largest online counseling service. They can help you find a therapist today!

Infographic listing 5 tips to survive the holidays when you're in an unhappy marriage or contemplating a Christmas Divorce.

4. Lay Off the Holiday Cheer.

While it may be tempting to drown your sorrows in a giant mug of hot spiced rum, doing that is courting disaster.

Over-indulging in alcohol (or any other drug!) will only make you more depressed. Instead of building you up, that kind of behavior will tear you down. It will make you feel better in the moment (maybe), but worse in the long term.

What's worse, when your inhibitions are down, you are way more likely to blurt out things that you wish you could take back. Nothing will start your divorce off in a worse way than blurting out to your spouse in an alcohol-fueled moment that you want a divorce - especially if you hadn't planned on moving forward with it for a while yet.

Happy children decorate a Christmas tree.

5. Really Put Your Kids First.

Doing your best to make this holiday as happy as possible for your kids is a triple win. Your kids will enjoy their holiday more. You will be happier because your kids will be happy. Plus, focusing on your kids will distract you from your own unhappy situation. 

Of course, making a happy holiday for your kids may be more challenging when you're miserable yourself. But that's all the more reason to focus on your kids and their holiday experience.

Whatever your holiday traditions are, dive into them with gusto! Or, maybe you'd benefit from doing things differently this year.  This may be a great time to create new holiday traditions. Either way, focusing on helping your kids have a good holiday will help you do the same. (Just remember tip #1. Don't put pressure on yourself to be "perfect")

6. Make Time For Yourself Every Day.

Trying to put on a happy face when you’re dying inside takes an incredible amount of energy. That's why, amidst all the holiday hustle and bustle, it's important to take a little time for yourself every day.

Do something that makes you happy every single day. Bake cookies. Exercise. Sleep in. Take a walk. Listen to a podcast. Watch a movie. Call a friend. Do something you enjoy.

(If doing anything for YOU seems impossible right now, then you REALLY need to steal away a few minutes for yourself!  You’re not a robot. You need to recharge your own batteries or you won't be able to take care of everyone else.)

7. Take Baby Steps.

We all think that unless we do something that's really HUGE, it doesn't count. Yet, the tortoise won the race with the hare because he just kept putting one foot in front of the other and taking baby steps.

Instead of focusing on how trapped you feel by having to stay married right now, start preparing yourself for the divorce you know is coming.

Educate yourself about divorce. Start collecting financial information. Make a budget. Start researching different parenting schedules. Do some small thing to move your divorce forward in your head. Even making small progress toward your divorce will make you feel less anxious. 

Angry screaming woman pointing directly at the camera.

8. Change Your Approach.

The last thing anyone needs at the holidays is more drama. Yet, the holidays seem designed to dial up the drama.

Everyone has conflicting expectations. Everyone is stressed to the max. 

Yet, you can make your holidays different.

This holiday season, refuse to argue with your spouse. (Yes, you can!) When your spouse pushes your buttons, walk away. Sure, doing that may take an extreme amount of self-control. But, you, and your kids, will enjoy a much more peaceful holiday if you can pull it off. (Plus, it will confuse the devil out of your spouse!) 

9. Appreciate What You Have.

If this is the last holiday you will spend with your spouse and your kids as a family, treasure it! So what if it's not how you want your holiday to be? If you can appreciate your holiday for what it is, you will be SO much happier. 

Life can change in an instant. Appreciate what you have today.

(BONUS TIP: You'll never appreciate today if you heap giant mounds of guilt on yourself by thinking, "This will be our last holiday as a family!" That kind of thinking helps no one - including your kids!)

Woman with her eyes closed and a picture of her dream home superimposed in her hair.

10. Dream.

What would your life be like if it was EXACTLY the way you wanted? What would you have and what would you do? Most importantly, who would you BE? 

Imagine that. Imagine your life as you want it to be. See yourself being happy. Visualize yourself as living where you want, and with whom you want. Picture your kids as being well-adjusted, and satisfied with their new lives. Imagine yourself having the holidays you WISH you could have!

Most people think that dreaming will make them feel worse. They think it will point out to them what they DON'T have.

While that may be true, what's also true is that dreaming inspires you. It helps you figure out and focus on what you want. Dreaming will give you the vision and the power to create what you WANT in your life. Try it.

Despondent woman in Santa hat eating a TV Dinner alone.

Surviving the Holidays in an Unhappy Marriage

Getting through the holidays when your marriage is on the rocks, takes courage and strength. Give yourself credit for taking on that challenge.

Give yourself credit, too, for doing what's best for your kids in a year that has already been rough on them.

As unbearable as the holidays may be for you this year, if sucking it up for a few more weeks gives your kids a happy and peaceful holiday, it's worth it.

In the end, whether they ever know it or not, that can be one of the best gifts you can give your kids. And give your kids that gift will, in turn, be a gift to you.

______

This post was originally written on December 19, 2018 and updated on November 29, 2022.

Karen Covy

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches people to make hard decisions with confidence, and navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about the art and science of making difficult decisions in emotionally-charged circumstances. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


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coping with divorce, dealing with divorce, divorce blog, divorce tips


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  • I’m not so sure that it’s the last time. Many people are unhappy for years and years before they divorce. Most marriages, especially those that started as the betrayal of another marriage end up unhappy as hell with people staying together for fear of he unknown – long after the glitter has worn off the so-called marriage that they caused so much pain to be in – and now cannot stand.

    The one time affair partner is now the hated and resented spouse but many people live in denial because they cannot acknowledge the blame for the heartless pain they caused their former family. They cannot admit they were horribly wrong – so they stay and rationalize until they just cannot take it any longer.

    • Actually, you’re right. People often stay in unhappy marriages for years. There are many reasons for unhappiness, though. Not all of them have to do with betrayal. Even still, healing after infidelity can be rough. It takes a lot of patience, love, and forgiveness. (I know that there are those who don’t agree that you should ever forgive someone who cheated on you, or that you are worth of forgiveness if you were the cheater, but I disagree. Holding on to anger and pain only continues to hurt the person who is angry. Not feeling worth of forgiveness will ruin any chance at happiness you may have in the future.)

      Hopefully, the holidays will inspire us all to learn how to forgive so we can find peace.

      Best.

      Karen

      d

  • Here’s a thought… Rather than divorcing a good husband and that worked hard to support his family, treated her friends and in-laws well, and cherished and adored his wife for decades…… Instead of walking out, how about walking off a cliff?

  • This Article was tremendously helpful. thanks so much however I’ve screwed up…. it’s Dec 13th and I’ve already stirred things up and told him I’m done, again! I’m trying to be civil but it still feels very uncomfortable and even worse the kids know(16&10) I’m taking all of your advice from this article and applying best I can. Im married 17 years and sadly most were unhappy. Timing is terrible!!! But it was the being fake part that did me in! But now I’m paying the price for not keeping my cool! Grrr I need so much help!

    • First of all … forgive yourself! You did the best you could.

      #2 Now that the cat is out of the bag, it’s probably time for some damage control. Keep the lines of communication open, especially with your kids. Listen to them. See if they will tell you what you can do right now to help make their holidays better. Maybe there’s nothing you can do. But you’ll never know unless you ask! (… and if their answer to what they want is for you not to get a divorce, be ready for that! Have a gentle, but kind, explanation of how that is not THEIR decision. While that may seem cruel, the truth is that simple statement – as hard as it may seem – also assures them that your divorce is not something THEY can control. It’s also not their fault.)

      #3 Find healthy coping techniques to get you through the end of the year. Take walks. Get support. Do your best to get enough sleep.

      Finally, remember that “this, too, shall pass.” While your timing may not have been optimal, getting a divorce any time is NEVER a fun experience! So this was never going to be something that your kids were going to be happy about.

      Hang in there.

      I hope this helps.

      Karen

  • Doing this now, lovely time with family! The marriage may end,
    yet the family doesn’t have to!
    Let go of what was, to think like your going to miss something only draws you back using the past as a prelude to the future and that’s not what you want!

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