Even if the holidays were hell for you when you were married, rife with arguments and stress, the first holiday season post-divorce will probably feel like a gut punch.
Bereft of the rituals you came to expect, such as dinner at the in-laws or opening gifts around a Christmas tree, a holiday can seem uncomfortably desolate. If you had children with your ex, it will likely be especially difficult.
Filling the void isn’t instantaneous. But the good news is that more resources are available than you might realize when the ink is still drying on your divorce papers. Marriage, especially a toxic marriage, can give us tunnel vision and blind us to other opportunities for making meaningful social connections.
By employing creative thinking and taking initiative, newly divorced people can discover many ways to find community and build new holiday traditions. Here are 11 often-overlooked sources of support you can turn to.
- Volunteering: A simple and free way to engage with your community, meet new people, and get positive vibes is by donating your time to a cause you care about. Whether lending a hand in a soup kitchen or planting trees, directing your energy toward improving the world will lift your spirits. Connecting with people and making new friends can also be easy when you have similar values and are working on a project together.
- A Local or Online Support Group: Sometimes, we just need to talk to other people who can relate to our experiences. Dropping into a support group for newly divorced people can help you acknowledge and process your feelings. Many communities have organizations that allow divorced and separated people to meet regularly to share their thoughts and anxieties. Online support groups that meet remotely abound as well.
- Explore Your Interests: Now is a great time to take up a new hobby or dive into one you never had enough time for in the past. Book clubs, writing groups, painting classes, gardening, bird watching, hiking, wine clubs, or getting involved in a community sports leagues are all great options. Holiday-themed activities, such as festivals, jack-o-lantern carving, gingerbread house making, holiday lights, and themed cooking or baking competitions, are also an option.
- Reconnect With Extended Family: Have cousins or elderly relatives in far-flung parts of the country whom you rarely get to see? Consider reaching out, reconnecting, and trekking out to see them. You may be able to rekindle a strong familial relationship, or at least you can indulge in some nostalgia over your shared past and forge new holiday traditions together.
- Solo Group Travel: You could join a group travel exclusion. There are many options for divorced people and singles in older age groups who wish to take solo vacations together. You could go backpacking in the mountains of Peru, bicycle around the Netherlands, tour California wineries, or enjoy tropical beach destinations as part of these types of group trips. There are even cruises just for singles over 40. The advantage of solo traveling in groups is that everyone you are with will be in the same stage of life and have similar experiences. It’s possible you could meet a new romantic partner or just a new friend.
- Fitness and Wellness Centers: Physical activity helps us combat the blues in more ways than one. It raises endorphins, improving our mood. But many fitness and wellness centers are also great places to make new adult friendships, especially if there are group classes such as Zumba, pilates, or yoga. People who are trying to stick to healthy lifestyles often enjoy camaraderie, seek out social reinforcement, and bond easily over shared interests.
- Religious Institutions: If you were raised in a religious tradition, you may find it helpful to reengage your spiritual side. That might mean rejoining or recommitting to a religious community, or trying a new spiritual path. Most religious groups are geared toward social involvement and helping people who feel lost find their way. Focusing on showing love for others and embracing a higher power will also put you in a good state of mind during the holidays.
- Say “Yes” to Social Events: For a period of months or maybe a year, make a concerted effort to attend any social function you’re invited to, even if it doesn’t sound automatically appealing. New experiences will help pull you out of a funk. You may also make lasting social connections and surprise yourself by discovering new activities that you truly enjoy. Surrounding yourself with people, even if they’re not close friends, can add joy to the holiday season.
- Reach Out to Therapists and Counselors: If your loneliness feels overwhelming or persistent, consider speaking with a therapist or counselor specializing in divorce and coping strategies. Seeking professional help can provide valuable guidance and a confidential space to express your feelings. Online therapists and counseling may also be available.
- Spend Time in Cafes, Bookstores, and Small Museums: Bustling locally-owned cafes, bookstores, and local art and history museums are often de facto community centers. They may host events such as readings, live musical performances, or cultural gatherings. Many will also have bulletin boards where patrons advertise their own meet-ups and events. For similar information, you can also visit regular community centers or local YMCAs/YWCAs.
- Parenting Forums: Even if it doesn’t specialize in divorce, a parenting forum can be another good source of support if you have children. More likely than not, you will still want to be part of your children’s life despite splitting up with your ex-spouse. Parenting groups can help you think through your parenting strategies and determine how to make the most of your time with your kids. Remember, parenting forums aren’t just for married nuclear families. Families come in all forms these days, and many single and divorced parents will be dealing with many of the same challenges you might face.