Spending the holidays with your ex might be the last thing you want to do after a divorce. But the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, and when you share children or extended family with your ex, it’s likely that you’ll see them at least briefly between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
Whether you just need to make it through custody exchange, or if you and your ex are on good enough terms to spend time together for the sake of the kids, seeing your ex-spouse can bring up difficult emotions. However, with some planning and a positive attitude, you can make the holiday season manageable—or even enjoyable—for yourself and your family.
Here are 6 tips for surviving the holidays when you have to see your ex.
Try to Smile
If you aren’t really feeling happy during the holidays, you can at least try to fake it. Studies show that smiling can release dopamine and serotonin, tricking your brain into feeling happier. Putting on a smile can help make the holidays easier for children, prevent arguments, and keep the environment calm. Make it a goal to stay positive, even if it’s just for the kids.
Avoid Excessive Alcohol
Although a glass of wine seems like it will help take the edge off, alcohol is a depressant that can impact your mood and make the holidays harder for you in the long run. Know your limits and stick to them. The last thing you want is to say something you regret during an eggnog-fueled rant. While at it, try to be mindful of everything you consume during the holidays. Rich, sugary foods and a lack of physical activity can also damage your mood.
Stick to Neutral Topics
Don’t rehash past disagreements, discuss a new love interest, or bring up the modification you want to make to your custody agreement. These topics are minefields that can quickly blow up and ruin an evening. Instead, keep the conversation light and away from touchy topics. If you must discuss a legal matter, wait until after the holidays, or at least until you and your ex can speak one-on-one in a neutral environment.
Plan for Extra Travel and Drop Off Time
If dropping off or picking up your kids from your ex is difficult to begin with, the traffic, snow, and social commitments of the holiday season can put you over the edge. Be sure to build in extra time to exchange children in case there’s heavy traffic or little ones have difficulty with the transition. Feeling rushed will only add to any negative emotions you’re already dealing with.
Even if spending time with your ex is hard, following the routine of holidays past can provide some comfort. If it’s your tradition to exchange Hannukah gifts at your in-laws’ house or chop down your Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, stick to it. When you know what to expect, you can eliminate some of the uncertainty—and the corresponding negative emotions—of a post-divorce holiday season. Plus, maintaining the holiday magic for children can make the season more enjoyable for them (and therefore for you and your ex).
Take Care of Yourself
The holidays are full of emotion and expectations, so be compassionate toward yourself when committing to events, gift exchanges, and other activities. Try to find a balance between staying busy and having down time to process your feelings. Rely on friends and family, and ask them to act as a buffer between you and your ex if needed. The holiday season can be challenging, but you will get through it with the right mindset and support.