Is this your last Christmas together?

It’s well known that applications for divorce hit their peak each January. And it makes sense – you’ve held it together over Christmas for the sake of your families. In 2020 you’ve put up with one of the most stressful years on record. And the New Year is time for change. A fresh start.

If that’s you this December, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Is this your last Christmas together? will guide you through how to cope if you’re thinking this is your last Christmas together.

Had enough?

It’s been a tough old year for most of us. One way or another we’ve all been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. My clients are exhausted, my friends are exhausted, I’m exhausted.

Often when we get to December Christmas is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Things have been on the rocks with your other half for some time. And now there are the stresses of present-buying, school festivities, meeting everyone’s expectations. You can’t bear going through it all again. Enough is enough. You’ve decided you’ll stagger through this Christmas and that’s it.

Is it mutual?

Is it just you feeling this way? Or has your spouse had enough too? It’s helpful to know where both of you stand. It might feel like an extra thing to add to the festive to-do list, but a simple opener like,

“Have you got a minute to chat? I’m feeling as though we’re at the end of our marriage. Is it just me?”

can lead to an insightful conversation. Only if it’s done appropriately though! This is not something to lob into an argument because you intend to hurt, or to raise just before one of you has a work meeting.

Find a quiet time when you’re feeling calm to bring it up. And then, listen. Is this your last Christmas together? is a valid question. A whole range of scenarios might unfold. You might find your partner’s been feeling this way too, and doesn’t know what to do about it. You might find they’re completely taken aback that anything’s wrong. You might find they’ve been intending to raise the subject of divorce themselves. Or any number of other responses.

However you feel about what they say, keep your cool. It takes courage to have a conversation like this – courage from both of you.

Can you rewrite the story?

Just because one or both of you is feeling unhappy in your marriage doesn’t mean it has to be the end. If you’re able to have an honest and civil conversation about what’s wrong, that means there’s a chance you can put it right.

Relationship counselling or can be a helpful way to work through your issues together. A trained practitioner will help you both dig into your thoughts and feelings and be heard by the other person. And ultimately, they can help you to reconcile on a better footing, or establish a non-combative divorce process.

Do bear in mind this sort of honest discussion is unhelpful if you’re married to someone with narcissistic tendencies. You can read more about relationships with narcissists here.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to fit in sessions before Christmas. But a commitment to seek help in the new year may start to set things right. And you can both approach Christmas knowing you’ve taken a step for your future happiness – whatever happens. Which may allow a little more festive spirit to flow.

Use what you’ve learned this year

The stresses of lockdown have taught us all a few things. We know, more than ever, what pushes our buttons at home. And hopefully, we’re a little more aware of our coping mechanisms – the good and the bad.

What did you do when things got too much back in May? Did you plug the children in front of the TV and call a friend? Did you go for a walk? Did you down a bottle of gin? Choose the most helpful of all those coping mechanisms (so maybe not the whole bottle of gin) and make a list now. Write down all the things you find soothing, energising or nurturing when you’re at a low ebb.

If things get too tense over the festive period, pull out your list. Know that you have it to turn to. Chances are if you’re unhappy with your marriage now, you were unhappy back then too. So this list can remind you of what you can do for yourself to get through the bad times.

Set out rules

If you’ve had that initial conversation with your other half about how you’re both feeling, you’ve made a good start. But it’s not simply a case of parking it over Christmas. You’re grieving for a marriage that isn’t what you want it to be. These feelings hit harder at Christmas, probably more than ever this year.

So you need to both be clear about what you need over the festive weeks to make it work. This will be different for every single couple. It will depend on how you’re both feeling about your marriage. It will depend on what other people are involved – if there are children or other people bubbling with you.

But in every case, the idea is to create rules or expectations to ensure your Christmas is as calm and low-conflict as possible. if this is your last Christmas together, be mindful. Maybe you and your spouse really can’t stand being around each other. So make sure you divide your time with the children – you take everyone out while your other half cooks. It’s far better for children to be with one, less stressed parent than sit through your constant bickering.

If both of you are feeling sad and overwhelmed, make sure you each have undisturbed down time, or time with friends (virtually if necessary). Give each other respectful space.

Break with tradition

If there’s a silver lining to the upheaval the pandemic has wrought, it’s that it’s the perfect excuse to break with tradition. This year, more than any other, you have every reason to say you won’t be seeing your spouse’s relatives. Or you won’t be making Christmas dinner for twelve.

Or you won’t be having Christmas dinner at all, and instead you can all nibble on treats all day. And let’s face it, the children will love the chance to eat chocolate and crisps from morning until night!

So if you’re having a tough time this year, use Covid as your reason to put your own needs first. You don’t have to stick with the family traditions because that’s the way it’s always been. You never had to anyway – but this is the perfect year to make that break.

Escape

Unless you’re in emotional, physical or financial danger this is not the best time to pack your bags and leave. It’s always better to have a divorce plan in place before you do that anyway – you can read about divorce plans here. It may help you feel more in control if you use some of the Christmas holidays to start getting your plan together. Or you may decide to put life on hold over Christmas and tackle it in the new year.

But there are lots of other ways to have a break from a stressful home. If you’re in an area that allows it, take yourself off for a long walk by yourself, or with a trusted friend. Just get away from the chaos of home for a while. And if you’re stuck at home, this is the perfect season to lose yourself in films and books. Get out of your own story for a while and rest in someone else’s.

I am taking a break myself over Christmas (for the first year in too long!). But I am available in the new year to help you work through your next steps. Join me in The Absolute Academy (do it quickly before the price rises in January 2021!) and you’ll find a whole community of supportive, empowered women.

Or book in a free chat to see how I can support you 1-1.

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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