Surviving Your Split

How to Survive Thanksgiving

How to Survive Thanksgiving

I’ll never eat Boston Market again.

As my marriage was on its last legs, my husband and I ordered our Thanksgiving dinner from Boston Market, both of us too worn down emotionally from the past few months’ fighting, tears, and stress to even pretend like we could have a nice dinner together.  I remember thinking that Thanksgiving wasn’t supposed to be like this—that my life wasn’t supposed to be like this—and that this holiday made me feel even worse during a time when I didn’t think that was possible.

And so begins the holiday season for most of us. Thanksgiving is usually the shot fired at the beginning of the holiday race. This time of year is stressful even for people who aren’t going through a separation or divorce, but those feeling of stress and heartache seem to be on steroids for those of us who are. Not only do we have to worry about the holiday stress that comes with family, over-spending, and logistics nightmares, we are going through complete emotional shit shows that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies.

It is a lot to take in—if you feel like you’re going insane, don’t worry. Those feelings of overwhelm are completely normal. In preparation for Thanksgiving next week, I want to share with you some core strategies that will help you get through Thanksgiving so that you can focus on the important things: healing yourself, getting back to happy, and enjoying all the warmth of Thanksgiving and none of the drama.

It’s Not Your Imagination: Thanksgiving + Divorce = Feeling Horrible
This is the start of that time of year when people start to feel depressed, and that’s people who aren’t even going through divorce. We put these crazy expectations on ourselves as an attempt to make up for what we perceive to be our failures and shortcomings from the past year. And when we’re splitting from our spouse, those feelings are amplified. We may start going through the motions attempting to execute the perfect Thanksgiving, pretending everything is fine although the foundation is crumbling, and doing whatever we can to avoid facing the heartache and despair we may be feeling.

This time of year is perfect for letting us know that all is not well.

We have this idea that holidays and Thanksgiving are the epitome of families and togetherness, and when a relationship is healthy, that idea is definitely something that should be celebrated. But when things aren’t going well in our marriage, we subconsciously feel like we are not worthy of celebrating this family-focused holiday, which of course adds to the stress we already feel from a relationship on the rocks, as well as trying to meet some unrealistic expectation we have created for ourselves regarding the start of the holiday season.


(Image Courtesy BA50)

These feelings are a lot to take in, but recognize that is normal. If you are already feeling overwhelmed and stressed because of the split, but you are recently feeling like you’re under the microscope and the pressure is mounting, it’s not just your imagination! You have a lot of things going on right now and it may seem like the odds aren’t in your favor. But please recognize that you are strong and you will get through this with grace.

Get Rid of the B.S. Illusions of what Thanksgiving is Supposed to Be
Nothing in life is perfect. We know this. Yet, for some reason Thanksgiving flips an internal switch that says we need to orchestrate the perfect meal with the perfect place settings where everybody behaves themselves and has a wonderful time. I can’t think of a single Thanksgiving in my entire life where this situation has been the case. But for years, the media has perpetuated this false ideal of what Thanksgiving needs to be, complete with a huge turkey, dozens of delicious sides and desserts, and everything decorated perfectly. There are infinite Pinterest boards and shows on the Food Network that love to remind us that our Thanksgivings will never be up to par.


The impossible ideal. (Image courtesy Incredible Art)

But nobody can live up to those impossible ideals, which during the holidays, serves as a double-whammy for those of us going through separation and divorce, or those of us are considering it.  Thanksgiving at the start of the holiday season, when our marriage is on the rocks, has a way of reminding us that we have failed to live up to the dreams and visions we had for ourselves—it’s like life is twisting the knife a little more into our already aching hearts.

So, to hell with those unattainable standards! Although you are going though a rough spot right now and the timing is crappy because the holiday season is beginning, you have been given a second chance. You now have the opportunity to create your own picture of what you want Thanksgiving to be—you are now given the chance to breathe again and be independent again and find the things that give you comfort. And that doesn’t have to include a picture-perfect holiday table if you don’t want it to.

Boundaries are Beautiful 
For many, the chance to sit and the table and share memories spanning multiple generation can be magical: grandma passes the gravy, your drunk uncle tells that crazy college story for the 18th time, and everybody laugh about how the secret ingredient in the mashed potatoes turned out to be mayonnaise.

But when you’re in the stages of splitting up, the questions and prodding from family members, well-meaning or not, can make you feel like a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. If the thought of explaining a separation or divorce has been causing you to lose sleep lately, remember this: You have the right to remain silent.  

You are not obligated to tell anybody anything that you don’t want to share.  Common refrains from boundary-breakers have been “But I’m your mother” or “we’re family!”  But it’s your life and your choice whether or not to share details about the state of your marriage, whether you’re dating again, how the process is coming along, etc. If the folks you will be spending time with will receive you in a therapeutic, supportive, and non-judgmental environment, that’s wonderful. But if you are already stressed and uncomfortable and afraid of family gossip and prodding from family members, you have the right to privacy and the right to deflect or not answer any questions that are too uncomfortable or too painful to talk about.  Remember—this is your separation, your divorce, and it is your decision who you want to seek support from. No one, including your family members, is entitled to know the details unless you want to share with them.


  Boundaries are healthy, even with family members. (Image Courtesy General Assembly)

Surviving Your Split’s Thanksgiving Survival Strategies
In preparation for this upcoming week, there are several strategies that you can easily employ to ease the burden of the holiday.

  • Own Your Day

    • Nobody says that you have to spend hours in the kitchen preparing food, or spend hundreds of dollars on catering. There is no law that says you have to watch the game, or cook while others are watching the game. Nobody says you have to spend hour stuck in traffic or stress about delayed flights en-route to visit family members who only cause you stress and anxiety. Ask yourself, “what is it that you want to do?” and if you have children, think about, what is it that will make them happy?”

  • Focus on the things that give you comfort, not self-imposed obligations

    •  There is nothing so therapeutic as writing down the things you love doing during Thanksgiving, and spending your energy on those activities.  Why don’t you write your own list and use that as a starting point for how to celebrate this coming Thursday? Some of my favorites have included:

      • Seeing a movie

      • Taking a long walk in the afternoon to enjoy the weather

      • Spending time with people I actually want to spend time with, and not those who will judge me or not offer me support

    • **As you write your own list, you will notice that you probably don’thave the following:

      • Being scrutinized by prodding Thanksgiving guests who I am not comfortable sharing information with

      • Feeling completely exhausted because I tried to do too much to make everything perfect

      • Spending too much money on meal preparation, and then spending too much during crazy Black Friday sales

    • The idea here is to start focusing on the things that an soothe your tired and hurt soul right now, and give you a break from the divorce madness.

  • Understand that the holidays, as well as the pain and stress you are feeling with your split, will be over soon

    •  It may seem like a never-ending nightmare right now, but the day will come when the drama is over. It may not be by Christmas or New Year’s, but it will come. And it is you who has the power to mindfully navigate through the craziness and rise above it, instead of getting sucked into the void.

  • Remember what this holiday was supposed to be about in the first place: celebrating kindness and generosity

    • Sure, that can be embodied in helping at a local charity, but what I really mean here is being kind and generous to YOURSELF. When our hearts our breaking as our marriages are dying, the first person we forget to take care of is the haggard and heartbroken person staring back at us in the mirror. So be kind to yourself, focus on the things that truly provide you and your dependents comfort, and do your best to forget the rest. Hell, order out for Chinese or pizza if you want.  The best way to survive this holiday, and the start of the overwhelming holiday season, is to recognize that you are going through a crap-load right now and not to punish yourself for that.

In the next few weeks, Surviving Your Split will publish its first-ever Holiday First-Aid Kit that I am excited to share with you! This time of year can be super-stressful for those going through separation and divorce, but remember that I am here to ease that burden for you and help you get back to being happy. If you would like to learn how to reduce your stress and chaos, email me at martha@survivingyoursplit.com.

In the meantime, remember to be kind to yourselves and take care of yourselves. You deserve it.

Warmly,

Martha

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