I have offered up my ideas on how to move through the holidays and keep your sanity for yourself and how to assist your kids...but what about the person you are leaving? Or that left you? Two very different scenarios requiring the exact same emotional bandwidth...I know, sounds crazy but it is true...
Regardless of whether or not you were left or did the leaving, there are two things that will be indispensable to getting through the holidays without an emergency hearing, thousands of dollars and a great deal of pain for everyone: Compassion and forgiveness.
Let’s apply these concepts differently...
You as the Leaver:
You wanted out. Ideally this would not have come so close to the holidays but there is no really perfect time to leave a marriage. Even if you left some time ago, this is the first holiday in your new orbit and it is going to be different...
If you are the one that left, your ex is likely to fall into one of the following camps:
1. They are ok with your decision and are willing to move on.
2. They are trying to get you back and pulling out all the stops.
3. They hate you and are doing everything they can to hurt you.
Let’s start with Camp 1 because it is the easiest. Simply remember that this is your ex’s first holiday in the new world order too. They may ask to spend time together, they may insist on spending the time apart. They may demand the kids or refuse to take them. If they are pretty cooperative, the holidays will likely not be too hard. If you go with a spirit of cooperation and understanding, you should fare just fine.
Regardless of how well you are getting along, there will still be compassion and forgiveness required simply by definition of your union ending. There will be opportunities to see the places they are broken and hard to deal with and there will also be opportunities for you to see the same in yourself. Have compassion for your ex while practicing compassion for yourself. Neither of you married and wanted the current outcome, yet here you are. Both of you made mistakes, lots of them, a long the way, practice forgiveness for you both. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Refusal to forgive poisons you, your kids and often doesn’t hurt your ex at all! You don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior or condone their conduct, forgiveness is really just letting go of the score keeping and disappointment regurgitation. Let it go. Let your ex be someone new to you as you learn to be someone new to them. Yes, it is hard, but if it were easy what would our divorce rate really be???
You as leavee.
This is a simpler situation. Wait, what did I just say? Yes, if you are the one that was left, this whole dealing with your ex thing is much simpler. Behave in a manner that will make your ex wonder why they left. Yes, I just said that. There is no greater revenge than living well. And no matter how heartbroken you are right now, taking it out on the person that just left you is not going to do anything but make them super glad they left. You are hurting. You are devastated. That is anything but ok. But it is where you are. And believe it or not, it has just happened for you. This relationship that you were happy in was not working, for whatever reason, in spite of all the love, time and effort you gave. Believe me when I say that there is no relationship you can make work if it isn’t meant to be.
You are going to need time to heal. Time to sort through the end of something that you were not ready to let go of...take that time now. You are going to be freed up a bit over the holidays with the kids spending time with your ex or if you don’t have kids, the holidays being different experientially than they were last year. Take the time you are given, go within. Spend time there.
There are likely three scenarios in which you find yourself:
1. You are happy they are gone and are relieved that they did what you could not.
2. You are trying to get them back.
3. You hate them and want to hurt them.
For the you in #1, it is a clear path. Treat them the way that you want to be treated. Take the high road. Compromise. Work together. Use a coach to help you through this hard time. Spend a little time remembering what you love/loved about this person who is now your ex. Focus on the good and let the bad fall away. You are now on the road to freedom from this person, your mind is like this great magnifying glass, whatever you focus on, will get bigger. You focus on their faults, the bigger they get. You focus on their strengths, the bigger those get too. It is going to be hard this year, that is truth. However, how hard is really up to you...unless you are married to a Narcissist and then it is just going to be hard forever. I am sorry. But you already know this. They are very unlikely to change and you are going to have to get the resources to deal with them: a fantastic lawyer, therapist and coach. Get those now!
If you really want the person that just left you back, the most important and fundamental thing you can do is to let them go. I know, makes no sense but it is true. You can hang on and be dragged but you can’t make them stay. And seriously do you really want to make someone who doesn’t love you anymore stay? Come on, you deserve way better than that! If you really want another chance with this person, the best thing you can do to help that a long is to do the work that you have refused to do before. Do your inner work. True, there is no guarantee that they will come back but if you do the work on you, they might be willing to work it through and even if they aren’t, you will be on your way to making the changes for you, whether they come back or not.
The you in #3 is awful. You are consumed with hatred for this person who just left you. The one that you maybe put through school or spent your inheritance setting up in business. Maybe you did things sexually with this person that you are ashamed of to keep them in your life. Maybe they were abusive to you and you put up with it because you loved them. Now the person that you sacrificed so much for has left you and the raw and intense feelings eat at you every day. The hole that they left in your life so massive that you cannot begin to think of how you will ever fill it. And hate seems like a good filler right now. It isn’t. Ever. Hate breeds more hate. It really does little to the other person except engender the same conduct back at you. I know I am asking a lot. But compassion and forgiveness are critical in this scenario. Start with you. Have compassion for yourself that though you gave it your all, it didn’t work out. Maybe their leaving will be the best thing that has ever happened to you...maybe it will be something way less important down the line. But having compassion for yourself and how you feel is a great foundation to build a new life. You tried, and it didn’t work. Own the parts of you that contributed to that failure. Be tender toward them and get some professional help. Then begin working on forgiving yourself for your part in all of this mess. Clearly, this was not how you wanted it to go...but here you are nevertheless. Forgiveness is a small and quiet room and it always begins with you.
It is not easy to be separated during the holidays. For some of you, it will be ridiculously hard and cost a small fortune to get through. If you are married to someone who has a personality disorder or addiction, it is going to be messy and harder than it should be. However, no matter what kind of monster you are married to, you can survive and even thrive. Start with compassion and forgiveness for yourself and begin, no matter how insignificantly, to extend those feelings of compassion and forgiveness to your ex. It will not be easy but if you begin now, you will be further a long next year when the holidays roll around.
A word on domestic abuse:
If you are in an abusive marriage, please get some professional help. All of what I have just said needs to be reframed by someone with a license and the ability to keep you safe. Please get help. You deserve it and really need it. You are worthy of more than abuse and denigration, give yourself the gift of a life better lived this year by refusing to put up with abuse any longer. Call a shelter, therapist or perhaps even the police. No one deserves to be abused physically, sexually or emotionally. Rise up and take back your life with a phone call to someone who can help you sort through your situation and keep you safe above all else.
Don’t write this holiday season off just yet...you may be able to have a happy one albeit very different than years past. It is going to be different and hard and new and scary. But this is the first for you in your new life. And that is something to celebrate.
Finally I want to leave you with the following quote from Cheryl Strayed as I believe it should be everyone’s goal in divorce...most especially at the holidays:
“One ends a romantic relationship while remaining a compassionate friend by being kind above all else.
By explaining one’s decision to leave the relationship with love and respect and emotional transparency.
By being honest without being brutal.
By expressing gratitude for what was given.
By taking responsibility for mistakes and attempting to make amends.
By acknowledging that one’s decision has caused another human being to suffer. By suffering because of that.
By having the guts to stand by one’s partner even while one is leaving.
By talking it all the way through and by listening. By honoring what once was.
By bearing witness to the undoing and salvaging what one can.
By being a friend, even if an actual friendship is impossible.
By having good manners.
By considering how one might feel if the tables were turned.
By going out of one’s way to minimize hurt and humiliation.
By trusting that the most compassionate thing of all is to release those we don’t love hard enough or true enough or big enough or right.
By believing we are all worthy of hard, true, big, right love.
By remembering while letting go.”
My suggestion? Read that quote as many times a day as you need to...then do it again tomorrow.