Relationship breakdowns -- and breakups -- don't stop because just the calendar says it's the holidays.
If anything, the stressors of the season -- parties filled with seemingly happy couples and the promise of the coming new year -- can send already fragile relationships into a death spiral. In fact, a recent survey of more than 550 Americans by Wevorce, my divorce mediation company, found that one in 12 of us are considering divorce or separation during the holidays. The numbers for women are even more staggering, with one in eight saying they're thinking of calling it quits.
It's time to stop burying our heads in the snow. It's time to recognize that, buried beneath the wrapping paper and holiday cheer, many of us are struggling with the state of our marriages. If you're among those facing the end of a relationship, let me offer a few thoughts on how to best manage your emotions and actions through the holidays.
1. Get beyond the guilt. For most people, coming to grips with their desire to move on from their marriage is guilt inducing, whether deserved or not. Work to understand the reasons for your guilt. If it's born out your behaviors, then take the time to make amends and modify those behaviors. But if it's simply tied to the time of year, move on. You don't owe the calendar anything. You have the right to feel the way you feel, no matter the time of year.
2. Keep your puppy brain on its leash. Many of our decisions, especially in times of extreme stress, are driven by the primitive parts of our brains. The result is that we treat perceived threats, both physical and emotional, in a similar fashion. We fight or flee. I call this impulse "puppy brain." Before you make any big decisions, double-check that you are operating out of your calm, rational brain and not letting the puppy run loose.
3. If you can wait, do. Sharing your feelings now won't magically make the holidays go smoothly. Sure, you may get a short-term boost of having the weight lifted, but that will almost certainly come with additional pains as those emotions get tangled in the traditions and connections of the holiday season. I appreciate the desire to get it over with rather than go through the holidays with the prospect of divorce hanging over your head, but the reality of this conversation is that it could last days, weeks and sometimes months. Telling your partner how you feel is not the end of your marriage; it is the beginning of an important conversation.
4. Share now and risk creating a permanent trigger. Ask anyone who initiated a divorce and almost all of them will describe it as a traumatic experience. Those days and weeks following the initial announcement will linger in your memory... sometimes for years. Do you really want to create an association between the holidays and your divorce? Do you want to mark the beginning of the end of your marriage like another holiday in December? For some, that may not seem all that bad now, but you may feel differently in the coming years as you try to move on. The risks for both you and your children, if you have them, far outweigh the rewards.
5. If you must tell now, consider the long-term repercussions. Your marriage may be over, but if you have children, mutual friends or significant assets, your relationship is far from complete. If you simply can't justify waiting or if you're worried about your safety, be deliberate in your approach. Acknowledge the pain for everyone involved. Commit to doing what is best for both of you and your family. Listen. If accusations start flying, don't respond. Now is not that time. Instead, have a plan to leave the home and begin a cooling-off period. Understand that this is just the first discussion of many and express that you want to keep the dialogue going.
Divorce is never easy. The holidays add an additional level of complexity and context that should not be ignored -- not just because of the immediate discomfort, but also because of the potential long-term side effects that could poison your relationship with your kids, extended family and the holidays themselves.
One last, personal holiday wish: please, be nice to one another this holiday season. You just never know who among us is struggling silently with any number of personal issues. A little kindness can go along way towards healing our world.