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Abby Rodman, LICSW Headshot

Merry Divorce? Why It's So Hard to Call It Quits During the Holidays

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If you're in the throes of contemplating divorce at this time of year, you've probably already figured out that this is a difficult time to make your intentions known to family and friends. The perfect moment you've been waiting for to make this all-important announcement is being foiled by another round of impending holidays. You have as much of a chance of getting this wrapped up now as Boston has of having a snowless winter.

If your toes are already dangling over the divorce threshold, this is a particularly tough time of year. Perhaps you're this close, and then, suddenly -- seemingly sprung from ashes -- holiday decor is everywhere, assaulting your senses and damping down every ounce of courage and wherewithal you've worked so hard to accrue. You just don't know how much longer you can stay, but how can you leave now?

January has been dubbed "divorce month" -- and with good reason. It shows a higher number of divorce filings than any other month. Why? Well, happy holidays! People aren't usually in a big hurry to call it quits -- and tell their kids -- right before the family-est time of the year. So you put on your cheesiest Christmas sweater, deck the halls and accept your Oscars for Best Actor and Actress in a Real-Life Drama.

The reality is that there is no perfect time to insist on divorce or tell your kids that their lives are about to change exponentially. Certainly, you don't want to announce your divorce while you're putting up the tree. Why would you? But are you hiding behind the holidays to avoid the unavoidable? You know that getting in that last Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or New Year's really isn't going to change much. But the holidays come with huge expectations attached, and you capitulate. You convince yourself that it's only right to give your kids one more holiday season with their family intact. And there's nothing wrong with that.

One of the more confusing things about the road to divorce is that family life pretty much continues on its merry way -- until it no longer does. You're busy buying gifts, sending cards, and singing in your church choir while impending divorce provides a grim backdrop for your best efforts at maintaining normalcy. Your holiday preparations are done with a heavy heart.

And that's the sadness in all of it, isn't it? That divorce is going to bring about change even where change isn't required. The cruel conundrum is that family life can be so darn functional in so many ways -- even when divorce is on the horizon. And for many, there's no reminder of that like the holidays.

So you slog through, feeling like you're walking through that Christmas Jell-O mold, knowing that this is the last time you'll set the table with your mother-in-law's china or go as a family to midnight mass. Every Hanukkah candle lit, every Christmas ornament hung, every Kwanzaa song sung carries an enormous weight of finality.

You've spent so many years creating your traditions, and now it's time to dismantle them like the browning Christmas tree that's ready for the curb. Now's the part where I assure you that you will create new traditions post-divorce. You may choose to mimic those of your former life or create something entirely different. Either way, it's challenging and often heart-wrenching. But wonderful and satisfying things can and do come from it, not least of all your chance at blessed peace and happiness.

There's no good answer for when you should make your decision to divorce known. My clients ask me when they'll know, when the best time will be. You'll know when you don't have any other choice, I tell them. But I suspect that I'll hear those questions less frequently as they gear up for another go at the holidays while, silently perhaps, they await January with a shiver of cold anticipation.