What do you do about special occasions like birthdays when you get divorced?
Let’s take a look at this question from a couple of different angles. First, let’s see what you can expect to be different. Next, let’s dig into the question of which ones you should still celebrate. Finally, let’s talk about how you celebrate these occasions.
So, what can you expect to be different about birthdays when you are separated and divorced? Most likely, you’ll celebrate fewer of your former in-law’s birthdays than when you were married. It’s also common that former spouses no longer celebrate each other’s birthdays. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, former spouses will still contact each other on their birthdays. This is especially common when they have children together. You can expect that the way you’ll celebrate these occasions will change too.
Let’s dig into the question of which birthdays make sense for you to continue to celebrate when you’re separated and divorced. Many people have positive, healthy relationships with former in-laws and continue to celebrate birthdays with them. Notice the phrase, “positive, healthy relationships”. I don’t condone continuing to send your former mother-in-law a birthday card because you feel guilty or because you’re hoping that she’ll plead your case and help you get back together with your former spouse. However, if you have a positive, healthy relationship with her, then, yeah, go ahead and call or send her a card for her birthday. So what if you have children with your former spouse and you don’t have a positive, healthy relationship with your former mother-in-law? I believe that it’s your former spouse’s responsibility to help your children remember and celebrate their grandmother’s birthday and not yours. On the other hand, you may want to help your children remember their other parent’s birthday especially if they’re too young to remember it on their own.
Next, how do you celebrate? The fact is that EVERYTHING changes when you get divorced. You might not be celebrating special occasions with your former spouse any longer. Yes, that would mean that your kids will probably get to have 2 birthday celebrations – lucky them!. It may also mean that people you and your spouse know in common may not feel comfortable inviting both of you to special occasions any longer. The thing to remember is that who other people invite to celebrate their special occasions is all about them and not about you. So if you’d still like to acknowledge someone’s birthday, but you’re not invited to the party, go ahead and send them a card or give them a call IF you have a “positive, healthy relationship” with them.
The bottom line with respect to special occasions is to continue to celebrate the ones that truly are special to you and support you children in celebrating the special occasions that are special to them.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
Evaluate the special occasions you have in your calendar. Make sure to eliminate the ones that are not associated with positive, healthy relationships in your life. However, make sure you keep your ex-spouse’s birthday in your calendar until your children are old enough to remember it for themselves.
If you don’t have any special occasions in your calendar because your ex-spouse always took care of that for you, make a list of the positive, healthy relationships in your life and find out when those people have birthdays. Make sure you do the same for your children.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
If you’re looking for more help on how to deal with the challenges of your life now, read more articles about Life After Divorce.
Some decisions are really easy to make – What will I have for breakfast? What TV show do I want to watch? What time do I need to get up in the morning? Other decisions, like whether or not divorce is the correct path for you to take, can be agonizing.
Let’s begin by focusing on the person who is contemplating whether or not to divorce – the leaver.
Often times, the leaver is unhappy in the marriage and hasn’t been able to effectively communicate what changes they want to occur in the marriage. They may have tried therapy – either individual or couples. They may have tried some form of medication like anti-depressants or alcohol or even food. They may have tried distraction – an all-consuming hobby, focusing on the children, focusing on work. Yet everything they’ve tried just isn’t working and they’re still unhappy in their marriage. They may also have tried nothing because they didn’t believe they had any options.
On the other hand, perhaps the leaver has been able to communicate EXACTLY what they’d like to be different in their marriage yet their spouse isn’t willing or isn’t able to make the requested changes. When this is the case, the leaver often feels powerless and unimportant in their marriage.
Leavers often experience frustration, low esteem and guilt. Along with these emotions can come a sense of hopelessness of not knowing what else to do and a sense of having tried everything to make their marriage work – even if their spouse has no idea of what they’ve tried. They usually don’t think that well of themselves because they feel like a failure at having the marriage they want. They often recognize the commitment they made when they married their spouse and feel guilty that they are contemplating divorce. In fact, it’s not unusual for someone who has a lot of guilty feelings about contemplating divorce and who can’t see or imagine any way to ever be happy again to do something, like have an affair, that somehow makes it “acceptable” or “right” to get divorced. This something that they do may or may not be done consciously or with pre-meditated intent.
Now let’s talk a bit about the partner being left. When a spouse learns that their partner wants a divorce, the first emotions experienced are usually shock and denial. This is especially true when “the” conversation or “the” decision comes as a surprise. “How can this be happening?” “They can’t be serious. Can they?” “This has got to be some kind of a cruel joke!” These are the types of thoughts that run through their minds over and over again as they try to make some sense of what’s happening. Shock and denial are protective emotions. They keep us from having to deal with too much at any one time. The thing about these protective emotions though is that we can get stuck in them and avoid facing the reality of “the” conversation instead of participating in it.
However, choosing to participate in “the” conversation doesn’t make everything all better. Once the partner being left begins participating, the next two emotions most commonly experienced by both partners are anger and fear. Their worlds are on the verge of completely changing in ways they never expected and the changes are often both maddening and frightening.
The interesting thing about all these emotions is that both the leaver and the left can experience a rapid shifting of their emotions and can at times feel very unlike themselves. They can be angry one minute and experiencing overwhelming sadness the next. These shifting emotions are often the result of hormone levels that vary in response to the added stressors of “the” conversation or decision. These varying hormone levels often cause difficulty doing the things they used to be able to easily do. For example, if you’re usually a very organized and task oriented parson, when you’re going through the emotional ups and downs of divorce, ti’s fairly common to experience a sense of disorganization and not being able to get the things done you used to get done.
Recognizing the different emotions you experience during divorce regardless of whether you are the leaver of the one being left is critical to being able to manage your expectations of yourself and your spouse. Most people notice that they are not as efficient or capable while going through divorce. If this is the case for you, as it was for me, please take this into account and go easy on yourself. Be sure and schedule time every day to relax and nurture yourself. I promise it will be time well spent and enable you to get back to being you that much more quickly!
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
Are you the leaver or the one being left? Get real with yourself here. I know it took me a while to realize that I had felt that I was left in my marriage before I ever started thinking about leaving it. Most people discover that the beginnings of the end of the marriage happened long before “the” conversation or “the” decision happens.
What are the emotions you’re experiencing now? Which emotions are you experiencing most often at this point in your divorce process? How are they impacting your life? What can you do to acknowledge the emotions AND move forward?
Be kind to yourself. Going through divorce is a big change and one of the most stressful life experiences you can have. Be sure and take care of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.
If you’re looking for more help answering the question “Should I stay or should I go?”, read more articles in Unhappy Marriage?
I love the Beatles. OK, it’s more accurate to say I love the Beatles album 1. I consider it “happy music” and often put it on when I’ve got a long drive ahead of me or when I just need a pick-me-up. One of the songs on the album is Help!
If you’re not familiar with the lyrics of the song, you can find them on Metro Lyric’s website. For me, the idea behind the song is that we learn how to be independent when we’re young and as we grow and mature we yearn and search for interdependence.
When we’re born we’re completely dependent on others and essentially helpless. All we can do is cry and scream when we want help. Then, when we turn about 2 we begin to discover our own power and the magic word “NO!”. That’s when our natural desire is to begin to find out who we are independent of our parents. Most of us tend to begin intently striving for our independence during our teen years. Some of us wait until we get to college to become independent and some, like me, don’t realize our full independence until much later. Regardless of when you establish your independence, it’s an important milestone and the ability to exclaim “I did it!” is one of the headiest moments anyone can experience.
And yet, after we’ve achieved independence and it’s glories, there’s often the desire for connection with others. I’m not talking about a temporary connection, but a deep meaningful connection that helps us to know that we’re not alone in our life. This is the search for interdependence and where we recognize our true power – our ability to be part of something so much larger than us that nurtures and supports us and everyone else in ways beyond what we could ever do on our own.
The key to this power, our true power, is the ability to be vulnerable and ask for help when we need it. This is different that asking for help simply because you want something that you’re unwilling to do for yourself. This is about asking for help because you’ve been working toward and straining for something and you realize you’re just not able to do it all on your own, you need the help of someone to take the next step, to ease some of the burden, to be connected with all that you can be and all that is. This is the type of asking that true interdependence demands. I believe this is true maturity. I also believe this interdependence creates a joy and meaning in life that is beyond compare.
My thought is that we all live lives that are combination of dependent and interdependent thoughts, habits, beliefs and actions. I think of the path between dependent, independent and interdependent being a continuum. Probably the easiest way to visualize it is as a line with dependent at the far left, independent someplace in the middle and interdependent is at the far right.
I’ve yet to meet someone who is living completely interdependent life. Of course, there are lots of people I’ve not met yet.
Your Friendly Coaching Assignment:
Where are you on the continuum of living a dependent, an independent and an interdependent life? What I find is that the answer depends on which part of my life I’m thinking about. You may find the same is true for your too. If that’s the case, answer the question for each part of your life. I’m sure your answer(s) will be interesting.
Are there parts of your life that you’d like to move more toward independent or interdependent? This can be a tough question to answer for a lot of people because we aren’t really sure if such a change is possible or we might be plain afraid of the consequences of such a change.
If you answered “no” to the last question, good for you! Chances are great that you’re comfortable with your life exactly as it is now. That’s a wonderful thing!
If you answered “yes” to the last question, get ready for an adventure! Figuring out how to realize more of your own power is the greatest adventure anyone can take. You’ll discover so much about yourself that you’ll be in awe of whom you truly are and who those around you are. That’s been true for me anyway. I also know that it’s not always the easiest adventure to undertake and yet every time I move from dependence to independence and then to interdependence I am ALWAYS happy I have.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach. I help people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice.