One of my clients recently asked me if it was weird for her to want to be friends with her ex-husband’s sister. I asked her for a few more details about the relationship to see if I could figure out why she was asking this question. She started squirming in her chair as she gave me the details. It turns out she was feeling weird about wanting to remain friends with her former sister-in-law because she thought she wasn’t supposed to.
The first special occasion I attended with my husband’s family was weird for me because his ex-wife was there and each of his siblings referred to her as their sister-in-law. I had all these thoughts about them sending me a message that I wasn’t welcome.
My client and I had both bought into the common belief that once you divorce, you’re expected to divorce the entire family and might even declare them enemies.
What I’ve come to realize and teach is that the common belief is WRONG. Each relationship you have is unique. Each relationship can grow, wither, and transform. Each relationship can do this independently of the others if you’re both willing to let it.
What all this means is that family occasions can still be special occasions with the entire family present. Sure, you might not choose to hang with your ex or their new partner, but there’s no reason why you can’t continue to enjoy having large birthday parties for your kids or huge Thanksgiving celebrations with the extended family.
What all this also means is that family occasions don’t have to be like they were before the divorce either. Maybe your former in-laws aren’t willing to continue to have you be a part of their lives right now and that’s OK.
Basically, it comes down to choices, how do you want to celebrate special occasions now that you’re divorced? You might want to continue celebrating as you have in the past or you might want to start new traditions. What I want you to know is that it’s all good. There aren’t any rules about how things have to be (unless of course rules were created as part of your divorce agreement).
Now I know I just told you there aren’t any rules, but let me give you a couple ideas to think about to help you keep or make your special occasions special after divorce.
When most people divorce, then tend to feel a bit lost or lonely. These feelings can often make it difficult to want to celebrate special occasions. I want to encourage you to be aware of this and celebrate any way. You deserve to have a good time. If you have kids, they deserve to have a good time. And the added bonus is that if you have something to look forward to, then you just might help yourself get through the lost and lonely feelings more quickly.
You might also want to consider celebrating occasions you didn’t celebrate before. Maybe you want to start making the anniversary of the first moon walk a special occasion and have a wine and cheese party to celebrate. Maybe you want to start celebrating obscure holidays like Ground Hog’s Day or National Pizza Day. Again, the idea is to add some fun and something to look forward to because it will help you work through the worst of your divorce more quickly.
Special occasions can still be special after divorce. They may or may not include your in-laws, but the most important things is that they include you – you feeling wonderful as you celebrate whatever occasion it is.
Your Special Occasions After Divorce Assignment:
Evaluate the special occasions you have in your calendar. Which make send to continue celebrating? Which need to be eliminated? What new occasions need to be added?
If you don’t have any special occasions in your calendar because your ex always took care of that for you, make a list of the special occasions you want to celebrate and get them in your calendar ASAP. Having special occasions to look forward to will help you continue to feel connected with others and combat the loneliness most people experience with divorce.
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 ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
If you’re looking for more help on how to deal with your life now, read more articles about Life After Divorce.
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.