“Gather ’round the Thanksgiving table and say something you’re thankful for.” When you’re in the midst of a divorce, answering a question like this can feel, well, loaded.
In American culture, Thanksgiving is virtually synonymous with a large family dinner, although COVID-19 is putting a monkey wrench in that for now. Nonetheless, most of us are committed to celebrating, even if the gathering will be small. Part of that usually includes reflecting on all that you have to be thankful for in your life.
Somehow when you’re newly divorced or in the process of going through one, it can be challenging to enjoy Thanksgiving the way you did when you were married. Without your spouse present, or if you must share your children with your ex for part or all of the holiday, it might not feel the same.
Still, there’s no good reason why Thanksgiving needs to be worse. Depending on how you look at it, a divorced Thanksgiving could be new and improved. Below are a few ideas for having a happy (divorced) Thanksgiving.
When you’re in the throes of a divorce and dealing with emotional and financial stressors, it might feel impossible to be grateful. Instead, you fixate on your divorce, either admitting defeat or raging at the gods. Sometimes both.
Fortunately, happiness, as in personal contentment, is a state of being. In other words, your world outlook can very much inform and shape and inform your life experience. If you’re pessimistic, the world will never be a happy place for you. However, if you’re optimistic, you’ll find that, even during the worst of times, such as a brutal divorce, there’s always something for which you can show gratitude.
To start the list off right, count among your gift’s health (yours and the ones you love), friends, and family. Heck, even the cup of coffee you had this morning is something to be grateful for; at least I am. If you have to, you can start small. Little things do make a difference.
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You may be hesitant to celebrate Thanksgiving, anticipating how incredibly difficult and depressing it will be to be single during the holiday season. Or figure that since the kids will be with your ex over the holiday, that you’ll skip it this year.
Doing nothing but sulking at home, watching Hallmark movies while crying into a tub of ice cream is a mindset not likely to result in a happy Thanksgiving. Or the days that follow it.
So what if you no longer have plans that involve your spouse or maybe your kids this year? It doesn’t mean you should have nothing to do or do nothing. Accept that invitation to a friend’s house or the home of a family member. You could also host your own Thanksgiving dinner, turkey and all, and invite your friends for a “Friendsgiving.” For a socially distanced Thanksgiving celebration, consider dining with loved ones over Zoom.
If you still have no one to celebrate with, consider taking a weekend trip. A change of scenery can do a lot to get you away from those pesky sad thoughts. Due to the pandemic, many venues have instituted strict COVID-19 restrictions to keep you safe.
If you’d still rather stay low-key and local, plan a relaxing night to practice self-care. None of that sulking nonsense, though.
Be Kind To Your Ex
Say what? Do you want me to be kind to the one person who’s making my life a living hell?
The short answer is yes. Hear me out.
If you share children with your ex, you likely maintain regular contact. If your ex has custody during Thanksgiving, or if you’re standing on the sidelines watching them move on before you do, you might feel bad. It’s understandable. However, taking out those feelings on your ex because misery loves company isn’t.
Instead, get into the spirit of the holiday by being kind to yourself. And, if you haven’t been thus far, cordial with your ex. Consider wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. Be flexible with your schedule if you have children. Small gestures can do a lot to improve bad feelings while improving your co-parenting relationship this Thanksgiving and for Thanksgiving to come. That, in turn, will make everyone involved happier, which is definitely something to be grateful for this holiday season.
Still, you wonder: Won’t I come off as weak?
That’s the big reveal. No.
In a divorce, civility begets civility. Even when, at first, it doesn’t, you thinking clearly and behaving in accordance will not only take the wind out of your soon-to-be-ex’s sails over time, it will improve your appearance to the powers that be, most importantly, a judge should you end up in court. By staying in control of your emotions, by not lashing out, you, in turn, will take control and the upper hand in your case.
The infamous gangster, Al Capone, said it best: “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.”
I don’t, your ex won’t, and neither should you.
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Find Support From Close Friends & Family
You can turn to family and your closest friends when things get unbearable. If your family unit can’t get together, you can celebrate with extended family members or close friends. It can be challenging trying to put on a happy face with an EX spouse in the midst of a divorce. Seeking support from family and friends you can trust can cheer you up. Try celebrating with trusted persons and enjoying the holiday will keep negative thoughts away for a while.
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Don’t Neglect Yourself
Moving forward, it is important to be accustomed to the fact that you won’t be having children most of the time. Use this time to better yourself. While some people hate being alone, it can be surprisingly satisfying. This is particularly true if you focus on improving yourself in whatever way. You can use Thanksgiving as a base to find your true self. This will work mainly for individuals who may feel they have lost themselves. It may be the perfect time to put yourself first, even in the smallest way. If you had forgotten how to relax because of family obligations, find some time for yourself.
Turn Pain Into Passion
You can also use the pain of divorce to fuel your passion. As you better yourself, find a purpose that channels your anger, resentment, or whatever powerful negative emotion you are feeling into positive energy. Thanksgiving can be the start of new goals. Make life-changing goals and pursue them relentlessly. There’s a reason why people turn to self-development when they break up. If your body isn’t what you want it to be, do something about it. You can pursue fitness if you are passionate about it.
Find something you’ve always loved doing and do it during Thanksgiving or make plans for it. People have different interests. Instead of focusing on regret and other negative emotions during Thanksgiving, use the holiday to rekindle old interests. If you’ve always loved traveling but weren’t able to do it, you can go for a trip during Thanksgiving.
You don’t have to cross borders or jurisdictions if there are pandemic restrictions. Individuals who are passionate about traveling love to wander around and make new memories. However, pick your destination wisely, ensuring you don’t travel to a place with “complete” families that make you feel sad remembering your current family dynamics.
You can also choose something more meaningful such as helping others. While Thanksgiving with family is great, helping others feels better. Use your resources (time and money) to help others who are having it worse. You will be surprised by how gratifying it is to help. Since there’s an abundance of people in need in every community, finding people to help shouldn’t be a problem.
It doesn’t even have to be financial. Your presence can be uplifting to others. Visiting the less fortunate and spending the day with them can make you feel happy in a tough moment. Small gestures can produce a significant impact on other people’s life. Put your marital problems on hold for a moment and visit your community center, house of worship, town hall, foster home, homeless shelters, etc.
Don’t Take It All Too Seriously
You can choose to be passive about life during or after divorce. If you are still alive and healthy, divorce isn’t the end. You should also be easy on traditional rules. For instance, while Thanksgiving is a family holiday, spending it alone is all in the mind. If your EX has made sure you won’t see your kids this Thanksgiving, so be it! It may be challenging to see other families happy everywhere you turn, however, this may be a great moment to stop taking life too seriously.
Thanksgiving may be the most important family holiday after Christmas. However, it is simply another day under the sun. If you think of it critically, whether you celebrate it like before or another way, the day shall pass like any other. One day without your loved ones shouldn’t make you feel sad. If your family is well, that’s all that matters. Taking life easy is among the most powerful secrets of happiness since it reduces the things that really make you sad.
However, don’t overlook the importance of legal help. A family lawyer can take up the burden of divorce proceedings like custody issues allowing you to recapture elusive happiness. Contact us by phone at (256) 769-0508 or through our online contact form.