Divorce Blog

Changing Relationships and Divorce During the Holidays

By Karen Stewart

So, you’ve taken the plunge and started the divorce process. Or maybe you are bracing yourself for a divorce that has been initiated by your spouse already. Relationships like that can feel overwhelming emotionally as you wait for the legal process to shake out.

Man Stress about Relationships during Christmas HolidaysEach discussion feels like an argument waiting to happen, and the pandemic adds additional pressure to relationships that are still in one piece. Now, you have to negotiate the process of a parenting schedule for the biggest day of the year: Christmas Day.

The family will be in lockdown, and you want your children to spend time with each of them. Still, there are fights to come over gift-giving and time-sharing. Equal time with both sides of the family is next to impossible, and so many other issues related to COVID-19.

You can find lots of tools to cope online, but that one you must first master is changing the way you communicate with your ex-partner.

Changing Communication in Relationships

Communication, especially in strained relationships, can lead to nothing more than standard button-pushing. You feel all aspects of stress developing and try to acknowledge the anger, but instead, your ex-spouse keeps setting you off emotionally with their text messages and voice mails.

The key here is to learn how to break out old patterns and adopt new communication methods during these times.

Try to approach each situation with a different viewpoint so that you can stop that cycle of arguing.

Try to ask yourself: am I making a mountain out of a molehill, or is this a hill worth dying on? And are you genuinely trying to understand your spouse’s point of view? Stop overanalyzing every voice/text message or email and try to change how you treat each other.

Consider Your Ex-Spouse

Try to look internally at the relationship that you have currently. Think about the ways that you express your anger that leads to arguments. Perhaps you get aggressive and try to hurt feelings, or maybe you get quiet and ignore your partner instead. These things can lead to tension in relationships of all kinds.

Perhaps try to avoid speaking when you only have something unhappy to discuss. Or, when you know your ex-spouse is pushing your buttons, try to take a deep breath and reassess the situation. Try to understand why your ex is expressing anger instead of merely reacting.

Before getting into it once again, think about what you want to say and what you want out of the conversation. Don’t use the conversation to vent frustrations. Keep the discussions and arguments private and make certain that others, especially kids, are not privy to them. There is rarely a “right” in this instance.

Relationships Improve When Fighting Fair

While it feels like it should go without saying, try to practice fighting fair. One of the most significant issues in all relationships is fighting dirty and digging up things that don’t need bringing up. Talk about the problem at hand, not the other person.

Try focusing on the issues at hand, not the personalities involved. Practice being direct and assertive when addressing one another. Being informative, brief, friendly, and firm can make the discussions more cordial than previously.

Most of all, be firm without trying to provoke the other person. Leave out the sarcasm, the yelling, angry body language like eye-rolling, or being late to meetings or discussions. All of these are positive steps toward creating a more flexible and understanding relationship.

The Basic Steps of Understanding

There are a few practical steps that you can follow to make your relationship with your ex-spouse function more smoothly. Try to:

EncourageCan you say more about what you mean?

Clarify: Remind me, when did I do that?

Empathize: I can tell that you are very upset with me.

Summarize: Let me check back what I hear you are saying. Did I miss something?

Validate: I guess I do act helpless in front of the children because I’m hoping that they will see how you treat me. I can see how that would feel demeaning to you.

Affirm: So, to you, I was inflexible when I suggested my preferred Christmas Day schedule for the kids.

Try to Apply Conflict Resolution Steps

  1. Acknowledge that you not only hear but understand what the other person is saying.
  2. Admit to your share of the problem. Tell your spouse that you recognize that you are part of the problem and that you want to be part of the solution.
  3. Stress the benefits of resolving situations together. Try to offer options that could be construed as a win-win. These proposals are meant to open the door for communication and, perhaps, compromise.
  4. The first spouse tells his/her side of the story by describing what “I think, feel, want.” Begin with the word “I …” and speak from the “I” perspective (not what “you are doing to [me]”; avoid blaming.)
  5. The second spouse listens and restates what he/she has heard, the content and the feeling underlying it.
  6. Both spouses suggest possible solutions, considering the pluses and minuses; and the need(s) a particular solution will satisfy (i.e., fairness).
  7. Both agree to try one of the proposed solutions (i.e., alternating Christmas Day morning-and-afternoon parenting time bi-annually).
  8. Keep any agreements made, and if they are not working, make changes through renegotiation. Resist taking unilateral actions.

Try implementing these changes into your relationship, and you should see a significant shift in the dynamic. You’ll be able to focus your energy on the positives like rebuilding your life, focusing on a new home, your career, etc. This is a lot better than focusing on the negatives. Most of all, it will save your Christmas!