Sometimes the decision to divorce coincides with the arrival of the holiday season. In some cases, the decision has been made and the separating couple has to decide if they are going to keep the news a secret from friends and family until after the New Year.
And other times, the decision has only been made by one spouse and they face the difficult decision of telling their partner immediately or waiting until the holidays are past. It makes the process of asking for a divorce even that much more complex and painful when it happens to correspond with a season that is all about family and tradition.
So what is the right call? Do you tell your spouse before the holidays? Or do you keep your mouth shut and play the part until the season passes?
As you may suspect, there is no “right” answer, no one way to act. In fact, each option has its own pros and cons.
Telling Your Spouse You Want a Divorce
Before the Holidays
Possibility of Increased Support
In today’s world, families are often spread across the country. Your partner’s parents, siblings and even friends may live in different cities. The holidays are a time of gathering. And even if there is nothing planned, this is a time when people tend to be available and may be able to rally to support a person reeling from the realization that their marriage is over.
Natural Break From Work Demands
You have been processing this decision for a time, whereas it may come as a surprise to your spouse. The holidays often offer a break from work for a few days. Days that can be coming to terms with the new reality while they do not have to sit in a cubicle while wearing sunglasses to hide teary eyes.
If you have the discussion sooner rather than later, you are spared from the performance of “Everything’s Fine,” a challenging role to assume at any time and even more so when the entire world seems to be celebrating.
Impacts Any Family Traditions
The consequences of the announcement will be felt immediately and the aftershocks will spread. Any family gatherings will be altered, not only for you, your spouse and your children, but also for others in attendance. The holiday will become less about any celebrations and traditions and more about dealing with the immediate fallout of the end of the marriage. Obviously, this impact is most important to consider if you have children.
Changes the Meaning of the Holidays, Possibly Forever
Christmas, etc. will forever after be known as the “Season When My Husband/Wife Asked For a Divorce” (or, “When Mommy or Daddy Left”). That is a link that once made, cannot easily be undone.
Professional Support May Not Be Available
While family and friends may be more available, professional support – counselors, doctors and even attorneys – may not be on call. And there are some services that are best left to the professionals.
Waiting to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce Until After the Holidays
Maintains Family Traditions
The get-togethers and rituals are preserved for one more year, giving time for those impacted to adjust and prepare before the holidays circle around again. Comfort and restoration can be found in those traditions.
Calmer After the Holiday
The crazy, over-scheduled weeks leading up to the holidays often settle down dramatically once January arrives. And this can be important since divorce brings with it its own crazy demands on time, money and attention.
Potential of Lessened Guilt and Anger
By waiting to deliver the news, you may reduce the guilt you feel about announcing the end of your marriage and you may mitigate the anger that your spouse feels. This can make the following months more amicable.
Have to Fake It
If you keep the news a secret, you have to be willing and able to fake your marriage for a few weeks or months. This isn’t easy and, if your spouse sees through your act, can result in an ugly confrontation.
Spouse/Kids May See the Holiday as a Lie
When you announce divorce in January, it’s pretty clear to everybody that you were simply biding your time (after all, there’s a reason that it’s nicknamed Divorce Season). That realization can make your spouse and kids feel as though the previous holiday was a farce and they may wonder what else you deceived them about.
Waiting is Difficult if You Feel Compelled to Act
If you have been contemplating divorce for awhile and you’ve now reached a decision, you may feel driven to act upon your choice. You might find it difficult to stay patient and refrain from making forward progress on your decision while you wait for the calendar to cooperate.
The truth of the matter is that there is no perfect time to broach the topic of divorce. There will always be a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation or a major holiday just around the corner. Worry less about what is coming and focus more on the specifics of the conversation :
DO be clear in your intent and your timeline.
DO allow your spouse time to process and space to respond without being defensive.
DO deliver the news with a counselor’s support, if needed.
DO be kind. There is nothing to be gained by seasoning the news with insults and injury.
DON’T allow the news to be a complete and total surprise; your spouse should know the relationship is in trouble first.
DON’T deliver the news in a public location without any chance of privacy.
DON’T expect a positive reaction. They will need time to adjust to the idea. Allow that time.
DON’T proclaim divorce in anger. It’s not a barb to throw during a fight; it’s a deliberate and important major life decision.