How to successfully spend Christmas with your ex

Ross and Rachel made it look so easy.

They were exes who became friends and can happily spent Christmas together as though ‘we were on a break’ never happened.

But in real-life, it’s not quite as simple.

Whether it’s your first Christmas as a separated couple with kids, or you have mutual friends in common, sharing Christmas with your ex can bring up lots of emotions. 

And if you’re going through a period of change and upheaval, such as a divorce or separation, it can be difficult to put on a brave face on for your children or family.

Harry Gates and Sam Woodham – co-founders of The Divorce Surgery – are the creators of the ‘One Couple, One Lawyer’ approach to divorce.

Their aim is to enable couples to divorce well, to resolve their differences quickly, fairly and with the least conflict.

Below Harry and Sam share their top tips on navigating this merry time without the drama. 

Have a plan of action for the day

The first Christmas post-separation can be daunting and some people may still choose to spend it together – especially if they’ve got little ones.

So how do you make this happen? Well, it’s all in the planning.

Sam said: ‘There may be some parts of the day you choose to do together, for instance the meal, but perhaps you want to include time apart too – for example, one of you taking yourself/the children/the dogs out for a long walk.

‘If you have children, think carefully about logistics: are you going to buy their presents separately or will they be from each of you?

‘Often children have one big present they’re particularly excited about, can you agree that that should come from you both? What are the traditions your children really relish and associate with Christmas – can you keep those going?’

Just remember, this Christmas doesn’t have to ‘live up’ to past ones, there’s room for new traditions.

You also don’t have to spend every moment together – just manage your time and allow for some space when you need it.

Let the children help plan

It’s not your ‘traditional’ Christmas, it’s your new norm, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad holiday.

According to Harry and Sam many couples enjoy their first holiday as a separated couple much more than before.

Harry said: ‘Many separating couples remark on how much more fun they have for their first Christmas apart compared to previous holiday periods when the atmosphere between the adults has been tense and fraught.

‘Get the children involved in planning, if you can. Are they going to spend part of Christmas Day with each of you? Is that even workable on a logistics front?

‘If not, it’s the perfect excuse to have a second Christmas – and don’t assume this first Christmas sets any precedent for the years ahead.’

Adults may feel the need to spend Christmas together after separating as a gentle transition away from their previous relationship dynamic, which is totally OK.

For some though, this won’t work – which is also fine. Just remember to make any children you have feel included in whatever the plans may be.

Harry adds: ‘Recognise that your children will be managing their own emotions and will take their lead from you. Include them in your plans and think about what would they like this Christmas Day to be like.

‘Often children embrace change in a way their parents hadn’t anticipated – make them feel part of the conversation.’

Keep a positive mindset

It can be easy to assume this Christmas will be bad because it’s not what you’re used to, but adopting a positive mindset can make all the difference.

Sam said: ‘It could well be much better than last year, when your relationship was in a bad place. Embrace the opportunity for change.

‘Be sensitive to the emotions of those around you but also be kind to yourself.’

Remember, it’s the start of something better

The main lesson is to focus on the benefits – it’s in the festive spirit, after all.

Harry said: ‘The fundamental reason marriages end is because the relationship which once brought you both joy is now making one, or often both of you deeply miserable. Well, not anymore.

‘Think of the compromises of micro concessions you’ve had to make over the years – now it’s all behind you.

‘It may sound trite, but divorce is the start of a new adventure. Some relationships have a shelf life, and that’s OK.’

But if you are struggling, then don’t be afraid to seek support from friends and family, or even a professional.

Recognise it will be awkward – but come to an agreement

A lot of relationships end because of a lack of communication – but during the festive period it’s really important to work together so it goes smoothly.

Plus, it will be better for you and everyone else involved in your Christmas.

Harry said: ‘Unless it isn’t a safe environment for you and your family, work together where you can. The best way to approach every aspect of divorce is to view it as a shared life change to be navigated together.

‘Research consistently shows that what is emotionally harmful to children during divorce isn’t the divorce itself, but the exposure to entrenched parental conflict.’

So communicate where you can, because it will make Christmas merrier in the long-run.

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