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Christmas As A Separated Family - Part 3

View profile for Liz Headley
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Whilst for many Christmas gives the opportunity to spend time with family, spoil loved ones and allows the time to catch up with old friends and family members we haven’t seen for some time, it also brings challenges.

Sure, most of us, including me, have a moan about the extra work it can create, how busy the shops are, how things seem to get increasingly expensive each year and most importantly, how are we going to fit everyone around the festive table.

If you have children, their excitement can start to build from mid-November and the pressure is on to attend school nativity productions or shows, whilst juggling other commitments. At work deadlines still have to be met and the decision about what to wear to the Christmas party always takes some thinking about. When Christmas Day finally arrives, it can bring a sigh of relief knowing that you can do no more; presents are chosen and wrapped, lunch is on the go and you, and your partner will manage any family dilemmas together.

For others Christmas might bring a sense of dread and foreboding. A lot of people I have spoken to this year who have decided to separate, have had no choice but to remain living together in the same property for a prolonged period of time. Under normal circumstances this can be enormously difficult and very stressful, but at Christmas the pressure is even greater to try and mask intense emotions and get through the festive period without breaking down and not spoiling Christmas for others.

Some of the couples in this position will have told family and friends that it is their intention to separate, others will have not been in a position to be as open. Either way brings its own challenges. If no-one else is aware that the relationship has come to an end, couples are under intense pressure to maintain a façade of normality, which can be both exhausting and harrowing. Even in the best of circumstances, once the decision has been made to part, emotions will be running high and responses to each other will be affected by how each other is feeling.

If the couple have made family and friends aware that they are separating but neither are able to move out of the family home at the present time, this can leave people unsure how to behave in the couple’s company. What is expected of them? Will they say the wrong thing? Whose ‘side’ should they take? It could be likely that the nearest and dearest avoid contact with the separating couple over the Christmas period, leaving them to manage their own unhappiness and get through the festive period as best they can.

A multitude of emotions can be felt by a separating couple who still co-habit at Christmas. Anger, sorrow, resentment and guilt to name but a few. All of these emotions will invite them to question their reactions and behaviour whilst going through this process.

Should they buy their soon to be ex-partner a Christmas gift? If they do decide to do that, what gift can that be? It might need to be indifferent and impersonal and how might that be met by the estranged partner?

Do they send Christmas cards to their ex’s family, if so, who should they send them from? If they include theirs and partner’s names, it could be misinterpreted. It might be assumed that they are getting back together by the person receiving the card. If they don’t put their estranged partner’s name on the card people might think they are demonstrating insensitivity and not considering their estranged partner’s feelings. It is a minefield.

There are so many issues that have to be addressed when couples part and unfortunately Christmas can accentuate the difficulties separating couples face. I guess for most they will go into survival mode and get through this emotional period as best they can. If you are in this position, please do seek support from family and trusted friends, so they can offer you some of the love and care you might need.

Sadly some individuals might be experiencing abuse from a partner, if this is happening to you please do make sure you have put things in place that will offer you some protection. Make sure you have a bag packed, that is hidden, but easily accessible, with some cash, a form of identification and any essential medication in it. This really important, just in case you need to leave quickly.

You can also speak with a trusted friend or family member to say that, in the case of an emergency, you will send them a blank text. They can then try to contact you in some way to offer support.

If you are in immediate danger, call 999.

If you need to speak with a Domestic Abuse Helpline, Refuge offer a 24/7 service. The number to call is : 0808 2000 247

The decision to leave an abusive relationship is a hugely courageous one and the right thing to do. However, it is a dangerous time, so please make sure that you make every effort to reduce  your vulnerability.

If you are thinking of leaving a relationship, the Family Team at Brethertons can offer you advice, support and help to make your final decision. Alongside their legal expertise, emotional support is offered to those who are either considering or who are going through separation.

Liz Headley has worked as an individual, couple and family therapist for well over 20 years and specialises in relationship issues and family breakdown. She can be contacted at Brethertons LLP, email: or mobile: 07387647791