Surviving the Holidays After A Marriage Breakdown

As the Lunar New Year approaches, Elena Fernandez, an English teacher and part-time DJ with Gold 90FM, shares tips on how to survive festive seasons as a separated or divorced person.

Elena and her youngest daughter

Can you share with us a bit about your marital journey?

We were from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and moved to Singapore 10 years ago when my husband was posted here for his job. When my marriage imploded five and a half years ago, my girls were only 11 and 13 years old. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever been through, especially as my family was in Malaysia.

But you know, the Lord works in his own way and had arranged support for me when I needed it. A few years earlier, when I became deeply unhappy in my marriage, I took part in a mission trip to Sabah to teach English to children from surrounding villages. I remember feeling so wretched that I walked into a big field and cried to the Lord: “I can’t do this. How can I be of service to these children when I have nothing to offer?”

Two angels on this trip sensed something wrong and reached out to me. They were a little unprepared when I unleashed all the pent up pain of my marriage. But because of their support, I was calm when my marriage eventually imploded.

How did you break the news to your family?

I didn’t tell anyone at first. How do you announce something like that long distance? But eventually I had to, as Christmas was approaching and we’d be returning to KL without my husband. I asked my mum to make sure everyone in the family knew we were separated and not to bring it up. I wanted to protect my girls from having to answer questions as to where their dad was.

If you could change things now, would you?

I do not know what the future holds for my marriage but I believe in John 2:5, “Do whatever he tells you” and leaving it in God’s hands. Despite the unimaginable pain I’ve been through, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m now closer to God, I’ve learnt to enjoy my independence, and I’ve discovered things about myself that I didn’t know before, such as, I’m a dog lover! I’m a different me now!

Can you share some tips on surviving the festive seasons as a separated/divorced person?

Separation and divorce makes the festive seasons even more difficult: seeing other families having their reunions and remembering the times past can be excruciating. These are some ways that have helped me cope with Christmas and I hope it will help others too.

#1 Set realistic expectations. Accept that things are going to be different and it will take time to get into a new routine. Be honest with friends and family about what you can and cannot do and be firm with your boundaries.

#2 Have a network of friends to support you. Everyone goes through highs and lows. Being able to turn to people in my support group and be honest, no matter how raw the emotions, has made a world of difference. Listening to the sharing among members of the group has been really cathartic and made me realise my situation isn’t that bad.

Handcrafted Jars to Elena’s BBBs

#3 Acknowledge your emotions. Be honest with how you are feeling and know that it is OK to feel not OK. Give yourself the space to grieve but don’t throw a pity party. Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd, always comforts and assures me that everything will be OK in time.

#4 Know that it is OK to leave gatherings early. If unwelcome memories or extreme emotions surface during gatherings, have the freedom to thank the host and leave early. Cut yourself some slack. Spend some time with God and pour your heart out to Him.

#5 Learn to enjoy me time. At a time when everyone is together and celebrating, being alone can be harder to bear. Use the time to get to know yourself better and reconnect with God. Learn to go on a date with yourself and God. You might just discover something new!

#6 Have a go-to list of things that lift your mood. Read your favourite scripture passage, listen to a special song, or hold a treasured item. Whatever comforts and lifts your spirits, make sure you can reach for it when you need a boost. We all need a pick-me-up sometimes!

#7 Be in tune with your kids. It’s tempting to try to cheer your kids up with extra expensive presents to compensate for a missing parent. But think again. Is that what they truly need now?

#8 Give gifts of joy. I make little craft jars stuffed with joyous messages such as verses like Jeremiah 29:11 or motivational quotes from people like Helen Keller and Martin Luther King, and give a jar to each of my BBBs – the people I consider Beautiful, Blessed and Beloved. They remind me of God’s goodness and help me to be grateful for what I have.

#9 Draw close to God. Through retreats I learned to love myself. I find solace in scriptures and they have been my constant companion. At one retreat around the time of my separation, I experienced a truly transformative spiritual experience. As I recited prayers of forgiveness, a force that felt like a bright light entered my body and pulled out the pain in my chest. I felt amazingly light and glowing afterwards.

Elena is a facilitator with Surviving Divorce: Hope and Healing for the Catholic Family, an initiative under the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family to support Catholics who are separated or divorced. To find out more about the programme, visit


Archdiocesan Commission for the Family

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family