3 Ghosts of Marriage Past Sure to Plague Your Holidays

Millions of people all over the world are looking forward to the most festive time of the year. Remarried couples with children, on the other hand, hold their breath, hoping that this year the holidays will pass with minimal turbulence.

Unresolved grief, hostile exes, and your children’s fantasies collaborate to make this one of the most difficult times of the year for you, and here’s how.

The Ghost of Losses Past

Change brings loss, which can bring nostalgia, sadness, and bitterness.

Nostalgic holiday activities cause old grief to resurface. It may be grief over loss of an old marriage or of a support system like an ex’s extended family or once-mutual friends.


You may fear that the stormy emotions you are experiencing indicate that you miss your ex, that you still have feelings for your former spouse, or that maybe you remarried prematurely. You panic, withdraw from your spouse, and become overly accommodating of your ex. Your spouse now feels slighted.


  • Acknowledge and recognize your feelings, whether they are positive, negative, or both.
  • Understand that memories and feelings resurface on anniversaries of events and special occasions such as holidays. It does not necessarily indicate that you want to be back with your ex; it’s just your brain healing from past traumas.
  • Write a goodbye letter to your ex. but do not send it. It is an excellent tool for letting go and getting closure on the old feelings and the relationship. It liberates you from the past and helps you heal.

The Ghost of Marriage Past

The way your previous marriage ended may make it harder to co-parent and serve your children's best interests.

Anger, hostility, and rigidity often linger after divorce. The more conflicted the marriage and the divorce, the greater the residual enmity. Even if you’ve already let go, your ex may not have.


Organizing even minor custody changes is tense and unfruitful. The holidays are hectic and plans get interrupted by unexpected circumstances. Those interruptions give your ex an opportunity to resist rescheduling and spite you.


  • E-mail is a great communication tool because it allows for an opportunity to process information and plan responses.
  • Validate your ex’s frustration with you changing schedules, and make your point succinctly without making it personal.
  • Transparency. Run things by your present spouse first, when collaborating with your ex. It will deepen your trust and intimacy.

The Ghost of Rituals Past

Changes in how things are done or celebrated can leave children feeling adrift and sad.

Your children plea with you to celebrate the holidays like in the old times. They want both biological parents and their extended families, in addition to your new spouse and his/her family. They miss the old rituals and want to continue being one big, happy family.


The children still grieve the loss of their biological family. Continuing to celebrate together sends the children mixed messages about the relationship between you and their other parent. It awakens fantasies of their biological parents reuniting. Your present spouse will feel uncomfortable if you suggest to celebrate with your ex for the children’s sake.


  • Develop new holiday traditions after your remarriage.
  • Maintain some old traditions for the sake of familiarity, comfort, and continuity.
  • Listen to your children attentively. Remind them that you love them and that as a responsible parent, you make the decisions based on their best interests, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

Closing thoughts

Clear boundaries are essential in any relationship. People feel safer when they know what to expect and that their needs are respected. In divorced families, in particular, boundaries between households help children adjust during transitions.

The holidays present a great opportunity for parents and children to deepen their connections through planning fun, meaningful activities. For stepfamilies, it’s also a way to develop new traditions and strengthen bonds between stepchildren and step parents.

For more advice, check out 5 Ways to Ruin Stepfamily Holidays and read Your Stepfamily Holiday Survival Guide.


2 thoughts on “3 Ghosts of Marriage Past Sure to Plague Your Holidays”

  1. No kidding, my partner had been married to his ex for 4 years and then divorced for 4 when I met him (she filed). She still struted around like she owned him, sauntered in the door without being invited, arranged all the holidays and then "invited him over" to join the festivities, it was very strange. They had been seeing each other sexually on and off again for years after the divorce; I asked my partner "what do you think the kids think about that?", he said "oh, they don't know"; really? She flipped her lid when he started seeing me and did everything she could to put herself in the middle of EVERYTHING….NO BOUNDARIES were had by either one. Yesh, what a mess; no wonder the kids are so screwed up

    1. Sounds like your partner and his ex had fuzzy boundaries for a while. It can be confusing for the children, and the adults… I hope the boundaries between the households are clearer now.

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