I Will Survive! For Domestic Attorney Dorothy “Dee” Phillips, the New Year Brings in a Bevy of New Clients

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With the holidays quickly approaching, family law attorney, Dorothy K. Phillips offers advice and counsel on surviving the season

"The holidays may be the final straw that leads a couple straight to divorce court."

For Domestic attorney Dorothy “Dee” Phillips, the New Year brings in a bevy of new clients. Why?

“Because,” says Phillips, who practiced as a family therapist prior to attending law school, “Not only does the hectic pace and routine of the holiday season result in increased levels of stress, it can also lead to ineffective communication between family members - which, in turn, may be the final straw that leads the couple straight to divorce court.”

According to Phillips, office parties, family dinners, and holiday preparation cause stress levels to approach a breaking point. In addition, financial stressors are intense. Couples don't have time to talk as they rush off to their respective activities or, when they do talk, they fail to truly listen to each other because they are preoccupied with the multitude of things they must accomplish. If parents are already separated or divorced – it may be more troubling, as holiday traditions can cause children to remember times when mom and dad were together.

So how does a family cope? “Communication is key,” says Phillips, “If your family is feeling overwhelmed and individuals and relationships seem tense, make a conscious effort to practice the communication skills of listening and expressing.” More than at any other time of year, it is imperative that families talk about their feelings and listen to each other’s needs. Even if couples are divorced or remarried with step-children, Phillips recommends that they continue to act as a unit. “This will create stability and support for the children that they share together.”

Though Phillips recognizes that communication is important all year long, it is particularly crucial during the busy holiday season. Phillips recommends, “Make time to talk, even during this hectic time - when used in combination with your problem-solving skills and compromise, communication can help create memorable experiences during the holidays – as well as all year long.”

Phillips also offers the following tips for holiday survival:

  •     Stop Feeling Guilty

Guilt is born when you fail to live up to your own expectations for yourself and your family. Realize that the idyllic holiday scene, complete with family, friends, food and festivities, is not always realistic. Like
many people with careers, it is impossible to do it all. Ask for help where you need it, and, most importantly, do not overextend yourself – financially or otherwise.

  •     Family matters

During the holiday season, extended families come together, often traveling great distances. While it may be wonderful to visit with relatives, keep in mind that your first responsibility is to yourself and your immediate family. Do not feel obligated to have relatives stay with you (or vice-versa). The holidays are intense enough without having houseguests – if you communicate to your relatives that a hotel would be a better alternative, you will avoid possible issues before they occur.

  •     Think ahead

A large portion of holiday stress comes from the last-minute rush to get everything done. Plan your holiday season as early as possible. Make a gift list, write out menus and formulate a "to do" agenda. Order gifts via catalogs or on the internet whenever possible.

  •     When it gets to be too much – take a time out                                    

Whether you are 5 or 50, the celebrations, late nights and running around eventually can wear anyone down. If you feel tired or overextended – it is OK to decline an invitation. Always take into account what you want and what feels right for you.

This holiday season, in such strenuous economic times, may be particularly stressful for families. The holidays do not need to be synonymous with extravagance. In a difficult economy, you do not need to over do it. Remember that the real gift is time with loved ones. It is also helpful to anticipate problem areas such as finances or time constraints and make strategic plans for handling them before they hinder your happiness. When holiday stress creeps in, rather than letting taking a toll on your home life, take time to reflect on the good things you and your family have going for you.

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Jamie Joffe
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