Even in the best of times, holidays can be challenging.
Family dynamics, pressure to conform to cultural, religious, or family norms, and the holiday culture of excess can leave you feeling anxious and stressed.
And for betrayed partners, there are other challenges — often hidden — that make the holidays even more challenging, and painful.
You may have a family member, someone in your social circle, or a co-worker of your spouse that you see at holiday parties who is a trigger for you. Or, you may feel deeply isolated and lonely even in a large family or social gathering because you (and your unfaithful spouse) are the only two people who know about the impact infidelity is having on you and your relationship. And because of the stigma, shame, and misunderstanding around addiction, you aren’t comfortable talking about it even with your closest friends or family members.
As you navigate the holidays and holiday events, I invite you to start with this radical question: “Do I truly want to participate or go to this event?”
Because of the power of societal, cultural, and family norms, most people never ask themselves this question.
If you participate in anything you truly don’t want to, or say yes when your heart and mind say no, your internal conflict sets off a chain of unpleasant experiences — including resentment and conflict with others — that could have been avoided if you’d been true to yourself.
Of course, this is easier said than done. You will feel uncomfortable — maybe even extremely uncomfortable — stepping outside of what is expected of you. Take to heart Brené Brown’s admonition to “Choose discomfort over resentment.”
Once you’ve made the decision to attend an event, ask yourself how long you want to stay, or what time you’d like to arrive. Again, focus on what sounds right for you, and avoid shoulds and other cultural norms.
For example, if you’re an introvert you may find social events draining rather than energizing or nurturing. There is no right or wrong in being introverted or extroverted (although our culture does have a bias toward extroversion).
You will make yourself miserable by trying to force yourself into a mold for the sake of fitting in or pleasing others.
When you start with what works best for you, you’re in a better position to have a conversation with your spouse about how the two of you will navigate social and family events.
Once you’re clear about what you would like, plan a time to have a conversation with your spouse and share with him/her your preferences. The two of you may have a different perspective about how to navigate an event or situation — as is often the case. Try to bring an attitude of curiosity and compromise to the conversation, rather than attempting to get him/her to see things the way you do, or to win. Ideally, the two of you will come up with a plan that honors both your needs.
Agree on a “sign” — preferably a non-verbal one — that either of you can use when you’re ready to leave an event or family get-together.
Have an understanding in advance that if either of you makes “the sign,” the other person agrees to leave as soon as is reasonably possible — no questions or pushback.
For holiday events and extended family gatherings, here are 10 self-care strategies for betrayed partners:
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or triggered and need to take a quick break, go to the bathroom even if you don’t really need to go. As any mother of a toddler knows, sometimes the bathroom is the only room where you can take a break, get some peace and quiet, or get grounded and centered.
- Give yourself permission to leave uncomfortable interactions or conversations by excusing yourself to get a beverage or talk to someone.
- If you’re feeling triggered by someone or something, rate the trigger on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), and respond accordingly. For example, if the trigger is a 10 you may need to leave as a matter of self-care. If you rate the trigger a 3, you may just need to go to a different room or excuse yourself for just a moment.
- If you regularly work out or attend a fitness class, stick to your usual schedule as much as possible. If you’re traveling, take any necessary gear with you or find a place to work out while you’re away.
- If you’re at an extended gathering of several days, go for daily walks either by yourself or with someone you enjoy being with as a way to refresh yourself and get some space.
- If you participate in a 12-step community, make a plan to attend an online or phone meeting if you’ll be out of your routine for several days or longer. See the Resources page for a list of 12-step communities for partners to get their phone and online meeting schedule.
- If you have a community of support at home, make a plan to connect with them by phone, text or email if you’ll be away from home for an extended time. Many of my partners’ groups text each other by group text on a regular basis in between meetings.
- Take that great book you’ve been meaning to read, or a knitting/craft/art project, puzzle, or a favorite game you like to play.
- If you journal, take your journal with you and spend some time each day writing so that you can get centered, and stay current with your thoughts and emotions.
- If you and your spouse regularly check in with each other about your day, and your thoughts and feelings (different than a recovery check-in), be sure to continue this habit even if you’re out of your routine. This will help you stay connected, and also current with yourself and each other. Get my guide to Couples Feelings Check-Ins here.
I wish you a peaceful and grace-filled holiday season.
*[Get my Holiday Survival Strategies Roadmap for addicts here.]
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2016)
All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity.
Julie W says
Thank you so much for sharing this with us! Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I have the right and ability to say “no” to an event, food, or activity. And to preset expectations before having or causing drama (or personal truma) to one’s self and their partner is brilliant. Then both partners can have their expectations clarified “met” as clearly as possible!
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
You’re welcome Julie! Isn’t it wonderful to know there are options? I’m glad the info was helpful.