I stumbled yesterday into a little antiques and used bookstore in the tiny town where I live. Somewhere between the books on Civil War heroes and the vintage prints at the back of the store I started to cry. In spite of all the holly jolly cheer blaring at us from every direction, there is a special kind of sadness that comes with the holidays.
Virtually all of us have experienced losses that seem to rise to the surface during the holiday season. The empty chair, the face no longer seen ‘round the hearth, the haunting scents and melodies that remind us of happier times, not to mention the increased stress we all feel this time of year.
Surviving Infidelity During The Holidays
For those in the midst of marital trauma, the holidays can bring painful to a whole new level. Partners caught in the triangle of an affair deal in heartbreak the way department stores deal in glitz, and the ordinary stresses of everyday life can get the best of us and our marriages. This drama and heartbreak can make surviving infidelity during the holidays seem an impossible task. It’s no accident that most divorce filings occur in January, but you can take steps right now to make sure you don’t become one of those statistics. Below are some tips for navigating with grace and dignity – even, or perhaps especially – when it seems you just can’t face one more day. I call it the Grown Up Christmas List.
The Grown Up Christmas List
Here, then, is my Grown Up Christmas List. Gifts you can give to yourself and your loved ones – gifts that don’t come with paper and bows but with courage, integrity, and respect.
1. If you are having an affair, stop.
If you’re having an affair, stop. Yes, it sounds trite and flip, and maybe it is. But I’ve been there. I know you lie awake at night wondering how on earth you ended up in this mess. Oh sure, the affair partner might seem to be everything your spouse isn’t, and maybe you’re blinded by all those lovely neurochemicals racing through your bloodstream. I promise you it won’t last. You might not be able to remember it right now, but you used to feel that way about your spouse. And you can again.
Perhaps the excitement and infatuation have already started to fade, but you can’t figure out how to extricate yourself gracefully. You’re afraid you’ll cause more hurt feelings than you already have. Maybe you made such a big deal about the affair partner being your “true love” that you don’t want to lose face – even though you now realize he or she has clay feet just like the rest of us.
Whatever it is that’s keeping you in the affair – it can’t possibly be more valuable or more important than your own integrity. And by integrity I don’t mean the self-deluding “what feels good is what’s best for me” version of integrity – I mean the kind of integrity that is defined by doing the right thing, the honorable thing, even when it’s the hardest thing to do.
Don’t know how to end it? Let’s talk about that in the comments or during my Ask Me Anything times. Many, many, people have done it successfully and have gone on to not only stay married, but to do so very happily. You can, too.
Give yourself the gifts of integrity and honor.
2. If your spouse is having an affair, get help.
If your spouse is having an affair, get help. I’ve been here too, and there is no way you can get through this without support. Now here are some things you need to know – at some point the greatest threat to your marriage is likely to be you. So, when you are looking for support, choose people who are going to advocate for your marriage. They’re going to help you stay strong, avoid being a door mat, and set good boundaries. They’re not going to suggest you divorce, or date, or worse – set you up with their single friend who is looking for a good time.
About those boundaries. The terror that comes with knowing your marriage might be ending messes with your mind – probably more than you can see or understand right now. Your ability to make good decisions is compromised, often severely so. Fear makes us do (or not do) things we could never have imagined in a more rational state. You need to set boundaries…boundaries about how you are treated, what happens with your money, co-parenting, and many other important life issues. Except you are completely paralyzed, terrified that anything you do will be the last straw and the little shred of hope you have left will evaporate. If at all possible, get professional help from someone who understand the dynamics of marriage and affairs. Just having a neutral person to confide in will help you find a calm space to consider all the decisions you need to make. And you’re sure to get some great advice and insights as well.
Give yourself the gifts of respect and dignity.
3. The holidays can be stressful for really good marriages.
The holidays can be stressful for really good marriages. Throw in a job change, new baby, or financial concerns (who doesn’t have financial concerns during the holidays?) and the stress can go through the roof. It’s easy for partners to feel disconnected and out of touch with each other during high stress times. We’re overworked, under-rested, and barely have five minutes to share a cup of coffee together in the morning.
Avoid the temptation to confide your sexual preference to a friend. I know that man or woman in the cube next to you is funny, attractive, and is a great listener. And that, my friend, is the perfect cocktail recipe for marital disaster. I’m not saying you’re destined to have an affair if you do so – but I can’t think of a better way to head down that road. You certainly aren’t going to create any close warm fuzzies with your mate by transferring your emotional interactions to someone else. If you really need to vent or whine and don’t want to dump on your spouse, choose someone who is not of your gender preference and who will advocate for your marriage. Then go home and initiate a conversation about carving out some couple time amidst the chaos. Make those five minutes together (or better yet 50) a priority even if it means something else doesn’t get done.
Give yourself the gifts of discernment and wisdom.
4. Take a hard look at your to-do list.
And finally, take a hard look at that to-do list. I promise, the world will not come to a screeching halt if you don’t hand calligraphy your holiday cards (or… send them at all, for that matter). Children will not starve if you skip the holiday baking and the sun will still come up tomorrow if you duck out of that holiday party tonight. Somehow, we’ve bought into the idea that rushing around doing more, exactly at the time of year when our bodies are programmed to do less, is going to make us holly and jolly. If that works for you, great! But if you find yourself with too much on your list at the end of the day, it’s ok to let some items drop off.
The most important gift you can give yourself and your family is a sane, healthy, you. It’s impossible to be fully present in a marriage when you don’t have time or energy to just be. Baubles and sparklies, and toys and treats – they’re all wonderful. But none of those can ever come close to the gift your beautiful, unique, wonderful essence brings to those you love most. Love is the greatest gift of all, and you are its vehicle.
Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of you.
From my heart to yours, this is my grown up Christmas list. Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons.
For one on one professional help with your relationship contact Penny at penny(dot)firstname.lastname@example.org for coaching rates and available times.
© Penny R Tupy