Staying in my Lane

I was reminded of a clip from the 1987 Blockbuster – Baby Boom as I wrote this post. In the movie, Diane Keaton plays this high-powered corporate executive in New York City. She happens to inherit a baby girl from a distant cousin and I remember at one point in the movie – she is trying to keep up with the other women power walking to work.

As I recall, for a moment, she tries to keep up with the other high-powered exec’s but then realizes – she can’t do it anymore. So she slows down and this look of resignation comes over her.

It’s crazy that I remember that clip so well from a movie that I watched when I was just a kid. Maybe because I find time and again that I’m that woman. Trying to keep up, to be the same, and then realizing I just can’t.

Case in point, I’ve been on the treadmill lately. Running around like a crazy mama to sports practices and games like no. body’s. biz. It occurred to me a couple of days ago that we have 11 sports practices and 10 games this week ALONE. And my 2nd half is headed out of town. Oh my.

With the marathon that has been my life over the last 6-7 weeks, I have slowly started to slip away from some of the habits that continually keep me grounded. Namely spending time reading my Bible (being connected to God), journaling (being connected to myself), and working toward staying connected emotionally to Jason (being connected with others).

This fraying of the cord that anchors me has started to infiltrate other areas of life. I have started to feel pressure “to be the same”. To do whatever it takes to “fit in”. The problem is – fitting in changes with every situation.

I’ve also started to get super caught up in what other people (both near and far) are doing with their time (I hate social media in this way) while I have just gotten more and more frustrated and disappointed with how much I am NOT doing. Discontent is the word that comes to mind.

And this, my friends, is NOT how I want to live.

So on Sunday night – after a day of feeling pretty much anxious and powerless – I took some steps in the right direction. I ran a couple of errands to better help me be ready for the week (self care people). I wrote Jason a note and left it by his keys. I dusted off my Bible on Monday morning and picked up where I left off months ago.

Then yesterday, while I was prepping for this talk – I picked up this book that I read a couple of years ago – and flipped to a page speaking to what I have been struggling with. He mentions differentiation and this is what he says:

Differentiation involves the ability to hold on to who you are and who you are not. The degree to which you are able to affirm your distinct values and goals apart from the pressures around you while remaining close to the people important to you helps determine your level of differentiation. People with a high level of differentiation… can choose… how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others.

Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality p 82

Ironically – out in the margin, written in my hand writing from 2017 – it says “I think I have some work to do.” (You don’t say!)

This, my friends, was exactly what I needed to be reminded of. I need to get in my own lane and stay there for a while. I need to get super clear with God on what my next steps look like. I need to go back to my values and what makes me unique. I need to think boundaries and seeing myself apart from others while also being connected to God, self and others. I’m not running someone else’s race. I’m running my own race and God hasn’t forgotten about me.

Here is the deal – I know I’m not alone in looking at others, seeing what all they are doing or not doing and wondering – what went wrong. {Heck, I was texting with a sweet soul yesterday and we were talking about what we thought this season would look like versus what it actually looks like. I told her – and I’m serious – I thought by now I’d have another book in the world (um, not happening), I’d have a well-thought-out designed home (bahaha), and I’d have time to take a shower and wash my hair on a daily basis (for the love). She as well was sharing where she expected to be by now, but wasn’t.}

We all have big plans. And for a lot of us – those plans went into the porta-potty when life blew up before our eyes. (And for some of us, we had big plans and then we had a baby.)

Either way – know that God hasn’t forgotten about you. Know that if you are in a season of barely keeping up, feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and exhausted from recovery and from life – He is doing a good work in you and through you even in the wait.

Let’s stay in our lanes. Let’s be ourselves, be different. Let’s encourage one another, support one another and cheer each other on. And let’s take a lot of pit stops – preferably with comfy restrooms and not porta-potty’s.

On the journey with you – Shelley

On Belonging

Back in May, I did a number on myself by over-committing primarily at my boys’ schools. Summer came and I needed a break from civilization. I checked in with myself toward the end of June and nope, I still felt like I needed a break. So I plodded along, keeping to myself (well, let’s be honest – keeping to myself + Jason + my boys + my work + well, you know…)

Fast forward to August and my balance was off once again, but in the other direction. I felt alone and lonely. I was reminded of the sacredness of having a place to belong. I was reminded of the fact that it’s HARD for me to belong – I have some serious roadblocks to getting there (see below). I was reminded that belonging is a value of mine and one that is important for me to nourish.

I started to wonder – who feels like they belong? Who feels like they have people in their corner that they can count on? The ones that will pitch a tent and keep it warm inside, the ones that will see us and hear us and do life with us? Isn’t that something we all yearn for? And yet, it seems so few of us truly have that.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Roadblocks to Belonging

Before we can make progress toward belonging, I think it’s important to identify what holds us back. This might look different for each of us – maybe it’s the pain of betrayal that holds you back – not wanting others to know what is really going on behind closed doors. Maybe it’s shame from past experiences that hold you back – thinking it’s safest to keep them all tucked inside. Maybe it’s fear of rejection. Maybe it’s the pace of your life and all the things you are working to accomplish. All valid reasons for not being able to fully press in to relationships and belong.

I’d say for me, while this list changes, depending on the season, there tend to be two things that consistently hold me back from belonging. One of those things happens to be the limits I have on my emotional bandwidth. Between raising these sweet littles (turning into bigs), running a ministry that helps those that are hurting, and trying to keep my marriage to Jason a priority – my tank tends to run low.

Second, and probably more of a problem, is this fear that I won’t be accepted if people really really knew what I was like – aka – a fear of rejection. While I realize we live in a culture of covering up and while I realize the importance of taking off masks (I preach on this) – I STILL struggle with this.

It’s like there is that little girl, still inside me, that so badly wants to be liked. No. matter. the. cost.

Unfortunately – that cost is high and not worth it.

I have been very very aware over the last month of how I have been tempted to be who I think people want me to be, versus firmly grounding myself in ME. I’ve had several fails where I have walked away and realized – I have some work to do.

And – the good news – I have also had a couple of successes. Where I have walked into a situation or experience (I can count two recent times) and I committed to myself to be me. No matter the cost. It was hard and scary and freeing.

What about for you? What do you see as the things that hold you back from belonging?

The Key to Belonging

What I have realized as I look back on these experiences – is first, I have to belong to myself. What I mean by this is – I have to truly accept myself – my quirks, my differences, my opinions, my fears, the things I love, the things I hate. All of me (hmmm…this is beginning to sound like a mix of boundary work + self care) or as much of me as I know – has to be acknowledged and accepted – in order for me to belong to myself.

As we begin to accept ourselves and find belonging from within – we are then able to show the true and real version of ourselves to others. And when we share the real and true with others – this my friends is when we will start to experience belonging.

So Who are You?

There is something about the death of a marriage that forces one to figure out who they really are. We are all handed this {opportunity} as we face the heartache of betrayal. It’s been a big part of my journey and a big part of what I do as I walk with women via groups and one on one.

And it’s also super scary to dig into who we really are. The pain of betrayal can in the short-term cause us to fit more tightly into our masks and what we *think* we need to look like, act like, be like. If you resonate with this – know that it’s a big part of the the healing process. We don’t want to be hurt again – so no wonder we self-protect with the masks.

The masks we wear, however, lead to isolation, loneliness and death at a soul level.

Below are some simple suggestions for getting to know you. Think of this as gently peeking out from under the mask.

You can look in the Rescued workbook in Chapter 3 and start to explore the things that fill you up and the things that deplete you. You can also start to explore your healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Both of these things are simple ways to start to get to know yourself better and what makes you unique.

I love the Enneagram and here is an inexpensive test (click on the RHETO) you can take that will help you figure out your type. I also like this book and this book which will help you explore the Enneagram even more.

Know that if you struggle to accept yourself, to know who you really are, to belong – you aren’t alone. I am on this journey with you and I’m figuring it out, too. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

xo – Shelley

Restore Workshop – won’t you join me?

Ladies – I want to personally invite each of you to join me at the next Restore workshop. It’s less than two weeks away in Dallas, TX and I am so so excited to come sit with each of you that is attending and talk you through the highs and the lows of this journey!

It’s important to remember that this workshop is not only an excellent way to gain support, which I believe is one of the most critical components for success when it comes to recovering from betrayal. But it’s also a place to learn and grow. You will leave with tools and hand-holds to help you as you move forward in your journey. And you will also leave a different person than who you were when you arrived.

Restore is an experience and the ladies that lead the break-out groups are phenomenal at what they do.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions. Would so love to see you there.

xo – Shelley

A letter to you, dear brave woman.

Last week, I received a voicemail from a friend that I initially met here on the blog. She later joined an RLFW support group and is now in a place where she is helping women at her local church. She was preparing a letter to women in her community that reach out asking for support. She wanted to know from me – what are the 2 or 3 things that I think might be valuable for women to hear when they reach out for help.

It got me to thinking about all the things I would want a hurting woman to know after she realizes her world won’t quite ever be the same – the moment she realizes that her husband has betrayed her. I wish I could meet for coffee with each of you. To sit across from you and tell you these things…


Dear Brave Woman –

I know your heart is hurting. Chances are, it’s the most painful thing you’ve experienced to date. Your husband wasn’t who you thought he was. You chose someone that you were convinced would protect you. Someone that only had eyes for you. And now you are faced with the truth that he has betrayed you.

There are a several things you must know as you move forward on your journey. First – please know that you didn’t do anything to cause this to happen. Chances are, your husband has blamed you. Possibly in subtle ways and possibly in more explicit ways. It might be that he told you he wished you’d have more sex or different sex with him. Or maybe he complained about how you dressed or wore your hair – all under the guise of – “I’m not attracted to you anymore.” All these hurtful things, chances are, were said well before you even became privy to his problem.

And if your husband hasn’t pointed the finger, well then, it doesn’t help that our culture points the finger on the woman that has been betrayed. Your friends might even make comments about random women on TV or in real life that go through the heartbreak of infidelity and say {stupid} things like – “no wonder he cheated on her, given the way she treats him…”. This is so incredibly hurtful, damaging and inaccurate.

Trust me when I say this – betrayal has no proclivity to one woman over another. Women of all backgrounds, shapes, sizes, colors, statures (the list goes on and on) are affected by betrayal. Fill in the blank – if only I had _________ or __________ this wouldn’t have happened. Well, let me tell you – it’s not true. Even if you had __________ or _________; it wouldn’t have prevented this from happening to you.

Your husbands choices were just that – his choices. And those choices were informed by the wounds from his childhood. They were informed by his inability to be intimate with others and his choice to cope in an unhealthy way that ultimately hurt you.

Please don’t change who you are, how God created you, knit you together in your mother’s womb because of his choices. It’s so easy to want to fix it this way but learn from my mistakes – it won’t fix a thing.

Second – There is a lot (I mean a LOT) of grieving work to do. This might be your first shot at grieving or maybe you’ve had experience in this area. For myself, it was my first big shot. I want to encourage you to buckle up and get ready for the ride. It’s intense. It’s crazy. It’s unsettling. Some women find they don’t want to go to the deep dark places (I can’t blame them) and they hope to get through it as quickly as possible. Others deny it and skip over it all together. It’s been my experience that while we can try to bury our grief – it won’t ever completely go away until we work through it. But how? Well, similar to how you’d eat an elephant – it’s one bite at a time.

Not only can it feel insurmountable and like the most daunting of tasks, but it’s also difficult to grieve if your husband isn’t capable of giving you the empathy and compassion that you need (this is very common early on in the process because he hasn’t had a chance to do his work yet). One of the most painful things I’ve seen in my work with women is when she has to carry the grief alone. It’s antithetical to how we grieve best – which is in the presence of others. So if he won’t create space for your grief, find a trusted girlfriend or group that will. And be clear about what you need – you need someone to sit in the pain with you. To listen and not fix. To encourage you and pray for you.

It would also be nice if we had a road map for the grief. You know what I mean – an A to Z process for how to get over it in a timely manner (pretty please) and only at convenient times (NOT when my children need me or when I’m giving a presentation at work). You know, we could check boxes and see our progress as we move forward?!

I hate to burst your bubble but this is not how it goes. Grief is unpredictable, it ebbs and flows, it takes us by surprise and then when we are ready and willing to grieve – it won’t join us.

“Emotion is rarely convenient and often intolerable…”

– Josephine Barry (Diana Barry’s great aunt in Anne with an E)

When the grief did wash over me in those early days, I feared it would take me out. What I didn’t realize is this: the cleansing work of deep grief is actually just what I needed to breathe lighter and easier. Going to the dark places moved me closer to healing. I couldn’t check a box or see some great improvement week to week; but when I looked back over the months – I saw that the work was paying off.

So give yourself permission to grieve. Find someone that will hold you in your pain (a girlfriend, mentor, therapist, coach or husband, if he is capable) and know that it’s the most unpredictable thing ever.

Third – Self Care. And I don’t mean the things you think you ought to do but don’t want to do. I’m talking about the things that will help you survive this season that actually bring you a sliver of joy. For those of us that are energetic, it could be a run or a walk in nature. For those of us that get energy from tidiness, it could be organizing a closet. And for those of us that yearn for comfort, it might be sitting on the couch with a cozy blanket and watching a NetFlix show.

I can’t emphasize this enough – finding those couple of things to help you get through the day. Every day. Your life is dependent on it.


Much love – Shelley

Image #1 – Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

Image #2 – Photo by Iswanto Arif on Unsplash

Image #3 – Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

Moving through the pain

I’ve had a couple of gals email me recently asking about a particular part of the process that they are really struggling with. It’s something that I know many of you can relate to. It’s summed up in these questions – how will I ever move past the pain? How can I look at him, touch him – without thinking of her or without thinking of what he has done? Will I ever be able to look at him and not think about the pain and the hurt?

After Jason shared his ugly truth with me – my new reality set in slowly. There was the usual shock and denial that helped me absorb the weight of his actions. Anger was soon to follow with bouts of further shock and denial; as well as hopelessness and depression. It wasn’t long before I realized – I was in the thick of grieving.

As I continued to grieve – the pain never quite seemed to leave me. It was always just one trigger or one thought away.

I was able to busy myself with my career or with socializing with friends. But it was always there. Like a heavy bag around my shoulder with contents I couldn’t seem to unload.

And it would meet me at the most unexpected of times. I might be talking with a friend and boom – something would remind me of Jason’s infidelity. Or I might be minding my own business driving down the street and bam – out of nowhere, it would hit me like a ton of bricks.

These crude reminders that yes – this is my life. My husband was unfaithful and now I am broken – possibly beyond repair. As one woman this week said – she is haunted by what he has done.

I wondered during those times – would the weight – the heavy bag I was carrying – ever go away? Could I ever live a normal life again? Free from the constant reminders, the constant pain, the weight of it all?

Below are three things that helped me move forward through the weight, through the constant reminders, through the thoughts that held me down –

Three things I needed in order to move forward

Validation

The first thing that I needed was validation. Keeping the thoughts and the feelings bottled up inside did me little to no good. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t handle it anymore and I needed to get it out. Sharing with Jason was potentially most helpful. Receiving validation from the one that has wronged us can really do wonders but Jason wasn’t always in a place to do this. If Jason was in a place of humility and was willing to listen to my pain – then sharing my pain with him was fruitful. But there were times when I had to rely on a group of women that God had placed in my life.

When it came to my go-to girls – early on, I didn’t need someone to fix me. I didn’t need someone to tell me what to change. I just needed someone to sit in the pain with me. To be empathetic and to hear the depths of the pain that I was experiencing.

Born out of the validation and empathy I received from others – I was able to validate myself. And this, my friends, was huge. To not minimize or shame myself but rather to say – yes, this pain is unbearable. This weight is too much to carry. The hurt is real and these women I trust say it’s brutal, too.

Brain Stops

Girls – I had to get really really good at stopping my brain from being on the hamster wheel. This. Well… it was a process.

I had to work HARD to set down the bag of hurt and pain and walk into an exercise class and just tell myself – I’m leaving this at the door and it will be here when I come back out. I can pick it up then.

I’d be driving around in my car in those early years (I worked out of my car) and I’d have to say out loud – “BRAIN STOP. Just stop. I’m going to take a break. I’m not going to think about this right now.”

I’d focus my mind on memorizing Bible verses in my car (my mom would be so proud if she knew this!) or immersing myself into a good book – just to get a break from the constant that was in my head and heart.

Transformation

If I were to stay married to Jason – he had to allow God to transform him. God transforming my husband = the weight in the bag became lighter. Jason not doing the hard work God needed him to do = I’m carrying the bag. And while Jason couldn’t fully ever take away my pain – he could work toward cultivating character traits that would help me drop the bag and run back to him.

And when I say change – I’m not just talking about living with integrity. I’m talking about the deeper heart change that had to take place. Trading the pride for humility, switching out hopelessness and resignation for determination and leading the way, exchanging a posture of unforgiveableness to one of being forgiveable.

In effect – what Jason was able to do was to pick up my bag of pain and give me the respite I needed to keep going. When he was humble and I came to him with my hurt – he was in effect saying – I see you, I hear you and what you are going through isn’t okay. I should have never put you here in the first place. And I’ll sit with you in this for as long as it takes and help your heart heal.

This transformation didn’t happen overnight. There was a lot of waiting and watching on my part, not knowing what the future might hold – would the marriage be restored? Or would I heal on my own?

I’ve heard it said – “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what we are waiting for.” (John Ortberg)

It was through the wait that I learned to lean on God and trust Him before anything else. It was through the wait that I learned what it looks like to surrender my life to Him. It was through the wait that God started a good work in me, cultivating character and strength, hope and love; and born out of the suffering – immense joy.

xo – Shelley

Photo credit

Tiffany’s Story

Hello Ladies!

I want to make sure each of you is aware of the Restore Workshop coming to Irvine, CA; March 1-3, 2019. I would love for you to join me for a weekend of laughing, crying and digging deep. No doubt you will leave feeling restored and with a plan for wholeness and healing.

Below is a letter I received from a woman that attended Restore in 2017 (names have been changed for privacy). I hope it encourages you as you consider your next steps.

Hi Shelley,
I hope all is well!  I attended the Restore conference in October 2017 – I can’t believe it’s been over a year.  I’ve been wanting to reach out and let you know that what you do is amazing.  Restore was really a turning point for me…it helped me find my voice again and begin taking control of my life.  


I wish I could say that I came home from Restore and Jake came home from Every Man’s Battle and we’ve been working on our marriage ever since, but that’s just not my story.  Our divorce was final in July after his affair continued for a year and a half from the time I found out.  I bought a home last spring and the kids and I have settled into our own routine.  We continue to do things together as a family for special events and I can say, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that he’s a more present dad now when he’s with them.  But silver linings are actually the real reason for my note to you today…


When I was at Restore I had the strangest emotional reaction…I was jealous of most of the other women.  It seemed like most of the husbands came back from EMB and wanted to work on things – that there was some level of remorse or regret they’d expressed – but I didn’t have any of that.  Of course he was telling me he was willing to work it out, but there was no action, no sincere apologies, no change.  It wasn’t until I went to Restore that my eyes were finally opened to that.


Since then I have truly learned the power of prayer.  I can’t tell you the number of times I desperately needed something and prayed about it and my prayer was answered almost immediately…as if God was right there holding my hand.  Of course the ultimate prayer I prayed – for my marriage to be saved – didn’t happen, but I know now more than ever that He answers the prayers that need to be answered for my good, and at just the right time.  Despite that prayer I prayed I continued to feel God urging me to leave the marriage.  Shortly after the divorce was final I found out that Jake and his then mistress were expecting a child.  I’m so thankful I was no longer trying to hold on to my marriage when I found that out…it would have been a thousand times more painful.  Instead, I was free to grieve and hand it over to God to help my children with the transition.  I was so incredibly grateful it wasn’t my burden.


Just this past Friday I had something weighing heavily on me – it was a strong urging that I needed to reach out to you to share a little about my story.  On Sunday, the pastor of our church led us in a prayer, not for opportunity, but for boldness.  To reach out to someone who you’ve been thinking of and wanting to share your faith story with and to do it, to share your story.  I knew I was supposed to reach out to you. I’m still not entirely sure why – I’m sure you have women who thank you and share their story with you every day.


I do want you to know that I’m willing to share my story if you ever need someone.  I won’t be the woman who was able to make her marriage work, but I will be the woman who was able to find hope through prayer even in the darkest times of this devastating situation.  I won’t be the woman who felt the benefits so many do after their husbands go to EMB, but I will be the woman who found strength from the Restore conference.  Please let me know if you ever need a written or video testimonial, or even a live guest speaker.  I’d love to share my story and maybe help another woman find peace and hope when things seem hopeless.

Thanks Shelley.
Tiffany    

This is YOUR year – Part 1

If you know me well – you know how passionate I am about the new year. Maybe it’s because I am so relieved to have made it through the holiday season – or – maybe it’s because I heart fresh starts. I don’t know exactly what it is but I love the possibilities that come with turning my calendar to January and thinking about all I want to experience in the year ahead.

I say all of that and I know full well that for a lot of women walking through the throes of betrayal – the new year doesn’t bring great joy. I’ve been there. All I knew back then is I couldn’t bear another year like the one I had just endured. I just. couldn’t. do it. You’re not alone if that is the space you are in today.

And – what I believe to be helpful – whether you love new years or whether you are dreading the year to come – is to give the year prior some proper closure. Tell it good-bye. Only after doing this can we turn around and really take some time to think about what we want the year we are facing to look like.

I’m not talking new year’s resolutions here.

I know, I know – new years resolutions don’t have the best of reputations. And that’s actually not what I am going to ask you to do – to create resolutions. A resolution to me seems like an unachievable battle of the will that isn’t really worth sticking to by February 1.

For instance – a resolution might be choosing not to eat sugar for the entire month of January. I actually love sugar. I love it a lot. If I resolved to not eat any sugar – I’d last – eh, about 2 hours. It’s just not practical.

Instead, what I want you to do is think of some achievable goals that you can work toward as the year ticks by. Less about what you are NOT going to do (not eating any sugar) and more about what you CAN do (eat sugar).

Sugar-coated kidding aside – before we look at 2019 and all we want to accomplish, let’s first turn around and say good-bye to 2018 and give it the closure it deserves – won’t you join me?!

Saying Good-Bye to 2018

My life coach taught me two important things to consider when saying good-bye to the year behind. First – what was accomplished? And second – what was survived? Both are worth acknowledging and celebrating.

You can use the printable above to help you think through this. I suggest printing it out and putting it in a place where you can jot down your thoughts and memories as you go about your day. I also like to pull out my journal from the year and sift through it to find the challenges and accomplishments that I wouldn’t remember otherwise. I give myself permission to use the entire month of January to say good-bye to the year prior and to dream about the year ahead. I hope you will, too.

Here are a couple that I wrote down, just to give you an idea –

What I survived:

  • We received a bill from the IRS stating we owed them quite a bit in taxes. It almost sent me to a padded room. Thankfully, the issue was handled and in the end – the government owed us $90!
  • Jason and I had some really hard conversations about his work load, his vision and what he needs to do different. This completely and totally sent me into orbit (thanks to a realization that I grew up in a home where work = love) and sent Jason and I into many a conversations hashing through the best way to move forward.

What I accomplished:

  • I supported Jason wholeheartdly in training for and running a marathon. This involved (but was not limited to) water and food drops, cheering from the car with the boys in tow, and taping Jason’s foot day in and day out to keep his pain to a minimum. It was also me stepping into a vulnerable place of being able to fully support him and cheer him on in what was a dream of his. While this might sound silly to some; for me, for us – it was a big deal.
  • We started therapy to help us handle parenting our boys. A big struggle over the last couple of years that came to a head in 2018 – it was a huge accomplishment to acknowledge we needed help and to be willing to pay top dollar for it (I’m frugal, too, if you didn’t know).

Hopefully that gives you an idea as you start to book-end (or say good-bye to) 2018. It’s all about celebrating the victories and appreciating the challenges.In the next blog post – we will be talking about looking ahead to 2019. In addition, I am working on a vision for the blog for this year and I have some really amazing ideas for how I want to use the blog (and some other things) to help more women get the support they are looking for. It’s going to be good.

I’d love to hear what comes to mind for you as you look back at 2018.

xo – Shelley


Surviving the Holidays – Part 2

So we’ve talked about surviving the craziness of the Christmas season and some simple things we can do to slow down and enjoy this time of year versus hiding until sometime after the new year.

Now let’s talk about what we can do to survive (and thrive) as we engage with our immediate family as well as our distant cousins.

If you are new on this journey…

I want to start by saying – if you are new on this journey and this is your first holiday since your world fell apart – I think it’s really important to take some time to decide what you will be able to handle and what you won’t be able to deal withAnd don’t even think about apologizing for what you can’t manage!

For instance, you might not be up for going to your in-laws house for Christmas, even if it’s just for Christmas morning.  And while you might feel terrible saying no – I encourage you to think through what you feel safe engaging in and what you need to bow out of.

Some women feel better going to family functions with the understanding that the grief and pain is on hold until later in the day or even a couple of days later.  (I remember Jason and I taking these “time outs” for family functions early on in our process.  I was so afraid that Jason might forget that we are NOT okay.  I made it real clear that I was putting this on hold and we would revisit it at xyz time frame.)

Some women, on the other hand, can’t even imagine engaging family and prefer to alter their plans all together.  Jason and I did this as well and it helped that Jason would absorb the repercussions, not me.

Whichever you choose – remember the key is what do you need?  And what would help you feel the safest?  Think this through and if your husband is working his recovery (not just checking the boxes mind you but also doing the heart work) and if you feel safe talking to him about this – share with him what is doable for you and what isn’t.

If you are going to be around his family…

Two things come to mind that I think are really important to work through before celebrating with his family.

First – it’s super important to be on the same page before the gathering.  Jason and I literally have to have no less than three conversations as we prep for time with his family and one of the biggest things that we plan for is taking time every day to check in with each other in order to keep the lines of communication wide open.

We will usually try to go for a walk or a run but if that isn’t possible, then we will make sure to connect before going to bed.  The focus for us is on intimacy so we share what we are struggling with, what might feel tender, and also what we feel is going smoothly.  Remember men – defensiveness is the enemy of empathy so watch for this and work toward caring for your wife’s heart more than anyone else’s.

Second – is to have a conversation about the role he played in his family of origin.  For instance, was he the golden child?  Was he the funny guy that kept everyone laughing?  Was he momma’s boy with some unhealthy attachments?  Whatever it might be – it’s important at some point to explore this together and gain awareness so he can take the initiative to not slip back into the role that made the “system” function back then.  Talk about triggering for us wives.  Whew.

If you are going to be around your family…

More than anything – I needed Jason to show his character changes to my family.  And even today, I still need that.

So if you are second guessing yourself on what you need from him – don’t.  God created us with needs and when we are around our families – those needs go way up!

For instance – one of the things that can really send me into a tail spin is if Jason just lounges on the couch and doesn’t help with the dishes and food prep or with the boys.  Another thing that drives me crazy is if he doesn’t engage with my family and retreats to the bedroom for hours on end.  Um – no.  Totally triggers what he used to be like before his sexual integrity issues came to light:  self-absorbed, checked out and basically not even there.

While Jason loves his time alone (going to a coffee shop to journal or going on a bike ride) – he is always careful to plan it at a time when it won’t impact the entire family and/or put extra stress on me.  Likewise, while Jason doesn’t always love playing games with my competitive family – he will engage in a game or two here and there because he knows it’s important to me.

So think about what you need from your husband before the event or trip and again, if you feel that your husband is engaged in his recovery and if you feel safe having this sort of convo with him – talk to him about it.

A note for those of you whose husbands are not in recovery

I know this can be tricky because if you explore what you need and yet your husband isn’t about to listen to you or care for your heart in that way – then what?

If this is you – it’s still important to still get your needs met (think: needs met by God, self and others) and to also set boundaries with your husband in order to survive and thrive.  It might be that you focus on your kids at the family gathering and don’t spend energy focusing on your husband and the way he behaves when he is around extended family (I would call this healthy detachment).  It might be that you alert your go-to girls that you are going in and it might be ugly and you need them on stand-by in case you find yourself locked in your aunt’s bathroom and unable to leave because of the anger or the tears.

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Hear my heart as I wrap this up – I want each of you to know that you are not alone and there are women across the world in similar situations to yours.  Trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas with grace and ease.  How to honor their families and children and also honor their emotions as they walk through one of the most difficult seasons one could go through.

If all else fails – I encourage you to put on some comfy clothes, grab some of this and turn this on right away.  I promise, you will feel better almost immediately.

Would love to hear your ideas for how you are going to survive and thrive with your extended families this holiday season.

xo – Shelley