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