Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Surviving the Holidays: 6 Tips

surviving holidays

A New Take on Holidays and Triggers

Even though it was over thirty years ago when I received my training at the Colorado Institute for Marriage and Family Therapy, I still remember my mentor Dr. Jan Raynak's words:

"Rick, couples will make more movement
in the holiday season than in all the other months combined."


I noticed that he didn't say progress, and I asked for clarification, "Progress or movement?" I asked. "Movement," he replied. The past 30 years have proven him right.

Out of all the days of the year, nothing symbolizes "family togetherness" more than Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a result, no time highlights the distance of a ruptured relationship more than this season. If you and your mate are still close to ground zero, the reminders can be excruciating. Even if you're within two years of "discovery" after an affair, painful emotions may surface. Feelings of isolation and loneliness just seem to magically materialize during times of holiday cheer.

Progress not Perfection

The good news is the season doesn't have to be a disaster in waiting. “Movement” can be progress if you choose to make it so by taking the right approach and applying the right perspective. The holidays can serve as a time of giving and of reconciliation. It's a time where faded memories of times gone by stir forgotten feelings, and where hope draws us to new beginnings. Those of us at Affair Recovery pray you'll find peace and joy during this season.

Here are a few suggestions we want to pass along. I hope you'll share suggestions you've personally found useful in surviving the holidays in the comments at the end of the article. Together, we can find a way not only to survive, but to thrive.

Helpful Suggestions

Dr. Calvin Frederick, formerly of the National Institute of Mental Health, estimated a 15% increase (this number may have increased) in the number of people seeking professional help during the holiday season.1 He has given several suggestions for surviving the holidays.

  1. First, stop putting unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy during the holidays. When you have legitimate reasons for being happy, acknowledge them without guilt. Be gentle with yourself and your spouse in those moments when happiness evades you.
  2. You may find your mood improves when you're in the company of special friends and favorite relatives - especially those who accept your full range of feelings and don't put pressure on you to be other than who you are. So seek out people who make you feel better, and avoid people who contribute to your depression or force you through an exhausting performance of pretending everything is OK.
  3. Make an effort to be more physically active. Physical activity is one of the best ways to make yourself feel better. Recent research indicates that exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, mood-elevating chemicals produced by the body. Take a walk, go to the gym, get out in the country, or take on a project that calls for physical activity.
  4. Many people regain control and their equilibrium when they set one or two specific, manageable goals every day - even if they are as simple as cleaning out a drawer or writing a letter. The satisfaction they get from completing these tasks adds to their sense of well-being and self-respect.
  5. Watch your intake of alcohol. While a few drinks may make you feel temporarily euphoric, alcohol is a depressant and often ends up making you feel worse than before.
  6. Emerson Eggerichs1, author of the popular book Love and Respect, recommends having a ten minute discussion before your holiday gathering or trips, and identifying what can go wrong. Begin to assess what triggers may come your way or what challenges might arise, and tell your spouse how they can help. When and if they do arise, you’ll be prepared for them and can diffuse much of the shock of their impact.

If you are having trouble sleeping, have lost your appetite, and/or have continuing thoughts of hopelessness and despair, seeking professional help may be wise.

Listed below are some ideas and suggestions that the members of our AR community have found helpful in coping with the holiday season after infidelity. Choose the ones that help you:

  • Family get-togethers may be difficult. Be honest with each other about your feelings. Sit down with your family and decide what you want to do for the holiday season. Don't set expectations too high for yourself or for the day. If you wish things to be the same, you are going to be disappointed. Do things a little differently. Undertake only what each family member can handle comfortably; it’s OK to say “no” to things. Initiate activity yourself; do not wait for others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. Some may wish to follow family traditions, while others may choose to change.
  • Keep in mind the feelings of your children and/or family members. Try to make the holiday season as joyous as possible for them.
  • Set limitations. Realize that it isn't going to be easy. Do only the things that are very special and/or important to you without exhausting yourself trying to be a happy hostess who does it all. Do the best you can.
  • Once you have made the decision on the role you and your family will play during the holidays, let your relatives and friends know. Time spent by yourself can also be rewarding.
  • Baking goodies and cleaning the house can get out of proportion. If these chores are enjoyable, go ahead, but not to the point that it is overtiring. Either buy baked goods, or go without this year.
  • Enlist help from those who know your struggle. If your spouse is willing, give them jobs you may usually do, like transporting relatives, picking up pies, taking the kids to look at lights, etc. Use the time saved for yourself. Sit with your Bible or book you enjoy and zone out. If not your spouse, get a friend or family member to be on your team.
  • Keep in mind it is just a day. It's a date on a calendar; it only has the importance you give it. I'm looking at Thursday as just another day off, and planning on doing some house projects I've been working on. The more emphasis I give the day as special, the more I know I'll be hurt and disappointed. Better off looking at the day as an opportunity to use the time for something constructive, which may or may not include the “typical” holiday events. It is important to plan the day though, and take some time to decide what events you would be disappointed about missing (if any) and which ones you can do without.
  • Stop comparing this holiday to those before “D Day.” It puts unfair pressure on you to be OK, and the fact is - everything’s different. If you’re new to recovery it’s different in a really painful way, if you’re further out (we’re at 5 years), it’s (hopefully) different in a really beautiful way. Either way, comparison will not help you. Take the day as it is.
  • For me, D Day was Christmas Day. The one year anniversary of discovery I took a trip by myself and it was the best possible solution to making it through the holidays. I have adult children so I didn’t have to worry about their Christmas morning; I just sat in some hot springs and enjoyed what peace I could find.
  • I know we usually think of the subject of holidays in terms of how hard it is for the one that was betrayed and I think it is certainly important that we never forget that. I just wanted to note that from my perspective as a regretful betrayer, the holidays serve as a reminder of what I risked losing and of the wonderful gift that forgiveness and reconciliation is both from God and my beautiful wife. I'm thankful at Christmas for grace.

We have a Healthy Holidays category in the Recovery Library where you can find more articles and Q&A videos about surviving the holiday season.

I'd like to highlight two videos below from our Survivors' Blog that can also be found in the Healthy Holidays category of the Recovery Library.

This season represents a time of hope and reconciliation. I pray that you'll find hope and new life as you get together with friends or family to celebrate this time of year. If you have any tips or suggestions to help others through the holidays, please do share in the comments.

Those of us at Affair Recovery wish you a very Merry Christmas and joyful holiday season.


1.  Eggerichs, Emerson. Love and Respect. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.



RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:


We're at 2 and 1/2 years

We're at 2 and 1/2 years since D Day ( of my husband's intense 4 year affair) and are doing very well together: praise God! However, I've been plagued with nightmares and resulting migraines ever since the calendar flipped to DECEMBER. The dreams are usuAlly about him and some form of him rejecting me. Exhausted, it is really hard for me to match his elation and delight at, as your article states, the joy of beautiful home and family togetherness...

surprised by emotions

I am 19 months post d day. I thought that since I had "survived" last year's holiday season that this one would be easier. I could not have been more wrong. The depression and loneliness that I have been feeling is overwhelming at times. I have even had days that I have rethought my decision to stay with my husband after learning about his affair. I think last year I was so lost in the fog of discovery that I wasn't aware of the overall impact his affair could have had on our family. This year I am painfully aware of the damage and hurt he could have caused our children and that breaks my heart all over again.

I have already made the decision to stay away from events, friends, and family that I have to pretend to be happy around. This year I am not forcing myself to be happy simply for appearances. I am letting myself feel what is inside me and dealing with that emotion when I feel it, unlike last year when I held those feelings in so that no one would know. This year I am ok with leaving the mall and crying in my car because the simple act of shopping for presents for my husband is to hard, to stressful and to emotional. I am ok with not going to the holiday parties and pretending to be happy and in love. This year I am ok with telling our families that we are staying home for Christmas this year instead of traveling to their homes.

Not denying or ignoring those feelings this year is very freeing for me. I am not pretending to be someone I am not.

good tips

I appreciated the information in this article. My spouse's family usually hosts Christmas and this year, she elected to step away. They are elderly and I welcomed the shift in paradigm not only because it gives me a chance to start my own traditions with my grandchildren and adult children, but it breaks me from the triggers that the "routine" of years past create in my mind after learning of the infidelities. His parents consider my husband above reproach and I would not want to burst their bubble if they knew what we've been going through. I made plans for a family brunch and invited my in-laws for what I hoped would be a welcome change and also give me a positive goal in celebrating my first Christmas post DD. A week or so ago, my MIL changed her mind and now wants us to return to her house. I am refusing to change my plans. She is invited to our home and I welcomed an opportunity to host her and my FIL. They are in good health and able are active socially with their friends, so they are not incapable of driving the 10 miles to our home. We have 3 young grandchildren with "out of the box" presents prepared for them. I have my menu and food purchased and the table set. My husband's parents considers him a saint and don't know anything of our issues. I am willing to keep our private lives "private" but I do not feel it's fair nor do I need to be made to feel guilty that I won't cancel my plans ,My husband's devout loyalty to his mom and dad seems mis-directed at a time for which I need him to support me. He is using a lot of passive aggressive attitudes to imply that this might be their "last" Christmas and how selfish I am to not give in. I cannot begin to express how angry this makes me when I see him interact with his mom and dad and not want to disappoint them in any way..yet, he could nearly destroy our marriage and relationships with his own wife and children and grandchildren and live with himself for years! Obviously, this is a difficult difficult time for us.

He also gets very angry when

He also gets very angry when I express my anger about how he worries so much about what his parents "think" and not what I might "think" of him...he thinks I should separate the affair implications as they don't have anything to do with his parents...I disagree...true, they are not personally involved and they gave him a wonderful upbringing, but somewhere along the way, he learned how to compartmentalize his behaviors from the "image" that he presented to the world. I want God to work on his heart for him to see that no behavior is ever conducted without some sort of affect on oneself or others. Despite the separate worlds he was able to keep private from his "family", the heart and soul knew the truth. My choice to have our holiday with my adult children and grandchildren to break the "trigger" of him running off and texting his GF while we were at his parents house needs to make sense to him. When it comes to his mom and dad, he turns into the "golden" child who can do no wrong. It is extremely difficult for me to look at that dynamic. I would never want his parents to know his secrets, but I know them, and I want him to consider our reality over a "pretend" reality that his has with his mom and dad. If anyone wants to add their opinion to this, feel free.

The holidays

Thank you for all your online support! I'm coming up to our one year D day anniversary and dreading it with all my might! The information and helpful material you send me has helped feel better about the emotional roller coaster I'm on! Merry Christmas and thank you again so much

3 years past Dday one

This is the third Christmas I will be spending by myself. Dday 1 was Christmas 2012 and even though we are still married, my spouse enjoyed and employed the spousal torture
of "trickle truth" and I have had several Ddays over the past 3 years, the last one being this past spring. I WANT to be alone at Christmas...it is preferable to me to be alone in my misery with the triggers than to spend the day pretending normal and trying to fake it around him and relatives who all know and judge me for my decision to try and see what is on the other side of this nightmare instead of kicking him to the curb for his 20 year infidelity with his AP and subsequent emotional abuse/physical abuses. Our marriage has lasted 37 years,although the past 21 have been a lie as far as I am concerned. I have to make it until the middle of January when both the AP and I celebrate birthdays--we have the same birthday--and then after that, I can resume some kind of normalcy to my life and the triggers will subside for a while...at least until Valentines Day.....and then Easter....he always found time to do special things for her on birthdays and holidays, but "didn't have time" to stand in line or "was too busy at work" to do anything for me most years...and I took it as normal for him and believed him and never really expected much, accepting that he was not raised as a person who outwardly shows emotion or makes romantic, caring gestures. Now that I know he is capable of beautiful loving romantic gestures and emotions, as demonstrated by his actions with his AP, I now know what I COULD have and SHOULD have had in my marriage and it hurts so much that he gave it to someone else. Yes, he is now showing some positive changes, says he wants our marriage, supposedly has had no contact with the AP.....and that is why I have not yet chosen to leave, but STILL grieving my losses after 3 years.....I am looking forward to the solitude of being alone at Christmas. Solitude at Christmas may be my new tradition.....

My support for you

Oh my God, Karen58, my heart and support go out to you. I, too, have been betrayed for 28 years by my husband who is a sex addict. We have been married for 36 years. When I read your comments, my heart just broke and wept for you. My husband also "trickle truthed" me for 6 months, and it is the most horrific torture, as you said. Please know that my heart is with you and you are not alone. My husband, too, says he wants to stay married to me and is demonstrating remorse, but the pain of knowing that his secret life took priority over me, our family and everything else in his life is killing me with pain. I will pray for you and hold you in my heart as we both move through this horrible time.

Thank you

The holidays were my D-Day. Halloween to New Years. After nearly 3 months of gaslighting I threw my unfaithful spouse out on New Years Day. We are reconciled but I still loathe the season. It's so hard because we have small children. This article was helpful. I still wish I could just sleep through it all...

Hate Thanksgiving/Christmas!

This year marks the second straight Thanksgiving/Christmas season since disclosure and my wife (the betrayer) is still with me but still very disconnected spiritually, emotionally and physically. I am still in so much pain.

And it doesn't help that, for the third time in five years, I enter the holiday season unemployed after being let go by my employer. My original lay off five years ago started my wife's slide into disconnection and then my second job loss three years ago sealed her into her emotional affair that lasted 2 years with a youth pastor in our church.

So now I have come to hate Thanksgiving and Christmas because it has brought nothing but pain and heartache. As long as my wife continues to stay disconnected with me, I see nothing positive will ever come out of this holiday season indefinitely. It is very hard to be thankful or celebrate the birth of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, when so much pain exists in my heart and my wife does not love or respect me as her husband, even though she claims to be trying.

Pain of holidays

I have always decorated the entire house. Made all sorts of cookies and candies and really enjoyed Christmas. I'm 16 months out from day (I have been married 35 years). I thought I would be better this year. But I think it is worse I could hardly stand to put up the Christmas tree very little decorations did I put up and I have made nothing. All I want to do is cry. I feel like the very joy of holidays has been sucked out of me by his affair. I am trying my very best to be strong for my adult children's sake but inside I'm dying. The hurt is do strong it feels like it is crushing me. Can anyone please tell me how to make this go away

Pain of holiday

I am so sorry for what you are going through, i feel your pain because i am going through the same thing, i can't tell you how to make it go away because it does not i pray that you will find peace in your heart.


The pain can be so overwhelming at times, and during Thanksgiving and Christmas, my heart is much more sensitive to the deep losses I feel. Crying is a symptom of my pain, but crying has also served as a great healer for my soul. I want you to know that you are not alone. Not only do I grieve with you, God is with you and He mourns with you. At Christmas, I remember that Jesus was called Immanuel, which means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). In this season of our lives and in this season of Christmas, I pray that God would comfort you and give you rest. There is hope, and Christmas itself is evidence of it.

This interview Rick had with Dr. Karen Royer about the holidays was helpful to me and perhaps has some thoughts that would be helpful to you:

Blessings to you!

Re: Pain of holidays

I am literally in the same boat as you except 27 years of marriage and 33 years together ... I too won’t let my children (23 & 22) see me cry and I put on my “happy” face but I’m dying inside... I cry when hearing certain Christmas songs or even the other day trying to buy Christmas cards while standing in CVS... I’m sorry I don’t have advise to offer but just wanted to share that someone else,me, is pretty much going through the same (which almost seems exact) situation... my best to you in that you find strength (I know I’m hoping for the same!)

Pain of the holidays

look.at the Christmas tree with not one single package under it its only up because he went and bought it and guilted me into putting some decorations on it. And I cry because I feel so sad that my house used to just explode with the Christmas decorations. I miss the me that joyfully put up all the garland and extra themed trees. I miss the me that used to shop and find the perfect gifts for everyone. I miss the me that made candies and cookies Now I cry and wonder was it ever enough all I did I tried so hard to make it all so festive and perfect and it was for nothing. I wonder did he ever love me or was I just there for his comfort He started his cybersex affair 2 days after Christmas and used the tablet I bought him for Christmas . I guess I did buy the perfect present for him that year. My heart is broken. I don't think I will ever feel love or joy again. He is trying in his own ways to make me feel.better but I can't make him understand that. It's the emotional connection that he broke that needs to be fixed. All the gifts in the world cannot bring back the trust and love I had for him.

Still bad, after 5 years

It has been 5 years, and it has been a blur when D- Day on 2.1.2013, crushed on me. I do not think I have made any progress, and the Christmas holiday and new year for the past few years are very difficult.
Never a day goes by I am not thinking about it. I am still stuck at how could he, after being married for 33 years. He just expects me to snap out of it, after he has said, I am sorry.
I wish I could make it easier for myself. It is me who is trying hard to recover as he said it is all in the past, and why am I still living it.

Christmas season

I discovered my husband's affair the day after Thanksgiving in 2016, so last Christmas was awful. I was numb and nauseous the whole time. Nobody knew at that time, and keeping it hidden and having no support was a huge burden. My husband was ambivalent and very unsure of what he wanted to do, told me he was confused and needed time to think about what he had done. After a few more months of lies and subterfuge, I found out he was continuing the affair and had to tell him that he was no longer welcome to share our home. He left to live with this woman in another country. 2017 has been a long year of emotion and heartache but I was determined that last Christmas would be the worst one, and so it has turned out. Our family Christmas is intact, decorations, tree, lights, baking and cooking, gift buying, family traditions and events are as they have always been. I have had a few moments of sadness, a couple of tears, and a little anger that he has given this horrendous legacy to our children, but I have made myself listen to and enjoy as I usually do the Christmas carols and songs, the lights, festivities and parties. I have kept my focus on the children and am sustained by my incredibly supportive family and friends. I have pulled back when I felt myself slipping into sadness. I am lucky to have my life intact, I am surrounded by good people who remind me what the season is about and I am determined not to let the holidays be defined by my husband's behavior. Our Christmas will be filled with the same warm traditions as it has always been. We are together having a joyous family time, he is apart from us for the first time in 24 years. I am sorry my husband has chosen not to be part of our family anymore, but my job this year is to find the joy in all the other people who share this time of year with me. They are the ones who matter. Wishing everyone peace for Christmas and hope for a better 2018.

Tip for survival

Every year we host Thanksgiving at our home. This year we were 6 months out from our 1st Dday (I am the unfaithful). We had 21 for dinner, and over half were out of town guests. The one proactive step that we took that helped more than anything else was having a “holiday” plan. We adapted the AR travel plan to use as a guideline for how to handle tough situations. (In-laws on both sides, extended family, triggers, pretend normal). No one in our family knows of my infidelity. My husband, in his overwhelming grace, has protected me and our marriage from outside judgement or criticism. It was incredibly helpful.

Unfortunately, I am a slow learner who still struggles with pride and shame. I trickeled truth (such a fool!) and we had our second DDay December 12. :( We will be home for the holiday with just our immediate family, but I plan to use much of our holiday plan this week. My main focus is giving my husband the time and space to be sad and feel pain. I will be doing a lot of pretend normal with the kids, and that is okay. He needs to have outlets for himself throughout the holiday.

I am praying for peace and continued healing for all this holiday season.


Not to be judgmental, but offering advice from a man who was in your husband's shoes. If you have any hope of recovering, you need to stop the trickle truthing and answer all his questions with 100% honesty now. That is by far the best gift you can give him. Lying by commission or omission after discovery of the devastating betrayal is the absolute worst thing you can do to a good man. It will become the biggest obstacle to recovery, not the physical acts of adultery. My wife still shows some denial, does not own all the crap she did, and we stumble over them way too often triggering painful memories and setting back recovery.

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer