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

Surviving the Holidays: 7 Tips

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

Of all the days of the year, nothing symbolizes "family togetherness" and "happily ever after" 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.

And even if you are a little ways out, these painful emotions can still continue to surface within two years of discovery. Unfortunately, feelings of isolation and loneliness can seem to magically materialize with lightening quick speed 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 by choosing to take the right approach and applying the right perspective

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 that may help you survive the holidays:

  1. Don't put unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy and carefree 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 someone else. Try and 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. A walk to self soothe can do wonders. 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 confidence when they set one or two specific, manageable goals every day—even if it's 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 Eggerichs, 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.1 Begin to assess what triggers may come your way or what challenges might arise, and tell your spouse how they can help. If and when 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.

Other Helpful Suggestions

In addition to the previous suggestions, Patty Fleener has offered the following ideas to help in coping with the holiday season after infidelity2. We have also included some suggestions from our Affair Recovery community

  • Remember that family get-togethers may be difficult. Be honest with your spouse about your feelings. Sit down with him/her 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 stay the same, you are going to be disappointed. Be open to doing 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.
  • Keep in mind the feelings of your children and other family members. Try to make the holiday season as joyous as possible for everybody.
  • Set limits. Realize that it isn't going to be easy. Do only the things that are very special or important to you. This way, you won't exhaust yourself trying to be a happy hostess who does it all. Just do the best you can and give yourself grace for what you can't.
  • 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 the day 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, it's (hopefully) different in a really beautiful way. Either way, comparison will not help you. Take the day as it is.
  • Find some alone time. For one member, 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."
  • Another member said this, "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. During Christmas, I'm especially thankful for the gift of grace."

I hope you've found some useful suggestions and ideas to help you navigate your way. For more direction on surviving the holiday season check out the two videos below from our Survivors' Blog as well as the Healthy Holidays category in the Recovery Library. If you have any tips or suggestions to help others through the holidays, we'd love if you would share them in the comments!

This season is full of hope and new beginnings. If you're looking to begin a new journey of hope and healing, I recommend our Harboring Hope course for betrayed spouses. Join the thousands of others and give yourself the gift of hope and healing this holiday season.

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

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Harboring Hope registration opens January 6th. Subscribe to be notified.
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  1. Eggerichs, Emerson. Love and Respect. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.
  2. Fleener, Patty. "Holiday Stress: Tips." Mental Health Today, n. d. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.

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Infidelity

Wayne. I love all of the videos affair recovery provides but I am 2 1/2 years past D Day(and 81 ) and I cannot cannot get rid of the visions of my husband and his lover together. It really has me in a giant hole. We are married 60 years.I know I do not love him at this time but we have spent so many years together.The affair lasted a year.DD

What type of affair was it?

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