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

Surviving the Holidays: 5 tips

Even though it was twenty-five 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 25 years have proven him right.

Out of all the days of the year, no day symbolizes "family togetherness" more than 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, then the reminders can be excruciating. Even if you're within two years of "discovery", painful emotions may surface. Feelings of isolation and loneliness just seem to magically appear during times of holiday cheer.

At the same time, the season doesn't have to be a disaster in waiting. Movement can be progress if you make it so. The holidays can serve as a time of giving and of reconciliation. It's a time where memories of old 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 time of the 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.

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. He made several suggestions.

  1. First, stop putting unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy during the holidays. When you have legitimate reasons for being happy, acknowledge them and be gentle with yourself.
  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.
  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 closet or 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.

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

Listed below are some ideas and suggestions that others have found helpful in coping with the holiday season. 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. 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 the things that are very special and /or important to you. 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.

This season represents a time of hope and reconciliation. I pray that you'll find hope and new life as you travel to the end of the year.

Those of us at Affair Recovery wish you a very Merry Christmas.



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Planning for kindness and compassion

We are planning for kindness and compassion by avoiding both families of origin and spending time with friends in the park who show each other kindness and compassion. We are buying food to take with us instead of the normal self imposed pressure to cook. We are making our Christmas an alcohol free day, though our friends will still happily drink. I'm looking forward to it in a way that I haven't in many years.

  Pray scripture prayers for

  Pray scripture prayers for your spouse, and others who have wronged you.  Not only will your own mind be renewed, but you will be following the commandment to pray for your enemies.


Thank you for these suggestions - and the validation of the difficulty with the season.  There is much expectation for happiness and peace, and in families in crisis there is much pressure to just be happy, or be at peace.  Families with addictions experience a "surreal" holiday that can feel very void of any real meaning. 

For years, for the sake of my kids,  I "put on the face" of peace while suffering through my husband's lies and abuse privately.  He was able to put on the face of "joy" for everyone else.   I used to love the holidays, but now, sadly, I would just like to skip them.  I get tired of faking it. 

That said, I have done some of the things listed in this article and it does make a difference.  I simplified a lot of the holidays and concentrate on the blessings of my healthier relationships.

Also, find a way to be actively involved in a charity or other volunteer service - at a nursing home or homeless shelter, a local community program.  People really are hurting all around us, so I don't feel as isolated and "targeted" by my own sadness from my own losses.


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