Surviving the Holidays

How can you go through “the happiest time of the year” after having your world destroyed by the revelation of infidelity? How can you celebrate the birth of Jesus when all you feel like doing is mourning the death of your marriage? Is it even possible to have some sense of a Merry Christmas when triggers abound and all you feel is pain and misery?

These were all questions that plagued my wife, Jill, as we headed into the holiday season after I had admitted to my year-long affair on October 1. We had gone to the EMS Retreat the first weekend of December and I felt like we had received some great coaching. We both wanted to believe what they told us – that we could experience healing over time if we practiced recovery principles.

However, that didn’t change the fact that Jill was in significant pain from my betrayal and relief did not seem to be anywhere in sight. The holidays seemed like a set-up for more pain, like gasoline being poured on an already out-of-control wildfire.

Every Christmas song, every window display, every television special, every Christmas card was just another reminder that “peace on earth” was not present in our home. I desperately wanted the pain to go away and for Jill to experience joy once again, but I knew that would take time. We were still in the early stages of recovery and knew that this was going to be very difficult.

And yet, when January 1 rolled around, Jill admitted to me that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be. Now, don’t get me wrong – she was not saying it was easy. It was still hard and painful at times. But she did say that it wasn’t as devastating as she had originally anticipated. In looking back, we both agree that there were some things we did that helped to ease some of the pain. I will share them here, and maybe you will find them helpful as well.

  1. We lowered our expectations. We decided that we were not going to pretend that everything was all right when it wasn’t. That took the pressure off Jill to do Christmas as she always had done it in the past (e.g., decorate the house, have people over, bake a lot, etc.).
  2. I stepped up and took on most of the responsibilities around the house. I planned the days with our kids and parents who came in from out of town. I acted like an adult - instead of the self-indulgent, self-centered, spoiled child that had created this problem. I chose to be responsible. Jill says that this was the number one thing I did that helped her during this time. This alleviated the pressure she always felt around the holidays, as well as helped to build trust for me.
  3. We talked a lot. We checked in many times a day with each other. I asked her how she was feeling and she was honest in her response. Of course, I wanted to hear that she was feeling good, but I rarely heard that. And instead of trying to make her feel “happy” I just let her be what she was – sad, scared, miserable, and sometimes “not as bad as the day before.” I allowed her to be honest with what she was feeling without insisting that she be anything different.
  4. We did do some Christmas things. Whereas the level of our activity was a lot lower, we still did Christmas shopping, Christmas Eve service, rented some Christmas movies, and went to church. Some of these were distractions that helped to relieve the intensity of the pain. And some of these helped us to focus on Jesus – the healer of our hearts. Knowing the miracle of Christmas gave us hope for the miracle of healing in our lives.

These were some of the things that seemed to help us make it through the holidays. It wasn’t perfect and not without pain, but it ended up being a lot better than we had expected. I hope and pray that you will experience some relief from the pain and sadness, some healing – and maybe even some joy during this time.

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