Your spouse cheated on you and now it’s Christmas time. There are family get-togethers and parties with friends. You’re expected to go to these events. You probably will. But how will you survive them now that there is a black cloud of betrayal hanging over your head every day?
Your situation could have two scenarios. 1) The people in your social circle know about the affair. 2) The people in your social circle don’t know about the affair. A third scenario would be that only some of the people at a particular get-together know about the affair, but the solutions I provide will also cover that scenario.
What will you do? How will you handle situations this holiday season where people know that your husband has been unfaithful to you?
You already know that the whole season is filled with a heightened level of emotions for you. But when you think about going to a holiday event, you might be feeling shame. The people around you know that your husband cheated and you are very prone to looking in the mirror and blaming yourself.
Don’t do it. The affair wasn’t about you. The affair was not because of anything that you lack. It wasn’t because of anything that the other woman has.
Believe me when I tell you you can hold your head up high at holiday events because you are not responsible for the poor choices of your spouse. They are not a reflection of your merit as a wife. It is speculation on your part (and on anyone else’s part) if you think his affair was because of something you did or did not do.
You are a good woman. You are the woman he fell in love with and married. You have been a good wife to him. You’ve been faithful in your marriage. Remind yourself of these things particularly at this time when you may feel shame in social circles. The affair wasn’t about you.
You are a strong woman. You are there at the event giving it your best. You are showing strength and courage. You are showing selflessness as you realize that the holidays aren’t just about you and your feelings. They are also about the people that love you and want to be with you. And so you showed up, mostly for them. That’s good of you. You’ve done a kind thing for your family and friends even though it is hard for you. Acknowledge that. Give yourself credit. Recognize your strength.
A good and strong woman like you didn’t deserve to be cheated on. (No one does.) Your husband made a really bad choice. And whether or not the marriage stays intact, you will survive. The shame you may be feeling is normal. But it is misplaced. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
You may also be feeling anxiety. It’s easy to imagine that there will be awkwardness at the event because of your situation. Not because it’s true, but because our minds work like that. Our brains job is to protect us. So it prepares us for any potentially dangerous scenario where there could be a threat. Our brains are not able to discern between a threat of humiliation and an actual physical threat. So we imagine the worst in an attempt to be ready for it. We get our defenses up. But it gives us butterflies in our stomachs.
What if someone says something that’s unintentionally hurtful or worse, completely stupid? (e.g. These things happen. Boys will be boys. Better to just forget about it and pretend it never happened. He always was a ladies’ man. etc.) Yes, people are prone to making stupid statements about situations they’ve never been in and know nothing about.
The best course of action is to be prepared for such nonsense before the event. Being prepared will bring your anxiety level down a few notches. What will you say if someone says something hurtful or stupid? Here are a few suggestions:
- I know you mean well, but I’d rather not discuss it here. What’s new with your family?
- Thanks, but I think this conversation is better had with my counselor. So what are your plans for the New Year’s Day?
- You can’t possibly understand my situation right now, so why don’t we discuss something else? How’s work?
- Ha, ha–you’ve always been one to give your opinion, but this situation is beyond your expertise. Have you tried the eggnog yet?
- Well, that’s nice of you to add your two cents. Excuse me while I go say hi to Aunt Marjorie.
Do you get the idea? One statement of acknowledgement. That’s polite. One statement or question that changes the subject. That sets the clear boundary that this topic is not open for discussion.
This way, you’ve not caused a scene. You’ve not made the occasion awkward for everyone else. You’ve handled it, taken control, and been pretty clear that you won’t be discussing your personal life at this event.
Now these statements are for you if they fit your style, or if you don’t know what else to do. If you’re perfectly fine with telling someone to leave you alone and mind their own business–that’s your prerogative:) You know you better than I do.
So that’s a strategy for handling awkward statements or questions about your situation during brief encounters. How do you handle situations where you are expected to make small talk during a longer time period? How will you handle conversations during dinner when you are stuck between two people and can’t get away easily if the conversation starts to go where you don’t want it to?
Well, my favorite strategy here is to simply beat them to the questions. Seriously, asking people about themselves is the best way to keep yourself from having to talk about yourself. If they’re family or close friends, hopefully you know enough about them, their kids, their town, their favorite sports teams, their hobbies, their favorite music, their vacation plans for next year, what they did at Thanksgiving, how things are going at work, their pet, etc to keep them talking throughout the meal. If all else fails talk about the food. You may have to sit there and listen to things you don’t care about, but at least the focus isn’t on you.
I know. That strategy may sound exhausting for you. It works for some personalities and situations better than others. What else can you try? Get everyone at the table talking about their favorite Christmas memory. Or their funniest Christmas memory. Get them talking about an altruistic Christmas. Such as,”If money were no object, whom would you bless at Christmas and how would you bless them?” Get them talking about a pie-in-the-sky Christmas. Like, “If money were no object, where would you travel next Christmas and what would you do there?” Maybe this kind of strategy would work better for you.
Now you may have the opposite scenario. You may be going through the holiday festivities with the affair being a big secret from everyone.
You may be feeling anxious that people will notice you’re not yourself this Christmas. What if they ask you what’s wrong? It’s very possible that could happen. But you don’t have to let it keep you from going to a holiday get-together or cause you anxiety before you go. If someone asks you if you’re okay, you can simply say you have a lot on your mind. If they press you further on the subject, you can respond that this isn’t the place to talk about it.
That’s a perfectly valid and truthful answer. Everyone is entitled to “not feel like themselves” sometimes. If you seem unusually down or quiet, and someone notices, it’s going to be okay. They may ask you about it, but you aren’t required to give them any information you don’t want to. Honestly, they are more likely to be caught up in their own life, in having a fun time at the party, and in all of the things they have going on, than they are in why you’re unusually quiet or forlorn.
We often imagine that things will be worse and more awkward than they actually end up being. Our minds get caught up in worst case scenarios because we try to protect ourselves as I mentioned earlier. But then, we often find out that there was really nothing that we needed to protect ourselves from.
Remember, you are completely consumed with the affair. It’s practically all you can think about. So you may project on others that they can somehow read your mind and will guess that you have a major relationship crisis going on. But no, they don’t know about it and won’t know unless you tell them. If no one knows about the affair, it’s not like they’re just going to guess it out of the blue. “Hey girl, you look kind of sad. Did your husband cheat on you or something?” No, that scenario is not going to happen.
Yes, you may need to make some small talk and deflect a question or two about your life, but most of us really are skilled enough conversationalists to pull that off. Be prepared with a couple answers and try to have a decent time. Try to put your worries to rest about off-the-wall situations that will most likely never happen. You are certainly entitled to have unpredictable emotional highs and lows right now, but try not to imagine scenarios to be worse than they really will be.
The holiday season is here. You may wish you could just hibernate through it. But it doesn’t have to be a horrible time. Try to focus on the good things that are true. “I am a strong woman who has friends and family that love me and want to be with me.” Try not to think about awkward things that will probably never happen. “Cousin Berta is going to ask me about my love life in the middle of Christmas dinner.” No, I don’t think so.
You can do this. The holidays come and go rather quickly. Try to be mentally and emotionally present in the situations where you can. Try to find the silver linings, the joy, the happiness. If you’re looking for it, if you put your energy into finding the best of the season, it will be much more bearable for you.
My heart goes out to you. I know it isn’t easy. I’m always here to help if you need to talk.
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