Safety during the holiday season. Is it really possible?
Yes….as long as you’re not trying to wing it. You need to be prepared.
What exactly does that look like?
That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
And please note, this applies to all holidays and celebrations, not just those that take place at the end of the year. The goal is to be safe and set boundaries that you can live with and enforce, no matter what you may be feeling at the time.
Considering what boundaries look like, which if you haven’t read my first blog on boundaries, please read it here, let’s think about how we can apply them to family gatherings in a variety of situations.
We are going to look at navigating holidays in three different scenarios:
Staying with your partner who is in good recovery
Staying with your partner who is either in early recovery or none at all
Being separated or divorced
So let’s look at being with your partner who is doing recovery. If you’re uncertain of what that looks like, please read this. But I’ll recap.
Good recovery looks like he is taking ownership and responsibility of his actions and the pain that he has caused. He is not trying to rush you into forgiveness or trust. He will hold space for your pain, knowing full well that it will take time for you to heal and for him to take action to earn your trust back. He will be actively participating in healing work and you will be able to see the fruit of that. He will not try to convince you of what he is doing because it will truly be evident to you over time.
Okay. He’s doing the work. You can actually begin to breathe again, yet you are still a little stressed and uncertain of what this time of year will hold for you as you get together with extended family.
Boundaries will be your friend. You need to know what you are comfortable participating in and with who. For example, if extended family is toxic and they try to convince you of how great your husband is and spend time defending him, you may not feel safe in this environment. This is the side of him that they see and they don’t want want to be negative.
They want to talk with you endlessly about his redeeming qualities that you must have missed.
I get it.
How does that feel to you? Unsafe, most likely. And who could blame you.
It’s not that you don’t agree with those qualities, especially since he’s doing the work, but you aren’t in a place to have it shoved down your throat.
What can you do?
You have options.
You don’t have to tolerate it.
You can ask your husband to stand in the gap for you, meaning he will not allow that talk to happen, he will keep those people away from you, he will understand if you just aren’t ready to be around them, and he will be your advocate…not just in word but in deed.
It may not look like this forever, or it might if the family members have their own toxicity that they are unwilling to face.
But I want you to know that you matter. You don’t have to be around people who bring an element of un-safety to you. Your experience is valid and your husband who is doing good recovery will be on your team. Without question. He will sacrifice being with his family if he understands the toxicity that they bring to the 'table' and to you. Because ultimately, you being safe is most important to him, especially since he realizes that his actions have obliterated your sense of safety.
So stand up for yourself.
Ask him to stand in the gap if you’re unable to stand up for yourself.
Don’t attend that event.
Next, we’ll look at what to do when your husband is in early recovery or not doing recovery at all.
This is hard. At this place he is not on your team, not fully anyway.
He isn’t yet taking full ownership of his actions. He’s trying to find your percentage or seeking others to be on his team to find your faults so as to lessen what he’s responsible for.
Reminder….his acting out has nothing to do with you. You didn’t cause it. You didn’t make it worse and you can’t make it better.
It’s ALL on him.
That being said, what happens during family gatherings?
Again, you have choices. But knowing that he’s not fully on board with you needing safety or understanding how betrayal trauma affects you, you are going to need to be your own best advocate. And that can honestly suck.
What that means is that you will need to continually put all of your safety tools into place. You will need to use all that you have learned in your own recovery in order to be safe. Not that you wouldn’t need that if he is in good recovery, but so much more so when he isn’t.
Your options will be pretty much the same. But you may or may not have him to lean on. He may say the words of protecting you and respecting you, but if the actions don’t match, then you are truly on your own. You get to decide what you want to do.
What about the kids?
Obviously this is much easier if your kids are grown, but what if they are small? Do you want them continuously and repeatedly exposed to the topic behavior? They will see it. Even if not when they are young, they will when they get older.
If kids are in the equation, you still need to take care of you.
How? You limit your exposure. Set a clear time frame of how long you will spend at that gathering.
If it’s Thanksgiving, go when it’s time to eat and leave shortly after.
If it’s Christmas, you can do the same and open your gifts at that time, even if you missed everyone else opening them. Or take them home with you, thanking them as you leave. If your spouse wants to stay, take two cars.
This is easy if you are living close enough that you can commute by car. But what if they live hours away or in another state? Or what if you're the host. Then what will you do?
Travel is expensive. Great reason to stay home. What if there's an offer to help you out? You can choose to accept or not, but if you do, then let a hotel be your friend. You can still accomplish all that I mentioned above using your hotel as your safe place. You’ll have to be more intentional to have things for your kids to do…indoor pools are awesome!! But you get the idea. Safety is the priority, whether or not kids are involved.
If it's at your house, limit the amount of time that they will be there. Protect your family time. Give specific times that they can be there, without exception or explanation.
Get creative in how you will protect yourself. That’s what we’re actually looking at. It will look different for everyone. Your scenario may be different than mine. But your safety has to be number one. When you are continually in a situation that is triggering, your amygdala will struggle to find safety.
You can not heal when your safety is consistently under attack.
Do what you need to do in order to be safe. This isn’t about keeping your husband or extended family happy. You will not be able to please them and stay safe at the same time.
Choose you. It is not selfish.
How do I know? Because Jesus never sinned. He went away by Himself to pray. He went away by Himself to escape from the crowds when He needed to be refreshed or when they were demanding more from Him or when they wanted to seize Him. He took care of Himself and you can too. Self care isn't a sin.
Gatherings will definitely look different during this time. Plan on it. Know that in advance so that you aren’t disappointed. Figure out what boundaries you need in order to feel safe, whether it’s with or without your husband’s support.
This also means all that’s involved in the celebration.
The food. The decor. The cards.
Seriously. Whatever that looks like for you.
I was too mentally exhausted to function and the thought of all the extras were just too much for me. So I pared down the decor. I didn’t make as much food. I didn’t care if my house was as clean. And I didn’t do cards.
And everyone survived.
So for you....
State your boundaries and hold to them.
Do not let someone else’s opinion cause you to waver as you seek to take care of yourself. It will not always be this way, or at least that is the hope.
I was not good at this. I didn’t take care of myself because I thought it was selfish. I didn’t stand up for myself. I tried to keep everyone happy. And I paid a high price for it. Don't make the same mistake.
Since then, I’ve learned to stand my ground and set boundaries. And thankfully, so have my adult kids after recognizing an unhealthy dynamic on their own.
Boundary-less people don’t like boundaries.
Next time we’ll talk about what it might look like if you are separated or divorced during this season.
What do you need to do in order to feel safe?
How can you get support from those around you, especially your husband?