Reframing and Reclaiming the Holidays

Many wives and partners of men called sex addicts look with dread toward the holidays—no matter what tradition their holidays fall under! But Lili Bee ( challenged me last week to rethink the season, and I did.  

So, instead of increasing dread, this blog is dedicated to identifying things associated with the holidays that can be controlled distractions from our pain and problems, and even some things that might be sources of comfort. I remember how when I was in the worst of it, I would try and find one good thing each day and hang onto it for dear life. The more power I gave one good thing, the better the next day went. Still, some of the things that can be positive assets to our holiday journey may also have a dynamic that isn’t so positive sometimes. But I am suggesting that those dynamics don’t always have to win. 

Let’s get started!

Things to Do

We may have a list of things we have to do that seems overwhelming. But what about if we view the things on that list as vines we can use to swing through the season. We move from one thing to another because that’s the map we have to get us out the other end. Let’s face it, there’s no short cut.

As a worship leader, I sometime think of the service liturgy as playing a similar role, especially when it’s a difficult service like a funeral, or like the first service after a national or international tragedy. We use the “work” items in each service as the things we grab hold of to steady us and keep us moving, through to the end.

You may have lists that can become your liturgies to steady you and keep you moving, too. Everything, from the grocery list, the stocking stuffers, the decorations, the special food preparations, the wrapping, can all help you stay sane by grounding you in the habits of your heart, the work of your hands, and the traditions of your spirit.

You can have these things in your life and share them with those you love, regardless of what he did to you.

Places to Go

You don’t have to be a social animal to have places to go in the holiday season. If you are a member of a choir, a member or an art or artisan group, a faith community, or a volunteer in a charitable service group or agency, you are going to have places to go. You will have performances, additional services and events, seasonal markets, special programming and service initiatives. These kind of commitments eliminate a lot of our decision-making about whether we feel like going there or not. People are counting on us, so we show up.

For those not already connected to these kinds of groups taking leadership during the season, you get to be someone who attends! There so many concerts happening! Seasonal theatre events! Holiday markets! Seasonal light displays! Charitable events/drives/initiatives, and more! You don’t have to go to everything. But pick something that you love and give it to yourself.

Just because he has cast a shadow over this present holiday time (and perhaps those in the past) do not hand him over control of the whole holidays! Set a reasonable goal for your “places to go”. If you can only manage one place, then achieve your goal and put one more stake in the ground in the struggle over who has control of your life. Maybe it’s a sing-along Handel’s Messiah, a local craft market, a volunteer shift at the animal shelter, a performance of A Christmas Carol, delivering poinsettia plants to nursing home residents—you can have places to go. Invite a friend or family member to go with you if you don’t want to go alone.

Showing up and being present in the work of the holidays that is both gift and offering is about incarnational power—and with respect to my faith tradition, that’s a nice theme echo to make! 

People to See

For me, this is the biggest challenge. I’m an introvert by nature. All my social and people skills are learned skills. Gatherings of people are exhausting for me, whether I enjoy them or not! I may want to see every person in attendance, but it’s still hard for me to deliberately put myself in the same room. Going to church, which for me used to be for all services every week, has become increasingly difficult. But I want to affirm the decision to go to events where you will need to talk with other people and socialize. Only on a very few occasions in my long life have  come back from one of these events thinking “Well there’s two and half hours gone that I will never get back!”

Social events with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, faith communities, and others put you in “controlled” social circulation that you may be able to manage and enjoy. And if you are really comfortable with people and are more on the extroverted curve, these events can really add some good memories and glimpse at normalcy you really need right now.


How to Prepare So You Can Succeed

1.     Don’t surrender your holidays to his control.

Think carefully before you let the negativity of his life take over yours so completely. He may have been manipulating your life for many years, even decades. Now you know about it. Ask yourself what stake you can put in the ground here to change the pattern that was always working for his agenda, to a new pattern that works for yours.

2.     Set reasonable goals for yourself.

Don’t declare an all-out war and try to change everything in one holiday season. And don’t expect as much of yourself as you found possible to achieve before discovery of your husband’s or boyfriend’s secret life. You need to succeed. Make that possible by accepting your limitations and setting a goal that you can meet. Maybe you can try “one thing to do”, “one place to go”, and “one batch of people to see” with effort and courage. Don’t expect yourself to do more than you should.

3.     Have scripts ready to respond to questions about “how you are.”

Some people haven’t got a clue what you’ve been going through. Other’s think they do but don’t. And a small number have some idea. You will need how to respond to all of them. You may still be with your man called a sex addict, you may be separated, or divorced. Whatever situation you are in, holiday events are an opportunity for you to get your message out the way you want it to be out there. Depending on your situation, here are some response options that would fit a variety of questions:

·      It’s been a challenging year for us and I know I’m more focussed on what I want my life to be about, and that’s been really good. How are you doing?

·      We aren’t together right now, but we are working for the best future we can achieve for ourselves and our children. How are your kids doing?

·      We are divorced now. Life goes on and we are both building new lives. How is your family doing?

·      Well, life has been up and down and it’s really good to get grounded again in holiday time with family and friends.

·      It’s been a rough year for our family but we are heading in the right direction and figuring out what’s going to work out best for all of us. You know how it is, the ebb and flow of life, etc. 

4.     Reconnect with your sacred story—whatever that is!

You may have a faith tradition that can help you explore those sacred stories to see how they can strengthen you in this time of uncertainty. Hope grounded in the dignity and value of your life may be found there for you. But even if you don’t have specific faith tradition, you can lay out the things you believe, the values you hold, and the priorities you have for how you live your life. Don’t be afraid of those things. They are meant to help you and guide you and strengthen you. Taking time to share these things with your children and grandchildren may be a new tradition you can add to your many holiday traditions. Tell stories of family members, especially women, who overcame great obstacles, kept hearts tender and strong, demonstrated self-respect and courage, and led their families through trials not of their own making without sacrificing the value of their own lives

5.     Prepare for the often predictable negative behaviours of a man called a sex addict.

As much as I am encouraging you to seize some opportunities to get out from under the gloom and doom of our experience with men called sex addicts, I also don’t want you to expose yourself unnecessarily to being ambushed by their selfish actions in the holiday season.

Things can go several ways with these guys. The best case scenario is that he makes sincere and effective efforts to make this holiday as stress-free as possible for you and any children and grandchildren. He will take on responsibilities for preparations. He will be present where you and your family gather. He will speak and act with humility and grace, and kindness. He will not make demands on you “because it’s the holidays”, be they emotional, sexual, spiritual, financial demands, or otherwise. If you get this best case scenario from him, just remember you earned it and enjoy it.

It may also turn out that your husband or boyfriend uses the opportunity of the holiday to mount a major public relations campaign with friends, neighbours, co-workers and family. Just as you have discovered he is capable of terrible deeds that hurt you and put you and your children a great risk, he will court the good opinions of others by trying to make as positive and impression as possible. He will be the “helper” on every occasion, the “leader” much needed, the “benevolent parent” spending time with his children, the “generous” citizen furthering good causes, the “gem of a man” who adores his wife or girlfriend and lavishes her with gifts and compliments. Everyone will tell you how fantastic he is. If you get this version of a man called a sex addict, try not to puke up your egg nog. And before gift-giving let everyone know what he promised you this year and how grateful you are. You might as well get something you want that he then has to give you.

And then the last experience you might have with your man called a sex addict is his decision to present as the victim who needs a great deal of attention and sympathy from everyone. Whether he says it’s his remorse, or his sense of not being good enough, or his tragic childhood memories that re-surface at the holidays, everyone’s seasonal open-heartedness belongs to him and he intends to suck out every drop. He won’t be much help at all, and anything he does do will require a parade of praise and admiration. Whatever he knows that you value most about the holidays will be his target(s) to “accidentally” ruin. It could be a meal, a family tradition, an event, a special ornament, or something else. Just be aware that you might not get it this year. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to worry loudly about whether he has the flu and send him off to bed with more sympathy and cold medicine than anyone should have. If he has a crying jag, point out that you are sure he doesn’t want to upset the children or grandchildren, so no one will mind if he has to go to his room to pull himself together and join you all later. If he is despondent and implying self-harm is possible, call 911 and report him. A three-day stay in the psychiatric ward is the result of you taking him seriously. Or, put a holiday movie on, and don’t let him interrupt it with his need for attention.

Dearest readers, stand in your holiday season with reasonable goals, scripts to use, sacred story, and some nimble responses to however he decides to present himself. The holidays belong to you, too, and with things to do, places to go, and people to see, you have resources to use to give yourself what you need for yourself and your family.

If you want to talk about the holidays, your story is safe here.  Contact me:  or book a trial session.

With you,


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Diane Strickland