Sandra* admitted she couldn’t stop the painful recordings her mind played every time she prayed to forgive Tim* for seeking out porn. Head hung low, she berated herself for being a horrible person. Why did the same memories wash over her when she looked at Tim? What was wrong with her?
Joyce Meyers encourages us to “not park our lives at the point of our pain or disappointment and remain there… It takes a lot of courage to keep going forward in the midst of personal pain.” Intimate betrayal causes immense pain made perhaps more insidious by the repeated images and stories our brain plays on repeat. Meyers continues, “If we hope to see the end fulfillment of our dreams, we need to go all the way through the things that are blocking our path… Don’t draw back, don’t shrink in fear, don’t get stuck in a moment of time, and don’t park at the point of your pain. Every step of faith that you take is another step toward wholeness and healing.”
Each step Sandra took toward healing meant replacing the negative images and stories with ones that included her growth, changed thought processes, and cultivated grateful attitudes. Though some days felt more difficult, she chose not to remain stuck in that moment in time and believed God’s promise to heal and restore her marriage.
In the previous blogs, we discussed the first seven survival tactics to navigate the holidays when your marriage feels strained.
- Reduce your to-do list.
- Lower your expectations.
- Forgive him as much as you can today.
Acknowledge your emotional state.
- Recognize God hasn’t left you.
- Understand God continues to protect you.
- Grasp how much God cares for you.
These tactics focus on external, internal, and vertical survival tactics when your marriage hurts. How have you applied these tactics to your holiday planning?
In this blog, let’s look at some practical applications to move forward when you and your marriage hurt.
1. Practice healthy self-awareness and self-care.
Holiday celebrations can be challenging in the best of times, especially when you get the extended family involved. Not everyone in your family agrees with you 100%, nor do you with them. Learning how to navigate holiday celebrations well takes patience and practice. And you will still experience some struggles.
When your relationship feels strained, trying to put on a good face for the family adds more pressure. They probably don’t know the cause of the problem in your marriage, which might be a good thing. Only you know who can be trusted with the information about your marriage struggles and how much of it to reveal. Our extended family knew hardly anything when my husband and I were at the worst of our marriage crisis. Intentionally. We sought the counsel we needed from unbiased sources who could help us address our marriage hurts without judgement. I can’t imagine how much more difficult family celebrations would have been had we told the whole story to anyone in our family. Looking back, I’m thankful we didn’t.
How do you care for yourself? Give up trying to make everyone happy during the holidays. That’s not your job or responsibility. You care for those in your immediate family and do your best to be present for them.
Know your emotional, mental, and physical limitations right now. It won’t always be this way. If it’s been a difficult emotional day, make arrangements with your husband for some personal time. This could be an evening bubble or Epsom salt bath with a few lit candles, some soft music, and even a good book. If you need to, get the kids down for bed and then allow your husband to deal with any after-bedtime follow-up care for them.
Being self-aware requires you to pay attention to any signals from your body, heart, and mind. For instance, did you snap back at an innocent question? That anger probably isn’t related to the question. It is hard to react objectively when your marriage hurts. Apologize for your inappropriate response, and then get yourself to a private, quiet space to process what just happened. Journal what happened and what you’re feeling, and identify the emotions, frustrations, or expectations surrounding this incident. Give yourself the space to get to a healthy point.
One thing I did in recovery to help me cope with the holidays involved quiet evenings. I spent more time reflecting, listening to calming music, enjoying candlelight, and reading rather than surrounding myself with noise, bright lights, and activities. Simply allow yourself to be, not do. Pace your expectations for this holiday season.
Depending on where you and your husband are in your recovery, plan a fun date, i.e., ice skating and hot cocoa, driving to see the Christmas lights, or dinner in a cozy corner of your favorite restaurant. If you feel stuck in one area, get some professional help now. I met regularly with my counselor and coaches. Those sessions allowed me to process my fears privately.
Knowing your personal boundaries and caring for your hurting heart during the holidays is critical.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The truth? You may not be able to live peacefully with everyone right now, in the midst of marriage hurts, including family members. Your primary recovery work is in yourself and your relationship with your husband. That’s enough.
Living at peace with others means knowing your healthy boundaries, doing your best to live within them, and distancing yourself from toxic relationships. When you make these decisions, you won’t make everyone happy. In reality, you aren’t responsible for their happiness. They are.
2. Celebrate Jesus.
The best way I know to survive the holidays at any time, but especially when your marriage feels strained, is to look up. It’s too easy to get caught up in the expectations, parties, gift-giving, card-sending, decorating, and delicious foods and forget that our entire reason for living life abundantly rests solely in Jesus. He died and rose again to restore us to a right relationship with God. Without Jesus, we don’t have much to celebrate. Life is meaningless.
If you decide to set up a Christmas tree this year, here’s a suggestion: the first evening after you finish, turn off all the lights in your house except those on the tree. Then, disconnect from anything electronic. Sit in your favorite spot and look at the tree. If you can, talk out loud to God about what’s happening in your life and marriage. See this time as a holy moment of quiet to decompress and distance yourself from the craziness culture tries to impose upon us.
Jesus said he came to bring us life, a full life. Therefore, it’s time to refocus if you feel like you’re suffocating right now. Get anchored in Jesus, even when your marriage hurts.
Hebrews 3 tells us to fix our thoughts on Jesus, who experienced every human struggle we face. But here’s the rub: Jesus faced what we face without sinning. In the first part of Hebrews 3, we read that Jesus remained faithful to the One who appointed Him—God the Father. Later in Hebrews, we’re told to fix our eyes on Jesus so we can persevere in life. Getting caught up in the pain of our woundedness or betrayal (understandably) makes it difficult to see other alternatives.
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear.
The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say
‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’
Focusing on Jesus helps us look up and beyond the suffocating strain. Many of the psalmists wrote about their genuine pain and struggles. When I can’t find words to describe my feelings, I start reading the psalms and ask God to help me find words to express what hurts. There have been times I’ve written out a psalm to God. I wouldn’t say it’s worth publishing, but just the act of journaling this way helps me process my pain.
Here are five steps to process your pain that mimics some of these lamenting psalms:
- Cry out or complain about the current situation.
- Ask God for his help.
- Tell him what you know to be true about his character and trustworthiness.
- Praise him during the turmoil.
- Remind yourself that God is still God and maintains control.
This process allows you to identify what’s troubling you, get it out of your head, off your heart, and onto paper. No one else needs to read it, but by pouring out your pain this way, you can work through your pain in a healthy manner. King David of Israel practiced this process often. These are the psalms we read in the Bible. This restorative process allows us to change our focus, look up, and reorient ourselves to God’s point of view even when our marriage hurts.
If you want to survive the holidays well, shift your focus to Jesus and what he’s done for you. Spend time daily reading the Bible, talking with God, as well as journaling what’s going on in your heart, mind, and life. Allow God to enter into those painful places and bring a different perspective.
Surviving the holidays when your marriage feels strained takes deliberate choices and actions. Replace your stories on rewind with ones that focus on what is good, right, and promising.
Here’s my free ebook, How to Survive the Holidays When Your Marriage Feels Strained
This holiday season, I hope you can apply some of these survival strategies. Click here to receive your free copy of this ebook. It’s my gift to you.
You can survive the holidays this year even if your marriage hurts.
What about Sandra? Though not everything went perfectly, she applied several of these survival tactics, allowed herself space for healthy self-care, and pre-planned how to cope with various difficult situations. In the process, Sandra deepened her relationship with God and discovered new stories to tell herself. By the time January came, Sandra felt relieved and revived. What she most dreaded never happened.
Are you dreading the holidays? Let’s spend a few minutes discussing strategies to move through your worst fears. You aren’t alone. Let’s talk.