The ringing of sleigh bells doesn’t always signal holiday cheer for everyone. Holidays can be emotionally draining and retraumatizing for women who have been betrayed by their intimate partner. The pain can cut even more deeply if they have discovered that their partner is a sex and porn addict. If this sounds like you, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. As a betrayed partner myself I have my own issues surrounding the holidays. And, I know several other betrayed women whom I’ve met on my healing journey that have their own unique holiday challenges.
My first holiday season post Discovery Day (D-day to those in recovery from betrayal trauma) was in 2022. After finding out that my husband had been cheating on me through the duration of our marriage it was challenging for me to think about celebrating holidays with the same traditions that had once filled me with so much joy. Instead, I was battling with resentment, anger, and grief. Knowing the extent of my husband’s infidelity made me picture different times that he had been engaged in acting out behaviors. I looked back at these special times in our life and felt used and like such a fool for not seeing what was going on right under my nose.
I had a tradition of collecting Christmas ornaments; one special ornament per year. It was handed down to me from my mom. She would even go the extra step of writing down the year the ornament was gifted if there was space for it. When I got married and had my son I continued that tradition. When Calder was a toddler the three of us went on a trip to Montana with my inlaws and bought him a ceramic bear ornament. When he was going through his train phase we would buy him train inspired ornaments, and then we got crafty and handmade some collage ornaments from train photos. Our collection of ornaments grew with gifts from grandparents, as well as from parents of friends of our son’s, and his nannies. Every Christmas I would bust open the overflowing box of ornaments and we would get to drinking eggnog or spiced cider and trimming our noble fir.
The problem for me now is that knowing that my husband was acting out in a variety of ways each year we bought an ornament— throughout our whole marriage; all the years of collecting those ornaments and all the dates on those ornaments are just covered in crap for me. The ornaments are just triggering, especially certain ones. And, because I can’t even crack open the bin to sort through it and toss out the most triggering ones, it just sits there in storage gathering dust. Maybe someday I’ll be able to overcome my trauma enough to see them as gifts of love and joyfulness again, but that day might not ever come. For now, with my husband in healthy recovery for almost two years, we’re making new traditions and starting over with new ornaments. Our Christmas tree this year, since we’ve moved to Tucson, Arizona, is a metal cactus.
For this article I reached out to some women I’ve met who are also healing from betrayal trauma and asked about their holiday experiences. Below are two stories that I was given permission to share. As betrayal trauma is a sensitive topic, the names and some details have been changed for the sake of anonymity.
For me the holidays were magical times to spend with my hubby, kids, family, and friends. When I found out about the betrayals and deceptions, my world turned upside down. Everything became a challenge to enjoy, especially Christmastime. When I discovered the truth, our kids were 14 and 10. They were just starting to understand this special time of year; that it was not just about receiving gifts but recognizing the importance of giving and helping others. It was hard for me because memories and photos would remind me of what I thought I had. It was difficult to look at photos from past Christmases and wonder about what was true: Did others get special attention? What lies did I still not know about?
I felt so much hurt and was ashamed of his behavior. The good news was that my partner was dedicated to making things right, staying sober, and doing the hard and deep self-work needed as a recovering sex addict. Staying through all of this was only possible because of my faith, my community, therapy, and leaning into healing and learning.
It has now been eight years since discovery, and we have grown as individuals and as a couple. We are not the same people and our marriage has been upgraded to marriage 2.0. I can once again enjoy the holidays and feel at peace and at ease at Christmastime.—Kora, Washington
My husband Robert and I are in a therapeutic in-house separation (separate bedrooms in the same house), and Robert is going through a lot of therapy to support his recovery, however difficult that is for him. We will have our son and his family with us for one month over the holidays. So, my biggest concern is how we can manage the in-house separation with our grandchildren. Our daughters know, and are fine with it. But, we don’t want any awkwardness with the grandchildren who are ages 3–9.
Robert and I actually get along quite well in spite of the trauma and betrayal issues we’ve had. I understand the childhood trauma he experienced that led to his addiction, and am able to be quite compassionate, for the most part. I have my moments, but overall things are fairly smooth. We have a long road ahead and no one knows where it will lead, but we are taking it one step at a time. I still feel like he is my best friend and I love having him around. We are great roommates and friends, but at this point there are no sexual relations at all.
I’m actually feeling kind of liberated after so many years of doing what I thought Robert wanted me to do for our marriage. I’m carving out my own path, and letting him work on his. We’ll see how that ends up… maybe a parallel course, or maybe not. Either way, I’ll be fine. Again, it’s not easy, especially the uncertainty about the future. But I’m learning to take it one day at a time.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s not the holidays that stir me up. If anything, we feel closer as we enjoy this season and our family time. Over 40 years together have created many very happy memories of this time of year.—Ruth, Alaska
If you find yourself struggling with betrayal trauma healing and would like some more support, there are some great recovery resources available to you. If you’re trying to work things out with your addict partner and could use some tips for supporting each other through the holidays, you can listen to my bonus podcast on I Am My Passion Project: “Reclaiming the Holidays after Betrayal with Heidi Kinsella.”
Journaling tool for healing from betrayal trauma: