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Giving Thanks

Holidays can be a difficult time for straight spouses. Regardless of whether you recently discovered that your spouse is LGBTQ or have known for years, changes in traditions and family relationships can be unsettling. Sometimes they are isolating.

And sometimes, they are liberating.

For many of us, life has changed in completely unexpected ways. We didn’t expect to divorce. We didn’t expect to be sharing holiday celebrations with our ex husband’s husband/boyfriend or our ex wife’s wife/girlfriend. We didn’t expect to have our families, our friends, our adult children, be uncomfortable about making choices in how traditions are honored.

Family dynamics change. People marry, they divorce, they have children. They have stepchildren. They die. They age and have different needs. They have disagreements.

Changing family dynamics for us can include how we handle a spouse’s coming out, or how our families handle it. Or, do we all remain closeted, thus keeping the peace? If we’re divorced or separated, our family members may find the real reason to be too much to handle. They may want to rewrite the story. Sometimes that leads to us being excluded. Sometimes our exes are excluded, and we walk the fine line between family members who wish to be supportive and sympathetic, and those who think it’s time to let loose with homophobic remarks, or worse, the snarky jokes about your sex life.

Family dynamics change, and ours have undergone powerful changes. So how do we straight spouses survive the holidays, and actually enjoy them?

First of all, let’s own the experience. We acknowledge that things are different. The perfect Hallmark holiday setting does not exist, and it’s pretty clear that it won’t. And as you think about gathering with family for a Thanksgiving meal, a Hanukkah party, or Christmas tradition, name your feelings to yourself. Usually, straight spouses are pretty angry at the beginning, and sometimes that continues. Name your anger, your sadness and why you believe you feel that way.

Know that your feelings are valid. Expect that others who are adjusting to changing family dynamics may not be able or willing to validate them for you.

It’s not easy when children are involved, but that’s why it is important for you to exercise grace and keep communication open as safely as possible. Sometimes in families where we have been cast aside, it can be difficult because they want to include the children but not you, and don’t really want to communicate much. Make certain you know the basics – where and when – and plan your own joy.

Yes. Plan your own joy. Maybe that joy will be shared with family, with children, maybe not. Take the opportunity to establish new traditions, new experiences, ones that give you joy and peace. It may seem to be easier said than done, but once you start focusing on what is meaningful to you the holidays can take on a whole new experience. You might even begin new traditions – and that can be very satisfying.

Don’t forget to do something for you!

2 Comments

  1. I want to thank someone who pointed out to me that I had been misinterpreting something for a long time, and maybe some others need to hear this message the same way I heard it. Many of us tell of how our families and friends respond to us for “hanging onto this for so long” and “not letting it go yet” and some of us take that to mean they’re critical of us, or sympathetic of our ex-spouses. But that isn’t it. She explained they say those things because they do love us and it pains them to see us hurting for so long, and they feel helpless, that’s why it comes across as frustrating. But how easy it is for us to misinterpret someone when we’re in pain.

    That’s the first explanation anyone has given me that fits. I’m thankful she said it and that I heard it. For too tong I had been led to believe it was because they were taking his side or discounting me. But I was wrong about that, and that was holding me back from enjoying my friend and people who wanted to be supportive and didn’t know how. I took it as an insult and began pushing them away.

    A big Thank You to the person who told me that, just in time for the holidays.

  2. Thanks for this. Unreasonable expectations by us and of us add to the stress. Our family members also struggle with the choices and expectations. Flexibility and mindfulness help, but can be challenging to navigate. One thing I do that helps take the pressure off those with multiple obligations is to encourage getting together on alternative days, not just Thanksgiving day. Our culture puts too much emphasis on The Day, rather than the people.

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