With the approach of holidays, many straight spouses struggle to accommodate family traditions in light of the disclosure or discovery of their gay spouse’s true sexuality. To tell or not to tell? To include the gay spouse or not? Some feel the pain of exclusion from family celebrations that have traditionally been held at the in laws.
And of course, for many, there is the question of how to spend the holidays with or without children.
For those who are divorcing, and whose spouses are still closeted, it can be especially painful, as the blame for the end of the marriage or “not trying hard enough” can fall on the straight spouse who is either sworn to secrecy or struggling with finding someone to confide in. For those whose spouses are out, family celebrations can also be a minefield of other people’s reactions and vocal opinions. Again, when children are involved, this is particularly troublesome. Do you plan a celebration with the gay spouse, or not? Do you participate in a celebration involving the gay spouse’s new partner?
What is important for the straight spouse during holidays is to establish what is comfortable for you, and stick to it. This is a transition in your life, and in your family’s life.
If you are going to a family celebration, joining relatives, set your boundaries early. You are or are not discussing this, or you are not going to have it discussed in front of the children. If someone steps across the line, do not be afraid to make your feelings known.
If you have been uninvited from a traditional gathering, make your own celebration. This does not mean drinking yourself into a stupor. It means do something good for yourself. Use the day to do something you enjoy, or that you used to enjoy prior to the marriage. If you have the means and have always wanted to take a trip or a small vacation, now might be a good time to do it. Volunteering is a great thing to do also. It keeps you busy and puts new meaning into the holiday.
Holiday gatherings are not the time to out your spouse if they are not already out. Many of us have the misfortune of a spouse outing themselves to us on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, and we do not wish that anyone else’s holiday become an anniversary of finding out something they would rather not know, or don’t want to believe.
If this is the first holiday since discovery or disclosure, accommodating the gay spouse’s new partner in traditional family gatherings might be a bit much. Most heterosexuals are not expected to accommodate the “other man” or the “other woman” with this type of speed, and you should not be either. Don’t feel bad about declining gracefully, or setting the boundary with your gay spouse or ex spouse that the new partner is not coming to your table this year. And never say never!
Remember, you are not ruining everyone’s holiday. You are accommodating a new situation as best you can. Your absence will not dampen everyone else’s spirits, and your presence should not be used to blame other people’s unhappiness or awkwardness on your mood or your reactions.
Especially if you have children, use the time to create new traditions. This is what your family will remember and cherish for years to come. For example, one father had always wanted to chop a fresh cut Christmas tree, but his wife was not interested in doing this, and the children were small. When they separated, the children were of an age to enjoy the outing, and a new tradition was born. Father and sons go to the woods and chop down their own tree every year. One mother, finding that Christmas day was divided between two households by court order, was able to keep Christmas eve, a time when she was usually chauffering the children to church obligations. They added dinner, playing carols on the CD while they ate, and watched some videos they all enjoyed while opening one present. A new tradition was celebrated. In the following years, the teen children introduced new favorite videos, tracking Santa on the internet, and it became a great family time.
At a time when nothing is the same, new beginnings will beget new traditions. It’s helpful to know that these new traditions ultimately will achieve a richness that “doing it the way we’ve always done it” never had.
Remember to be good to yourself.