Tips for a Potentially Tense Trip

Written by Editor on . Posted in Advice Columns

Chanukah and New Year’s are coming up, and instead of the excitement and anticipation that usually comes during this time of year, I feel anxious.

We are invited to my in-laws’ home for a Chanukah party and will be spending the night. All I can think about is how much I am dreading going. I feel terrible about this, but I know what will happen — I have been here before.

My wife will put on this mask in front of them. She will act like an angel. Then, when it’s just us, she’ll be her usual self: She’ll call me names, tell me I am worthless, and make me feel bad. I am embarrassed and afraid to tell this to my own family and friends, let alone her parents, because I don’t want them to think I’m exaggerating.

What should I do?

The holiday season can be a very stressful time for someone who is experiencing relationship issues, including abusive behavior. From what you described, it sounds like your wife is emotionally and verbally abusive — name-calling and saying you are worthless are indicators of emotional abuse.

Holidays and other times of stress can increase the need for safety planning. My question for you is: What can you do to protect yourself, both physically and emotionally?

Being prepared is important. For physical protection, consider whether sleeping in separate rooms is a possibility and keep your phone charged in case you need to call someone for help or support. If your wife is ever abusive while driving or if you’re afraid while you’re a passenger in the car, consider whether there is a way to avoid driving to her parents’ together. If you have two cars, could you meet her there after leaving work or taking care of last-minute things at home? I know you said that you are uncomfortable telling your own friends and family about the abuse you’re experiencing, but maybe consider telling them where you’ll be, in case you need to reach out for help in an emergency.

For emotional protection, consider strategies such as taking a break to go for a walk, deep breathing, and listening to relaxing music. These may seem like small things, but they can be very helpful, especially during increased stress. You want to make sure you’re giving yourself the time you need to be emotionally okay. If that means spending 10 minutes in the bathroom doing some breathing exercises, do it! I would encourage you to do whatever keeps you calm and relaxed, be it reading or crossword puzzles, while at your in-laws’ house.

Overall stress (and abuse) can increase during holidays, and we at JCADA find it puts our clients in difficult situations they may not have to cope with day-to-day (for example, being with their abusive partner’s family). It is important for you to get the support you need. If you do not want to share this with your friends, it may be helpful for you to seek out individual counseling or to join a group. At JCADA, we know that marriages are complicated, and often there are no easy answers. Don’t hesitate to call us at 1-877-88-JCADA (52232) for free and confidential counseling, safety planning, and other services.

For the past 17 years, JCADA has offered support to victims and survivors of domestic and dating abuse. These free clinical and legal services are available to any resident of the Greater Washington area, 14 years of age and older, who is affected by any type of domestic abuse. Staff are available to answer questions, offer support, and connect callers to services on our free and confidential helpline Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1-877-88-JCADA (52232).