My son is getting married this summer and I wish I was more excited than anxious. The problem is that my ex and his family will also be attending the wedding. The divorce was disastrous, and the 10 years since have been a nightmare. My ex alternately ignores the boys or lavishes them with gifts and money. His family have treated me and the boys very cruelly.
Even though they have a rocky relationship, my son does want his dad to attend the wedding and has also invited his dad’s family, but doesn’t want them there. My sons are not aware of most of the terrible things the family has done to me and don’t know how anxious I am about attending and I’d like to keep it that way.
I have had trouble with my ex and his family at other events in the boys’ lives like school concerts and soccer games and I keep envisioning all the nasty ways his family might cause problems at the wedding. The closer it gets, the more trouble I am having. I am actually worried about getting sick or having a panic attack at the wedding. How am I going to get through this?
This is certainly a difficult situation. I congratulate you for not sharing your feelings with the boys. I can give you some general suggestions that might help you manage the day, but you might also find it useful to talk to a counsellor about your feelings and some more specific ways to manage.
I assume that there will be some other members of your family attending. If there is someone among them who you could confide in and who would be able to help you through the day, and who is also cool headed, enlist them. Ask them to stick close to you so that they are present during any interaction between you and any difficult people.
Maintain your cool. Avoid alcohol, which will impair your judgment and loosen your inhibition. When contact is unavoidable, treat them courteously – even if they are not behaving in kind. Try to keep interactions brief; excuse yourself with the need to perform a task or tend to a guest.
Prepare a few polite and socially acceptable phrases to use in response to just about any provocation. Some examples are: say something complimentary about your son or his new wife, comment on some aspect of the ceremony/photos/food/venue/guests, or just smile and nod. If they are trying to draw you into an argument, try saying “I haven’t thought about it like that before”, or “that’s an interesting point of view”, then finding a reason to leave the conversation.
Every thing you can do to bolster yourself will be helpful; think about what you will be wearing. This may seem a little strange, but if you view your clothes and jewelry as armour, you might choose items that help you feel a little protected.
If you don’t already know how to breathe from your diaphragm, learn how and practice before the wedding. Breathing this way will help you to feel calm and avoid a panic attack. Learning or honing your muscle relaxation skills is also a good idea. On the wedding day, be aware of the tension in your muscles and your breath and work to stay relaxed.
Find a phrase or short affirmation that is leaves you feeling strong/confident/peaceful/hopeful/loving and recite it silently and frequently through the day. Pair that with a few deep breaths and a quick body scan to make sure you are relaxed.
Stop recalling all the past problems and imagining the worst case scenarios for this day. Just thinking these thoughts is stressful and will leave you feeling anxious and vulnerable. Instead focus on your plan for coping.
You didn’t mention any physical violence in the past so I am assuming there is none, however if I am mistaken, you may also need to have a safety plan that includes calling 911.
If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.