Posted by fxckfeelings on December 14, 2009Share This Post
As Christmas gets even closer, we have to help our readers with even more holiday-inspired, toxic self-reflection. The holidays have the unfortunate tendency to push people to examine and confront their hurt feelings, when really, the best gift they could give themselves is to ignore their feelings and just enjoy their friends, family, and seasonal baked goods.
I consider myself to be a pretty thoughtful gift-giver—I pay attention to what other people need, things they don’t even know they need, their birthdays, their anniversaries, and I usually get it right. My husband, on the other hand, isn’t sentimental at all about birthdays or anniversaries and doesn’t remember them, so he’s a lousy gift-giver and, I can’t help it, it really gets to me. After I knock myself out to get him a good birthday present, he either forgets mine, or gets flowers at the last moment, or thinks of getting me something and then doesn’t follow through. We have a wonderful marriage but every year around Christmas, his lazy, lousy gifting really gets on my nerves (particularly since I can’t help doing a good job with his gifts). It’s humiliating. My goal is to find a good way to address this problem so I won’t resent him this Christmas.
There’s not one, but two good reasons why it’s a bad idea to address the problem of unequal gift giving with your husband, and the first, it’s a safe bet, is that you’ve done it before and it turned out badly. I’m right, am I not? (It’s important for me to be right, given my Harvard background).
You reproach your husband for neglecting your Christmas needs, he gets defensive, tells you how he knocks himself out for you, maybe goes further and remembers the time you didn’t do your share, and then you have to tell him how he got the facts wrong.
Meanwhile, both of you are drifting further away from any spirit of Christmas giving, other than that old staple of gift-giving everywhere, the Christmas Earful.
If you don’t address this issue, it will fester, but if you do, it will explode. Take your pick, but don’t believe for a moment that there’s any solution that will make your husband a truly satisfying, gift-giving mirror of yourself. For that you don’t a husband, but a wife.
It’s frustrating to need a certain kind of thoughtful attention and know you’re not going to get it from your husband, even if you get lots of other things from him. You have a right to hurt, but that’s life, and there are other, more important kinds of support, like help with money, kids and illness, so keep your priorities straight. A good marriage is not just about feelings.
Then there’s the second reason you shouldn’t address the problem: doing so makes it more personal. I know, the normal human response to being forgotten is to feel unloved, neglected, and disrespected, particularly when you care about a person and give him more than you get.
It’s likely here, however, and in most cases, that the lack of response isn’t personal. Your husband is probably a poor gift-giver by nature and would be that way, given the opportunity, for any of his wives, including ones he loves very much.
So ignore your feelings, and ask yourself whether he’s a good husband, regardless of his low gifting IQ and, if he is, figure out what you want to do with this sad area of congenital weakness.
If it’s worth the trouble, and he’s not truly un-giving, you can get yourself the gift and charge it to him (what you always wanted!). Your goal, however, isn’t to get him to be a good gift-giver or to get a good gift, it’s to prevent his gifting disability from devaluing your relationship.
Compose a statement to deflect disrespect. “You’re a giving husband but you’re not as good as I am with gifts. We have a good marriage because we give to one another but sometimes it’s in different ways, or not exactly what the other person needs, and that sometimes causes hurt and frustration. But what matters is that, regardless of the disappointment, we know we love one another and are good partners to one another.”
My father was a nasty drunk and my mother got so depressed she hardly noticed, so, as the oldest, I ended up raising my younger sister. I’m a dad now, and my parents are long gone, but my wife has always noticed how quiet and sulky I get during the holidays, and she thinks I should deal with all the pent up feelings that come from being raised by alcoholics and being a substitute parent all my life. I don’t really know what my wife means or how to begin going about dealing with all that stuff, but maybe it’s worth it. My goal is to confront those feelings so I can get over them.
You might think that spending time with your childhood sorrows will free you from them, but that’s not what usually happens. Often, the more you remember how sad your past Christmases were, the sadder you get, which makes your family sad and ruins Christmases Present and Yet To Be.
Unlike Scrooge, you probably won’t rediscover memories of good people whose love you rejected. You’ll recall ugly and frightening scenes when everyone was scared and you were obliged to assume adult responsibilities.
You don’t deserve to feel blue and it’s not fair that you do, but between the impact of Christmas trauma and inheriting your mother’s depressive genes, you may not have a choice.
However, there’s a good goal for you after you give up on trying to feel better. It’s to acknowledge the good things that were done when times were hard.
You’ll never know how much choice your parents had over their weaknesses; we like to say that everyone has choices, but that’s bullshit.
Many drunks don’t see the harm they’re doing or, if they do, can’t stop. And many people with depression are too far gone into despair or are simply too symptomatic to carry their load. They were fucked, you were fucked, but look at what you did with it.
Celebrate the strength and courage of the boy who took care of his sister. Perhaps there were times when your parents acted like parents and did tough things in spite of their weaknesses, so take pride in your ability to create a better partnership and do better for your children. You may never feel great; but what you’ve done is all the greater.
Compose a statement to wall off sad feelings from proud fact. “My parents were impaired, but I’m proud of the way I carried my load, and perhaps my parents did some good things too, in spite of their impairments. There was seldom a happy holiday, but that didn’t stop me from trying to protect my sister and eventually create a better family of my own. And that’s what I’ve done. So if I can’t feel Christmas joy, too bad. I’ve made a much better Christmas for my wife and kids than I ever had, and that’s what I was always after.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname