Why Valentines Day, Mothers Day and your Birthday became your worst days of the year…and how to fix it.
After counseling hundreds of clients over the last ten years, I’ve picked up more than a few quirky insights into American marriages. One of them is this: nothing brings on a good fight like a big one-sided holiday. I’m talking Valentine’s Day, Mothers Day, and your birthday.
Let me explain… Christmas is easy because you can focus on others. Other people’s birthdays or special holidays aren’t an issue because you are in the giving role. But one-sided holidays tend to reek havoc on a woman’s sense of relational satisfaction.
In two words:
Wives, does this sound familiar? Your first holiday in the relationship was probably pretty painless. Maybe even enjoyable. You weren’t sure what to expect and men usually take the occasion to show off. This trend often continues through dating and engagement.
It’s the first big holiday after you’re married that tends to fall a little flat. Expectations have been set by this point. You’re expecting the celebration to have taken some planning or a degree of thoughtfulness…like he did when you were dating.
Instead, you get gifts bought on the way home and an invite to eat “wherever you’d like.”
The result: you probably resemble a cross between the hungry velociraptor from Jurassic Park and Medusa before her morning coffee.
Your strategy: You take matters into your own hands and instruct. This is the “let me teach you how to be awesome at gift giving like I am” move. For Father’s Day or his birthday you plan the most amazing gift he’d never even dream of fulfilling for himself. You think (or even say? Bless your heart), “see how easy this is?! Just PLAN! Just PAY ATTENTION to what I like.”
Next holiday, the assumption is, “surely he learned his lesson from last time and plus I taught him how to do it since then.”
The result: he didn’t remember or take your instruction. Rage blackout…take 2.
Your strategy: For the next holiday, you try to get out ahead of it. You think, “I will tell him exactly what I want him to do so that I won’t be so disappointed.” Still shell shocked from last time, he thinks, “she doesn’t want EXACTLY what she said…there’d be no surprise.” Or perhaps the more classic, “I don’t want to be told how to love my wife. I will give her what I want to give her.”
The result: that random coffee mug you mentioned liking at Starbucks one time last summer. You aren’t even drinking hot coffee anymore. You only drink cold brew because of the low acidity is better for your IBS. Hasn’t he noticed you stopped drinking hot coffee?!?!
The next holiday…if you make it that far…you decide to proactively kill off the part of you that wants attention. You say, “just don’t buy me anything.”
The result: he knows that’s a trick. He buys you another coffee mug. Because he still doesn’t remember that you don’t drink hot coffee any more, he just remembers that last time he bought you a mug you liked from before and that makes him feel smart. He doesn’t remember the other mug fiasco. For him, that situation just went into the category of “vague sense of failure and disappointment.”
The result: sobbing for a month. Your poor IBS. The coffee mug symbolizes all that is wrong in your marriage and the world at large.
Henceforth, you will find other things to do on holidays that are supposed to be about you or you continue in vain to kill off that part of you that still hopes for him to finally come through on these special events. You disengage to self-protect. (This feels like a safe move but it only leads to isolation.) When the holidays roll around, no one makes any sudden moves and the day comes and goes with a sense of frustration, loneliness, dread, and resentments going both ways. “I can’t ever make her happy. Nothing I do is good enough. Her expectations are like moving targets. I might as well not even try.”
Here’s how to fix it.
- Meet efforts with enthusiasm.
- Appreciate the small things.
- Understand that you’re not married to a woman so he’s never going to think and feel like you do. And that’s ok.
- Different isn’t wrong.
- Find something to praise. You’ll get more of it.
- If a man feels like a failure in what he’s already attempting to do for you, why would he take the risk of doing even more? He doesn’t want to feel like a bigger failure and disappointment. Instead, he will do less. This serves to protect himself and the relationship from further injury. The more you criticize, the more you encourage this mindset. Praise works the opposite way.
- Approximations of the goals count.
- You won’t see a total transformation in one step. But steps towards the desired outcome count for a lot and should be praised accordingly. Praise in a way he’ll remember. 😉 You’ll ease up the tensions and focus on the positive between the two of you. Before you know it, your bad gift giver will be unafraid to put efforts in because you have changed the environment by being pleased with his attempts. That’s key. If you can arrive at this sweet spot, things will only get progressively better.
A man who already feels like he’s made you happy will want to do more to make you happy.
A man who feels like he’s already disappointed you won’t do anything more because he won’t risk feeling more like a disappointment than he already feels.
So this Valentine’s Day, capitalize on praise in the small things, a positive attitude, and finding a memorable way to encourage his efforts. It’s good for your man. It’s good for your relationship. It’s good for you.
Contact me for any relationship or individual counseling needs. Offices in Walker and Baton Rouge.
Photo credit goes to my friend, Katie Barnett of Vivid Dream Photography, LLC