by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: I have come to hate holidays because without fail my wife is miserable. I have not been able to figure it out, but I think she looks forward to the holiday or her birthday. However, when the day arrives it usually turns into a horrible day. Leading up to Christmas or her birthday, she seems focused on gifts, but no matter the gift I get her, it doesn’t seem to please her. It seems like gifts symbolize something more than they were ever intended to mean, and I fail to meet her expectations. There are times she loves me with a passion, and that’s what keeps me hooked into the relationship, but when I don’t meet her expectation in the most minute way, she puts me down, accuses me of unfaithfulness, and curses me. At those times, if I were to believe her, I would believe I was one of the most good-for-nothing husbands on the earth. Leading up to Christmas, I felt like I was walking on eggshells, and when the day arrived it was one of my more miserable days. I feel like my patience and love for her is running out. Is there anything I can do to help her, or is there something you can do to help me?
The first thing I would recommend would be taking a good look at yourself. If you are getting her gifts that are going to please you rather than her, she probably has a reason to be upset. But, the information you have provided above sounds like you love your wife and you are trying to do everything possible to please her. And since her responses are so volatile, I will frame my response as though you are not to blame.
If your relationship with your wife is as you described above, you are not alone. Without doubt there are others who would like to meet you and form a support group. As much as you love your wife, until she comes to the realization that her expectations are irrational, she will continue to suffer through holidays and she will attempt to share her suffering with you.
Probably something traumatic (abandonment, child abuse, rape, etc.) happened in her past that interrupted the normal development of her personality. Whatever that something was, your wife has been left feeling very afraid of further abandonment or suffering, and she fears losing her most important object of affection—you. Though I do not know you or your wife, it is likely that her fears drive her to attempt to force life to turn out the way she imagines it should be. And controlling the world around her includes you.
A rational person looking in from the outside would say, “That kind of behavior would drive me away.” And that is often what happens. So, instead of enjoying the fulfilling marriage relationship that she desires and envisions, she is driving you away. Before you give up, on your marriage, try compassion. Realize that she is very lonely and afraid. Also, consider therapy. There is hope.
I have provided therapy for a number of couples such as yourselves through the years and a behavioral approach is most effective. The first things you need to do are stop walking on eggshells and normalize your life. From your description, I can imagine that you may find yourself staying home fearing to participate in normal activities, such as checking the mail, going to a ballgame, or even greeting another woman at the store.
To normalize your life you will need to do what most people consider normal activities, even if you know you will be beaten verbally when you get home. If the verbal abuse turns to physical abuse, use the legal system. Sometimes, love must be tough. Sometimes that is the wakeup call leading to change. This should be a means of last resort because it could end the relationship, and you don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat situation where the one who calls the police first wins.
Concerning gift giving, continue to give gifts from your heart. Let love be your guide; but stop walking on eggshells. You are not responsible for her moods. Remember, gifts, like love can only be given and received. When it is forced, it is no longer love.
If you are reading this article, and you have the urge to tear the paper up, or hide it from your husband so he doesn’t read it, or you are experiencing anger, rage, or even disgust toward this writer, it may be time to get help. Life can become much more enjoyable.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]