Can This Marriage Be Saved? I Can’t Stand the Holidays

December 9, 2010 at 4:40 pm , by

5206853282_8dea204404The holiday season seems to mean something different to everyone. Some love the revelry and host over-the-top celebrations, and some mark the season quietly and without much fanfare. No matter what your personal preference, it’s pretty tough to avoid reminders of the holidays. From TV ads with dancing elves to store circulars urging you to drop your cash on the latest and greatest, there’s a lot of ho-ho-hoing going on. So what happens when, for whatever reason, you can’t stand this jolly time of year?

The couple in this week’s Can This Marriage Be Saved? post, originally featured in our December 2003 issue,  is dealing with that very issue. Kim, a 36-year-old music teacher who’s married to Steve, a 46-year-old postal worker, feels depressed and anxious about the season, while her husband loves the holidays and insists on grand family celebrations. Listen in.

Kim’s side: She’d prefer to spend the entire season in bed. Not a natural hostess, Kim feels pressured to make the holidays “perfect” for Steve and the family, even though she doesn’t get along well with his kids from his first marriage. Her stepdaughter’s husband is rude and sarcastic to her, and Steve doesn’t say a word. She’s gone along with the traditions for the 10 years they’ve been married but finally outlawed the celebrations, and she ruled out holiday treats because as a recovered bulimic, she can’t handle the sweets in the house. Her childhood was tough: After her father died when she was young, her mother was physically abusive. She’s also exhausted from working seven-day weeks, and their sex life is kaput.

Steve’s side: He feels totally rejected in every way. Holidays were a happy time in his family, and his parents and eight siblings always celebrated with all the classic traditions. Steve thinks that Kim is too sensitive to his son-in-law’s comments, even though he admits the guy is a jerk, and that she should grin and bear it to keep the peace. He loves having his family over whenever they care to drop by and doesn’t see why Kim feels so pressured, since he doesn’t think his expectations are too high. He also thinks that since her bulimia is in the past, she’s being unreasonable in depriving everyone else of dessert. And to him, the sexual rejection is a personal insult.

The counselor’s opinion: The couple squabbled over small things that masked deeper problems. Kim had deep-seated issues with self-esteem and confidence, and when she felt pressured by Steve’s expectations of a “perfect” holiday, she totally withdrew as a way to protect herself from judgment. The bulimia served a similar purpose: She buried her emotions in food, then gained some control by purging. Steve interpreted her withdrawal as a personal rejection, which made the situation worse, and he put even more pressure on his wife to make the holidays ideal because he feared failing his children – as he felt he did when he divorced their mother. The counselor helped Kim talk through her feelings with Steve, and they worked out a plan to celebrate the holidays with new traditions that worked for them both. Steve also makes a point to tell Kim that everything doesn’t have to be perfect, so she’s finally able to relax and enjoy the celebrations.

Tell us: Who’s the merry-maker in your household? Is either of you a Scrooge?

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