When discussing Mother’s Day recently, my friends and I talked about the pressure we sometimes feel surrounding holidays. One friend remarked that scrolling through social media and seeing the fun gifts and sweet gestures other women’s husbands were making gave her feelings of disappointment toward her own husband. Her husband wasn’t doing those things to celebrate her, causing her to question whether she was deserving. And I, like many of my friends, have been there. First of all, comparison is the thief of joy, but let’s put that aside for a minute and talk about expectations.
We Don’t Speak the Same Language
My husband is a generous, compassionate man. He treats us well and does all he can to keep us cared for and happy. But he’s not intuitive. He never has been, which was something hard for me to understand during the early part of our relationship (for what it’s worth, his love language is Words of Affirmation, while mine is Gifts or Acts of Service). Even still, as we’ve been together 12 years, I find it challenging. Why can’t he just understand and come to my side?
I’ve experienced a few disappointing holidays. If I’m being completely transparent, there were some in which I cried, some that led to arguments. We did, eventually, come to an understanding. Put simply, my husband just doesn’t make as big a deal over holidays as I do. He doesn’t care about gifts or grand gestures; he even regards some holidays as unnecessary. One such holiday is Valentine’s Day. We no longer buy cards or gifts for each other and instead gift the kids a little treat bag (a gesture that he still doesn’t understand). For us, the pressure around Valentine’s Day took the fun out of what it was supposed to be. For my husband, it was always, “We know we love each other, and we don’t need a special day for that.” Technically, we could apply this to all occasions, but we’ve found a way to compromise over the years. We buy gifts for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and our birthdays. We eat a nice dinner on our anniversary.
Exchanging Gifts: The Shared Wish List
He’s a sweet man, but he’s simple (at least compared to me). I could tell him I’d like an insulated mug, but he’d come back with a utilitarian black or stainless one that probably got 5-star reviews on the Bass Pro Shop website. I could ask for earrings, but he’d likely return with simple silver hoops that can be worn with anything. He plays it safe because it’s not always easy for him to understand my style. He was buying the wrong things, but I didn’t have the heart to be honest with him, leaving me with products I didn’t want to use. I don’t want to seem ungrateful; after all, isn’t it the thought that counts? Then again, do I want a collection of unloved gifts ’til death do us part?
After about 4 years of these scenarios playing out again and again, we had a very honest conversation about expectations. He felt a lot of pressure with gift-giving, while I felt pressure to appreciate things I didn’t actually appreciate. So, we each set up a shared list in our phones with a wide range of items. Whenever I see something I like, I add it to the list with very specific details. When an occasion approaches, he can access the list without me knowing what he chooses to give. This way, I can still be surprised with something I’m guaranteed to love (he sometimes also throws in a little off-list surprise). For Christmas, he and the kids gave me earrings from my list: “Kendra Scott Tessa earrings, rose gold or yellow gold, any stone except platinum drusy.” While I might have suspected I was getting earrings, what they looked like was a surprise based on the color combinations he and the kids chose. He does the same for me. I can’t just go buy him a new fishing rod; he knows I need more guidance. It’s something we’ve learned not to take personally. It doesn’t mean we don’t understand or pay attention to one another.
For Mother’s Day last week, I actually bought my own presents, handed them to him, and said, “Wrap these up, and make a big deal for the kids.” I didn’t mind, and given the situation, I think he was grateful. With the quarantine, shopping has been tricky, he’s been working long hours as an ICU nurse, etc. Some years are just like that. Earlier in our relationship, I might have expected him to figure it out despite the circumstances “if he loved me enough,” but I’ve adjusted my expectations without feeling like I’ve had to just “settle.” And if there’s something special I want to do on my day, I let him know that too.
I know we love each other deeply, and part of what grows that love is being able to communicate with each other without fear of judgment. Gift-giving is one example, but there are numerous other conflicts that have required honest communication. This is something we’re definitely still working on and that will likely always be a work in progress as we grow in our marriage. If you encounter similar issues over holiday expectations, take the time now without the pressure of upcoming holidays, and have those open conversations. You’ll both be glad you did.