It was valentines day. I was so excited about the gift I was going to give my husband. We loved Disney and visited the parks 2x per year. During one of our visits we had splurged on a gorgeous Disney print. It had been in our closet for over a year and this valentines day I planned to mount it and frame it myself at the frame shop class. Now, we could hang it on our wall. This was my special valentines to my husband.
I worked for 2 weeks, my baby in the stroller by my side, at the frame shop, learning to how to mount and frame the print just perfectly. The big day came. I was so far out of my comfort zone! I knew I had spent money not only on the frame supplies but also on the class I took. I was just sure, however, that he would love what I had worked so hard on. After all, he was hard to shop for and this was a big deal!
The day finally came. I eagerly waited for him to come home from work. I’d made a lovely meal with candles on the table. I was all dressed up, smelling and looking pretty. This was going to be a wonderful valentines day!! As he came through the door, I solicitously took his jacket. I gave him a kiss and told him to hurry and change because I had a big surprise. Our child was at the neighbors house and we had a few hours to ourselves.
I sat at the table waiting. I waited, I ran upstairs to check on him and he was in the bathroom. I went back downstairs and waited. 45 minutes later, I ran upstairs again and sweetly called to him. Honey, I need you to hurry, the dinner is getting cold. I knew that was a bit of risk because he didn’t like being told what to do. I sat at the table and waited some more. An hour and fifteen minutes after he came home, he finally came downstairs with a scowl on his face. I decided to ignore it. I put a smile on my face and went to him. I took his hand and lead him to the table. I served his now cold supper, rewarmed and poured him a glass of Martinelli’s. I was beginning to feel worry creep over this special occasion, the tension was building but I chose to ignore it more.
He took a bite of the food and complained. It was cold, it was gross. I should have known that he needed down time after work before he was ready to talk to me. I should have planned the food to be ready for when he was ready. It was stupid of me to think I could force him to eat and enjoy it the minute he got home.
Somehow, we got through the meal. He chose to go to the kitchen and make himself something else. I did my best to keep my spirits up. It wasn’t that big of a deal. The actual excitement and appreciation would come when he saw his gift.
Dinner finally ended. I asked him to join me in the living room where I had prepared for his big surprise! Grunting, he got up and instead of following me to the living room he retreated, purposely to the family room and turned on the TV. When I realized this, I knew I had a choice. I was desperately trying to save this special occasion. I desperately wanted it to go well. Putting a smile on my face, again, I grabbed the wrapped gift from the living room, leaving behind the balloons and festoons. I set it in the hallway, quickly coming up with an alternative to the previous gift giving plan.
I waited until his program was on commercial.
I went in and said “Ok, here it is! This is the big reveal! I have something very special for you!”
His face looked less then interested. I courageously continued.
“Hold on one second…you are going to love this!”
I excitedly grabbed the picture, wrapped as well as could be considering how long it was, and carefully set it on the couch next to him. At that moment, his program came back on. He turned to the TV, completely ignored me and the gift and watched TV. I sighed a heavy sigh. That was enough for him to come unglued! He verbally lashed out at me!
“What is wrong with you now? You aren’t happy with anything are you? Its all about you, you, you! Ok fine. You know I watch this program every night. You know I like to spend alone time when I get home from work. You know I hate your cooking, you cant cook and you shouldn’t expect me to be happy about it when you try. Nooo! You have to keep demanding, demanding, demanding. You are such a demanding Bitch! Fine! Bring me whatever it is you have and lets get this over with!”
My heart was pumping through my ears. I knew the evening was ruined. I also knew that his demand to get this over with was not a request. I handed him the gift. I sat, deflated on the chair. He unceremoniously ripped the packaging and took out the long labored over framed print.
“How much did this cost?”
“Umm” I stuttered before I quoted him the amount.
“So, you give me a ‘gift’ that I had to pay for myself?” his look was one of superior contempt.
“well. No, not exactly. I just… I mean I….” I stammered
He cut me off rudely and launched into an explanation about how a gift is only a gift if its actually paid for by the giver. I took money from him. I lived off of his hard work. I didn’t work. I couldn’t cook and I could barely keep the house up. I didn’t own anything in the house and nothing we had was mine. It was all his because he is the one who paid for everything. He took me on when I was just out of college. I owed him everything. I left my parents house and came to his house, he practically had to raise me! How dare I spend his money, not consult him on the colors of the frame, not even have the decency to ask him permission to take a class away from home! Then, I have the audacity to claim that I was giving him a gift?
I was totally deflated. I was completely numb. I could not sort through everything that had just happened. I apologized and then I retreated to my child’s room and quietly cried.
Another holiday, ruined.
I discovered, over the course of my 15 year marriage, that all holidays would be ruined in one way or another. It could be as simple as constant complaining, picking a fight or a more direct sabotage like the story above. The more I tried to please, plan or arrange a happy holiday, the more thoroughly it would be maligned. Christmas, Easter, weddings, reunions, Spring break, anniversaries and birthdays were opportunities for ruination. Mother’s Day, my birthday and valentine’s day were the worst for holidays. As Sabbath keeping Christians, in a home where Sabbath was a ‘set aside’ celebration, it was by far the worst day on a consistent basis. Trips to church were accompanied by silent treatments, name calling, complaining, death stares and road rage targeted at keeping me and the children from enjoying a peaceful Sabbath rest. It took us years to recover our joy in resting in Christ.
I had no idea, at the time, that sabotaging special occasions was a common tactic for abusers. Holiday’s and special events are really important times for a family. Its a time when your heart is open and you allow yourself to be vulnerable. This is also the open door that abusers look for to hurt you. The more exhausted you are from doing all the holiday prep work and the more emotionally hopeful you are about the holiday….the more they will determine to ruin it. Your vulnerability not only puts too much pressure on them to connect in a meaningful way with you, but also diminishes their place in the spotlight. By ruining it, they regain the spotlight. After all, attention is attention is attention and if the whole house is walking on egg shells, trying to please the abuser in order to save the day, then all the more attention!
The abuser has no ability to feel empathy toward you. They don’t care how you feel. In fact they’ll go so far as to make fun of your reaction to their rudeness. They’ll call you oversensitive, selfish, materialistic, unhappy and bitchy. They’ll deflect their own actions by blaming you and by this time, you are probably conditioned to accept that blame. They’ll rationalize their behavior and mean comments by comparing them to your ungrateful reactions. They’ll call you abusive because you got angry or hurt or disappointed with them. If nothing else works they’ll just flat out start calling you horrid names or escalate to physical abuse.
Its really a roller coaster of steep ups and downs when dealing with an abuser during special occasions. Holiday’s come with expectations. Abusers don’t allow their victims to have expectations of them. Holiday’s come with obligations. Abusers will do everything in their power to get out of an obligation, especially if its one that is important to you. Holiday’s come with responsibility. If you are holding him responsible or making him step up to the plate, they’ll bale emotionally or physically. They’ll not hold up their end of the bargain and leave you grasping for recovery. Holiday’s come with the desire for intimacy. This is a place where they can hurt your heart the deepest and so they’ll do it. They’ll destroy your longing for intimacy so that they won’t have to see you, experience you or acknowledge you as a person.
God created special days, occasions that would create community and strengthen family ties. He made people in such a way that we bond with one another over eating meals, gift giving and celebrating.
The Bible recounts many instances of celebrations, holidays and special feast days that are all meant to draw us closer to one another as well as to our Lord. Days of remembrance, anniversaries are important so we can reflect on the growth of a relationship and mark the beginning of that relationship. Holidays are days for connection. An abuser doesn’t want to connect, he wants to control.