It was valentines day. I was ecstatic 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 had worked hard 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 for my husband.
I worked for two weeks, my baby in the stroller by my side, at the frame shop, learning to how to mount, mat and frame the print perfectly. I agonized over the perfect colors to choose and did my best to make sure everything was perfect. The big day came. I was so far out of my comfort zone! I was a little concerned that 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 picture was something he loved.
Valentine’s day finally came. I eagerly waited for him to come home from work. I’d made a lovely meal with candles and special plates on the table. I looked pretty, as I dressed up in his favorite dress that he’d purchased for me. I just knew this was going to be a delightful valentines day!! When got home and came through the door, I solicitously took his jacket. I kissed him and told him to hurry and change because I had a big surprise. Our child was at the neighbor’s house, and we had a few hours to ourselves.
I sat at the table, candles burning bright, eagerly waiting. I waited and waited. The candles were burning down and the food was getting cold. Finally, I ran upstairs to check on him. He was in the bathroom, I knew never to disturb him when he was in the bathroom. I went back downstairs and waited. Forty-five minutes later, I ran upstairs again and sweetly called to him.
“Honey, I need you to hurry, the dinner is getting cold.” Saying this was a bit of risk because he didn’t like being told what to do. I
sat at the table and waited some more. I blew out the candles. An hour and fifteen minutes later, 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, taking his hand to lead him to the lovely decorated table. I lighted the candles again. I served his now cold supper, rewarmed and poured him a glass of Martinelli’s. My gut told me this wasn’t going well. The tension was building but, feeling hopeful that my gut was wrong, I chose to ignore it more.
He took a bite of the food and glared at me. It was cold; it was gross. He calmly stated that I should have known that he needed downtime after work before he was ready to talk to me. I should have planned the food to be prepared 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. I apologized, desperately trying to salvage the meal.
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. I told myself that 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 my previous 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 than 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? It’s 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 can’t 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 let’s get this over with!” He violently switched off the TV.
My heart was pumping through my ears. The evening was ruined. I 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 a diatribe about how a gift is only a gift if it’s 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, 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 dared to claim that I was giving him a gift?
I felt deflated. I was completely numb. I could not sort through anything that had just happened. I apologized and then I retreated to my child’s room and quietly cried.
Another holiday: ruined.
I had no idea, at the time, that sabotaging special occasions was a common tactic for abusers. Holiday’s and special events are significant times for a family. It’s 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 eggshells, trying to please the abuser to save the day, then all the more attention!
I discovered, throughout 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 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 holidays. As Sabbath keeping Christians, in a home where Sabbath was a ‘set aside’ celebration, it was by far the worst day consistently. Trips to Church were accompanied by silent treatments, name calling, complaining, death stares and road rage targeted at keeping the children and me from enjoying a peaceful Sabbath rest. It took us years to recover our joy in resting in Christ.
The abuser cannot 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, greedy, unhappy and bitchy. They’ll deflect their actions by blaming you and they’ve conditioned you to accept that blame. They’ll rationalize their behavior and mean comments by comparing them to your ungrateful reactions. They’ll call you abusive, crazy, bitch and psycho. If nothing else works, they’ll just flat out start calling you horrid names and escalate the abuse.
It’s a roller coaster of steep ups and downs when dealing with an abuser during special occasions. Holiday’s come with expectations and obligations. Abusers don’t allow their victims to have expectations of them. Abusers will do everything in their power to get out of keeping a commitment, 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, he’ll bale emotionally and/or physically. They’ll not hold up their end of the bargain and leave you grasping for a plan B. Holiday’s come with a desire for intimacy. This is a place where they can hurt your heart the deepest, and they’ll do it wihtout regret. They’ll destroy your longing for intimacy (not just sex) so that they won’t have to see you, respect you or acknowledge you as a person.
God created special days, occasions that would build 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 essential, 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.