QUESTION: “I put so much effort into our Valentine’s Day celebration. I was the one who got the babysitter, I made the reservations at the new restaurant well ahead of time. I was the one who made it special. What did he do? Nothing! Just a card. Let’s just say things went south at the restaurant … really south from there. Now, I’m dreading our anniversary in a few months. What, if anything, can I do?” – Disappointed Wife
Dear Disappointed Wife,
We’ve been there, done that, too. We’d like to tell you what happened for us and what we learned from it, then offer some tips for handling your anniversary.
Here’s our story: When we celebrated our first anniversary, Alex did what “everyone knows” you’re supposed to do for anniversaries. She took great care to surprise Don by making a hand-made gift for him. She carefully wrote our wedding vows on parchment and created a plaque which would forever preserve that special moment.
And Don’s gift for Alex? Nothing! Not a thing!
Talk about hurt feelings! Alex’s reactions (anger, hurt, feeling unloved… okay, mostly anger) made for a very memorable event – and not in a good way!
How could Don be so “uncaring?” Here’s how: Don had no idea that he was “supposed” to do anything for anniversaries. (After all, it was his first one!) We hadn’t talked about it at all. Alex expected that Don would just know what he was supposed to do. Having real conversations about our expectations helped clear this up… and helped Alex get over her hurt feelings.
To avoid this in the future, here are some ideas:
- It just happens. In long-term relationships, be prepared for occasional times when you’ll feel hurt or less cared for. We’re human and mess up sometimes.
An important thing to do in those times is to deliberately remember when you did feel cared for by your spouse. Think about and focus on these times – they’re true about your spouse, even if it didn’t happen this time.
- Take a time out. When you catch yourself wanting to hurt back, take time to think about what you’re feeling and why. If Alex had done that, she would have realized that she was feeling hurt way more than she was feeling angry.
- Tell him. When you’ve thought through your feelings and reactions (and remembered those good times), you can tell him what you’re feeling – in a healthy way. Saying “I’m disappointed and hurt” is a lot different than attacking and hurting back.
- Ask for what you want. That’s one of the principles in CoupleTalk. Too often we hint at what we want. But your spouse isn’t a mind reader and may not have gotten your hints. Yes, there’s a risk that your spouse may say no, but asking directly can clear up many misunderstandings.
So, for your upcoming anniversary, here’s a way to approach him (and we’ve put CoupleTalk guidelines in parentheses):
“Honey, our anniversary is coming up…” (Bring up the issue in a non-attacking way.)
“I remember that time when you bought me that thing I love/still use…” (Name what’s good.)
“And I’d really like it if you’d get me a gift this time – and not a gift card…” (Ask for what you want.)
“It would mean a lot to me. I would feel cared for and important if you bought me something that you think I’d like…” (Tell how you would feel.)
“What do you think about that?” (Then, listen to him. Be open to what he has to say. He may feel intimidated because you’re good at gift-giving and it’s just not his love language. He may feel exhausted at the idea of shopping, or concerned about money. The only way you’ll know is by not shutting him down with criticism or anger, but by really listening.)
You’re in this for the long-haul and gift-giving may take some negotiation. It’s not as romantic as complicated surprises, but it sure beats our first anniversary!