SL Letter of the Day: Unhappy Valentines Day
by Dan Savage
on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 5:43 PM
I'm pretty lost here and hoping you can help. My wife and I are going through an extremely rough patch. I won't bore you with the details, but we're sleeping in separate bedrooms, going to couple's counseling, and neither of us is sure if we want to stay together. Well, she's 90% sure she does and I'm 90% sure I don't. We still have a great friendship, our partnership is just a mess. SO ... WTF do I do about Valentine's day? Normally I would get flowers and we would go get dinner somewhere, etc. We don't ever do gifts. I don't want to be a dick, but I also don't want to send the wrong signals. Any ideas?
Fuck This Holiday
My response—and FTH's response to mine, and mine to his—after the jump...
Can I ask why you want out?—Dan
The root of most of our problems is my longstanding tradition of not speaking up when I am unhappy about things and living with things that make me unhappy rather than making an effort to change them. I've taken responsibility for letting things get this bad and stay this bad for years. But regardless, here we are. We started dating when we were 18 and now we're 35. We've both changed a lot, but at the same time the way we relate to each other never changed much. Hence the couple's counseling. I started seeing a therapist to deal with my own depression and other issues and in the process of learning how to make myself happy, I discovered that my relationship was really unhealthy. My wife's emotional needs always take precedence over my own. If she's got something stressing her out I'll take over her share of housework, etc. I don't get the same treatment. If I'm busy and stressed, she gets lonely and basically becomes just another thing I have to devote energy to. And no, I'm not shutting myself in a room working for days, we're talking about 4-6 hours where I need to be left alone. This pattern where her emotional needs are the focus of the relationship manifests itself in other areas as well. This can be worked on, and we're working on it. But then there's the anger and the negativity. We both grew up in angry households, I became the kind of person who shies away from any conflict and she became an easily-angered, highly-confrontational person. It's a terrible combination. And while I can work on being ok with other people not being happy (because that shit happens), I can't make her into something she isn't/doesn't want to be. We don't have kids, we're both still young, and in my mind if I'm going to leave, now's the time.
Yikes, that was a lot. Sorry.—FTH
Thanks for the background info, FTH.
Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and Valentine's Day can be challenges for someone—particularly a considerate and kind someone—who is certain he's going to end a relationship or, as in your case, is fairly certain he's going to end a relationship but is currently going through the couples counseling motions. Ignoring the holiday seems cruel, as your partner will take that as a sure sign that the relationship is doomed (and that you're wasting her time in counseling), which it might not be. But presenting your partner with gifts of the same caliber as those given in happier years is also problematic, FTH, as your partner will interpret those gifts as an assurance that all will be well. The first option is cruel, the second is potentially misleading—and will be upgraded to cruel if, indeed, you do end the relationship.
My advice: get her something that acknowledges your years together without making any implicit promises about years to come. If you've given flowers in the past, get the same flowers but a smaller arrangement. If you've given her chocolates in the past, get the same ones but a smaller box.
Since the last place you're going to want to be on Valentine's Day is in restaurant full of couples who are all blissfully in love—or grimly going through the motions—say this to your wife right now: "I think we should keep things low-key this year. Let's do something we both enjoy because, you know, whatever else comes, we are still and we always will be friends." Then on Friday give her those small gifts before you go snowboarding or biking or parasailing or whatever two enjoy doing together—but ideally pick an activity that you enjoy doing together but that doesn't require you to sit in chairs across from each other, staring into each other's eyes, downing glass after glass of wine.—Dan