Q: I’m a retired pastor in my 50s. A nearby church wanted my help with their Christmas musical, and I asked my wife of five years, who played bass at my church, to join me. She became angry at this suggestion and said I should do my own thing on Christmas and she’d do hers. She then announced that she’d be spending Christmas Eve with her (single, lonely) ex-boyfriend, staying the night at his place and hiking with him on Christmas Day. I was taken aback. I said this had the “whiff of adultery” and wondered if she wanted to end the marriage. She flew into a rage. How could I even think of calling her an adulteress, etc.? Their overnight got canceled because his son came home for Christmas, but she’s still mad — barely talking to or looking at me. I confess, I’m a conflict avoider and in counseling for it. But what do I do about a woman whose rage can last for several hours to a month or more? Who gives me lengthy, pedantic lectures about how pathetic and hopeless I am? If I say “Then why don’t you leave me?” she says “Because I love you.”
A: Your wife has some creative interpretations of classic Christmas songs: “I’ll be home for Christmas”? Naw. “You’ll be home for Christmas, and I’ll be sleeping over at my ex-boyfriend’s.” Question this in the slightest and the burning smell will be your chestnuts roasting over an open fire.
First, the obvious: Unless there’s some previously agreed-upon “interesting” marital arrangement, wives do not get to have ex-boyfriend sleepovers. As for a pastor’s wife picking Christmas for hers, what’s the matter, was he busy on your wedding anniversary?
A “love” like hers sends chills down a man’s spine — that is, when the man happens to have one. Did you forget yours at the airport? Maybe leave it at a hotel? Although your wife is engaging in outrageous emotional abuse, your reaction — your fear of her rage, which she uses to control you and get her way — is what keeps it going. You might have had a different relationship dynamic (or a different woman altogether) if only you’d put your foot down — stood up to her instead of always lying down and rolling over so she could better kick you in the head.
You should read “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” by reformed doormat Dr. Robert Glover. Glover lays out how conflict-avoidant men go limp in the face of abuse because of their approval-seeking (driven by low self-worth and fear of abandonment) and their hiding of flaws and mistakes (instead of accepting themselves as fallible and human). Transforming oneself from a chewtoy among men doesn’t happen overnight. Until you build self-respect, act like somebody who has it. Set standards for how you’ll be treated, and inform your exploding wife that you expect them to be met (which may take anger management), and tell her that you’ll walk if the rage and unloving treatment continue. And mean it. So, if she wants to have a little overnight with her ex, tell her that’s her prerogative — when your divorce is final. Remember, you’re never too old to be happy, and to instill healthy behavior, and to have something a little warmer and sexier at Christmas than a lecture about what a pathetic loser you are under the mistletoe.
Q: I love good food and wine, but I hate cooking and I’m bad at it. When you’re dating, it seems like you´re supposed to cook your partner dinner at a certain point, especially if you’re a woman. I think I´m at that point now, and I’m considering setting a nice table and ordering takeout. Will he think I’m not that interested if I don’t break out the cookbook?
—Food And Whine
A: According to needlepointed pillows, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Actually, it’s through his sternum with a big saw. I say that a bit defensively because I, too, love good food but spend all of my time slaving over a hot computer. (I don’t cook; I heat.) Luckily, I have a boyfriend who likes to cook for me, but for some guys, a woman who doesn’t cook is an automatic dealbreaker. For others, it’s a bit of a bummer, but what matters is whether the woman otherwise is giving and shows in various ways that she wants to take care of them. You’ll find out which kind of man you have when you’re honest with him about who you are — a woman who sets a beautiful table and serves a delicious dinner right out of “The Joy Of Calling Up The Chinese Restaurant And Giving Them Your Credit Card Number.”