Although our weather seems not to agree that fall is imminent, Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. Just the thought makes me smile as I imagine our whole family gathered together around my parents’ dining room table, laughing and enjoying each other while Mom and Dad preside proudly and beam with nachas.
It’s our sacred Bloom tradition, practically the only time during the year when all of us have off from work at the same time and can gather under one roof. Yet, suddenly, after seven uninterrupted annual pilgrimages (pun intended), Steve put his foot down.
“I don’t want to go to your folks this year,” he stated, and my jaw dropped.
“W-why not?” I stammered, shell-shocked.
“I don’t want to be crammed into a space too small to accommodate us for nearly a week, and then come home totally worn out and dreaming of a vacation. I’d like to stay home this year. You’ve had your way for seven years now! Don’t you think it’s my turn?”
Images flashed through my mind: all the cousins gleefully chasing each other around the yard, Mom’s mouthwatering turkey and pecan pie, the pure joy radiating from my parents as they watch children and grandchildren connect …
Stunned and hurt, I turned away and blinked back tears. Who cares if the accommodations aren’t perfect? Isn’t that what families do for each other? Mom and Dad put themselves out to be invaded by throngs of guests, and we go out of our comfort zone for the sake of family togetherness. In the end, the rich experience will give us strength and comfort in addition to a cachet of beautiful memories.
“Well then,” I replied between clenched teeth, “feel free to stay home, if you’d like. I can leave you some frozen meals. The kids and I will be gone Wednesday through Sunday. Enjoy your staycation!”
Spinning on my heels, I headed upstairs. And then the tears began to fall.
So, what do you do, Rachel? One spouse wants to get away and the other wants to stay home. Looks like a dead-end if you ask me.
Spousal disagreements are never fun, especially when they seem to come out of left field. After all, you established a fixed pattern for seven years, a tradition you cherished and anticipated. So how to deal with Steve?
My first recommendation is to hear him out – calmly, patiently, lovingly. What bothers him the most about the annual get-together? How much does it bother him? Let him lay it all out and feel heard – validate and reflect his feelings. At that point, you can decide if the mood feels right for problem-solving or if you should wait for another conversation. And that discussion can look like this: “Steve, I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation. I’m wondering if we can work this through together so that we’ll both be happy.” If Steve’s primary issue is the cramped quarters, would it be possible for you to stay at a nearby hotel? If it’s an overbearing relative, perhaps Steve needs your “permission” to disappear from time to time. He can walk, read, or do whatever floats his boat to relax and recharge. And if he really can’t stomach the idea of going again this year and just needs a break, would it upset him if you and the kids go anyway? If the answer is yes, is there another time all of you can visit your folks when the reunion would be less intense?
I believe the most important goal is for Steve to know that you care about him and his needs. When he feels that love coming from you, he will hopefully reciprocate with increased sensitivity to your needs. If he doesn’t, how about if you try steering the conversation? “I know you don’t want to go, honey. And I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. But being with my family on Thanksgiving is something I look forward to the whole year. Can you help me figure out what to do so that we both feel satisfied?”
Wishing you the best of luck with your conversation. I hope you achieve a good compromise that will gratify both of you and ultimately lead to an enriched relationship!