Christmas Eve Drama, Am I In Error?

Question: “Am I being unreasonable? My husband and I have been married for seven years. It is a second marriage for both of us after being previously widowed. I brought 2 children into the marriage; a son now 20 and a daughter 18. My husband brought 3 children; his eldest daughter now 24, middle daughter 22 (and now married) and a son 20. As I think most people can appreciate “blended” families – even when proceeding with the best intentions – are incredibly challenging. We have overcome all sorts of problems over the years but as our children are getting older there seems to be a lot less conflict between us. My question is in regard to what happened this Christmas Eve. We had been invited to my husband’s brother’s home for what we understood was an “open house” type event. We said we might drop by later in the evening. That afternoon we had a phone message from them and it seemed that there were some crossed wires and they had expected us for dinner. My husband returned the call and said sorry about the misunderstanding but we were having dinner at home. So we had all but one of our children here for dinner (including our son-in-law). Which because of one of our daughter’s different religious affiliation hasn’t happened since our very first Christmas together. We had spent days getting ready for this. On the day itself we were running late in part because we were waiting for one of our sons to return from college before going to get a Christmas tree. We gave thanks at the dinner table and I said I was thankful that I could bake and cook for the people that I love and care about. Just as we finished dinner we were joined by our final child. I was so happy that we were all together. We moved from the dinner table and were sitting around the tree, talking, laughing and happy to be together. The kind of rare moment when I look at all of us and think: it’s been really difficult at times but were all in this together and it’s good. My husband said he felt he needed to at least make at appearance at his brother’s open house. We all objected. We wanted to play cards or charades. I reminded him that one of our daughters had to work Christmas Day so for her this was it. He said because of the misunderstanding he felt he had to go. I again objected and told him I thought this was crazy. He reassured me he’d be right back and he left taking two of the kids with him. I was so upset I had to leave the room to compose myself. This left my two biological children and my stepdaughter and son-in-law. When I came back to the living room my stepdaughter and her husband had drifted off looking for swimsuits to sit in our hottub. That left me and my two children. Obviously I was very upset but tried to hid that. We talked for a while before saying goodnight. I got into bed and when my husband came home I’m ashamed to say I pretended to be asleep. I just felt so angry, furious really, that I didn’t feel I could face him. I had been fighting some kind of flu bug for the last few days and on Christmas morning could hardly drag myself out of bed. We both got up early to see our daughter before she had to go off to work. But I returned to bed for several hours. I tried to get up to join everyone to open presents but wasn’t able. I spent the next three days in bed. When I was able to I said to my husband “Do you know that I see what you did on Christmas Eve as really destructive?” His only response was “Is that so?” I told him “Yes. That’s so. And I have all kinds of thoughts and feelings about it”. He said nothing more and I was still feeling so unwell that I just let that sit. He went to work the following day and I sent him an email telling him I felt about what had happened. I told him the whole situation reminded of the definition of a cynic: someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. I ended the email telling him that I loved him but was so furious that I didn’t know what to do with all this emotion. He ignored the email for a further two days. I then (by this time I was feeling weak but better) I brought it up again. He told me that maybe I should just live alone. If I didn’t have expectations of him I wouldn’t be so disappointed all the time. He told me that I was being narcissistic. I was thinking only about myself. He was very calm, trying to be logical and I was getting emotional. I told him he seemed smug and superior that he was able to remain unemotional but I was his wife. I am distressed. This has hurt me. I left the room then because I will not engage with him when I am overwhelmed or crying. I was driving him to work the next day and I said “you know – we aren’t going to get a divorce over this. So I’m still upset about what happened on Christmas Eve but now I’m also upset that you ignored me repeatedly and you’re actually going to have to deal with this. I’m not some unreasonable witch you know”. Yes you are he told me. I asked him to repeat what he said and he told me that I was being an unreasonable witch about this. Obviously this whole conversation didn’t go well. I ended up in tears. He took the opportunity to yell at me (which he later apologized for) telling me that I dig-dig-dig, that I berate him and more. A few days pass and he finally tells me he’s sorry the fallout from this but he can’t apologize for leaving on Christmas Eve because he didn’t have any bad intentions. So again my question would be: am I being unreasonable here? Was “destructive” too strong a word to use (which he says is what set him off)? I feel he did ruin our “family” Christmas Eve. I’d appreciate any insight into this you can offer.”

Answer: Thanks for all the lengthy details. I’ll be brief here but direct. The bottom line is that you have your hopes for Christmas and your husband had his. He chose to leave to save face with his brother, again his choice. You chose to stay with the kids and enjoy the moments at that point in the evening. You are connected, as a married couple but are also autonomous. He is not an appendage to you nor you to him. Now, all that being said, he worried more about what his brother thought than what his own wife thought/felt or his own kids. There is not anything horrible or destructive about his leaving, he did in fact bring two of the kids with him. I do feel that was a poor choice to leave considering the circumstances.

I feel you are in error in getting upset and refusing to communicate with him and not coming in to engage with the family for the days following. Again, if your husband is going to make poor choices, that does not mean you need to engage in withdrawal following Christmas eve etc otherwise you are in as much error as he is considering his choices that night. I realize you are hurt and upset at his choices and the fact is you would do better actually distancing yourself enough emotionally to not remain so attached to his foolish decision.

Now, he needs a good course in listening when you spoke to him about your anger and hurt from what he did. I’d suggest you look into your allowing him to make poor choices and not allowing it to infuriate you so much that you shut down and don’t enjoy the time yourself. Now, I realize this is not as easy as I just made it but remembering that he is connected to you yet autonomous as well with his own thoughts and hopes.