“What do you want to do for Christmas this year, hon?”

I felt myself jump, even though I know I didn’t actually do it on the outside. We were driving home from dinner, and I mentally cursed the twenty minutes on the freeway ahead of us. Twenty minutes of what would very likely be a Marital Dispute.

Someone, probably God, was punishing me.

Faster than you could say “Let’s change the subject, sweetie,” the memories of the past few Christmases wheeled through my mind.

Like last Christmas, when family members didn’t cooperate with my ideas and Mike and I opened presents alone. I felt guilty for forcing my plans on him, throwing his whole Christmas into disarray because I had to win. Even though I got my way, we both wound up disappointed.

Then, the first Christmas of our marriage, when money was so tight I shopped for gifts at our local resale store trying to get the most for my thinly spread dollars. That year I stretched our budget so far I thought I would snap from the pressure. Mike and I sniped at each other the entire month of December, arguing over who spent more time with which family and bickering over every penny spent. Instead of a season of marital bliss and hot cocoa by the tree, I used my terrier-like focus to pick at sore spots for the sake of My Own Way.

Continuing the backward spiral, before we got engaged I threw a giant fit because Mike made plans for Christmas and my Christmas Eve birthday without consulting me. “But I’ve always spent my birthday with my family!” I pouted, which at the time sounded an awful lot like reasoning to me. As it was the first Christmas for me out of rehab, every feeling felt raw and scraped, and I fought on “principle.” Unfortunately, these “principles” didn’t account for Mike’s secret plan to propose that night.

We did things my way. He waited another two months before popping the question.

These jolly recollections halted at a time even further back, a time unrelated to Christmas.

In this memory, I’m sitting in the director’s office at rehab, discussing my work on the first step. The director’s bright blue eyes bored a hole right through my hollow soul.

“You’re a very controlling person, aren’t you?” she asked me.

The question took me off guard, I remember, because I was the most laid back person I knew! Didn’t I always let people do whatever they wanted? I let them control the radio in my car. I let them say whatever they wanted and I never corrected them (even if they were wrong). I let them hurt me and I never said a word, I just let them. Ha! Me, controlling?

“Nat?” Mike’s voice interrupted.

You’re a very controlling person, aren’t you? 

I took a measured breath. “Honestly, as long as we’re together, I don’t care what we do for Christmas.”

I meant it, too. Thank God, because we still had another nineteen minutes ahead of us.


– – –


“What do you want to do for Christmas this year?” — 41 Comments

  1. Yes

    Money is tight with us this year and I have wanted to still buy my wife stuff. She’s the most lefty hippy person when it comes to Christmas, she gets for everyone else and wants nothing, much. I almost started a huge argument because I wanted to spend money to get her a bunch of stuff. I stopped myself and said “you know me, I want to do it anyway”.

    Rehab is 365/24/7….you know?
    Lance recently posted…2014 Rock Hall – Twisted Mixtape TuesdayMy Profile

  2. I don’t know why, but this post made me tear up. I relate to rehab (in an AA sort of way) and I relate to controlling. I love that you let your husband lead the way this time. It’s never too late to grow!
    Lady Jennie recently posted…Foie Gras PopsMy Profile

  3. It is so very hard when you first get married or in a relationship to decided how to spend the holidays. I think we all feel a bit possessive about our traditions. Then you factor in controlling parents and in-laws. Then you add the money pressures of December. We are having a smaller Christmas this year and I love not feeling so guilty about putting things on credit. Hope it all works out — and sounds like you are trying to be mature about it. At 50, I think I’m finally getting a hang of all this extended family holiday musical chairs. And Happy Birthday!
    jamie@southmainmuse recently posted…Twenty-five years after saying “I do”.My Profile

  4. In my family, immediate and extended, we’ve stopped exchanging gifts. Only the youngest still get presents. Everyone is happy to be done with all the stress from trying to find the perfect useless gift. Many of us make charitable donations instead.
    Joe recently posted…Breasts To Die ForMy Profile

  5. I so get this! I’m much more laid back now, but without even realizing it (also thought I was super laid back!) I was crazy-tense about how things worked out over the holidays. So much expectation. And people pleasing. UGH. It seems easier now, though. I have to think that has a lot to do with me being less worried about it. Or the heavy drinking. Either way.
    Beth Teliho recently posted…The Phone CallMy Profile

  6. I love that you honestly just put it all out there. Sharing holidays is so tough. It’s difficult to learn to just enjoy the time together, when it’s not necessarily the way it’s been done year after year. I’m glad you two have grown together though, and that you’ll be able to have a wonderful Christmas, whatever the plans!
    Ericamos recently posted…Now Presenting, Mrs. BrownMy Profile

  7. We are obviously on the same wavelength this week. These kinds of situations are so hard. Trying to mesh families, traditions, and the wants and needs of two people can throw any marriage into temporary chaos. In the end, you are really choosing between right and right, but it’s a delicate balance that we all walk. And those car fights, where you are stuck with nowhere to walk away to regroup and calm down are the worst!
    Samantha Brinn Merel recently posted…When Plans ChangeMy Profile

  8. Christmas can be incredibly stressful. My girlfriend and I struggle to plan our holidays because her family will not acknowledge me–I want to be with her, but she still wants to be with them at Christmastime. It took me some time to be gracious about that.

    I hope you have a wonderful holiday, whatever you end up doing.

    • Gah, that’s so awful. I’m sorry. 🙁 Mike and I had a few Christmases like that, when our relationship was rocky. Being gracious takes strength.
      I wish you a great holiday, too, and hoping her family will come around.

  9. Natalie, I enjoyed your honest voice in this essay. I can totally relate to the controlling piece. I was *shocked* when I first realized that tendency in myself. Now that I have a tiny bit more insight, I usually catch myself before I hop on the crazy control train 😉

    P.S. Have a great birthday!
    Karen recently posted…A Lesbian Love StoryMy Profile

  10. I’m the one who gets stressed out at Christmas in our family. So many obligations, so many time constraints, so many presents to give.

    I just want to relax, watch some mindless entertainment, and let our kids rip open presents. Family fights aren’t fun. At least in my extended family the main fight starter has been divorced out (I know that sounds harsh, but I’m done grieving it, and looking at the bright side).

    I’m actually excited for Christmas this year.
    chris plumb recently posted…6 Historically Odd Christmas Season MiraclesMy Profile

  11. Oh, how I get fighting on principle and having to “win” and then the discovery that winning is not really winning – and then having a great time with someone we love no matter how we spend that time. It’s a beautiful progression, isn’t it?
    Ilene recently posted…SpeedMy Profile

  12. Great essay. My husband and I have settled into a pretty steady relationship (for the most part) after many years, but I find myself newly dealing with being controlling all over again with my teenage sons. It would be so much easier if they just did everything my way, right?
    Marcy recently posted…COMPLETED: 101 Things in 1001 DaysMy Profile

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