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Heavy Meddle: Every Year My Office Holiday Party Causes A Rift In My Marriage

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to advice@wbur.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you'll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

Every year, my company Christmas party causes a brief but fierce fight within my household. With two kids at home, and a work-from-home spouse, there is an immediate resentment that augments over months and culminates in a fight the night of the party.

A part of this resentment, I think, comes from the fact that my spouse used to be invited, but due to a policy change, she and the other spouses are left out. The other part is being left at home to tend the kids while your spouse, one might imagine, drinks his face off.

In the past few years, I've held myself to one drink, and arrive home no later than 8 p.m. Regardless, tensions are always high by the time I arrive...

In the past few years, I've held myself to one drink, and arrive home no later than 8 p.m. Regardless, tensions are always high by the time I arrive, and only settle by the following morning.

Well, it's that time of year again, but this time, the issue is compounded with the fact that the party is a week prior to my wife's due date. I'm dreading telling my wife about it.

I feel I have a right to celebrate a year with my co-workers. That said, I'm sympathetic to my wife, in that she'll be 9 months pregnant, corralling two kids all day, while her husband is out drinking.

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Help! How do I break this cycle?! And do I have to stay home this year?

Thanks,
Fa-la-la-la-la

Dear Fa,

One way to “break this cycle” would be to stop impregnating your wife. But the horse is sort of out of the gate on that one, so let’s move on. Besides: as the father of three, I’m hardly in a position to lecture you.

Here’s the deal: you do have the right to celebrate a year with your co-workers. And it’s certainly not your fault that your office party is weirdly (and passive-aggressively and stupidly) off limits to romantic partners. In fact, it strikes me as pretty heroic that, in an effort to keep the peace, you’ve stayed at this party only until 8 and had a single drink. There are many men, such as myself, who would do a lot worse. (Faced with the same situation, I fear my own “compromise” would consist of agreeing to return home before daylight and not vomiting on my wife’s shoes.) And we’d tell ourselves we had the right.

In a sense, this party sounds like it’s become an annual signifier of some deeper resentment.

But your wife sees it differently. I imagine she’d prefer that you skip the party altogether, both to assist with the kids, and out of loyalty to her. And the fact that she’ll be 9 months pregnant lends a certain, er, gravity to her desires. She genuinely needs all the help she can get these days.

This doesn’t feel to me like an unbridgeable rift. Hell, you guys are about to have three kids — you’ve got lots better stuff to argue about. My advice is to sit down with your wife and tell her you don’t want this dumb office party to be a source of tension. Your wife says she’s upset about not being invited to the party. But my hunch is that her objection has more to do with the kind of prerogative and latitude you enjoy as the spouse who works outside the home. To your wife, the fact that you get to booze it up with your colleagues while she’s at home with swollen ankles trying to corral your other two children only reinforces this dynamic. In a sense, this party sounds like it’s become an annual signifier of some deeper resentment.

You need to get to this level of candor, which will only happen if you approach things from her perspective, by which I mean with a willingness to grant how difficult and thankless it is to try to work from home while: a) having two young children; and b) being pregnant. Honestly, Fa: if either one of us were forced into this role we’d last about 15 minutes.

That being said, a healthy relationship is one in which both parties actually want the other one to be happy. This sounds obvious. But you and me both know that much of the marriage boils down to a sustained and private suffering pageant. Who’s doing more? Who’s sacrificing more? When we feel aggrieved and deprived, we don’t want the other person off tripping the lights fantastic. Genuine generosity is hard work.

It’s also the right work.

She’s not just trying to be a buzz-kill. She is asking, in an indirect way, for you to acknowledge her struggle.

It would be easy enough to make a concrete suggestion here, to urge you to offer to skip the party this year, or to urge you to plan a romantic evening for your wife to make up for your attendance at this shindig. But in the end, this one party isn’t the real issue. The real issue is that your wife sounds unhappy enough about her circumstance that she begrudges you what sounds like a relatively innocent pleasure.

The place you need to get to is one in which both of you want the other to enjoy stuff like this silly party. But that’s only going to happen if both of you feel fully loved and affirmed. Keep this in mind when you talk to your (very pregnant) wife, Fa. She’s not just trying to be a buzz-kill. She is asking, in an indirect way, for you to acknowledge her struggle.

Good luck with the conversation — and the new addition!

Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

This program aired on December 2, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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