Dear Rebbetzin Weinberg,
I have been married to a wonderful man, who has been my friend and partner for many years. I know my good fortune, and perhaps that is why I feel very petty and a “kafooy tov” when I think of my “problem.” In all our years of marriage, it does not take the fingers of one hand to count the gifts that I have received from my husband. I suppose I should have guessed when I did not receive the customary gift of jewelry from my chassan at our wedding. I put that down to the fact that he had little of his own money. But in the years that followed, whether it was birthdays, anniversaries, the births of our children, and other events where such gifts are expected, I sometimes received only a humorous card, sometimes not even that, because he had forgotten.
I tried to justify this because our finances were often tight, and I would tell myself that I have something worth far more than any gift I could receive. At times, when the disappointment was overwhelming, I have told him how I feel – that I would want nothing expensive, only some token to show that he remembered and cared. But the tears dry up and things go on as before. Even though, b”H, money is no longer the issue, nothing has changed. The last milestone celebration, I received something nice, but it was clear that it was only because our children wanted to “pitch in” with Tate to get Mommy something really special. Otherwise, I would likely have just gotten a card, if he remembered at all.
To add insult to injury, he never forgets his parents’ birthdays. It is not as if I do not think of him, either. I have gotten him numerous gifts, small and large, over the years, not just on birthdays or anniversaries, and I planned and thought out what he might like. Yet on my last birthday he would have forgotten entirely if not for the children. He hastily ran out and purchased a card.
I don’t want to “wheedle” or manipulate or force my husband into something that should come from the heart, not as a result of pressure or tears. I could easily buy myself the tchotchkas if those were really what I wanted. When his brother’s wife shows off the gifts he buys for her, I just smile and tell myself it doesn’t really matter.
Now, another major milestone is coming up, and along with my simcha, I am beginning to dread this occasion. I know that at the end of the day, I will be frustrated, both with him and myself. I feel angry at myself and silly for feeling this way about an otherwise excellent relationship. I tell myself that I really shouldn’t care about something so trivial. Yet, each time it happens, it hurts. I’m wondering how I’ll talk to my son when it comes time for him to go on shidduchim. I don’t want to criticize my husband to our child, yet I don’t want to see another woman hurt and neglected in this way.
Dear Feeling Foolish,
The first thing to do is to get rid of the way you signed your letter. You are not being foolish! When something hurts, it hurts, and your feelings are a very feminine way of reacting to such a situation. Any woman would feel the same way. It’s not a money thing, either. When you were short of funds, even a card or inexpensive but thoughtful gift would have expressed caring. Your husband’s neglect of gift giving is not uncommon among men, although it’s hard to understand, since he is so thoughtful in other areas. There must be something in his past that makes him resistant to giving gifts.
There are two ways to handle this problem. We once spoke to a rosh yeshiva’s wife who told us that she knew early on that her husband was not one to think of these things. She was determined not to let it spoil their relationship, so she made a plan. What was the plan? No matter what the occasion – whether a birthday, an anniversary, or birth of a child – she would buy herself a gift and give it to him, saying, “This is what I bought for you to give me for my birthday.” They both had a good laugh, and it was fine.
This humorous way of dealing with the problem is probably the best, but you have to be a certain kind of person to pull it off. The other way to deal with it is not to talk to your husband but to write him a letter. A letter is something significant, which can be read more than once and which shows your seriousness. Explain what this means to you. If your husband is at all in touch with your feelings, he will understand. (In fact, I would write that letter even if you choose the first option.)
Whichever method you pick, I think it is very important to take care of this issue. It is not “trivial,” and it would be a shame to let something like this spoil your wonderful relationship.
By the way, do not stop talking to your son about how important gifts are to a woman. (You are not criticizing his father when you do this.) A woman has to feel that she is cared for, that she counts for something. A gift is not about the material object received. It is the message, the validation of her standing in the family. A gift, freely and sincerely given, says, “I value you as my wife and the mother of my children.”
May you have hatzlacha, and may you soon be showing your special gifts to your sister-in-law.