If you’re human, it’s unavoidable. Living up to all the expectations others have of you is impossible. Learning to disappoint people well is part of growing up.
Disappointing people well sometimes means letting others know when their expectations are unreasonable or selfish. Kendra at A Proverbs 31 Wife posted about a great example of when a man might need to disappoint his wife well.
In her post, Kendra recalls reading an advice column where a female reader wrote in to ask what to do about a husband who gave her horrible gifts. The “horrible gifts” consisted of things like: an ice scraper, gloves, a mixer to use in the kitchen.
Kendra’s response, roughly paraphrased as, “grow up, stop complaining and be grateful for what you have!” was good. But, there is more to be said, especially from a man’s perspective. This situation provides a good opportunity to explore how a man ought to combine humility, compassion and a firm commitment to holding everyone in a family to certain standards.
Let’s establish a couple of thing before moving on.
First, let’s agree that complaining about gifts is unacceptable. My parents taught me that when I was very young and whined that I hadn’t gotten everything I wanted for Christmas. Not everyone’s parents were as diligent, I suppose.
Second, at the same time, men need to know not all complaining is equal. It’s hard to know from Kendra’s description what is happening in this particular woman’s situation. Gifts often mean something different to women. In this situation, the woman complaining might really be trying to say she doesn’t feel cared for or attended to. She may see the “bad” gifts as a sign of inattention, a sign her husband doesn’t value her.
On the other hand, she may really just be selfish and materialistic. She may really just be so focused on herself that any gift she received from her husband would be unsatisfactory. Maybe, what she really doesn’t like isn’t her husband’s gifts at all. Maybe what she really doesn’t like is her husband.
Responding to a wife who complains about gifts requires wisdom. The first step is to find out what’s really going on. That means talking to her. It means being humble. If she complains about something you’ve given her, listen first. Does she say she feels that the gifts you select ignore her interests? Do the things you’ve chosen, like, for example, an ice scraper, deny her femininity and her desire to have it nourished and appreciated?
Men who skip this step, who launch into trying to solve the problem without accessing it, make things worse. Just listen. As you do, remember two things: that your wife might have reasonable concerns and that your wife is capable of great selfishness. To discern between these will require your knowledge of her character across the board. If she is generally pleasant and good-natured, not inclined to complain, a rare complaint about a gift might be justified.
If, on the other hand, she is quarrelsome, ungrateful and difficult to be around, her complaints about gifts are probably just another expression of her general self-centeredness and misery.
How then to respond?
If you decide your wife’s complaint about your gift giving is legitimate, then change. If the peace in your home can be maintained without sacrificing an important principle, do it. Buy her perfume, no matter how much you really think she needs some jumper cables.
If you’re stumped, just ask her what kinds of things she’d like. Make it a long list, so she won’t know what you’re getting her. The best thing to do is to use the list as a guideline and buy her something similar, not something directly from the list. Let it be a surprise.
It may not be that simple. Instead of just believing you need some insight from her on what makes a nice gift, she could be resisting the principle of gratitude altogether. She may believe that by withholding gratitude and happiness, she’ll get more from you.
This is serious and must not stand. If you determine this is the case, you have to speak up. Tell her that you’ve put some thought into her gift and that you expect she will be grateful and not complain. Lay out the principle and why it matters plainly.
Her character is her responsibility.
Let her assume that responsibility.
If she continues to complain, you have a choice. You can give her another chance. Maybe she honestly didn’t get it. Or, you can move on to more drastic measures. If you find you are married to such a childish and narcissistic woman that your repeated declarations of your expectations have been dismissed, you’ll need to take a different approach.
Stop buying her gifts.
Let her go a Christmas with no presents. Forget a birthday or two. At that point, she will be faced with a choice. She must either grow up or accept that there will be no more gifts. Some people cling to their immaturity to the bitter end. In such a situation, your job is to get to the bitter end quickly.
This plan has the added benefit of revealing the truth about what she truly dislikes; whether what she dislikes is your gifts or whether what she dislikes is you. If it’s really the gifts, then eventually, she’ll come around. If it’s really you, then she’ll leave and, in going, raise the chances that all your coming Christmases will be that much merrier.
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