Once I had worked through my issues around my daughter’s birthday and was ready to celebrate again, I found out that there were other reasons that I hadn’t been celebrating my birthday, reasons that were almost as painful. What I rediscovered was that my now ex-husband doesn’t want to celebrate holidays, especially birthdays. He says that birthdays aren’t important to him, so he doesn’t do them. Even though they were very important to me, he wasn’t willing to budge on this one.
I talked to many therapists about this issue and about how hurt I was by my husband’s refusal to celebrate my birthdays in the way I wanted to celebrate. I’m not a person who needs or wants glamorous gifts. I don’t even need a store-bought card. I just need those around me to acknowledge that I am special and that they appreciate having me in their lives in whatever way they can. However, my ex-husband was so against birthdays that he couldn’t even do that. Unfortunately, most of the therapists I saw during that part of my life gave me very poor advice: they placed the blame on me, not my ex-husband, and said that the problem was mine alone, not his. They told me that he had made his position clear, and that I only had one option, to accept that he would never be willing to celebrate my birthdays with me. This only compounded my insecurities and made me feel like there was something wrong with me for wanting my partner to celebrate my birthday in some way.
Not surprisingly, I could not accept my ex-husband’s position of being unwilling to even say happy birthday to me most years. I felt as though I was being completely reasonable in wanting a partner who was willing to make that small amount of effort to show me he loved me. I also did have a choice, but it wasn’t one that my previous therapists presented to me: I could leave the marriage to find someone else who was willing to celebrate me as I want, need and deserve. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me wanting to get my needs met. I understand that the therapists were trying to teach me that we can’t change others: we can only control our own behavior. However, in trying to teach me that lesson, they missed the forest for the trees. There was a very fundamental problem in my marriage that went much deeper than the issue of birthdays.
Participating in marriage therapy with a really amazing therapist and reading books like The 5 Love Languages helped me recognize that in a healthy relationship, partners do things that they don’t always enjoy, but they do it because it gives pleasure to their partners whom they love. I certainly acted this way in my half of the marriage, doing things I didn’t really enjoy on a regular basis because I knew they would make my then-husband happy. I even asked the marriage therapist at one point, “Why is it that I always do things to make him happy but he’s not willing to do the same in return?” For the first time in my life, the therapist gave a great response: “That’s a really good question!” The answer that he eventually helped me to discover was that when both partners aren’t able to meet each others’ basic needs from a romantic partner, it’s not a good relationship, no matter how much they love each other. In this situation and many others, my ex-husband and I were not well-matched, and divorce was the healthiest option for us based on our circumstances.
Now that the marriage has ended, my ex-husband still is unable to say happy birthday or happy mother’s day to me. I can accept it now, though I still wish it was different. I recognize that he has emotional issues of unknown origin from his past that interfere with his ability to celebrate both himself and others. While it certainly is his choice, it’s not my choice for how I want to live my life. There is too much joy to be shared in this world, and I’m grateful that I am now in a place that I can embrace that joy with those who love me and celebrate me on my birthday and on other days, too.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC