By Heather, a loveisrespect advocate
Whether your birthday is coming up, your anniversary is right around the corner, or you’re super stoked for Valentine’s Day, getting your hopes up about a special occasion can sometimes lead to heartache. We hear from a lot of folks in the aftermath of Big Days, and many times, it’s not even that things went horribly wrong- it doesn’t take a car accident or food poisoning to ruin an occasion that we built up in our heads to be magical. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have hopes and dreams, but how you communicate those to your partner, and how you bounce back from the hiccups that interrupted an otherwise perfectly lovely day, are important. Let’s dive into what that might look like when a relationship is healthy, and how that changes when a relationship is unhealthy or abusive.
If you’re in a healthy relationship:
Those of you who’ve read our site before already know that a healthy relationship is based on trust, honesty, respect and equality. While we may sometimes wish our partners knew what we wanted without us having to tell them, special occasions are a great example of the need for open and honest communication in relationships. Your partner is not a mind reader, and sometimes a hint that seems obvious to you (like mentioning that your favorite band has a concert coming up near you soon) may not translate to your partner understanding what you want them to do. It’s also important to remember that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to gift-giving, as well as different levels of access to money- so it’s possible your partner picked up on the fact that you wanted to go to a concert for your birthday, but they cannot afford to buy tickets.
If birthdays are a big deal to you, that’s important to communicate to your partner. Similarly, if you are someone who hates Valentine’s Day, your partner should know that. Questions about birthdays, holidays, traditions, celebrations, and rituals are a great way to get to know someone when your relationship is just starting out, but even for partners who’ve been dating for a while- if your first anything together is coming up- it’s a good idea to ask your partner how they might want to celebrate. That doesn’t mean you have to ask your partner to plan their own surprise party, but you should definitely try to get an idea of whether or not friends and family jumping out and surprising them is their idea of a fun way to spend a birthday before you plan their party. Also, if you hate surprises but you think your partner might be planning you a surprise party, be honest with them, and give them a few ideas of other ways you’d rather spend your day.
So let’s say your partner did spring for the concert tickets you wanted, but you got a flat tire on the way to the show. Total bummer! Bumps and obstacles along the way are just a part of life, though, and the less you let the little things get to you, the more you can enjoy the moment when you taught your partner how to change a tire while rocking out to your favorite band. It’s totally okay to be annoyed that you missed the first few songs of the set, but you and your partner got to create a fun, unique memory together that will probably last a lifetime. If you’re still working on not sweating the small stuff in life, let alone in your relationship, try keeping a gratitude journal of at least one thing you feel really thankful for each day. Practicing grounding exercises and mindfulness, like meditation, can help a lot too!
If you’re in an unhealthy or abusive relationship:
Self-care strategies like meditation and grounding exercises can also be extremely helpful for survivors of abuse, especially in high-pressure situations like holidays, where the need to keep up appearances can feel even more intense. One of the worst things about our culture’s expectations and media portrayals of perfection around holidays/special occasions is how devastated survivors can be when their hope for one nice day with their partner doesn’t come true. Because abuse is about one person in a relationship controlling the other(s) and having power over them, there’s no reasoning or rationalizing with an abusive person. The heartbreaking reality is that someone who is choosing to behave abusively towards their partner probably won’t value the fact that it’s a special occasion.
Even though it’s totally normal to hope that your abusive partner will be sweet on your birthday, it may not happen. It is also worth noting that even if they are sweet that day, or week, that’s probably a tactic of their abuse. Survivors often share that their abusive partner seems like a great person in public, but when they’re alone, it’s a different story. That tactic is strategic; an abusive partner doesn’t want other people who care about you to know how they treat you, and if no one else can back up your understanding of what happened, it’s easier for them to blame you for their actions or gaslight you into thinking it never happened. Writing down- as soon as it’s safe to do so- what arguments were about, how they started, who said what, how things escalated, and how things calmed down can help you document what you’re experiencing and be a useful reminder that you’re not “crazy” or imagining things.
Its also important to consider that an abusive person’s desire for power and control often results in them getting angry if they do not have your full, undivided attention (like at your birthday, at a party or dance, even during a pregnancy). This may result in them choosing to escalate their abusive behaviors in an attempt to regain control of you and the situation. So, going back to that special event not turning out how you wished it would- being realistic with yourself about how your abusive partner is likely to behave can help take away some of the sting when your friends leave the party early because your partner is making them uncomfortable.
If you’re in an unhealthy or abusive relationship and you are worried that the special occasion you have coming up might be washed out by your partner’s bad attitude, or you’ve already had a special occasion ruined by abusive behaviors, we’re here for you. Our advocates are available 24/7 to help you understand the difference between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive behaviors. We can help you create a plan to keep yourself physically safe and emotionally well. Reach out to us via online chat at www.loveisrespect.org, text LOVEIS to 22522, or call our hotline (1-866-331-9474).