Every year around this time, my wife becomes a different person — someone who is hard to be around and brings enormous stress into our home, along with a sense of doom and gloom. As the yamim tovim start becoming a reality — and this is usually about a month before they actually begin — her anxiety level starts rising tremendously.
First it starts with the timing of the holidays. The timing is never good; the holidays are either too early or too late. The days they fall on also seem to be a problem for her. This is accompanied by the typical exclamation of “How am I ever going to find the time to shop and do all the cooking?”
Then she starts talking about the expenses of the meals and all the extras involved. Next she starts complaining about needing new clothing or something along that line. Though we can afford it, she goes on and on about the fact that the supermarkets raise their prices and that it’s criminal to pay such amounts for food. She worries about all the families who live on a shoestring budget and wonders how they can afford the price of a piece of meat, not to mention everything else required of them.
The next subject matter she obsesses over is who to invite and whether we will receive any invitations. This has only become more complicated due to coronavirus restrictions: Should we invite her sister and her family for a meal, even though her children are so poorly behaved and they always break something in our home? Must we invite my parents again — and why is it that neither of my two brothers ever invites them for anything? Will any of our friends invite us for a meal? Should we invite friends over for any of the meals? Oh, right, we really don’t have any good friends that we feel close enough to spend a yom tov with.
And let’s not forget the seating arrangement for shul. That’s always a long discussion. Rarely does she actually get the requested seat. This year with outdoor seating, it’s even more complicated. Then there is the usual shul-bashing because she’s not “important enough” to get the best seats.
Every aspect of the holidays is a problem for her. She gets herself wound up into such a state that by the time Rosh Hashanah rolls along, she’s basically a wreck. I’m so tired of this roller-coaster ride with her. I try to be supportive and I listen to her constant complaints, but at this point, I can’t even remember the last time I was able to enjoy a holiday, because she turns the whole thing into such a dreaded nightmare.
As we approach the yamim tovim, is there any way I can help my wife put on a happy face and not only not dread it so thoroughly the way she always has, but actually help her remember why we celebrate these holidays and why she should relax and try to enjoy?
Dear Pulled Under,
If a woman just arrived from another planet and read your letter, she would have a hard time understanding what your wife’s problem is. But any woman who has been dealing with the holidays for her entire life should easily be able to understand your wife’s anxiety, though thankfully many women can manage the responsibilities associated with the yamim tovim better than she, and some are even able to focus on the meaning of our holidays and appreciate what is wonderful and beautiful about them.
Your wife is not alone in her stress level, concerns, and even dread. The yamim tovim include many parts that often bring up various issues that resurface at this time. They magnify family dynamics that may not be working successfully, fuel financial worries, incite feelings of belonging or not, and raise concerns about physically being able to pull it off, particularly for working women. There can be a sense of not being good enough, capable enough, resourceful enough, popular enough. Enough seems to be the operative word here.
Regarding your question of how you can help, I believe there are certain things you can do to perhaps help your wife feel less overwhelmed, but let’s face it — holidays are never going to be a day at the beach! You may already be doing some or all of the things I will suggest, but I will nevertheless run through them for you.
First of all, listen and validate. When she talks about feeling overwhelmed regarding all the planning and work, listen intently and let her know that you understand how difficult it must be for her and that you appreciate her concerns and her constant efforts. Just knowing that we are being heard does wonders in allowing us to feel appreciated and understood. And that’s priceless.
Secondly, and hopefully this is OK with you, tell your wife that you don’t expect gourmet meals around the clock. She doesn’t need to pull out her recipe book and cook everything she’s ever learned how to make. There’s nothing wrong with keeping the meals simpler. Who needs a bunch of side dishes, or multiple salads, at every meal? You don’t need time-consuming desserts either. Bakeries exist for a reason! See how and in what ways you can give her “permission” to tone things down significantly.
Plain and simple, ask her how you can help. Would she like you to do the grocery shopping? Are there errands you can take off her to-do list — cleaners, shoemaker, etc.? Can you give her a good massage at the end of the day? (Or treat her to one?)
If company—family or otherwise—is a constant source of aggravation and tension, reduce the number of meals that will include company. Frankly, you don’t have to socialize at all during this time due to social distancing guidelines.
If you can implement some or all of these suggestions, I believe it will reduce at least some of the anxiety that is always associated with the holidays for your wife and many other people as well. But let’s face it: it’s not easy and it will never be easy. Any way you cut it, there is shopping to be done, bills to pay, and cooking and cleaning to be dealt with. There are also long hours of intense davening that can feel draining for some people. And maybe some of us get so invested in all of the physical responsibilities because we need them to distract us from the powerful meaning behind Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and all that they represent for our upcoming year.
So do your best to be emotionally supportive and physically helpful, know that there will be ups and downs, and maybe even plan something special to look forward to after your sukkah is safely packed away. And remind yourself and your wife that this too shall pass. It always does!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.