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Carolyn Hax: Husband dislikes wife’s gift tradition

Wed., Dec. 15, 2010, midnight

Dear Carolyn: I am recently married and have a holiday dilemma: My wife just bought an expensive perfume, came home, placed the perfume in front of me and instructed me to wrap it up and put it under the tree for her on Christmas. I thought she was joking, but she was serious.

I am from a family that takes pleasure in trying to come up with gifts that bring surprise and joy. Her family members go out shopping together, tell each other what to buy for them, and then go through the checkout line together after carefully determining who will be responsible for paying for each other’s gift.

Please help me find a happy medium before I explode and say something that will offend her and my in-laws. – Desperately seeking Santa

It couldn’t be more obvious that you find your in-laws’ tradition repellent if you typed out “I find my in-laws’ tradition repellent.”

It’s not a spouse’s place to judge or change her – it’s to find the good in her. The family that produced her tradition also produced her – and whether your wife defines herself as a happy extension of this family or a survivor of it only because she learned from their mistakes, the result is one you found lovable.

So, figure out the lovable part of her that explains why she embraces this tradition. Her pragmatism, say, or her childlike contradictions. Her loyalty to family. Her gift for unwitting absurdist humor.

Once you can get/respect/grudgingly appreciate her family’s way of handling gifts, tell her you’ll play her way, but you’d also like to keep your way alive, too.

You can decide how you do that in a civil conversation made possible by your not going up in judgmental smoke.

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