when passover leads to “it’s over”

In ALL, HOLIDAYS, MARRIAGE by Stephanie Klein141 Comments

matzo ball

It’s not that I don’t like Jewish food. I just tend to associate it with people who don’t know how to cook. They’re the types who put mini marshmallows on their Thanksgiving sweet potatoes and who eat cottage cheese mixed with macaroni. I can’t help but think of dining room wallpaper, phlegm cleared into a handkerchief, sun-spotted hands, and a crystal dish with mounds of chopped liver. Moth balls, gold-rimmed stemware, and a bathroom with a built-in, painted-closed, laundry bin.

Now that I’m a mother with a son who breaks into tears when he thinks someone else has asked his fourth question, Passover is becoming ours—something old that we can push into a new shape. It’s a world of suffering and tradition, of tights and temple—studded with matzo balls, ball jokes, and four glasses of wine.

Phil wanted to sprint through the Seder. No, wait, that’s totally unfair. What he wanted was no Seder at all. Whereas I wanted to leaf through the Haggadah page by page, prayer by prayer, in song, in English, and in Hebrew. Not the five-hour version, but the 45-minute adaptation. But each and every time I began to read a new section of our modern (think iPad), abbreviated, simplified, Haggadah, Phil would interrupt with a, “Yada, yada, yada. Okay, wonderful. Let’s move it along.”

And, man was I pissed. Like, plague pissed. Could you be any more disrespectful?

Had I said as much, he would’ve countered with his all-time favorite adjective: selfish. “Stop being so selfish and think of what other people want,” he’d say. And, there would be no winning. Nothing I could say. I’ve learned this much. I’ve also unfortunately learned to fight it out with myself, playing both sides of our conversations, anticipating his retorts. I can have heated arguments, complete with eye-rolls (another form of disrespect of which I’m dead-guilty), and he doesn’t even need to be here. It’s “Intuitive Knowing,” when you believe you know what the other person will say, without their uttering a syllable. Only it can extend beyond words and sentences into anticipated behaviors.

He bullied his way through the Seder, motioning with his hands for me to hurry up and get on with it. I had wanted to talk to the kids about the significance of Elijah, to learn things myself. I’d printed coloring pages of the plagues, and I had the crayons at the ready. But. But I didn’t even go there. I couldn’t get to the next page without a remark, so I wasn’t about to hand out sheets for coloring. And that’s my fault for letting him take over and bulldoze everything. Because what I should do is ignore him. Just because he’s aggressive doesn’t mean I simply throw up my hands. Throwing up your hands is absolutely 100% easier than putting up the fight for what you want. The “easier out” can also become all-out toxic.

Soon you’re left feeling like there’s no room for you in the marriage, that as much as he wants to please you, as much as he genuinely wants to make you happy, he has one fcuked up way of showing it. His way.

The problem is, on the surface, it’s a lovely Seder. People stay for dessert, we laugh and record video clips, repeating the cute things our children said earlier in the night. But when the company is gone and the table is cleared, I walk away feeling defeated and resentful. He’s utilitarian, wants things done efficiently, whereas I want to make memories, to find pleasure in the extra details (Yes, I delight in room-temperature butter for the spreading). He bulldozes through everything on his time, without patience, becoming short-tempered. And it ruins things for me. Because it becomes don’t do it if I can do it faster and better, but damn you for not offering to do it, or trying to do it, better or faster.

Still, I’d rather deal with the arguments and opinions and not getting my way than nothing at all, which surprises me. Why? Because I want my children to share in the Seder, to be a part of tradition. I felt like Lucas was closer to my Grandfather Sam. No longer with us, Grandpa, too, would have gone page by page through Seder and song. And there was Lucas, hanging on my every word. Looking at me from across the table, he was hungry for the stories and wanted to hear them. No one was going hungry. They were already eating matzoh.

“Everyone just wants to eat,” he said, as if I, too, weren’t hungry.

Did I tell Phil that I thought he was being disrespectful, then and there at the table? No. He’d only deny it and further prove my point. No one needs to witness that.

Yes, there were children wiggling in their seats. Tough, I thought. So, go ahead and wiggle. No one gets a lick of matzoh until we get to that blessing. You’ll wait, just as I did when I was your age. And, there it was: the showing of my age. “When I was your age,” is the kiss of the death, or at least the fast approach to it. Because when you go there, it means you’re getting old (at heart). Truly though, I don’t care. That’s the role I’m playing right now, teaching my children about their pasts, and sadly showing them a less-than-ideal future. Something else has to change, and it can’t just be me.

Yes, every single relationship is co-created and it takes two people. And yes, if one person changes, s/he can, in fact, change the dynamic, but eventually you’re beyond exhausted. It is then when you question everything, especially yourself.


  1. Read the post along with all the comments. I’m really sorry for both of you right now and I hope that you can find a way to make your marriage work TOGETHER.

    I make long, neurotic lists and then expect my husband to help me, except I’m critical of everything he does. And I have also been the person making the ‘hurry up’ hand gestures. And I roll my eyes. Husband sighs heavily and leaves passive-aggressive notes. We don’t fight in front of the kids, but have knockdown/dragouts later.

    Here’s the thing though – your personality didn’t shift, you have always been this way (at least as shown via the blog). Did his? Has he always been kinda dismissive of you? If he knew you were neurotic and you knew he was dismissive…how could the outcome be any different?

    Wish there was an easy answer for you both. Just remember that he loves you and remind him you love him.

  2. Hi Stephanie,

    Sorry to hear that your Seder evening left you with a bad taste in your mouth.

    I have to ask: did you discuss with Phil beforehand that you were going to be having a Seder ceremony at your dinner? Did he have any say in the matter?

    If not, that MIGHT explain his impatience and irritation, and in the future you might want to come to an agreement/compromise with him beforehand on how these types of gatherings are going to proceed.

    I hope you are able to work things out so that your relationship with Phil isn’t studded with hurt feelings, anger, resentment, etc on both sides.

  3. I’ve been a longtime reader of your blog for years and own both of your books, Stephanie, and this is the first time that I’ve felt the need to comment.

    I’ve been in relationships like this; he yelled, I yelled, nothing got done, and in the end we wore each other out. I- or anybody else- can’t tell you what to do here. All I can do is offer my heartfelt sympathy for this situation. I know what it’s like, it sucks, and nothing anybody says can make it any less sucky. There comes a point when its not about winning. It’s not even about being right. It’s about trying to get through the day. If you’ve reached that point, then something major needs to happen here, one way or the other.

    My fiance is Catholic. I’m not. I don’t know from feast days or mass, but I go and do these things because they’re important to him. I don’t need a better reason. If they’re traditions in his family, and if they’re important to him, then I have no room to sweep in and change them. There has to be a middle ground, and I think finding that middle ground is a process that takes time.

    I think the biggest thing that all the commenters (and you and Phil) seem to agree on is that watching this isn’t good for Lucas and Abby. Even if neither one of you felt that you deserved better than this, the twins certainly do. I have a dear friend whose little girl is on anti-anxiety medication because her parents argue so much. My fiance and I took her to the movies, and I tripped and fell, spilling the popcorn and soda we’d bought all over the floor. I was fine and my fiance helped me up- he made sure I was all right and told us to go find a seat. He came back with replacements.

    That little girl looked up at me with a huge pair of eyes and said, “My daddy gets mad when mommy spills things. He calls her stupid.”

    She then happily settled back in her seat to watch the movie. My fiance and I were absolutely flabbergasted. She’s only six, she says stuff like that all the time, and that keeps me up at night. What bothers me more than anything else is that she says it very matter-of-factly. She thinks it’s normal to have parents who yell at each other, and it confuses her because my fiance and I don’t. I try to take her to do things with me all the time, mostly to get her out of that house. I love my friend, but that environment is toxic for her daughter and everyone knows it. My friend and her husband won’t leave each other because… well, who knows.

    When it comes down to it, we’re not in any position to judge you, Phil, or your life choices, no matter how invested in them your wonderful writing has made us. We’ve “watched” the beans grow up, and that makes us feel qualified to give advice when we’re really not. All I can say, though, is that as much as I honor and respect your willingness to stick to your commitments, I don’t want to think that Lucas or Abby will look up at one of your friends someday and say what my friend’s daughter did to me.

    Something’s got to give— and I hope and pray that it’s not your marriage or your sanity.

  4. I’m in exactly the same situation right now. At first I just got mad at him for treating me badly. Now I”m just angry and confused with/about myself for tolerating it. I deserve so much more, and so do you Stephanie.

  5. I really hope the two of you aren’t doing this for blog hits and drama.

    The person who said they saw you kissing at Whole Foods certainly made me think you’re just amping up the drama for your readers because things have gotten stale here of late.

    I get it that you are a storyteller and maybe you’re trying to craft a narrative/cliffhanger about Phil going to Florida and “will you or won’t you” join him.

    That said, if I’m wrong in my suspicions here and should take what you’re both posting at face value, I suggest that the two of you take some time apart with a therapist/counselor and find out what is making the 2 of you so unhappy with yourselves individually.

    The kind of behaviors and mood swings you guys are describing suggest to me that you are both quite unfulfilled despite checking off all the little checklist things you’ve accomplished.

    Stephanie probably thought she’d have a series on the air right now, a movie in a theater and would be known throughout Hollywood as the next Nora Epron; there’s nothing wrong with that, but I hope chasing that and the time it takes to achieve those kind of goals aren’t depressing her. That kind of success is a lottery ticket lifestyle.

    As for Phil, maybe he thought being able to take care of his family financially allowed him to be more of the boss in the house. That said, his posting in the comments has done nothing to make him look good here. There are two sides to every story, but his choice of words around his wife are pretty awful.

    Not to mention the two of you work from home now so there is zero separation of work and home life which is a major problem. No wonder you fight as much as you do.

    I’m not going to suggest divorce, but I do think the two of you have a lot of work to do individually as well as together.

    I wish you guys luck.

    1. This is just what I thought upon reading the post:

      “I really hope the two of you aren’t doing this for blog hits and drama.

      The person who said they saw you kissing at Whole Foods certainly made me think you’re just amping up the drama for your readers because things have gotten stale here of late.”

      Over 100 comments – it’s been a while, huh??

      Understandably, readers can’t relate much to your weighty concerns about getting white marble floors in your rented McMansion, or the significance of putting together the perfect, elaborately themed birthday party for the kids.

      1. Author

        Comments are nice. It’s always nice to hear from readers, even when they go and accuse me of attention-whoring. I only wish that were the case. It’s not. And, you’re right, not everyone is going to relate to everything I write. And I’m okay with that. I don’t post what I do due to demand. I post things as I live them, whether or not they make me come across as a superficial weight-obsessed J.Crew lovin’ and hatin’ braggart.

    2. Author

      Uh, no. I can’t believe how cynical, skeptical people can be. Well, I guess I can, but, no, everything here is really the way it is. The kiss in Whole Foods was Phil leaning over and planting one on me to express his feelings. I wasn’t able to return the sentiments, as I’m still unsettled by all of this.

      1. Stephanie – Thank you for clearing that up. I’m sorry I suggested this was manufactured in the first place. I feel bad about doing that now.

        That said, I hope you take care of yourself and your feelings here. I know you have a family and a career here to juggle, but being spoken to like you’re nothing is not okay. Especially, by someone who loves you.

        It makes me think of my neighbor across the street who has a sweet dog that he constantly hits and curses at in public. I called the authorities on him and he was warned to stop it (they let him keep the animal). Of course he realized it was me and he came over while I was unpacking my car to confront me and let me know that he loved his dog and couldn’t live without it and it was the only thing in this fucked up world that made him happy.

        I let him know that hitting and cursing at the top of your lungs at something you love is not normal and not okay. But there are people in this world who have demons inside that cause them to abuse the one’s they love whether it be verbal, emotional or physical.

        Thank God nothing physical has happened with you. I know you wouldn’t stand for that shit.

        The emotional and verbal barbs are not okay. If you love someone, you learn to think fast and talk slow.

        I suggest to Phil he write that down and put it in his office and look at it every day until it sinks in. Before calling your wife a Psycho in front of her children and family, take a fucking breath and hold your tongue.

  6. I’m not offering advice or weighing in other than to just let you know you’ve been on my mind today. If any two people have the grit and determination to make things right, I believe based on what I’ve read here over the years that it is you and Phil.

    Sending you both good vibes.

  7. I haven’t posted in ages and I actually rarely read your blog anymore. I happened to catch this post because I always love reading about how you celebrate the holidays. I love how excited you get, how you include the Beans in it all and just how you want it to be special for everyone involved. You have a great talent and I love reading about it all. I often am so touched I get teary seeing your photos of The Beans.

    I actually stopped reading regularly because I couldn’t stand to read about your troubles with Phil. It became a little too much information and I was feeling guilty for knowing about it all. I also was having a hard time really believing it all. How could you be in this marriage with all that you have been through before it? Sorry to say something just doesn’t add up. After reading Phil’s entries it makes me wonder even more why you are “married to it” STILL. I am with the other concerned reader and I feel bad for saying it but I think you are doing this to keep the readers in suspense. I hope it isn’t true but kissing your husband in public at the grocery store not even a week after being so badly treated. I can’t believe it. Sorry!
    Also, I am with one of the other readers that mentioned why on earth would Phill have you do a marketing piece for him ever? Doesn’t he have people that could do this for him and why for such a successful business man did he wait until the last minute to do this?
    Sorry Stephanie, this all does not add up to me. But if I am wrong and I do hope I am I still have to question why are you still “married to it”. Life is too short to be so miserable.

  8. “I appreciate the comments. I always wondered how a Doctor could go on TV and diagnose someone based on an interview they gave. Not knowing them or their specifics. Now even more astounding is how many people believe they can do the same based on a blog post with no context and a few comments. I posted in the comment section because I thought it would give some other perspective. I felt it was fine for anyone to opine as a fertile discussion is constructive.”

    Obviously you didn’t think it was fine because you’re now insulting the people who commented. What did you think would happen? I try to see things from other people’s point of view but I don’t understand where ytou’re coming from here. Maybe keep this stuff private from now on? I think I might be done reading this blog. I’m really dismayed at this whole thing. I’m referring here to the fact that all of this is being aired publicly. I have no comment on your marriage as I totally agree that you can’t pass judgement on someone else’s relationship based on a few blog posts.

  9. I’ve been married for 13 years. I was 22 when I got married. Things get stressful, you start missing each other due to schedules. Anger, boredom, fear, whatever builds. You go through rough patches, you demonize one another, you feel like you can’t take it anymore and then something happens that galvanizes you and your marriage.

    All I’m saying is that no marriage is silky smooth and not every argument leads to divorce. People can be real assholes sometimes, but it’s not necessarily a permanent part of their personality.

    You’ll get through this. You’ve gone through worse.

  10. Hi—the first Alexandra here (*not* the one who suspects you of creating a suspenseful narrative of your troubles for blog hits- ugh!). Just to say, the community of commenters and feedback here is amazing. Support, critique, devil’s advocates, challenges, sympathy, cynicism, Team Stephanie, Team Phil and sharing of more personal stories. It’s beautiful in its way, a snapshot of who’s out there, and how differently we can see things. Also it seems to skew toward caring. (Unless there’s piles of trolls moderated out!)

    Phil mentioned the hope for insight from the comments and I hope he is getting some… and that it creates that shift and self-awareness in him that you are longing for, Stephanie. I truly do hope that for you and your family.

    I grew up with a dad who felt similarly justified in his damaging behaviours. I was with men who treated me like this. It took me til my mid 30’s to get it out of my system. And eventually, thank God, and a ton of therapy, married a man who, when we have a problem, tells me he wants to understand where I’m coming from and work with me to make things better. Who I know is setting an example for our daughter about the respect and kindnesses big and small a husband offers a wife. I wish this feeling of security in your partnership for you.

    Even though I share the tricky parts of my life and marriage with just a few close friends, I think there is value and courage in putting it out there. So thank you.

  11. Wow….Sometimes when we are in pain and it feels so big that it is going to burst out we share it with people we shouldn’t. Stephanie is a person with big feelings and there is nothing wrong with that. She also has a great deal of energy and gets more things done in a day than anybody I know. She could not make Phil understand how she is unhappy and he won’t go to therapy. This is a better place to get the feelings out than the local bar or an affair. She doesn’t take the anger and sadness out on the children. I don’t think that Stephanie posts these things at timely intervals to get more readers. The emotions feel too real to me. Almost two years later after I left my husband I am thankful everyday I don’t have to live with him. I started dating a man six months ago who is wonderful and who thinks that : I am beautiful, smart, sexy, kind, funny etc etc and would do anything in the world for me. I am in shock. I still have to deal with the father of my child and play games so that he isn’t pissy about birthdays and other events. However, now that I don’t have to live with him I can see that the games are only useful because my son gets two parents that are doing the best for him. I no longer feel like I am losing my mind from a man that said he loved me but treated me like absolute crap.

    I also think that Phil might need to look at meds. I didn’t realize that me being really stressed out at work was a symptom of my anxiety and depression I have had my whole life. I got my vitamin d tested, found out it was low, and now take 4,000 milligrams. I also started taking Welbutrin(spelling?) on the advice of a friend. I feel a million times better. I am not angry all the time over things not going my way. I didn’t take it out on people, I just took it out on myself. I really hope that Phil does explore things like medication and vitamin D. I think that my whole life would have been far, far more enjoyable had I had this medication. I may have enjoyed college, graduate school, and my early career more if I had not been so tense and anxious the whole time.
    I think of you both and hope that everything gets better for your family.

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