New Research: A big cause of marital distress is . . . Santa Claus.

That’s right dear reader, Santa Claus causes marital distress. Please back away from the ledge and take a deep breath. You will need it for what follows.

What is a common tradition for many children at Christmas time? They write to Santa for all the things they want. Or they sit on his lap in a shopping mall and tell him directly.

Then they wait for the big day.

“Whoopee – look what Santa brought me!” the kids say. “I just asked. And then there it was … a miracle. I didn’t have to do a darn thing except ask for it. Just by asking, I got a lot of what I wanted. I must be really special.”

Fast forward to a distressed couple in a therapist’s office. One partner, Terry, is describing a severe disappointment.

Let’s listen in on this dialogue.

Therapist: “So Terry what is it you really want?” (Sounds a lot like it’s Christmas time for Terry. A chance to tell Santa the big wish, even bigger than a pony.)

Terry: “I just want my partner to cherish, love, respect and accept me for who I am.”

Therapist. “Ok. But do you think you will be required to do anything to get what you long for? Or be different in any way?”

Terry: “No, not if my partner really loves me.”

Ah, dear reader, there it is. Tell Santa what you want and without any effort on your part, Santa delivers it.

“But wait!” you exclaim. “I don’t believe in Santa anymore.”

“Wanna bet?” Say I.

I can’t tell you how often in my office I hear, “I just want my partner to respect me, love me, and change A, B, or C for me.”

When I inquire about the efforts required to make it easier for the partner to be more loving, giving, sensitive, reliable, involved, communicative, etc., the typical response I get back is, “Why should I have to do X, Y, or Z? If my partner really loved me (like Santa Claus) they would not only do what I want, they would want to do what I want.”

So there it is.

Do you want your partner to be more giving, loving, communicative, appreciative, or sensitive? And does a part of you believe that you should not have to figure out how to be different in order to get more of what you want? Do you think you should not have to make efforts or take emotional risks to get more of what you want? If the answer is “yup” then you have just been hijacked by the Santa Syndrome.

This syndrome is what keeps a lot of therapists in business.

Let us know – is anyone brave enough to admit they have at least a wee bit of the Santa Syndrome? Share your thought below.

Oh, and Happy Holidays!

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Ginette Ayache, MA
Ginette Ayache, MA

Excellent1 So direct, funny and SMART!
Thank you.and best wishes for you and your family.
Ginette A


Great post! Thank you for keep sharing the wisdom gained in your practice in such a good and clear way. So here I am… a therapist and personal growth teacher and definitely ‘confessing’ I have the Santa Syndrome sometimes… It took years of attentive work on my earlier conditioning and still a lot of awareness to not feel disappointed when my partner ‘fails’ to guess my wishes and be super loving…it can go as deep as: Taking it as a sign of “real” love when he guesses without me asking, that is really expecting Santa to be clairvoyant as well 🙂

Peter Pearson, Ph.D.

Dr. Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader. Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple. Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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