Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dismaying Story #43: The Not So Handyman

Dear Andrew,

My husband and I have been married for six years and our house is a mess. From the outside it looks like we are always in the midst of a yard sale. Many repairs are needed but nothing gets done unless I roll up my sleeves and do it myself.

My husband says all the right things when I go to him with my problems. He agrees to comply with my requests. He agrees to clean up his messes and give me my own set of tools (like I used to have before he took over). He agrees to stop spending money on foolish things and instead put the money in house repairs and badly needed upgrades. He agrees to a lot of things.

His job is seasonal, so he promises that when winter comes he will get projects done around the house. Instead, he spends money (that was supposed to help us make it through the winter) on eBay for his expensive hobbies. Three winters in a row he has done this. He lied to me about the spending, finally confessed, and then continued to do it. No projects were ever done.

Then he will say, "When summer comes and the days are longer, I will get the projects done." In other words, they will never get done.

This has been going on for our entire marriage. I noticed early on that he didn't pitch in and help me with projects like painting or yard work. Yet, I helped him with things that are typically considered man's work. I assumed we were a partnership and we would help each other. In fact, he never even gave me a word of appreciation.

All the while his demeanor is so sweet and kind. His voice is always sounds caring. He portrays to the world the image he wants them to believe.

So, when he does not follow through on what he says he is going to do and I approach him about it, he lies, pouts, or leaves.

Finally, I got an answer from him as to why he is that way. He said, "I don't want to do things on your timetable." In my opinion, he resents me and is taking out his anger by NOT doing anything. He won't confront me because that might make him look like the "bad guy." It is so confusing because, as I said, he says the right things and he appears outwardly to be caring. He hugs me and tells me he loves me but his actions say otherwise. (By the way, he does not demand anything of me. He couldn't care less if I do any housework. He doesn't even eat dinner with me. He eats a bag of popcorn or candy. So I feel that I have no value in his eyes).

I thought we were making progress in counseling, but then he decided he wanted a motorcycle. That would be fine if the clutter was gone and we had the money, but none of that is true. I became so angry that I cut up the carpet, which was badly in need of replacement anyway. The next weekend, I painted the living room, bathroom and bedroom -- no easy task. When my husband came home I told him I was able to move all the furniture, but was not able to move the bed back in place. He said, "That's ok." That's ok? I wasn't asking for forgiveness or approval. I would have liked him to say: "Wow, I can't believe you moved the furniture in the first place. And the paint job looks great! Thanks for getting that done for us. I know it wasn't easy." Just half of that would have made my day.

He doesn't get it from my point of view, which leaves me with anger issues toward him. Sometimes I feel like the marriage is probably over. Can you tell me what is wrong with this guy?

Signed, Feeling Useless and Ignored

Dear Definitely Useful,

I would have to talk with your husband to get the full picture. I can draw a few conclusions, though, based on the following facts from your story:
  • Your husband is willing to live in a mess, while you are not.
  • He is aware of your needs and yet he does not step up and take care of them, despite promising to do so.
  • He does a poor job of making you feel valued and loved.
  • You exhibit considerable anger toward him.
All of this is so problematic that the two of you are in counseling, which sounds appropriate for your situation. When angry emotions make it difficult to make progress by yourselves, it can be good to have an independent third party to help smooth the way.

I suspect several factors are at work. The first is what I would refer to as a maturity issue with your husband. When we are young we often are free to dedicate much of our time and energies to playing with hobbies. As life progresses, however, we must learn to balance these activities with adult responsibilities. Your husband consistently chooses to have fun without taking care of business first. Money and household repairs are obviously large issues for the two of you, yet he plays the winter away without first addressing either of these problems. He could help your situation tremendously if he learned about "work before play."

He sounds as if he is able to do the household projects. He has the tools, is able to hold down a seasonal job, and shows enthusiasm and energy when it comes to his hobbies. The question, then, is why he doesn't want to take care of the house repairs. Part of it might be simple laziness but I don't think that is the answer. Like I said, he shows plenty of energy for the activities that interest him.

I suspect you came very close to answering your own question when you suggested that he harbors resentment. The incident with the carpet shows that you sometimes express your anger in demonstrative ways. I'm guessing he has probably heard plenty of loud and angry words from you. He, on the other hand, has difficulty expressing himself freely and truthfully. He bottles up his feelings and says mostly nice things, even though it is clear there are issues between you. The two of you have considerably different personalities when it comes to resolving conflict, and you have yet to find a way to make these different approaches work together effectively.

I get the sense you feel like you have little control over the relationship. He "inherited" all the tools, which wasn't by your choice. The projects didn't get done, though you would like that to happen. Money is spent in ways you would not choose. You feel powerless.

The first thing I would like you to come to grips with is that you have considerably more control than you realize. You are half of the relationship. He acts, you react, then he reacts to what you just did. In other words, you have just influenced his actions. Unfortunately you don't seem to be influencing his actions effectively, in directions that would strengthen your marriage.

For instance, you express plenty of anger and frustration. What has that bought you so far? Does it elicit the behavior from him that you want? Obviously not. Instead you get a passive aggressive response where he says all the right words but doesn't follow through.

So it's time to put on your thinking cap. What actions on your part might encourage him to respond differently? For example, what if you calmly suggested making an action plan to take care of a specific household project? Pick a task that is obviously doable, pick a date or timeframe when you know he is available, and ask him if he thinks that would work.

Based on your history, I understand how you might feel you are way beyond asking. You might feel that demanding is more appropriate at this late stage, that he has not earned anything better. Asking is almost certainly the only way, though, to get the result you want. You need to empower him, to make him feel valued, like you think he is competent. You need to stroke his male ego. Let him know that despite all that has gone on, you still have confidence that he can do a good job on these projects. If you give him a demand, he will resist as a way of retaining his place in the household pecking order. Instead, ask his opinion. "What do you think dear? Which day would be better for you, Wednesday or Saturday?" Then, when he suggests next Tuesday, give him some enthusiasm. "Sure, that would be great!"

Find ways to "catch him being good" so you can heap praise on him. Show him how much you appreciate his efforts. He must do something around the house, like taking out the garbage. Start the process of change by reacting positively to his efforts. Do more than just say "I appreciate that." Give him a smile, a hug, a bottle of beer -- whatever will make him feel good in some tangible way. In cases like this, actions speak louder than words. (You already know this; his supportive words have meant little compared to his unsupportive actions. Don't make the same mistake in the other direction.)

"Wait a minute," I can hear you saying. "You mean after all he has put me through, I'm supposed to be nice to him? How is that even remotely fair? Why should I have to be the one to fix this? He's the one who wouldn't do the projects. He's the one who lied to me. He should be the one to change, not me."

Sure, that is the result you want. The problem, though, is that you can't control his actions. You do, however, have complete control over your own actions and can use that to influence him. In every problematic relationship, someone has to be the one to step up first. Someone has to say, "This isn't about who is right and wrong anymore. I just want things to change, so I'll start by changing my own behavior."

More than that, you need to accept responsibility for your role in creating the mess you are in. He has been reacting to you. You chose your own behavior, so in a sense you chose his reactions as a consequence. If you accept this as a problem with "us" instead of simply a problem with "him" then you will be closer to the positive mindset you need to work toward a more effective solution.

This might sound like a knock on you but it really isn't. You are in a tough situation and have reacted in an understandable way. Don't give yourself a hard time over what you may or may not have done in the past. Instead, take this as an empowering message -- there is something you can do.

I feel like this discussion addresses only one dimension of your complex situation, but it is a critical aspect of your relationship. He obviously doesn't react well to anger and criticism. If you can recognize that, I suspect you will be closer to identifying and using more effective motivators for his personality type. Hopefully that will open the door for him to reciprocate and to start making you feel valued as well. Kindness and supportiveness tend to be contagious. By showing appreciation toward him, you may find the same thing starts to happen in the opposite direction.

All the best and good luck,

If you haven't already done so, don't forget to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite response on Saturday with a link to the winner's blog.

Also, if there is anything you would like to know about me or this site, now is your chance. Your interview questions are needed so I can be interviewed online. You can find the details here.
Read More ->>

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Retailers Flummoxed Nationwide

Retailers across the nation are scratching their heads in wonderment today in response to a run on plus-size aprons. Most stores have sold out and huge crowds of frustrated customers are reported in several locations.

"It's the most bizarre thing I've ever seen," one Wal-Mart manager said, shouting to make himself heard above the din of angry people. "All of a sudden every guy in town wants an apron and their wives seem just as anxious for them to buy one. And all the men have this odd look of desperation on their faces."

The unexpected demand has retail analysts scrambling for an explanation. So far the theories include the obvious need to make lunches for school, or possibly the late summer handyman projects where men prepare their homes for fall and winter.

Perhaps the most persuasive theory, though, was advanced by a bemused group of women standing outside a local shopping mall and watching the ruckus.

"There is nothing more appealing than a man willing to put on an apron for the sake of a woman's happiness," Mother Jones RN said. "When my husband's in the kitchen, he's the sexiest man alive."

Other bystanders chimed in with similar opinions. "My husband has figured out that if he helps his wife out around the home," Karmyn R said, "she is more likely to have sex with him instead of being 'too tired and stressed out!' "

This left Julie Julie Bo Boolie and Jellyhead nodding in agreement. "There is nothing sexier," Julie said, "than a man loading the dishwasher, washing the floor or bathing and putting his children to bed. I mean absolutely nothing!"

JBWriterGirl went so far as to put it this way: "One afternoon my husband offered to take over a refinishing job I was doing. He strained and groaned and I saw muscles I'd never even realized he had. Was I horny? You betcha."

Conclusive evidence for this "Foreplay by Dishwashing" theory showed up minutes later when two burly men in one store struggled over the lone remaining apron and ended up tearing it into two pieces. "Now you've done it," one of them shouted as he waved his half in the other man's face. "How am I supposed to look sexy in this?"


Dear Faithful Readers,

Your comments a couple of days ago were simply too juicy to pass up! Thanks to everyone for all the input, and to JBWriterGirl, whose The Not So News/JBLA site inspired the format.

Coming up tomorrow: Dismaying Story #43: The Not So Handyman. This is the story of a woman who has trouble getting her husband to pitch in with handyman projects around the house, the ones that guys traditionally look after. I'll examine some of the underlying causes of their conflict, including how issues like this are often not as one-sided as you might think.

See you then!
Read More ->>

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dismaying Story #42: When an Age Gap Doesn't Work

Dear Andrew,

I am a child of divorce. I divorced myself after 3 years of marriage and two children. I am now 34 and I have pretty much not had a healthy successful relationship in say, oh, NEVER. I feel lonely a lot and even though my life is very full with my kids who are active in school and community activities I have felt something missing in my life for quite some time. I am a very attractive lady and have been on MANY dates with many nice men. But I have yet to find someone that I want to spend forever with. I recently started seeing a man I met at work and I have fallen very hard for him. I can’t stop thinking about him and I want to spend every moment with him. I am good at keeping it in check around him and I don’t think he realizes how I feel. Here is the problem. He is 20 years old. Logically I realize this can never go anywhere and I am just trying to ride out the storm. I want to know why this happened to me. Why couldn’t I have these feelings with someone my age that I could possibly have a future with? I am SO confused. I think about him all the time and I STILL feel lonely ALL the time. HELP!!

Sincerely, Lonely Old Lady

Dear Lonely,

First of all, you are far from old. I suspect many readers of this site would dearly love to return to thirty-four. I know that's unlikely to help you, though. You FEEL like life is passing you by. You very much want to share life with someone special and the best you seem able to manage is to yearn for a much younger man. I can understand the feeling but nonetheless it must be said -- you are still an attractive woman with a long road ahead of you.

Can relationships possibly work with such an age difference? Certainly. We even have a common term for them, the May-December romance. In your case it's more like March-June, though. One of the most well-known relationships of this type is the 2005 marriage of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, who at the time were 42 and 27, respectively. There is even an online dating service for people seeking age gap relationships, which is now apparently the more politically correct term.

Most people tend to be uncomfortable with such age gaps, however, and your letter makes it clear this is the case with you. Technically speaking you are old enough to be his mother. You realize many people would look askance at this relationship and the young man is also unlikely to see much of a future in it. More than that, you have not consistently sought out age gap relationships in the past. This is an anomaly for you. You didn't ask: "How can I make this work?" Instead you asked: "I am in yet another dysfunctional relationship and would like to know why."

As always, I cannot come to a definitive conclusion based solely on a letter. I can, however, make a few educated assumptions and hopefully point you in the most likely direction.

One term keeps popping into my head as I review your letter: fear of failure, where "fear" is the most salient word. You have experienced several failed relationships, including your parents, your marriage and a string of dating attempts. I suspect you have an extremely low opinion of your ability to make a relationship work. You have become conditioned to expect relationships to fail, especially those involving you.

After a while this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you begin dating someone you ask yourself if he could be the one. Is it worth going for it? Should you roll the dice and really try to make this one work? The answer is tied up in whether you think this relationship has a good chance of succeeding. After all, who wants to invest all that time and effort if the result is likely to be failure and pain? Unfortunately you believe failure is likely for virtually every guy you meet because every such relationship involves one fatal flaw -- you. That scared part of your inner self huddles in the corner of your mind, shaking with fear because of the relationship trauma you have suffered in the past. You keep waiting for that perfect guy to show up, the one where the fit is so incredibly right that this relationship MUST succeed, regardless of your ineptness.

You never meet that guy, though, because he doesn't exist. Every potential partner is human and therefore imperfect. Every relationship involves compromise and adjustment to make it work, all the skills you are convinced you will never possess. Meanwhile the elevator music playing in the back of your mind is a constant litany of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and "Breaking Up is Hard to Do." I suspect this has a lot to do with why you have dated many nice men but have never decided to attempt a serious relationship with any of them.

Your co-worker is different. For some reason he doesn't threaten you the way the others did. I can't be certain of why, but I have to wonder if the unworkable nature of this relationship is also a large part of its appeal. You don't have to worry that you will be the reason for this one failing. It is already pre-destined to fail because of factors that have nothing to do with your perceived inadequacies. If (strike that -- when) this one goes down the tubes, your traumatized inner self reasons, it will not be yet another knock on your self-esteem. This one will not be your fault. It's because of your ages. So ... no pressure. Enjoy the ride for a while. Unfortunately, regardless of the reasons, you can see where you are going to end up and you don't like the view.

Your fears pose extra challenges for you in any relationship. If you become involved with a guy, you look constantly for signs that the dam is about to burst. Any turmoil may be interpreted as affirmation of your fear. "See? There we go again, failing. I better bail before things become too awful." Again, you create exactly that which you fear.

A more secure person often reacts to relationship turmoil differently. "This sucks. I know I can make everything all right again, now I just have to figure out how." For this reason, a confident person can have a better chance of sticking with a relationship for the long term.

I suggest the first step in making any relationship work is to heal yourself. You need to work past the effects of all that negative conditioning. Ideally you would like to develop positive expectations about your ability to succeed. This is a steep hill to climb alone. You may want to consider seeing a professional who can help you work through your fear. Behavioral psychologists are often qualified to help with this sort of issue, and may also be a source of help for learning confidence-boosting relationship management skills such as effective communication, conflict management and cooperative negotiation. A wide variety of self-help books are also available on these topics.

I suspect you will be in a much better position to assess potential partners once you develop more confidence in yourself. It will be like looking in the display case at the pastry shop: "Yum! I know I can handle that!"

All the best,

If you haven't already done so, don't forget to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite response next weekend with a link to the winner's blog. Also, if there is anything you would like to know about me or this site, now is your chance. Your interview questions are needed so I can be interviewed online. You can find the details here.
Read More ->>

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dismaying Story #41: Traditional Work Sharing - Does It Work?

Dear Andrew,

I am a proud husband and father of one great 18 month old baby. My wife has been a stay at home mom for almost two years. My wife does a great job with our son. My problem is that I get upset when the house isn't clean, laundry isn't done, or when there are dirty dishes etc. everywhere.

Before we were married, we discussed our wishes of having her home to be with the kids.

I was raised with a working mom who always had a spotless house.

Should I expect my wife to do all of the housework? Please help me understand what you would consider to be correct expectations.

Signed, Husband Who Doesn't Help Around the House

Dear Husband,

Sure, you can let your wife do all the housework, especially if you would like her to be overstressed, overworked, more crabby than she needs to be, less able to cope with your baby's needs, more likely to be depressed and have high blood pressure, and less likely to find you sexually appealing. Hey, if that's what you're aiming for, then by all means camp out on that couch while she works away.

Regular readers of this site will be aware of a continuing series of articles I have been running, which I refer to as The Hunt for the Vacuum Cleaner Gene. The most recent installment in that series, entitled The "It's Only A Little Work" Excuse, discusses how research shows inequitable work sharing arrangements have negative consequences not only for the couple, but also for their children. I suggest Husband should read that article.

Today's question is not part of that series but it very well could be, because it raises a very relevant issue. Many of us learned how spouses "should" interact by watching our parents. In this case you say your mother always kept a spotless house and now you expect your wife to do the same. Girls are commonly raised to have the same expectations for themselves, although your wife may not feel that way -- there must be some reason you wrote to me.

My experience has been that working fathers can sometimes have a skewed perception of the workload their stay-at-home wife faces. Dealing with a baby is a full-time job during the day. The child needs bathing, changing, feeding, entertaining (LOTS of entertaining), walking, soothing. Then there are all the tasks she must do to support those activities, like running out to buy diapers or formula, preparing bottles and food, preparing and cleaning up after the bath, laundry, and so on. It is no secret that the amount of housework explodes when little ones arrive.

That lunch hour you got? And the leisurely ten minutes you spent talking to a co-worker by the water cooler? She doesn't get those types of breaks. Instead, she gets the mind-numbing stress of rarely having an adult conversation anymore. She faces a never-ending stream of tasks she must perform, many of which could be categorized as drudgery.

Now back up and realize that her job didn't begin at the same time you arrived at the office. She was probably up a few times in the night and your baby required care from the moment your wife got out of bed in the morning. To catch up on that lost sleep (and to have the energy required for the evening and the next night) most moms truly need to nap during the day when the baby naps. There is just no other way to fit in a decent amount of rest during a 24-hour period.

Your expectation, however, is that she should forego this need. Instead, during those times when the baby does not demand immediate attention, she should make sure ALL the housework gets done up so you can walk into a spotless house when you come home from work.

To me, that is clearly an unfair expectation. In many cases it is the wife who has had the harder workday, not only physically but also emotionally. Don't believe me? Try switching places with her for a week. You'll soon understand.

When you arrive home from work, you and your wife have both just put in a full workday. The two of you are "Even Steven" in terms of your work contribution so far for that day. There is still plenty of work, however, that must be done. Your child still must be cared for until bedtime. The house (which you both sleep in, make dirty, etc.) is still in use and must be maintained for the rest of the day. You both could use a change of pace by that point in the day. You get yours automatically because you leave the office and come home. The only way she gets a change of pace is if you help to provide it.

A "fair" model is to share the workload equally from that point forward in the day. That means she does whatever housework she can through the day, but there will inevitably be more to do while you are around. How is it fair that you should work 8 hours a day and she should work 16 or more? Roll up your sleeves and take care of life together in the evening, then maybe BOTH of you can have a bit of leisure time to enjoy. Sometimes that might be alone time (which is important) and this can also allow the two of you to spend some time as a couple. What a concept -- having some time to strengthen your marriage, even after you have children. I highly recommend it and sharing the housework makes it easier to accomplish.

You are correct in thinking that this model of fairness was not typical in your mother's day, although you might be surprised to learn how many households worked this way even back then -- not as many as today but still a significant number. In my view, however, not all social norms should be automatically carried forward to new generations, and this is a good example. There is growing awareness that the traditional model for domestic work sharing is inequitable, and studies show this model is becoming less common as the years go on.

I urge you to consider becoming part of this trend. You might even find that doing the dishes proves to be a highly effective form of foreplay.

All the best,

Do you have a relationship issue in your household? I would welcome your email or any comment you wish to enter using the link below.
Read More ->>

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dismaying Story #40: When the Past Won't Let Go

Dear Andrew,

I met my boyfriend when he had just broken up with his former girlfriend. I was suspicious he was only interested in me because he was on the rebound but he insisted on a date. I liked him too much to say no, although somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this was going to be trouble.

I was right. On our first date he talked about her for two hours. He said he wanted to explain that it was a wrong relationship that shouldn't have happened. He didn't like her anymore and the whole thing was in the past. That didn't stop him from talking about her for two hours. I wanted to stop him but I figured he needed to vent. He told me way too much about their relationship, things that I would rather not know and that I can't compete with.

After that we got along great, we had a lot in common, lots of chemistry, lots of attraction ... and then she called. She said she wanted him back. He spent hours with her on the phone, telling her no, including while on dates with me. She always called. She once followed us to a date, crying hysterically, asking why he doesn't have any pity for her. He had to take her home and he only got home at midnight. I stood by the phone crying until he called to say he was home. I didn't tell him that, though. I had no right to interfere between them.

One night when he was supposed to be with me he ended up staying with her because she threatened suicide. That was the worst night of my life. I couldn't sleep. I just cried and waited for him to call, which he did, in the morning.

After that she cooled down a little, but she kept calling him 'just to talk.' She asked him to go out with her once because she was going away and wanted to say good bye. He went again but she only left two months later, so that had nothing to do with good bye. She used to keep him online to tell her about her new sexual adventures with other guys until I put my foot down and told him these conversations bother me. He ended them (I think); he never mentioned them again, anyway.

I can't shake the image of her crying hysterically and asking for mercy. He couldn't have stayed in a totally bad relationship for so long, so he must have liked her. She seems to believe that he loved her. Did he lie when he said it was a bad relationship?

His mother still e-mails her, and once called me by her name (on purpose?).

What should I do? I have tried everything: letting it out, keeping it in, asking, refraining from asking, occupying my time. I can't help worrying that she's going to try again. My partner and I have been together for quite a while now. He seems committed and he's never actually done anything wrong. (I can't blame him for trying to help her, although I wish I could.) This is not about him anymore, though. This is about me and my fears.

Signed, Haunted One

Dear Haunted,

I believe your boyfriend was telling the truth when he said he had a poor relationship with his former girlfriend, because he continued to have a bizarre and dysfunctional relationship with her after he met you. People stay in bad relationships for a variety of reasons, including poor self-esteem or because the relationship has some redeeming feature such as steamy sex. He did choose to end it, though, just before meeting you.

I disagree when you say he did nothing wrong. He repeatedly chose to safeguard her feelings at the expense of yours. He obviously had a difficult time letting go of his feelings for her and you were justified in feeling threatened by this.

You say he spent hours talking to her, telling her no, including while he was out with you. His words might have been saying no but the fact that he was willing to talk with her that long was a clear signal to her that there was hope. She still had a degree of control over him. For goodness sake, she was able to make him ignore you when he was out on a date with you! She was playing him like a fiddle and he was willing to go along with it, even though that meant hurting you in the process. If he was over her and truly committed to your new relationship, he should have simply shut her down, and quickly. All he needed to say when she called was, "Look, it's over between us and I can't talk right now."

"But I need you. We never should have broken up."

"I've got to go. Goodbye."



That's it. That's how long it should have taken for him to get off the phone and away from her ... IF he was truly over her. When she called back, he should have turned off his cell phone and focused on you. He should have known it would be threatening to you to have the former girlfriend calling and he should have done everything in his power to show you that you had nothing to worry about.

Instead he talked to her for hours and allowed you to worry and feel neglected. Why? At best he didn't want to be rude to her, to hurt her feelings. In the process, though, he chose to do exactly that to you. At worst he was not over her and couldn't bring himself to completely sever the ties. He wanted to keep both options open while he sorted out his feelings. Either way, his focus was clearly not where it should have been -- on building a relationship with you. You should have put your foot down right there. "Either pay attention to me, buddy, or I'm out of here."

So then she shows up at one of your dates crying hysterically and he "has to" take her home? Without you? Making you wait and worry and cry until he calls? Please, that just doesn't wash. Either the hysteria was real (in which case he needs to avoid this woman) or faked (in which case he DEFINITELY needs to avoid this woman). He had to know you felt threatened by her. No way should he have allowed himself to be alone with her in any circumstances, let alone to allow her to crash your date and drag him away from you. Again, that was another occasion to put your foot down. Many women would have refused to have anything to do with him after a stunt like that. Unfortunately, by putting up with it you gave clear signals to both him and the former girlfriend that they could get away with poor behavior.

Threats of suicide should never be taken lightly, though I wonder in this case if it was simply another ploy to gain his sympathy. If he truly felt she was in danger and needed help, he could have found ways to do so without ending up alone with her and without making you worry for hours. He could have called her mother, or the two of you could have taken her someplace where she could have obtained help. He had options and he chose the worst possible one in terms of your relationship. He should have chosen an option that included the two of you remaining together. Again, he allowed her to control him and to hurt you. He chose her over you.

Are you starting to see the pattern here?

She told him stories of her sexual adventures ... and he listened to them? You have to ask yourself why he didn't just shut her down in disgust. What was he getting out of those conversations? Whatever the answer, I can't see it boding well for your relationship.

You put your foot down way too late in the game. You allowed yourself to be treated badly and now find yourself in a relationship you can't trust. As I explained above, your boyfriend has given you plenty of good reasons to mistrust him. Many women would have ended this relationship long before now and I wouldn't blame you if you considered doing the same.

At a minimum you should make sure your boyfriend knows how his actions hurt you and how badly you feel. He owes you several huge apologies for the appalling way he treated you. The ball should be in his court to find ways to reassure you, to repair the damage he has done.

You definitely have the right to interfere between him and his former girlfriend. He gave up any rights to have a relationship with her when he chose to be with you, especially if she is going to act like a possessive, controlling wacko. You should insist that he have no further contact with this woman. If she calls or sends him an online message, he should tell her he can’t talk and should break off contact immediately. If she shows up, he should say he can't see her anymore and should walk away immediately. If he fails to abide by those rules, YOU should walk away immediately.

Whatever your decision, I hope you are able to regain the peace of mind these events have cost you.

All the best,

A reminder: I have volunteered to be interviewed online but this can only happen if readers like you submit a sufficient number of interview questions. If you would like to know more about me or this website, this is a good opportunity to find out. You can find the details here.
Read More ->>

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ask the Faithful Readers #4 - Learning to Let Go

Dear Faithful Reader,

Parents often claim that their relationships with teenaged children can bring unique challenges. The desire of young people to spread their wings and become independent adults creates a natural source of conflict. Parents who have been used to giving direction now face opposition when they attempt to do so. We often worry when we must let go, knowing our children might stumble but that they need to take on new responsibilities. I have had people tell me, "I became good friends with my parents, but only AFTER I moved out of the house."

What are your experiences with this situation, either with your children or from your own days as a teenager? What obstacles can make this particularly challenging? What strategies can help ease the way?

Signed, The Inquiring Advice Guy

Comments are preferable for this one (rather than emails), since I'm sure everyone would like to see the responses. I will post my personal favorite next week with a link to the winner's blog.
Read More ->>

The Wedding License

Once again you have all gone above and beyond the call of duty, providing some amazing responses to last week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I asked you about misleading messages concerning relationships that we receive from the media and society in general. Thank you for your comments, which inspired the following story:


Billy Hargrove paused with his hand on the handle of the heavy glass door, his heart pounding. He had heard so many stories from others who had already gone through what he was about to do. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, pulled open the door and walked into the air conditioned coolness.

His footsteps were whisper quiet as he walked across the industrial green carpet and stopped in front of a waist-high counter. On the other side of the counter he could see the object of his consternation sitting at a desk with his back to Billy, typing away on a computer keyboard, seemingly unaware that anyone had entered his sanctum.

Billy licked his dry lips and cleared his throat. "Ahem."

"Aye," the elderly man said in a thick Scottish brogue as he continued to pound the keyboard into submission, "I'm not deaf you know. At least not yet."

Billy waited obediently until Old Man Slatterly finished his work and turned slowly in his chair to finally gaze in Billy's direction.

"Well if it isn't young Mr. Hargrove now," Slatterly said. "Aye and I've been expecting to see you in here, what with all the talk of that young lass you've been seeing."

Billy swallowed and tried to produce enough saliva to get the words out. "I need a marriage license."

Slatterly's face constricted into a caricature of concern. With the fly-away wisps of curly white hair on both sides of his head, he looked like Albert Einstein trying to puzzle his way through a particularly tough problem.

"Do you now?" Slatterly said, the skepticism evident in his tone.

He grasped the silver ball at the top of the cane lying on his desk, struggled to his feet and began clumping his way toward the counter. It was all Billy could do not to take an involuntary step backwards.

Slatterly reached under the counter and pulled out a single sheet of paper, which he slapped down on the counter.

"And what makes you think," he said with his gnarled hand still holding the sheet in place, "that you're ready to fill out this form?"

"Wh-what do you mean?" Billy stammered.

"Don't get cute with me, boy. Have you found the right girl to marry or haven't you?"

Billy blinked as Slatterly glared at him, his deeply lined face thrust forward aggressively.

"Yes sir," Billy said with all the confidence he could muster, "of course I have."

"Have you now?" Slatterly produced a pen and slapped it down on the form. "Then you better start writing, hadn't you?"

Billy nodded and picked up the pen. He leaned forward and started printing his name (USE BLOCK LETTERS ONLY) in the appropriate field. He studiously avoided glancing up.

"Is she pretty?" Slatterly said.

Billy looked up into Slatterly's face, which was only inches from his own.

"You mean--"

"This lass you're so anxious to tie the knot with. You don't want a chubby one, you know. You'll never be happy with a wife like that."

Billy nearly fainted with relief. He knew he was on solid ground here. "Oh no, Mr. Slatterly, she only weighs about a hundred and ten pounds."

Slatterly's skeptical expression showed he was far from convinced. "That's all good and fine," he said, "but she's got to have a proper set of, you know." The old man cupped his arthritic hands in front of his chest to indicate which body parts he was talking about.

"No worries there either," Billy said with a smile. "She had a boob job."

Slatterly raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed. "Good, good."

Billy bent to the form again, feeling more confidence than he had before.

"Still," the old man said, "there's more to marital bliss than that."

Billy looked up once more. "Such as?"

"What about your job, lad? Can you afford to buy her the things she'll need to be happy, like a nice laptop and a Bimmer ... and one 'a them cell phones what takes pictures? You'll not want to be squabbling about that sort o' stuff, you know."

Billy swallowed. He wasn't sure his position at Wal-Mart was what the old man had in mind.

"And what about her ring?" Slattery continued. "She'll never be satisfied if the rock is so small that she can actually lift her hand to show it to her friends."

"No problem," Billy said, anxious to get off this topic, "I'll think of something."

"And you know," Slatterly said as he leaned in even closer (which Billy had not thought possible), "you should make sure you're sexually compatible before you get married."

"Look Mr. Slatterly, that's really none of your--"

"I know, I know," the old man said, "it's just that not everyone realizes a good sex life can guarantee you'll be okay together."

"We're going to be just fine," Billy said. He wanted to add "once we get married," but he didn't want to give Slatterly any more ammunition. He thought back to the fight he had with his fiancee the night before. In fact, it seemed they had been doing little else besides fighting lately. Billy knew, though, that everything would be better as soon as they were married. And if that didn't fix things, they could always have a baby.

Billy decided to change the subject.

"Have you ever been married Mr. Slatterly?"

"Never felt the need."

"Then how do you know so much about relationships?"

"I'll have you know," the old man roared indignantly, "that I have seen every episode of Friends ... twice!"

"Oh," Billy said before bending to the form once more. He was already dreading his next visit to this office, which he expected to be in two or three years when he would need to come back and apply for a divorce.


The collective message in your responses was that the media blasts us with messages about things we "need" if we want to be happy, and that having those things will guarantee our happiness. Of course this is far from true. The response that seemed to wrap it all up most succinctly was from Julie Julie Bo Boolie, who maintains a blog called The World According to Julie. Julie wrote:

I think one of the most damaging myths about relationships is that when two people click they will go on to live happily ever after. Real life isn't like that and real marriages are hard work. Even great marriages take effort, patience, understanding and endless willingness to compromise from both parties. It's so easy to get drawn into the rush of first love and to expect that everything will be sunshine and roses and while that part is fun, the truly rewarding part of having a life partner is precisely getting through the ups and downs of everyday life.

In my view, that hard work Julie talks about is the reason why forums like To Love, Honor and Dismay are so necessary.

Thanks again, everyone, for the fantastic input!
Read More ->>

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Weighty Issue

If you wish you could lose weight or are struggling to do so, then you should read this article. It is the most insightful and heartfelt post on the issue of weight loss I have read in quite some time.
Read More ->>

Dismaying Story #39: To Ask or Not to Ask?

Melli asked me to consider the following question posted by TC, who maintains a blog called Twisted Cinderella's Almost Happily Ever After. TC writes:

Dear Andrew,

Do you know those girls? You know, the ones who wait quietly to see if their husband will remember their anniversary (or birthday or fill in other big important event here). She sits quietly simmering ready to pounce on him for forgetting something she has been thinking about and waiting on for days or weeks. And then he forgets, she pounces, foot tapping, arms crossed, face red . . . HOW DARE HE FORGET????

But . . . she remembered. She knew that he would probably forget. She knew that if he remembered he would do something nice for her. So, why play the game. Why not just remind him a few days in advance or even that morning? The way I see it, I would rather have a lovely anniversary that I reminded him about that he went and did something special for, than an anger-filled anniversary that I could have prevented with a few simple reminders.

I think some girls like catching their men in the act of showing that they don't care as much as the girls do. I think that is malarkey. Some guys just don't remember dates. It isn't a big deal if you don't let it be one. Isn't being with someone about more than his memory? If you remind him and he does something special, should that act feel marred in some way because you had to remind him it was coming up?

See I don't think so. What do you think?

Signed, TC

Dear TC,

I can understand both points of view on this issue, so let's look at it from a few different directions.

First I'd like to examine this poor guy you describe, the one with a terrible memory for dates. Perhaps a simple test or two could help diagnose what is going on. Pick one of his special interests. Is he into hunting? Ask him when hunting season begins. Or maybe he is a baseball or football fan. What are the chances he knows what time of year the playoffs start? I'll go way out on a limb and predict he'll be able to answer those questions easily. More than that, I bet those topics will be on his mind as those dates approach. He will remember those dates are coming up soon.

This isn't about his interests, though. You asked about those special occasions most of us like to acknowledge, like birthdays and anniversaries. Okay, take that same husband and ask him the date of your anniversary. Maybe a few truly hapless souls out there won't know (and if this applies to you ... GO FIND OUT!) but almost all husbands will be able to dredge up that date from memory. The same goes for your birthday; he knows it. So why is it so common for those dates to approach unnoticed in the minds of so many husbands?

The answer seems to be that all those irate wives have a point; many women actually do care about special occasions more than their men do. Who knows why this is; the Mars versus Venus phenomenon comes into effect here. He doesn't remember because he simply doesn't attach the same degree of importance to birthdays and anniversaries that you do.

I argue, though, that a lack of excitement about anniversaries does not indicate a lack of caring about you or your marriage. Many guys are deeply in love with their wives but still rank anniversaries right up there on the Ho Hum scale. If you want a guy like this to make a big deal out of the occasion, you must realize he will be doing so primarily for your benefit. You are asking him to do something nice for you. I agree with Twisted Cindy in the sense that it is unreasonable to expect hubby to "care" about your anniversary the same way you do. You might as well ask him to share your enthusiasm for clothes shopping or home decorating. Like it or not, some interests tend to be split along gender lines.

Of course, the guys also benefit from the celebrations. Many times he will end up enjoying the dinner (or party / trip / whatever) and these occasions can be important for creating those special memories that bond the two of you even closer together. Will he realize this ahead of time, though, and be as excited as you? Many guys will tend not to be.

Is it reasonable to expect that our partner "should just know what I want"? This is a common lament. Somehow it feels less romantic, less special to receive a nice turn if we have to ask for it. This can apply not only to gift giving occasions, but also "knowing" what restaurant we would like to go to tonight, what feels good in bed, and so on.

To me, this boils down into "the first time" versus "all the other times." It is silly to expect your partner to be a mind reader the first time a particular issue comes up. Let's say you have been married eleven months. Your first anniversary is coming up and you are excited about it. This is a big deal to you. You go out and buy him a moderately expensive gift and you have hopes that he will make reservations at an appropriately swanky restaurant, or perhaps you are even hoping for a weekend out of town. This is so obviously a big occasion that you don't discuss it with him; you trust him to realize this on his own.

In many cases that would be a mistake. How can you expect the two of you to be on the same page if you haven't talked about it? Here is my first guideline: When it is the first time, talk about your expectations. Work out a common ground between the two of you so both partners know what is expected of them and what they can expect from the other. It might seem less romantic, but you are setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect him to (a) be a mind reader, or (b) have exactly the same likes and dislikes as you.

Then there is the issue of recurring occasions. Is it reasonable to expect him to remember from the second time onward? Yes, but only if you have discussed your desire for him to remember and he has agreed to take on that responsibility. That is my second guideline: The issue of remembering special occasions on an ongoing basis is a separate topic and should be discussed explicitly. This remembering doesn't seem all that important to Twisted Cindy, and that's fine for her. Go ahead and remind him, hopefully when there is still time to make suitably lavish arrangements. Other women, though, feel special when their husband cares enough to remember on his own. That is an understandable desire and a reasonable thing to request from your partner -- to request, not simply to expect without ever discussing it. Ask him to put the dates in his day timer if he has to, or put a big calendar in his workshop. If you explain how important it is to you and he is truly a caring husband, he will find a way.

This is similar to Dismaying Story #28: Care, Give, Repeat. This was about a woman who wants her husband to put a little effort into making special occasions special. In this case they had the explicit discussion; she asked him to remember a few specific occasions. It was a matter of explaining to him how important the issue was to her and asking him to give her the gift of caring and remembering.

What if you go through all that and he STILL doesn't remember your anniversary? I think a certain amount of toe tapping and arm crossing would be in order. She would be justified in feeling disappointed because he didn't live up to his end of the bargain.

Finally, TC suggests that some women might want an excuse to give their man a hard time. This can happen, and tends to be tied into low self-esteem. The cycle goes like this:
  • I feel bad about myself, so I fear I will be treated badly. I am constantly examining his behavior, looking to see if he is doing so.
  • When something upsetting happens, I feel personally attacked. I am certain part of the cause is that others perceive me as unworthy. So I attack, feeling completely justified in "defending myself."
  • He is still here after the argument. He may have even apologized. This proves I have nothing to worry about, at least for the moment. My fear is temporarily fed and I have been reassured.
  • Before long, however, my typical self-doubt thought patterns re-assert themselves and the cycle is ready to start anew.
Some women do get a "fix" of reassurance in this way every time they complain about how they are treated by their husbands.

This pattern is destructive to your relationship and in some cases can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. He feels badly about your attacks and may react poorly. He might sulk or be less anxious to attend to your needs, passively objecting to the attacks. You resent his behavior, feel that he is treating you badly, and on you go. Such a pattern can even end in divorce.

I doubt, however, that this is the most common reason why women choose not to remind their husbands about upcoming special occasions. The simpler and more likely explanation is that many women expect men to care about the occasions in the same way they do. A more reasonable approach seems to be to recognize your differences and discuss your desires explicitly.

All the best,

Do you have a different opinion about this issue? As always, I welcome your emails and comments.
Read More ->>

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I'm Back in the Saddle Again...

Hi Everyone,

This is just a quick note to thank you all for your patience while I enjoyed a few days at the seashore with my family. I notice quite a number of you were nice enough to leave comments while I was away. I truly appreciate the input.

Now I have cleaned the sand from between my toes and I'm ready to get back to work. Coming up tomorrow morning will be "Dismaying Story #39: To Ask or Not to Ask?" This is in response to a question posed by a fellow blogger. She wonders if some wives give their husbands too many opportunities to disappoint, when it might be simpler for the wives to ask explicitly for what they want. I'll offer some thoughts.

I'm also looking forward to putting together an article for Saturday based on the responses to this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I have just been looking through the comments and they are fantastic. It should be interesting.

So stay tuned because To Love, Honor and Dismay is back in business!

All the best,
Read More ->>

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dismaying Story #38: The "It's Only A Little Work" Excuse

This post is part of a continuing series entitled The Hunt for the Vacuum Cleaner Gene. This series uncovers the many excuses we use to perpetuate some old-fashioned stereotypes. Many people believe it is normal and inevitable for women to be responsible for the bulk of the housework and parenting within their household. This series includes motivational posts that argue "why" these beliefs are largely unfounded, as well as instructional posts that move on to discuss "how to" effect change in your household. Today's entry is a "why" topic.

Dear Andrew,

Okay, so my husband doesn't know which end of the mop to wring and can't tell a whisk from a spatula. If he liked the idea of housework he would have offered to pitch in years ago. Why should I go through the bother of trying to get him involved? It's easier just to keep on doing what I've been doing. After all, you know what they say: A little work never hurt anyone.

Besides, there is one thing my husband can never be; he can never be a mother. I know my children need their father too, but while they are young there is no substitute for the nurturing their mother can provide. I feel especially strongly about this because I work and have to miss so much of the kids' lives. I don't want to give up any more time with them than I already do, so I'm the one who looks after them when we're home, no matter how much extra work that means for me.

Signed, Working Hard

Dear Working,

Yes, I've heard that saying about how a little work never hurt anyone and it applies to your husband as well. I also realize change can be scary even when it's for your own benefit. You have a choice between redefining your role in your household or proving to yourself that you don't need to. I can tell you're busy working on the proof.

Domestic work issues can have a big impact on quality of life for everyone in your family. Researchers have uncovered the following facts about living with an inequitable work sharing arrangement:
  • It's not good for your marriage. One study of working couples found that those who feel they are doing more than their share are more likely to be dissatisfied with their marriage.6 On the contrary, husbands who contribute more at home have wives with lower stress levels.4 These women tend to see their men as loving, caring and more sexually attractive.
  • It's not good for your health. The more time people spend performing household chores, the more likely they are to be depressed.3 Beyond that, a lack of fairness contributes more to depression than just doing plenty of housework. Both men and women tend to be depressed more often when the division of household labor is inequitable.1 One survey of working women showed that those who perform the greatest percentage of domestic work also have the highest blood pressure levels.2
  • It's not good for your children. Studies show that fathers who are more heavily involved in housework and parenting are more effective role models for their children.4 Such children tend to get along better with others, be more outgoing, have fewer behavior problems at school and be less depressed. They also achieve higher school grades.5
Your attitude towards your children sounds noble but I doubt you're achieving the results you hope to, for a variety of reasons. First of all, I don't buy the argument that your children are somehow getting less of you when your husband is helping out. The kids actually get a full dose of Mom and a full dose of Dad whenever the two of you work together to look after them. As I talked about in Dismaying Story #11: Mom's Bonding Time, your children really are able to enjoy the company of more than one person at a time.

More than that, they will have a Mom who is less stressed and more fun to be around if she is not so overworked all the time. Allowing your husband to share the burden can help to achieve that.

Finally, your husband can pitch in with the more mundane housework and parenting chores, such as cleaning up messes and preparing meals. These are tasks that tend to prevent you from paying attention to your kids. With less time needed for these activities, you can have more direct interaction with your children.

If you are wondering whether you should bother getting your husband to help out more, consider how important these issues are to you. To provide the best care possible for yourself, your marriage and your children, get your husband to pitch in.

All the best,

I'm going on vacation for a few days, so I won't be posting stories again until late in the week. Until then, I would like to ask two favors:
  1. If you haven't already done so, don't forget to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite response next weekend with a link to the winner's blog.
  2. Also, if there is anything you would like to know about me or this site, now is your chance. Your interview questions are needed so I can be interviewed online. You can find the details here.
1. Bird, C. Gender, household labor, and psychological distress: The impact of the amount and division of housework. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 40, 1999, pp. 32-45.
2. Brisson, C., Laflamme, N., Moisan, J., Milot, A., Masse, B. and Vezina, M. Impact of family responsibilities and job strain on ambulatory blood pressure among white-collar women. Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 61, 1999, pp. 205-213.
3. Glass, J. and Fujimoto, T. Housework, paidwork, and depression among husbands and wives. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 35, 1994, pp. 179-191.
4. Lovekin, K. When dads clean house, it pays off big time. UC Riverside sociologists say men likely to have better behaved children and wives who find them more sexually attractive, University of California-Riverside Public Release, June 2003.
5. Radin, N. and Russell, G. Increased father participation and child developmental outcomes. In Nontraditional Families: Parenting and Child Development (M. Lamb, ed.), Erlbaum, 1982.
6. Wilkie, J., Ferree, M. and Ratcliff, K. Gender and fairness: Marital satisfaction and two-earner couples. Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 60, 1998, pp. 577-595.
Read More ->>

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dismaying Story #37: Closed for the (Dating) Season

Dear Andrew,

I'm twenty-nine and have never gotten close to having sex. Oh, man, is that embarrassing to admit. I'm not religious. I've never been molested nor had other reasons to avoid sex. It just never happened. I've started to think I might as well just stay this way so I'll never have to tell anyone. I can't picture myself admitting to somebody that I made it to thirty something about half a degree less untouched than most nuns. Yikes.

I've got one friend left in the same situation and we hang on to each other for dear life. We've been friends for over twenty years and I don't know how we would have made it through our frighteningly ugly-duckling adolescences without each other. But we joke entirely too much about being the Wacky Spinster Aunts and Cat Ladies when we get a bit older.

I did have a boyfriend briefly in college who was pretty hot under the collar but we were both bumbling idiots in every other aspect of the relationship and it didn't last long enough for sex to seem like a reasonable idea. Other than that I have hardly dated at all. I go through this cycle where people avoid me, so I become bitter and resentful, so people avoid me, so I become bitter and resentful, and so on. I'm really tired of making myself miserable being jealous.

I have several male friends who really like me as a person, but I feel like I don't count as a potential dating partner. We always seem to go straight to Friend Mode. I'm not interested in most of these guys anyway and I'm glad they feel like they can talk to me, but I swear the majority of them have no idea I'm female. Feeling like men like me for so many of the right reasons and still don't consider me interesting doesn't inspire confidence.

I have had this lack of confidence since the sixth grade, when I was bullied pretty badly. I wasn't beaten up but I was given nicknames like "Gorilla Woman." Kids used to pass me fake love notes in class, hoping I'd take the bait and give them ammunition for the next round of teasing. Boys used to put their friends down by claiming I had a crush on them. I can't believe how hard it is to forget that kind of thing. I still have dreams about it.

Since then it seems if someone shows the slightest glimmer of interest, he's either desperate and hitting on everything with two X chromosomes, or of a completely different generation age-wise--either 16 or 60--and probably intoxicated. I've been conditioned to KNOW I will be rejected. My defense is a passive freeze-them-out-before-they-have-the-chance-to-reject-me strategy.

Despite all this, I'm tired of being alone. What can I do?

Signed, Snow White

Dear Snow White,

It sounds like you have a good level of insight into your situation. You understand some of what has caused your anxiety and you are able to label your defense strategy. I wonder, though, if you appreciate fully the degree of trauma you have experienced over this issue. The rejection and teasing have helped form your self-image, and I can tell it's not a pretty picture. Ideally you would like to put up an "open for business" sign with respect to guys and dating. Your fears are too strong and too deeply embedded, though, to allow you to do that. Despite your wishes, you feel powerless to change.

I can offer a few rational arguments as to why the things you fear may not be quite as scary as you believe. For instance, the teasing and bullying happened when you were an adolescent. That means your tormentors were also twelve years old at the time, with all the immaturity that entails. The thirty-something guys who would interest you now have grown beyond that type of childish behavior. You are highly unlikely to ever again experience that degree of mean-spiritedness over this type of issue.

Second, I firmly believe that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE (which most definitely includes you) is attractive to someone else out there. Shy people tend to underestimate by a long ways the qualities they have and what they have to offer a potential partner. The world has far too many people who are lonely and alone. If you would prefer not to be so, there are definitely many guys out there whose lives would be enriched tremendously by having you involved. You have plenty of personality and energy and intelligence and caring and on and on.

Unfortunately I suspect rational arguments like these will fall short of meeting your needs, because fears are often irrational beasties. They love to hide in the back corners of our minds and come wriggling out insistently at the most inopportune moments. I can imagine you reading the previous two paragraphs and nodding your head agreeably, saying something like, "Yes, I agree with all that, BUT..."

But you're still traumatized.

Trauma can affect more than just your thought patterns. You can also develop internal physical reactions. Does anything change inside your body when you think about giving a guy the opportunity to reject you? I wouldn't be surprised if you feel butterflies, get a dry mouth or experience an overall feeling of physical unease. The combination of emotional and physical symptoms can be difficult to resolve simply by trying to screw up your courage or talk yourself out of it.

I recommend you consider seeking the help of a professional counselor or psychologist, someone who is qualified to deal with the type of long-term trauma you describe. I believe this would give you the best chance of working through these types of fears. Once you do, you might be amazed the difference that will make in your outlook on others, as well as how they perceive you. People are incredibly perceptive. They know if you are projecting an "open" or "closed" sign in terms of being social and inviting of new friendships.

You are still in your twenties, a young woman with plenty of time to develop a serious relationship if that is your wish. Open the door and you never know who will walk in. Once that happens, I suspect the sex issue will resolve itself naturally in due course.

All the best,

Do you wish for more in your relationship? I would welcome your email or any comment you wish to enter using the link below.
Read More ->>

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ask the Faithful Readers #3 - Misleading Societal Messages

Dear Faithful Reader,

Last night I was reading this site when I ran across this recent photo of Lionel Richie's daughter Nicole. This picture reminded me that our society delivers plenty of misleading messages to young people (and to all of us) regarding relationships. One such message is that in order to appeal to the guys, girls should be Hollywood skinny and Hollywood beautiful. This leaves many attractive and healthy young women feeling unnecessarily inadequate and insecure, to the point where some try to make themselves look like that picture. Many young people are too self-conscious to try dating because they feel they don't measure up. Even for those who are in relationships, the resultant feelings of low self-esteem can present obstacles for many couples.

This week's question is not specifically about weight or body image, though. That is just one example of a message about relationships we receive from our friends and parents, from TV and movies. I am interested to know what other types of misleading messages you notice. What sorts of false expectations set us up for trouble with our partner?

Signed, The Inquiring Advice Guy

Comments are preferable for this one (rather than emails), since I'm sure everyone would like to see the responses. I will post my personal favorite next week with a link to the winner's blog.
Read More ->>

Family Feuds

Once again all of you came through in amazing fashion, providing numerous responses to last week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I asked you to tell me what differences between your families of origin have created issues within your relationship. Your submissions highlighted several types of inter-family disconnects, including the following:
  • Class / lifestyle differences - "In my family, funerals were always dressy black-tie affairs. In his family, it's okay to show up in jeans and flip-flops and even a housecoat will do."
  • Close versus distant relationships - "He didn't speak to his dad for about seven years; I am extremely close to mine."
  • Loving & supportive versus dysfunctional - "Being a child of divorce, he had very little boundaries and adult supervision. I came from a touchy/feely group ... very affectionate."
  • Liberal versus conservatives - "My husband comes from a family of conservative merchants, who had no college education for many generations. My family were highly educated, pie in the sky liberals."
  • Different cultures - "His family are Jordanian upper crust villagers; I'm just Scottish/German descent, average, middle-class American."
  • Welcoming versus standoffish - "The biggest difference is that my family views in-laws as new family members. His family views them as outsiders."
There was also considerable discussion of difficulties in getting along with in-laws, including mother-in-laws who retain extremely close relationships with their sons, to the detriment of the marriage - "A huge turning point for my husband was when our counselor had it with him and told him, 'You need to divorce your mother and marry your wife!!' "

The most common topic, though, separated the highly talkative families from those who tend not to communicate as much, especially about emotions. Not surprisingly, this leads to considerable difficulties when the couple needs to resolve conflicts. One partner expresses all sorts of emotion, which the other finds difficult to take because they were trained as part of their upbringing to suppress that sort of thing.

Perhaps fittingly, my personal favorite was submitted by Joy Renee, whose entry the previous week about late versus on time was the inspiration for this topic. Joy maintains a blog called Joystory.

Joy's story stands out to me because of the immense changes she and her husband have had to make to move past the differences imposed by their respective upbringings. She writes:

My family were quiet, staid, serious people. In conversation we took turns talking and did not interrupt. All strong emotion was suspect from exuberance to anger. I always heard 'Calm down.' or 'Watch your tone.' Anger was equated with hate which was equated with murder. There was a Biblical reference that supported that view as there was for the view that laughter was questionable since the only reference to God laughing was at the calamity of evil-doers. Games without a spiritual, religious or educational theme were taboo.

My husband's family are just the opposite in all of those areas. They laugh and talk loud. They express strong passionate views. They cuss and tell raunchy stories and tattle on each other. They talk over the top of each other. They play cut-throat cards and scream with laughter throughout the game.

The biggest impact all this had on our relationship was my unwillingness in the first decade to stick up for myself, to allow him to browbeat me with his passionate, argumentative style. It wasn't mean-spirited, just full of that strong emotion that I was taught to abhor. Add to that the teaching of my childhood that a wife must defer in all things to her husband ... well it drove him crazy. There was nothing he loved more than animated debate. It took nearly a decade for me to get over the propensity to cry in response to all strong emotion either felt within or suspected in another. But once I was past that, I think maybe he began wishing for the good ole days. :) I credit those long debates we had with teaching me to think for myself and then to express those thoughts forcefully and with passion.

Here we have a married couple who took an incredible difference that resulted from their families of origin, worked on it together, and made tremendous strides while finding a way that works for them. To me, that is a wonderful story. What can I say; I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
Read More ->>

Friday, August 18, 2006

Dismaying Story #36: Hurting the Ones We Love

Dear Andrew,

I feel terrible. I'm wiping away tears as I write this. Today I yelled at my husband and my children. Right in the middle of it the doorbell rang and I answered the door. I was civil and polite to a complete stranger and then went right back to snarling at my family. I don't get angry that often, but still ... they don't deserve it.

I don't yell when I'm at work. I get just as frustrated but I don't vent my anger all over my co-workers. No, I save that for when I'm home. Why do we do this to the people we're supposed to love the most?

Signed, Feeling Guilty

Dear Feeling,

After an episode like that, some people say, "I couldn't help it. I was angry and so I exploded." In the vast majority of cases, this is clearly not true. You can indeed control your behavior to a large extent when you are angry. You find a way to not yell at your boss, your neighbor, or the stranger you pass on the street. So your question is a good one. This is, after all, a choice we make. We choose to act poorly toward our family and with more respect and civility toward others. So why do we feel free to unload on our closest family members?

Unfortunately I don't think the answer is going to make you feel any better. We do this because the consequences are not as severe. In other words, we dump on our kids and our spouse because they will take it, because we can get away with it.

That's not a very pretty picture, is it?

Oh sure, your spouse might yell back and say things like, "You're NOT going to treat me like that!" Your children might give you all sorts of pushback, especially if they are teenagers. So what do I mean when I say they will take it? I mean they will still be here tomorrow. More than that, the bond is so close between you that they will almost certainly forgive you. This is especially true if the outbursts are infrequent, if everyone apologizes and if the mood in the home goes back to normal within a relatively short time. The fight will soon be "forgotten."

Compare that with the consequences of yelling at complete strangers, casual acquaintances and co-workers. The bonds you have with these people range from tenuous to non-existent. Yell at a stranger and you'll be labeled a loony. Explode all over a casual friend and they will probably choose to avoid you, to terminate your friendship. Abusive behavior at the workplace puts you at risk of being officially disciplined or even fired. The consequences tend to more clear-cut, immediate and permanent in these circumstances.

I argue, though, that the consequences at home are also long-lasting, just more subtle. Are the arguments truly forgotten or is it possible they may have residual effects? Your spouse is, after all, human and may carry some level of hurt down deep inside, in places you would rather were filled with trust and closeness.

You also want to build the same positive feelings with your children. Have a look at a family where the teenagers are difficult to deal with and unresponsive to the parents' wishes. Do you honestly believe that situation developed overnight when the kids reached a certain age? I contend parents contribute to those relationships from the time their children are born. Respect must be earned. If you want a better chance of having the respect of your teens, treat them with dignity for all the years leading up to that time. Listen to the concerns of your children and give them at least the same level of civility you dish out to your more casual acquaintances.

Now the occasional sharp word might have its uses, to consciously get the attention of a child when a more moderate tone may be ignored. This is not the topic of today's post, however. I am talking about the times when the anger takes over.

There are those among us with mental health issues who may require medication or other types of interventions to help control their emotional behavior. For the vast majority of us, however, angry outbursts are entirely within our control. This is something we choose to do. Yelling can provide a quick "hit" of emotional satisfaction. It feels good to let the snarling anger loose. Is that short-term reward really worth the consequences, though?

Often, I think, the answer is no. We can make better choices.

All the best,

Today is the last day to submit a response to this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite tomorrow with a link to the winner's blog.

I have also volunteered to be interviewed online, but this won't happen until readers like you submit a sufficient number of questions. You can find the details here.
Read More ->>

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dismaying Story #35: Can Opposites Thrive?

Dear Andrew,

Is it really true that opposites attract? Or a better question would be, can opposites make it work? I've been with my boyfriend for 8 months and we've known each other for over 10 years. When we first started dating, we didn't notice each other's differences. Now that we've been together for a while, we've discovered that other than our love for each other, and our core values and morals, we have absolutely NOTHING in common. We are polar opposites. It's not necessarily a problem. We seem to balance each other out. What one lacks, the other makes up for.

When it comes to certain things like communication, however, it has become a hindrance. He is very open and straightforward, says whatever is on his mind. I am more reserved and have a hard time saying how I feel. There are other ways in which we are opposite. He loves the outdoors, I'd rather say inside and curl up with a good book. I'm very laid back and I call him my Drill Sergeant.

Can a relationship work with all these differences or should there be some sort of compromise? I know that we should love each other unconditionally and not have to change for the other person. I love him to death, and he's the man I've always wanted...and he feels that same way about me.

Sometimes being so opposite gets in the way of what could potentially be the greatest relationship ever.

Signed, Yin & Yang

Dear Yin (or maybe you are the Yang),

Do opposites attract? I don't know. I'm sure there are studies based on surveys of large numbers of couples. I could look up the papers and read about tendencies and probabilities, but that doesn't matter in your case. You are really interested in whether you and your boyfriend can make a go of it.

Absolutely! You certainly can. Then again, you may not. In that regard you are just like everyone else.

Every couple has similarities and differences. Some of these enrich the relationship and make things easy, while others present challenges. Keep in mind, though, that the similarities can present problems and the differences can be advantages.

Consider a young woman who has a wee bit of a quick trigger on her temper. When the inevitable conflicts arise, she flares with an initial burst of emotion. If given a few minutes to decompress, though, she is able to proceed in a calm fashion. Now suppose she hooks up with a boyfriend who is exactly the same in this regard. An issue arises, she flares, he flares right back, which hits her right when she is incapable of handling it, so the two of them spiral out of control for a while. This is a case of two people with a similarity that causes a problem. This can also be quite common between parents and their teenaged children who inherited their tendencies. A person like this might be better off with someone who can remain calm in response to the initial flare-up.

You mention balancing each other out, so you already know that differences can work to your advantage. Consider a shy person married to Mr. Brash. The shy person might be better at sweet talking the loans officer at the bank, when a rational, conciliatory approach works best, while they might want to send the more confident partner to deal with the used car salesman.

My guess is your communication issues are caused only in part by your perceived differences. Virtually every couple struggles to communicate effectively now and then. This is the way it has been since the dawn of time. We all have to learn what works between us and what does not. Certain skills must be acquired, such as how to work toward compromise and having the empathy to see things from your partner's point of view. Developing strong communication is work and it takes time, regardless of your mix of personality types.

This is where I disagree slightly with your letter. You said you should not have to change for the other person. In one sense you are correct -- you should not have to change your basic personality, the core of who you are. Everybody should, however, learn how to deal with their partner. If you want things to work between you, the ways you react to various situations should evolve toward whatever works for the two of you. I gave an example above of two people who both tend to flare with emotion when an issue arises. If that relationship is to flourish, at least one of them (perhaps even both) should modify that tendency. Loving adults should view this type of change as an opportunity to improve their relationship, rather than as an unfair imposition. Consider the person who says, "This is how I am, take it or leave it!" They are limiting the success they might have in developing solid relationships.

You and your partner have a ways to go if you are to communicate as well as you would like. I firmly believe, however, that your particular mix of personality types does not doom you to failure in this department. If you are both willing to compromise, work at it, and be patient with each other, that will go a long way toward resolving this issue.

I also suspect you might have more in common than you believe. You mentioned having similar core values and morals, which is a solid starting place for any relationship. If your relationship were to continue for some time, you might discover other ways that these core values make the two of you similar. Would you tend to agree on what sorts of limits and boundaries should be set on children, or how they should be disciplined? Would you have similar opinions on how each of you should contribute to earning a combined income? Issues related to how we entertain ourselves can take center stage early in a relationship, while other matters arise later.

Finally there is the matter of chemistry between you. Despite your differences, you apparently believe the two of you are hitting it off. Relationships are strengthened when two people share positive experiences. This is one area where being opposites can be a challenge; you want to have at least some things you can enjoy together. That doesn't mean you have to do everything together, though. Alone time is important too. He can mountain bike while you read and the two of can still succeed like crazy.

Do you have enough in common to be happy with each other? Only the two of you can answer that one. Just keep in mind that you have to work at building a relationship. Don't be too quick to blame your challenges on your differences; these may simply be issues that everyone needs to work through.

All the best,

If you haven't already done so, now is your chance to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my personal favorite response on Saturday with a link to the winner's blog.
Read More ->>

Reminder: An Invitation

This is just a quick reminder that I have volunteered to be interviewed online over at basil's blog. You are invited to submit questions for me to answer. (And no, despite my delusions of grandeur in posting that doctored picture, this has nothing to do with Larry King.) To submit questions, send an email to basil dot interviews at gmail dot com with the subject line exactly like this: Questions for Andrew McAllister, Ph.D. (To Love, Honor and Dismay)

You can read recent interviews here and see a list of upcoming interviews (with question submission information) here. Apparently the more questions submitted, the sooner the interview is scheduled. I'm looking forward to it.
Read More ->>

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dismaying Story #34: Counting to Ten

Picture an L-shaped hospital corridor with patient rooms on one side and a nursing station and common area on the other. It was a few minutes after midnight so the lighting was subdued and the rooms all had their doors closed, with sleeping patients inside. I was walking quietly down this corridor, alone, opening one door after another and checking the patients, making sure they were breathing and doing fine.

Standard hospital procedure dictated that all patients had to be checked once an hour. This was many years ago and at the time I worked as an attendant on the psychiatric unit. The nurses checked their own patients during the day and evening shifts, but on the midnight to eight a.m. shift this responsibility fell to the attendant. On this particular night that happened to be me. I always started my graveyard shifts by taking care of this duty. It was a good way to get the pulse of the entire unit and put my mind at ease that all was well.

I was truly alone during this first "run" through the unit each night because the two nurses who shared the shift were in the office with the door closed "listening to report." This meant they were listening to the tape recorded comments of the nurses from the previous shift. We did this so incoming staff was always aware of what had happened with each patient during the preceding shift, including any potential issues. Someone had to watch the unit at all times so we took turns listening to the report. The nurses always went first on the late night shift, which left me in sole charge of the forty-bed unit for about half an hour. It also meant that I did my first tour of patient rooms before I listened to report. This turned out to be significant on this particular night.

I carried a flashlight with me whenever I did my hourly rounds during the night. I kept it turned off for the most part but the patient rooms were dark. Sometimes the dim light spilling from the open doorway was not enough to allow me to tell if someone was breathing. Whenever that happened I would put my hand over the business end of the flashlight, turn it on and then spread my fingers ever so slightly so a bit of light could escape, just enough for me to see their chest rising and falling.

I lacked a critical piece of information as I happily worked my way from room to room that night. Turns out a young woman had been admitted that evening, with paranoia as one of her primary symptoms. No doubt my nursing colleagues were learning at that very moment about the fear this young woman had expressed when she arrived. She noticed that the patient rooms had no locks on the doors and was afraid someone would come in and stab her during the night.

When I pushed open the door to her room, I stood in the doorway for a moment and looked at each of the beds, trying to see chests rising and falling in the darkness. All was still and quiet in the room. I had no way of knowing that this poor young woman was awake and trembling with fear in her bed.

Now I'm a big man, well over six feet tall. So from her point of view the door to her room opened unexpectedly in the middle of the night to reveal a hulking stranger, backlit by the dim light from the hallway, holding something in his hand that could very well have been a knife. It makes me cringe inside to think of the fright this must have produced for her. Her worst fear was coming true.

To make matters worse (you didn't think that was possible, did you?) her bed happened to be in a particularly dark corner of the room. I couldn't tell if she was breathing so, as I had done literally thousands of times before with other patients, I walked quietly to her bedside and leaned in for a closer look.

Now I will never know for certain if the next few seconds actually reduced my life expectancy. I think there's a good chance they did.

She sat bolt upright in bed -- which brought her face within inches of mine -- and screamed at the top of her lungs.

I was so startled I screamed right back at her.

Luckily I was not totally alone. The nurses heard the ruckus and came running. They shooed me out of the room so they could calm the unfortunate young lady down and explain to her who I really was. My understanding is that she recovered quite nicely from the incident (perhaps better than I did) and was discharged after only a relatively short hospital stay.

The extremely brief relationship between me and this patient is obviously in a different category than the relationships we normally discuss in this forum. There is a point to this story, though, beyond giving you a good chuckle over the collected bumblings of Dr. Andrew.

Here's the point. She did something completely unexpected, which caused me to react in an inappropriate way. This happens all the time in our other relationships, doesn't it? Let's say some contentious issue has been bugging your spouse for a while. The two of you are sitting watching TV one night and, as far as you are concerned, all is peaceful in the kingdom. When the show goes to commercial break, though, your significant other pops out with it.

"You know, it really bugs me when you do X."

Pow! A verbal left hook to the eyebrow, right out of nowhere. This type of unexpected bomb can startle us into an immediate response, which might go something like this:

"Oh yeah? Well it bugs me when you do Y but you don't see me complaining about it, do you?"

And off we go, with tensions rising and nerves jangling on both sides. This sort of thing is no fun, but what can we do about it? Plenty, as it turns out.

One lesson to learn is that you don't really want to surprise your partner with a verbal blow to the head. If you have an issue to discuss, announce that fact in as non-threatening a manner as you can, something like:

"Honey, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about. It's no big deal, really, I just wanted to discuss it with you so we could figure it out together."

Notice the messages here. I don't expect this to be a big problem so there is no need for you to be stressed about the discussion. I'm not attacking you; I'm trying to be mindful of your feelings. I don't want to tell you what to do; I'm suggesting we work together, on the same side, to come up with a solution. With such an introduction, you have significantly reduced the chances that your spouse will shoot back with an immediate hurtful counterattack.

What if, on some other occasion, your spouse surprises you? You can make a difference here, as well, if you train yourself to react appropriately in that type of situation. Make up your mind how you would like to handle it if your spouse drops a contentious issue in your lap. Chances are they are stressed when they do it, so shooting back with anger is unlikely to get you very far. A better strategy is to take a few moments -- "count to ten" -- while you search for a way to defuse your partner's stress. Generally that means acknowledging their point, letting them know that you have heard and understood what they said. That doesn't necessarily mean you agree with them, just that you are willing to talk about it.

Once you have thought through this general strategy, you'll be amazed how quickly your mind can react to even complete surprises. Your thoughts can go immediately to, "Oh yes, I recognize this type of situation. I know what's going on and I already know what to do."

Using these approaches can reduce significantly the amount of tension in some homes.

All the best,

There are several ways you can contribute to this forum. Emailed questions and comments are always welcome, which can be anonymous or otherwise. You have a few days left to submit a response to this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question before I post my favorite on Saturday (with a link to the winner's blog). I have also volunteered to be interviewed online and you are invited to submit questions for me to answer. You can find the details here.
Read More ->>