Sunday, March 25, 2012

Top Divorce Blog




I am pleased to announce that To Love, Honor, and Dismay has been selected as a recipient of the Top Divorce Blog designation by Online Schools. The Online Schools site provides resources to students looking for a wide variety of online education options. This includes guides to online resources, including top blogs on a variety of topics. What an honor to be selected! (Note from Andrew: I have been informed that OnlineSchools.org has removed their blog awards section. Nonetheless, I am still honored that I was selected.)

A number of Dismaying Stories involve divorce-related topics, including common causes of break ups such as cheating and conflict, as well as factors that help prevent divorce, like commitment. You can access these stories by clicking on the labels listed at the bottom of this post.

Have any of those topics cropped up in your life? Could you use some advice? Do you have a story to share? If so, I would love to hear from you.
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dismaying Story #135: My Parents Don’t Like My Boyfriend




Dear Andrew,

I am nineteen years old and I’ve been dating my 21 year old boyfriend for about a year. We get along great but the only problem is my parents don’t like him. That bothers me because I think it should be up to me who I date. He’s fun to be with and says such nice things. My parents want me to find someone who goes to college like I do, or at least has a job. But it’s not like he doesn’t want to work. He had a part-time job at a store but that ended last summer and he hasn’t been able to find anything even though he is looking. This is the first time I’ve had this problem with my parents and I don’t know how to handle it. We’ve never really fought much before and I don’t like it. My boyfriend is cool about it, though. He just laughs when we talk about it and says not to worry about it, but it still bothers me. Any advice?

Signed, Unhappy


Dear Unhappy,

I can understand why you feel torn. It sounds like you have enjoyed a good relationship with your parents, and now you find yourself at odds over one of the biggest issues in your life – your choice of your current significant other.

You are correct about one thing. In my opinion it is completely up to you who you date and with whom you eventually settle down, if that is in your future. You are a young adult, it is your life, and you are the one who will be the most affected by your choices.

But ... yes, I have several very large ‘buts’ for you to consider.

I worry that one of the factors here may be what I call The Saturday Night Syndrome. A typical existence for a teenager in college revolves around classes, assignments, and a social life, with maybe a part-time job or some extra-curricular activities like sports thrown in to round out the mix. Your boyfriend doesn’t attend your classes, nor does he share your job or play on your volleyball team. He intersects your world when it comes to hanging out during your leisure time and when you go out on Saturday night. That is the arena where he must shine in order for you to feel good about the experiences you share with him.

You see, couples tend to feel better about each other when they share positive experiences. (Which is why the occasional date night or vacation trip can be so important later in life, when day jobs and mortgages tend to take over.) Based on your letter, I would say your boyfriend is good at helping you enjoy yourself when you’re at the movies or at a party. It sounds like he has some skills when it comes to knowing what to say to you in a social context. And those are all good things. I would also guess you are attracted to him for other reasons, such as his physical attractiveness or whatever else you are responding to in him. Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.

The problem is this is not a complete test of how well he may be able to contribute to your long-term happiness. Some young people measure compatibility based on how well things are going right now, when perhaps a some thought about the potential future might shed a different light on things.

I realize not all dating relationships are headed for a long-term commitment. People date for fun, have transition boyfriends – I get it. But you are at an age where relationships often start to get serious. You’ve been with this guy for a year and your letter gives no indication things are likely to slow down or end soon. In my books this is either already a serious relationship or has the potential to become one. I guarantee your parents recognize the same thing.

I haven’t met you or your boyfriend, so I can’t possibly offer an opinion about him as a person or as a potential partner for you. However there are a few things you mentioned in your letter that I recommend you should think about.

Let’s talk about a few life skills you should look for. The first is earning potential. That may sound callous and out of step with a discussion about love and how he makes you feel, but it is a hard fact that we all need to earn a living. That is especially true for someone who might marry a young lady and become a father. Now I can’t pass judgment on anyone who might be struggling to earn an income in today’s economy. Times are tough and jobs are scarce. Not everyone needs to go to college to succeed. The question for me, though, is this: What is your boyfriend doing to improve his situation? Is he working long and hard to scour the hills looking for opportunities? Is he treating his current downtime as an opportunity to improve his skills, learn a trade, or start a small business out of his garage? Has he volunteered to work somewhere for free in the short term so he can create contacts or learn something marketable? Or has he merely submitted a handful of resumes and asked a few friends if they know about any jobs? Everyone can occasionally be faced with challenges, but it is how we respond to them that shows whether we are a go-getter who is likely to succeed no matter what, or someone whose fortunes depend on luck and the good graces of others. I hope my daughter would have her eye out for one of the go-getters.

A second life skill in any relationship between young people is trying to get along with the potential in-laws. Like it or not, every boyfriend has a sales job to do, selling himself to your parents. That can involve communication, compromise, the ability to recognize issues and deal with them, and underlying it all, the desire to create good will and harmony. How much effort has your boyfriend put into any of that? I recognize his relationship with your parents is a two-way street and they own half the relationship. He has to do his part, though. If, as you say, he merely laughs off their concerns without taking positive steps to try to mend fences, then that should make you pause and think. Is this how he is likely to approach other important relationships in the future, such as with employers, co-workers, or your friends?

Going along with that, has he shown any concern for how this conflict is affecting you?

You asked about your parents, and all I’ve talked about so far is you and your boyfriend. The reason is I want to give you a perspective that many parents are likely to have on your situation. It seems there are plenty of factors involved that would give your parents reasonable grounds for being concerned, especially since they are likely to be the two people on this planet who are most interested in you ending up with a fulfilling and happy life.

One more thing you said gives me pause. This is not a recurring pattern for you and your parents. I assume you have dated before, which means they didn’t object to your previous boyfriends, just this one. I also have to assume your parents know something about life. They were once your age, dating and watching their friends succeed and fail at numerous relationships. Whether you want to admit it or not, they have some perspective on these sorts of things that you don’t have. So just the fact that they are concerned should make you stop and wonder whether they might have a point.

Please forgive me if any of my assumptions are off base. You might have already thought through many of the points I mentioned. And like I said at the outset, your choice of dating partner should be completely up to you. However, I suggest your parents’ concern should set off major alarm bells and get you thinking about some of the issues I mentioned above. I wish you the best of luck in working through that and, hopefully, arriving at a happy place for everyone concerned.

All the best,
Andrew

Do you have a relationship question? Please keep those emails coming. The identity of email respondents always remains confidential.
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Monday, March 05, 2012

Dismaying Story #134: Confronting An Abusive Parent




Dear Andrew,

I have recently confronted my abusive father with some of the things he did to me as a child. After much therapy I decided it was the right time to do this. It was the most liberating thing for me personally, although he denied it, said I was probably mentally ill for making up such lies, and convinced my mother of this as well. I feel numb, right now, not angry or bitter. The hardest thing was saying goodbye to my mother, who did not want to even talk to me about anything, just said she would stick up for Dad and support him, no matter what. What am I supposed to feel?

Signed, Hurting


Dear Hurting,

Your letter is brief, but my goodness what a huge amount of pain is wrapped up in your words. I am so sorry to hear what you have gone through. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this has all been for you.

First of all, I am glad you mentioned therapy. I assume that means you are working with a professional, which I think is highly appropriate in a situation like yours. The thoughts expressed on any online forum such as TLH&D can never be as targeted nor as in-depth as those you receive in person from a therapist. The best someone in my position can do is offer encouragement and a few general ideas to get you thinking, more akin to a sympathetic ear from a friend. Happily, stories such as yours often elicit supportive comments from other readers who may have undergone similar experiences, and I’m betting someone in your position can use all the encouragement and support you can get.

Your question is: What am I supposed to feel? I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel completely emotionally battered and beaten up inside. Let’s take a quick inventory of some of the major blows you’ve had to endure.
  • You are a victim of childhood abuse at the hands of a parent.
  • You’ve had to live through years of silence, interacting with your parents and other family members as if nothing happened.
  • Your father abused you yet again when he refused to own up to his responsibility for the abuse, instead attempting to turn the blame for any conflict back onto you.
  • Your mother chose your father over you, rejecting you when you were at your most vulnerable and in need of support.
It’s no wonder you are reeling. This is tough, tough stuff. It is completely understandable that you would have a hard time coming to terms with it. So the first thing I hope you feel is that it is okay to take time to work through all of this. Please don’t beat yourself up that you should be handling it better. That’s simply not true. There is no correct amount of time after which you should be all adjusted and doing fine. It doesn’t work that way. Feeling badly and taking some time does not make you weak or inadequate, just human. Give yourself permission to be human.

In fact, I’ll go further than that. You are not only putting effort into working through your challenges, you are making progress and taking proactive steps to help yourself. The best example of this is the fact that you were able to confront your parents. This is certainly not an easy thing to do, as I’m sure you can attest to better than anyone ... but you did it! So the second thing I hope you feel is pride in yourself. You are working to rise above the circumstances that have been thrust upon you. Good for you!

Thirdly, none of this is your fault. I can’t stress that enough. Victims of abuse often wonder What if I said no? or Why didn’t I tell someone sooner? You are the victim here, and you have enough to deal with without taking on even the smallest amount of blame for causing the pain. And just to be clear, nothing about your letter indicates that you are blaming yourself, so hopefully you have already avoided or worked through these feelings, but if not – please don’t go there.

Finally, I am sorry to hear that you have had to endure a separation from your mother as a result of this. That must feel like a double punishment after everything else. It is indeed sad that your parents would not take the opportunity to help their daughter heal. I’m sure your father could help you tremendously by taking ownership for what happened and making sure you understand that the responsibility lies with him, not you. I’m sure your mother could help you understand how valuable you are by at least questioning your father’s word in light of what you revealed. By withholding that support, they have made the emotional hill you have to climb that much steeper.

But here’s the thing – you can still reach the top of that hill. It may be more difficult without your parents, but it is by no means impossible. So the final type of emotion I hope you feel is determination and hope. You can do this! You have already taken the positive steps of working with a therapist and confronting your parents. I’m betting you have the fortitude to keep going, to do whatever it takes to find the inner peace everyone deserves.

I wish you the best of luck on that journey. You’re so worth it.

All the best,
Andrew

The backlog of questions is tiny indeed these days. Please help me keep the stories flowing. If you have a question or observation you think would be of interest to readers of this site, please consider sending it in. I appreciate all the support!
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Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Dismaying Story All-Stars




I am delighted and grateful for the constant traffic on this site. Many of the comments show appreciation for the insightful and heartfelt feedback left by previous Faithful Readers. I am thankful for all the support and wisdom many of you have shared over the years. For those of you who are new, I thought I would provide a bit of a road map to a few selected articles that generated considerable discussion. Hopefully this will help you gain a sense of what the TLH&D community is all about – and by all means I would love to hear about your opinions and experiences regarding these and other relationship topics!

A special welcome goes out to all those who arrived here via Facebook or Twitter. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know you were here!

The following are a few all-stars selected from among the many Dismaying Stories. Enjoy!

Dismaying Story #124: Sexual Obsession

I received a letter from a woman who recently discovered that her husband was suffering from what she described as a sexual addiction. She wrote: "It's been the most painful and gut churning experience of my life." I offered some thoughts of my own, and then a number of female readers chimed in with support and similar stories from their own lives. One comment begins: "Reading this post was like being hit in the chest with a train. This was where I was about 20 years ago." The original letter writer also joined in the conversation, offering an update on her situation. Some Dismaying Stories like this one are about tremendous pain that occurs in people's lives. Happily they are also about how people come together to support one another through those tough times. Click here for the full story.

Dismaying Story #88: An Emotional Affair

The letter in this case came from a woman who had "just fallen into" an online relationship with another man. They never spoke, never met, never discussed sexual topics ... but they told each other how much they meant to each other, and she felt guilty, convinced that her husband wouldn't understand. Is this one type of affair? Or just a harmless online friendship? Click here to see what I had to say, along with fifteen of my closest online friends. And please feel free to chime in. I'd love to hear your take on this topic, especially now that Facebook and Twitter make it so easy for all of us to connect with our online friends every day. Is there a point where these types of online relationships can cross the line from networking to cheating?

The Five-Minute Drill

Most of the Dismaying Story posts on this site are in response to questions sent in by readers. This one is a bit different; it describes one of the best pieces of parenting advice that my wife and I ever received, in this case from our family doctor. Have you ever tried to put a very young child to bed, only to endure prolonged bouts of crying when you attempt to leave the child alone? If so, then you know it can be a difficult and heart-wrenching situation. The Five-Minute Drill is a technique that can work very well for both parent and child -- we used it with all three of our children. One couple in particular were completely sleep deprived after weeks of dealing with a crying child. They found the five-minute drill on this site, and after trying it they went so far as to offer this feedback: "We are writing to tell you that you have saved our lives." (You can find that feedback posted here.) That made my day when I received that!

The TLH&D archives contain discussions on topics as wide-ranging as separate sleepers, divorcing your toxic parents, catching a cheating spouse, know-it-all spouses, jealousy over past partners, and many more. I also plan to continue the discussion with new Dismaying Stories ... with help from you Faithful Readers, of course!

Thank you for visiting, and please - I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to email me or leave a comment to share what’s on your mind. Comments can be anonymous and the identity of email correspondents always remains confidential.

All the best,
Andrew
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