Baggage Check Live: "Power plays are good in hockey and not much else."

Jun 19, 2018

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

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Welcome, everyone. How are people doing this week?

This week's print column deals with a woman trying to escape a controlling relationship. I get a dishearteningly large number of these questions-- in part because of other writing I've done in this area-- and I want you all to know, if you are in a controlling relationship out there, I do hear you! You are not alone, and there is help. I am sorry that I cannot always respond to each and every one of you directly. Please do keep www.thehotline.org close at hand as a resource.

And in Letter 2, we see someone who's pretty certain their spouse's anxiety is at disorder-level, but wants to know how to have that conversation without making things worse.

Okay, talk to me!

Hi all! Quick housekeeping note from me, Zainab, the producer on this chat. When we have the time, some of the submitted chat questions are edited for length and clarity. Dr. Andrea and I do our best to summarize your questions and keep the key points in there, so please don't be alarmed if your question looks slightly different or shorter. That being said, we are more likely to address the more condensed questions, given the faster nature of the chat. That's not to say we won't address the longer questions, it just may take more time. So if you can condense them, please do! Thank you! Dr. Andrea, take it away!

Thanks for taking my question last week. Almost as soon as I submitted it, I realized that I'm dealing with two different issues: the reasons I did/didn't want to go on the trip and my feelings on my friendship with this group as a whole. Combining them made it harder for me to see clearly what the right choice was for the trip (I definitely won't be going). Thanks to you and the chatters for the input! Now I just need to do some thinking about the friendship itself.

I am so glad you found the chat helpful!

(And, um, even just the process of submitting the question itself. But we can't take quite as much credit for that.)

You may find that after the wedding, the whole Life Transition Death Blow starts to change your interactions with the bride and these friends, anyway. Usually this is a negative thing-- a curse that makes it harder to keep up an otherwise wonderful friendship-- but in this case it may provide a natural time to get some space.

From last week. Check and see if there are any senior centers in your area. My mom is a retiree in her 70s and does a bunch of fun (and free/inexpensive) stuff at her local senior center. They offer things like art and exercise classes, bus trips, and even tax preparation. Hers is offered through the county government, which can also be a great place to look for inexpensive classes and events for people of all ages.

What a great suggestion. Thanks.

Follow up from last week. The people doing the judging are women. If women don't want to be judged, then they need to stop judging each other. Yes, I am female.

I think you raise a good point-- but I don't think the chicken/egg cycle is as easy as you make it. Women may be more likely to judge because they are constantly on the receiving end of it themselves, so it's hard to be the first one to let go of a standard that was so strictly applied to yourself. It's the same dynamic that makes it hard to get rid of all kinds of bad situations-- from hazing in fraternity houses to chronic and dangerous sleep deprivation among medical residents. (And let's be honest, there are probably a decent amount of male judgers too-- though I agree that there's probably an overall gender difference.)

Motherhood + unrecognized or untreated anxiety disorder = a very difficult childhood for the kids. It is hard to grow up not being allowed to do normal, age-appropriate things, being repeatedly given the message that the world is a dangerous and scary place, and taught that nobody but Mom and Dad can be trusted. Not only do you miss out, and look like a fool, you don’t develop life skills. Ask me how I know...

I am sorry.

But you bring up a very good point.

And, the anxiety-about-your-own-anxiety (I work with a lot of Moms who are terrified of transmitting their own anxiety to their kids) can be the icing on the cake.

Best to be proactive in getting help for it, for sure.

Thanks.

Hi Andrea. I submitted a question a few chats ago about how to deal with the grief of finding out my dog may die soon. We ended up having to euthanize him this past weekend because the vet told us it was time. I'm devastated. When my husband and I went to the shelter to donate all of his things, we ended up adopting another dog. My husband thought it was the best thing to do--to pour our love into this other dog. It has only been two days since we've had this new dog and three days since our dog died. I'm trying to love this new dog and obviously would not want him to go back to the shelter but I can't move on from my old dog and wishing he was here, not this new dog. In a way, I feel resentment towards this new dog because he is not my old one. I don't show it but I'm also not as affectionate towards the new dog as I could be. Was this a huge mistake?

I can imagine there are all kinds of emotions swirling through you at this moment, and everything feels very here-and-now. But it would be way too early to declare this a mistake. Yes,  you probably could have used more time.... and more deliberation.

But, you are only a couple of days in to your loss, and so your feelings will have a long way to go. Everything you describe is totally normal and understandable, and while many people would argue that those were reasons to hold off on the new dog, you've got him now-- and so there's validity in looking at it the other way as well. These feelings will change. Grief takes time and comes in waves. Parts of today will not feel like tomorrow, and vice versa. Even people who get a new dog years after the loss of their last one are hit with some of the same feelings at first (Can I love him the same? Why doesn't he eat like the other one does? Who even is this dog-- I want my other one instead!)

Don't force anything at this point. Let yourself be, and let yourself feel. And let your relationship develop at its own pace with this new dog. Don't criminalize your feelings. You deserve to go through your own process of grief.

If your husband is able to channel his love into the new dog right away, then that lets you off the hook even more. Take the time you need.

Again, I am sorry.

In watching the White House press briefings, one thing that has struck me is that there seems to be little loyalty or willingness to stick up for each other within the group of reporters in the room. I realize journalism is a business, and I guess that's why they are all so ready to jump all over each other to get their own question aired. But, it would be so nice to hear them say, hey, you didn't answer the question that was just asked, I'm interested in the answer also. It seems that it would put more pressure on SSH to actually answer, if the press showed a more united front in demanding answers.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this was not intended for me.

Or maybe it was-- as we are all about understanding human behavior in this chat!

It's an interesting point-- the needs of the individual (any given journalist's career will be helped if they can elevate their own voice/question above the fray) versus the needs of the group (if they all banded together, maybe those non-answers-- more evasive than the manure I was slinging at my dissertation defense-- can be stopped once and for all.) It's like a Prisoner's Dilemma with khakis instead of jumpsuits.

This may be a good time for me to mention that there is absolutely no gray area in terms of the science about what happens to children who are traumatized by sudden involuntary separation from their parents-- especially when it's indefinite.

The effects are long-term and devastating. And yes, as a psychologist, this is absolutely something I will speak up on.

Hi there. Yesterday I got an email from a client with what he called some “constructive criticism” - that I use too many fillers when I speak. He told me that he’d discussed this with other colleagues who had also noticed this about me. I’m of a few minds about this. I’m aware that I lean on verbal crutches and I’m a much better writer than speaker. This is especially true when, as was the case on my most recent call with this group of clients, I am stressed. On this call it was due to questions I wasn’t sure how to answer because I hadn’t gotten the responses i needed from management. It was also a conference call where conversational pauses and tics are more common than, say, a podium. I have plenty of public speaking experience but now I’m questioning how unprofessional/amateurish I have appeared in the past. I know I’m being overly sensitive but the email delivery and the fact that I have to give an in person presentation next week to a much larger group of these clients have me feeling pretty lousy. I believe this guy has good intentions and thought he was trying to help but that somehow doesn’t make me feel much better. I’m also not sure how to respond to the email. My husband thinks I should take the opportunity to have a call with the emailer and lay out what was bothering me. I am tempted to simply write back something professional and short/sweet like, “Thanks for the feedback; I know this is something I need to work on.” What do you think is the best course of action? And what will help me calm down, focus and do a good job next week? And also save face and preserve my client relationship? I’m dreading the presentation even more and now I’m stuck in a kind of shame spiral. Thanks.

If this can help stop your shame spiral any-- I would bet money that this person was recently alerted to the idea of verbal fillers and now notices them everywhere and is on a crusade of being "helpful." Just like you never notice anyone's teeth until you're up all night with the pain from your own orthodontia. Because, EVERYONE has verbal fillers. I am particularly attuned to them because I analyze people's words for a living and also have spent years lecturing and giving speeches. And perhaps, most traumatizing, I had to spend years watching myself in videotapes and hearing myself in audiotapes doing therapy, with a supervisor and other trainees hearing all my own verbal fillers (Adios, "Or something of that nature!")

Bottom line-- this guy thought he was being helpful, and he did the annoying thing of giving you added data points of what others thought (he clearly thought it would add to the validity of his words, when in reality it just made you feel embarrassed and made him dangerously close to being a jerkface.) I'm telling you, habitual verbal fillers are a common, common thing that SO many people do-- even those who are on the radio for a living.  So, view it as a specific and tangible skill that you are working on. It reflects ZERO on your intelligence, competence, or character.

I vote for your short/sweet answer. Let's not make this more of a mountain than you already have, by engaging this guy in some sort of larger discussion that he might take as permission to opine even further.

My heart breaks for you. You are not alone! You have a wonderful caring daughter, and probably many others. When I was trying to leave my abuse husband I packed a suitcase and stuck it in the trunk of my car, waiting until the day I had the nerve to leave. You could give a bag to your daughter or a friend. Remember, stuff is just stuff. The only thing irreplaceable is YOU. Much love.

Thank you. I am so very glad you came out on the other side.

I recently read a novel that started with a woman gradually removing items one by one over the course of months to eventually have fully moved out a huge amount of her possessions, but it was unnoticeable along the way because she did it so gradually. (Hmmm. Not that I am suggesting LW take months. And not that I am suggesting that the stuff should be the issue here.)

Thank you again for your kind post.

Gene Weingarten's chat just ended; the poster probably intended it for him.

That could very well be!

Thankfully, I think Gene will forgive me.

I have been dating my current partner for over a year. We both have elementary-aged children from our previous marriages. My marriage ended 3.5 years ago after discovering that my ex was frequenting prostitutes, a serial cheater, and had a sex addiction. At the time our marriage dissolved, he confessed that he never actually loved me. Looking back with a therapist's help, I realize that he was a controlling, emotionally abusive spouse. My current partner is supportive, stable and understanding that allowing myself to trust another person can be difficult. I love him and spending time with him. I trust him with my children and they love being around him. I don't question his faithfulness or worry that he's going to cheat on me. But I can tell that I am extremely guarded. I don't believe that I can let him see my true self. I fear that if he really sees me, I won't enough. That I'm not enough. I don't like him to see me unshowered or after working out. I stifle preferences and let him make the decisions about what to do on our days together. And not because he insists or would likely even care, but I'm worried that he might. I've been in weekly therapy for almost five years to deal with childhood trauma and the dissolution of my marriage, so I'm working on this. But do you have any tangible steps that I can do while I continue my healing process? Ways I can feel comfortable letting my partner see me? And letting him in? How I can begin to take up some space in the world? Thank you.

First, I am glad you are in therapy. You've been through a lot.

And I would trust that you can be more direct in wanting tangible steps with your therapist to work on this-- you can rehash specific instances where you were guarded, for instance, and develop a sample script of moving forward through the m the next time, and setting goals of how to open yourself up in a specific situation in the coming week. How do you learn to take up some space in the world? You practice inching out, millimeter by millimeter, one day at a time. 

But part of me is most interested in the question: what does your partner know about your struggles?

The short answer here (I know, when have I actually stuck to that?) is that you let him in by letting him in. Not just by doing the work that we're talking about, but by actually letting him in on the fact that letting him in is so difficult. Hey, it's like a Meta-Letting-In! I'm serious, though. That will build even more emotional intimacy, which is the end goal, after all. 

So, to take an example: "Hey, here we are driving to X because that is what we'd decided we'd do today. This is hard for me to say, but because of my past history, I sometimes let my preferences be stifled. I do want to do X, but I also don't know that it would be my first choice. And I hate that I can't always let me be myself with you. I'm hoping that if I speak up more about when this happens, though, you can help me be more true to myself, because I really want to be fully me when I'm with you. It's just hard for me because of my past, but our relationship is worth it to me. Can we work on this together?"

And the more you have these conversations, and these moments, the more that he can even learn to help support you by making it easier for you to be true to yourself.

Make sense?

I have a difficult relationship with my mother. She rigid ideals that tend to be rooted in feelings and her limited experiences rather than facts. She is anti-learning (for herself) and particularly science-avoidant. I have a strong interest in nutrition. This was probably at least partially fueled by growing up in a house where we had unfettered access to junk food. My mom has never cared about nutrition in any facet. I try to model a healthy food relationship for my kids. We generally keep our food on the healthier end of the spectrum. We don't vilify junk food but we also don't regularly consume things like candy or ice cream. When my mom visits (several times a year), she likes to throw this notion out the window. She brings my kids homemade baked goods and still takes them out for donuts while she's here. She'll take them to eat fast food and buy ice cream. She'll hit up a convenience store for soda and candy. The net result is that my kids end up eating massive amounts of sugar and low quality food multiple times a day for several days. On top of this, they get a great deal of screen time. The net result is that both of our kids end up difficult and moody during her visits and often for a day or two after as they adjust back to our normal lifestyle. She thinks she's being fun and it seems to amuse her if she gets any amount of rise from me out of this. Two part question: Do you think these periodic binges and mixed messages about nutrition are setting my kids up for disordered eating down the line? And do you have any idea how I might get my anti-fact mom to understand that this is something I do for health and not out of some wacky need to be in control?

Are these Sour Patch Kid binge-fests setting your kids up for disordered eating? You really want me to give you some ammo by saying yes, I'm betting. And trust me, I empathize with you to an extreme degree.

But the answer is very, very likely no.

In fact, the data shows us that the kids that fare the best in terms of later relationships with food have learned to understand balance and flexibility-- that virtually no food is "bad" if it is only occasional, that "rules" should be general, not absolute, and that extremism in any form-- whether doing nothing but mainlining Funyuns for three straight days or else going full-on quinoa for every meal including dessert-- is not a sustainable or healthful approach.

You say you don't vilify junk food. But you kind of are, here. (And I'm guessing it's because it's so intrinsically connected to your mother, who you are also trying super-hard to make it clear that you do not vilify. Not at all.)

So, the short answer to Number 1-- you teach them that if they were to eat all the time like they eat when Grandma is around, then their tummies would have problems, their muscles may not grow as strong, they'd not have a lot of energy, and their teeth would be begging for mercy. But that if it happens every once in a while, their bodies can bounce back.

But that brings me to the second question. It's clear that this is an extremely loaded dynamic between you and your Mom-- you're accusing her of wanting to get a rise out of you for her own amusement, and it's also clear that you don't really respect the way she looks at the world. (I'm not saying either of these views of yours is invalid; I'm just saying that they aren't going to lend themselves to a very collaborative, mutually respectful conversation.)

The answer is for you to find some sort of compromise, illustrating the very kind of balance that you want to instill within your children. Plan it in advance by talking to her about what she'd like to prioritize. So maybe she has baked something, and you all savor it for dessert-- and yes, you let your kids truly enjoy it and you compliment it-- but that means no stopping at a convenience store for more sugar that day.

Or you prize the fact that you'll go out and treat yourselves to ice cream after dinner, but in anticipation of that, that means you aren't going out for donuts for breakfast. Again, you talk about all of this collaboratively, and in advance. You keep her off the defensive by listening to what would be most important for her to enjoy with your kids, and you leave the science out of it: you are the Mom of your kids, and your house has certain guidelines, period. But you want to hear how you can work together to adjust them out of respect for your Mom wanting to have a good time too.

The same can be done for screen time ("There's a special show we will all watch together after we go to the pool, but that will be our screen time for the day," etc.)

Do I think this approach will be easy? No, because the baggage is pretty heavy with your Mom. But remember, your kids are watching you. If you can be reasonable and moderate and level-headed through these interactions, rather than making them part of some power-struggle that makes them feel confused, guilty, and triangulated, then that is even more important to their future health than them abstaining from candy.

Yoga teacher again - there's a phrase in yoga 'sitting with something' which I think might be helpful here. We in the west are so can-do and lets fix it. Yoga teaches us to connect to our feelings from an attitude of acceptance and curiosity. Sit with the feelings of grief, of wishing your new dog was your dear dog and don't judge them - just be with them for a while, let them wash over over you and let them ebb and flow. You will find your rhythm with the new dog in time.

Mindful awareness and acceptance at its best.

Thanks.

Growing up, my sister and I had a cordial but not close relationship. She got married and had kids I adored (Super Auntie!), I didn't get married until I was in my '40s. We seemed to get closer while caring for and losing both parents within a year of each other, and I felt so happy that we finally seemed to have the closeness sisters ideally have. But at a recent family event, I overheard her saying my name to her daughter-in-law, and then abruptly stopping when she saw me (which didn't seem like a good sign), and later, she critiqued me in front of this relative, as if she needed to gain social currency by asserting herself over me. I felt hurt and bewildered. Now I'm not sure what to say, but it's been eating at me, and I don't think I can ignore how I feel. I also think that if we are to have an authentically close relationship, it's important to "weed the garden" and talk honestly if one of us hurts the other. Any scripting help you can offer?

Scripting help it is.... in a moment.

First, though, I want to see if I can wedge in a little bit of the benefit of the doubt here. Yes, she shouldn't have been talking about you in a way that made for an abrupt stop when she noticed you. But we also know that there are a wide range of ways to be caught off guard and stop suddenly in conversation even with no ill intent, from "We're throwing Talullah a surprise party!" to "I had a nasty stomach reaction to Edna's bean dip, but don't want to hurt her feelings." We also have no idea the inner dynamics of her relationship with this daughter-in-law-- there could be pressures at play there that make her not her best, no matter how she feels about you. I realize I am probably being too optimistic here, but my point is that it's not going to help you, her or your relationship for you to automatically assume that she was saying something horrible in that ambiguous moment.

The second instance, though-- that's much more concrete, and I recommend that's where you start. So, the script for weeding the garden. First, my usual preamble: choose a quiet, private, non-relaxed time-- don't make it an ambush. And make this about your feelings (do I have my "I-statement" backup singers here?) rather than an accusation, and emphasize how good you've been feeling overall about your relationship. Here are a few ideas:

"I've been feeling so good about our relationship these days, and I don't know that I've told you that enough. I wanted to bring up how I felt when you said X to Jane at that barbecue, though. I know you didn't mean to hurt me, but it did have that effect. I felt pretty stunned. Can we talk about it?"

or

"I've had something on my mind lately-- I was pretty hurt by the comment you made to Jane. It bewildered me because I've felt so close to you lately. Do you remember which comment I mean?"

or

"Something's been eating at me-- and it's that comment about me that you made to Jane at the barbecue. It really hurt me, especially because of how close I've felt that we've gotten lately-- which I've loved, by the way. I didn't want it to fester and damage our relationship, so I was hoping we could talk about it."

or

"I have really loved how close we've gotten after all we've been through the past couple of years. And I want to keep that up always-- which means I want to be able to talk honestly with each other. I was hurt by something you'd said, and I know if I hurt you, I'd want to know, so I wanted to let you know about it. Is now a good time?"

Or any combination platter of the above.

The beauty of newfound closesness is that you can be vulnerable like this to her. And if she's worth the closeness, she will respect it, hear your feelings, and try to help things move forward.

Keep us posted.

This isn’t particularly a question but a very real gripe of mine. We treat our close family members worse than anyone else in our lives because “they love us and have to forgive us.” But they don’t always forgive and that’s why this column and others are filled with rants between mothers and daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, grandparents ... I would give anything to have my family again! I lost my parents when I was forty and my only sibling two years later. And two years ago, just after my husband retired from a career of over 45 years and six months after we moved to a new state, I lost my husband to cancer that took us completely by surprise. I am empty and lonely and I regret all the moments lost with the people I loved most. I urge all of you stressed by a family relationship to just take a breath, let something harsh go unsaid and appreciate the treasures in your life while you have them. And yes, for those of you bitterly thinking that I must have had it easy, never dealing with a parent or spouse needing all of my care and nurturing until I was dead on my feet and my brain numb, I too, have been there. Thank you Dr. Andrea, for allowing me vent. J

My pleasure. Although that sounds awful because you have been through such terrible, terrible losses.

Your point is well-taken. Abusive relationships are one thing, but in the typical relationship, the drama and squabbles can all too easily lead to regret for lost and wasted time, when the person is no longer there.

I'm sorry you've had to feel this so acutely.

I had posted a while back about being left by my SO of almost 8 years, and I go back and read your advice again when things are rough, and you were right. I did feel and am feeling better with longer bouts of good days between less and less bad days popping up. I have recently started dipping my toe back into the dating pool and have met several nice men. There is one that has shown interest in more than casual dating, and I feel the same way about him. However, my ex really messed me up with trust issues (turns out he cheated on me a lot and hid many things like debt and the such from me). I keep thinking this man is going to ghost me much in the same way my ex did, even though all signs point to him being very interested in and liking me, including daily chats on the phone and texts and him actually telling me those words. I fear I may seem needy and asking for reassurance too much, though, and I don't want to do that and drive him away. How do I stop myself from sabotaging things?

First, I am so glad for this update. It is so clear that you are moving in the right direction!

And as for those doubts, that's just it-- you are moving in the right direction. These doubts are the after-shocks, and they are part of the process. No use demonizing them. Instead, let's call them what they are. Give them a name. Label them when they come up, and view them not as something to be suppressed, but rather as something you can be mindful of as being there, and then let yourself breathe through them and watch them pass. "I'm having that Aftershock thought again, assuming this guy is not going to call me back. Hello, Aftershock thought. You like to come around because of what I've been through, and that's okay. I see you there. But you don't own my behavior. I'm going to breathe through you now, and not let you convince me to hound him/ruminate/let this moment be ruined. I'm going to focus on my gyro now and let this pass."

The key here is understand that they really WILL fade in time, as your relationship grows stronger. No feeling is permanent. You've been through a lot, and so these thoughts are natural little cautions that pop up. But they don't have to determine your actions.

Yes - I would take this as him just trying to helpful and move ahead working on it but knowing it's common. I would also suggest that men are often more straightforward than women in their communication and don't tend to use softening words as much as women so he might have come across as blunt. Is this part of why you feel so raw? It sounds like he didn't mean you to feel bad - I think he wanted to give you a heads up of how you could be even better. I hope this'll make you crack a laugh: my husband uses the filler 'you know' continually. It drives me bonkers because it's not meant to be taken literally and I obviously don't know - and don't know the five times he's used it int ten sentences! But everyone has tics like this.

Yes, indeed! That was well said, you know.

Uh oh, I hope this isn't my husband. How would I want him to tell me? Dr. Andrea's advice was great! I would add that anxiety makes everything feel overwhelming. Telling her she needs to get help - even if she agrees and wants it - will probably feel HUGE, especially with everything else going on. So I suggest you also tell her that you're going to help her get the help she needs. Help her find a therapist, help her schedule a doc appointment, go to yoga class together, etc. Knowing you have someone to help/lean on can go a really long way.

Thanks.

And you seem so open to the idea of what is out there to help with anxiety-- and how to initiate that help-- that I'm virtually certain LW wasn't your husband!

(Now, was he mine? Laughing here.)

I'm an anorexia survivor. When talking about food, I find it's better to not categorize by "good" vs. "bad," or "healthy" vs. "junk." The value judgments just make me feel guilty and overwhelmed. Instead, I talk in terms of always, sometimes, and never. Always lean protein, fruit, vegetables, whole grains. Sometimes processed foods and sweets. Never is anything I'm allergic to, or something dangerous like cheap gas station sushi on a 100 degree day. This has made pregnancy a lot easier for me (my "always" foods have been making me sick, so I'm sticking with "sometimes" foods because they stay down). I plan to share this philosophy with my child. If you aren't making value judgments about Mom's food, you're going to take it a lot less personally. And if she can't get a rise out of you, it may take the fun out of tweaking you about donuts.

Absolutely. Thanks for sharing this.

I'm a huge believer in seeing things on a spectrum, and not classifying any food in black-or-white terms unless it's an allergen. I know the always-sometimes classification works great for a lot of people.

Yum.....hot gas station sushi!

My husband and I are starting IVF next month. Unfortunately the day we have to go in for treatment is when my father in law is in town. He knows nothing of what's going on and I want to keep it that way. The day of the procedure will take a few hours and I'm going to need to take it easy the rest of the day and the next day. My husband was already planning on taking time off and then we found out FIL was coming out for a visit and there's no way to postpone him and we don't want to wait another month for IVF because it's heavily timed. What do you suggest we tell him as to WHY both of us need to be out of the house and WHY I can't do anything for at least 24 hours? He has the biggest mouth so if he finds anything out he's the first to blab to my family (who we aren't' telling either), the rest of husbands family, neighbors, friends, anyone who will listen. He's also quite inquisitive and downright nosey. Unfortunately he is staying with us verus a hotel.

Okay, there is no doubt that this is going to be tough.

You have to be prepared for the fact that no matter how brilliant a cover story you can come up with, he might pry and pry and pry, or not believe it, or spread/exaggerate the cover story around as gossip itself that gets other people talking. So I think it's important to have some contingency plans for what he throws at you, and maybe have a stopgap measure where you have a story that you can reveal that may be more than you originally intended, but is still less than talking fully about IVF (like you are getting fertility workups or something.)

So, tell me more and we can help you brainstorm. Would you normally be at work during this time? Can that not be the cover story?

OK, I'm going to say something harsh here. This column exists to help people with relationship problems. That's why " this column and others are filled with rants." That's the whole intent! If you don't like it, don't read Dr. Andrea. There is nothing I hate more than seeing a serious problem dismissed with "be glad you still have your mother, I wish I had mine." It's dismissive and unkind.

I hear you, for sure.

But, couldn't the same logic go to say that this was OP's own way of venting, and they need support too? They are dealing with a great amount of losses, and having feelings that they wish more people out there realized what they had. And so they expressed their feelings in that particular way.

I don't think OP was trying to shut anyone down in particular. I do agree that when people do that, it's a quick path to frustration and invalidation for everyone.

My father-in-law loves to make little comments about the scunge on the front porch or whatever, and my mother-in-law will sometimes chime in. I raise an eyebrow and don't respond. Two retirees with hired help are going to have a way easier time maintaining an immaculate home than we are, so judging us by their standards isn't worthy of a response. Except this time around - they're stopping by for an overnight visit. My husband and I have been in survival mode for the last few months (I'm having a tough pregnancy and have been largely bedridden since March, he's busy with work, we just sort of lob a bit of cleanser around now and then and hope for the best). I know I'm going to want to respond if they critique my housekeeping, but I also know if I give a litany of excuses or blow up it will make things worse. Do I just breathe through the visit, or do I find a diplomatic way of reminding them that they're retired, wealthy, and have "people" to come do things for them?

I recommend something in between.

Have a go-to response, not too snarky, but dismissive and firm enough that it invites no further exploration of how dirty your front porch is.

"Yup, cleaning is low on the priority list as I'm growing this baby" or "We're doing our best, but I appreciate your concern" or "Hmm, interesting. Now, can you believe Barry Trotz resigned?"

Repeat after me: respectful but firm. Breathe and dismiss.

Good luck. And how sorry I am that your FIL is proving wrong the idea that it's only women that judge.

When I was 58, I met "Dick." At 70, he had been in a miserable marriage for 42 years, and was living separately from his wife. After a couple of dates he told me he was married; I said that I had no intention of dating a married man—he'd better take me home. I figured I'd never see him again, but without my knowledge, he called a divorce attorney the next day, then filed for divorce, and began writing me letters asking to see me. We began dating, but the divorce process took two and a half years, and during this time he talked frequently of marriage. He was a wonderful and devoted companion, but the main problem was that his grown children, ages 40 and 35, refused to meet me or have anything to do with me, I guess blaming me for the end of their parents' marriage. Let me stress that I never tried to come between Dick and his children; on the contrary I encouraged him to call them and see them, and since I don't have children, I was looking forward to having them in my life. After we'd been dating for nearly three years, when Dick's daughter invited her father over for Christmas Eve dinner, he said to her, "Great, this will be a good opportunity for you to meet my girlfriend." Her response was: "That woman will never set foot in my house." Dick went by himself and left me home alone. I was incredibly upset and said so. When his son married the following summer, Dick said he couldn't wait to take me to the wedding and "show me off." Then a few months before the ceremony he announced that he couldn't take me to junior's wedding because the fiancée didn't want me there; she felt it would be awkward with Dick's ex-wife attending. So once again, Cinderella was informed that she was supposed to stay at home. By this point, Dick and I had been dating over three years; his talk of marriage had ceased when his divorce became final. And even though I had fully incorporated Dick into my life, introducing him to my family (who live out of state), my friends, and work colleagues, he seemed incapable or unwilling to incorporate me into his life with his children. I finally ended the relationship although it broke my heart to do so, and it broke Dick's too. The whole business seems tragic to me. Two people find incredible love late in life, only to have it destroyed by selfish spoiled children who apparently don't give a fig for their father's happiness. My question is how could I have played this differently? I'm a respected member of the community and I want to get married, not wait around and be treated like someone's mistress. And most eligible men my age are going to come with the baggage of exes and children. I'd appreciate your suggestions.

Ugh. Heartbreaking, indeed.

In an ideal world, Dick would never have had to choose between you and his children, and they would do the work to check their baggage and find it in themselves to understand that he deserved happiness. Some might say that Dick could have done more to push the issue, but it's hard for any of us to know that without understanding the exact dynamic he has with his children (and even his children's partners.)

In terms of moving forward, I think you put this in the column of something that you will be on the lookout from the get-go the next time around. Once bitten, twice shy. You can be honest and put it out there as it comes up, early on. "How do your children feel about your dating? I must admit, that was a major struggle in my last relationship, and I promised myself I'd never go through it again." The good thing is, this is something that you should be able to snuff out fairly early, which isn't always the case.

Good luck.

I'm just saying that was a dismissive and unkind way to express their own feelings, by projecting them onto the people in this chat who need help.

I can understand that viewpoint. But I want all feelings to be safe to express and try to understand here. (Well, virtually all. I'm sure someone soon will send in something I can't post.)

I suspect you are going to end up in a power play if you're not careful - and your children are watching. You don't want food to be a battleground - and this is going to sound a bit harsh - but especially over a few days a few times a year. I agree with Andrea that you might have more judgment than you think - and this would not be surprising! So often in US our relationship with food is full of conflict and is black and white - food is either good or bad, I'm either a saint or a sinner. We should not regularly be feeling this about the food we put in our mouths. We especially don't want to turn 'bad' food into 'treats'. There's nothing wrong with a couple of spoonfuls of ice cream most nights over the summer, or a small piece of chocolate to enjoy every day. And we don't want the message to be that only treats taste good. I love the taste of my veggies! I think most of us really need to take note of the message we send our children about food.

Thanks.

Yup, power plays are good in hockey and not much else.

It might also be frustrating for colleagues if your phone calls take 15 minutes to give 2 minutes of information. Maybe you can do a Bob Newhart - just practice phone calls to people on your own. Record the first few and play it back for yourself, you might be surprised at how much you talk. Then start working on shortening the messages.

How I love Bob Newhart! Good advice.

Yes, I suppose there's the possibility that OP is particularly severe in their verbal filler offenses. But we don't want to traumatize her from wanting to work on it.

My guess is that the procedure that day is an egg retrieval (I've had several myself). It's a fairly minor surgery, in which you are knocked out, and a ultrasound-guided hollow needle pokes through the walls of the vagina to suck eggs from the ovaries. (Yes, they knock you out and give you pain meds, thank the twinkling stars above). You spend about a half day at the facility. I told employers and friends who weren't in the fertility loop that I was having a minor corrective surgery on my ovaries. Generally, once you mention lady parts, people take a big step back.

Unless they are OP's already-nosy father wondering about grandchildren, I'm guessing!

Thanks for this input.

This, but the guilty party is my ex-husband. Every other weekend my kid eats and sleeps poorly, and is allowed almost unfettered access to electronics. How can I get the ex to recognize the kid needs similar structure regardless of whose house for that night? There has been verbal recognition and agreement, but it doesn't seem to be put into practice, and every other Sunday I get back an out of control kid who hates Mommy bc I require homework, a bath, and in bed by 9.

This is definitely harder, and the power-play piece is all but unavoidable, since here you are obviously both equal parents.

It's a good sign, though, that he is on board at least in theory with it. So I think the key is getting more specific.

Screen time limits that are enforced through certain apps? A drop-dead bedtime (okay, that came out wrong, but you know what I mean?) A few pieces of fruit consumed throughout the day? A certain amount of homework already done?

I don't know the extent of the relationship with your ex, but if you can keep things extremely specific and collaborative and not judgmental, that will have by far the best chance of him following the guidelines.

I thoroughly enjoy your column and read it every Tuesday! I have a situation I'd like to receive advice about. I am ten years in with the father of my children. Over the past ten years we have had lots, and when I say lots of ups and downs we've overcome physical abuse and more than one instance of infidelity on both of our parts. I try to keep the pain at bay and avoid bringing up past matters because I know the blame game does no good. I continue to try to make this work because again, I do love him deep down and we also have three children together (8, 7, and 1). My main issue is that I'm concerned he is emotionally abusing me. He has constant complaints about me not evenly sharing household responsibilities, my energy level, and my intimacy level. I've tried hard to keep up with my end of the household tasks. However, I do feel it's relevant to mention that I'm currently working full time while he is at home with the youngest. This is not a complaint. I just thought that he may be more understanding of my fatigue level given my work schedule combined with commute time. The original agreement was for one parent to work during the day and the other to work at night. That hasn't worked out. He is very good with the cooking, helping the kids with their homework, and occasional tidying of the kitchen. However, that's pretty much where it ends. He spends (in my opinion) a considerable amount of the time on his phone. Usually on FB. He also spends a considerable amount of time playing games on his cell phone. Some tasks he does not take part in at all such as bathing the baby, detailed cleaning (like the floors and bathrooms), laundry, grocery trips, vacuuming (very important since we have a toddler). Although, I'm currently working in an Office Manager role ("sitting at a desk all day" as he puts it) I'm often quite tired when I get off work. I am usually responsible for groceries, coming home and sharing the load with cooking and cleaning, and having energy and desire for sex. Honestly, his laziness is a turn off but I don't know how to communicate this without the classic "Drama King" responses: "Oh, I'm sorry it's all my fault", " "I'm not having this discussion" or worse, him not even addressing my concern at all but starting in on me with my areas of inadequacy (shifting blame). I realize no one is perfect but I wonder if he does. The whole situation is making me not only feel inferior as a mate/mother, but totally crazy. When I step back and evaluate the arrangement it just doesn't seem right. There are times when I wonder if he is even actively seeking employment. There are nights when I come in at 7:30 from the grocery store to a sink full of dishes, no one has had dinner, and the trash is still in the kitchen. I'm expected to have a pleasant attitude, and to immediately pick up the slack. He seemingly complains about my every move even about me talking about my day. It's almost like the "All about Me" syndrome. I have presented solutions that I hoped would work like chore assignment and rotation but his response was "I'm done with this conversation". Any insight you can offer is tremendously appreciated.

I appreciate the kind words on the column.

But alright, I'm going back and forth here, because on the one hand, these are some classic and very common behavior patterns that I see in marriages with children, and they are surmountable with some work.

On the other hand, there's a history here that you glossed over. Physical abuse? Multiple infidelities?

I fear that if I turn this into a simple "This is about the division of labor" discussion, that is a red herring and that there are deeper and more troubling things going on here.

Have you thought about therapy?

I let that sort of argument keep me in the orbit of my toxic parents far longer than it should have. You know, if you cut them out, you'll be consumed with regret when they die. Well, guess what? When my dad died, I didn't regret not spending more time with him. I didn't feel like I missed out. Rather, I'm bummed I didn't set better boundaries earlier on. Ultimately, I think it's wrong and cruel to guilt people for making their own decisions and setting their own boundaries. We each have the right to decide how close we will be to family of origin, and no one is entitled to access our lives.

Oh, for sure. I agree completely, and am sorry to hear about your toxic relationship and the difficulty in getting out of it.

Abusive relationships can get their stronghold on people precisely because people feel guilty that their partner/parent/whoever isn't WORSE. Well, things could always be worse. Do you deserve to be emotionally abused because some people are being physically abused? Of course not.

Hope you are finding some peace.

I've noticed people are especially eager to police the way women talk. Verbal fillers, vocal fry, uptalk, blah blah blah. The message appears to be, "don't talk unless it's perfect." Meanwhile, men can blather, um, and interrupt unimpeded and uncriticized.

Yes, there is definitely a gender dynamic that has the potential to be troubling here.

Thanks.

Are you SURE there's no way to postpone him? It sounds like he invited himself. Can't you just say, "I'm sorry, that week won't work but how about the following week?" Wouldn't that be the simplest solution?

I was wondering this too, thanks.

He invited himself and you absolutely have to go along with it?

Might be a good practice-assertiveness opportunity for when (knock on every piece of wood) you become parents!

Just use my line. "Sorry about the mess but...I live here." (shrug)

hahahah!

Where has this been all my adult life?

Love it.

It's their parents fault for bringing them here! (Says 40 percent of this country.)

It's really disturbing, isn't it? I'm going to tell myself it's not 40 percent, so that I can absolutely sleep at night.

It feels like a really dark time.

Hi Dr. Andrea, I have a very close friend that I have been friends with since childhood who struggles with mental health issues. To my knowledge, she is on medication and in therapy. In the past she has struggled with self-harm regularly. Last week, she told me that she self-harmed for the first time in months. I told her that I was glad she opened up, listened to how she felt about it, told her not to be ashamed, and asked her about what feelings led her to do that. I felt like we had a positive conversation. How should I be there for her going forward? Is there anything in particular I should say, or ask? Not sure how to help my friend.

Exactly what you did. Seriously, it sounded really really good.

I would add to urge her to continue opening up about this to her therapist as well. You sound sensitive enough that you can do it in such a way that it doesn't come across as "Don't bother me with this; talk to your therapist" but rather as "I want you to use every tool at your disposal to help get support about this."And the only other thing I would say is to not be afraid of asking directly of thoughts of further self-harm or even suicidal thinking-- it will NOT "put the idea in her head" but will instead allow you to know even further what's going on for her (and whether there is a physical safety risk.)

But seriously, you sound like you are a great friend to her right now.

'I am not allowed to clean and Joe is working like a maniac. If you're concerned you could always pay towards a housekeeper.'

On the somewhat more assertive end of the spectrum!

It's a small medical issue - not dangerous. We don't want to talk about it. Repeat as necessary.

Yes. Plain and simple. Thanks.

I was the grandchild in such a situation. One time when I was about 5 years old, there was a quart bottle of grape soda, and my grandmother let me drink the whole thing, despite my mother's attempts to intervene. Long story short, as you can probably guess, about an hour later I threw purple. And I've never been able to face drinking grape soda again. (Or orange, for that matter!). My grandmother's permissiveness wound up becoming an unintentional form of aversion therapy for me!

Yes!!

Some people did this same thing to their kid with cigarettes.

Can't say I recommend it, though, as it's sort of a game of chicken. In fact I'm pretty sure I know three kids in particular who would be like "Okay, I just threw up. Now there's room for more grape soda!"

I wrote in some time ago about how I was worried my husband would be a passive dad who only did for his child when directly asked, because he tends to wait for instructions around chores and kids. I used our visiting friends (frantic mom, active kid, passive dad) as an opening into the bigger conversation about stepping up. Well now I'm further into this pregnancy thing, and I'm just amazed at how proactive my husband has become. I've been really sick, and he's risen to the occasion by cleaning the house and running errands without being asked. I said the other night that he's going to be a great dad, and he absolutely glowed.

This may be one of my favorite updates ever. Thank you!

Have these conversations, people. Have them openly and honestly, and have them early (and when needed, continually.)

I am so glad for you!

Hope you are far enough along with the gentleman to tell him, in summary, how the ex treated you. If he understands what happened to you, he will respond better when things do go "till" a bit. And they will go "till" at some point.

Thank you!

Though I confess that Zainab and I are stumped about "till"-- thankfully, we are all about context clues here! 

Standing clapping - what a fantastic update.

It really was, wasn't it?

I am joining in.... which makes it an official standing ovation!

I'm guessing they meant "tilt".

A good guess-- thanks!

Here we are once again, getting stared at by an angry clock. Boo!

Thanks so much to all who wrote. We're getting more and more input every week-- and I love it, though I hate that I can't get to everything. Be on the lookout in the print column as well, as sometimes certain chat questions I don't get to here will make their way there.

Have a restful week, and I'll see you in the comments and on Facebook in the meantime!

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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