Baggage Check Live: "Smothering Mommy Shielding Device"

Jul 17, 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.

I must say, as the news continues to take a turn toward the surreal and anxiety-provoking, I am more grateful than ever that we have this space.

How are things going for you?

In today's column, we have someone who is not so happy with her friends' reflexive selfie habit. And in L2, we've got a person whose sister once said that LW's girlfriend reminded her of their troubled, estranged mother. Can LW get over it? And should they?

What have you got? Let's begin!

I couldn't participate in the chat real-time. I'm the one who has a host of mental issues that make reaching out to friends difficult. For the people who said that they see those as excuses and as selfish actions, I really hope you've shown your friends more compassion. Maybe your lack of compassion is why your friends have pulled away (I hope I'm wrong on that, though). There are, of course, people who are "takers" and who flake or make excuses or selfishly expect the other person in the relationship to bear the burden of keeping the relationship going. And it is always appropriate to end a relationship that isn't healthy for you (if you're stressed and irritated and miserable with a friendship, then it's probably best to re-evaluate or end it, regardless of if it's because one person is a "taker" or if that person is, like me, struggling with some issues).

You have to do what's best for you. That said, I urge you all to do so with kindness. It's one thing to say to someone like me that you're no longer able to be the heavy-lifter and that it's too much for you. It's another to say to me that you hear nothing but excuses and that you think I'm not worth the effort.

This is all so well said, and it's a perspective that so desperately needs to be heard.

Thank you.

I hope that you have a circle of people that fit you well and where kindness is not in short supply.

I can definitely relate to all the comments about families of origin expecting regular visits. For four years we lived 5 minutes from my in-laws and not once did they visit us. My family travelled the 250 miles to visit a few times. Three years ago we moved to my hometown and you can guess how often the in-laws have visited us now that we are 250 miles away. Yep, not at all. In February, I had our first child and we made 4 trips to see them before the baby was 4 months old. Before he was 5 months old dh said he wanted us to make the trip again. Um, no. I work full time as a nurse and would have to squeeze in this visit in the two days and a half days between shifts. I'm not proud that I had a bit of a meltdown and told dh that I felt like my well being is taking a back seat to his family's convenience. The compromise we reached is that he'll be making this trip without me and the baby. I'm expecting the guilt trip to start when he shows up without us. It really astonishes me that some people (my in-laws), who otherwise seem reasonable, can have such high expectations and see no need at all for reciprocation.

I am sorry. It really can be astonishing, for sure.

I know you were more commiserating than advice seeking, but I can't help but say-- I think this situation is dying for a more direct conversation with your in-laws (if it hasn't been attempted already.) Has it ever been said, point blank-- "We love seeing you, but we feel like we put in a lot of effort with these trips, especially now that we've got Baby-- and we're really hoping that you can come and see us sometime instead." Of course, if they were not willing to come to your house (I assume with ample invitations, right?) when they lived 5 minutes away, then there might be a snowball's-chance-in-Hell aspect of the 250 miles-- but you've got to at least put it out there.

Of course, the real work will be to make sure this doesn't drive a wedge between you and your husband. Your 'meltdown' was human. Keep the communication and compromise going strong.

From last week. Maybe you could use that in a response in a humorous way? "Yes I'm always hearing about how much easier traveling gets once you have a baby!" Keeps it lighthearted but still gets the point across.


I think it's one of those responses, though, that said in the right way by the right person is a perfectly pleasant wake-up call, and said by the wrong one is a snarky, sarcastic attack that starts a fight.

Not all of us who live hundreds of miles from families live near airports. To fly to my mother's house (7 hours away), I would first need to drive 90 miles to an airport (and pay for parking). I would have an hour-long flight in the wrong direction to a larger city. Then, after a layover, I would have a two-hour flight to an airport 60 miles from my mother's house (and either have someone with a large enough car to accommodate my family of four make the two-hour round trip or rent a car). Trust me when I say it's more convenient for us to drive!

Great point; thanks!

I totally understand today's letter writer. I have had periods of my life where I hated to be in pictures. That said, I went to a family funeral earlier this year, where there were wonderful slideshows of the deceased with loved ones. I realized that after we're gone, that's all our loved one's have left. We don't know the time of our passing. I love my friends dearly and if each time we're together turns out to be the last time, I won't care that they were carrying some weight or had a breakout. I'll just want the picture for the memory.

It's an insightful point-- thank you!


I wrote a few weeks back about asking for help (suggestions) when it came to infertility issues and my father in law coming to visit. He did come out to visit as I expected and it was planned. I didn't want to deal with the potential well they had to cancel or they're not telling me everything crap so it was just better to find an excuse why my husband and I couldn't be around, meds in our fridge etc. I used the excuse that a last minute business trip came up and I'd have to leave for a couple days. For my husband we said he had to work part of the day and because of meetings couldn't take off the full day so my father in law would be on his own for part of the day. Husband and I drove separately so I'd have a car. Went for the IVF which did take a good chunk of the day and then I checked into a hotel close to home. I was able to checkin early so I took the meds with and kept them in the hotel minifridge. I stayed there for 2 nights and honestly it was WONDERFUL. My husband stopped by the first night to bring dinner and called frequently. (I think he said he'd go pick up dinner as a way to leave and not get questioned) It worked out to leave home with 2 separate cars so I had a car at the hotel that I could use to go out for dinner or if I wanted to see a movie etc. I quite literally slept the entire first day. The 2nd day I was still very exhausted and just not feeling up to doing anything so I relaxed and went for a massage later. This really was the only way to do it because of my father in laws big mouth and not us not wanting to tell anyone in the event something happens or if we don't get pregnant. We'll find out in a week if this worked.

Yes, for the person that mentioned the cost of this - it is VERY expensive but the cost of the hotel room was nothing in order to "save face". I went back home and we had 2 days with father in law. I still didn't feel like myself so I said all the travel, airports, hotel and not making own dinner made me feel "off" and he didn't question anything.

Yay! If you have been reading, you know how very many of us had been so eager for this update! Thank you so much for writing in.

I am sorry that you had to go through such subterfuge-- the extra cars, hiding the dinner delivery, etc., sound like Ocean's 11-level planning-- BUT it all seems to have been for the best. I am so glad that it worked out and you were able to keep those boundaries intact in your own way, and feel good about how things went down.

Now that that's done, it goes without saying we'll keep our fingers crossed for the other part. :-)

I'm the poster whose in-laws basically expect us to visit them every time they want to see us (or we want to see them), especially when/if we have kids. Rest assured, chatters, that both my husband and I are prepared to stand our ground. He's already have a few conversations with them about the amount of traveling they expect us to do versus the amount that they do. It's slowly improving (they recently came to visit us for the first time in four years). I'm just happy that my husband and I are in agreement and have no problem telling them that we won't be doing this one-way nonsense.

Oh--and NO, we are not having children to please the non-traveling in-laws! (we are trying but are having fertility issues. we're keeping all of that private, especially from parents)

Gotcha. Consider all of us resting, assured!

Seriously, well done, to both you and your husband. You offer a glimmer of hope that maybe even the most non-visiting in-laws might actually respond to a good conversation about it!

Hello, I wrote in about a month ago about my sister's hospitalization for alcohol withdrawal. We don't live near each other but from what I've heard from her and my family, things have generally been going okay in the weeks since. She's seeing therapists and trying to take better care of herself.

My dad was up to see her this weekend and he conveyed that my sister has begun drinking again, with her husband's buy-in. One drink per day at dinner. I cannot believe this. I think it's nuts. Am I right to want to express my concern? Generally speaking I'm worried that she's approaching this as a short-term problem of the last few months, not a years-long issue (which is what I've privately noticed). Right after the hospitalization happened, she told me she planned to avoid it for the rest of the year at least. I'm going to see her in a few weeks and want to be supportive but I don't know if I can hide my shock that she's already back to drinking every day. I'd appreciate any advice.

Ugh, this is tough.

There are many different perspectives on the best recovery strategy for alcohol abuse, and we can't pretend that there is some perfect magic bullet (I say-- which I'd say in zero other contexts-- use as many bullets as possible!) That said, it would be hard to argue that full abstention from drinking isn't the best bet by far. Especially in the early days. All too often, "just having one" (especially when the plan was to have none for the rest of year) is just the road to abuse all over again. After all, for most people struggling with alcoholism, they can't just have one. That's the whole point! And just as important, why should they need to? When someone gets to the point of withdrawal, there is a physiological-dependence issue there-- and so starting to take the substance again can be starting the cycle anew and playing with fire. I cannot pretend that any part of "social drinking" in the months that follow is in any way a good idea. And I think it's troubling that her husband is on board with it-- might he be denying the seriousness of her issues? Or might he even have his own motives (and denial) regarding his own usage?

But-- I'm also not sure there is anything much for you to do other than sit there with me in a corner, cringing. It depends on your relationship with her, of course. I think you should express your concern in an open, nonjudgmental way ("I want to be supportive, but I'm confused since I thought the plan was to abstain for a year-- and I want to make sure I'm helping you on the plan that's going to serve you best long-term. I want to better understand what the path is here") with the knowledge that it might not make a difference, or it may even drive a wedge between you. You can also ask her what her therapists think. (Another confusing point-- is she being honest with them? Because clearly if she's doing 12-step recovery groups, daily drinking is NOT kosher. And I'm not sure why it would be with any therapist at this point.)

I can't pretend this is encouraging. I share your concern, and I'm sorry.

I've been with my boyfriend for a year, we're both in our mid-late 20's and finishing up graduate school. Things are great between us - strong communication, compatible interests, etc. As we start to think long-term, there's one issue we can't talk our way through: he's Jewish and ultimately wants to marry a fellow Jew (if I converted that would work), but I'm not and would feel inauthentic converting, though I'd be more than happy to raise Jewish kids and actively participate in holidays and traditions. We've both laid our cards on the table and are continuing along hoping that we'll find some resolution, but the rational piece of me knows this is unlikely.

We've agreed to both talk to outside sources/counsel as an attempt to move forward. He'll talk to his rabbi, but I'm not clear who to talk to - would this be right for a therapist? I get limited free therapy through school, but how do I even start this conversation?

Well, here's an answer people don't often hear from me: therapy may help, but not it's not a given.

Okay, there's a part of my brain that is desperate to hit the delete button and forget I just said that.... because I'm pretty sure it would help at least a little bit no matter what, and of course I am as pro-therapy as could be.


The big question to me is how certain are you that you would not convert, and/or would not feel authentic doing so? And how certain is he that he must marry a fellow Jew?

If you are absolutely 100 percent certain that you would not convert, and he is absolutely 100 percent certain that he needs that, and neither of you will change your minds, then no amount of talking-- be it with each other, a therapist, or that friendly-enough dude in the elevator-- is going to matter, is it?

But, if there is even the smallest bit of wiggle room (and if you are truly an otherwise compatible couple with a lot of respect and love and joy with each other in other ways, then I hope there is), then yes, that's where the talking, including with a therapist, can be a godsend. With a liberal dose of time and thought on your own and joint discussions thrown in as well.

It all comes down to that age-old question, doesn't it? What are you willing to accept in your partner, and what aren't you? Every couple goes through this calculus, in big ways and small ways, consciously and unconsciously. This happens to be a big way, of course, with the hulking weight of family history and faith and culture involved.

So... wiggle room or not? Because if there is absolutely zero, the therapist won't have much to work with except in helping you leave the relationship.

Now, I personally know two couples who eventually overcame this seemingly intractable issue and have settled into really happy and fulfilling lives with each other, finding a way to make their faiths (or lack thereof) mesh.

I am guessing some of you reading this have as well. Chatters, do tell!

My PCP put "chronic depression" in my health records and would not remove it. I have never been diagnosed with any depression issues. No one I know believes I am depressed. I worked in the mental health field for five years. I have been overwhelmed and stressed in the past few years but have soldiered through the deaths of close loved ones (6 in 4 yrs.), a lawsuit, and handling my father's estate while dealing with a parent with memory loss and a spouse with serious addiction issues. I've had physical health issues but followed my PCP's advice and those things are better. I know the symptoms of chronic depression well, and I don't have any of them. My sleeping & eating are fine, I don't spend all day on the computer, mope all day, engage in risking behaviors or any of the other things associated with chronic depression, yet the PCP said my comments (denials) would be noted but the chronic depression diagnosis will stay. This will ruin my life in so many ways but it's out there now with my PCP and insurance company.

Plus my PCP never treated me for depression other than a quick comment that I "could talk to someone" about two years ago. Talking with someone will not bring my loved ones back, speed up a lawsuit or help settle my father's estate. I'm dealing with everything pretty well. Even my lawyers said I was amazing due to my attention to detail and record keeping. I have no problems socially or financially. What can I do? I thought of applying for SSDI and then the PCP would have to prove I am chronically depressed which isn't possible. Do I have ANY recourse?

Yeah, I can imagine this is incredibly frustrating. I'm baffled by what your PCP's deal is, to be honest. Of course, I was not in the room. But from what you've described, the diagnosis simply isn't valid-- there are many missed factors, and many more nuanced diagnoses that would more accurately describe the symptoms that you've had in reaction to the losses you've suffered. I don't know their perspective, of course, but it definitely sounds just as ridiculous as those PCPs who write prescriptions for antidepressants at the drop of a hat as well.

But. I am also pretty certain that there is no reason to believe this will "ruin [your] life in so many ways." I don't want you to make this situation worse by being unrealistically negative about the ramifications of this. Please take a step back before thinking about some scheme of falsely applying for disability. I shouldn't have to mention how not-good that would be: you can't prove you have no symptoms of disability by, um, choosing to apply for disability. And a fraudulent claim such as that would have far more impact on your long-term health records than one random line (perhaps written as a rule-out differential diagnosis) in your file by one provider! Talk about defeating the purpose!

That said, you definitely have some rights to dispute a diagnosis and have inaccurate information removed-- or at least corrected-- within your file. There is a chance that that is what the PCP is already referring to when they said they have noted your denial. I am no health records legal eagle, so there are some hard stops to my knowledge on this, but I would start with requesting the removal in writing, enumerating the lack of criteria and symptomology met for the diagnosis, and at the very least requesting that that statement remain in your file if the change is not made. Depending on the size and structure of the doctor's office, you may have more official recourse within the practice's administration of it, and I do hear sometimes that if you're willing to get into the weeds of HIPAA on this stuff, there are even stronger patient rights to be found and utilized.

Good luck. Has anyone else been through this?

I am married to a great man, and have a nice relationship with his parents, specifically with his father. His mother, unfortunately, can be very overbearing and does not understand boundaries. He is an only child and first moved away from his parents in his 30s. It was very hard for them. He seems to have enjoyed the freedom and is really happy. He is reluctant to go back to visit, and when he does, he insists that I am there too, in which I act as a 'buffer' so that his mother is not all over him. It is difficult because when I met him, we were working in the same city, so I had my own set of friends and social network. When we go back now, it becomes a source of contention that I don't spend every moment with them, as he must. To further the concern, they are now talking about moving down to this area to live near us (no, we don' have any children - and do not plan to have any). Suggestions on how to set clear boundaries and avoid hurt feelings?

Well, first you have to realize that yes, there might be some hurt feelings.

But that doesn't mean that the setting of boundaries shouldn't be done or that it's wrong to do so.

I find it unreasonable for him to not only expect you to serve as a "buffer," but for him to expect this bufferdom gig is a 24/7 arrangement during visits, when realistically you have some people from your own life that you'd like to make time for during these visits as well. I really think you need to start there, with him. If he can't allow you a little freedom from "duty" during these visits, then he is steamrolling boundaries in exactly the way his parents have done to him.

In short, you are a person yourself-- not a Smothering Mommy Shielding Device.

So, start with your husband. Have a sit-down with him that explains to him that you see how happy he is with his freedom but that he reverts back to being steamrolled when he is with them, which then is transferring to him trying to steamroll you. Say that you will help support him in setting appropriate boundaries with his parents, but the bulk of the effort has to come from him. That you want to enjoy a good relationship with his parents and that that will be much easier if he establishes A, B, and C in terms of boundaries (I am not sure what flavor of overbearing your MIL is and what areas need to be worked on-- intrusive questions? Constant unsolicited advice? Conversational domination?) And that there is a happy medium in all this-- the better that boundaries are established (and the sooner!), then the more there is a potential to enjoy the visits, and the more frequently that you can therefore do them.... which means they will lighten up a bit in how overbearing they are because they won't be so desperate for every morsel of time with him.

And if they do end up moving down by you-- take all these prior paragraphs, but parentheses around them, and raise them to the 3rd power. (And maybe throw in some bold and underlining fonts as well.)

Keep us posted.

How religious is he, though? Is he non-observant but feels culturally Jewish enough to want his eventual spouse to be culturally Jewish with him? There's an important distinction here.

Great question.

I can't pretend to know the nuances of these cases, but I'm guessing that the conversion piece pushes the needle more toward observant rather than non-observant?

OP, do tell!

Long, long time ago, when I was first dating my wife of 4 decades, one of her girl friends apparently had a strong dislike of me. I have no idea why and I never had any negative feeling about her. She could not pinpoint what she didn't like about me, just a feeling. The rest of my wife's friends loved me! Here is the thing, It is only one data point in a multitude of data. It may have been a first mistaken impression that was erased by time. Your sister has tried to walk this back. Why don't you take that as just that? One mistake in data collection early on. Has the subsequent data been favorable? It may well have only been a smashed bug on the windshield of life.

It's a great point-- are there other loved ones that can offer a wealth of more positive opinions?

I'm guessing Sis's opinion packs a very special punch given the shared history with their Mom, though. 


Hey! - My husband and I are buying a home in the town my mom lives in. She has had spotty health and a previous medical bankruptcy. Her current landlord has been pretty difficult. So we offered to buy a new home with a MIL suite and have her rent from us. She has had successful therapy in the past, so has good boundaries/conversation skills. Any ground rules that we should consider?

Sounds like all three of you are well-primed for this conversation, so I'd say-- have it early, clearly, and warmly.

Seriously, this has the potential to be really good, respectful relationship, so give each other the gift of knowing what things matter most to each of you, and being able to prioritize them from the get-go. Figure out what ground rules are most important to you in terms of daily living, schedules, finances, meals, and even how to bring up stuff that's not going well. Listen to her about how certain medical issues will be handled, what she needs from you, how she'd prefer rent and financial issues get handled, etc. Figure out the best ways that all of you like to communicate about differences or challenges. Get preferences out early, in a respectful way, and then continue to respect them.

This sounds like it may actually go very well. (I'm sorry to sound so surprised, but that's not the most common scenario 'round these parts!)

Good luck!

The comic Norm MacDonald had a great routine on Letterman a few years back about picture taking. Someone's long deceased great-grandpa may have had only ONE picture of himself taken in his entire lifetime; while today many people will end up with hundreds of thousands of pictures of themselves. His riff starts at about 2:45 in the video. Very funny.

I can't preview this at the moment, but I do love me a good Norm MacDonald riff. Thanks!

for years I didn't like having my picture taken with my kids when they were little because i didn't like the way I looked. Then I realized I would be missing from the photo evidence of their childhoods. So I decided to let the photos be taken, no matter what i looked like. I love looking at those photos now. Frankly I looked a lot better then than I do now! So consider letting your friends a family take a few snaps with you in them. You may not love how you look, but you will enjoy seeing them in the future and be grateful to have them.

It's definitely an important perspective. Every once in a while, an essay catches fire about this very issue, I feel like. Moms not wanting to be in beach pics in their swimsuits, etc. I also feel like in some families it's the Dad that's the designated picture taker, and all of a sudden you blink and decades go by and you realize that he's missing from the photo narrative altogether.

I'm willing to give LW a pass on some of the "Now let's take a selfie with the appetizers! Now let's take a selfie while we're dancing! Now let's take a selfie with our madras scarves!" kind of madness, though.

Has OP gone to any Al-Anon meetings as were suggested previously? I think they would be immensely helpful because - sorry to break it to OP- it sounds like your sister is indeed a serious alcoholic with a codependent partner who can't or won't see what is happening. "One drink a day with dinner" is already pushing the doctor recommended weekly limit.

Great reminder. Thank you.

I have a similar problem than OP last week, but on my family side. I'm living four hours away from my hometown and my family is expecting me to come more often than I realistically can. I don't have a car, I'm working full-time and my boyfriend is working during the weekends so he can't come with me. I'm usually going home every two months, but this year I was unable to find the time with work and went back only for Christmas and in June. My family is complaining that they don't see me enough, but they are never coming to see me even if I invite them often. My parents are still complaining about the long drive they had to do to come to my graduation for my Masters and it was six years ago! It's not that they don't like to drive, they drive five hours to go to the family cottage every two weekends. My own solution is to invite them at events in a big city (museum exhibits, shows, shopping) that is mid-way between my hometown and where I live so we can see each other without having to drive all the way.

That sounds like a workable solution.

But honestly, the complaining about never seeing you enough while never taking you up on invitations must get so tiresome, whether you're hearing it in a museum or at their house!

Sounds like those Japanese Rent-A-Family services might want to get in on this issue ("We'll send a stand-in to visit your complaining parents on your behalf!")

I had the same problem with a born-again Christian, who required that I (a semi-agnostic Protestantism) become born-again, too. After years(!) of wrangling, debating, arguing, etc., I finally saw the light and dumped him, and happily (for over 50 years) married someone who shares my own views.

Yeah, I'm guessing that when people are born-again, there is even less wiggle room since it is such a big part of their daily life and mindset.

Mazel Tov on the better match!

What is with hoarding? Both my sister's mother-in-law and my other sister -- both very intelligent professional women -- as they got older filled their homes with stuff they bought and couldn't/didn't use and stuff they just saved, to the point that portions of their homes were impassable, the rest has paths through it, and they can't find anything, which, at least in the case of my (merely) 74 sister, who seems to be starting to get some kind of dementia, leaves them confused and immobile.

They are highly resistant to change or cleaning any of this stuff out, and immediately fill any space that is created. This seems a common, if not inevitable, syndrome, more than an idiosyncrasy. Any suggestions for dealing with this?

I'm sorry. Hoarding is a serious mental health issue, and by many accounts is growing in prevalence. And unlike a lot of other mental health issues, it requires considerable logistical/infrastructure support as part of treatment in addition to the mental health component-- after all, most therapists can't also be the ones hauling stuff out.

Normally, we'd think about a very structured type of CBT for this, very specialized. Of course, it's much like substance abuse in that it's hard to get the person hoarding on board with the fact that there's a serious problem.

The cases you bring up, though, are a bit more specific since they seem to be happening later in life. As you mention, dementia can be connected to this-- not only in causing or exacerbating the symptoms but in making it more difficult to keep things structured and do the daily tasks of life that keep things in working order. It can be very overwhelming.

Given the ages involved, I would recommend looking into some senior-resources organizations for support. The more you can stem the tide early on, the less dysfunctional things will get.

The LW is not far off about how damaging an incorrect diagnosis can be. The president's administration continues to do everything they can to destroy ACA - which has been one of the first/only insurance plans to not use pre-existing conditions as a denial reason. It's very likely that we're all going to have to go back to traditional insurance plans by 2019 (definitely by 2020), which means those pre-existing conditions WILL be a factor again. LW, see if there's a board you can go to and fight this. I sincerely believe that if you leave it alone, it will be disastrous for you. You'll either get turned down for insurance or your rates will be sky-high or they'll tack on exclusions. Good luck.

Thank you for this insight.

Yeah, I am trying to be optimistic about this, but you're right-- the stuff we're seeing with the current administration does mean that "pre-existing conditions" (whether real or not) could be more damaging than in the past.


Or he just wants to make sure the eventual children are raised "culturally Jewish"? Or to placate observant parents?

Ah, yes-- could make sense. I'm definitely curious (though frankly, when am I not?) about the parental unit in this.


Um, I AM chronically depressed and I get treatment for it, and I really want to know how you think it will "ruin your life" in any way at all. Because that's just not true.

I hear you. I definitely don't want any of this discussion to contribute to the stigma of depression, which is overall the most common mental health diagnosis there is, at least in most demographics. (Anxiety disorders are giving it a run for its money in the young'uns.)

But I think the concern is that this could have implications for insurance coverage-- life or health-- or, if I'm reading between the lines, that it could complicate this person's professional life in the mental health field.

A PCP who insists on a diagnosis without any kind of testing for it is a rotten PCP. Get your records transferred to a new PCP and explain the issue to the new doc.

You know, this is a beautifully simple solution that clearly evaded me. If the new doctor is understanding, might that do the trick?

I had concerns in the beginning of my last relationship. He came on strong and quickly. We talked about my concerns but the problem deal breakers were his jealousy and odd accusing me of secretly talking to men. I tried to break up three times but I know I didn't hold my ground and was too worried about his feelings and guilt. I walked on eggshells and this was 3 months into the relationship. Finally the last break up was final because of his impulsive anger at the fact that I wanted to continue volunteering and his unacceptable response left no doubt after 4 months. There was no contact then as usual he started to try to contact me, get my attention, get me to talk to him, sent me roses and gifts all "apologizing" yet in complete contrast to his actions that last day. I have not responded or allowed calls. He has used other people's numbers to try to contact me. I had to direct ALL calls to voicemail. Writing it out just made it a lot clearer but I'm still struggling because I'm trying to feel and get past the loss of the relationship's good moments but pop another call, VM or text from other phones keep coming. I struggle with unearned guilt over ending it and feeling "mean" while still struggling with letting myself feel the hurt and anger that have no outlet. I don't think I'm wrong about him but what else could help? I have NOT responded to anything and don't plan to but he keeps doing it...

Okay, you are thinking about how to move past this relationship and how to handle your guilt and associated feelings.

And I am thinking that first and foremost, I am worried about your safety.

Seriously-- this is a guy with "impulsive anger" issues who was jealous and controlling within your relationship, and he is now-- by anyone's reasonable definition-- on the verge of stalking you.

I'm telling you, take this seriously.

Please avail yourself of the resources of and document his unwanted contact as it happens.

And let me emphasize-- it is never "mean" to end a dysfunctional relationship and move on with your life. Part of this relationship's toxicity was the way he made you feel that way, both in the relationship and after it.

You deserve independence and privacy, and he does not have the right to keep contacting you-- especially in shady, manipulative ways.

Please consider individual counseling, which will help not only with the feelings that you want to process, but it will also give you strength to put into motion whatever you might need to to keep yourself safe-- emotionally and also, though I wish it wasn't the case, physically.

And do keep us posted.

I was recently ghosted by a long-distance male friend of a few years. We met through work and would see each other once or twice a year, but texted pretty regularly. Even though they had never met, Husband was fully aware of Friend and untroubled. At the time of the ghosting, I was temporarily stationed closer to where Friend lives. (Still required a few hours travel vs. days from my real home.) I was originally living on my own, but Husband was able to make arrangements to join me a couple months in. Friend never knew this - the last time I heard from him was a couple weeks before I found out Husband was going to be able to come. The problem is that the timing -- along with my sadness over Friend's disappearance -- has raised all sorts of red flags for Husband. He seems to believe that something untoward must have been happening that led to the sudden estrangement. There wasn't, but I have no ability to prove that. So, we fought about why I didn't want to visit Friend's town like we discussed before. When I gave in, we fought about why I didn't want to try to make plans with Friend. When I gave in again and Friend predictably didn't read or respond to my texts, we fought about why I couldn't explain why Friend cut off contact.

I am fully aware that the truth doesn't make a lot of sense -- I'm sad and bewildered myself -- but I'm tired of defending myself when I didn't do anything wrong. I'm fairly confident that the ghosting is more about Friend than it is about me, but how do I get Husband to accept that? It hurt to lose Friend, but it's pretty catastrophic to still be dealing with the consequences of that loss months later.

Alright, this is troubling.

Your husband either trusts you or he doesn't. The fact that he's choosing to keep this argument going means that there's a fundamental part of him that believes you would not only engage in some sort of behavior along the infidelity spectrum, but also lie consistently about it.

Yes, the ghosting (shame on that guy!) comes at a completely inopportune time, and could reasonably raise some eyebrows of John Q. Public or Jess Q. Chatter. But whenever something is not the way it seems at first glance, it's supposed to be our spouse that is willing to give more than that first glance, right? What raises the general public's eyebrows is not necessarily supposed to raise our spouse's, because they know us and get us and trust us and are willing to understand the full story and not make knee-jerk assumptions, right?

It's troubling that that's a bridge too far for your husband.

I'm not saying he's a bad person if he had a little discomfort or second thoughts about this scenario. But, you're talking to him and explaining to him continually and he's choosing not to respect your version of events when-- at least from what you've mentioned-- he should have no reason to doubt you. (I'm taking it on faith that there is not a history of past infidelity or dishonesty or betrayals of trust, for instance.)

So, how do you "get him" to accept your explanation? You can't. He is unable and/or unwilling to put his faith in you right now, and so it's not you who has to do the work-- but it is you who's being wronged. 

And you need to figure out how long you're willing to put up with that before you demand that he do some work of his own.

I'm sorry. But there's some deeper baggage here beneath his suspicions, I'm guessing.

I believe hoarding also has connections with OCD, which has been treated successfully with medication, so ask about that aspect during your research.

Yeah, the relationship between classic OCD and hoarding is really interesting (alright, that might be an overreach. Interesting to people like me who have chosen to study this stuff.)

Hoarding used to be subsumed within the OCD diagnosis, thought of as mostly just another type of compulsion. Then the research started to show that it had a vibe all its own-- and seemed to possibly be even more genetic and intractable than garden-variety OCD-- so it was reclassified as its own disorder (though within the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder "and Related" category. That's not confusing at all.)

Bottom line, though, there's definitely some connections. And some people with Hoarding Disorder do show classic OCD rituals as well (counting, checking... not so much washing.)

So, yes, in some cases medication can be helpful. When dementia is involved, though, the road is trickier.

Alright, I'll go back to talking like a human and not a textbook now.

We are in a similar situation but we live 250 miles away from both of our parents and now have a 3 year old. A year after our daughter was born my brother and her sister (separately) had children with their spouses, which is awesome. Except now getting our parents to come visit us is near impossible. I feel like they just figure they have grand kids where they live so why bother coming to Maryland to visit us? It's a sad reality to discover that our child is second fiddle. Makes us consider moving back, which we don't want to do other than the closeness of family.

Ugh, I am sorry. I hear from a lot of people who deal with the differential-attention-among-grandkids type of quandary. I'd urge you not to move back if it's only for this reason, because that could lead to some resentment or unrealistic expectations.

Might you think about cultivating that relationship in other ways? Pen pals, Skyping, etc? "Second fiddle" isn't a great way to feel and it might not have to be that way with a little extra effort to overcome the distance.

I'm worried for you, too. Please find a close friend or two that you trust and develop a safety plan, particularly if your ex continues to escalate. Have them check in on you periodically. This behavior is no joke - and anyone who tries to downplay it as "oh he is just so hurt and misses you!" is completely, absolutely *wrong*.

Thank you. Very good advice. The more support OP has in their corner, the better.

That type of thinking is really sad. I could see ( I mean I wouldn't be for this but...) if he asked that any children be raised as Jews. My wife and I both happen to be of the same religion, but I sometimes wish our children had two different traditions to experience. I think that would be a great experience not only for them but me as well.

Interesting thought!

Depending on how old your children are, though, they might still surprise you and seek out their own traditions!

What do you do when everyone is unhappy but there is nothing that can be done about the cause? My partner and I have 6 children in a blended family situation including 3 under 2 years old... there is so much work to be done that neither of us is happy. Partner doesn't want outside help but berates me about not doing as much as he as the SAHP. He doesn't see all the things that I do that he is taking for granted and any conversation about feelings, division of labor, exhaustion, etc. ends up being a "whatabout"-fest. He thinks he does too much, I think I do too much but we're both just doing a lot. Is there any way to move this needle, get past these feelings without a divorce? Or is this what all couples with children go through and you just have to get through it? Please tell me there is hope on the other side.


There is hope.

But "berating" is not part of the path to get there.

Look, I won't sugarcoat this-- you are in the throes of the early child-rearing years when the demands (physical, emotional, logistical, heck-- even financial) can often seem to exceed a parent's abilities to meet them, sometimes on an hourly basis. It's the very definition of overwhelming. And plenty of couples feel this way with half (or fewer!) the amount of children you two have.

And I've talked in this space before about the emotional load, and the concept of "default parent," and how many unseen (and therefore unappreciated) responsibilities can build up to a breaking point of resentment in even the strongest of partnerships. As the SAHP it is likely that some of your partner's woe is really understandable and so the last thing I want to do is sound like I'm dismissing it.

But if he digs in his heels that he will blame and berate without listening and collaborating toward a solution, he's sabotaging his case. If he will neither think about outside help nor stop complaining about how much he has to do nor listen to your perspective and find a way to work together, that is not a functional way of looking at this problem. Playing the blame game will simply not lead anywhere good.

As long as you two are bean-counting who does what, there is always room for resentment-- because each of you likely has a case that you are putting forth superhuman amounts effort that realistically are going unnoticed and un-thanked (because the other one is busy scrubbing encrusted applesauce from the ceiling fan.) I don't know who does exactly what in your relationship, but chances are you both feel put upon, unappreciated and exhausted at times.

If he is not open to a very basic conversation about how to outsource certain things to take some of the pressure off-- it sounds like you have the resources for it-- then I can't help but think that zooming out even further and seeing a marriage counselor is going to be the place to start.

Which chatters have successfully come out the other side of the "How come it's always me having to do everything" negotiation? Tell us about it.

Have you texted him / told him not to contact you at all. If not - do it then never respond again and keep the stalking data. And be direct and clear about it 'I don't want you ever to contact me again in a any way at all'. Do not soften it. Telling him never to contact you will be important if you need to get a restraining order.

Thank you.

I am so grateful for the insightful specifics that you chatters bring to these discussions.

I hope this one was not found out the hard way.

I've been sober most of my adult life, and unlike the OP's sister, have not taken so much as a sip of any alcohol with a meal. However, I do use occasionally vanilla extract in uncooked desserts, as well as vanilla and almond extracts in baking. I also use wine a a flavoring in soups and stews, which I then cook for at least an hour in order to cook off as much alcohol as possible. Not once has any of these practices tempted me in the least to drink. Yet, I occasionally take flak, from one side for not being truly abstinent, and from the other for not being an authentic alcoholic. Sigh.

Oh, geez. I am so sorry you take any flak for this.

This is me rolling my eyes until it hurts. Clearly there is a huge difference between following a recipe that calls for a smidge of alcohol (and presumably could still be served to children) versus choosing to have an alcoholic drink with a meal.

Keep on keepin' on, and congratulations on your sobriety, which is as real as anyone's.


My in-laws insist we come see them, because they say our city is too far away for them and too cold. However, they're completely happy to go see their other child, who lives even further away and in a colder climate. I'm guessing this is because she has children. It used to offend me, but now I find it rather funny. Ultimately, excuses are just excuses. People who want to spend time with you will realize that roads and planes go in both directions, and that they need to put in their share of the work.


I do think the "one of my children has children, and the other one does no, so I'll end up spending 99 percent of my time with the kid that houses my grandkids as well" is a real problem. There are no easy answers. I am glad you've found some peace with this.

Get an order of protection. You've told him to stop and have set up multitudes of defenses, all of which he ignores. He needs to hear it from someone else, with real consequences attached. I too, am worried for your safety.

Another vote. Thank you.

I really hope OP sees how worrisome this is.

I had a best friend that I met in grad school. We went through school together, hung out, and she moved away back to her home state and I moved to another state as well. When we first moved, we kept in contact daily by text/Skype. She (and I, too) slowly pulled back due to life, but still spoke on a weekly basis. After I met my boyfriend, who then proposed, I sent her pictures of the ring and told her I was engaged and then she, literally, vanished. I was going to ask her to be one of my bridesmaids, but I felt weird and didn't ask her to be one. She deleted every form of social media and I could no longer find her. This was several years ago. I've been thinking about her a lot, I miss her, and there is nothing I can think of on my end, that would be friendship-ending. We were pretty honest with each other. This past weekend, I realized she showed up on my Snapchat, which links to her phone number. Part of me wants to reach out via text, if nothing more to say I miss her and wish her the best. I also feel like that's weird given we've not spoken in 2+ years. There's a reason she vanished right?

I think such a reach-out is totally reasonable, so long as your expectations about the outcome are reasonable as well. I've seen this work for many friendships, and there's eventually a heart-to-heart and they pick up where they left off. Other times, it's a simple but formal back-and-forth that just brings a little closure. Other times, there is radio silence or even some inflammation.

So, are you willing to do this truly just to wish her the best, and accept that nothing might come of it? Or, additionally to accept that maybe it was about you/your engagement (though that's doubtful with the whole-hog social media deletion) or that she was going through something really upsetting on her own that she couldn't/wouldn't let others in on?

If so, I say, go for it. Just respect her space after one attempt.

I should say, I'm sorry this happened to you. I've worked with a lot of people who have been devastated by a disappearing friend-- and it's harder than we often talk about.

Statistics show that Americans have been getting less religious for a couple of decades, so I think it's realistic to assume that no matter how you raise your children, they're likely to differ from you in religious belief and practice. Just sayin.

Yup, it's really interesting stuff how things are transmitted from one generation to the next--- this and political beliefs as well. For the most part we absorb our parents' to a large extent, but then some of us rebel and do the opposite. Or some of us just start to care a little less and things peter out.

Seriously - why do people feel this way, You have no reason to feel guilty at all - anger that he is treating you in this reprehensible way would be more his due. Please get some therapy about guilt!

I think sometimes that's part and parcel of a controlling relationship. Because the person loves the controller, then naturally there is a discomfort with hurting them. And they have learned to blame themselves for that... because blaming themselves was woven into the relationship from Day One.

It's insidious stuff, and it's all too common.

5 years ago I was in a rebound relationship that lasted way too long in my opinion (1.5 year). My heart was not in it and I broke things off with the guy. I am now married and moved abroad. My ex got married a couple of months ago too. But he still keeps messaging me that he wants to meet, clarify what happened and keep being friends. I do not want to and have told him several times. I have stopped responding to his messages. He's now traveled to my city and is bugging me again to meet and give him closure. I am continuing to ignore these messages but I am worried he will show up at my work place and make a scene.

Ugh. Honestly, I think a lot of the same advice applies. Please put everything in place to keep yourself safe, including warning the appropriate people at work if it should come to that.

I am glad that you are in a (presumably supportive) marriage that can serve as having one more piece of protection and safety against this, in the form of another person who loves you and can help enact a plan if need be.

Document, document, document, and warn him not to contact you again officially, if you haven't done that in formal terms yet.

I am sorry. (Wonder what his new wife would think about all this. Geez.)

To add on to everyone's good advice--please read The Gift of Fear. Get the restraining order. Listen to your gut and do not engage with him in any way (other than the one message, in writing, telling him to leave you alone). Do not give in to any impulse to contact him or respond to him--that will only encourage his behavior (something like, "oh, she ignored me the first nine times but told me to stop on the tenth so now I know that I just have to badger her"

Thank you.

The book rec is spot-on.

Religious beliefs are not like sports teams, where Mom is a Yankees fan and Dad is a Red Sox fan. With some faiths you simply cannot believe both, and cannot profess both. You can learn about and appreciate both traditions, partake in some celebratory aspects. Jewish history is a part of Christian history, so certainly there is overlap. But at the end of the day, either you believe Jesus was the Messiah or you don’t.

Yes, I do wonder if this is part of the issue.

Conversion that feels inauthentic wouldn't serve either partner well in this scenario. Whereas for other couples, it's about making it official.... private thoughts and beliefs be darned.


Stop talking about division of labor, stop listing all the things you do, stop arguing. Seriously. The fastest way to end a tug-of-war is to drop your end of the rope. Your spouse is overwhelmed and resentful, and needs to process those feelings. If he's coming at you saying he feels overworked, and you're coming back with, "but I do XYZ!," then you're going to stay at an impasse. Few things feel more dismissive than someone trying to lawyer you out of your feelings when you're upset. My guess is that's why your spouse is blowing up. Instead, try listening calmly and being supportive. "I'm sorry, that must be really hard for you." "It's a tough job to be here with all these kids all day." Once your spouse has worked through those emotions, and feels supported, you'll both be in a better frame of mind to discuss solutions.

Yes... a little validation can go a long way. Thanks.

My immediate thought is that your friend had a crush on you, and your engagement proved that her feelings wouldn't be returned.

And I thought it was only me who comes up with off-the-beaten-path hypotheses like that!

Thank you for putting it more directly than I wanted to.

With six kids in the house, is there any chance of getting the kids involved in the chores? I know it's a pain getting them to do things all the way but I've found just having my kids pack their own lunches and unload the dishwasher has helped take off some of the stress from my evenings since I no longer have to personally do them.

It's a great point.

Granted, some toddlers' "help" ends up being more work than doing it yourself, but there are probably some basics that they can do.

And it's great to start that message of helping/chores early... because soon enough they really will be able to make a dent in the laundry pile.

Set up a time to meet and send your husband, instead of you.

Hoo boy!

For the record I don't want to endorse this.... though plenty of husbands may!

I was a church-going Christian when I met my husband overseas. He was culturally Christian, celebrated Christmas and so forth, but had not attended church in years. I asked him if he would attend church with me when we returned to the U.S. If we were married. He said yes he would, sure, no problem, even though my denomination was not his. So...turned out his idea of "going with me" meant Christmas Eve services and maybe Easter, and very, very rarely otherwise. So the solution was I went to church as I wanted, he went with me on Christmas Eve, and we both lived with it. Married 32 years now. It was a disappointment to me, but was way less important than how he lived his life otherwise, which is stellar. Everyone has their own "must have" list, and it turned out that having my husband with me every Sunday morning was not as important as I had thought. Living a good, moral life is, and we have that.

Beautifully put. Thank you.

The importance of that "must have" list is so crucial... and everyone's is different!

Well, yes, but I don't think that that argument has a place in families that are culturally Jewish but non-observant, or "C&E" Episcopalians. Lots of people go to certain churches out of lifelong habit but have never really examined their beliefs. But again, we need input from the OP on how religious her Jewish SO actually is or feels he ought to be.


He doesn't want outside help on principle, or because your household budget won't support it? Because if the former, then couples counseling, because he's being controlling. If the latter...well, counseling anyway.

If I remember correctly I was sort of taking it on faith that outside help was a financial possibility... I might have assumed that without it being warranted. But the distinction is important. (And of course, whether or not such support is in the budget is not black-and-white either.... some spouses might see it differently depending on their priorities.)


NO. Just no. Inform your local police.

Agreed that the meeting is not a good idea.

Let's be clear, if this person is a threat to OP, they are a threat to OP's partner as well.

Also, pack a "go" bag to keep either at work or in your car, in case you find it unsafe to go home, or need to escape immediately. PLEASE.

Great, great, great.

Thank you.

I'm in similar position as the LW from today. I abhor having my picture taken, always have; there are several reasons, sometimes weight/size, don't like my smile, but really I just don't like the way I look in pictures. As a full actualized adult, I declare my preference and almost everyone in my life obliges. If they ask nicely, and let me prep, I allow it from time to time. Except, my partner's mother: There have been overt /blatant shaming scenes ("Oh no everyone!! K doesn't like to have her picture taken!!! LEt's do it anyway haha") or another time, she asked my partner, who asked a family friend to snap a picture of me-- on the day of my father's funeral!!- when I found out that she had enlisted him into subverting my wishes - well we had a big fight; She is a passive aggressive bully and my partner tends to cave, I suspect a result of conditioning from years of guilt games; Now I just P-A her back - if she insists on my picture she's going to get me scowling or worse

Oh, man.

I am really sorry she is being so insensitive and-- let's face it-- cruel.

I give you full permission to photobomb the *&%$ out of those pictures. Even if photobomb isn't the word I'm looking for.... you know what I mean.

Hang in there!

If he is Conservative, then the children will not be regarded as Jewish unless their mother is Jewish ( some very strict Conservative Rabbis don't recognize conversion and no Orthodox ones do--or should not)


So, really, the conversion could be for this.... whether or not it represents his wanting her to truly, truly, truly feel spiritually Jewish.


A guy I know whose father was a pastor married a woman of the same faith, and the dad even performed the ceremony. Several years and three kids later, the wife converted to a strikingly different Christian religion, converted their kids (too young to have views of their own), and demanded that the husband convert. Needless to say, he refused. She divorced him, and took him to the cleaners for alimony and child support. Moral of the story, I suppose, is that some things can't be foreseen.


Yeah, I think finding a new faith once married can lend all kinds of complications. Not that people can't grow and change and adapt.... but in this case, of course, it was the extreme end of the spectrum.

Sad for all involved.

I wrote this comment and when it posted I felt it sounded like I'm anti Jewish. I didn't mean for it to come off that way at all and apologies if it did.

Granted, we're going a mile a minute here, but I certainly didn't get that feeling...and I am also certain that someone will let us know if they did!

is this some sort of generational expectation shift? I feel like all of my peers (myself included) have parents or grandparents who expect the younger family members to make the trips - particularly because that's what THEY did when THEY were young. I feel like there is some massive disconnect/misunderstanding between generations. Today's (younger) adults have entirely different lives, financial resources (see: whatever most recent article that just came out regarding crushing student debt, massive shifts in job mobility, an impossible housing market, etc., etc., etc.) and different expectations for families.

It'd be really interesting to see data on this, no?

I also wonder if it's trickier because in general now, people "leave the nest" later. So perhaps by the time they are settled in with a partner and kids and mortgage, etc., expecting to have their parents visit, maybe a much longer pattern has already been established of them being the young whippersnapper returning to visit the basement they had only recently moved out of.

OP, you're doing exactly the right thing by not responding to any attempts to contact you. Please read 'The Gift of Fear' by Gavin DeBeker. This ex could be very dangerous, but your best bet is to ignore him completely. Of course, stay alert to anything odd or unusual, no matter how silly it seems.

Another vote for the book! And in fact there have been several more. Thank you.

I feel like the "loved ones will want those photos after you're dead!" people are probably good friends with the "do whatever your older relatives want, they'll be dead soon and you'll be sorry!" types. Seriously - you cannot live your life worrying about death.

Okay, this made me laugh! It's a great point, though.

What fun a gathering those two groups, together, would be!

So I idly looked up, and there it was-- already 10 after the hour!

Thank you for all your input today. It's my favorite type of chat-- where we get to throw our collective support toward someone who really needs it (and might not realize how much they do.) Stay safe, all, and thank you for your care and concern and questions, as always.

I will look so forward to seeing you next week-- and on Facebook and in the comments 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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