Baggage Check Live: "Slow burn for the win!"

May 08, 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.

Want to read more? Read Baggage Check columns.

Follow Dr. Andrea on Facebook here.

Welcome! I'm so glad you're here.

What's on your mind today? Today's column had a letter from someone who can't stand how her brother-in-law constantly rains on her sister's parade. How much can she step in? And in L2, we've got someone who feels totally exposed after physical intimacy, and wants to be alone. Is it time that she lets her guy in? What do you think?

Let's go!

(In response to last week's chat.)

I want to thank you Dr Bonior for the kind words and the perspective. Thank you for not offering platitudes - because as you likely know when someone has been dealing with a chronic illness platitudes don’t help. I also want to thank the people in the chat who read my question and responded with such kindness. The type of illness I have can be extraordinarily isolating socially. The only energy I had (and often still have) was spent making healthy regenerative food, keeping clean and laundry. The last comment had me crying. Again. In a good way. It was written with so much love and compassion. Namaste in every sense. As someone that quit drinking at the age of 21 herself I know the path your husband has been on. AA taught me so much. I sincerely believe that we, all of us, are here on this spinning ball for nothing more than to shine our light as brightly as we are able and to be of love and service. If I move back to DC I would be honored to attend a yoga class of hers. And I will know she was the poster because of the use of the word “mum”. So do not be surprised if I walk up to you after class and ask if I may hug you. Namaste

Wow-- the love in this chat is fierce! It is quite something to behold.

I am so grateful for your update, and to know that you found the support helpful. I so hope you stay a part of this community!

I read the conversation last week after it was over, and just wanted to note that there's an executive vice president at my medium-sized company who chews pens to a pulp in meetings. I would never ask to borrow a pen from him, but the habit clearly hasn't held him back either professionally or socially/romantically (he's married with two kids).

Okay, I was wondering where you were going with this! Love it. (Think you could take a peek at his cuffs next time, and see if you detect signs of wetness? It's for science!)

Very complicated situation that I'll keep veiled for identity reasons. I'm a very happily married, middle-aged man. Wife is perfect companion in every way...nearly. As is not uncommon, our libidos are not aligned (I'm high). We are experiencing a perfect storm -- biological/hormonal changes for her; chronic disease for her (manageable but never-ending and impacted by hormonal changes); tough career transition for her; patterns of sleeplessness affected by all of the above for her. Notice a trend? Everything is stacked on her right now. I've taken on more house/life/managing teen responsibilities -- we strive to be a 50-50 partnership. The thing that's not happening is this deep physical/psychological/emotional piece of my life...marital intimacy. I'm so torn because by even raising the issue to her, I'm adding another thing to her plate at the worst time. Yet by grinning and bearing it, my state of mind...is grim at times. In your experience, is this just a period where otherwise healthy couples just slog through in the belief that there will be a turn of events, that things will get better? Does the person experiencing the lack of needed intimacy get support for him or herself? Does the person dealing with everything else get support? Or do we bundle it all up as being a collective "hey, we need support to navigate a host of issues?" And what kind of support is possible/needed/desirable? Apologies for the very rudimentary questions, but I'm an overwhelmingly fortunate man not accustomed to thinking that I may need help.

To badly paraphrase Thomas Paine, "These are the times that try marriage's souls."

Seriously, you are in the thick of some serious challenges, and in turn, your taking them seriously is a very positive thing.

I think the answer about support is "all of the above." How does your wife feel about her own coping? Does she feel that therapy, or even a support group for her medical issues (whether in-person or online) would be helpful? If so, she should absolutely seek it.

As for you, recognizing this issue is so important. Because it's at these times-- when things get tough, and when both physical and emotional intimacy feel in jeopardy-- when disconnection can turn deadly to a marriage, whether by just shriveling up the attachment between you two, or building resentment, or leading to bad habits (or betrayal.) So, up your self-care. This may indeed mean therapy, but it also might mean taking care of yourself in other ways-- more exercise, more time in nature, a meditation practice, more time with friends, new hobbies, new goals, new exploits for your mind.

In case it feels that we are beating around the bush about the sex part-- there are ways to cope with this as well. Of course, how much you bring up to her is going to depend on what can actually be DONE about it right now. (For instance, if more frequent sex-- or even sex at all-- is simply not in the cards medically at the moment, then no, it may not be useful at this point for you to talk to her about it while things still feel so acute with her struggles in other ways.)

But the emotional intimacy part could potentially be helped in the here and now through couples counseling-- and that in turn could make the lack of physical intimacy more tolerable.

It's okay to need help. In fact, you deserve it. Keep us posted.

Thank you for taking my question. I manage a large team at work, with 6 direct reports. I have a good relationship with all of them, mainly focused around work. A few of my reports will often share things with me, like pictures of their kids on Slack, their latest 5k times, weekend plans, etc. These are things that don't impact work and, frankly, I don't care about. I usually smile and congratulate/say "cute!" or "how fun!" and try and move on, but for some reason, this stuff really drains me. I just don't care about how my coworkers spend their weekends or how their kids do at soccer, and I think my mask on this front is beginning to fall, which worries me. I don't want to be a jerk. Is there a way I could maybe start to care about people's lives outside of work, or at least fake it more effectively?

So, the "Caring Manager" moniker you used for a title....hmm. Is that meant for irony?

I'm not trying to criticize you, but your very issue is that you DON'T care (at least about these people's lives outside of work.) And I'd vote that you generally shouldn't have to change yourself into someone who does. But there is definitely a basic level of personal interaction/disclosure that helps grease the monotonous wheels of the modern American workplace and make the ungodly hours that people tend to spend there just a little less miserable. And you can't totally opt out of that without causing a disruption to the general good will in your work.

So. Do I have a magic elixir to make you fascinated by the fact that little Johnny scored a hat trick? Nah-- if I did, I'd be in an overwater bungalow right now. But what I'm curious about is really how "draining" it is to say two-word phrases that are generally pretty dismissive. Are you faking too much interest that then the conversations go on much longer? Do you have acquaintances in other areas of your life (people at family gatherings, neighbors, etc) that you "fake" this with and it isn't as draining? What is the difference there?

And what DO you care about? Are there some coworkers you are generally interested in? Do you have hobbies or interests of your own that it might occasionally break up the workday to chat about?

Might there also be a part of you that has trouble taking off your work hat for even a second, making it inherently uncomfortable to even consider things that "don't impact work?" The thing is-- for your team-- these things DO impact work. Feeling great after a particularly nice weekend makes them more productive. Sharing their pride of their kids (or the drudgery of various aspects of child-rearing) helps them bond with each other. Looking forward to a long-awaited trip gives them energy and motivation to finish up some projects beforehand.

Bottom line, I'd urge you to dig a bit and figure out exactly what is draining you and why. It's fine to cultivate a persona of someone who's pretty much all-business. You've just got to soften the edges of it every once and a while-- without killing yourself to do so.

We just hit the anniversary of my cousin's untimely passing. She probably had under-treated mental health issues and was prone to angry, sometimes violent outbursts in her final years. Most of our family assumed she was on drugs an that her death was an overdose. Her parents told everyone that the cause of death was "unknown" which I assume was an effort to combat the rumors and to attempt to salvage my cousin's reputation. One relative who is estranged from the family requested a copy of the autopsy report and shared it with me. It says in black and white that my cousin died of an accidental overdose of prescription opiates. I have occasionally been asked how she died since we used to be close and had many mutual friends. Do I have an onus to lie because that's the story her parents chose to share or should I be honest since I know the truth?

First, I'm truly sorry to hear of your loss.

At some point, I think you use discretion and decide on a case-by-case basis. For what it's worth, I am not generally a fan of covering up overdoses as causes of death, whether accidental or intentional-- I think it erases an opportunity for a meaningful conversation that could help others, and also adds an overall vibe of shame where there shouldn't be any-- but I also know that the heartbreak that comes along with losing a child is so staggering that people generally should be given a pass on whatever they want to say (or not.)

That said, when it is your individual friends asking, at some point that is up to you. You loved this person and can honor their memory in the ways that you see fit. (And again, I don't think it does a disservice to someone's memory by being honest about their struggles.) Her parents get to be in charge of the official "public" word, but when people ask you individually, I think as long as you are sensitive and respectful to her memory-- in whatever way that means to you-- you are in the clear.

Chatters?

Any suggestions for how to encourage my middle schooler to continue to choose friends who are kind and supportive, and to ignore the middle school drama? Especially with kids who seem to be friends one minute and then say or do something mean the next? So far, my kid seems to have pretty good judgement about choosing nice friends, but sometimes the drama from frenemies gets to her. She doesn't understand why kids act that way - and really, who does??? I tell her to walk away, spend her time with nice kids and not worry about the drama - but I know it's hard to brush off.

I think you are doing exactly what you should be doing. It is not your job to swoop in and remove these people from her life (provided there is no overt abuse by them), and in fact, she generally sounds like she is taking care of it pretty well. So what you can start to focus a bit more on is the listening. You're giving her good advice, but I'd encourage her to share more of her feelings about it, to dig into when things "get to her" and what she can learn from that and how she can deal with those hard feelings. In other words, you want her to ignore the drama, and that's generally good-- but might not be totally realistic, and might make her feel like there is something wrong with her that she DOES care about this stuff. (And why shouldn't she? It's developmentally very appropriate at this age for her to overfocus on where she fits in, comparing herself to others, worrying a lot about what her friends think of her, etc.) So, she can learn a lot by figuring out exactly what it means for her when things "get to her"-- and working on developing coping mechanisms to work through those tough feelings. (And these coping mechanisms can generalize to all kinds of situations in the life ahead of her.) Of course, one of the best coping mechanisms in the long-term will be to prohibit it from happening so much by continuing to get more distance from these jackanapes. But the more she can make those decisions on her own, the better they will stick-- and the more they will teach her and train her for future sound and healthy decisions when you are not there.

So-- you've got your advice down. Now, just be the sounding board, making sure to shower the positive reinforcement when she makes good decisions.

Oy. Middle school is something else, isn't it?

Hey there now, why is this cuddle after sex thing somehow a rule about intimacy? Sex can be a very intense experience, both emotionally and physically, and some people, like me and maybe the letter writer, actually feel those sensations more strongly than most other people. It's kind of like when I hear a stereo like it's turned up to 11 while it's actually on 5. My therapist helped me realize this and there's a book - The Highly Sensitive Person, written by Elizabeth Aron - that explains it in detail. I think intimacy may mean truly opening up about this need instead of trying to hide it or "get over it".

I think we actually agree-- and I certainly don't think she should just 'get over it.' I think truly deciding that you want to be alone afterward is different than being scared to let someone in, isn't it? And it's overcoming the fear of letting someone in, about who she is, and what her needs are-- that's what it sounds like we both are hoping for.

I don't think there should be any "rules" at all-- the opposite, in fact. I just think, if she wants to grow this relationship with this guy she cares about, she doesn't have to be as afraid to let him in to who she really is.

LW?

Or you don't have to say anything. Or you can say, "oh, that is so personal." Or something else. Not everyone needs to know the whole truth. Think of a "stock" response and the practice. You are not obligated to tell the truth in detail or even in summary about this. That is not lying. Written from a person whose brother committed suicide. On my birthday!

My heart really goes out to you. That sounds like a devastating loss.

Totally agree, she doesn't have to be beholden to any rules one way or another. But if she wants to talk about it, she can.

Why would any decent person do such a thing?! Why do people think they're entitled to dig out personal information merely to confirm their own prejudices, and share it? I'm sorry, no wonder this person is estranged from the family if that's how they operate.

Yes, it was a bold move that was likely part of quite a history! Thanks.

That boss sounds like a jerk. How are you a boss if you aren't a people person?

I'm kind of wondering what's behind the lack of interest. Like, are they really not a people-person at all? Or just not a people-on-my-team-at-work person?

I can't bring myself to jump on the "jerk" train, because they really WANT to do the right thing. I've got your back, OP!

I think people need to respect the parents' wishes -- if they'd wanted the true cause of death to be known they'd have announced it. OP mentions the relative asking about the cause is estranged from the family, which makes me wonder why that person wants to know. What would be gained by publicizing something the parents don't want publicized?

Well, I think this can be a bit more complex. Sometimes the people who love the person who died really struggle with their own questions afterward-- and whether they did enough, whether it could have been prevented, how much the person suffered, etc. Not to mention there might be something larger to be gained by stopping the silence and stigma surrounding overdoses and addiction (and suicide, for that matter.) I'd say when the deceased is a grown adult, the parents certainly should have a say in the official "public" word-- but I don't necessarily feel they should get to dictate what every last person who loved that person gets to know or not know.

I do agree that the person estranged from the family who went on an investigative hunt might have had motives that were less than pure, to say the least.

Maybe "there are conflicting stories so I'm not going to think about it any more." ?

That could certainly be a type of out if she is doesn't want to disclose. Thanks.

Having a chronic disease AND perimenopause just sucks. I'm right there in the trenches with your wife. I have found some relief in things I never expected to offer relief, like fasting. Google intermittent fasting and you'll get a lot of very positive information. For me, intermittent fasting has significantly lessened the pain of my chronic condition (which is an autoimmune disease in case you're wondering). Additionally, I'm trying out the keto diet (aka Atkins). Google this as well and you'll get a lot of information about how it can help menopausal women. Finally, I've been seeing a bioidentical hormone replacement physician (BHRT). This has been instrumental in helping my libido as well as the symptoms of menopause. I highly recommend this. If insurance doesn't pay, look to your FSA. Hey that rhymed! As to if you should bring it up with your wife: I knew intimacy with my boyfriend had been affected by my hormones, etc and was miserable about it. I brought it up to him, which he later said was a relief as he was not sure whether he should bring it up to me. Maybe you could start a conversation with your wife about trying alternative solutions for her chronic condition. This might naturally lead to one about intimacy. Good luck!

Thanks for this. I can't pretend to know much about some of these dietary suggestions or BHRT-- much less endorse them. But there is no doubt that changes in diet can have interesting effects on people, so it's worth exploring more.

Wow, prejudiced much? You must never have had half your morning taken up trying tto get your employees to do some work because they can't stop talking about the latest episode of "Game of Thrones."

Yes, I can totally see this. And that's why I wonder if it's part of a larger issue where maybe it's getting on their nerves because it's spinning out of control more generally. Thanks.

Great response re: subject. Unless the action was perpetrated by a parent— they have the right to say as little as they wish re: a child’s passing. If the whole family “doesn’t buy it” then oh well. It is just bizarre that someone would pull an autopsy report. I can’t imagine how that benefits anything but the “ego” of some schadenfreude seeking relative.

I will say, sometimes with a sudden, heartbreaking death, the uncertainty of what happened can magnify the grief and make people's minds overfocus and spin around in ways they are ashamed of. I don't know anything about the autopsy-seeker's motives, but it is actually not an uncommon response. It's the sharing it with others, having already been estranged from the family, that perhaps is an extra twist here.

I'm an introvert who found that supervising and managing drained me. I did cultivate that persona, although I could take a few minutes of conversation about out-of-work activities, and yes, "Nice!" or "Sounds like fun!" and then turning back to your desk/papers/whatever does work. Unless you have a gaggle of lively extroverts to manage, in which case I'd look for a different position.

Right. It all depends on how much you have to stretch to meet them. Thanks.

I missed the chat last week but really appreciated the OP's question and all the responses. My twist -- I'm late 40s, haven't dated in ages beyond first or second online dates, and never married. Now this nice, age-appropriate guy comes along, and we've been out 5-6 times. It's nice, and he's a really good man, but it doesn't feel sparky or romantic at all, more like a friendship, which I just told him. He seemed really surprised by that, and asked me to reconsider because he really sees us as having a lot in common, which we do. I know you can't depend on the spark, but I always thought I would have to have it there in some capacity. There's no one else on the horizon, so it's between continuing to see him and see where it goes, or being alone, which I'm mostly really okay with, though I'd love to meet someone I'm excited to see and get to know. So...what should I do? I wonder sometimes if I've just grown TOO comfortable being on my own and being with someone is too overwhelming at this point in my life.

Well, what kind of spark are you used to in past relationships? Did it ever grow with time? Are there physical things about him that actively feel like a mismatch for you, or is it just a lack of something at this point?

My gut here says it depends on what the 5-6 dates were like. If you've already spent entire long outings with him and you know there's absolutely nothing there, that might be telling. But seeing someone for 5-6 meals or coffees or drinks might be too early to rule out a spark growing altogether... especially because the general good feelings is there.

Chatters?

I second the good doctor's comment that lying/making excuses/putting off an answer about the cause of death for an overdose or a suicide adds to the shame and stigma associated with these two issues. It will continue to be harder than it needs to be for addicts and the mentally ill to get the help they need if we keep treating these conditions as shameful. Treat it the same as you would if your loved one died of cancer or a heart attack. My deepest thanks to those families who include the addiction or mental health cause in their loved one's obituary because, whether they know it or not, they are helping others by telling the truth.

Thank you.

I know it is a personal decision, and I can completely empathize that a parent in the heartbreak of their lives does not want the cause of death to overshadow their child's life. But I think if we had more stories out there about the amazing lives that did get taken because of addiction, we would not view it as overshadowing at all-- but rather that it's all of our jobs to carry on these people's legacies by working to eradicate the monster that took them. And we can't do that if we pretend the monster's not there.

I can see the perspective of folks writing in saying there is no need to discuss how the cousin died.... but isn't the issue here that the parents are outright *LYING*? IMO there is a big difference between saying "you know, I'd rather not talk about it" and "well, they were never able to determine what happened." As they say in recovery, "secrets keep us sick"and something tells me the parents are still in denial about the substance abuse in the family. Maybe OP doesn't have to aggressively tell *everyone* the cousin died of an overdose... but if OP is confronted with these lies again, calling them out with an "actually, that's not true..." wouldn't be out of bounds.

Good points, all around. Thanks.

...and when you, the boss, are always having to answer the phone at lunchtime because they are all eating their lunch at the conference table and talking about The Big Game.

Okay, I am annoyed on your behalf!! Even if it was about the Caps last night!

I'm not exactly a "people person" but I am a manager and I take an interest in my folks' lives and their concerns. One does not have to be extroverted to care about one's staff. My people are important to me and the work we do. I don't understand how a manager would not take some sort of interest in the outside lives of employees. My own manager makes it very clear that he wants to know nothing of us beyond work and has no interest in us as fellow humans. The morale of his direct reports shows it. Possible the poster has some boundary-free individuals who take up too much time and overshare, but I cannot imagine not having some affection for one's staff.

Thanks for this.

I admit that if you are out there, OP, I am really curious about the way that you relate to people in general. And clearly I am not the only one. Feed us more details!

I've had bosses that concentrated on the task at hand without delving into my feelings about little Johnny's latest T-ball practice, and I was fine with that. Yes, we had work to do, but no, it wasn't necessarily soul-sucking and kill-yourself-deadly-dull, and no, I didn't go to work to socialize with my supervisors. They were pleasant and I liked them fine, but they were not my best buddies, and I was there to work, not chat.

Right, but isn't it a spectrum? The difference between getting a blow-by-blow of Johnny's great play at third base versus saying absolutely NOTHING at the start of a new work week about how things are going?

If it wasn't for the slow burn, I wouldn't be married today. My husband and I started off as friends, which became more over time. I feel like a lot of people put too much stock in passion and romance. Once the infatuation wears off, you're looking for company and support. There's nothing sparkier than someone who will stay overnight in the ICU with you.

I'm pretty sure I am going to knit that last line into a blanket for my next anniversary.

Slow burn for the win! May I ask the exact duration of "over time"? How long did the spark take to grow? And how long do you think would be too long for OP to wait?

Update and comment from Apr 3. My wife's surgery was successful. But there is an apparent need for additional drug therapy which will be painful. This will be determined by some more testing to be done. In the meantime, I have had 3 surgeries--minor but painful. One was a root canal, but still better than watching curling. Or maybe not. Life can be fun at times! On a serious note, what has helped my wife immensely is the support groups she has been attending. These are not woe is me confessionals--ok there is a bit of that. But sessions full of practical suggestions and empathy. Some are lead by "civilians" but some by social workers. It does really help the psyche to be with others who are going through the same thing. About today's column --the wet blanket problem. Maybe what sister doesn't see is that the sister is free floating and not too grounded in the practical. Maybe the sister married Mr. Wet Blanket because he is well grounded and he is her anchor! And she is his whimsy. Marriages are like icebergs, you only see the top 10%.

Very true about what we see and don't see in a marriage.

I am so sorry for your rough month! But so glad that support groups have been so helpful.

I think when people are going through things that other people don't necessarily "get," it can be an absolute godsend.

Hang in there, and thank you for the update!

Ann Louise Gittleman's book "Before the Change" was a godsend for me -- and it got to be a joke that my copy made the rounds at work for all my female friends! Gittleman is a dietitian who specializes in treating hormonal problems. I recommend it.

I can't vouch for this but appreciate the rec! Love the constant wealth of knowledge being unearthed here. Thanks.

I feel like I've been in your wife's place. In my situation, I was keenly aware that I wasn't being intimate with my husband and terrified about what he thought of it. It seemed really hard to bring up because I felt that I was the one to blame. And then after a while you're ignoring it for so long, it gets even harder to mention. If she has health problems, she may be pulling back from other forms of intimacy, too, because she doesn't want to "lead you on." So I think you should try to talk about it. You might be able to broach this subject gently by asking your wife what she would prefer. Acknowledge that she's under a lot of stress, often isn't feeling well, and that you love and want to support her. You can tell her you miss the intimate moments that you used to have, but you don't want to feel like you're pushing her to do something. Let her know that you don't necessarily need sex, but want to make sure to take time to hold hands, rub her back, or snuggle while watching tv (if you can say that truthfully). You might need to ask if it's okay if you initiate these actions (or sex, if she's open to that right now) or if she prefers to initiate. And that it's always okay for her to say no if she feels tired, too stressed, etc. It doesn't need to be a long, dragged-out conversation that turns this into another Big Deal that she needs to worry about. But she probably IS worrying about it, so might as well talk about it gently.

You've found a great way to articulate how to broach this subject without adding to the pressure that OP's wife feels. I am assuming that such a thoughtful attempt at discussion was helpful for you-- I hope so.

Thanks for writing.

"Of course, how much you bring up to her is going to depend on what can actually be DONE about it right now. (For instance, if more frequent sex-- or even sex at all-" I'm all for having soft, open ended inquiries about it with the wife. In my case, I've not slept (bed) with my wife in 10 years, and no sex in about 6 months. For a variety reasons, I began to "re-engage" but my wife had a lot of emotional resentment (plus menopause, on premarin replacement) as one would expect. Through small steps, earnest conversation, etc., we sleep together on the weekends, and sleeping together made sex more flowing. Pre-menopause, she had an active drive than me. The improvements we made were mainly because my wife wanted to please me, and she did pretty much everything she emotionally could. So, does your wife have it in her to want to work on this ? It starts with low key conversations, like "We haven't had sex in a while. I miss you. How are you feeling about it ?"

Another vote for having a true and thoughtful and honest conversation about it.

I am glad things have improved for you two. Thanks!

How do you suggest broaching the whole subject of how to watch out for or deal with adults who may be predators? Sometimes I read stories of kids who endured horrible sexual abuse by adults, and I wonder - how can I talk to my kid about that, tell her the warning signs, build up confidence to know something isn't right and tell an adult, etc.? Without terrifying her?

I think there are a lot of important components here. The primary one, of course, is that your body is your body and no one gets to do anything to do it or make you do anything to it that you don't want. (You may have some brief detours with this if you happen to be raising lawyers in training who apply this same edict to, say, brushing their teeth.) And you follow through with this-- they don't have to kiss Aunt Bertha if they don't want; they don't have to do things with their body just to make others happy.

Another important component is trusting their instinct and speaking up when something feels off. That their feelings matter. That worries and fears-- even ones they don't know how to describe-- will be heard and listened to. Of course you can model this by being very open to listening about everything-- the big stuff, the small stuff, the maddening stuff, the boring stuff-- and it sets the stage to make them feel like their reactions to things matter.

And I often get in trouble for this, but I would avoid the whole "stranger danger" thing altogether. I think it is very confusing to kids because it doesn't make any sense ("Say 'Thank you" to the nice man who held the door for you!") given how contradictory it is, and even more important, the vast majority of sexual predators are going to find a way to not be a stranger at all. So it's such a wrongly targeted, confusing message. And it leads many kids to think "But Uncle Ned is not a stranger, so this must be okay." As for the stranger-kidnapping-lurking-in-the-woods concept, we always told our kids don't go anywhere with a stranger, but never once told them not to talk to strangers. It's a matter of nuance and instinct and judgment, and the older they get the more they can grasp.

Specific warning signs are going to be up to the age of the kid. But the general principles should always be the same. Trust your instincts. Your body is yours. Talk to me as your parent about anything, and I will listen.

I'm going through a divorce that my soon-to-be-ex (STBX) did not want. As a result, STBX is determined to make things as difficult as possible and whines incessantly about their life to everyone on Facebook. I know that I need to stay off social media and let them do their thing, but it feels so unfair when I can't defend myself and everyone believes what STBX is saying. Is there anything I can do besides grit my teeth and wait for it to be over? (Even though it won't actually be over once the divorce is final; this is just the beginning)

I am sorry. I hear from a lot of people that this can make the divorce process even harder to get through, and it's certainly a modern development. (I'm guessing a generation or two ago, it would have been unseemly for people to stand on street corners shouting out to hundreds of their acquaintances how difficult their ex is-- or what they had for lunch, for that matter.)

I think part of this is just taking a step back and trusting that the people who love you will keep loving you. The people who are bamboozled by your STBX were gullible/judgmental/not worth your time in the first place. I would highly doubt that "everyone believes" what your STBX is saying. And if they do? I mean, seriously, if someone in this day and age believes everything they read on Facebook, especially posted by someone disgruntled in the process of divorce proceedings? Then go ahead and sell them on whatever the latest pyramid scheme is, because they are ripe for it!

Not trying to be flip here and minimize what you're going through-- just thinking that you're already doing what you should be doing. Take a break from it whenever you can. Comiserate with friends, but don't have them report the blow by blow of what's being posted. Trust that by conducting yourself as the person you want to be, you already look much better than your STBX anyway. And go heavy on the self-care in other areas of your life.

Hang in there!

Sometimes sparks appear and disappear very suddenly. I worked with a guy I thought of as a total corporate suit (i.e. uninteresting to me) until one day he participated in a personal discussion and revealed a sensitive and compassionate nature. After that I noticed how handsome he was. ;-) Conversely, someone you're attracted to can make a remark that instantly turns you off him.

So true!

I wonder what happened with Sensitive Suit Man? Inquiring minds!

the autopsy report says accidental medication overdose. You can answer that truthfully. Opioids are certainly a leading contender when the topic arises, but accidental is the real key here. There are many medications which, when taken incorrectly can cause death.

Another way to answer if OP is looking for an out.

My lovely wife had the spark the first time we met. It took me about 3 months to figure out that she was the one. Going on 45 years of marriage.

Laughing here about your moniker!

Congratulations on four and a half decades! So glad you came around after those three months.

Lots of people equate this to drinking, about truth, about teaching moments. The 9th Step of AA 12 Steps is "Making amends" to those you hurt, but it is predicated on doing no further harm to them or they're receptive to it. The Parents of the deceased woman is the surrogate for the woman, and if they don't want "truth", then you don't compel it on them.

True. I don't think anyone's talking about forcing the parents to have a discussion about it, though. But private discussions outside of them can be independent of their getting hurt, no?

My husband and I met through mutual friends. I had just gotten out of a bad relationship and wasn't into dating. So we had about six months of no pressure, hanging out and getting to know each other before we gave dating a try. We've been together nine years and married for seven. I think the question the OP should ask herself is, "Am I being open-minded and giving time for a slow burn to happen, or does it feel like I'm repeatedly shoving my foot into a shoe that doesn't fit?" Because, yes, sometimes the lack of sparks is actually just a lack of compatibility.

I love the way you put this-- the gradation between closing yourself off to a potential spark versus forcing something that's not there. Thanks.

So six months worked for you! (With the caveat that it was a bit delayed in the beginning because you didn't want to be dating.)

The greatest danger is in your own family or among people they know - coaches, teachers, counselors, etc. Keep your eyes open to the adult who is GreatWithKids! and seems to prefer kids' company to adult company. That was my uncle - the one who played with and tickled the kids. Kids and adults thought he was the Fun One And he was molesting several of my cousins, that I know of. (I didn't know it then, but I found out as an adult.) The other thing to be aware of is that kids will hide things from you if they think they will lose something by telling you. So if their best friend's brother is creepy, they don't want to tell you because you won't let them go to their friend's house any more. I'm not sure how to deal with that issue preemptively, though.

I'm really sorry to hear of what happened within your family.

Your insights are spot-on. Thanks.

Ordinary Americans don’t owe it to the rest of us to talk about mental illness or drug abuse or any other challenges in an obit. Stars and politicians are a different story. Their fame has responsibilities. Your coworker or aunt doesn’t have that.

Well, we're not compelling anyone to do anything and consider it their "job."

But I've actually worked with a lot of people who ultimately come around to finding meaning in helping prevent the kinds of deaths that killed their loved ones, even if at first they felt ashamed about it.

Oh, we were both happily married to other people, I just happened to notice how much my view of him changed, and how suddenly.

What a letdown! How could you do that to us?

(Kidding, kidding!) Thanks for this!

I understand the point of view about the stigma of drug abuse and suicide. That efforts to make it a serious conversation topic would help. But from my viewpoint, how many times do I have to relive the pain of my brother's suicide? It took me 20 years to celebrate my birthday again. In a very low keyed manner. I really don't need it in my face every day. I live it.

Oh, completely. I hear you, truly.

To be clear, I don't think this discussion was at all about forcing the parents/closest loved ones to relive the specific details of what led to their child's death. It was about whether people on the periphery have a responsibility to keep the secrets that have been started by the parents, continuing to obscure the real issue, even in their own individual, private conversations.

I really hope for continued healing for you.

So I have absolutely no experience with divorce... but I do have experience with someone using social media to spread misinformation involving me far and wide. The best revenge is being your best self. While your STBX is moaning about how terrible their life is on facebook... post a picture of the awesome drinks/dinner/whatever you had with friends. I second the idea that not "everyone" believes your STBX and those who are on the fence are going to see you living your best life and think "hmmm who do I want to align myself with here... the STBX who can't stop complaining or the fun-loving, life embracing OP?"

Bingo!!!

"But private discussions outside of them can be independent of their getting hurt, no?" No. Because 3rd persons will tell the Parents that they heard it from you (LW) that THEIR daughter died of opiate overdose. Then, the Parents may be gunning for you and you also shattered their, maybe, emotionally satisfying way of dealing with the death while you walk the earth thinking you're done the right thing at their cost.

Do you really feel that is the case, that people will do that?

I don't know of any such 3rd persons in the cases I've been involved with. If they are doing that, that's simply terrible.

That could be the reason it worked out; the OP wasn't looking for someone to date, so wasn't sugarcoating an encounter with expectations.

Expectations can be killers, for sure!

"Her parents get to be in charge of the official "public" word, but when people ask you individually, I think as long as you are sensitive and respectful to her memory-- in whatever way that means to you-- you are in the clear." Yes, there is a teaching moment about opiate deaths, but, also, the Parents, I suppose, are ashamed of the truth. The LW should be aware of possible martyrdom; a 3rd person is likely to say to the Parents that the LW said "their daughter died of an overdose and not an unknown cause as spun by the Parents" and the Parents will strike back at the LW. So, familiar peace or teaching moment ?

Another vote that these other people will go back to the parents and shove the real cause of death in their face.

I've got to say.... who are these people? I am sorry if you have come across them!

People can be total [jerks] sometimes. I wish it wren't the case, but advice columns are full of t his kind of jawdroppingly self-centered behavior.

True, and I've certainly seen my share in 13 years' time!

But having seen, sadly, more than my fair share of these situations in actual, real life, I must say that people can be more discrete than we sometimes imagine they'd be. And I'd like to think it doesn't take THAT much discretion not to run back to the grieving parents of someone who died due to addiction and start suddenly blathering on that you know "the real truth."

Maybe I am being naive, though!

Try this - as long as he's a maybe, keep seeing him, because it could turn into a yes. But if that little voice in your head tells you no? Then you stop.

Ahh... the crucial difference between "Maybe" and "STOP NOW." Thanks!

The number one rule for that is if someone constantly posts about how awesome/wonderful/perfect their partner is, the truth is exactly the opposite.

I really think this has a lot of truth behind it.

Sadly, I've seen some downright abusive relationships that are super-high on the Gag-Me-Because-You're-So-Lovey-Dovey-On-Facebook scale.

There may even be some research bearing this out, I think.

Dollars to donuts, the estranged busybody (who is estranged for a reason) will shove it in the parents' faces. I cannot imagine the gall to get the autopsy report. The parents are mourning, and they need to be respected and loved. Sheesh!

Yeah, the fact that they were already estranged was a bad sign. But we can't control that person's behavior. We were more talking about the other people who come to know the information after a thoughtful and respectful discussion. My donuts say they won't go to the parents at all.

I think it's fair to help decrease the stigmatism of substance abuse by being open about your cousin's issues. But I would be wary of using reducing stigma as an excuse to share information you had no right to have without the estranged family member's extremely troubling meddling. Don't be a pawn in their battle.

I can see your point, but I think the information would have been assumed anyway. The autopsy more confirmed what everyone suspected all along-- this wasn't some tidbit out of nowhere that would have never been surmised without the cousin's meddling.

In the event that a 3rd person does say to parents "well, OP is telling everyone that your child died from and overdose" and IF parents come gunning for OP.... all OP has to say is "well, the truth is that cousin died from an overdoes - either accidental or purposeful. I am not trying to hurt you guys. I am simply telling the honest truth about what happened to my cousin when people ask." Pretty simple response. If the parents want to freak out on OP for not continuing their lies... that's their problem

Yup. Hopefully that would help protect against the shooting-of-the-messenger in that scenario.

Another hour gone by way more quickly than I bargained for! Thanks so much to all of you for being here and chiming in.

As always, if I didn't get to your question, I really hope to next week-- I look forward to it. In the meantime, I will see you in the print column comments, and on Facebook.

Until then!

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.”
Recent Chats
  • Next: