Baggage Check Live: "Fantasies rarely live up to their advance billing"

May 22, 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.

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Welcome, chatters! How is your Tuesday going?

Today's Baggage Check talked about snooping. Who does it? Who's had it done to them? Do tell. And in Letter 2, our LW is awfully tough on her brother's new girlfriend-- who will never measure up to the ex (LW's BFF.)

I also want to thank Rachel-- our stand-in producer today in Zainab's absence! (She jumped in willingly, so we may worry that she's a masochist.)

So, also-- I've been dealing with something that may grow more critical this hour. Hopefully not, and overall everything is fine, but I just wanted to let you know if I suddenly pull a disappearing act, that's what happened. I apologize in advance for this hypothetical, and I so appreciate your patience!

Now, let's go!

The first letter today is easy if you have an outside view. Well, at least in my view. 6 weeks is not that long of an investment. Does NSHTP want to still think the same things (lack of trust) 6 months in or 6 years in? Yes your stuff is being messed with. Since not every one is a saint all the time, I could see and forgive the 1st time. Maybe she was looking for some nail clippers or something like that. Or maybe she was curious and figured that she could understand you better if she looked at some of your stuff. The first time. But repeated times is not the stuff that trust is made of. (Thank you Bogie and the Maltese Falcon for that one) You don't have much time invested and it has already become worse. Time to say, "this is just not working out. I am not feeling it." No need to go into the trust deal or the stuff deal. You really don't feel it. Time to move on.

Well said.

I really view it as a situation that has the propensity to grow so much worse over time; you're so right. A seed of doubt six weeks in can become a gaping wound of distrust as the relationship grows more serious. That solid foundation is so important.

Thanks.

This happened to me yesterday& I'm still un-nerved..I manage the front desk at my firm. A service rep came in & while waiting for someone to take him to the machine, he said he's just back from vacation. I took the bait & asked where they went - big mistake. "Oh, I didn't go anywhere. My wife is an invalid after brain surgery last year & I have to do everything for her." So, I'm grimacing - feeling sorry for him & wondering what comforting words I can say & he piles it on... "Also, my 92 year old mother who has dementia lives with me & it is not good. Last week was a really bad week." I'm now thinking of crawling under my desk & at that point, my co-worker shows up to take him away. I just sat stunned as they walked away. As they rounded the corner I heard my co-worker ask, "So, how are you...?" I wanted to shout, "Nooooooo!" I wanted to ask him why he isn't using the resources available to senior citizens to minimize the horror of things, but he seemed to so enjoy telling me all about it I couldn't say anything. Very disturbing that he felt the need to blurt all this out. The ironic twist: Later I asked my co-worker what he said when she asked how he was. He had told her he was just back from vacation & couldn't mow his lawn until the rain stopped, then he focused on repairing the machine. WTF!!! Am I right to be 'cool' to him if he comes in again? He's not our regular rep, but he shows up every couple of months. My current game plan: When I see him get off the elevator I'll 'take a call' & wave him toward a chair so that he cannot verbally interact. Then I'll let whoever summoned him know he's here & stay on the phone until they come out.

Okay, I'm sorry for you-- and I'm also sorry for him! I guess I don't see his behavior as all that disturbing. (Of course, one could argue that my standards are pretty skewed.)

Whether this is purposely aggressive behavior on his part, like trying to stun or upset you, or whether he is just going through stuff that is among the toughest things that life can throw at you and his coping isn't perfect, or whether it's a little bit of both-- he's human, he's not at his best, and so your job is just to be respectful and keep things moving. I don't think anyone would blame you for the 'taking a call' ruse next time, but I also wonder-- has this become more complicated than it should be? I'm sure he doesn't expect you to be his therapist, and the fact that he's there to see someone who is not you means that at any given visit you get to do whatever you can to move things along. So, what about some simple statements of empathy ("That sounds really awful; I'm so sorry" or "I'm really sorry to hear it. Hang in there" or "I can't imagine. How stressful.") and then a movement to get him where he needs to be? 

Uh-oh. Now you guys will be able to point out where I overuse those same statements myself!  

I’m a middle child. My sister is 2 years old & my brother, 4 years younger. Growing up, I was constantly compared to my sister; eg, “Your sister is *so* smart! Why aren’t you as smart as her?” (For the record, I AM smart but not in the same field as my sister!). When I went to university, no one compared me to her. It was bliss! But now that we are adults, my sister is asking questions about me & why my sister can’t be more like me. My late parents’ friends ask her why she doesn’t have 2 kids like me & she gets very defensive and mentions that she had a rough pregnancy. “Your sister adopted two kids, why don’t you?” I admit it, in the background, I’m laughing hysterically, but I don’t start these conversations, my sister does when she brags about how smart her only child is. If we are together (a rare event as we live far away), if anyone pays attention to me, my sister is suddenly there, telling stories from our childhood, in the hopes of making herself look good at my expense. My sister is pushing for me & my kids to drive down 8 hours for a summer visit. When we last saw each other at a family funeral in October, my niece & BIL spent most of their time glued to their screens. I’ve already told my sister a summer trip is unlikely due to my poor health. She shoots back, “But you’re visiting our brother!” True, I am, but it’s a 5 hour drive compared to 8 to visit her, and my brother’s kids actually visit with us. How can I politely say to my sister that I’m fed up with her nasty comments & I don’t want to see her at all?

Well, you can be as polite as you like, but telling a sibling you don't want to see them "at all" is bound to not go over well, whether justifiable or not.

So, what are you willing to do in terms of engaging with her about this dynamic? I'm not clear whether you give her feedback in the moment (or shortly thereafter, or heck-- anytime) about her 'nasty comments.' If you hide behind the health piece as an excuse for not visiting, then of course she's going to keep pushing.

Why not start a real conversation about this, but lose the all-or-none thinking about being totally fed up and wanting no more contact? Maybe you are indeed fed up-- and you likely have a right to be-- but if you haven't really given her a chance to adjust, or told her how you feel, then that part is on you.

Ask her a good time to talk by phone, and be honest with her about how his dynamic affects you. Give specific examples (without coming across as the Gotcha police) about how her comments make you feel, and how it makes it difficult for you to be around her. It would really help if you had an overall goal for your relationship to dangle in front of her-- how you actually do want to see her if things were better? How you really would want to get to know your niece better?

If neither of those are the least bit true, though, then you have the same conversation but you frame it a justification for taking a break for a while.

Good luck.

My partner and I are at an impasse. He occasionally makes mistakes that impact me and that I feel are easily preventable (getting an expensive speeding ticket that blows our budget, or throwing away something that he was told to save; that sort of thing). We all make those kinds of mistakes, of course. In those situations I really just want to hear him say, “I’m sorry, I screwed up, this is how I’m going to try to prevent it from happening again.” When the shoe is on the other foot and I know I have made a mistake that affects him, I think I generally do a good job of offering that type of apology to him. My partner feels like he should never have to say “I’m sorry” in that sort of situation. He said that when stuff like that happens he already feels bad, and I should know him well enough to realize he feels sorry. I asked him how I'm supposed to know he's truly sorry if he's not willing to apologize out loud or even act contrite in any way. (I would be willing to take a non-verbal apology; doing me a favor unasked or bringing me a small treat or whatever, I don’t need to literally hear the words. I just need some way of knowing that he understands he has screwed up and feels bad about it.) He said that I should just watch his behavior. If it doesn’t happen again in the future, then I know he’s really sorry. If it does happen again, then obviously he’s not. But he doesn’t want to have a discussion about it because, according to him, “talking about it makes a bad situation worse”. For the record, he said that he doesn’t expect me to apologize to him either, so this isn’t a double standard. I do get his point that saying “I’m sorry” could just be lip service and that actions speak louder than words, but am I totally out of line to want both the improved future behavior AND the actual apology? For the record, he grew up in a family where I have no doubt he was told, "Saying sorry isn't good enough," so that may be at play here. I also can’t help but wonder if he draws a similar “I don’t need to say I’m sorry” line when he makes mistakes at work. I realize that I don’t know if this is just a general philosophy that he (and presumably other people?) hold or if it is only me he won’t apologize to…

Hmm. "Talking about it makes a bad situation worse," and "He said that when stuff like that happens he already feels bad, and I should know him well enough to realize he feels sorry."

But shouldn't he know you well enough to realize that a couple of words will go such a long way? (And that for you, talking about it makes it not worse, but better?)

Now, I agree that "I'm sorry" can be meaningless at times, and when there's a dynamic of one spouse constantly having to apologize to another, that gets bad and can possibly be controlling or even abusive. I can't be totally sure that your case is free from that, of course, but it does seem more likely that he has an extreme aversion to those words-- or acknowledging blame in general-- and that is the biggest root of the problem.

It will likely help-- both you and him individually, and together-- if you can come up with a bit more insight into exactly why you need the apology, and whether, if it was meaningless words or gestures under duress, you'd truly prefer that to the alternative.

Maybe this is an angle: that to set up a "If it happens again, then you weren't really sorry in the first place" dynamic is not good for his cause. It is bound to turn you more rigid in assessing his "mistakes," putting his behavior under a microscope. It creates a situation where you are the police, being hypervigilant and punitive to mistakes, reading too much into them when they occur. Whereas the whole problem is that this should be a more nuanced discussion-- he's human, you're human, you both have needs. He feels best when A happens; you feel best when B happens. The more you can chart out C-- and for both of you to understand that it's the best solution in total, even if you can't individually rank it your favorite-- the better off you will be.

This is a dynamic I've seen a good bit in marriages. How have others dealt with it?

I'm happily married to my high school sweetheart and have been for almost three years. But lately, I can't get this other guy out of my head. I think about him constantly. I imagine the flirty conversations I'd have with him. I light up when someone mentions his name. I'm shadowing his social media accounts whenever I can and I keep trying to think of excuses to talk to him. I tell myself it's harmless flirting, but it's gotten to the point where I seriously want to bring up the idea of an open marriage to my husband. Which is dumb because I'm 99% sure other guy has a girlfriend. Why can't I just forget about him? My mother says it's because I never got a chance to "sow my wild oats" but is there any truth to that? Do you have any suggestions for getting over a parasocial paramour?

Now, there's a turn of phrase!

The getting over won't happen unless you actually know you want to get over him.

If an open marriage was never in the cards for you and your husband, it's disingenuous to pretend that that has any reasonable shot at being the solution-- especially given that this has less to do with your personality or general feelings about marriage but more to do with the fact that you have fallen for someone else.

Now, that need not be a dealbreaker in a marriage, but if you keep throwing gasoline on the fire, things will burn down. The gasoline is the contact with this guy. The fact that you haven't brought up the idea yet of cutting off contact really makes me wonder if you're ever going to be able to be convinced that this is a problem to be solved, rather than an opportunity to be had.

Seriously, it's pretty simple: you either want to stay monogamous in the marriage you had with your husband, or you don't. If it's the former, then you really commit to that, and the first step is stopping the contact. The second steps could be individual or couples therapy, depending.

If it's the latter, then I'm wondering whether it's something that you'll begin to face-- and when.

Chatters?

"I'm not feeling it" doesn't convey the "I'm on to you" that I think is needed. It might not have any effect on the snooper, but it might make her realize she's not fooling anybody.

Good point.

Of course, on the off-chance that she's not snooping-- then things might get a little more hairy.

I hope you don't think this is a silly question but it is a persistent issue for me. I have lots of small groups of friends and individual friendships with people spread out over a wide area. When I reach out to a friend to say hi and that I am thinking about them, 95% of the time they will respond that we need to get together soon and ask about when we can get together soon. I have been dealing with some personal/health issues and do not always have the time or capacity to get together. I am not getting enough sleep or time for myself. I feel rude saying I am not free for the foreseeable future. It has honestly made me not want to reach out to friends because this happens so frequently. It's not like I never see these friends, either. This has happened twice this week alone! Do you have any suggestions about how to proceed? I sort of wish my friends were all friends with each other so I could get together with them all at once!

Are they really saying they want to plan the get-together, though?

Because all too often I hear the opposite-- the people who are desperate to actually get together, but frustrated with the fact that "We should get together!" has become social shorthand with even less meaning than "How about this weather!"

So, first step-- reevaluate whether they are just greasing the wheels of interaction. Don't bother stressing about plan-making that was really "plan-making."

Second step-- give yourself permission to be a human being. You are dealing with some significant stuff-- if our friends can't handle that, then who can? Next time they directly ask the "when," then you say, "That would be so nice, but to be honest I'm pretty overwhelmed these days, dealing with a few things that are turning me inward a bit. But I appreciate the thought."

And then, think about ways that maybe your friends CAN offer you some support. If they are itching to get together that much (again, defying the norm) then they may very well be game for helping in whatever ways you need.

This is so feeble that I'm laughing hard enough to snort coffee out my nose. If he's that insecure, he needs therapy.

There could really be a lot going on there, no? I agree.

Though we are definitely only hearing one side.

Still, I can't help but think about the mind-reading capabilities that this premise requires of a spouse. ("You know me well enough to know that I would choose Thai food tonight!!! Why should I have to say it?")

 

To "She doesn't Measure Up" "My brother says I’m not giving his new girlfriend a chance ..." Yup, that is exactly it and all that needs to be said. You are not dating the person, your brother is.

So, which way does this go, though? Does she have to give the girlfriend a chance if she's not dating him?

My vote is yes, if she wants any shot at a reasonable family dynamic in the future.

"Bringing up the idea of open marriage" sounds pretty starry-eyed when what you actually want to do is sleep with this one guy who has a girlfriend and who is not your husband. Are you happy with the idea of your husband sleeping around? Or your crush continuing to sleep with his girlfriend? Be straight with yourself here.

Yes!

At best, the idea of an open marriage is a red herring here. At worst, it could turn into a truly Jerry-Springer-esque nightmare.

On a personal note, my wife is doing great following her surgery. I have mentioned this in the past few weeks as this is a new road that our life is taking us on. A new adventure in a way we did not expect or plan for. But life isn't linear!

That is so great to hear! Not linear, indeed.

So much new research coming out about how it's not stressful situations themselves that damage us, it's our view of how they will damage us. The more we can broaden our perspective, the better.

The key here for me is that the LW doesn't sound very enthusiastic about her. If LW said 'I was really falling for her and then .... ' I would suggest maybe talking to her about it. You said something like that - since you're luke warm just move on.

Yes! Thanks. It did not sound like this was a Great Love for the Ages getting started, even outside of the Potential Snoopfest.

[Tech Q: I had a post 90% of the way done when the chat started/refreshed the page, and caused me to lose everything. Any way to fix that in the future?] My parents divorced when I was young, and I primarily lived with my mom. My dad's and my relationship has been very on-again-off-again, though these days I would describe it as "warm, but distant." My dad has never been good at keeping in contact, though he used to reach out and call every few months. I don't think it's actively malicious, just that it doesn't occur to him that his only daughter might want to hear from him once in awhile. This came to a head last year, when I called to invite him and my step-mom out to dinner for a combined Mother's/Father's Day/birthday celebration, as I do every year. He promised to check their schedule and get back to me...and then proceeded to drop off the face of the earth until I ran into him at my cousin's wedding - in October. Andrea, this devastated me. I didn't know if something had happened to him (he dropped out of contact when my step-mom as diagnosed with breast cancer a decade or so ago), or if I had done something wrong, or if he had just forgotten about me. I would find myself crying hysterically at the thought of him. I went into therapy, and eventually had a chance to talk to him about how I wished he'd call more. We both agreed to try harder, and I hoped that would be the solution. Well...it's now almost June again. I reached out to him several times and had a pleasant conversation, but he has never reciprocated. The second call, I tried to make plans to meet for lunch, which he never followed up on. I can't be the one doing 100% of the effort to keep this relationship intact, or I'm just going to find myself in the same dark place I was last year. How do I step away from this in a way that allows me to grieve for the relationship, while still leaving the door open if he decides he genuinely wants to make the effort?

First, sorry for the tech issues! Unfortunately I don't know how easily solvable that would be, but I will keep them on the radar of those who know far more than me about this stuff.

I am sorry-- a parent continuing to fall way short in terms of making an effort is something that is virtually impossible to ever fully get over. But you can get closer to "fully" by deciding what is acceptable to you and what is not. There's sort of a dimensional scale about the balance of effort within a relationship, right? So we know your Dad can't ever meet you in the middle of that spectrum, but how far to the side are you willing to accept? You say not 100 percent. Okay, what about 95? What about 90? What about a change in the logistics of how you go about it-- instead of constant one-ended attempts at plan-making, a "I have made reservations for X restaurant at Y time. I really hope you can make it. Please let me know, because if I don't hear from you, I'll assume you won't be there."

Once you know what you're willing to accept, and what you're not-- and what you're willing to do, and what you're not-- well only then will you know exactly what you are grieving. A father who will never call you on his own? Or a father you never get to talk to?

Think about that spectrum, and what you're willing to accept.

But don't make it contingent about how he will change. It really sounds unlikely that he ever will (or can.) And false hopes will only prolong your grief. I'm sorry.

for the OP whose partner refuses to apologize... it sounds like he doesn't give a flip about your feelings or affirming them. Even if he wasn't truly sorry he threw away your year old pile of magazines (for example) he should care enough about *you* to recognize that what he did bothered you and respect *your* feelings, no matter how silly he thinks it is. My husband is way more sensitive about little things than I am - and I've learned that even if I don't understand why he is upset or thinks it's silly, it's still important to apologize for upsetting him... because *he* needs the affirmation. all in all, it sounds to me like he is two steps away from gaslighting you into thinking your feelings are never valid.

This is helpful, especially because it's coming from someone who actually is the partner of the person who needs the apology more. You've learned to see it and adjust accordingly. Ideally, we want that from OP's spouse too.

I do again feel the need to say that I think that occasionally, there can grow a "Say sorry! Say sorry! Promise you'll never do it again, feel guilty, and berate yourself!" demand in a marriage, and that is toxic. But I don't think that's what we're dealing with here.

I realized that I was doing my mother's "I shouldn't have to tell you!" with my husband, and it reminded me of how mad it used to make me. It was hard, but I stopped. If this guy can't cut it out, he needs a personal counselor.

Good to hear you stopped! Yeah, so much of this can stem from things that we grew up with. Thanks.

Isn’t saying I’m sorry a behavior? Isn’t making a plan not to repeat a mistake a behavior? How is she supposed to know he realizes there’s a problem if he doesn’t do either of these things? Using the speeding ticket example: Why should she have any negative consequence at all to his behavior? Shouldn’t he be paying that back to their mutual budget out of his pocket money (and vice versa if she blows her budget)? I’m ok with him not using the exact “I’m sorry” phrase but he should still be capable of communicating *something.* A minimum would be, perhaps, “it won’t happen again” I agree this sounds a lot like people I know who struggle with shame. And I’m sympathetic to that but it’s not a free pass to never take responsibility just because it makes you feel even more mortified in the moment than you might normally feel.

This is really well-put. Thank you!

And I agree-- no doubt there could be some pain behind the apology-discomfort. But it's up to him to at least acknowledge it, and-- in an ideal world-- find the motivation to work on it for his sake and the sake of his marriage.

Thank you for your question. I feel like I'd be okay with both husband and other guy sleeping with other people if we were all honest about it to each other.

Okay, I appreciate your writing back, but....

But, but, but, but, but.

If you got married without even a whiff of this potential arrangement ever being uttered-- by you or your husband, then let's not kid ourselves.

You don't have an open marriage, and your husband very likely completely lacks the desire for one.

This is a "play the cards you've dealt" situation. Especially because you yourself dealt the deck willingly, in front of a bunch of people who later ate chicken marsala and danced to "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

Open marriage as cover to begin a relationship with someone you're falling for is just semantics. It's really not an "open marriage." It's "an affair."

I'm with Andrea - I'm wondering why this is still wigging you out. It was something of an over-share but not creepy as such from what I can tell. Can you explain why this was so disturbing to you?

I am all ears, as well.

Thanks.

But is the brother expecting too much? Has he made it clear that he wants exactly the same dynamic with his GF and his sister that there was with the ex? Because that's a problem.

That's definitely a possibility. He may very well have to adjust his expectations somewhat-- which he'll be more willing to do if she can come down from her freeze-out!

Compose long posts in Word or Notes or whatever, then copy and paste into browser.

Fabulous!

Perfect workaround in theory. Maybe slightly harder to bother/remember to do it in practice. But if you know it will be a long post, it's worth it.

Thanks!

Be grateful you live 8 hours away, no need to tell her if you don't want to see her at all, just say that yes, you are visiting your brother and one visit is all you can manage this year. You can add that the distance is easier for you if you want. No need to say that when you visit your brother you actually visit, versus watching her family visit with their screens. Meanwhile, I hope you are not comparing your children against one another!

A vote for the "Those extra 3 hours are a bridge too far" approach.

Thanks!

That happens on all the chats. A good idea is to open a plain text file, compose your story, and then, when the chat starts, copy and paste it.

Another vote! Thanks.

I smell a "Best Practices of Chatter Behavior" 3-ring binder and Powerpoint presentation taking shape...

Sometimes people give the polite answer “I’m fine” and sometimes they give the real one “Well, my wife just left me but at least my kid got discharged from the hospital this week.” Neither one requires more than a superficial reply unless you want to. The second invites a chance at knowing the person more fully but you can just say “oh, how difficult for you” and move on. Or you can try to connect more “My uncle had brain cancer and passed last year. His wife is caring for my grandparents. I don’t know how people like y’all do it! She uses (Support service) and (local hospice). Do you have something like that?”

Well put. Thanks.

I really did have the nagging feeling that this is a guy whose behavior we can either call "disturbing," or we can imagine that he is going through some serious *&%$ as a human being and can be gifted with whatever we can give him in that brief potential for connection.

Life is rough and disturbing itself at times, and sometimes expressing it helps-- and if we can find a way for it not to disturb us, we really open ourselves up to some good things.

I know, I know, not everyone feels this way or we'd all be therapists!

I have a similar relationship with my dad, who divorced my mother when I was five. It's very difficult when you have a tangential relationship with someone. Especially when that relationship is supposed to be so central. It's affected my relationship with every man in my life. I really don't have much to contribute in the way of advice, but I just wanted OP to know that he/she is not alone in this situation. Cause I know it's super hard.

This is really kind. And I bet in some ways it really does help to know that she's not alone. So, thank you.

Thank you for responding to my question last week, and to the commenters as well. One of them suggested looking at step-mother's profile before deciding, which is a great (and obvious, duh!) idea. I did that, and have decided not to accept the request. Her profile is filled with erratic rants on a variety of subjects. Not a single update on family news or anything about my dad. This tells me that: 1. She is actively drinking (bingo to those who pointed that issue out) 2. Accepting her request will not do anything to bridge the gap with my Dad. For those who suggested that this really isn't that big a deal. That is both true and not true. There is so much more to the relationship and lack therof, so many other rejections and petty slights over the years from both of them. Elements of alcoholism and co-dependency etc. When I was young I got along great with my step-mother, but of course looking back now I realize that she was fun with kids because she had no boundaries and was often drunk. That's not so fun when you're an adult. I didn't have time to write the whole story, but I do appreciate the perspective from everyone. I think it's best to just let it lie and maintain my attitude of wary distance. If my dad reaches out in any way, phone or email, I'll respond and be open, but I'm not going to try to track him down if he doesn't want to be found. As they say, "that way dragons be."

I am really glad you wrote back, even if this update is not what I hoped to hear.

I think a lot of us were ready (myself included) to view Stepmom as some sort of bridge in this situation, helping things along.

It sounds like that's far from the case. I'm sorry.

But I am glad you've found your path forward in the interim.

I went to a male hairdresser about nine years ago. He was, admittedly, the stereotypical crazy, fun, brash gay stylist. He gave me some great advice re: questions from others. At the time, I was married and husband and I didn’t want kids. He told me I should tell people that “after the accident we decided it would be best not to try.” I never used the advice since I was a huge wimp but he was so fun. I wished I could have been so laid back.

All kinds of uses for this:

"Your honor, after the accident, I don't pay parking tickets anymore."

Seriously, though-- love it. Not only because he sounds like a hoot, but because it really helps emphasize the overall point-- your business can be your business, and our obligation to answer intrusive questions is often quite unjustified.

I think you're kidding yourself. You've made up this whole scenario in your head, remember. What'll you do when you ask your husband if he's OK with your sleeping with this guy and he says, No, and by the way I'm outa here. (Yes, I am harsh. Sorrynotsorry.)

You raise great points, though!

I think Andrea asked you what you wanted and you gave an honest answer - 'I feel like I'd be okay with both husband and other guy sleeping with other people if we were all honest about it to each other.' What do you do with that? As Andrea says - you've entered into a marriage that your husband presumably wants to be monogamous. I think the best thing you can do is still cut off contact take time - perhaps you'll find you had a crush and that actually don't want an open marriage. If this is not the case, it's trickier you'll have to figure it out from there - therapy? talk to your husband etc. But for now - cut him off, take some time and see how you then feel about monogamy.

Another vote, and well-put!

Thank you.

You're so right. That's why they pay you to do this. I really need to figure this out.

I appreciate the compliment-- but even more that you will give this some serious, serious, thought before you become an arsonist to what you have built (and could build!) with your husband.

How about when you reach out to a friend you have not seen for a while, you put it out there in the original contact. "I realized I have not seen you for quite a while, but various problems really limit my ability to get out. So instead of face to face can we chat online? [Here insert some topic about which a back and forth could be had, such as a book you have read/are reading, a TV show or movie, something to get the conversational ball rolling.]

Very specific expectations from the get-go. I like it!

For one-off stuff can the two of you figure out an 'apology'. Part of feeling bad is taking responsibility even if you feel bad. It's an adult thing to do and really goes a long way to closing the circle. BUT this does't always have to be 'I'm sorry'. Would the two of you be amenable to the 'apology foot rub' or 'apology cup of tea' 'apology cleaning the toilet' - you get the drift. For things that keep happening - you ask him keep something and he doesn't' take it in so it gets thrown away this is a different situation.

These are great points; thanks.

I fret she has already tried some of these suggestions, though.

Perhaps we will hear back!

Really? Set up a trap to see if a girlfriend opens your medicine cabinet or your sock drawer? What's wrong with just ASKING? "Hey, did you ...?" Who knows, there might be a legitimate reason behind it.

Yup, I don't fully endorse the trap by any stretch. But if he was weary of the question seeming too accusatory and detonating the relationship, it could be a last-ditch effort for a final confirmation.

Of course, it seems that this relationship may be worth detonating.

But you are right-- there could be a legitimate reason. (Can't bear to take those italics away, though. Sorry.)

A former coworker took a simple Good morning, how are you as an opening for a 45 minute answer. She did not have conversations, she had monologues. She also was never interested in anyone else and what was going on with them. We were all just supposed to listen to endless details. Glad she has retired!

For sure, 45 minutes is too much, and there are chronic oversharers where it is always one-sided and can bring chaos to everyone else.

In this case, though, I saw it more as a "Wow, just thinking about a vacation is going to make me have a really *&%$ moment as a human being, and I'm probably not going to cope well. I will get this out of my system and get myself together by the time I am walking back to do the work I'm here for."

This is specifically for actual events - like the birthday/mother's day/father's day you planned. Can you e-mail both your father and your step-mother? Telephone is often forgotten and it's easier to follow up and e-mail. You're also inviting your step-mother so it's including her in the original invitation. I think when thinking about 'what will I accept' that if you do actually want him to come to events, having to follow up for rsvps might have to be on that list

Great thoughts!

What are you getting from this side-guy that you aren’t getting from your marriage? The thrill of a new relationship? The risk of losing your marriage/being found out? Feeling desired? What? Do you want to blow up your marriage over this, or just want out of your marriage, or do you want to stay in it? If you want out of your marriage, be honest with your spouse. IF not, cut off contact with the guy you’re stalking and get some therapy. Good luck.

Yes, yes, yes.

Individual therapy could illuminate a LOT of the reasons behind this besides "Wow, he's hot."

Thanks.

What ARE you getting out of this? Is it because he is unavailable that you are spinning yourself these fantasies? You need to get at the root of why before you can figure out what you should do next. Assume that you spin your fantasy out and have an affair with your imaginary beau. Then you find out he leaves his dirty laundry in a trail across the house or leaves the cap off the toothpaste. Fantasies rarely live up to their advance billing.

I love that: "Fantasies rarely live up to their advance billing." Even if a certain type of sushi-burrito is the exception.

Thank you!

I realize I'm at the tail-end of the chat here, but speaking as someone who had an affair that started much the same way as yours...cut off contact with him, ASAP, and consider therapy. Best of luck to you! :)

Always helpful to hear from someone who's directly been there themselves. Thank you!

My mother and father were married until I was in college. My mother treats me this way— calls my husband more than she does me. Mostly ignores me and my kids. I live an hour away but she doesn’t like to visit or have us vist her much. (I’ve had friends of hers comment to me that they were shocked by how she treats me, especially relative to how she treats my sister, so this isn’t just my perspective.) It’s who she is and it’s all she has to give.

Sounds like you have found a really good way to come to terms with this. Very impressive-- if there is a magic elixir involved, do let us know! (Perhaps next week as we are needing to wind down!)

It's disturbing because it is a bait and switch. He brings up something most likely pleasant and then when she enquires hits her with bad news. It is jarring and is meant to throw the person off balance. People do it for fun.

Thanks. I may have missed that he was the one who initiated the conversation under false pretenses?

Wish I had time to look. Can definitely revisit next week. But for sure, there are those who may like toying with people this way (and there are those who don't even have the real situation at home that they claim to!)

I'm so sorry you're having to deal with an absent parent. My advice is to accept it, and sooner rather than later. Whether your parent is cruel, like mine, or absent like yours, what you can do is move on, find your own "family." When I walked away from my mother I lost my entire family ("family of origin" is the phrase, I believe) save for one wonderful brother. But I have found new - better! - mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and brothers, people who care about me and ARE there for me. I just wish I'd started looking earlier, instead of trying to make my mother be someone she just was not. Good luck.

Another person who found acceptance. So, so glad for you--  sounds like you worked at it. Thanks for writing!

Some responses are still piling in, but unfortunately, our time has flown out! Thank you so much for all the participation today-- I am so glad I was able to be here for the whole chat.

Until next time, see you in the comments-- and on Facebook!

Be well.

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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