Baggage Check Live: "Hello-Kitty-Purse-Gate"

Jan 16, 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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It is delightful and de-lovely to have you here. We've already got some interesting questions, including the follow-up from the original poster (okay, OP from here on out!) about the husband-learning-the-language question from last week. You can find the link here for reference, and a transcript of last week's chat here. Let's begin! 

Thanks Dr. Bonior and your readers for their perspectives, especially on not holding him to overpromising. I'll admit that I'm a bit sensitive on this issue because I have a sister-in-law (SIL) who was a suckup to my parents before she married my brother, and then turned 180 degrees after their wedding and all but ignores them, even 20 years later. I was determined that my spouse wouldn't be that way, and I made that super clear to him when we were dating. That said, he values family a great deal and actually loves my parents (one of the things I love about him!). By taking those early language lessons (without being asked to), he actually did learn the language, enough to hold basic conversations and translate for others. In so doing, he set the bar really high, and so when my mother nudges me about hubby seeming to have lost those skills over the years, and why doesn't he practice, I do feel embarrassed. I will try to ask him about expressing disappointment and how I can help him...but I appreciate you validating my feelings of being manipulated. Thanks.

My pleasure. I feel like your letter brought out a lot of strong feelings in part because these are the type of conflicts that can be toughest for partners-- long-standing issues that involve changed expectations, intentions versus reality, and hurt-- and also of course the in-law piece. I think it makes us want to take sides because to some extent we've all been there and might identify better with one person in your dilemma versus the other. I am glad you are able to see the shades of gray and what you bring to the table in terms of your own sensitivities. Keep us posted as you move forward!

I actually feel sorrier for the husband after reading the entire letter. He is already putting up with having his wife's family (who he can't speak to and apparently aren't learning his language ) for two weeks! That is a long time to have in-laws in your home. In addition, his wife feels entitled to his free time to make him learn this language. Newsflash: he doesn't want to learn the language, or he would already do so. He is being extremely generous to be willing to have your family visit that long. Accept that about him and appreciate all that is good in the relationship.

(The entire letter can be found in last week's chat transcript here.)

I appreciate this answer, but I also think it's a pretty black-and-white viewpoint. For instance, no one said the family stayed with them for two weeks in their home (unless I missed it.) I could see if you're in the husband's court you might look to assume that. Also, again, he already made the commitment on his own volition to learn the language years before, and had done a lot of work to do so. So neither his putting up with them for two weeks in his home nor his not wanting to learn the language are backed up by the actual letter. I totally agree about the appreciation piece being important, though.

Sing along to the entire song--out loud and loudly. The more your hate the song, the better it works!

More about banishing earworms from last week! Does this actually work? Typically I do this, make everyone within a twenty foot radius want to beat their head against a wall, and still show few signs of improvement with the earworm itself. Others?

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I received a very expensive Hello Kitty purse from my father. I kept in a safe place in my room but was in trouble once my brother arrived. Once he saw it, he demanded I surrender it to my niece but I refused & attempted to hide it in a safer place. That failed once I saw the purse in the back of his car. I was visibly upset & even asked my mom & brother who played dumb. I know it's just a purse but it had meaning to me. Is it wrong I am still mad at my brother for this?

1) Your brother stole from you. That was wrong. 2) Not owning up to it or making reparations is also another wrong in this buffet of wrongs. 3) Your mother has decided to dine at this buffet as well, by condoning your brother's bad behavior. 4) This is all kinds of dysfunctional. Why am I numbering these? I dunno-- maybe because it seems so cut and dried and I don't want you to get distracted by any conditions on any of this-- like that it was "just a purse." You deserve better. And the fact that you doubt whether it's your right to be angry about this tells me that this type of pattern in your family has probably been problematic for a long time.

This is just the latest in a multi-year process. Isn't it about finding out what the Husband CAN do, and asking him to seek it through, like coaching a B+ student to earn a few more points for the A- ?

I like the coaching analogy-- if he actually wants to be coached!

Put on your headphones, head to YouTube, and find a compelling song you like, and play it over and over. Gets rid of earworms.

Thanks. Sounds like it's a worth a try-- as long as you are willing to bow down to the song you chose as a new earworm!

I moved across the country to be with my partner who's in the military. Shortly after relocating he proposed. But we've had a lot of conflict about when to get married, he says "I want to I'm just not ready yet"...It's been 6 months and the only what we fight about is getting married. I'm ready, will he ever be? It's hard feeling this way

I imagine it really is, and I'm sorry. Usually I get questions about a boyfriend saying he's not ready for marriage, and therefore not ready to propose. I must admit, the fact that your boyfriend has already proposed but is now playing the "not ready" card is an interesting and frustrating twist. Does he say why he proposed if he was not ready to get married? Did he feel pressure that you were expecting it since you relocated? Did he feel that if he proposed, he could buy himself more time because his buddies told him how ridiculously long it takes to book a caterer? Is he just particularly vulnerable to "Every Kiss Begins With Kay" commercials? I mean, this is alarmingly simple, really-- he proposed under some sort of false pretense, whether aware of it or not, and he was not being fair to you. He was making a gesture that his true feelings did not back up. That feels like, at best, a sign that he is indeed not emotionally ready enough to make this commitment-- and is suffering from who knows what kind of anxieties (if you can get him to open up about the "why"s, all the better.) At worst, though, he could be manipulative, passive-aggressive, deceitful, or have no interest in getting married. Put away the wedding logistics talk and see if there is an emotional connection there-- with true honesty-- possible to salvage.

I'm using The Cranberries' "Dream." Sad.

You know, that was one of the few songs I would get stuck in my head for days on end as a teenager that I didn't actually mind being there. What a beautifully strange voice she had. It seems she suffered a lot in her last years; it's very sad indeed. Here's a link to her obituary

A grown man steals from his sister to give to his child?! What the hell kind of parents raise a guy like this?

I am grateful for the chatters getting to say things in a way that I.... can't! Thanks!

Do not let yourself be drawn into a tug of war here! This happened with my ex-fiance (there's a reason he's an ex). You know hubby loves your parents - tell your mom that when she brings it up and tell her to take it up with hubby if it's that important. No good will come of your being on his case because your mom is on your case ... . Your love for your husband and your parents shines through. With your hubby, focus on how both of you are showing your love.

I really like this. I'm sorry to hear about the demise of your past relationship; you are so right on this one-- the love is there, let that be the guiding light over any kind of push-pull. Thanks.

If Brother stole your purse, what else has he done over the years, and enabled by your mother ? My B-I-L stole from my wife's step-father, but step father still gave him $1 million over 20 years, and nothing to my wife (step- daughter of 53 years marriage to mother). Family dynamics are never logical.

Hoo boy. Yup, you can only imagine what else this brother has done. My money is most definitely on the idea that Hello-Kitty-Purse-Gate was not the first time. I'm sorry about your brother-in-law. Never logical indeed!

I think my 60 y.o. mother is starting down a path of hoarding. Our house was always cluttered growing up, but I think it's gotten worse in recent years. Her collections have literally started to pile up on every available surface - the coffee table, dining room table, even kitchen counters are unusable because they are covered. When I've attempted to gently bring up the topic, she says it's because her apartment is small. I would like to offer to help her organize, but I know if it's truly hoarding that touching someone's "stuff" is a very sensitive issue. Any guidance on (1) how to tell if this has really crossed the line into hoarding, and (2) how to help before it gets worse?

Yeah, you're wise to be vigilant. Whether it's true clinical-level hoarding or not, it only gets harder to reverse the pattern once inertia sets in, so the sooner it can be addressed, the better. And as people age and their mobility decreases, clutter can become more and more overwhelming and difficult to manage. True hoarding is usually defined by a significant emotional reaction to the "stuff"-- it's not just being overwhelmed by clutter (where someone might actually have decent motivation to purge), but rather it's being ruled emotionally by the fear of getting rid of the hoard. This leads to pretty irrational thoughts and behavior that are distinct from just being messy or disorganized (a hoarding person is unduly anxious about the idea of something being trashed or otherwise gotten rid of. They believe that things are still usable that most people would say are not, and they are excessively afraid of needing something in the future that they'd gotten rid of-- and are unable to process the simple reality that in the 1 in 100 chance that it is needed, it can be purchased, as it probably might need to be anyway since it likely couldn't be located within the hoard.) So, a hoarding person's "collections" are not what most people would collect; they are full of items that most people regularly discard. One look at what the stuff is on your mom's counters might tell you this-- are they things that sort of have reason to be kept, at least for a while, but just need a better "home?" Or are they things that shouldn't have been held onto in the first place? Of course, the most overt sign of true hoarding is that the living conditions are no longer functional. Often, a person has begun to limit their life within their own home because they can no longer use couches or tables or even sinks or showers or dishwashers the way they were intended, since those places are now stuff depositories.  And there might be pathways from one room to another without the ability to roam freely. In short, with hoarding, a person's life has had to contort itself into all kinds of shapes to accommodate the behavior.  Does you mom's situation meet criteria at this point? Perhaps not, but I'd say it doesn't matter. Again, it runs the risk of getting worse, whether true hoarding or no. (And it could progress to true hoarding if it isn't already.) So, I would continue your gentle approach and double down on her "small apartment" rationale-- which is even more of a reason to get a new system in place and change her habits. Don't go near the idea of hoarding in your early discussions,  don't lay a hand on her things without permission, and don't do anything in secret. But see if you can get her to agree that since she has a small apartment, she could use some new methods of organization and you want to help her with those. How she responds to these early steps will probably tell you a lot about whether you're looking at true hoarding or not.

I am the poster of the question (last chat) on insisting my wife quit smoking. You and others found my role "interesting" and "concerning." You asked, the focus should be on what's going on that causes my wife to smoke (after quitting 20 years ago) - well, I think she qualifies for PTSD without getting shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan. There's child abuse by her mother (still alive) enabled by step-father who then abandoned her when "natural" son was born, and lavishing his later wealth on his son (gave $1 million to son so son can work sporadically in $10/hour jobs) while allowing my wife when single to lose her house when she became unemployed, suicide attempt at age 18, sexually harassed for years by head-of-office and client men in her 20's and while married & wearing her ring, etc. - the list is long. Then a poster posted "I was judgmental and unsympathetic since I wasn't addressing health issues." Well, smokers swear health and addiction are not deterrents, until they face actual lung disease, cancer, etc., so that approach has low efficacy until they're become ill. Basically, my wife and all smokers want to smoke for the same pharmaceutical reason -- nicotine is a drug that provides pleasurable, not-extreme highs, and my wife craves the sedative effect when nicotine wears off to give calmness to stresses -- it's a psych drug by any science definition. My wife quit because, as you alluded, she didn't want us bickering (in her words, "her unseen smoking bothered me so much to be a cosmic joke and very unfair of me"). Is she planning an escape from all my controlling ways ? -- well, I hope not, but I am clueless in these things.

I appreciate this follow-up. It does sound like you are aware of all kinds of ways that she might be suffering, and therein lies the key to what your stance should be-- there are much better coping mechanisms than cigarettes (granted, there are much worse ones, too.) When you talked about the health concerns not mattering to smokers, once again you started lumping her in with a universe of others. But this isn't about all other smokers, nor is it about the psychopharmacological effects of nicotine (what a party that discussion is, though!) I think the conversations will go better if you try to connect with her more deeply as a human being who is in pain. No smoker stereotypes, no neurochemistry lessons, no grandiose pronouncements, no black-or-white commandments about how she should or shouldn't cope. She's a woman dealing with some significant stuff, and she needs support. I wish you luck and again, I appreciate the follow-up.

I'd be embarrassed and disappointed, too. This, to me, is similar to the 180 your sister-in-law pulled. Why did he let those skills lapse if he felt strongly enough to acquire them in the first place? Much to discuss with him here.

There is so much to discuss, no? And something that is just dawning on me (oops!) is how his skills managed to lapse so much over the years. I guess it's normal for an adult brain, but perhaps our OP could help keep those skills refreshed in a way that was more fun and less pressured by an upcoming visit. Thanks. 

Ummm...so it's OK to sexually harass single women?

Good catch. Yes, I didn't give myself time to address that piece but I hope that is not what the poster meant.

My boyfriend has been unemployed for almost an entire year now. I was unemployed for a short time before he was, I applied to every job I could and it took 3 months for me to get hired. When he was let go from his job due to the facility closing he wanted a little break from working. I didn't think it was the best idea and I tired to encourage him to apply while he took "break". He didn't take my advice. He hasn't been trying to get a job. Every time I bring it up and offer any help I can he shuts me down. I know he is hard working and driven. The last relationship he was in before me was with someone who took advantage of him and did not contribute to his life in a positive way. It was a 12 year relationship and they lived together. He has been financially taking care of himself since he was 18. He took care of his and his ex's financials and more. I am driven and independent and understand our relationship is different than his past but I can help but think "if he could work and support himself as well as someone else when the other treated him so poorly why cant he try to at least take care of himself now? What is so different about me that he wont step up for himself?" I don't know how to encourage him or get him to tell me why he is choosing the be like this. I will be 30 this year and I want a family before its to late to enjoy it.

That's just it-- he's a year out of work, not trying to remedy it, and also not telling you why.  There's no amount of encouragement that can put a job in his hands if he's not willing to at least try somewhat himself. (Parents of Millennials who keep showing up at their kids' job interviews-- take heed!) And if he absolutely doesn't want to tell you what's going on, there's no magic question to get him to open up about that either. Perhaps he's depressed. Perhaps he's scared. Perhaps it's inertia. Perhaps he's overcompensating from his past relationship-- but if he lacks the insight into any of this (or even the motivation to work on developing insight into this), then there's nothing you can do about it, and you're left with being the only one doing any type of work on any front whatsoever. Here's the deal. Does he know how his inaction is affecting you? And, does he care? And, if he either doesn't care, or denies that his objectively-subpar-contribution to the household is affecting you, then is that really someone you want to start a family with? 

Maybe the original poster can respond to this, but is there ANY chance that the gift was just mislabeled and the Hello Kitty purse was intended for your niece? If the original poster is an adult, it makes me wonder.

This is a legit question! Good point. Of course, the OP seemed to have very much appreciated the purse, so I had gotten the vibe that there was a history of previous known Hello Kitty affection in place already..... OP? Are you out there?

How about you tell him, "Well, I don't want to marry someone who obviously doesn't want to marry me, so I'll move back across the country. Bye."

A good thing to say; a much harder thing to follow through on, I am imagining! Thanks!

OP will be hurt if she listens to the tempting sirens: "He'll change or be happy once we're happy; he' s just confused, but he'll figure it out once we're married, etc." Ah, no. I'm hope I'm not being cynical, but dating is the peak, and the great marriage is if you can level off to 90%, good marriage level to 80% of dating, and most marriage 60% of dating. I love my wife, but like the drug addict, we can't achieve the same high as we had when we were dating (literally, can't get the same high in terms of dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, etc.)

Ahh... now that would be one heck of a wedding toast! Seriously, though, I think "highs" can be of different types. The security, trust, comfort and emotional intimacy that grow within long-term partnerships can be their own type of high, if not the type of high that makes someone duck out of work early and run a mile home. And of course, ideally in partnerships people continue to grow and push each other to expand their horizons in interesting new ways, having new adventures together. Your point is a very good one, though, in that if she is having these issues now, what will it possibly be like in the future when life throws them even more challenges? Absolutely. And she should definitely not delude herself with the voices of those Sirens, which are so often the thoughts that can make people justify being in a bad situation. Thanks!

I wonder if the critics opinions would change if the in-laws' language is English vs. the husband's primary language being English. I suspect some of the critics presume the husband speaks English and the in-laws don't. If that is the basis for their criticism, I recommend they look inward for a place to cast judgment.

This is a really interesting point. All kinds of permutations went through my head about language possibilities-- it's the advice columnist's version of differential calculus-- and I mentally visualized what I see as the most likely situation for couples living in the US, as I suppose most did. But we could be wrong! Thanks!

OP's mother is upset because Hubby's language skills have slipped. Ok. I wonder - has the mother bothered to learn Hubby's primary language? Or does this love/respect only go one way?

Ooh-- another potential language angle! Thanks!

Dr. Andrea, I am a survivor of domestic violence who is about 3/4 of the way through the divorce process. I also have a 2.5-year-old son. Earlier this year I wrote an essay that was published on a small website whose goal is to start conversations around women’s issues. Writing the essay was very cathartic and it does have my name on it. I have not shared it on Facebook though I have shared it with my family, my therapist, and my survivors Support Group. My initial reason for not sharing on Facebook was that I was not ready to tell my network about the situation. I have shared privately with friends in person that I am a survivor. I’m at a point right now where I think that if people don’t talk about domestic violence it will never end and sharing my essay on Facebook will help other friends who I haven’t told understand a little about what I’m going through but also might help somebody else who is dealing with something similar. How do I determine if I wait until the divorce is finalized most likely not until April or me or share now? My main concern with sharing now is that somehow it might get back to my ex and his attorney and they would think I am doing this to manipulate the divorce process. The judge is fully aware of the situation as is the guardian ad litem who was appointed to help us with visitation and custody issues with regards to my son.

First of all, I'm sorry for what you went through-- and really commend you for taking the steps to get out. My gut instinct on "to Facebook or not to Facebook" is that it makes sense to at least wait until the divorce is finalized, especially since you are 3/4 of the way through and are already sharing it with the people who can help you most. I would hate to see it used as leverage somehow, as you feared. The people who need to know within the proceedings already know, and your further sharing is to help others, which can wait a bit. And just a note-- when you do it, please continue to be vigilant about your safety. Unfortunately, there is no true "out of the woods" when someone has been entangled in an abusive relationship. You have come so far and that is wonderful-- I just want to make sure your support system for both physical safety and emotional health stays as strong as ever, especially since you still must keep him in your life with your son.  And be prepared that for some people who still have a relationship with him, their response to your sharing might not be as supportive as you'd hoped. Good luck to you; I trust that since you are in the court system where his violent history is known, you have extra resources at your disposal. Don't be afraid to use them.

Yeah, so why hasn’t the wife practiced conversing with him in that language, watched movies with him in that language and discussed them with him afterwards, gone to restaurants with him where the staff speaks that language, visited embassy events where that language is spoken, etc.? In the DC area there are a zillion opportunities to practice almost every other language. Also, it’s really hard for most monolingual Americans to learn and maintain foreign language skills after age 13 or so.

Whoever you are, I sense a new career for you as a language-learning-outreach-coordinator! All great suggestions. Thanks!

I'm the OP. A reader said this: "Ummm...so it's OK to sexually harass single women?" It's a tone deaf reading. I cited the ring & marriage status to say: (i) my wife wasn't asking for it" (in case there's people who think that), and (2) sexual harassers are predators who go after any woman (person).

I get it. You were preemptively saying to anyone reading who might blame the harrassment on your wife that hey, there's an extra visual there that said that even consensual relationships would be off-limits. Makes sense-- thanks.

I feel like I can't just calmly say to my husband, "Can you please stop doing (annoying/upsetting behavior), it annoys/upsets me," and get a response of, "okay, I'm sorry you feel that way, I'll stop." Instead, every issue, no matter how small, becomes this whole huge thing. He either argues incessantly that the problem doesn't exist, or he asks for a thousand examples of the behavior and then cross-examines me about each one, or he gets really upset and derails the conversation by expecting me to soothe him. It's overwhelming and exhausting, and it means I never say anything at all until at some point I just blow up with frustration. I've said turning every small issue into a huge conversation overwhelms and exhausts me, and I shouldn't have to prepare for a dinner table conversation with my husband like I'm girding for war, but then he goes to pieces or starts asking for examples of times he's asked for too many examples. I'm so frustrated and I don't feel heard. He swears it's not the case, but I feel like he does this on purpose to punish me for speaking up about things that bother me. I'm assertive by nature, but I feel so ground down.

Okay, I will say it right here-- his asking for examples of times he's asked for two many examples would be comedy gold if it wasn't part of such a dysfunctional situation.  Seriously, this sounds like a major problem. Has he always been this way? He's defensive to the point of completely rejecting your feelings, and it seems to go beyond just mildly invalidating them. The more ingrained this pattern gets, the more you both will continue to gird up for war just by being so conditioned to it. Whether he is doing it on purpose or not, it is a problem that needs to be worked on, seriously, before your connection is frayed irrevocably. This might be part of a scarily controlling pattern, it might be that he's just cluelessly anal about being right, or anything in between. I'm afraid this really does sound like a good reason to seek marriage counseling-- and I know in these cases, by definition, he's not necessarily going to dance a jig when you bring up that suggestion-- so at the very least, go yourself. My heart goes out to you. But take it seriously. It's troubling.

OMG is Larry David following and responding to your chat? Our marriage has leveled off to the level of pret-tty...pret-tyyy...good.

hahaha! I can just hear his voice saying that. Unfortunately, I believe that Mr. David is no longer in the married category!!

When it comes to stewed prunes, are two enough? Or three too many?

What, are we not making things move fast enough for you?

not the OP here but sharing a similar issue. I would say that my mother-in-law definitely meets the criteria for the early stages of hoarding: keeps junk (e.g., magazines) for sentimental value, buys, buys, buys cheap items to stockpile "just in case she needs them", and whole spaces of the home (specifically the entire basement level) are impassable. Her father apparently also struggled extensively with hoarding, too. My sister-in-law regularly sneaks garbage bags of junk out of the house to throw away when my MIL isn't home (MIL never notices when things disappear...) and my husband, FIL and SIL have tried to talk to MIL about it on numerous occasions ("please go to therapy, please get help"). What else can we do?

Hoarding is really, really tough. The truth is, it is one of those disorders where built in to the disorder itself is the belief that there is no disorder. So, almost invariably, people who hoard are extremely resistant to getting help, and sometimes social services eventually have to get involved (or some of those TV shows that seem either exploitative or a godsend, depending on my mood.) You might check out the Children of Hoarders website and listserv for some additional support and resources. It is an uphill battle, for sure-- but don't give up.

You should have put it that way, then, instead of putting it the way you did, which was saying that it's only married women who have to wrry about harassment.

Hmm, I don't think at all that he said it's only married women who have to worry about harrassment. But I can't go back and check at the moment.

It would be more accurate to say that he was saying that harassing married women is worse than harassing single women. I can accept that that's not what he meant, but he needs to be more careful about how he puts things like that.

Yes, I can see how it came across that way. Thanks.

My parents have a dysfunctional relationship and have my entire life. I coped by moving 500 miles away and limiting my exposure to them 20 years ago to a few times a year in limited doses. It culminated in a suicide attempt by my father a few years ago but they were right back together 6 weeks later spending the rest of the winter in their southern home together. Again, this fall the drama flared up and my younger brother has simply ceased taking to them due to the toll their dysfunction and bickering takes on everyone around them. I know you can't change other people...but my parents have recently started asking about taking my children for week or two this summer, as was the tradition with us and our grandparents. I don't want my kids to think that mutual animosity is the basis for a relationship. I've spent time with extended family over the last year and there's a reason we didn't see more of aunts and uncles and cousins growing up. I had to yell at my parents to knock offthe bickering in front of the kids when we were there for five days at Christmas...they simply don't get the message that it's their behavior that is alienating friends and family. Is there a path forward or is it just continue to minimize contact for the sake of my own sanity?

Yup, it is not your job to make the message magically penetrate if they're unwilling to hear it. You have to do what's right for your children, and an unsupervised visit for a week or two sounds too potentially risky and damaging-- whether you did it with your grandparents or not. I think you need to keep contact on your own terms, not letting yourself be at all pressured by their expectations. You might choose to try a bit more contact at times when things are smooth, or pull back other times when your parents are being more difficult. Always keeping communication open with your children about what they are observing and how they feel about it. But if your parents lack insight into why they might not be the best models for your children, then that alone is an additional problem that reflects poorly on their judgment. Good luck. I am sorry that you've had such a difficult history with them!

For the original poster: Please, please, tell us your wife is or has been in therapy. She's carrying a ton of awful baggage. You are right that smoking is as you put it "a psych drug by any science definition." Maybe therapy, (which is work by the way), would help resolve issues. Maybe she would be better off on an anti-anxiety drug. But give therapy a try. (I'm the recovering alcoholic that wrote last week. Jan 11 was 18 years!)

First of all, congratulations on 18 years!!! That's phenomenal. And yes-- therapy would be so helpful for this wife is she is willing to consider it. (Hey, for once it's not me pushing it!) Thanks so much for this!

Wow, a lot to consider . . . first, you (and son) deserve some resolution. You don't want to weaponize your story until your divorce -- better to have a final settlement, than a better settlement -- that's your goal. BUT, men like that don't take accountability, and you taking the high road may leave you "at a gun fight with only a knife." So, make sure your weapons are as potent as his. (I'm a guy, but overarching is fairness, not gender partisanship). Your story reminds me of recovering alcoholics (or any addict). There is shame and guilt -- save yourself first (and for your child), before attempting to save others (the oxygen mask analogy) by sharing your story. Really, I wish you well, but last bit of advice is your soon to be ex- (& his lawyer) will only cooperate if he sees strength in you

This makes a lot of sense. She shouldn't sacrifice any of her own well-being to help others, and the risk of posting on fb is not zero. I appreciate your take!

I think a lot of it is that he's a lawyer, and he just can't help himself. It's like he's conditioned to treat everything as this huge long argument with discovery and evidence and cross-examinations. He says he wants to understand the problem better when he asks me questions, but I've explained he uses an interrogating tone and keeps pressing until I give up, which doesn't imply he's trying to understand. I've also said that it exhausts and frustrates me, and that he needs to ease up, and he gets one freaking example and then I'm done. I did tell him that his behavior made him very difficult to approach, and that I'd largely stopped coming to him with issues and had begun to tune him out. That's the point where he usually goes to pieces, gets all upset, and expects me to soothe him.

Got it. Yes, it doesn't sound hopeless by any stretch, but he really needs to learn how to dial it back. I wonder if a CBT couples therapist who was very matter-of-fact and acted more like a communications coach could help get him to see in very tangible terms how dysfunctional the Lawyer Mode button is, at least when enacted with his spouse. Thanks for this update.

I'm pretty outspoken myself about things that are annoying me and I can be critical. I've learned that I have to pick my battles and see that I'm letting small things take on too much weight. My husband said to once early in our relationship that sometimes he feel he's walking on eggshells. Is it possible you're doing this? It doesn't sound like it, and even if you are - he's not addressing that well.

Yes!! It's so common to start being so gun-shy of any kind of confrontation becoming a full-scale blowup that you start to censor yourself even more, making the cycle even worse. Such good angles to consider; thanks.

I was raised not speaking English, and I myself have lost my skills in that other language after decades without being in a context where it's continually spoken. You can't keep up language skills in a vacuum-there needs to be some cultural context where you continuously apply the skills.

From someone who's been there! Thanks.

Clarification needed: is the reason that the aunts & uncles & cousins behave the same way as youur parents, or that the aunts & uncles & cousins couldn't stand to be around your parents? Not that this changes the advice, to refuse to expose your children to your parents.

Good question. I wondered it myself but then settled on the assumption that she saw how her extended family was choosing to not spend time with her parents (who were the main culprits in the dysfunction.) OP?

I learn a lot from wife . . . she will say "that's not fair fighting", and I would get it because my words can be low blows. I wouldn't know how to get back to fair fighting once the other person gets defensive. The only thing I can do is not "go off" in anger - - that's down hill from there. Maybe the OP's husband realizes he's responsible and doesn't want to be accountable. Maybe the wife uses an angry tone to start the conversation. I would just say, ask him open questions in a friendly tone, and let him explain or not explain. Like, my wife can't lie; when she's cagey or deflects, I know she wants to avoid saying the truth." One has to know the subtlties; it took me 19 years.

It is so great that your wife was able to develop a signal that you truly heeded... and that you were willing to do the work to get there and learn the nuances. Let's hope our OP's situation can improve accordingly! Thanks for writing.

Yes. I am disturbed by the apparent contempt shown by the husband for "psych drugs."

The terminology he chose to use was not gaining him any points, I think it's safe to say!

I agree with the other poster that it was just tone deaf reading--the OP was giving his own wife's context alone, not making a statement about who is or isn't vulnerable to sexual harassment. Sheesh people, stop looking for things offensive things!

Everybody's got their own lens, for sure!

Seeing chatters respond to each other-- for better or for worse, but all intended to be helpful-- is quickly becoming one of my very favorite things about this chat. What a motley crew (or crue!) we are turning into! Thanks so much, and I've got some questions I'll reserve for the next chat or the column if you didn't see yours answered. Have a lovely week!

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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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