Baggage Check Live: "Sprained eyeball"

Feb 20, 2018

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

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Welcome, everyone! It is lovely to have you here. DC-area-ites, I hope you are finding some time to spend outside today in this (admittedly bizarre) gorgeous weather.

This week's column is just making it online now--  and it might not even be my fault! (Though I'm not holding my breath.) It is a doozy, with some wedding-cousin drama and an obnoxious new boyfriend, so give it a read and let me know what you think about our letter-writers' situations.

We've already got some questions here, so let's dig right in. Ask away!

In the Feb 13th chat, someone talking about flirting with a coworker who has a girlfriend said, "I know what we're doing is wrong but if he doesnt care about his relationship why should I?", and said the flirting might be leading to sex. My answer: you are choosing to do something that you know hurts another person, not for the greater good or as the lesser of two evils, but simply for your own selfish pleasure. The word for somebody who would do that is "jerk". It would be different if your coworker broke off their existing relationship to be with you: there would be some hurt involved for the girlfriend, but that would be best for her in the long run. Your current approach is basically to help your coworker to be unfaithful, building up more and more hurt to be released on the girlfriend at some future time, with the only justification being that it feels good to you now.

Thanks for this. I couldn't agree more. It's like time-release pain that the OP has a hand in creating for the girlfriend. Of course, no one escapes this life without bruising, but in this case I see zero justification for continuing to help someone hurt someone else.

Hello! I have a friend who I think needs a new therapist, but I don't know what to recommend. It seems glaringly obvious to me (an avid advice column reader with a general interest in human behavior who had a great experience in therapy a few years ago) that her being a kid with some hearing loss and an undiagnosed learning disorder who moved around a lot might have something to do with being an insecure adult now. On top of that, when the LD was diagnosed, she didn't get specific results or help in dealing with it, so she didn't know how to focus on her strengths. We met in grad school, when we were both in our early mid-30s. She often didn't criticism from our teachers well; she took it incredibly personally when younger classmates didn't engage in conversation. She's struggled to find work she's confident doing since we graduated, and she's hurt when her coworkers don't say good-bye when leaving for the day, or when people don't text back as quickly as she thinks they should. I've suggested tracking her feelings, so she can ease the impact of down periods before they happen, and I send her stories about self-care and not caring about other people's opinions if I come across them. But I think she needs a better therapist, someone who will challenge her perspective and help her help herself. I wonder what she'd be like now if she'd been in one school long enough for a teacher to notice the LD and get her help sooner, or if one of her therapists had made her question why she cares so much about other people's opinions. So, are there particular phrases that might lead to more productive therapy sessions now? Or, if she wants to change therapists, a type of therapy that might be especially helpful? I want my friend to be happy and confident.

So I'm curious what they are actually doing in therapy. That is not meant to be as snarky as it sounds-- they might be doing great work on other things-- but I think in order to figure out why therapy is failing on the one hand, we have to see what is and isn't happening.

Of course, as third party, you can't totally be privy to that. Maybe she's talking there about something she's never shared with someone else, including you. Maybe things are more complicated than they seem. Maybe she was much worse off in these ways than you had thought, and she actually IS making progress, albeit slowly.

That said, I think your best bet is to "wonder" out loud about how she feels about this stuff. Instead of assuming things about her therapy or telling her what you think she needs (okay, that wasn't meant to be snarky either. I'm on a role here!), you can ask her what she thinks about her progress, how she thinks you could be helpful, whether she's considered telling her therapist the A, B and C that she's told you. This can all be said with love and understanding and the idea that you want her to be happy, and you've picked up on certain things that tend to be hard for her. You'll do best here with loving but firm suggestions and things you're "wondering" about, rather than hard-core, solidified interpretations that make assumptions about what's really going on (even if you're entitled to make them.)

I can't be the only one wondering why this person wrote to you at all. In any case, if she's still reading the chats, here: If you date someone who'll cheat with you, you're dating someone who'll cheat on you.

Thanks. I definitely wondered what the person really was hoping to get out of writing in as well!

If the OP is hoping that this relationship will be more than just sex, she'd better watch out because if he dumps his girlfriend for her, he'll dump her for the next woman who catches his eye.

Yup. I think she might argue: Okay, fine, all I want is sex.  But that brings us back to the question of why-in-the-ever-loving-heck did she write in.


My husband and I are starting treatments for infertility however it's very VERY emotionally draining. I'm finding I'm short tempered with him which is unlike me. I'm not blaming the cocktail of drugs however that's a very large part of it. My doctor warned us that because of the drugs my mood/temper/behavior will be affected. What they didn't mention is that being intimate would start to feel like a chore because of all the timings etc. How do we keep the passion alive? Intimacy is very lacking right now despite us going out on date nights etc ad trying to get him in the mood is harder than I thought. I feel like focusing on conceiving is all that's on my brain as of late and my husband would agree. Going away for a weekend is out of the question since we're saving money because none of our infertility treatments (or meds) are covered by insurance so everything is out of pocket for us.

I am sorry. By all accounts, infertility can cause a lot of stress for not only the individual, but the relationship. 

Here's the thing: I don't think there's any magic solution to turn sex into a spontaneous, carefree and wild time when-- by definition-- you are in the throes of needing to use it in a very ordered, clinical way. The very nature of sexual passion gains something from engaging in it for its own sake with abandon, which is pretty much the opposite of the timed/medicated/purposeful/please-please-please-let-this-result-in-a-zygote-because-we've-spent-so-much-money-this-cycle-and-I-wonder-how-many-more-we-can-do type of sex that you are needing to engage in at this particular point in your life. So, I think some level of acceptance is called for here, to let yourself off the hook that you are not going to be starring in a Cinemax special anytime soon. And that's okay. It doesn't mean that sex is ruined forever or that your couplehood has to be put in jeopardy. (Though if you really want to attack this problem, you could try more for the sensual rather than the purposeful-- reconnecting through physical touch where neither of you are actually "allowed" to technically have actual sex in the baby-making-way, and seeing if you can just enjoy each other's bodies aside from the baby-making.)

But before you resign yourself to what probably was not the answer you were hoping for, let me say this: I think that emotional intimacy can help fill in some of the gaps here. Seeking out things that help you make each other laugh. Learning new tidbits together. Treating yourself to new experiences you typically wouldn't seek out. Getting each other little gifts. Finding a TV series to distract yourself by binge-watching. Having entire hours where no trying-to-conceive discussion is allowed. Planning a few double-dates (in fact, interesting new research even suggests that is better for couples than typical dates; who knew?)

And-- most of all-- you won't be able to be happily connected to your partner if you yourself feel completely drained. Have you thought about support for yourself? I understand that therapy may not feel like it's in the cards right now, but I really think if you can prioritize self-care-- in whatever ways that means to you, from yoga to girls' nights to exercise to novels to meditation to hobbies to good chocolate-- it will help you feel better all around, and less spent. That can lead to a much better connection with your husband.

Good luck.

Any advice out there from the infertility trenches?

Regarding today's column, is it going too far to suggest that LW ask her BFF more about his behavior? Like, does he correct LW's BFF all the time or doesn't let the BFF express her own opinion? What is he like then he isn't around other people? I feel like these behaviors are red flags that go beyond the memories of a bad ex. (LW doesn't have to be accusatory about the BF and alienate her friend but it couldn't hurt to find out more, especially if his behavior is *worse* in private)

It's a great point. I sometimes may be too quick to assume that a behavior is controlling-- side effect of doing a lot of writing on the signs of it in a relationship-- and perhaps it was my wishful thinking that this was more of a know-it-all thing than something more sinister. But as we have seen with our arguing-attorney-husband from last chat, there is probably a spectrum of behavior between know-it-all and controller. So you points are important. Thanks!

How do you handle when someone completely dominates a conversation. Even if they start to listen to what you are saying, they interrupt you mid-sentence and bring the conversation back to them without even acknowledging that you were talking before. And what if you can’t just stop seeing this person because you are related to them? It’s starting to really affect my relationship with my brother. I feel like he doesn’t care about my life at all and it makes me incredibly sad that we don’t connect anymore.

I think there's big-picture and small-picture here. Big picture: can you tell why he's doing it? Anxiety? Attentional problems? Wanting to dominate the conversation? Wanting to prove something? Being bored with the topic at hand? That will go a long way toward helping you address it, because you can empathize with what's driving it and plan to attack the problem specifically.

Then there is small picture too-- not positively reinforcing the interrupting. Yes, this becomes like dog training at some point! If you always let him steamroll you, he gets what he wants and has no reason to stop. If you gently keep reminding him, "Please hold on-- I wanted to tell you this part" then it serves as a little nudge to change his behavior. Or-- for the nuclear option-- you don't respond at all with interest to whatever he says when he interrupts.

I do think both big picture and small picture can be well-served by a larger, more serious conversation about it, though, with lots of "I" statements about how hard it is for you to deal with and how it makes you feel.


The cousin sounds like a scorekeeper. If she had been invited to both the ceremony & the reception, she would have complained that she wasn't a bridesmaid or wasn't asked to do a reading or something.

Right. Maybe-- though is someone truly not expected to have a reaction to not being invited to someone's wedding ceremony, but just the reception instead, given the troubled history? And with no ostensible reason other than that the bride's Mom said it would be okay?

I could be off base here.

I think Andrea is really onto something here - you will feel a lot better about the clinical sex if you focus on generally reconnecting with each other. Right now you're under a lot pressure - take time to enjoy each other too and try not to let the pressure take its toll.


It used to be much more common to be invited to the reception and not the ceremony, if the reception was going to be very large and the church or wedding venue was very small, which is probably why the bride's mom said it was OK (after all, if the bride is in her fifties, the bride's mom is probably in her seventies). It's not really seen as appropriate now, unless the couple elopes or has a private ceremony. But the cousin's grudge-holding is obviously out of all proportion to the supposed offense.

This is interesting!! Thanks for the context!

As someone who has considered doing this, I never stopped because I would be hurting someone else. (She made the vows, not me.) I stopped because if her husband found out, he would hurt me. Badly. The real moral dilemma for endless debates are: If you were guaranteed that no one else would find out, would you still do it? Debate that for awhile.

Well, I think that's not the most pertinent question. I really see this as a question of endgame. Who do you want to align yourself with in life? Most people want there to be some semblance of character in the people they spend time with-- but of course there is a gradation in whether you're in it for the long-haul versus just getting naked.

Hi, My sons have challenges. My eldest is a first year college student living on campus (who was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2016) and a 16 year old boy in high school with ADHD, depression, and anxiety. The 16 year old usually misses a day of school every week with stomach and diarrhea issues. I have noticed on those days I am sad, unproductive, and unmotivated at work. Can I ever be at a point where I won't be affected by this kid missing school? I have asked myself what and why this is affecting my mood and work performance. I know I feel like a failure for not getting my son to school. How can I change my thinking on this?

It's that old saying rearing its ugly head-- "You are only as happy as your unhappiest child." I think taking a moment to recognize that grief and worry are the flipside of love-- and can often mimic the intensity, in a corresponding way-- can help remind you that there's nothing wrong or pathological about this. Yes, you need to work on coping through the worry. But you also are presumably a loving parent who has been wired through evolution to care that her children are suffering, and to not be able to, say, happily raise a margarita when you know it is at its worst.

But, I get what you're saying-- you need to be able to function. So, that brings me to this: what is the actual plan for each of your sons? Are there adequate supports in place? Do you have faith in those supports? There are treatments for every disorder you mentioned, and there should be feelings of progress. Data tells us that our stress response is most pronounced when things feel unpredictable and out of our control. So, when your younger one misses school, it will help if there are some specifics to focus on: ("Today was a step back, but this week we are focusing on A, B, and C and have a plan in therapy to do D, E, and F. I did see some progress on X.") The more particular and concrete you can be, the more it won't feel hopeless and scary when he has a bad day, and you can see it as a dip in a larger trajectory upward, rather than a sign that nothing is going well. 

Similarly with your older one. Does he have solid support on campus? Are there tangible things that you as the family have been advised to actively think about and watch for, given that eating disorder recovery can be a long road?

Once that bigger picture is more solidly in place, you can try some individual coping techniques when things feel the worst at work. Trying to learn about your own particular physical and cognitive patterns of anxiety and attacking them at their root-- with breathing exercises, visualizations, and new ways to look at your intrusive thoughts (accepting them and watching them go, rather than battling them.)

I think all of this can help address the "failure" problem beautifully as well. You need a plan. You need supports in place. You need specifics. That is the opposite of failure, and the more you can remind yourself that there is a track that you are on, the more in control you will feel and the less thrown by these individual setbacks you will be. Hey, I would argue that a crucial part of this support should be for you-- alone. Please do consider it.

Hang in there. I'm certain many parents can relate: any advice from the chatters?

I can see asking someone to the ceremony but not to the reception, as that would save you money in the long run (as it won't cost you if the church is full but will if the banquet hall is) but why would you invite someone to the banquet but not the ceremony? It makes no sense.


I guess some reception halls have much more space. But since I am someone who believes that weddings are about the marriage more than the surf and turf, I don't really get the thinking behind it.


For more on this topic, consult your erstwhile colleague, the great Judith Martin, historian of manners and customs.

Love her!

Yes, that is definitely more her bailiwick.

Anyone read about the two sisters playing hockey in the Olympics, one for Korea and one for U.S.? After their parents had tried for a decade, they finally stopped trying and made plans to adopt a girl from Korea. Only then did they get pregnant. So the two hockey sisters are almost the same age. Maybe it's just a coincidence but sometimes when you stop trying and just have fun, everything works out. Just my 2 cents.

I hadn't heard about them! Perhaps because I WAS BEING FORCED TO WATCH SEVENTEEN HOURS OF CURLING (ahem.)

I do appreciate this advice, though I'm almost hesitant to pass it on. I think it can probably be irksome to hear for folks struggling with infertility, even if there's some truth behind it. After all, telling someone to relax because if they don't relax they will BLOW EVERYTHING does not tend to be super-effective. I see where you're coming from, though!

I don't have a loud voice and it's easy for people to talk right over me. I find that holding my hand up in a traffic cop 'stop' can be quite effective. I'm also working on getting my voice to carry better so that I can more easily keep talking when sometime starts to talk over me. I have tended to surround myself with people who are respectful listeners but I have some close relationships with people who are more used to an interject back and forth sort of chat. They mean no harm - it's a different dynamic, but one I find difficult.

This is great. So glad it works for you. It would be beautiful if OP could develop some sort of signal for her brother-- it would involve his actually wanting to change-- that was a gentle reminder for him to lay off a bit.


if we REALLY want an endless debate, we can discuss whether monogamy and morality are socio-cultural constructs or inherent in human existence. But I agree with Andrea- I don't think that's the point. It seems what really is confusing to everyone is what is OP trying to get out of a) the flirting and b) writing in (e.g., the end game).

That sounds like every late-night conversation I had in college-- with and without the Goldschlager!

Thank you.

"If you were guaranteed that no one else would find out, would you still do it?" Nope. Regardless of what other people think of me, I wouldn't respect *myself*, which is far more important.

For the win!

I am 30 years old, married with a busy job, and a child on the way. My husband and I guard our schedules. We like to plan in advance our down time and time spent with our friends and families. I'm having a problem with two of my aunts. They are both single and work part-time, and I think their difficult personalities have driven away many friends over the years. If they weren't family, I would not choose to spend my time often with them. One aunt recently moved into the city I live in, instead of the neighboring suburbs. She loves being "out on the town" and texts me several times a week for impromptu get-togethers. She'll reply "??" if I don't respond as quickly as she wants and is upset when I generally say no. The other aunt has the opposite approach. She wants to schedule plans, like a dinner with me, several months in advance. Of course a random Tuesday in three months is most likely free. She doesn't really understand that I might not know my work load in advance want to commit that far out. If I say no to that Tuesday, her next question is "What about the following day?" until I relent. To both of them, I'd like to find a diplomatic way to tell them that I don't want to spend as much time with them as they do with me. I feel guilty that neither of them has a lot going on and I am very central in their lives, even if they are peripheral in mine. Of course these two sisters cannot stand each other. Do you have any advice?

Okay, I think the fact that these two sisters can't even get along with each other gives you a bit of a gift here, in letting you off the hook. They are sisters who live in the same place, and obviously are connected enough with their family in general to still want to hang with their niece (nephew? Don't want to make assumptions here.) So: if they choose not to utilize each other as the potential relationship gold mine that they can be, because of whatever drama they may have going on between each other, that is on them. It is not your fault or your responsibility to help fill the gaps in their schedules or the isolation from family social time that they have chosen. Also, since they are doing such an (eye-roll) bang-up job of behaving in a mature and considerate matter in that regard, then it further lets you off the hook in being so concerned about being perfect in your own responses. This is all a long way of saying, Congratulations! They have given you a very low bar!

If you're wishy-washy enough that they don't get the hint, that only makes things worse in the long run. So, set boundaries and stick to them. "I'm sorry-- with everything going on, I can't schedule things more than a month in advance." or  "I'm sorry, I usually need at least a week notice." Or "I'm sorry; with my job and all the baby prep it's hard for me to get out more than once a month" or "I'm sorry-- I can't generally respond to texts at work" or "I'm sorry-- I usually put my phone away when I drive and need some downtime once I get home" or whatever. You don't have to tell them that you don't want to spend X amount of time with them per se, but by setting up some behavioral boundaries that you are clear about and stick to, then it will be saying it for you (without the insult part. But again-- if you do end up bruising their feelings inadvertently, embrace the low bar they've chosen to establish on their own volition!)

Do this for yourself. Truly. Because once babies arrive, they have a way of inviting all kinds of boundary-pushers!

No, no, no. Please don't ever tell someone trying to conceive to just relax, take a weekend away or anything of that kind. It is not helpful at all and you don't know their situation. I have been doing IVF for over 2 years. I can't just relax and have fun b/c I don't have fallopian tubes so I'll never get pregnant like others so please, for all of us experiencing infertility, never tell someone to just relax.

I was worried about this.

I appreciate your honesty.

Since a couple weeks ago when you fielded my question, things have been better, until I get triggered by say, someone happily posting their engagement photos. My fiance, claims he just needs more time, and is urging me to set a date in order to "help him get ready". I'm wildly uncomfortable with the idea of planning any sort of wedding/elopement etc, when he's not ready yet. We've been engaged for ~6 months and after he told me he proposed before he anticipated to because he felt I needed the reassurance after making the cross-country move, he's been very passive/hands off. I haven't asked him to plan/take engagement photos/any of that superfluous stuff (even though I'd love to) because I sense how uncomfortable it makes him. We've tried couples counseling, and it seems to help, but he's also so content with the status quo that he sees no reason to change. I can get very upset when fellow military friend's wives ask about our plans/status because inside it tears me apart. I've always thought marriage is a beautiful commitment between two people, I don't want to ultimatum my partner, I want him to be sure. But the waiting is starting to take a toll on my anxiety, any words of wisdom?

Thank you for this update, from a previous chat.

BY NO MEANS SET A DATE AS A WAY TO MAKE YOUR FIANCE FINALLY FEEL "READY." You already realize this, thankfully. But dates don't make anybody feel ready any more than my targeting 2022 as the year for my gold medal makes me an Olympic-level skiier.

Here's the thing-- you either have his getting ready on his own accord, or you having to give an ultimatum. Since you don't want to do the ultimatum (and admittedly it is quite a problematic way to start a marriage) then that leaves his having to get ready on his own accord. Period. Which could happen tomorrow, six months from now, or never. But you can make your own semi-ultimatum about what YOU are willing to accept from him.

It is not too much to ask that the person marrying you should really, really, really want to do it.

I am sorry, but there is no magic way to speed this up. You can only control what you are willing to accept yourself, in terms of a timeline.

If you don't want to be monogamous, don't marry someone who does believe in it. Or leave out the part about "forsaking all others" from the ceremony.


Granted, in the original context of this, I think we had a "live-in" girlfriend. Who knows what their understanding was (or wasn't), but it was clear the OP thought that if she acted on something with the guy, it would be cheating.

Great advice from Andrea - you set the boundaries. This also includes suggesting times to meet. This way, you are showing you're not being mean, but you keep it on your schedule and frequency.

Thanks. I wholeheartedly agree-- OP can come up with a set frequency they are willing to meet, help call the shots in arranging them, and then letting themselves off the hook for anything more.

I'm laughing so hard I'm snorting tea out my nose. This guy will never be ready, and he'll always put the onus on her. Dump him.

Well, this is a more direct approach than mine, that's for sure! Thanks for it.

Or not. The OP has a frantically busy life already, and shouldn't feel obliged to make more room in her schedule for two people she admittedly doesn't like very much.

True. I appreciate this! Wonder if a small set amount of visits will satisfy her own conscience and also make them less likely to bug her, though?

I'm about to sprain an eyeball from rolling it. If the only reason he proposed was to keep you on the hook, he'll never be ready.

Sprained eyeball!

This is most DEFINITELY the name for my next band.

Wise thoughts for real, though. Thank you!

Wow, this flew by. Thanks so much for all your input; it was a great time, as always. Now, go out, get some fresh air, and debate the social-construct nature of morality!

Can't wait to see you here next week, and in the print comments in the meantime. And as always, we are on Facebook.


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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