Baggage Check Live: The Controlling Relationship one

Oct 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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Hi, everyone!

So glad to see you in the questions already.

How are things? Today's print Baggage involves a controlling spouse-- something I see here a lot, in part because I've written about it for other publications. And in L2, we've got a person whose medical news was spilled to the boss before they wanted it to be. Can a friendship with the loose-lipped coworker be saved?

Bring it on!

Hi, I am reaching out more out of desperation. We can't afford counseling and I don't know what to do. My husband is mean. I mean abusively mean he breaks me down to a pit I feel like I'm going to break. Just today, he woke me up at 5:30 this morning to move our daughter out of the way, picked a fight with the way I cleared my throat, (I've been sick for a week), than I was a bitch so I told him than find someone else cause I've had enough. Than I cleared my throat again and I'm disgusting. Bags me about why I put make up on. Is spending money searching me online convinced he's going to find something. Constantly accusing me of cheating. Yells and fights name calls and cuts me down In From the the kids. I'm desperate!! I don't know what to do. When I try to talk to him I'm stone walled every time.

I am really sorry. But you have to take this seriously-- this is an abusive relationship.

Period.

You are being emotionally abused.

The person you are living with is abusively mean and shows no signs of changing.

Please realize the gravity of this-- especially because you have a child. Abuse is a continuum, and just because it's not physical now doesn't mean it won't be later. But even if it doesn't turn physical, this is no way to live.

Please work on getting your own support. Start at www.thehotline.org. There is low-cost counseling potentially available. You need a support system now more than ever-- friends and family whom you trust.

Please keep us posted.

With so many people suffering loneliness and emotional issues, coupled with the lack of/difficulty in accessing therapists and counselors, can I put in a plug for a wonderful app and website that connects people to give and receive emotional support? http://happythemovement.com/ It has been a lifesaver! For people suffering, it is such a low barrier step to health and happiness.

I can't speak to this-- took a quick peek and at least at first glance it appears that it is not a Nigerian money-laundering scheme, so that's something-- but I am happy to put this out there. Teletherapy and digital health are definitely the waves of the future.

(I'll just keep my fingers crossed you are not a paid rep plugging this product.)

Thanks!

My husband is staring to drive me a little bit crazy - it seems that in every conversation / response to question I ask him lately, he answers in a joking fashion instead of a straight answer. His answers aren't funny (nor are they mean spirited) but it frustrates me a lot and I get annoyed (which I believe is evident) but he keeps doing it. Example: "What would you like for supper? I'll cook anything you like." Answer: "How about a big chicken to start and then pizza, lasagne and steak?' In other words, stupid answers. We have a good relationship otherwise, treat each other with respect, and I have repeatedly said "Stop teasing me" and he can see this behaviour frustrates me, but he keeps doing it (which obviously is NOT respectful). It seems to be getting worse of late. I am sure if I ask him why he does this, he'll saying "I'm just joking around", and thus I have not asked him why he does this. I am interested in the possible psychological reasons that he might be doing this. Repressed anger? Is it passive-aggressive? Help!

Well, could it be because he's running around with a big helping of Tiger Blood coursing through his veins?

Sorry-- doing a not-funny-non-sequitur as a semi-ironic response to a complaint about not-funny-non-sequiturs makes me just as annoying as your husband.

Here's my guess-- it's procrastination.

He's not ready to answer your question, doen't have the time or mental energy at that moment, and is plopping the question aside so that he doesn't have to deal with it-- using the silliness as a place-filler. Of course, you only give that one specific example, so it could be that there are plenty of other things going on. But I'm just sort of visualizing you both at the dinner hour, perhaps after work, traditionally a frazzled time, and he either doesn't care what you cook or isn't ready to think about it, so he puts forth a nonsense answer as a way of deflecting.

Does that sound possible?

Is it potentially that he doesn't want to be asked these questions in the first place? That he wants you to choose? That he really doesn't have a preference?

I agree that he needs to take your frustration more seriously-- you're feeling disrespected, and I get it. But I also can't help but wonder if this is a coping mechanism he has developed because he doesn't have the attentional capacity/desire in these moments to really think about your questions.

Can anyone else relate to this?

A few years back, I could have written the letter from “Coping with someone else’s anxiety and depression”, right down to the constant plea to “make me feel better” It was exhausting, isolating, and affected our whole family hugely. A few things helped, although it took a long time. One was finding my own therapist. I actually connected with one of my daughter’s rejects. She had a lot of experience with adolescents and helped me in my approach to my child immensely. Even if your daughter won’t go, you can go for help in helping her. This also modeled for my child a positive therapeutic relationship, and the time and effort it takes. People in pain want quick ways out of pain, of course, and a teenager in this situation doesn’t have the life experiences that years bring to assure her that hard things can be gotten through. Like your daughter, mine wanted my help but pushed back against every suggestion. Eventually we found it more helpful to listen but to keep our responses neutral “many people are helped with medication after they find the right one” e.g., and lob whatever we could back into her court. I tried to gently and persistently express my confidence that she/we would get through this. I spent a lot of time driving her in the country and listening to the radio, the one activity that seemed to distract her and gave me a reprieve too. I reminded myself that I had to keep swimming myself if I was to help her from drowning.(therapy helped a lot with establishing boundaries as well) It can feel selfish and impossible to have fun when your child is suffering, but it is important for your mental health. Plan whatever small reprieves you can. With time, maturity, and finally medication and therapy things are better for my daughter. She still struggles, but she owns her struggles, and I enjoy our relationship again. I know this is long already - but a piece on the medication. We had genetic testing done to determine best fit for antidepressants - not every prescriber will do this. We found several that she had tried were not well metabolized by her body. It definitely helped with the buy in that my daughter needed to keep on the one that eventually helped long enough for it to make a difference.

Thank you for this. I am so glad that with your persistence and patience and love, you were able to get to a better place with your daughter (and she was able to make progress in her own right.) I think it will bring a lot of hope to OP.

In terms of the genetic testing, I think the reason why every prescriber won't necessarily do it is because there are still a lot of question marks about that science, still in the early stages. But if it helped with her buy-in, that is wonderful.

I started identifying as asexual a few years ago, but have been wavering about it since then. I go through waves of feeling confident about being asexual, to wishing I was anything but. The biggest thing that I get hung up on is that I don't know what sexual attraction feels like. How can I know if I'm sexually attracted to someone if I don't know what it feels like?

I'd say it's okay to waver; it's okay to be uncertain. It's okay to not know. You are not a label-- you're a person, and we're all on a spectrum somewhere. So don't let part of the difficulty here be feeling like you fit or don't fit the label of asexual-- this isn't a "color within the lines!" situation.

As for knowing about what sexual attraction feels like, I am sure the nuances of it feel very different for different people-- falling along their own spectrum. For some people, it's about the physical pull-- literally having urges to interact physically and closely and intimately with a person-- but since I'm not sure whether you have sexual urges in general (or whether you've ever had a sexually charged experience, even on your own) then it might be this also feels foreign and abstract. For some people (including some who identify as asexual), there can be romantic attraction-- being fascinated by a person, wanting them to like you, wanting to be around them all the time, feeling an excitement when they are near or going to be.

Still others, it is more of a warmth of companionship and affection- wanting to be emotionally intimate and vulnerable to a person, wanting them to know you, wanting to be cared for by them or care for them. Of course, in many situations, all these forces combine.

So there are no right answers here. When you like someone-- in whatever form that may take-- you can decide how you want to try to interact with them, given the signals they are sending about how they want to interact with you. It's not about labels-- it's about people and all the idiosyncratic but ultimately beautiful ways they can relate to each other.

Speaking of which, can anyone out there relate to this?

(In response to last week's chat.)

It may be too late, but I wanted to add my two cents. It was hard finding a therapist, but I found the easiest way to do so was via email. I drafted one message which I sent out to about 30 names that I found through a website (Psychology Today, I believe). I only got about 10 responses (and of those 5 might have had openings), but all the names on my original list [roughly] satisfied the needs I had. I made an appointment with the first person to say yes (several weeks in the future, of course), figuring talking to SOMEONE was better than not and that I could always switch to another therapist if necessary. It is a slog, though. I wish you luck...

A slog indeed.
I REALLY want to assume that we have more than a 33 percent response rate as therapists. I so wish it wasn't this hard to find someone. But I know your encouragement will help people out there! So thank you.

"Here's my guess-- it's procrastination." It sounds like this is a pretty recent thing; right, OP? I'm far from a doctor, but what are the chances this is early-onset of...something? If he's not ready to answer, and is using these jokes as a way to buy himself some time, I wonder if that's because he's having trouble processing or answering the question? I don't know, but whenever someone mentions a recent or sudden change in personality or communication style, I always think it's best to rule out medical issues (or substance abuse).

Excellent points. OP?

How old is your husband? Is this sudden and new? I ask this because my step-dad started odd behaviors like this over a period of about 1 year and it was down to a neurological issue. Not saying this is what's happening, but sudden changes should be looked at medically. If it's not sudden, then this is something to talk to him about when you're both relaxed and hopefully you can get through to him, but don't discount a medical problem.

Yes, yes, yes.

You and the other chatter stepping in where I did not. This is an important consideration and much appreciated!

Then he needs to be straightforward about his not being ready with an answer, and say so, instead of angering his wife with silliness when she's just as frazzled as he is.

For sure, that should be part of the solution. If indeed that's the dynamic going on, they'll both need to find a way to communicate better in the moment what their needs are. Thanks!

Doc I feel as if I don’t have any say that my wife wants another child and I don’t. I have two children with my ex wife and one with her. I’m 52 and don’t feel like going through the work of another child besides my wife is super lazy and we have had a horrible relationship. My wife tends to get angry and she gets physical hitting me in the face and other parts of my body. Crazy but we still love each other. I’ve cheated on her she’s cheated. I’m not gonna say it’s all completely bad but when we start yelling it’s horrible.... I’m afraid to walk away after so much I’ve put into this. What do I do.

I am sorry. I thought at first this was a question about having another kid (simple answer-- the person who DOESN'T want the kid usually needs to "win") but it turns out this is another example of a terribly toxic relationship. And proof of what I probably don't say enough-- controlling/toxic/abusive relationships can take any form and any gender dynamic at all.

You are being physically abused. Please, please, please check out www.thehotline.org as a place to start, and see my answer to the other letter-writer-- and keep us posted.

Why does my husband think its okay to tell me what I like in bed? For example... I don't care for [doopty doo, nothing to see here- AB]  but he likes to tell me that I do just because when we were kids I used to. We have been together for 30 years. I told him that when were kids I was experimenting and I was into most anything but now I know what I do and dont like. However, he is pretty persistent.

I'm always at risk of pathologizing or overgeneralizing simple things that are specific and compartmentalized, and I don't want to do that here. But I also really do wonder just how specific and compartmentalized this is. Basically, in this instance at least, he's telling you that even though you are telling him you don't like something-- something very personal and significant-- that he knows better than you. Or, potentially worse, that he understands that you don't like it, but just doesn't care.

It's a pretty bold stance, so I can't help but wonder if this shows up in other ways.

If it's truly limited to your sex life, then I would call him out on that discrepancy. "Honey, I don't understand why you are being so persistent about this. It's not like you to ignore my feelings. I've told you that my tastes on that have changed, and I'm not sure how that is not okay with you. How can we stop having this standoff?" That should nudge him into a reality that it's not just about sexual mores; it's about respect and empathy and valuing the other person's needs.

If he's a steamroller in other ways, though, that is a larger conversation, and potentially a more problematic one.

I moved four months ago, and had to switch therapists as a result, as mine was now an hour drive. Before I moved, I mentioned to her that I needed to sell my sofa, and she told me that she was interested in buying it. Before she was able to pay me, she took on some unforeseen medical bills. I really needed to unload the sofa, and I trust her, so I agreed that she could pay me later. I didn't put anything on paper, which I know was not in my best interest, but like I said, I trust her. She's since given me half the money, and about two weeks ago I reached out and explained that if she was able to pay me the remaining amount, I'd appreciate it. She's aware, after three years of therapy together, that I sometimes struggle financially. She said she would send me the money by this past weekend. That's now come and gone, and I don't want to let it sit much longer. I just honestly don't know how to ask at this point without sounding harsh. I'd like to have more tact than, "I really need you to pay me", but I also want her to understand that it's been four months, and it's time to pay up. Any suggestions? Thank you!

I am sorry. Call me old-school, but I have a feeling most therapists would agree with me-- I can't even get past the idea of your therapist buying your couch (or making you privy to her medical bills) in the first place. Ethical gray area/multiple relationship alert!

I'd suggest drafting a letter that outlines in no uncertain terms the amount that she owes you. You can soften it with a line about how you value the professional relationship that you have (or had-- oof!) but you also entered into a business transaction-- one that you now potentially regret-- and you do need it to be completed in the manner that was agreed upon. And then you can send it return receipt, with a new deadline.

I mean, this is just seriously so uncomfortable. She should have never done this. I am well aware there may have been a dynamic there that you didn't mention-- she felt obligated to help you in a desperate situation out of good intentions-- but it was still all kinds of boundary-crossing, and if she really wanted to help you, she should have been absolutely certain she could follow through with payment pronto.

Yeah, there's some nausea here.

He also needs to get a vasectomy STAT.

Ahh. Good point. Thanks.

Start building an escape route - NOW. Family, friends, coworkers what ever. Every time you get cold feet please ask yourself is this how I want my kids to live? Do you work outside the home? Have your own money? Have a safe house to go to? Talk to a lawyer - can you find free legal advice at a counseling center? This man is building up his ego at your expense. HE IS NOT WORTH IT!!

Thank you. I really love when chatters can help flesh out the picture. So much support here!

I have been with my partner for a year. He went through my phone yesterday & the last time we argued (3 weeks ago) I moaned to a friend about how I thought he might be jealous I got a job. He went mad saying I’m giving my friends the wrong impression of him & ‘doing him down’ because he is good to me. I feel like I said it in anger & I don’t think he should Be going through my phone. He thinks I should have nothing to hide. Something feels off & I doubt I’ll ever make him happy. I feel like I am often doing something wrong. Please help, I’m unsure if I am the unhealthy one or he is.

I think you know the answer here.

"Something feels off & I doubt I’ll ever make him happy. I feel like I am often doing something wrong."

That's really a synopsis of the whole thing, no?

 I won't argue that it's always a healthy dynamic to be hypothesizing/overanalyzing/moaning about a partner to others-- but if he makes a practice of going through your phone and justifies it that you should have "nothing to hide," that is not okay. Nothing about that is the foundation of a trusting, healthy relationship. And added with the sentences I quoted, it sounds like you will always be on the defensive, and it has more than a whiff of controlling behavior (I know, I know, we talk about that a lot here-- but clearly there are a lot of folks suffering in those relationships.)

Please think about how you want to feel in a relationship, and what you deserve. Is it to always feel like you can't make your partner happy? Is it to always feel like you are not enough, or worse yet-- doing something wrong? Is it to feel like you can't be free to have an occasional personal conversation with a friend without it being scrutinized?

You said yourself that this feels off. It does to me as well. I am sorry.

Dr. Andrea, My girlfriend has always had a lower sex drive than me, but recently it has gotten to an all-time low. she suffers from endometriosis (which can sometimes cause pain during sex) and also thinks that her anxiety medication might be somewhat to blame. i love her and would not break up with her over sex, but it does bother me how little physical intimacy we have – she even recently said that she would be happy if she had sex only once a month. this is not something that i would be happy with! it is very frustrating! I would appreciate any advice on what to do!

This is definitely a frustrating situation, and it's clear you love your girlfriend, so I think often in these situations it feels taboo to express just how tough this can be. But when we think ahead to the potential for a long-term relationship, it's important to recognize that sex (or lack thereof) is a significant factor that shouldn't be overlooked or swept under the rug, because it does greatly affect long-term fulfillment and compatibility.

So, my question becomes, how different is this "all-time low" from what is a realistic, permanent-ish baseline? And would you be okay with the baseline on a more or less permanent basis? I'm thinking that if this is a very low dip that can be addressed (medication changes, more help and intervention for the physical symptoms of endometriosis, more creative ways of interacting sexually that don't cause as much pain, etc) to bring you back up to a baseline that is relatively okay, then yes-- this can work out. Especially if she is motivated to get back to that baseline herself.

But if this "all-time-low" is not that much worse than the baseline, or might potentially become the new baseline because she's not particularly bothered by it or wanting it to change, then you're looking at a problem that is more stark. And I have to say, the fact that she said she would be happy with just monthly sex (and you would not!) is a bit of a sign that maybe there is a fundamental difference here that won't really ever be completely compatible.

So, are there other ways to bridge that gap? I hear you in that you wouldn't break up with her over sex-- and I get how culturally it just sounds "wrong" to consider doing so. But I also have seen many long-term relationships struggle with sexual incompatibility even when they started out pretty compatible! So starting out with an incompatibility gives me a bit of concern. Remember, you don't have to apologize for having certain needs within a relationship (unless that need is to watch "The Emoji Movie".) It's not a matter of right or wrong-- it's a matter of the match.

I have also recently been wondering if I might fall somewhere in the realm of a/demi-sexuality. I'm at 25yo female that has never been in a serious relationship, and while previously I assumed it was just due to my specific social/health circumstances and timing, now I'm wondering. The one time I tried to bring it up to a friend they blew it off as "you're just picky" because they knew I'd had crushes and was interested in dating. I haven't dug too deep into research as of yet, but I have learned some things that may help: (1) there is a spectrum of asexuality between "sex-repulsed" and ambivalent. There are seem to be a lot of people on the ambivalent side (AKA happy to participate if a partner wants, but not going to seek it out themselves) that don't realize they may fit in the asexual area, (2) there can be a huge difference in partnered sexual desires and 'solo activity' if you will. Of all places, I've been learning a lot through communities on Facebook and Reddit (r/asexuality), hearing people's personal experience is much more relevant (to me at least) than a definition or research papers.

Fabulous insights. I have no doubt they'll be quite helpful to OP and others-- thank you!

I wish you continued insights and exploration into what works for you-- and am sorry about the non-helpful friend. Blurgh. Though they were probably just trying to be supportive in their own way, worried you may have been catastrophizing.

I had a husband similar to the first poster's...yelled at me in front of the kids, accused me of cheating when I wasn't (and liked to ask me about my nonexistent "boyfriend" in front of the kids), got angry when I would dress nicely for work, etc. You know what solved that problem? Divorce. I don't mean to sound flippant, and it was a ton of hard work, but i feel so incredibly free now. Since then I've met men who actually seem to enjoy my company, trust me, and who don't scream at me for every little thing. I didn't realize how awful it was to be emotionally abused until I got out.

Thank you. And many, many congratulations to you for breaking free.

I think it's so hard for people to understand from the outside just how insidiously gradual the process can be of slipping into an abusive relationship. Like the proverbial frog in the boiling water.

Hi there, I live with what I would consider a "functional" level of anxiety most of the time, though occasionally events will trigger obsessive thinking and rumination. Over the years I've gotten better at recognizing when this is happening, though I still struggle with how to address the anxiety in real time. The latest example had to do with some feedback I received on something I wrote. Normally I can take feedback in stride, but the nature of the response I received felt so personal and so negative that it sent me into a real spiral. I have the full support of my family, friends and professional community, who have told me repeatedly that I've done nothing "wrong," but that part of writing something is to accept that others will not always agree. Intellectually I get this, but physically I develop symptoms that are distracting (nausea, panic, loss of appetite). What tips do you have for addressing ruminating in real time? Thanks!

So, you've go to address this from both angles, as I see it: physically and cognitively. Those are two pillars of the anxiety cycle, and the more you can calm your body, the more you can calm your mind, and vice versa. So, pay real attention to your body and figure out ways you can intervene in that panic cycle. Diaphragmatic breathing? Progressive muscle relaxation? Guided visualization? Neck rolls or yoga-at-your-desk poses? A brisk walk? And take a look at the big picture-- when you get into these rumination cycles, is it possible that there are other things going on too, like too little sleep or too much caffeine, or something with your diet or medication?

Next, the cognitive piece. What I work with clients on all the time is learning to differentiate challenging negative thoughts from getting locked into a fight with the negative thoughts that makes them even more powerful. What I think will help you most over time is learning to accept your anxious voice-- not as true or valid, but as an itch that will always be there and that you can sit and watch pass and not have to scratch so hard. Because it's the scratching that starts the spiral. It's the difference between "My bosses hated my writing. That means they're doubting my abilities. They hate me and I'm not long for this job" versus "I'm having the thought that my bosses hated my writing and that they hate me and that I'm not long for this job. I know I have these thoughts sometimes because I'm prone to anxiety. Hi, thoughts! You're my anxious voice and you're not a reliable narrator, but I've learned to live with you. You're rather annoying but I'm not going to bother with you today-- look, I'm even slowing my breathing. There I am, breathing you out. You'll pass in time, as I get distracted with something else."

It takes practice, for sure. It's a mindfulness-based way of learning to handle negative thoughts that accepts that they're there, in order to stop depleting our energy in the fight (which makes them more likely to fight back and stick for good.)

I wrote in last week about finding a mass in my kidney & my daughter's ability to handle the possible bad news. Thank you for taking my question and for the chatters who piped up, I appreciate all of you. At the time I write this, I still don't know anything. Turns out, that very night, she overheard me talking on the phone to my brother, so asked me later if I was having a health issue. I told her and we talked about it. She remained calm, asked good questions, said "Nothing's a problem until it's a problem" (our new family motto), told me she loved me, and wants to be kept informed. So I guess I was wrong about her retreating into her younger self. Being on her own since age 17 (away for five years of college) will turn you into a pillar of strength, I guess. She's my rock. By the way, I do have several good friends and a family member who are willing to take me to appointments and help me at home if needed. Thank you all so much.

Wow. Bravo to your daughter-- what an admirable show of strength and growth.

I am so glad you have other support as well-- and hope she does too. That's awful that you're still waiting for answers. Please do keep us posted. You have a lot of people rooting for you!

and what does HE have to hide? Does he expect that you are entitled to go through his phone because he is totally transparent? Somehow I doubt it.

Doubts here as well!

I’m a middle-aged woman with everything going for me—friends, decent job, health, etc. But for the past year I’ve been profoundly depressed. I’m on meds and was seeing a therapist, but little has changed. I’ve become introverted and unmotivated to do anything. I dream of quitting my job just so I can sit on the couch and read and watch movies all day. It’s not like me. Do people’s personalities change as they get older? I can afford to quit my job, which used to be fun, fulfilling and me doing my part for society’s greater good, but now is mostly just stressful. But where else does a childless, single person find meaning in her life? Should I just quit work and find out? I’ve quizzed my friends’ retired, aging parents on where they find meaning in life and have discovered that, basically, they have none. It makes me sad for them and is, of course, hugely discouraging for me.

People's personalities can definitely change as they get older, and part of the potential reason for that can be physiological changes. Have you had bloodwork done? Do you know if hormonal changes are an issue? Can nutritional deficiencies be at play here? I would try first for an in-depth physical that really addresses some of these symptoms, preferably with a doctor who is used to seeing women in your age range and treating the whole person in a thorough, insightful way.

With that aside, I would say-- there are many different types of medications, and many different styles of therapy-- and therapists. So I'm not convinced it's not just a matter of you needing a new fit. There's no doubt that a chronically stressful job can wreak havoc on one's mental health, but you need an active cognitive and behavioral plan for dealing with this stress so that it won't take such a toll.

I hear "profoundly depressed" for an entire year and I get concerned. So I do think you need to be assertive in trying a new regimen. But you mention the meaning question here, and I am guessing that is going to be a key part of your recovery. We're seeing more and more evidence that it's not pleasure that keeps us from being depressed, but instead a sense of purpose. So I would continue on that quest-- I'm sorry it has been disheartening not to find answers in others-- but there are lots of ways to think about looking for a sense of meaning. At the risk of obnoxiously referencing my own work for a second (third?) time today, you might think about beginning with the questions here.

he says he doesn't want to leave "because all he has put into it." This is the sunk cost fallacy. Discuss.

Yes!

Trying to remember how much I've talked about sunk cost here before. I feel like I just wrote about it, but it might have been elsewhere.

Ah, yes-- it is here! Numero Uno. (And I'm sorry. This will truly be a record for how much I am flagrantly plugging my other work. But it's free to click!)

Bottom line-- you can't get that time back, no matter what. But just because the investment has already been made, doesn't mean the return will be any better. What you CAN control is your future investment.

The poster with the girlfriend with a low libido should check out the deadbedrooms group on Reddit. There are a lot of people with the same issue, with varying degrees of success and failure in dealing with this topic. If nothing else, it brings home how damaging it can be over time.

Another shoutout to the power of Reddit (when used for good, rather than for shenanigans) and finding a community of people who share one's same issues.

Thank you for this!

My husband has a low sex drive due to medication. He talked to his doctor and we're working on it. Also - you write 'she suffers from endometriosis (which can sometimes cause pain during sex)' - but sex isn't just intercourse - is non-penetrative less painful? What I'm getting at here is how much of the problem are hurdles to be overcome and how much that it's a mis-match where she's not going to try to accommodate your needs.

Yes! Thanks. I was trying to find a delicate way of asking whether there are ways around the "pain during sex" issue. You put it well.

Glad that things are being worked on for you and your husband.

After 9 (!!!) years of taking SSRIs (specifically Lexapro) for depression and anxiety, I have successfully tapered off my medication entirely -without any negative side effects! I feel incredible freedom and can actually experience/"see" the complex range of my emotions and feelings that I've been numb to for almost a decade (note: SSRIs helped save me when I was in a terrible place and I highly recommend them; also, I stopped under Dr. supervision and with support from my therapist). All this i great, but I sometimes feel like I don't really "know" myself - I'm re-learning how to experience different situations/emotions and how to truly self regulate. Sometimes... it's very confusing. My question is: you know know of any resources for dealing with this? The internet is *quite* the black hole on the topic...

This is such an interesting question, and I would have hoped that the good ol' World Wide Interwebs would have helped you a bit more. But, the good news is, I would say this self-exploration does not have to be so specifically categorized as being limited to the circumstances of having come off antidepressants. Self-exploration can be a beautiful thing for anyone, and in my opinion should be continual. So you might look for resources that are a bit more general rather than specifically being in the (apparent black hole) of the Post-Lexapro Club search.

I would also start with notes/journaling. Identifying patterns in situations that get certain reactions out of you, and what you notice in your thoughts and your body in those moments, and how that leads to certain feelings or behaviors. Figuring out what coping mechanisms work better than others. What environmental triggers affect your moods the most- for better or for worse. What daily habits seem to put you in a better frame of mind. What emotions feel harder to self-regulate than others. And big picture stuff, too-- the kind of person you want to be when it comes to the expression and feeling of emotions. The kind of relationships you want to have, and what kinds of vulnerabilities that might take.

There are no right answers here. It is all about observing yourself and getting to know your new experiences!

Today's letter resonated with me because my spouse is in the process of separating from me, and he's at times presented me as controlling to other people (though not necessarily used that particular word). He's an extremely passive and conflict-avoidant person who has trouble taking responsibility for his own needs and wants, and taking an active role in getting his needs and wants met. I, on the other hand, have a hard time not being the do-er/fixer because of growing up in a fairly chaotic and unpredictable environment. Clearly, the dynamic resulting from our personalities did in our relationship, but I am wary of assuming that just because LW says the spouse is controlling, the spouse is quasi-abusive or has a personality flaw that warrants walking away from them without any further discussion. Of course LW has the right to do that, but often it takes two to tango, and it's easy to put it all on the other person for being "controlling."

You are absolutely right in that we aren't seeing the full picture here, and we can't make too many assumptions. I'm truly sorry for your experience, and how in your situation things may have been somewhat skewed.

That said, in LW's case, they did mention that other people were seeing these traits as well-- granted, it could be in part because LW was skewing those other people's views. But it also did serve as additional data points in a way we don't typically see when it's truly a "two to tango" situation.

I feel like no matter what, though-- the bottom line is the same. In LW's case, the spouse was refusing to get help, so I don't see how they dynamic-- whatever it may exactly be-- will change. Ultimately that's what it comes down to.

Your partner is more concerned about what others think of him. He will never be happy with how you portray him, because it won't be enough. I had a partner like that and one time he called me at work to berate me for liking my cousin's photos on Facebook and not his. He felt it made him look bad. Years of this went on before I couldn't take it anymore and got out. Narcissists will drain you of everything you've got.

Spoken from someone who's been there-- though I really wish they didn't have to have been!

Thank you.

I wrote in about my nagging MIL making my difficult, high risk pregnancy more stressful. (I'm under strict orders to avoid stress to reduce the chance of further complications.) Luckily my husband has spoken to her and let her know that I am already overwhelmed with advice from my medical team, and the best way to be helpful is to just listen and let well enough alone. Picking at me to say I need to hire a handyman to fix a cosmetic issue that can wait is the exact sort of thing that stresses me out. MIL said she understood and could stay at a hotel if needed. As a commenter pointed out, my husband has his own heavy load to carry. My hope is that drawing healthy boundaries and resisting the pressure to please her will help him as well.

YES! Our hope as well. A very optimistic update that I am quite glad to hear! Thanks!

Woman who suffered from vulvadynia here: my guess is your girlfriend knows that you are not sexually satisfied, it makes her feel like garbage, and her condition probably makes her feel unattractive which makes her want to avoid all intimacy. There is no worse feeling than weighing whether to put yourself in pain to make your partner happy or putting yourself first at cost to the intimacy in your relationship. Here's what you do: tell her you miss the intimacy more than the sex, and that she's the woman you love and the woman you're attracted to, and suggest, kindly and enthusiastically, exploring non-penetrative forms of sex. It takes a very long time to rewire your brain that you can be intimate without pain, if you love her and want to stick it out, make a game plan with her that makes her feel supported and not like a burden.

I love this. It is full of such hope and insight. Are you seeing this, OP?

I really appreciate it.

My sister is an alcoholic, living in another state. She has had relationship, work, and financial consequences from her alcoholism. She is in her 50s and this has been going on for decades, but recently things got a lot worse and she made some really bad financial and relationship decisions egged on in large part by the drinking, and I suspect she's on some kind of probation at work. I'm just at a loss as to what to do. We've tried talking openly with her about it but she just doesn't see it as a problem. We've encouraged her to go to AA or see a therapist. She recently started seeing a counselor referred by her work's EAP program, but my sister claims that counselor says it's totally fine to keep drinking (I really doubt that's what any counselor would say in her situation!). This is all especially difficult on my elderly parents. Sometimes I get so frustrated I just want to walk away. Other times I think she desperately needs help and I can't just walk away. But she's not willing to admit a problem, so what can we do? Any advice?

I am sorry. I know this is really, really tough.

Some people would consider an intervention in your shoes, but that's not a simple undertaking, I understand. And it's not like you want to pull your elderly parents into something that they're not up for. But you might choose to set your own limit on the intervention-ish spectrum; like stating you will not continue to be on this roller coaster and you believe strongly that she needs to stop drinking, and you have decided not to be in contact until she X/Y/Zs.

But I think a big part of this will be starting with your own support. Have you considered Al-Anon? There are also a lot of communities online (hey, probably one on Reddit!) filled with people who are dealing with the helplessness of a loved one's addiction. It does sound like her potential for denial is quite strong. So at some point, you can only control yourself-- and learn to cope with some support on your own end.

Regardless of her daughter's reaction to her health scare, I tend to look at these instances as teaching moments. As this writer's example proves, give people the benefit of the doubt, and don't underestimate the power of love to help us grow in those relationships. One other thing. I have a great friend who is a life coach in DC, and she has an addition to the mantra "It's not a problem until it's a problem": "I've been solving problems my entire life and I'm really good at figuring stuff out. Her advice has been something that helps me calm myself down in those fearful moments. Don't

You may have gotten cut off at the end, but this is great regardless.

It's like a growth mindset versus fixed mindset hybrid, in a nice way-- "I'm good at working through challenges." Thank you!

(In response to last week's chat.)

I've found myself in those shoes from time to time, and it can be such a horrible place to be. I'm self-employed and feel those handcuffs all the time (now?). I have also had the same issue finding a therapist here in Colorado. There are so many self help books out there. One that helped me immensely was "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers. Do the exercises at the end of the chapter! Marianne Williamson and Cheryl Richardson are also tremendous.

That being said, it's always helped me to imagine myself in a situation where I didn't feel this way. I make myself notice what is different. Is the job the only thing that is making me miserable? Is it that I can't control what's going on around me? Did something change... last year? The year before? 2014 and 2015 were the years of deaths of very close friends and family members. I didn't realize until almost a year later that the majority of my issues were caused by grieving. Every time I thought I was dealing with my feelings, another friend/family member died. It doesn't have to be death to be a loss, either. I also happened to be going through menopause when my brother died. Don't downplay the hormonal side of the equation. Even if she's not in menopause, they could be in play here.

One more thing: I would leave family members out of this. I've done what she's done (address my husband's irritating actions) and had lousy results. A divorce tops the list. Repeat after me: My mental health is in my hands alone. No one but me can fix this, and it is my responsibility to do the work. Lather, rinse and repeat. Her husband can certainly do better in the chore department, but he can't fix her problem nor is he the cause.

And last but not least, I find it very helpful to keep a gratitude journal. I list 3 things every night at bedtime that I consider events/things for which I'm grateful. In the morning, I ask for 3 things that I want or need. I'm always surprised a month down the road to see that what I want is a work in progress or achievable. It makes me feel like *someone* is listening to me. It also makes me feel more powerful in getting myself out of ruts. [Runs away from the microphone to get back on track now that she said this in a public forum...]

Thank you for this. I really do believe that the words of someone who has been there have a special power that few other things can match.

I may differ slightly on the family members piece... I do think it's sometimes impossible to separate out close family members from one's mental health, whether in terms of the problem or the solution. So although it's certainly not up to her husband to "fix" her, I'm hopeful that he can be a not-insignificant part of the solution.

I wish you continued progress-- it sounds like you have come an incredibly long way!

As someone who has fought depression, I encourage this lady to do volunteer work. Helping those in need is profoundly meaningful. This can be a wide range of options, from volunteering to helping with the homeless to volunteering in a museum of art as a docent or holding and loving newborn babies in local hospitals. Our local hospital has such a program. Also, selfcare: yoga, walking, vacations, staycations, massages, lunch with an old friend, etc. Unfortunately, as an adult I've found out that scheduling is a must. Our lives are too busy to let it happen on its own cause it usually doesn't. Be proactive in managing your life. Start small and gradual, and build as you progress.

Lovely ideas here. Thank you.

The data really does bear out very clearly that helping others provides a tangible mood boost, not just in the short term but over time in terms of helping with meaning and purpose.

(From a previous chat.)

An update: I previously stated I am not dying from my illness and that still holds true. But potentially from it's complications many years (hopefully) from now. But even still I hope to mitigate those complications through intelligent management of the disease. Knowledge is power. Yes, I am narrowing down and have reached the correct diagnosis. Naturally with a doctor; several in fact. I do not use Google for that. I understand that many people may find that difficult to believe, but the diagnosis I have was given to me by a doctor and the testing is very complicated because the disease is complicated. 

The best analogy I seem to come up with right now is celiac. (It is not celiac) But imagine if your entire life you had celiac disease. Born with it and didn't know it. And your body slowly poisoned itself in its response to your ingesting something toxic regularly. Your undiagnosed illness informing your entire life however subtly or dramatically as the illness presented itself. Doctors shrugging their shoulders saying "sorry, we don't know why your hair and teeth are falling out, we don't know why..._____" It's kind of like that.

The correct diagnosis is relief! It's... "Huh. Wow. Now I can finish up healing and move forward with disease management and self care."  In addition, instead of continuing to slowly heal from my illness and it's last attack on my body, I can see an end. With the diagnosis, I can simply manage the disease as I move forward.

What I did take from your answer is to continue to do routine things during this phase, and I did. A recommendation for readers is a book by Jerome Groopman MD. How doctors think. Read it years ago and as I have continued to pursue the truth, it is in the back of my mind. Misdiagnoses, incomplete diagnosis is all too common in medicine. Happens every day. And there are those whose disease is so rare it doesn't even have a name yet. I'm lucky that mine does. They don't know so much about the illness, but what they do know is more than they don't. There are more than 10,000 rare diseases. Expecting a doctor to know them all is a fools errand. Btw, NORD is a good resource and has been very helpful to me during this time period. I also see a therapist every week.

Thank you for the kind words. And the listening.

And thank you for this update. I am sorry it has been such a long road for you, but glad that you are able to have such a healing perspective as you move forward.

I appreciate the recs as well-- can't personally vouch for them, but others may very well find them helpful!

Is it possible you are asking him too many questions in general? Or too many questions which don't require his input, or questions you can answer yourself, or questions about things he doesn't care about, or questions that don't have a real answer? My girlfriend does this sometimes and it's really annoying. "How much sauce should I put on my pasta?" (it's your pasta, you decide!!" "How long should I put this in the microwave for?" (I don't know, guess?) "can I use the spare bathroom since the lightbulb died in the main one?" (yes, obviously) "who was more active as a child, you or your brother?" (I don't know, the same?!)

Yup. I do think this is potentially part of the problem!

After all, anyone who REALLY wants a certain thing for dinner is probably not going to waste time deflecting/joking around about it!

Thank you all. This was a particularly busy chat, and I loved every moment of it-- especially the support for each other.

We couldn't quite get to everything today, but we hope to address some of what we missed in the future. In the meantime, as always, you can find me in the column comments (and the chat comments below here too!) and on facebook.

I will look forward to seeing you next week.

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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