Baggage Check Live: Holy False Dichotomy!

Jan 22, 2019

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, all-- I'm glad you're here. How are you doing today?

Today's Baggage has a LW whose spouse is telling them that they don't ask enough questions. So.... how can they start? (And do they seem like they actually want to? Hmm.) And we've also got a person who feels her sister's bragging-about-kid has gone too far. Judging by the comments, some folks think I should be a little more tolerant of Proud Momma. What say you?

Let's begin!

I come from a family with a strong military tradition and grew up moving frequently (but also seeing a lot of the world). When I met my wife I was already in the military, and made it clear I saw this as my lifelong career. She understood and supported that, and seemed excited about some of the challenges (frequent moves, etc.) Now, ten years and two kids later, she has given me an ultimatum- I must retire (I am now eligible to do so). It's frustrating that my kids won't get to have the same experiences I did and that she wants me to give up a career I am very good at just as I am eligible for some particularly challenging positions. I'm sure I could find a well-paying job in the private sector, but I am also sure I would resent her if I took one. Obviously, people are allowed to change their minds, but it is very hard for me to accept that my long-held dream for my family isn't going to happen. She also says there's no reason to go to counseling because she won't change her mind. I can't see any alternatives to either retiring (and taking a job I don't enjoy) or divorce (meaning I won't see the kids as much, given that I will likely be overseas at least some of the time in upcoming years). I have seen a counselor (without her) but am still having a hard time accepting either outcome. Is there another option I am missing?

I get that this must feel incredibly unfair to you. But what's missing here is why she has changed her mind.

Is it possible that this has been harder on your family than you hoped or realized? That maybe she is responding to the fact that your kids are not actually getting the brilliant, world-traveler experience that you had, but maybe dealing with it more negatively?

That's the missing piece here for me-- you don't mention your kids' ages or how they're actually taking this. Is it possible that they already HAVE had enough of this experience-- and it's objectively not a good fit? 

Just judging from your letter alone, I could see many possible scenarios-- from "Your wife is trying to change the rules she agreed to along the way, this is only about her, and that's not fair" to "Your wife is absorbing the fact that your children are not handling this life very well, that it is creating painful challenges for them that would clearly be resolved by your making a change, and meanwhile you are so wedded to the idea that it must be good for them that you can't see what's best for everyone else."

And, of course, everything in between.

I mean, there are all kinds of gray areas here. Let's say your wife or your child got a chronic medical illness where your deployments no longer made sense. There would be SOME point at which the dream would have to be done at ten years, no? My point is only that I don't think this is as black-and-white, or as fair-versus-unfair, as it seems at first glance.

I think you need a little more exploration, so it's good that you are seeing someone. Like, how do you automatically assume that the only alternative to military life is "a job I don't enjoy"? Holy False Dichotomy!

I get that this is your long-held dream for your family. But you are 25 percent of that family, the other 25 percent is having an actively hard time with it, and the other 50 percent-- well, you're not mentioning where they fall.

There's a broader picture here. Might you start to explore it?

 

We have a relative who, like LW2's sister, was always bragging about the accomplishments of her children (in a Christmas letter, but still...). We suspected that there might be less there than met the eye, and this was confirmed when they moved to our part of the country and began doing activities we were familiar with. Your niece might in fact be less accomplished than your sister lets on, unless you have actual first hand knowledge that she really is that special. Which choice is true will affect the conversation you have with your sister, but in either event, is she bragging all the time, or does it just seem that way to you because you feel it makes your daughter less-than?

It's a good question!

And as many commenters have shown, there is not necessarily some objective lens here. How much is too much? But I do think that solid family relationships can and should be able to withstand-- and even grow from-- conversations about being made chronically upset by something that the other person is doing. And I'm hopeful these two sisters can hash it out respectfully.

I've had anxiety since childhood and have been in therapy for a handful of years now. I've been on and off medication (currently off because I am pregnant). However, I had a rather large anxiety attack this past weekend (one of my biggest triggers is related to severe weather) that left me crying and unable to sleep. It kept spiraling because I started to feel afraid that my child will inherit anxiety or that my child will see an attack and either develop anxiety or become scared. Logically, I know that it's not bad for a kid to see his/her parent's shortcomings, but I also want desperately to protect my kid from the pain and turmoil from anxiety. I guess I'm looking for a way to hide my anxiety from my child while also not being ashamed of it? Is that even possible?

Ah. You gave me such an opening here, talking about "hiding" your anxiety from your child.

That's tantamount to the "stuff it" philosophy that can make you more prone to anxiety attacks in the first place. So, first step-- stop viewing your anxiety history as something shameful.

Look-- you are not flawed.

Seriously, repeat after me: I am not flawed.

Hey, something like a fifth of the American population has clinically-significant anxiety in any given year. You are not alone in becoming a parent with this, and yes indeed it is possible to get to a place where you help protect your child from it PRECISELY FROM being not ashamed of it. By having discussions about it. By talking and listening. By empathizing and sharing and educating.

Now, of course I'm not saying that you're going to video-record your anxiety attacks and make them required viewing for your 2 year-old-- and in fact one thing that you can work on is what you would do if you were to start feeling on the cusp of one in their presence, how to keep the both of you physically and emotionally safe. But I think some early exposure to the idea is key. You can plant seeds about feelings and bodily sensations and how to deal with them, and how even you have scared/nervous feelings sometimes, and they can be a struggle, but here are the tools that can help, etc.

So... tools. I'm wondering how many solid ones you have besides the medication? I'm sorry that you can't be on it right now due to the pregnancy, but that makes me think that you deserve more. I am not trying to knock your therapist at all-- just as I don't necessarily see your panic attack as a failure of any sort-- but I grow a bigger fan of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy all the time, and wonder if you've tried any of those tools. The basic idea is that you need to learn to relate to your anxious thoughts in a way that acknowledges them, labels them, and lets them pass (rather than getting locked into a fight with them that makes them stick.)

A good primer for this is The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (no kickback here.) Or of course my Detox Your Thoughts challenge (no extra money coming my way for that either, now that it's out in the world.)

Please do keep us posted.

I'm the OP who felt guilty and conflicted about having used IVF. Thanks for your framing - I think it is really helpful to think of conflicting feelings not as things that need to be settled right NOW, but rather as invitations and opportunities to deepen my understanding of myself and the world. The reframe has given me a lot more mental space to sit with and explore the feelings - thank you! I also wanted to say it was interesting to me that a lot of the commenters assumed that I was judgmental of others or was giving myself a sort of free "pass" that I wouldn't grant to others. Given that my question was about my own guilt, I found these surprising (I certainly haven't given myself a free pass, though I would be supportive of other people who have made different choices for different reasons). I thought it might be an opportunity for people to examine their own biases about people who are religious or who have different moral systems than their own - I think it's totally possible to wrestle with personal feelings of guilt, carefully navigate right and wrong in my own life, etc, while at the same time supporting and respecting that others are on their own journeys with their own wisdom and discoveries.

Thank you so much for this update, and thoughtful response!

It was definitely an interesting angle about whether there was hypocrisy there. I agree that your own struggle with it made that far less likely to be the case-- but apparently it's a hot button out there as people have seen it with some frequency. I'm really glad that you can use this as an opportunity to explore more about your beliefs and who you are, and how your faith fits into that-- a great endeavor at any point, but especially beneficial on the cusp of becoming a parent!

Hi Dr. Bonior. Do you have a perspective on speed dating? I'm a mid-twenties straight female ready to get back into the dating game and am considering going to a speed dating session (put on by a reputable DC sports league) as an attempt to try something new. I like the idea of meeting someone face-to-face instead of on an app. I'm getting mixed reactions from people- some are encouraging and others are saying I shouldn't go alone. I'm starting to wonder if going alone might be a safety issue. What do you think?

Well, I think it would always be better to go with someone else-- the experience alone lends itself beautifully to a postmortem with someone who was in the trenches with you and can laugh and pull their hair out accordingly. But I also don't really get why an organized speed-dating event in a public, non-shady location would automatically pose more of a safety risk than being out and about in the world in general.  Of course, being mindful of how much you share, etc-- that's a given. But having a friend there is not going to make that any more or less risky.

I've had clients that have had good times at these experiences-- and I think the fact that dating is, at its heart, a numbers game, makes it even harder to justify not giving it a shot if you are so inclined!

And you know we want you to report back!

I've been married to a wonderful man for the last 6 years. We each have children from a previous marriage but have tried hard to blend our families. Unfortunately, my now teenage stepdaughter still struggles with seeing anyone not a blood relative as family, especially me her stepmother. This is despite caring for her, attending all her events and advocating for her at every opportunity. My husband is supportive but no matter his efforts, she is still standoffish and at times dismissive of our family. How do I strike the right balance between giving her space and being present? It's hurtful when she does not acknowledge both my efforts or my feelings when rejected.

I am sorry. There is no magic bullet here, just like there would be no magic bullet for having a perfectly smooth relationship with a teenager that you'd given birth to and raised ever since.

It's interesting that you allude to the fact that there might be others that are thought of as less-than-family in her eyes-- are they your children? Your parents? Depending on what that overall pattern looks like, that could at least allow you to take it less personally (though I suppose for some, they might take it MORE personally since it's their family and they are the link to it.) But it's food for thought at least that this might not be about you per se.

It does sound like you are doing the right things already. You are advocating for her. You are showing love, and showing up.  And honestly, some of the rejection that you are describing could be less about the step-ness (again, depending on the pattern above), and more about the fact that she is a teenage girl and you are a female adult mother figure. Standoffishness, not acknowledging your efforts-- judging by my inbox, when it comes to teenagers, this is not limited to stepchildren in the least.

So-- what about a mindshift that this isn't all about blood-versus-non-blood, but rather it's about adolescence and development and identity and rebellion and confusion and hormones and finding one's place in the world? I'm not saying that the step-issue doesn't add to it, but I wonder if it would make it easier for you to find that right balance if you stopped seeing it through that lens, and instead started doing some exploration (books, podcasts, etc) about teenage development in general. Because even if you have other children or stepchildren who aren't behaving this way, every teenager is different-- and her treatment of you might be part of a larger issue, one that could help you understand her better. Anxiety. Frustration. Sadness. Jealousy. Social difficulties. Confusion. Fear. Resentment. She's a person, you're a person-- start from there.

 

Another facet to the problem is that civilian life may not be the one-change-solves-all solution the spouse believes it will be. Better to get at what both are truly seeking ... then perhaps the leave-or-stay question becomes clearer.

Great point.

It would be so helpful to know exactly what aspects of "military life" have been hardest versus beneficial, in both of their eyes, and what other options there are to incorporate more of the good and less of the bad.

Thanks.

For the LW who didn't think he should have to ask his wife any questions: does she ask you how you're doing, how your day went, what you think about various things? If so, then follow her lead. If not, it sounds like you both need to go to couples counseling because this is a serious problem between the two fo you.

Yes, very good point. I hope Wife is practicing what she preaches, and it's not only her feelings that matter!

If she is upset he didn’t know she was upset about a party- that sounds like she’s expecting mind reading. Attending a celebration isn’t an intuitively upsetting thing. I agree he could plan to ask open ended questions like “how was your day” or “how was the party” but I’d strongly advise against starting a family with someone who can’t bring herself to simply start a conversation with “Going to Julie’s shower made me feel sad. I’m disappointed that I don’t have kids when most of my friends do; I used to dream of having 3 kids by the time I reached this age.” or whatever. Her kids won’t be able to read her mind and she needs to learn to sit down with nuclear family and be explicit about her feelings and expectations *before* she tries to parent.

Could very well be. But I also can easily imagine a scenario where they are both living out the emotional difficulty of wanting kids and not having them, and the words "baby shower" don't really take a rocket scientist to realize that it might be an emotionally loaded situation.

Your point is well-taken, though-- she definitely might be expecting a little much. But only if he starts actually asking her SOMETHING can they see if there's a way to meet in the middle.

Thanks!

By not asking your wife questions, it seems like you don’t care about her life. Conversation is a learned social skill. Asking open-ended questions like Andrea suggests is a good way forward to show more of an interest in your wife. Maybe you don’t care about the responses, but showing at least some interest in your partner’s life is so important to a relationship.

Thank you.

I'm really hoping, of course, that he DOES care about the responses!

(In response to last week's column.)

Please do not leave your son out of your path forward. Though he is expected to make a full recovery, he may have to deal with the effects of the accident for the rest of his life in some way (continued pain and mobility issues that will last a lifetime, perhaps). It can be very painful to watch those who were not hurt move on when you feel like you never fully can because you live with constant physical reminders. That doesn't mean you shouldn't look for a way to move forward, but don't leave him out of that process thinking how lucky you are that you can. And don't let your guilt make him feel like he has to hide his pain from you to protect you from yours.

Thoughtful points here. I do hope that son is getting his own help as well. Thank you.

"Ditch the incestuous donkey orifice" is almost as vivid, and passes the censors.

hahah!

But oh, my eyes! That's a visual for the ages-- and one I can't unsee.

This could be very unfair on the poor child - and put enormous pressure on her! Depending on her personality, she might feel she's not allowed to fail. Something to bring up with Sister.

Yes!

The big-league bragging about one's child could be potentially harmful not just to one's niece, but to one's child themselves, for sure.

I moved for my husband, once. We were clear that this was a trial. It is enormously hard on me. Even harder now that kids are in the picture. And we are stable enough that I have a realistic option of finding fulfilling work if I so choose. Your wife does not. She gave it 10 years, and is now telling you it isn’t working for her. Don’t look through rosy glasses at *your* experience growing up and extrapolate. Ask her for the unvarnished view of *her* experience now. Then you can start to figure out what forward looks like.

A very helpful perspective from the other side. Much appreciated.

Hi Andrea... I wrote in a couple of weeks ago about my gay son who has all female friends attending his best friend's birthday sleepover. I talked to his friend's mom. She was fine with him staying and even asked other parents if it was OK. All but one or two said it was fine with them. He went for the evening and I picked him up about midnight. He had a good time but did not want to leave and even told me he "only cried a little about it" (he's very sensitive). So, I realize I have to work to change some minds on this one. I'll work on that before the next sleepover! Thanks for your help!

You are welcome! Thanks so much for writing in.

That sounded like a very successful trial run that worked overall for everyone for now. Baby steps!

Going with a friend is fun because afterward you say, "That guy with the ball cap and the soul patch? Ew!" and she says, "I liked him!" There's no problem with safety there at all. Or you can just give a friend the entertaining rundown elsewhere. It costs about the same as a month on a dating website, but it's more efficient....

From the soul-patch-assessing trenches! Thank you!

In the last chat, I asked about a friend who, when he goes to weddings, finds the bride and groom before the ceremony and offers to drive them away if they don't want to go through with it. A few days ago I asked him what got him started. He said he did it the first time when he thought the bride was making a mistake. She went through with the wedding and the marriage is working out very well. But she thanked him for asking, so he's decided it'd his job to do the same at every wedding.

Interesting.

So that woman-- instead of being offended or wondering why he might have thought her marriage wouldn't work out-- has decided to view it as a positive thing that he offered her that opportunity.

Hey, my hat is off to her-- but I stand by the idea that not everyone would feel that way.

Thank you for satisfying our inquiring minds!

This sounds suspiciously like she was expecting mind-reading. Why should the husband call her -- when? from where? from home while she was at the shower, from work when she got home from the shower, or what? -- rather than waiting until they were together and then discussing it? Either could have initiated it -- "Honey, how was the baby shower?" or "The shower was depressing me because..."

I agree that she could have initiated it, but I also think the whole problem is that he NEVER initiates it. And I'm prone to think the baby-shower-hard-for-those-who-want-kids- but-don't-have-them is not necessarily obscure enough to dictate that this is a mind-reading expectation we're dealing with here.

Of course, a broader picture could very well prove me wrong. OP?

I love how you're thinking about this! A good friend of mine's really lovely wife has anxiety. My friend worries that their young daughter seeing her calling and texting him many times about a storm coming and that it will affect their daughter. In fact, their daughter does have anxiety herself which is being well managed.

Yes, I think it is all in how it's framed.

"I am frantic and desperate and OMG OMG OMG don't talk to me while I text your father for the seventeenth time because I absolutely can't handle this!" is one thing.

Whereas "You know, this storm has me a little unsettled, it always helps for me to text your Dad. I'm lucky to have a partner like him-- other people who are there to listen and understand us are so important in life, aren't they?" is another-- and can actually be a way of teaching your child about the world.

Thanks!

I'm a woman who is in her late 40's and has never been in a healthy relationship with a man. I know this now and even while I"m in the relationship but I end up staying for lousy reasons. I have even done things which I hate myself for - being with a married man - out of loneliness. My question is -- how do I prevent myself from keeping repeating this bad behavior and learn to be in a healthy relationship with a man?

Well, you figure out how to change the equation in terms of what it's providing you. In other words, you're continuing to do this because it beats being "alone." So why has being "alone" become so bad? What can you change about that life that makes it fulfilling enough that being single doesn't earn a less-than sign, when compared with the alternative of toxic relationships or unavailable men?

Early in my training, I worked with a woman who was in a relationship with a married guy that she said she wanted to get out of and claimed she was miserable with. She would stop it, then start it again. And she would hate herself for it every time. We were both frustrated, because the parameters we had set in order for her to make the changes she wanted-- and live according to her values-- well, she was constantly just steamrolling through them, no matter how strong her convictions in the therapy room each week, no matter how many barriers we set up to make it harder for her to get back with him.

Then, a supervisor of mine pointed out-- hey, this is simple math. Obviously, she's getting something here that weighs more positively to her than not being with him. Only once the consequences of being with him become more negative (or the consequences of dumping him become more positive) will she truly be able to make the change. This isn't a battle about conviction or willpower or values or intention. At some point, it's simple behavioral conditioning.

So-- that's what I see here, all these years later. You want to change. But the loneliness is too strong-- and the alternative, though bad, isn't AS bad. And that's why it keeps winning out.

So, what can you try to do to assuage your loneliness that doesn't involve getting sucked into a bad romantic or sexual relationship? It's time for exploration about friends, interests, family, work, hobbies, a sense of purpose and meaning..... it's time for an honest assessment about these holes in your life, and the many types of ways of filling them that don't involve a bad dude or a bad connection.

Change that calculus so that your single life wins out-- that will be key in getting you to follow through with staying out of the situations you know aren't good for you.

Only then can you start to work on seeking out situations that ARE good (and I hope you'll write in then as well!)

Dear Dr. Andrea: My husband was laid off yesterday. We definitely didn't see it coming. I'm trying to comfort him while managing my own anxieties. I worry that at age 61, he will not find a comparable job/salary and that health insurance costs at our age will decimate our retirement nest egg (my contract work is hourly with no benefits.) He was given about 3 months severance, so we aren't by any means destitute. But I'm just struggling with the emotional jolt of the layoff, which came only a month or so after his boss assured him there weren't layoffs in the future, which also makes me wonder if we have grounds for an age discrimination suit because of his age (others not laid off in his group are all in their '30s and '40s). I know I'm not the only chatter in this boat, but do you have any advice? Or spare chocolate?

Let's see-- I have 78 percent cacao with a touch of sea salt, and also half a bar of something that declares itself to be "with nibs."

Will that do?

First, I am so, so sorry. An unexpected layoff is a shock to the system no matter what, but given your particular concerns about your lack of benefits and depleting your retirement savings, I can imagine it ups the anxiety considerably.

I am betting we'll have some specific advice from chatters who have been there, but first-- take a breath. He's got three months to pound the pavement and make something happen, and he should start as soon as possible to line things up from a networking/resume-sending standpoint. If he can structure his days as much as possible, treating the job-search like a job that he puts X amount of daily effort into, he'll feel more autonomous-- and won't be spinning his wheels emotionally (and will also be working towards winning the numbers game.)

And now the emotional piece. Worrying is understandable, but try to catch yourself in catastrophizing and all-or-none thinking. Try to take every worry and pair it with something that you can actively due to support or help him. When the worries spiral beyond that, have a mantra at the ready like "We are doing what we can, and we will be okay." "We are not destitute, and there are jobs out there." "He is working at it, and will find something." Bonus points for pairing it with a visualization or breathing exercise. And make sure that you BOTH go heavy on the self-care-- good sleep, adequate sunshine and moving around, good food and social support.

Hang in there.

Can anyone speak up to the age discrimination piece?

If you can't brag about your kids to your sister, who CAN you brag to them about? Touting our own kids' accomplishments, as well as those of our nieces and nephews, seems to be the point of a family. If this was your friend, I could see it being annoying. But maybe you just don't like your sister.

I see another side to this, though, like:

"If you can't shut your trap about the absolutely brilliant accomplishments of your child in front of another child who never racks up those same accomplishments, who CAN you shut your trap in front of?"

I really do think it's a matter of degree that calls for knowing your audience.

Please don't hide this from your child! I inherited a panic disorder. I had my first panic attack at age 13. People often describe their first one as thinking they were having a heart attack, and this is exactly what it was like. But I was 13 and I had never even heard the term "panic attack" before because my parents hid it from me. Accepting yourself and communicating your reality to your child can help them understand themselves, and you, in ways that wouldn't be possible if you hid it. You don't have to be perfect to be a parent, we're all just doing the best we can.

So true. I love this.

It can be so, so helpful for kids to understand these concepts from an early age. It so clearly helps the ideas of them be less frightening-- which lessens the very intensity of the anxiety itself if they go on to be caught in it, as at least they don't have the added burden of "WHAT THE *&%$ IS HAPPENING TO MY MIND AND BODY?"

Are you aware that on this page: https://live.washingtonpost.com the Baggage Check link goes to a specific chat from May last year? (As compared to the links to other columnists' chats, each of which go to a list of past chats for each columnist.) Given I'm in a different timezone I can't participate live, so I have to go to the page above, then go to that can May 2018 chat, then click the link within that chat to get to the Baggage Check list, then select the latest chat.

I am sorry. Thank you for flagging this! The appropriate wranglers-of-the-little-green-men-in-the-computer (who clearly hate me-- um, I mean the little green men, hopefully not the wranglers) have been alerted!

They can’t ask how old you are, and use a skill based resume not chronological so they won’t know your age. My mother’s husband dealt with that - he finally retired at about 80 years old, but he got a new job after age 72, and just skillfully avoided indicating his exact age. Of course no one thought he was 30, but there is strength in experience

Thank you for this. Very helpful-- and hopeful!

Another thought for the pregnant gal with anxiety. Hormones are crazy things, and pregnancy and later, breastfeeding and restarting monthly cycles, can throw everything out of whack. I had bad anxiety in college, but for the most part have been able to handle it without medication since then (15+years). However, I have a 15 month old, and it's been a wild ride for the past two-ish years. Some days, I felt just like I was back in my college days where I was a moment away from a panic attack at all times. Other days I was a rock, and nothing could bother me. What I'm trying to say is, give yourself some slack during all of this. There's going to be good days, and there's going to be bad days. Know that some of this is the changes in body chemistry that go along with being a mom, and some is normal new mom feelings. Find strategies that can help you in the moment and take each day at a time until you can go back to your long-term strategies that worked (medication).

Absolutely. Great, great point.

The more support she has from others-- and the more tools at her disposal for managing the anxiety-- the better.

I was 40+, unmarried, and lonely. No relationship had lasted more than 2 years. I joined a dating service and went on dates with dozens and dozens of men. My sister had a nickname for me: Three dates and sayonara. What I learned from the experience was there was a huge disparity between what I thought I was looking for and what I really wanted or needed. So I had to honestly ask myself - who am I and what do I really want/need from a relationship? It was a learning experience. The postscript is that I married at 46, and we will have our 20th anniversary this year.

This is wonderful!

The soul-searching seems key. Real soul-searching that pushes through the fear of letting go of some of the things you've always assumed, about yourself and about others. Good for you for being willing to do it-- and how lovely that you reaped the rewards!

To me, the OP from the IVP post risked hypocrisy in both directions. If she / her religion could forgive others, she would be hypocritical not to forgive herself. If she / her religion has a real bright line around what she did and would not forgive it, the it would be hypocritical to do this while shunning others who also do it. Obviously different religions have different standards on what gets you shunned/excommunicated/etc

Yes, I could see that. Thanks.

Good afternoon Dr. Bonior, last spring you answered a question from me about my learning about brother and his wife having a new baby through Facebook while they announced it in person to the rest of the family when I couldn't be there. Quick update: The baby arrived last Monday! He's a healthy, beautiful and calm baby boy! I took two days off work and drove six hours to be at the hospital the same day to welcome the little one with the rest of my family and brought donuts for my brother and his wife. He told me during the weekend that he was really moved by the attention and that I was the best! We already had a chance last fall to talk about the announcement and to resolve our issue when my place was hit by a tornado in September. When I was finally able to talk with my brother, I told him what happened and how I feared for my life, but also that he and his wife shouldn't be worried and should focus on their little ones. We had then a really long and moving discussion and he told me he was sorry for how I learned about the new baby, that they had plans to tell me in person, but they lost the control on the message and it ended up on Facebook before they wanted to. So now all is settled and I feel we have a stronger bond. I wanted to thank you for taking my question, I needed to talk with somebody about it and your answer really helped me when I finally had the discussion with my brother. I'm returning you my brother's compliment, you're the best!

This makes me so, so happy. Seriously-- thank you so much for writing in. It was YOU who put forth the effort to have the tough conversations and be vulnerable while also being there for your brother and his wife and your nephew.

Wow.

Hey, we have had so many good updates lately that I almost feel like I am being reverse-trolled!

I’m 63 and my partner is 71. We’ve been together on and off for 12 years. He recently proposed out of the blue. I’m thinking about it but also have reservations based on our history. We’re mostly compatible but have different sex drives (his is lower) and many differences in style. We are both retired, but our financial situations are quite different (I have a lot more financial security than he does). However I feel he’s a good man who cares deeply for me, Is someone I can trust and who has proven he will be supportive when I need him to be, and is basically a good partner. I know there will be compromises if we do marry because he is not the ideal partner for me in some key areas. However, I do love him, like having his company and we do share some common interest such as being athletic and outdoorsy. We are comfortable doing our own things and I go off and do the things I like and that he doesn’t enjoy with my friends or alone such as dancing and he doesn’t mind. I wonder if it’s time to just make peace with our differences and take the plunge as the next chapter of life would be nice to share in many ways. 

I think the key here is figuring out what marriage would bring that a non-married committed relationship could not, and whether that outweighs the potential risks and negatives.

After all, there are plenty of ways to be in a committed and loving monogamous relationship without being officially married, no matter what the age.

And I'm not anti-marriage by any stretch, but in your case some of the benefits might not be there to the same extent, given where you are in life. But, perhaps in some additional ways the benefits are more pressing-- like with support during medical procedures, etc.

So-- I really do think it's Cost-Benefit time. And I also vote for a third option besides "Get Married or Not"-- I know he's proposed, but why not give yourself some time to still talk about your "style differences" and see how communication and compromise can move the needle-- or not.

I read the OP to imply a concern not only with age discrimination when seeking a new job but in the termination. An initial (potentially no-fee) appointment with an employment attorney who specializes in this field might be…illuminating…as to options.

Yes, that absolutely was part of the concern as I saw it as well. Thank you for this potential help with that part of it!

I was engaged after a whirlwind romance and went to spend the summer in CA with him - prior to moving out there. It did not go well. No-one was bad, we just weren't a good match. I spent some time back home really digging deep and learnt a lot about my patterns and my triggers - insane amount of insight and growth. I don't think I'd be married to my fab husband today without that crazy engagement. So as Andrea says - get some help teasing out what's going on.

Yes!

I love your story, because it really goes to show that sometimes our supposed "errors" are actually the greatest teachers.

Thank you.

I used to defend a corporation in employment related matters. Age discrimination lawsuits are difficult to prove. Speak to a lawyer who specializes in age discrimination cases not just discrimination cases in general. The clock for various statute of limitations started ticking on the day the person was laid off so get moving now. It is hard to bring a lawsuit and win so make sure you do things the right way. Save your files, notes, emails, messages, etc.

More help from those in the know. Much appreciated!

The focus on some job questions has me wondering-- how are our federal workers doing out there today?

What advice would you have for recovering, from a mental health/general wellness perspective, after being fired for cause? I have always been a very work-oriented high achiever, and nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I did make a mistake at work that I owned up to immediately (of the sort that involved an inadvertent policy violation but did not cause any actual harm). I do take responsibility for the mistake, but it was largely the result of extreme overwork (I had been required to work about 100 hours in the space of a week during a crunch time, and was completely exhausted and not at my best). My boss did not want me fired or even disciplined, but the higher-ups decided on a zero-tolerance approach, even though I have always had top reviews and never any disciplinary issues before. I was even dismissed via the "perp walk" and denied both severance any my accrued vacation time (which I understand the company has no legal obligation to pay, but they usually pay at least vacation plus a bit of severance even when people are let go for performance reasons). I come from a high-achieving family that is judging me harshly for my mistake and the consequences, and don't feel like I have much of a support network now. How do I bounce back?

First-- if your family is judging you harshly, then they are not part of the solution right now. Don't be afraid to limit some of these conversations and get the space you need. This is something to heal from-- so their pouring salt in the wound is something you deserve, and need, to prevent.

Moving forward has a lot of different components-- developing a path and step-by-step goals within it, in order to get a new job and move forward professionally. Taking care of yourself behaviorally (sleep, social life, nutrition, hobbies, outdoor time-- I think I'm on my second dose of prescribing this today). And then taking care of yourself mentally as well-- which involves forgiving yourself, and understanding that it could very well be true that this whole thing was grossly unfair, but you can no longer control it. You may never be totally at peace with it, but you can incorporate it into your narrative and find meaning in it (even if that meaning is-- workplaces definitely meet the "toxic" definition when they require 100 hours of work in a week and then punish you for being a mere mortal-- and so those workplaces are best avoided.)

Don't put the expectation of "bouncing back" on yourself to the point where you are giving yourself yet another thing to "fail" at. (Though with your family, it's pretty clear how that pattern started.) Instead, view this as a process that you will take small steps with at a time. You WILL climb out of it. One foot in front of the other.

 

I’ve only ever had a few anxiety attacks, myself. My husband struggles with depression and anxiety. One of our 3 kids, aged 6 now, has had panic attacks. I was able to calm her but it also has helped that I can talk to her about how it feels. Feeling warm, heavy legged, light headed, tight chest etc and that it’s ok to feel that way, and we can breathe and let that feeling go. A big part of anxiety attacks is feeling like you might die or it might not stop. Knowing from the start that these are not earth shattering, shameful, or unhealthy but just part of life is better, I think

Absolutely.

You know, in some ways kids are uniquely ready for these kind of discussions, because they haven't added years and years of baggage or shame or silence to these concepts of what it means for your body or your mind to feel a certain way. They just feel what they feel. And what a great opportunity to connect with them and help prime them to be able to understand it better throughout their lives.

Thank you!

My spouse and I have had ups and downs with depression and anxiety, respectively. We are raising two kids, including one who has a different emotional and behavioral challenge. It has been a gift to be able to use our experiences to support our child. We have been able to role model and teach both of our kids to recognize and describe their own emotions and physical feelings - and use that to figure out what to do when those aren't heading in a direction we like. We get feedback from teachers and school counselors who work with our child that the kid is able to reflect on, describe, and manage things way better than many their age. The kid is also known as a sensitive and compassionate friend to their peers. And as parents we have a different empathy and understanding for our child than some of our friends in similar situations, which makes a huge difference when things get bumpy (as they always do, with any and every child). Your anxiety will continue to be a challenge for you, and I'm not suggesting you should be grateful for it, but if you let it, it can also be a gift you can use toward thoughtful, empathetic parenting.

Wow. This just blows me away-- so true and so beautiful. What a wonderful job you are both doing in letting your struggles be illuminating for your child. They are opening a door, rather than closing one.

I really hope you are seeing this, OP! There is so many ways to let your anxiety make you a more insightful parent.

Thank you.

Your gender-neutral letter makes me wonder if you're a same-sex couple who (sadly) spent most of your adult lives being legally unable to marry. So perhaps the fact that it's only been an option nationwide for a few years has colored your view (as opposed to an opposite-sex couple, where it was always a possibility).

Ooh-- interesting catch (and possibility!)

So am I. I'm 8 time zones to the east of Dr. Bonior, and I'm participating. What's stopping you?

hahah! I sincerely appreciate your dedication to being here live!

Now, did anyone trudge through two feet of snow, all uphill, to get to the chat?

And specifically, unlike other forms of discrimination, Disparate Impact evidence is not probative, only Disparate Treatment.

Hmm. I know what these words mean, but not necessarily in this order. But that is why I'm not a lawyer-- and this is exactly the help I was hoping OP would get. Thanks!

I wonder if the OP is correct that being fired for cause means the employer "has no legal obligation" to pay accrued unused vacation time. Another one for an employment lawyer, it seems.

Yes, indeed!

My legal know-how pretty much ends with "Thou shall not steal."

It's also about showing an interest in your sister's kid. The LW made it sound very one-sided - lots of bragging from LW's sister and not a lot of engagement with or interest in LW's child.

Yes. Thank you for articulating this. I definitely got the idea that Braggy Sister was all talk and no listening about what niece was bringing to the table.

Hello, I recently had the chance to read your feature in Cosmopolitan discussing getting over ex-friends and just had a burning question. How do I stop thinking about the breakup 24/7 constantly? I see this person every single day and can't help drowning in irrational guilt and sadness. It happened 7 months ago and I was the one to silently break it off because I knew I was unhappy yet I cant help but feel like I made an irreparable mistake. I would have apologized months ago if I wasn't deathly afraid of what that might hold, my biggest fear being that they honestly dont care about this as much as I do. I feel like a freak who hasn't slept for months thinking about what a horrible baby I was to not voice my feelings. Your help would be much appreciated.

Just to be clear, I am assuming this is about a platonic friendship since that's what the piece was about-- but I don't want to make that assumption blindly!

I'm thinking this advice could apply either way, though-- first, do you actually think that the breakup was misguided, or are you just harboring regrets that are borne out of your having to see this person every day?

That is key to me here.

If you overall believe that you had good reason to break this off-- and your saying that you were unhappy at the time makes me think that was indeed the case-- then I think you need to focus on getting some distance from this person. Do you see them every day because you have to, like for work? Is there a way to mitigate that? Are you extending your contact with them or initiating it more than it actually has to happen? Work on setting up some barriers. And building up your life without this person (other friends, new interests, new endeavors) in a way that it can take more of your attention and engagement, giving you something else to look toward and occupy your mind.

Now-- if for some reason you are actually thinking you have something to apologize for and are truly wanting to resume this friendship (again, my jury is still out-- could be that they just wanted lunch) then stop getting down on yourself for having feelings. Own them. This hurt, and it's affected you-- you're a human being. And if they don't care about this as much as you do, then that's a deficit in them-- not in you.

Several months ago I had a medical issue that caused me to have to take a break from my therapist (broken bone stopped me from being able to drive and get there). I really like this therapist. I corresponded with her several times during my recuperation and she wrote back. In December I wrote her to tell her a rough timeline for my getting back on my feet and never heard back. A couple of weeks ago I got some additional news on my prognosis and wrote her, and also didn't hear back. I am kind of at a loss. Should I write again and ask if she got my previous messages? She has texted me in the past about appointments. Should I text her? I know this sounds like a silly issue, but it has been eating at me and the thought of finding a new therapist has me a wreck.

This is not a silly issue at all, and I know I am not alone when I say that therapists are supposed to take communication very seriously. (Heck, I feel bad when I don't get back to someone who is just looking for a therapist without ever having seen me yet!)

So-- text her. I don't want to assume anything-- her practice may have closed, she may have had a medical issue of her own, or the little green men in the computer/phone may hate her too-- but it is definitely not an okay situation, and your upset is understandable.

I have a number of friends who are in committed relationships at your age - and have been for years - who even live together and do not marry. Mostly they do it to keep the finances simple and straightforward. I think you should consider what Andrea said: is this a committed partnership, and also the consequences of joining your finances. It might or might not be worth it.

Thanks.

And that's not even getting into matters of grown children and how they may complicate things when it comes to the finances.

In addition to the OP's own position: why does the partner now want to get married? Does the answer make any difference to the OP?

Another good consideration!

Just want to thank the person who wrote in with this! I'm kind of experiencing it, and realize I need to do the soul searching that she's done. Just glad to hear that, if I do the work, there may be someone out there for me!

Absolutely.

So glad this was helpful!

Thank you all for the advice and support!! I will absolutely save this chat to refer back to, many times. Thank you, thank you. <3

And thank YOU for writing back. We are here cheering you on!

Are you familiar with askamanager - it's excellent with lots of good tools fore cover letters etc as well as good questions. The comment section is also fab. There's a weekend job 'free for all' that is very active and people are extremely helpful I bet you and your husband would bets lots of good advice and support if you posted there.

Yes! Love Ask A Manager-- Alison is fantastic. Thank you for the reminder.

Talk about oversimplification. You must not have read the whole letter. The sister was CONSTANTLY bragging about her daughter in front of the similarly aged niece. How is that not insensitive? Also, it's tiresome and annoying. I have lots of siblings and nieces and no one in my family does this.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

It's a spectrum here, people!

Maybe some different perspective for the military OP- I'm a Navy brat, but my father left active duty when I was about 2 (for a variety of reasons) when the original plan when my folks married was that the military would be his long-term career. They literally met in the O-Club in San Diego and my dad flew F-14s; we are literally Top Gun in real life. Some of the factors that led to him leaving were because of the military itself (passed over for promotions because he didn't "play politics"), but some were related to their growing family- I was scared of my father when he got home from his first deployment after I was born. I think what kept my parents marriage very healthy was that no one factor took precedence over everything, they were able to see the compromises and shades of grey in each decision. I'm not saying that this is the case with OP, but I know my father was also VERY good at recognizing how much work raising up kids was and the sacrifices mom made for his career- for years he insisted that her life insurance was much higher than his because he knew that it would take far more to replace a SAHM that just replace his salary. Dad went into government contracting and still uses his contacts and skills from his time in the Navy. He was also a reservist until recently, so it might not necessarily have to be an all-or-nothing situation. I'd really encourage OP and his wife (and maybe kids, depending on their ages) to talk through the reasons behind the ultimatum, not just the ultimatum itself

Very well said. There needs to be a broader perspective about all of it for OP, I think.

Thank you!

Did you get to wear boots? {insert winkie emoticon here}

haha!

I prefer to do my snow-trudging in a pair of plastic "jellies" from 1987.

Speaking as a septuagenarian myself, I wondered if the 71-year-old partner was starting to feel a bit more mortal.

A possibility for sure.

If you're in Maryland, the Maryland Workforce Exchange has helpful information, workshops (resume writing, anxiety over the loss, interview techniques, etc.) and programs for displaced workers.

Wonderful. Thank you!

Mine is just that; great at talking TOO/AT you, not good at asking open-ended questions of me or of our two kids. It is annoying and despite many discussions about it, change doesn't stick. He's not a bad person and demonstrates his concern for others by doing. LW, take note and look within. OTOH, wife shouldn't expect mind reading. You both likely have some work to do regarding effective marital communications.

Thank you.

And of course I'd still be curious about why the change doesn't stick-- I'm stubbornly therapist-y like that-- but if you have found a way to be okay with it, then it can work!

You have to understand that a lifelong dream is fine, but you cannot expect that your entire family is going to enjoy it like you do. Dreams are good, but having dreams that involve other people means you have to accept that things can change. After ten years, it's possible your wife has realized that following your dream means SHE doesn't get to have HER dream career/life. Maybe your wife is facing the possibility that she will miss out on having a fulfulling career. Military spouses have a very difficult, if not impossible time finding work, never mind finding permanent work or a longterm career or anything better than medial parttime gigs. Are you prepared to tell your wife that your dream is more important than her dream for her life? What IS her dream, anyway? You say you can't see any alternatives but there ARE other options besides divorce and burger-flipping. It's not retirement vs active duty. For example, many people leave active duty and join reserve units. Their family gets to put down roots and you get to stay in the military. And when you are in the reserves, you always have the option to sign up for temporary active duty assignments in a variety of locations.

Hear, hear. 

Lots of very solid things to think about. Thank you!

Thank you so much for answering. I think I just needed a kick in the pants from someone who is not my sister. I'll text her.

You are welcome.

I hope you hear back lickety-split.

It's that time again, unfortunately. Thanks so much for being here, and for all the insights and support!

I'll be baaaaaack as always next week, same time. In the meantime, I will see you on Facebook and in the comments.

Be well!

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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