Baggage Check Live: Mrs. Pigs and Goats

Mar 19, 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.

Want to read more? Read Baggage Check columns.

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Hi, everyone-- welcome. What's going on for you today?

In today's Baggage, I see the comments proliferating already! We've got a LW who is hoping I'll let them off the hook about going through with a trip pretending they aren't mentally broken up with their partner. And in L2, we've got two sisters who grieve differently-- and one of them doesn't seem to be okay with that.

Talk to me!

I've been married for 8 years and my husband and I are beginning to talk about the possibility of having children as we feel financially stable and ready to take that step. However, I also have really bad GAD, mild panic disorder and actual OCD (all being treated pretty effectively with cognitive behavioral therapy). But I'm worried that having children will negatively impact my health-- I'm already worried all the time about everything and I feel like having a human life I'm responsible for might make this worse and more? I'm also very nervous that I will pass on my disorders to future children genetically, and I'd never wish this on anyone, OCD specifically is no joke and it has been incredibly detrimental to my life. Am I worrying for no reason? Can I pass on an anxiety disorder? What would parenting look like for someone with major anxiety issues?

You are asking these questions-- and so you are ahead of the game.

Truly. I can't emphasize enough that parents who do NOT own their baggage, and don't seek treatment for it, are infinitely worse off than parents who stare their conditions in the face and work on them. No matter what those conditions may be.

And I'm here to tell you-- have you seen the prevalence numbers for Anxiety Disorders lately? There are a heck of a lot of parents and would-be parents in your shoes who are not only doing nothing about it, but are refusing to acknowledge it and will be unwilling to look at how it affects their kids. So again, I think you have a real leg up here.

That said, I know how seriously these conditions can affect lives, and it is true that your children might be at slightly elevated risk genetically for them. (Though it's worth pointing out that virtually all of us have some heightened genetic risk for SOMETHING.) And it is also very true that having and raising a child can significantly increase stress and anxiety at times. That is undeniable.

But again, you know what these issues are all about, and you are getting effective treatment for them. If you commit to continuing that treatment, consider intensifying it when the need arises, and also do some specific work on learning how to recognize when it is affecting your parenting, there is no reason to believe that you or your children will be any worse off. In fact, the way you handle this may actually give THEM tools to better handle stress and anxiety and difficult emotions, having seen it modeled through you. (I feel like we talked about this in a previous chat. Will try to find.)

The more that you and your partner can be on the same page, and the more you can continue to seek support-- with all that entails-- when you need it, I think the parenting gig could end up being lovely.

Seriously. We're all humans, trying to parent other humans, with our own stuff to figure out, trying to figure out how to help the kids with their stuff. And knowing yourself goes a long way in that.

We touched on this topic in this previous chat, too.

I've got a school reunion coming up and someone may be there there who witnessed something embarrassing (but benign) that I did/was involved in. I've never shared it with anyone. If I'm there and the person brings it up (in front of others?) I'd have to deal with it but if I'm not I don't; it's just someone's story and I don't really care. Make sense? I moved on from the place a long time ago, have no real interest in going. Thanks.

I'm not sure you actually want my advice here, but maybe a high-five? You need not enter any kind of conversational time warp if you don't want to. Totally right-- that is just someone's story; it doesn't have to become a topic for you. I'd maybe have a couple of potential conversational-shifters in my back pocket in case you need them, like "Huh. Yeah, not my favorite topic. So, tell me more about your work!" Or "Yeah, well that was a long time ago. Hey, did anyone hear that Mrs. Jenkins quit teaching English to join the professional Jello wrestling circuit?"

I once planned a big overseas trip with a gf months in advance and realized in the weeks approaching our flight that the relationship was ending (for me). We still took the trip. I kept my thoughts to myself. I had a miserable time, save for the single afternoon/evening when we decided that we both needed some solo travel time. That was amazing, and confirmation that we shouldn't be together. End it now and find a friend to take as your plus one! Someone who you like being around! PS The focus of the wedding will not be your new relationship status, it will be on the couple! If you don't want to talk about your fresh break up, say something like "I'd rather not talk about it when we're here to celebrate this wonderful day." and move on.

Love that script advice-- and also love hearing from someone who was in LW's shoes. Thanks!

Can you try and imagine if the situation was reversed? You spend your money on the big trip - airline tickets, hotel, meals etc to go to his friend's wedding. You get back and a week later he breaks things off. How ticked off would you be?

Yes. The Golden Rule could have some real use here-- thanks!

LW #1 in today's column, just break up now, or you'll end up explaining far worse things, for much longer. My sister & BIL went on a Hawaiian cruise with their best friends "Chuck & Linda" for their 20th anniversary, and had an amazing time. A few days after they returned, Chuck came home to an empty house, and a note from Linda that she'd filed for divorce. Didn't want to miss the big trip, y'know... Ugh. Suffice to say, many years later, we still wonder what the hell she was thinking. You don't want to be Linda in this scenario.

For sure. I mean, I love a midnight buffet as much as the next person, but come on, Linda!

This makes me think that she has a habit of sucking up all the air in the room and perhaps needing to be the center of attention. What's the pattern here and how can you be constructive about it? I'm so sorry for what you're going through - what your sister is doing is beyond dramatic and very hurtful.

Appreciate this empathy and I know LW will too. I agree-- this is probably part of a longer-standing pattern here.

I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and have noticed increasingly how inconsiderate he is, and I don’t know how to raise this with him. Eg if we’re out for dinner, he’ll want to leave when he’s finished his meal, even if I’m still eating, then when I say “I’m not done yet” he fidgets and glares at my plate until I finish. He’ll also do things like turn the light off when I’m reading because he wants to watch tv in the dark, he’ll make noise when I’m sleeping with no thought that I have to be up early for work, wear aftershave even though he knows I’m sensitive to smell, the list goes on. I correct him in the moment each time but it’s getting wearying and his behaviour doesn’t change. Do you have any advice for a script to have a proper conversation on how to be respectful of others’ needs? I always try to be considerate and kind to people so it’s difficult for me to understand those who don’t make the effort. For what it’s worth, I think it’s likely he’s thoughtless and bad at reading social cues rather than a nasty person!

Yes-- your latter point is key here. I am assuming very little ill intent (if any) and more a cluelessness that could be made worse by impatience, a one-track-mind, a history of never having to consider other's needs, etc.

The best script here is one that doesn't make this an accusation about his offenses, but rather an opportunity for you to open up about your own feelings, and to give him the chance to listen. You want to extend some empathy to him, about the fact that these adjustments may be difficult for him to make if they don't come naturally. And as much as it may be tempting to have this conversation in the moment when you have just mentioned to him something he has done, it's probably not the time for it-- since he's already having acted out of antsiness or impatience.

So, treat it as a larger conversation, worthy of a more relaxed and open-ended time-- and worthy of the seriousness of it being seen as something that is important and meaningful to you. Yes, it's a full-fledged Talk with a capital T. I'd start somewhere like: "I know it probably seems like I try to "correct" you a lot, like with XYZ. And I'm not trying to make it seem like you are doing something wrong. But I have to admit, I often feel like my needs are not taken into account by you. Even simple things-- like being able to finish my meal without feeling rushed, or to be able to stay asleep-- well, I feel like they should be simple, but they don't seem to come automatically. It's upsetting. And it isn't easy for me to know what to do with, because I try to always be considerate of your needs. This doesn't seem to be getting better even when I bring things up, so I'm hoping we can figure out together how to handle it. You probably don't even realize how these things come across-- I know you are not trying to hurt me. But I think we really need to figure this out, because it affects our relationship. What do you think?"

This reminds of the time I spent Christmas out of town with my husband's family and as soon as we got back (literally that night) he asked for a divorce. My first thought was did you really just make me go through Christmas with your family? And the second thought was so that explains the weird conversations I was having, because apparently he told them he was divorcing while we were there. Please just tell him and get it over with.

Oh, geez! To have had them know is just beyond the pale. Not in the spirit of the Yule, that's for sure!

OP, I think you've already answered your own question here.

Could be-- in which case I am honored to give some applause!

Your colleague Carolyn Hax responded to a question last week from someone who said her(?) previous therapist was so insulting, demeaning and offensive that her next therapist recommended that she file a formal complaint against the first one. What's your advice for recognizing when a therapist is just a bad fit, and when he/she is being unprofessional/unethical/abusive?

Ooooh. Yeah, this is complicated. Because in any given case (and admittedly I have not seen what that one is referring to-- sounds like a very clear-cut case of something that should be reported) I definitely want to rally for the client, erring on the side of advocating for them no matter what. On the other hand, sometimes therapy is hard and uncomfortable, and it's not at all because the therapist is doing something wrong-- they may in fact be doing something right. Sometimes clients have to hear things they don't want to hear. Sometimes the therapist has to play Devil's Advocate in a way that-- even in an ideal scenario-- can end up making the client angry. (There's also the reality that it's far from unheard of for a client to threaten filing a complaint if the therapist is just trying to collect overdue payments. I am by no means saying most complaints are fraudulent, just that for a small subset of clients they may see the complaint threat as a tool for having what they owe wiped clean, so I can't cosign 100 percent on the idea of every complaint being in earnest.)

On the other hand, a client has every right to feel like they are always being treated with dignity and respect, no matter what (so disagreements shouldn't ever look like put-downs or belittling, for instance). And that their therapist always shows professionalism (everything from not flaking on appointments to not jeopardizing the confidentiality of other clients to not using language that feels inappropriate in the session.) And competent, of course!

If something feels off, it needs to be taken seriously, as clients that are in need of emotional help can certainly be far too vulnerable to a bad therapist doing more harm than good. And other potential clients need and deserve to be protected from bad therapists. When something feels concerning on this front, I would recommend informally calling the state licensing board and just bouncing things off them-- that can help give further guidance about the line between bad fit versus something complaint-worthy.

Hi Dr. Bonior, I have an angry ex who doesn't want to divorce me (I've been trying for 2 years - the legal system is very slow). It's death by a thousand cuts - he refuses to sign or agree to anything, and I can't get the legal system to move any faster. He also openly lets my children (middle school age and slightly younger) know of his hostility to me (right now we have shared custody). I and my kids are all in therapy. Do you have any suggestions for me as I continue to move through this process (I'm also asking for more custody in light of his behavior)? I try my very best to remain neutral about the kids' dad in front of them. This process has been very stressful for all of us.

I am glad you are all getting help. If there's anything particular I can offer here (and I look forward to hopefully hearing from other chatters), it would be to keep the big picture in mind. You are on the path moving in the right direction, even when it doesn't feel that way, even when it feels stagnant and slow and frustrating.

This is a process, and by taking the high road compared to his hostility, you give your children a gift, just as you are right now giving them a gift by making sure they have professional support and the space to process this and get help. That's another way of telling them that they matter, and their feelings matter, and that you love them.

Extend that same love and compassion to yourself right now. Long, drawn-out ordeals can tax our stress response even harder than brief, intense ones. Give yourself permission to do things for yourself, too. Even if it feels frivolous or indulgent. That's another way of giving something to your kids-- modeling self-care and letting them know that even mothers are human beings who need to do things to keep themselves in good working order during the hard times.

Hang in there!

Please. First of all, the bride/groom might be Boyfriend's friends too. But secondly, really? She can't just go as her, an individual? This Noah's Ark-ness (arkity? arkhood?) must end. Stop the madness!

Yeah, there's probably a lot to be worked out about who goes to the wedding, which I didn't even touch. I agree and would NOT recommend bringing a plus-one (not just because it may be needlessly inflammatory, but because it's not necessarily even LW's right to do, since they were invited as a couple and so there may be no more space if Boyfriend still plans to go.)

Thanks for the response. And if I don't want to go to ensure I don't have to deal with it that's okay, too? I mean, it's not something I have to face to prove something to myself is it? I don't think so. Like I said I put the place in my rear-view mirror a long time ago.

Gotcha.Yes, you shouldn't feel you have to go, just to prove something.

But you also shouldn't avoid going if you actually want to. Many people feel such mixed feelings and trepidation about reunions, but I must say anecdotally I more often hear from people who are glad they went than the other way around.

Not empirically validated, of course!

If he's not quick to change after hearing your comments, realize that you can't change him, only your own expectations. Me, personally? I'd dump him for someone more considerate.

I'm imagining there are a lot of big-picture things to think about, here, before ending it. But I do agree that his being responsive to LW's upset is an important component I'd want to see, in order to think this relationship could end up being a fulfilling one.

Not to mention weddings are such a lovey-dovey time so it would be extra awkward knowing she is going to dump this poor guy right after. Imagine all of the "you two are next" comments! And what if he proposed on this trip?! Ugh, please just get it over with.

So true-- oh my goodness, can you imagine?

years ago someone did this to me but it was invited to a family event (think thanksgiving). The relationship was in trouble but he waited until the big event after to say, "I don't want to pursue this". I resented that he made me look foolish because everyone else seemed to know (and thought I was there as his friend). Looking back on it as just one of many reasons he wasn't that nice (but he thought he was).


Another episode of someone letting their family know first.... what a terrible and inconsiderate set-up, to bring a unknowing soon-to-be-ex-partner into that.

Too often people don't realize that they're free to end a relationship when deal-breakers arise. Ditto for friendships that have run their course. Over the arc of a long life, I've kept a few old friends, and added new ones over the decades, but have also jettisoned plenty of folks who I realized were toxic for me.

Inertia is a powerful force!

It’s ok to limit the time and attention you give your sister, too. Grief can cause increased anxiety and your sister may be acting out of a mixture of grief and anxiety (which can manifest as controlling). If something like that is happening you may be able to realize it’s not really about you, which might make it more tolerable. There’s nothing wrong with living, and most people agree they’d want their surviving families to enjoy the rest of their lives. My condolences on your loss.

Good support and insight here-- thanks!

"I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and have noticed increasingly how inconsiderate he is" I'm not sure this relationship is worth saving. You've already told him when he is being self absorbed, and he continues to be inconsiderate. Why on earth would you saddle yourself with someone like that, regardless of why he does it? I doubt he is malicious, but he certainly does not care about your comfort. being socially clueless is not an excuse. I have some cousins on the ASD spectrum, and while they don't immediately get social cues, if you tell them something they do drives you crazy, they will stop doing it.

Admittedly, the Autism Spectrum did cross my mind here. I am wondering, though (hoping?) that even if each individual mention didn't bring change, that if she has a heart-to-heart with him, painting the big picture and how it affects her, he might finally get it.

If still no change after that, though, I know what my vote would be. If we don't feel our partner has our back about considering our feelings, then what's the point?

Posters last week encouraged the letter writer to share their own infertility struggles as a way to relate to the friend. Depending on the relative severity of LW's struggles, and friend's struggles, I would tread cautiously on this advice. As someone who went through infertility for several years, when people who had been trying for several months shared how they could relate I actually felt more out of touch with them (the fact they couldn't see the difference between the situations made me feel alienated). I'm not downplaying how hard a few months of unsuccessful trying is, but in my experience the emotions and experience evolves significantly over the years and different treatments. Especially given that you are now pregnant (so had a good outcome), trying to compare situations at at this point is apples and oranges. Instead, give space for her grief (either physical space, or space in conversations to talk), and I hope she makes her way through the hard internal work so that she can give you space for your joy too.

I totally can see this. And I agree it should be a "tread carefully" situation-- it's a great point. Thanks.


Do you ever go through a phase where you feel too many people you know want something from you? Time, validation, whatever it is. I'm in a phase right now where that's what I'm feeling from a whole bunch of people, and I just want them all to go away. I'm general a very accommodating person, but I reach my limit and then I'm done.

I hear you! In fact I just wrote something about flexing your saying-no muscles. It is here.

It's important to realize that "self-care" isn't just popping some chocolate in your mouth in the bubble bath. It's giving yourself permission to set appropriate limits for yourself as you go along, and to treat yourself with the same compassion and kindness that you may be all too used to prioritizing for others.

And for what it's worth, it doesn't do OTHERS any favors either to get to a boiling point, rather than just setting firm limits as you go.

It's a common problem, though!

If they are both invited then I pity the person that has to update the seating arrangements

You and me both.

Wedding seating is like an algorithm from the depths of Hell.

My partner passionately loves TX, and we have ended up there on vacation every year, including having our destination wedding there in '14. (We went a few other times because his parents paid which was an easy reason to go, once to scope out wedding locations, once for work, and I actually planned our trip this year because I will see a college friend, too... so it's not like I'm being dragged against my will.) He eventually wants to retire there. I don't know why or how I developed this, but it turns out I passionately hate TX and the idea of that being the one constant in our life and even retiring there makes me irrationally angry. My "compromise" to this is the long term plan of owning a vacation/investment home so we can continue to visit. We both know we don't have the same idea, but we don't address it head on, as we have 30+ years until retirement. When I do end up heated about it, he says we should start planning other vacations abroad (which is what I prefer to do and I make no secrets of that). In the last 7 years, we've been abroad twice, so I don't necessarily believe him when he starts to talk about it. I feel like there's a lot to unpack here, and I don't know where to start. TX is not something that's going to go away...

Okay, so what actually happens to not make you guys go abroad more often? He says he's on board with it, but then nothing follows through. Where is the breakdown there?

Also-- you don't say exactly how he responds to your compromise. Might it be something that ultimately is okay with him?

Those are the keys for me here, off the bat. How can you both get more specific about exploring exactly what a path would be, that could make the two of you happy?

(And-- because I know we'll hear a bit of this-- 30 years is still a long way away!)

I am in a five year relationship with my boyfriend, we’ve lived together for about 4 years. When he moved in with me I had no idea of the lifestyle he lived. He liked to go out and drinks and do drugs. And for me that meant him not coming home until 6 a.m. Our fights throughout the years have been about his drinking and drug use that leads to him not coming home. Until recently he has slowly stopped over excessively drinking and coming home at 3 a.m or so. I am still tired and no want to continue this stressful situation. He is trying to commit and change and buy a house but I am not comfortable with moving in with him. I have tried to understand and meet him half way but I have too much doubt and lack of trust. How do I move forward?

I think you move forward by being open to the possibility that moving forward may be moving forward alone.

He may very well have a serious struggle with substance abuse, or he may just have a hard-partying lifestyle that does not mesh with your own (and he doesn't care as much as you do about the lack of meshing.)

Either way, I am not seeing you getting what you need here until he actually shows the motivation and ability to make some changes.

Do not buy a house with him. Your gut is important here.

I'd really recommend you try to talk to someone. Even if it is just going to an Al-Anon meeting-- you need some support, because the decision to break this off will not be an easy one-- even if there are some signs that it is something you should seriously consider.

Hi Dr. Andrea, You answered my question from March 5 with a question about what I was looking to work on. Sorry for the delay; I missed your last two chats and just remembered to go back and look. I've been having problems focusing at work, often losing my train of thought while I'm talking. I'm also just simply forgetting things more and more (I'm in my 40s). Things like what I ate last night for dinner at a restaurant, or the plot of a show or movie I just watched 10 min ago. My husband notes that I sometimes repeat things to him several times a day on occasion. I get a pretty solid 7 hours of sleep per night, using a CPAP for apnea. My doc put me on Vyvance 20mg, which so far isn't doing anything after 4 weeks. We did an EEG and some memory tests in his office; unremarkable results and he ruled out early Alzheimers or dementia, hence the suggestion for a Cognitive Therapist for memory strengthening exercises. The problem is finding one. He said to try a speech therapist. There was only one in my insurance network, who never called me back, so I'm looking outside of my network now. Thanks for taking my question and I'd welcome any thoughts you have about going another route. I definitely don't feel a 'he's in tune with my issues' vibe with this neurologist.

Got it.

I think the issue here is that "cognitive therapist" may often refer to a psychotherapist who uses cognitive techniques (there is truly a branch of psychotherapy called Cognitive Therapy that is related to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and was its forerunner.) I think it sounds like you need more targeted memory coaching or memory training. I am not as familiar with the offerings of those, but I know they are out there. It's important that you get specific help here, but I think using those terms rather than "cognitive therapist" might refine your search better.

I've been to a number of wedding receptions where there was a buffet line, then people sat wherever they wished.

True! Wedding meals come in all shapes and sizes.

A heads-up conversation with the bride or groom once the breakup happens could help smooth the logistical piece over, for everyone.

So, my brother's GF planned to pull something like this for a family wedding last spring. Thankfully my brother found out before the trip (FYI- texting a friend about your breakup plan while sitting next to your STBX is not a great idea). Her excuse was that she knew how expensive weddings were and it was too late to tell the caterer/cancel the hotel room. They had been dating over a year and this would have been her first time meeting the extended family. She didn't come on the trip, and the only reason it was discussed at all was about how idiotic the plan was. LW, trust me, there will be a lot MORE drama if you go with the post-trip breakup rather than biting the bullet

I am now realizing how common these situations are!


Glad it worked out in your brother's case. I am cringing about the texting!

I suspect LW2 has done a good bit of grieving already, before her father died since his health had been declining for years. My mother died a slow death from dementia; when it was finally over, I think my siblings and I all felt relief. LW2, I'm sorry you and your sister are in different places with your grief, but there is nothing wrong with the space you are in now.

Great point, and great support. Thanks.

I am sorry about the loss of your mother-- and the dementia that preceded it. That is a significant loss in and of itself.

Is it possible your "irrational" level of anger is not about this issue per se, but about a larger pattern that is finding expression here? (E.g., you feel you can't get what you need in the relationship or you feel subsumed by him?) The feeling probably isn't irrational but maybe has a different root cause...

Good question-- might this be less about Texas and more about a deeper, more subtle pattern? Or feeling constricted in other ways?

Or is it truly about the big hats and the sweet tea?

OP here! Thanks Andrea for your suggestions! I think the idea of having a proper conversation, rather than in-the-moment comments, is excellent. It’s likely he’s not seeing the bigger picture here, maybe I’m expecting him to put it together without saying outright what my needs are? I agree with other commentators that if the inconsiderate behaviour persists, the relationship probably isn’t worth it, but I want to give having the “Big Talk” a go first. We are both quite young so I think there’s room to grow and develop.

I really like this mindset.

And I am crossing every toe and finger that the "Big Talk" clicks for him in a way that the individual examples did not.

Keep us posted!

My husband had a heart attack almost two years ago ("The widow maker") and got a stent. Everyone says he's fine now, but I can't stop worrying that he will have another and not be so lucky this time. It's a case of "prophylactic pessimism" gone too far, I know, but how do I stop it from ruling my thoughts?

That was a lot to go through for both of you, I have no doubt.

But I think this is a situation that could be greatly helped by the techniques of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. You could find a practitioner who specializes in that and mindfulness techniques, or you can do some searching around for some of these techniques on your own. The key is going to be to relate to these worries a little differently-- to learn to live with them and accept their presence, while neutralizing them and labeling them as your Anxiety Voice, learning to do physical and mental exercises to help them pass in the moment (breathing, visualizations, progressive muscle relaxation.) Right now you're probably locked in a tug-of-war with them, trying not to let them win (and to talk yourself out of them), but what you want to work toward is viewing them as a mental itch that is not conveying true information. You'll also want to look at overall patterns of when these worries are harder to shake and are prone to getting stickier (certain times of day, after exposure to certain types of information, certain situations where you're maybe not getting as much self-care as you need.)

I talk about a lot of this in the "Detox Your Thoughts" BuzzFeed challenge that's been brought up sometimes in this chat.

I've been married for 40 years and I can tell you it won't get better, you will be told you're nagging him.

From someone who has been there!

I am sorry.

(In response to last week's chat.)

I did Peace Corps in the early 2000's and was really impressed by the number of retirees in our group. Not only did they have a wealth of professional and life experience to bring, they were also very highly respected in our country (Central Asia region). I'm not sure if it's because older folks are just more respected in general there than in the US, or if it was the skill sets they brought, but they got a lot done, made friends and connections easily, and from what I saw, had a ball doing it. Retirees should totally consider PC--it truly is the 'toughest job you'll ever love,' but it can be incredibly rewarding, especially for people looking for new adventures around the world. I'm not sure of any restrictions, but I know for a fact that Deaf folks and folks in their late 70s have been PCVs. I'd imagine that as long as you're able bodied and don't need frequent specialized medical care (think dialysis), PC would be grateful to have you!

This is great! I know there was a robust discussion about retirement life and advice for that OP in last week's comments, and I appreciate this take!

My husband wants to move to the middle of nowhere, build a McMansion (with his own hands), and raise pigs or goats. Any part of this scenario makes me want to go screaming into the night. I want to stay in our house or someplace close by, work part-time, and have a low-maintenance enough life that his impulsive ADD-influenced grandiose schemes don't have too big an impact on us. I finally told him I would move if it was to a house that was already built. And no animals. He is thinking about it. But I don't have a good feeling about the future. Like we will have two different lives once he stops working (less than 5 years from now).

So your timeframe is admittedly much more urgent than the OP's, but 5 years is still a long time to find that compromise. Especially if he is actually truly "thinking about it" and motivated to help make it work. Keep bouncing off ideas, keep drawing mental pictures, keep getting specific about what is important to you and what is not. And keep talking. I have hope for you yet!

A good friend of mine was involved in an accident over 10 that left her with a TBI which affected cognitive abilities and her personality. We have remained in communication even though we now live on different ends of the continent. Before the accident, we enjoyed frequent lengthy phone calls which I thoroughly enjoyed. After the accident, these lengthy conversations became quite different. Sometimes she rambles incoherently and sometimes she is delusional, for example when she talks about her current relationship with a noted C & W singer. I find myself avoiding her calls now, as afterwards I’m emotionally exhausted.

I’m at a loss of how to cope, I dearly care about this person, but two hours plus of crazytown on the phone, even once a week is hard to handle. Sometimes I can’t follow the conversation. Sometimes I know what she is saying is ludicrous, such as when she and the singer were exchanging secret messages when she went to his concert. Then on occasion there are flashes of her old self and we share a laugh. She senses we aren’t as intimate as before, which is true. We don’t share much common ground anymore. I’m not sure what being a good friend would mean now, and am seeking some perspective.

You sound like a loyal and loving friend, and it is great that she has you in her life.

But sometimes, parameters of friendship change, and you can still be loving and loyal without having to be party to lengthy episodes of delusion or rumination (which honestly aren't necessarily good for her to have an audience for over and over again, anyway.)

Traumatic Brain Injuries can be terrible robbers of someone's well-being and personality and rational mind. It is heartbreaking stuff, I know. But trying to have the same lengthy conversations as you did before the TBI is pushing you to the breaking point-- if you're avoiding her calls, you're already there-- and so you need a new way of relating to her that doesn't necessarily involve this.

First-- are you confident that she is getting proper care? That can be your priority as her loving and loyal friend. Talking with her local friends and family, getting a handle on what support she has, what her treatment protocol is, what is working and what isn't.

Then, you can try to carve out new ways of relating her that once again are still loving and loyal, but don't necessarily have the same shape as before. Doing more talking about current events rather than your personal lives. Watching movies long-distance together and comparing notes afterward. Playing some sort of online game together. Setting goals together and checking in about them. Hearing what's important to her (besides the more delusional lines of thought) and trying to connect over that.

It could be that someday you are able to return to the "let's have  a free-wheeling discussion about our lives for 2 hours" modality of your friendship, but right now that is not doing her or you any good-- so you need to search for how to show your love and keep the connection in other ways. And to realize you are not a bad person for doing that.

Several friends of mine have shared that when a parent died, what kept them mentally healthy was to take some time then to go back to work, study, keep to their routine as much as possible. Not that they weren’t grieving or it wasn’t challenging at times, but that was what was best for their well being.

Yes. It has become cliche that people grieve in different ways, but it really is true. For some, keeping the structure of their daily life intact is very, very conducive to doing some real healing. For others, that only prolongs or delays the pain.


a woman in her mid-40s that is forgetful? Hello perimenopause. I thought I was getting Alzheimer's. Just a thought, have your hormones checked.

Ooh-- was that not done yet, OP? I had checked it off in my brain but maybe not. Thanks!

Good friend is going through a nasty divorce and husband just decided to move across the country, only notifying his soon-to-be-ex 2 weeks before he left. Didn't even see their 14-month old son before flying out, but promises to come back a few times a year to see him. Vilifying him won't help the relationship with the son, but it's pretty shocking that he barely seems to care. He isn't interested in having skype calls with his son (who is still too young to chat with dad without mom present--this may be part of the issue, him not wanting to see his STBX).

Is there anything we can do to try to preserve that relationship? It's so strange because he was the one pushing to have kids so badly, seems to have really loved his son until things with south with STBX, and now has just bailed.

Ugh. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between "trying to preserve the relationship" and "trying to make someone be a father when he has no interest or capability in doing so."

This is a heartbreaking situation, no matter how you view it. But I feel strongly that with the finite amount of emotional energy your friend has in such a trying situation, she should NOT spend it trying to force her ex to do the right thing. Not only might that not pay off, but her energy is better expended elsewhere-- getting her own support and building a family of loving friends and neighbors and caregivers and other relatives for her son.

It makes sense that she wants an involved Dad for her son, but it is not up to her (or within her capabilities) to make it happen.

The relationship that deserves the energy right now is the one her son has with her-- and with people like you who have her back.

I am sorry.

Yeah, this girl was a peach. They reconciled for a little bit after the wedding (apparently she misinterpreted something he said about *my* future plans vs *our* future plans and wanted to breaker rather than break-ee). It finally ended entirely when my family walked in on her trying to hit my brother because he caught her sending nudes to her pot dealer for discounts. We're VERY happy she is no longer in our lives

I know I should not be laughing at your second to last sentence-- there is dysfunction on so many levels there-- and yet I can tell you are willing to see the humor here too.

Bravo to Bro for finally removing himself from that time bomb. And congrats to all of you in his family!

I wrote into your second ever live chat and asked about whether there was a chance that it would be ok for me to go ahead and start a family with a man whose first choice was to not have kids. Well, I had a baby boy in February and I have to say, our relationship is better than ever and he is an amazing father (which I already knew). The late nights are tough, and boy, no one tells you that a baby's screams make it truly impossible to hear anything else and grate on your nerves like crazy, but we are both happy that we made this decision. Still haven't the crazy norovirus nights yet of course, but I think we're going to be just fine. (And to those who wrote in--still not married--my choice not his. I just know that a piece of paper from the government doesn't mean you will stay together forever and that not having one doesn't mean anything either. A child, however, means we will be in each other's life forever--for better or worse!) Thanks for your advice!

I don't think I've ever had an update that is both happy and also includes a mention of the norovirus!

But I sure am glad to read it-- thanks for writing in. And congratulations!

I'm projecting onto the OP, but I'm guessing it is not TX per se, but having to go there every single time for the next 30 years into retirement. Maybe they just have to alternate vacation choices. Sometimes it can be as simple as that. If someone won't even agree to that, then there will be much bigger problems down the road.

Yup-- could very well be a Variety Versus Sameness issue here. Thanks!

I am an alcoholic, depressive, anxious. My husband is depressive, ADD. It would never have occurred to me when we were young not to have children. I hear people ask this question sometimes and it disturbs me. Our medicine cabinet looks like a pharmacy counter and we spend a lot on psychiatrists and I spend a lot of time on sobriety. Our kids - 1- OCD; 2 - bipolar depressive, ADD; 3 - anxiety disorder. ADHD. Is this our fault? Have we added a burden to the world? Our lives work, and sometimes, we are happy and feel joy. I thank God every day when I take my meds that they exist and that they are there for my children. As my children grow I can see that even though they have problems, they are stronger than I was at the same ages, because they are self-aware and have stronger parents. I would hate to think that I am so defective that I should not have reproduced. That's just wrong. If you apply that logic, my parents and my in-laws shouldn't have had children either.

Thank you for this.

It's true, we are all human doing our best. And I think sometimes people that do have mental health challenges can start to feel "flawed" when it comes to imagining what predispositions they may be passing on to their children-- even if they didn't feel "flawed" before.

Love, open communication, self-exploration, and motivation to take care of yourself and your children can go a very, very long way. Beats a "clean" (notice the air-quotes) set of genes any day.

So she's agreed in principle to move to the middle of nowhere, as long as it's into an existing house and no animals are involved? OP, do you realize how that sounds? Un-agree, honey! You'll be miserable!

I do think there are some perils to "in the middle of nowhere" for retirement, as we found out last week (if that's the chat I'm thinking of.) But different strokes for different folks, of course!

Thank you. I will look into it. I could have written your first letter today. We did not have children. I am estranged from my birth family and the psychiatrist I saw about that and about GAD, etc., bailed on me (I've written to you about both of these things and appreciated your answers). My husband and one or two friends (not nearby) are all I have. I am a ball of anxiety. I will look into Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Thank you for your thoughtful answer.

You are very welcome. Please do keep us posted. There is hope-- and help that can work.

Please consider going. I've gone to my 10th, 30th and 50th. Each time I've received something good about how others perceived me during HS. Twice from women I dated, numerous times from the guy friends and not so much friends. And at my 50th a woman greeted me as her "best homeroom buddy." I can't remember one interaction with her, but now I know I had a positive impact in her life for three years. At my 30th I asked almost everybody questions like "How do I know you?" and "Was I nice to you?" and heard good things back.

I love this!

Granted, I am a totally biased Consistent Reunion Attender (and an extrovert who doesn't find them nearly as annoying as other personality types might), but I really do think the opportunity is there to have a great experience. 

I was with someone for six years and knew it was time to end things, and did it a week before flying to Greece to meet his entire extended family. It was HARD turning down a trip to Greece, but it would have been a nightmare going there with him, even though he spoke the language and the villages of Crete would have been so fun. He still would have been a jerk and I would have been miserable. Just end it now. Traveling blows when you're with someone you don't like very much.

Good for you. You did the hard but right thing and are truly to be commended for it!

Are out there, OP? If this person can give up fresh spanakopita and white-washed villas, you can give up some formulaic wedding chit-chat!

I actually think that a lot of his dream is motivated by the amount of stress he feels in his current job. He will be leaving his career soon (not by choice, thank you, 2016 elections!) and moving into a different part-time job until we get the last offspring into college. I am hoping that once the stress eases that he will be more comfortable with my vision. Also I remind him sometimes that you can't travel a lot when you have farm animals to feed!

Very true.

I'm sorry about the career-ousting.

But it's true-- visions can change. And I hope his stress goes down soon-- for the changing-vision and about a thousand other reasons!

Butt out. It's none of the friend's business.

Well, for all we know, friend-- who is now single parenting a toddler while negotiating an emotional and tumultuous divorce-- has asked for OP's help.

(And that's not even to begin with the idea that sometimes in advice columns, "friends" are a little closer to the letter-writer than they seem.)

Have him take 2 weeks of vacation (by himself!) to go be an apprentice at a working goat ranch. Then ask him again if that's what he wants.

Off to google "working goat ranch" and see how I can get in on that.....

We've been together for 8 months now and we'll basically we argue everyday. He isn't fond of my friends due to descent issues & his friends don't really like me either. Although yes i am a senior in highschool about to go to college, he never stops talking about college & the things i'm "allowed" or not "allowed" to do. I kinda see these as his rules.. (His words) No partying, no drinks, no drugs, no guy friends, no even talking to them either. Tells me what i'm allowed to wear and not to wear. Expects me to facetime me like every day in college. Is logged into my social media accounts. Has my find friends & has it turned on for whenever i go places. Then asks me questions about anything suspicious. I've never cheated or have any reason for him to not trust me but yet he does this. Plus I never tell him any of these things in return or anytning. I'm stuck in a pickle & could really use some advice. You put so much time & effort into something you'd hate to see go to waste is just how i feel i guess...

Yes, you have put so much time and effort to this.

But it is not going to "waste" for you to recognize that this is a controlling relationship, and a scary one at that.

Please consider some help as you think about next steps-- and try to reckon with the fact that you deserve better than this, and this is a slippery slope to abuse.

You can do more reading here.

Please keep us posted.

Well, I blinked-- and here we are.

Thanks so much for the participation today. I feel like I barely made a dent in the questions we got-- and so I am sorry if I couldn't get to yours, as always. There is always next week-- which I already look forward to. And of course there is Facebook and the comments section!

In the meantime, take good care.

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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