Baggage Check Live: The stink in the room

Apr 30, 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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Welcome, everybody!

How is it going for you this week?

In today's Baggage, we've got someone who doesn't want to get stuck in a pattern of hooking up with a coworker at a conference. And in Letter 2, we've got a Mom who loves being social-- but is tired of having to be the initiator.

So, what is on your mind? We still have some quotes/lyrics/life philosophies coming in, and I am still happy to post them.

Let's begin!

Please! Did she go to a hotel? Did FIL finally get out of the house, hopefully to get a full pedicure? I am dying to know what happened.

I believe we have an answer! Sifting through to find it. Stay tuned!

How do you know when it's time to leave a relationship that is not necessarily toxic/bad but you may have outgrown?

There is not necessarily a magic bullet here, but there are a lot of hints. But before I jabber on about them, one overarching point: are you looking at a true pattern and meaningful trajectory, or just a phase? It's entirely possible that even in the best relationships, there are brief-ish periods of doubt, frustration, or dissatisfaction. It's how you get through them that matters. So, make sure to ask yourself — are these things the true nature of my relationship now, or are they a temporary period of stagnation? 

So ... some signs. Not feeling understood. Not feeling challenged. Not feeling interested in what the other person's doing in their life. Not feeling like a team. Not feeling admiration or love or passion or any mixture of the above. Feeling relieved when you are without the person. Feeling bummed to come home to the person. Feeling like there is no room for your own growth in the relationship. Feeling like you don't care about the other person's growth. Feeling like the relationship fits an old version of you but doesn't really fit the YOU you anymore. I could probably go on, but I am thinking you get the gist!

When I had twins I was too tired to want to socialize and it wasn’t as refreshing for me as other things. Odds are it’s just more of a priority for people who find it renewing. Maybe try to get more one on one time that takes less planning, or send a group email asking if people want to rotate houses every Tuesday or meet at a park (no cleaning your house to host!) every week. That may help you get more meetups with less effort.

Good ideas, thanks.

And I totally get how even the initiating can be draining, especially for Moms of young kids — and feel like it's not worth the effort. Yet if these friends are going to continue to come to things that LW starts, and seemingly enjoy themselves, it's only fair they at least put forth a little effort into not letting the effort fall totally on someone else's shoulders. 

My husband and I have been together for 4 years, married for 1. He doesn't have a driver's license and has never learned to drive, but has always said he would at some point, and he wanted the flexibility of having his own transportation. He's used the phrase "When I can drive" multiple times. On the (admittedly never fully articulated) understanding it wouldn't be for ever, I've been driving him and our dog around for the past 4 years. He does find it difficult to focus on more than one thing at once and he was working freelance as a designer, so that was his first reason for not taking lessons. However, he's now got a permanent office job and plenty of free time (cost is not an issue and we could share my vehicle) but casually mentioned a few days ago that learning to drive was "Not a priority" right now. I was visibly shocked and he said that he didn't need to, and him learning would only benefit me. I think that's reason enough for him to learn! We were out with friends and the conversation moved on but I've been stewing over it ever since. For some additional context, we've always discussed the idea of moving cross-country to be closer to his family, and a year ago I'd agreed to the idea with the caveat that he get his driver's license as this is a rural location with no public transport. He said that was fair and that he would. We've started making tentative plans to move. I'm so angry that he's gone back on what he agreed to, that he seems fine with the idea of me driving him around for the foreseeable future, and now I think about it more, all his past reasons for not taking lessons seem more like excuses. I know we need to discuss this in more detail but I don't know where to start because I'm angry right now and I get easily upset and flustered when having difficult conversations. He gets defensive at any hint of criticism as well and will sulk. Do you have any advice for how to start this conversation and how to keep it calm without me getting angry and provoking him into defensive self-justification? Him never getting his license wouldn't be a marriage deal-breaker but I'd certainly put a stop to moving plans. I'm also inclined to stop giving him lifts until he makes an effort to learn but that seems like a punishment a parent might give a recalcitrant teenager, which is not a dynamic I want in our marriage!

This conversation script is actually pretty easy.

"We need to talk about something that I am feeling very frustrated about, and I don't want my resentment to build. I am shocked that you seem to be going back on your plan to get a driver's license, and I am even more hurt and surprised that you think that something that is important to me, would benefit me, and that you had agreed to, suddenly doesn't matter because it takes a little effort from you. That is not the kind of teamwork I envision in a marriage — and it is creating a dynamic I'm not at all okay with.  We need to figure this out. You may get defensive and make excuses and even get angry — I am angry too — but that is not addressing the problem. Are you willing to work with me on this?"

Do you have a senior center nearby? The kind that's run by your county? Take him there for a day, or half day, of playing cards with the other oldsters. They have great activities, other than cards, there that will keep him occupied. Ours even serves lunch for a small donation. Think $3. (you won't have to clean up after him) It will keep him busy and out of your hair. And if he's hesitant go with him and hang out in the lounge working for about 30 minutes until he is acclimated and then you can go back home and work. Or send him to the library. Anything to get some peace.

A great suggestion! As long as she doesn't call him an oldster when suggesting it — ha!

I'm the original poster from last week. I just wanted to give you an update that I've tried EVERY suggestion given. I've made little remarks about would you rather wash or dry dishes (no response). When we were done eating only my husband brought HIS plate leaving his dad's on the table. When we were done cleaning up/putting away food I made several comments about his plate still on the table and we do have an empty dishwasher but it fell on deaf ears. I ended up letting it sit on the table overnight and when he went to sit down for breakfast was still there. He's made huffing noises but eventually put it away. The "babysitting" every time I'd get water he'd make a snide comment of "Oh done with work."  My response would be "Didn't you ever get up during the work day to just walk around and stretch the legs?" Finally I started saying "Oh where are you going today or what are you going to do?" He got the hint and went out for lunch everyday (good!) I found my backbone and my husband did speak up slightly. The reason for the only child comment is because my husband has no siblings who could help or he could vent too. He's scheduled to leave next week (he extended another couple days) but overall things haven't changed. I don't care that he used the washer (I told him to) but he left his wet clothes for 2 days in washer and I made my husband say something. When we all go out we've at least alternated eating out but I made a comment it'll be nice to eat at home and no more going out for a while. His dad knows he's getting on my nerves. I've been going to bed at 9 so I at least have alone time and can relax but it reached a breaking point on Thursday when he kept scolding the dog for taking food off the counter (he's been giving him table scraps - I'm not mad at the dog but mad at father in law since the dog NEVER did that before), I took the dog, packed an overnight bag, grabbed my work and went to a hotel. My husband realized it was for my sanity. I never thought I'd write in but he has gotten on every last nerve and I do think he's just clueless or doesn't care. My mother in law used to do everything for him (cook, clean) so I think he expected that which is far from it.

I am so sorry. It really does seem you have done all you can — I hope the hotel provided the break you so clearly deserved!

I'd be interested to see if his next visit is just a little better, though. Sometimes planting seeds about misbehavior and the effects of one's actions doesn't make a difference right away, but the seeds do eventually sprout if the person is willing to do some thinking about what was said, and is motivated to make changes.

Tell your husband you won't be home with his father without him there -e.g., FIL can only stay when her husband is going to be home. For now, she should go check into a hotel. Another week of being around the FIL is going to drive her completely, barking mad.

The hotel box got checked, at least!

My husband and I. in out "golden" decades and retired, have discovered naturism (nudist). We live in an area that has legal naturist beaches and swimming/sports clubs. We will soon be traveling to visit relatives. One of the cities we will visit has a gorgeous naturist beach within easy driving distance. We have never been ones to force our ways on others. On the other hand, we certainly don't want to hide what beach we plan to visit and to invite others to go - telling them up front what it is - etc. So: any ideas on how to do this with due decorum, as well as not grossing out the younger generations. (This is not 'swinging' BTW, it's swimming and sunbathing and enjoying nature.) Thanks! 

If your letter is any indication, your decorum won't be a problem at all.

There's nothing you can do about someone who may have an "ick" reaction to the idea of a naturist beach. It will be there no matter how many euphemisms you use. (And it's worth pointing out, that if you use too many euphemisms, then you're not really getting the point across about what you're actually saying —which would be a much bigger problem if someone accepts an invitation and doesn't realize what they're getting in to!)

I think the trickiest thing here is not even the wording but just figuring out how much advance notice to give and what method to use to let them know. A short email a week out? An in-person mention the first night you are there? A topic shift on a phone call?

Be respectful, be discrete, and drop the topic if it's clear that their reaction needs not to be prolonged. And then go, be yourselves, have fun (and remember sunscreen!)

I have a 5-year-old who has always been highly emotional but has been getting more aggressive at daycare lately when he's upset. Physically trying to hurt other kids/teachers and also using violent language when angry. Our pediatrician recommended a play therapist. What should I be expecting from the therapist. Will he or she also counsel or guide us as the parents in how to best help our son with his feelings? What are the things we should be looking for?

Absolutely. At that age, the therapist's communication with you is arguably as important as the actual therapy itself. You need to be given strategies to support the therapy while at home, and to perhaps make adjustments to how things had been in your interactions.

Ask a potential therapist what typically happens in their work with kids with these kinds of issues. Will you be in on the sessions? Will you meet with them alone? What kind of markers will be used to see improvement? What kind of goals will be set? How can you maximize the progress? Are there other tools (workbooks, mindfulness toys, etc?) that you can be using at home?

You will likely get a pretty good feel for the fit in the initial consultation, if you're not shy about being specific about what you're looking for.

Re: from last week — I was raised Catholic although I knew well before adulthood that it wasn't for me and expressed this. As of last weekend, my spouse, kids and I are the lone non-Catholics in my extended family. I never told my family I wasn't going to baptize my kids. We just didn't do it which apparently speaks for itself. I didn't see a point in expressly announcing we weren't going to do it. I just prepared myself to explain our reasons if it ever came up which it has not in the 10 years since we had our oldest.

Thanks for this, in response to last week's baptism discussion.

My guess is that in OP didn't want to not say it, because they didn't want to feel like they had to hide the broader issue. But I also am guessing that in that case, the mother would be asking about it and be expecting to be invited, so the whole don't-ask-don't-tell thing couldn't apply.

Have the talk but ... I think he just is terrified of driving and really doesn't want to. And if that's the case, it's better to accept that from my experience. My mother was just like your husband when I was a kid. We lived in rural Long Island. She kept giving my dad lame excuses and gave into pressure and drove for a few years. She was a terrible driver — extremely nervous and unpredictable, an awful combo — had multiple prangs. Thank goodness she dug in her heels and stopped driving before it became worse and the stress on her got out of hand. Yes, it was difficult and unfair on my dad but she managed between him, friends and cabs (they have cabs in the more rural areas of Long Island. Incidentally, my husband has never had a license himself and that's very difficult sometimes, so I do understand.

You know, something was nagging at me in that question that I felt I was missing in my answer, but I had to keep things moving and so I finished my answer and that was it.

This is what was missing.

It's an incredibly important point — and I'm sorry I didn't think of it myself. OP, might this be the case? Driving anxiety is no small thing, even for people who already drive.

Thanks for writing.

Dr. Bonior, I have a problem with my wife's lack of attention towards her pregnancy. We recently found out that she's pregnant and for all my observations, is generally happy she is. She is communicative about the changes in her body, we talk about all the materials the doctors give us about what to expect. We even talk about what she needs from me in this first trimester, and she even gives me room to talk about how I feel about all this. The problem comes in when she talks about everything about her job with more intensity, focus and drive then providing for the life we're about to take responsibility for. She can think of all the approaches she can take on an issue at work, but becomes a bit "helpless" about what to do about looking at hospitals, finding daycare when going back to work, working through finances for new baby, etc. I can only suggest I can appreciate what's happening to her right now with hormones, body changes, being tired all the time, changing food tastes, being hungry, being full after five bites of something, feeling hot, feeling cold (I can go on.) But I can't help but feel a bit frustrated when she's all in on (and on top of) her job and not so much on her coming baby. How can I level set my expectations because, you know, I'm not giving birth?

Well, I guess I'm confused whether those things — hospitals, daycare, finances — are supposed to belong to her only. If she feels helpless about it, is there a reason why you can't take the lead? (Or have you already taken the lead and she is dragging down the process?)

It could be that she is far more overwhelmed than you realize — even with your admirable understanding of some of the bodily changes that go on. Perhaps paying attention to work actually HELPS her with that feeling of overwhelm. Maybe it feels like hers alone, when nothing else does, including her thoughts about her future — and her own body. Or maybe it's her way of making sure she is providing for your baby — she may very well fear discrimination about pregnancy and motherhood, and so it is soothing to her to get all her ducks in a row and make sure she still retains a job!

So I don't think it's realistic for her to have to swap out her drive about a job she's probably had a good handle on, and which has probably provided her a lot of self-esteem, for a baby-prep process that can be understandably riddled with self-doubt and confusion (even without the hormones!)

So: empathize. Communicate. Decide what feels important, as a team, to prioritize in terms of the prep, and devise a concrete plan to tackle it — together. And pick up the slack where you can. And then communicate some more.

From the English poet Adelaide Anne Procter: No star is ever lost we once have seen, We always may be what we might have been. (This quote, in a slightly different phrasing, is often wrongly attributed to novelist George Eliot)

This is lovely!

I have heard that paraphrased version, I think-- about it never being too late. Thanks!

For any chatters who might be confused about the seemingly-random quote: Last week, Dr. Andrea asked folks to share quotes that speak to you about life. 

After years of (unsuccessfully) attempting to be someone I'm not, mine is: Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

hahah!

I am the pig in many scenarios. Attempting to solve the Rubik's cube or successfully swing a golf club come to mind.

Hello! I've been enjoying your chats but this is my first time submitting a question. I have Misophonia (self-diagnosed, but there is no doubt I have had it since age 13 and I'm 37 now) and my Dad sent me an article about it that was in the WaPo recently. I forwarded the article to my husband because part of what struck me is that spouses/people tend to dismiss the condition as some kind of negative quirk or just plain old b*%4&y behavior. The article didn't really say anything new, but I just wanted to reaffirm to my husband that Misophonia is a real thing and not some imaginary condition I've been talking about for years. His reaction was very dismissive. In fact, he said he didn't need me to be diagnosed and all that matters to him is that the noises bother me. Well, that's nice enough. But since he never talks about it with me, hasn't shown any interest in Misophonia before, I just wanted to hear that he finally got it - that he understood I'm not just a nasty person who hates chewing noises. The whole thing snowballed into how he thinks everyone in this country feels the need to diagnose things (he is Japanese). That people in our country think pills will fix everything. He was hard and cold as I tried to tell him the benefits of diagnosing mental health diseases. I was unbending, too, and incredulous that he would be so judgmental about diagnosing things that are close to my heart (a friend with schizoaffective disorder, eating disorder, cousin with bipolar disorder, etc). Eventually I tried to think of things from his perspective and I admit that diagnoses can lead people to not take responsibility for their behavior, e.g. I didn't have any control over stealing this because I am bipolar. And he was somewhat sorry for being judgmental, but this whole thing has left me feeling bereft. We have two toddlers together and what if one of them inherits something that needs a diagnosis to be treated appropriately? I don't even know what I'm asking. Maybe it comes down to, how do you work with someone who has cultural differences regarding mental health issues? My husband is very set in his feelings (as am I, ha). He is one of the kindest people I've ever met so it's surprising how close-minded he is regarding this issue. Thank you.

Just FYI, I am NOT chewing as I write this!!

Misophonia is real. Depression is real. OCD is real. Cancer is real. Diabetes is real. A fractured fifth metatarsal from a parkour gym because you just wanted to get your kid jumping around somewhere other than your house for once for God's sake and why oh why oh why has he never sat still in his life....is real.

If your husband really, really wants to get into a Japan versus United States smackdown in terms of mental health, tell him I'm ready. Stigmas about mental health issues kill, and Japan's devastating suicide rates are Exhibit A. I could throw more numbers at him than he'd know what to do with.

But I got aggressive there- — sorry. This should be about education, communication, and understanding. He has a lens that he is looking through that comes from his upbringing and his culture of origin, and that's totally valid and understandable. But now his lens is getting in the way of empathizing with his wife, and is even skewing his vision toward blurriness and inaccuracy. If he was somewhat sorry for being judgmental, that is a huge start. But it's not even just being judgmental, it's more about being uneducated.

There are so many gray areas with human beings. Just because mental health issues are real doesn't mean that the answer is to throw pills at everything. And just because various diagnoses are completely genuine doesn't mean we're not all on a spectrum of all these traits somewhere. The answer is open eyes and information — not narrow, uninformed judgments.

Part of sharing your life with someone, and choosing to raise children together, is learning to look through a lens beyond your own. A new lens that incorporates experience, changed views, and exposure to ideas that are different than you grew up with. He's not alone in having to do this, by any stretch — we all must.

But he's got a beautiful opportunity to make the effort, right here, right now. Because being willing to reexamine his lens — and perhaps adjust it — can be a way of validating and showing love to his wife. It won't happen overnight, and that's okay. But if he's willing to keep thinking and talking about it, it will add immensely to your connection — and his ability to understand the world around him.

To avoid temptation, get a room on separate floors! Seriously. Proximity provides too much access.

Absolutely part of the slippery slope!

My brother was the heavily favored child while we were growing up. It made sense as my parents were pretty sexist. I was raised to do a lot of emotional labor, which included constantly initiating contact with my brother only to receive zero silence in return. He was a no show for a lot of major things in my life, and my parents defended that behavior by saying my brother was very busy with his research. By the time I was a teenager, I gave up on any relationship with him and built my own support structure. My parents are really bothered by my decision, saying that I need to keep reaching out and it's totally normal that he never responds but he still cares. (This unfortunate dynamic had the terrible unintended effect of me putting up with similar behavior in friendships and relationships, but that's another kettle of fish.) Flash forward to today. I haven't seen or spoken to my brother in a couple of years. He has yet to meet my children, despite my repeated requests for him to do so after I gave birth. When I was starting to repeat a terrible pattern, I dropped the rope and haven't heard from him in 1.5 years. My parents are begging me once again to reach out to him, invite him to our house for a week or two, and let him get to know my kids. When I pressed why, it turns out my brother has some major marital issues (I think his wife left him), not a lot of friends, and he loathes his job. He's depressed and lonely, especially when he spent Christmas by himself. Keep in mind that my brother has never reached out to me when things started going bad. I think this is yet another natural consequence of my brother's selfish behavior, which he is completely unaware of, but my parents insist that I, once again, need to start reaching out. I told my mother that the ball is in my brother's court and that he hadn't made contact at all. She, once again, insists that initiating and maintaining relationships isn't his thing. I've got a husband and friends who are guilt tripping me into reaching out to my brother and playing 20 questions. Can I let this go with a clean conscience? Am I allowed to call out my spouse and friends for their brazen sexism here? And if I do anything, I'm largely concerned about what message I send to my son. I worry that if I take action, I'm going to send the message to my son that it's okay for him to do no work at maintaining relationships because everyone else will do it for him. How do I get my naysayers to see that larger picture?

Give yourself permission to keep the rope dropped. It doesn't make you a bad person, no matter what messages you absorb from other people. (By the way — anyone wondering about the "drop the rope" meaning, it's symbolism about getting in to a tug-of-war that you can't win and that just exhausts you over time.)

Your brother's issues could very well have to do with depression that was there all along, or even interpersonal challenges. But at some point, it is not your job to keep draining yourself, over and over again for years, in order to fix them. Yes, family is family, and yes, we should take care of each other. But this is as one-sided as it could ever be, and has been for decades. It is not your job to make yourself miserable in order to keep offering him chances to have a mutual relationship — or even an actual relationship, no matter how lop-sided-- when he has never come close to taking you up on those chances.

"Living well is the best revenge."

Yes!

And honestly I think that's why forgiveness can be helpful too — giving yourself permission to not let the need for revenge corrode you anymore.

I have been working with a therapist for a few years on things like managing my anxiety and perfectionist tendencies, and holding reasonable personal boundaries. The thing is, whenever I am with my family (which happens regularly and we all enjoy), their similar tendencies come out strongly and it makes it harder for me to manage my own. For example, I might have made peace to some extent with the state of order in my house, or the weight of my cat, but they will invariably comment on it and it's hard for me to shake off. In some ways, I am trying to treat these instances as a chance to "exercise my emotional well-being muscles" but it can also be exhausting and difficult. Any advice for how to make it easier when we all get together?

Well, you get together regularly and you enjoy them.

So. What's wrong with letting them in a little more about how their words affect you?

This doesn't sound like a case of "My family is intolerable, so I need to grin and bear it and avoid them when I can." This sounds like a family that you have a good overall relationship with.

So why is telling them how their words make you feel — and how they directly inhibit your progress and your emotional help — not part of the equation here?

At first I thought you were going to just say that their own perfectionism about themselves rubs off on you. But if they are directly criticizing your house or your cat and it's happening so much that it is getting in the way of your well-being, can you not talk to them about that tendency?

My niece is 18 now and hellbent on ruining her life. I was one of her guardians from the time she was 9 and I pay for almost all of her expenses including very expensive private school (so she wouldn't just drop out and not get a diploma). But she decided a few months ago that she didn't want to take her meds anymore, zoloft/adderal, and since then has gained 30 pounds, got the clap, and decided she doesn't want to renew her birth control implant. She won't respond to me when I contact her and always flakes when we make plans. I really don't know what to do. She is making her life purposefully bad. We have the resources to let her do anything and have offered her so many things and she just keeps digging her hole deeper. Other than giving her no more money and trying to get her back on the meds, what can I do?

I totally get how excruciating this must be, to watch someone you love veering off like this. But if she doesn't live with you day to day, there are limited things you can do — and the fact that she is a teenager means that the "making her life purposefully bad" thing is not far off from being par for the course. Now, of course that is not to say it isn't dangerous, or that it isn't doing damage, or that it should be accepted by you. But it does have more of a chance of lessening as she matures and grows. (This would be a much more pessimistic situation if she were 35.)

So, view your job as to love her. NOT to enable her — you should definitely be firm in expressing your concern about her choices — but just keep the love there. Let her have reason to get on a better path. Let her know that you believe in her ability to do so, and that you have hope for the future.

She is not off a cliff here. There is hope. And with a bit of luck and your connection remaining strong, this experience may even teach her something — as hard as it may be for you to stand by during it.

Make sure to ask yourself: "Am I falling for the 'sunk-cost fallacy'?" Do you have periods of pleasantness that cause you to think, "Well, maybe it's not so bad after all?" because you think that because you've invested so much time in the relationship that you should keep investing in it?

Yes!!! Very important. Thanks.

My husband has gained weight over our 20 year marriage. Not a huge amount, but enough that he's gone up a size and his doctor is suggesting some changes. Besides supporting him in any way he would like, I have no dog in this fight. I'm still attracted to him, etc. The one issue I do have (of course!) is that he won't adjust his clothes to contain the new him. So, most of his things are too tight or otherwise ill-fitting and he complains about being uncomfortable or says that new clothes must be cut differently. I tried buying him few things in larger sizes (I have always bought most of his clothes so that part is not weird), but he's so committed to his former size he wouldn't even try them on. I don't really understand this because I just buy what fits without really focusing on the size label. Any ideas? Or should I just leave this alone?

You sound like a loving, empathetic partner here — and I wonder if your love or empathy are actually complicating things, ironically.

If he feels that his clothes are too tight and uncomfortable, he should try the next larger size up.

This doesn't have to be a federal case about the acceptability of his weight, vis a vis your marriage or his life or his health.

It's pretty straightforward. He complains about his clothes, and waxes on about the nature of clothing sizing and the industry. You look at him, say, "Sounds uncomfortable, honey. So should I pick you out something a little looser?"

It'd be different if he weren't complaining ... but he is, so there's you solution! If he puts extra layers (har har) on top of the clothing size issue, then that's something you can address too: "So you won't even try this on because of the label? But wouldn't you rather be comfortable?"

Chatters, anyone been through this? (Normally the issue is much more dicey because it's about the partner's reaction to the weight gain itself.)

I am that person with pretty much everyone in my life. I don't have kids, but in the vast majority of cases I'll hear about something that's happening, and look for someone to go with me. Or I'll realize I haven't seen someone in a while, and be the person to reach out to figure out what date works for both of us. It's been this way through most of my life; as long as people keep saying "Yes" or "That day doesn't work, but __ does."

If it works for you, I think it's great.

People like you are the glue that keep communities together — I don't think that's overstating it!

I wrote last week about a waiter at my club who is too tactile. I had dinner there with a friend and he would not desist when I said "No" multiple times, and I ended up having to push him off me, pretty violently. It's really upsetting. I talked to another member about it and I don't think reporting him will do anything other than have me seen as the source of the problem. The old boys' club is alive and well, and I guess it remains the woman's responsibility to manage a man's hands for him. I recognize that this is deeply unfair, but I can't bear the thought of reporting this and then being attacked for it. I have already fought harassment battles at work and am a member of a #Metoo organization. At this point, I feel that I will never set foot in the dining room again. The idea of having to be anywhere near this person sends my anxiety levels through the roof. I am sure it would be better for me to go and just be very aggressive about keeping him away from me, but this is why I say it's fight or flight — I just cannot get myself over the hump of actually walking into that room. Is it really so bad if I just avoid the problem instead of confronting it?

Your last line makes me sad.

You are not the one in the wrong here.

And you owe no one in this situation anything except yourself. It is not your job to "have" to speak up if it will send your emotional health into a tailspin. Yes, it is great when women are able to speak up about this awful stuff, and there is strength and power in numbers, and it is encouraging that more and more are coming forward to keep this stuff out of the shadows. But you have every right to make the choices that are best for yourself in this situation.

I am just very sorry it is happening.

I see nothing in his behavior that warrants a "next visit." Let sonny boy travel to him.

Touche!! (Can't seem to find l'accent here.)

My 20-year-old daughter has ADHD and anxiety and is nowhere near ready to drive. (If she ever will be.) It's hard on me to do all the driving, for sure, but she'd be a danger to others at this point. You say your husband "Does find it difficult to focus on more than one thing at once," so he may have issues that are not compatible with driving. But he needs to cop to them and figure out some other means of transport.

Great point.

Yeah, the "difficult to focus on more than one thing at once" I wasn't sure if that was in the moment in terms of a potentially dangerous attention problem behind the wheel, or whether it meant him prioritizing learning to drive when he also had other things in his life to think about.

I have a friend who, for years, was reluctant to get a driver's license. Eventually she realized she was going to need one so she obtained a private driving instructor and worked with him to get over her fear of driving. It's made all the difference and now she has no qualms about driving short or long distances.

Thanks for this!

Nice to hear of a hopeful outcome if it is an anxiety issue.

Put it an email so they have time to get used to the idea if they do feel 'ick'. It's easier than them having to adapt immediately face to face. I'd put it in a list of activities. We'd like to go to X museum to see Y exhibit, we love the idea of hiking in A park, we plan to go to Z beach — we've found we like to lie out in the sun in our altogether, of course we want to take you out to dinner so think about good places to go. You're welcome to join us for any / all of these activities!

I really like this breezy approach.

Let's just hope the email recipients don't skim past the "in our altogether" and miss the gist!

That was (is?) me. I have friends, but very few of them initiate stuff. I don't know why, but I don't think its personal. It used to bother me, but then I decided that either I needed to stop caring/worrying that I was the initiator or stop doing stuff with friends. Decided on track A. Maybe its not fair, but oh well. At least I get to decide where and when most things happen!

Yes!

It does come down to a cost-benefit analysis ... and if cruise director accepts the terms of being cruise director because the benefits are hefty enough, then it seems that's the main thing that matters.

I'm in a toxic job ... EEO complaints, poor managers ... the whole nine yards. Four kids under 8 ... I'm looking at a probable job offer in another comparable large city but uprooting kids. Let's just say I've never forgiven my parents for taking me out of a gifted and talented program on the East Coast to move to the Midwest. Other than moving during the summer, what's the best way to ensure minimal disruption in the school age kids lives?

If you stayed in the toxic situation, it is very likely that in time it could adversely affect your parenting — so keep that in mind if you are tempted to view this as a decision that unilaterally is for you and not your kids.

I'm not sure of the ins and outs of what went down with your own parents — it does sound like it has lasting effects — but you might reflect on that and let it lend you extra empathy. The good news is, we are in a different world now. Kids have easier options to stay in touch with friends than they did before (though realistically as young as they are, most of those friendships will probably fade away, and that's okay too.)

The best thing you can do is listen. Validate their feelings. Listen to their biggest fears and hopes and questions and concerns. If you make the decision to go, be firm in it so that you release them from the responsibility of feeling like they have to convince you one way or the other. Treat them as an important part of the moving process. Plant seeds of excitement about the new place.

Chatters, what am I forgetting?

"He said that he didn't need to, and him learning would only benefit me." What kind of a marriage is it where one person will only consider actions that only benefit himself?! I'd inform him that either he goes to couples counseling or you're outa there.

I was particularly bothered by that, too. To me, it was the crux of the entire issue. The stink in the room.

Of course, if he is deathly afraid and unable to own up to it, he may be just grasping at straws at this point, his wife's feelings be darned. But I certainly hope that's not truly how he views things, because then that is a greater problem then who is at the steering wheel.

I really, REALLY hope OP's concerns are related to reconciling how his wife's approach to her job is not totally lining up up how she is approaching pregnancy. Because it is not coming across that way; instead, it's coming across like he wants her to give up everything else to become a baby vessel and conform to *his* expectations of how to be/do/act pregnant. I am VERY much rubbed the wrong way about this.

I was trying to see the big picture and hope that that wasn't it. I suspect there was a little bit of clunky wording, so I am giving the benefit of the doubt. But I see where you are coming from, for sure.

On future visits going better: This will only work if the OP AND HER HUSBAND insist on a firm timeline for the visit —absolutely no "Oh I've decided to stay for two more weeks."

Bingo.

Just to put it out there... what would happen if OP straight up said to FIL "Your behavior is disrespectful. We would love to have you visit again but if you do, I expect you respect the expectations of our home. This includes cleaning up your own dishes/messes, not feed our dog scraps, [etc]. If you can't do these things, we would love for you to visit and stay in a hotel" ? If he gets huffy and starts with "Well when MIL was alive ..." or "Well [husband] doesn't care ..." all OP has to say is "I am not MIL or [husband]." At this point, everyone seems uncomfortable and miserable so you might as well just get it out there.

This is a really worthy suggestion. I have the sneaking suspicion that Hubs is not willing to draw this line in the sand, though, and I think it's got to be a united front.

OP?

My husband has significant issues with depression, anxiety, and shame. He recently had a recurrence or suicidal ideation (not acted upon) and agreed to pursue therapy. Because of his shame issues I know being forthcoming with a therapist will be very difficult for him. I cannot find any therapists who state they deal in “shame” so what should I be looking for so we can try to start therapy with the right person? (The shame is generalized as part of his anxiety: social, body image, etc., not just one area)

I am sorry that you and he are both going through this. It is good that he has been open about it with you, though. Too many people with suicidal ideation are not. And it is wonderful that he is seeking help.

Someone who has solid expertise and experience in depression and self-esteem issues — and lists that accordingly in their profile — will no doubt have experience in concepts involving shame as well, so you could start there. That said, many therapists also work long-distance with video conferencing so if you expanded your search out of the area you might have a shot at a true shame specialist. He should also check out Brene Brown's books on the subject.

Please keep us posted!

(Continued from Mar 26) I have been walking in this new valley which is devoid of color and sound. After several weeks of wandering, I see a house in a fold of land. A woman is standing in the doorway watching me. She tells me that she has known about me for a long time and had been waiting for me. So I ask her if I can rest at her abode for a while. She says no. She is simply a guide not a refuge from my journey. She points in a slightly different direction than I had been traveling. With a sweet kiss she dispatches me on my way. I am walking in this new direction and I see a few blades of green. Springtime grass pushing its way up through the long winter. Perhaps I will be able to live in this new valley. Perhaps it will not be as barren and lonely as I though a few short weeks ago.

Thank you for this (very visual) update.

My heart is glad to hear that there are some blades of green, and that you are keeping moving.

When I am told I'm doing something the wrong way I quote the evil mayor from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "There's more than one way to skin a cat. And I happen to know that's factually true." (I only steal from the best.)

hahaha!

My version is "Never wrestle with a pig. You get tired and dirty and the pig enjoys it."

This one too! Love it.

Your brother's issues could also have to do with the fact that his parents crippled him emotionally by never making him do anything he didn't want to do. And they're keeping that up by pressuring the person they always pressured to Do For Him — his sister. Drop that rope!

A significant possibility!

My husband does not drive, and never learned how. It's an anxiety thing for him. When we moved in together, I told him straight up that I was not driving him everywhere, and he was responsible for finding his own transportation 90% of the time. Six years later and it has worked out great. He finds his own way, and I offer to drive in an emergency, when it is a shared activity, or when I feel like it. The rest of the time, he is on his own. And he is great at doing it on his own — usually via public transport, but when I was sick with a high fever last year, he loaded me into an Uber and took me to the doctor. The problem with OP's husband is not that he doesn't drive — its that he views OP as a personal chauffeur.

You hit the nail on the head with that last line.

So glad that you found a way for this to work for you and your husband. Thanks!

I think it’s also fair to freeze moving plans until he makes steps. If this is a sign of impending doom you probably don’t want to move far away to be near his family only to resent and eventually divorce him. You can also start refusing to drive him now: There’s plenty of services to haul him around.

It's true that there are other options besides OP being taxi (and other options besides taxis!)

My head is still reeling from the fact that this might really be about a driving phobia — it is clicking into place as a significant possibility — but I do appreciate this angle nonetheless.

"My husband is very set in his feelings (as am I, ha)." This is the case with my husband and me. What I often find is that it's a matter of stepping back and giving the topic air and time to gain nuance. This part of what you wrote gives me hope for that 'Eventually I tried to think of things from his perspective and I admit that diagnoses can lead people to not take responsibility for their behavior, e.g. I didn't have any control over stealing this because I am bipolar. And he was somewhat sorry for being judgmental. Both my husband and I have work do do not digging our heels in at the beginning and being more open and less invested in our point of view. But we often find that in the long run we both get more nuance.

Yes! I am hoping that giving the topic air can be helpful for them both. And what your post brings up is an additional point-- that maybe if OP owns up to things that (s)he is working on having more nuanced views about, it can feel like a joint effort and increase husband's motivation to try to open his mind up too.

Well, we all have to eat so I'm sorry this person hates chewing noises (presumably that extends to her own mouth as well). I hate the color beige and when someone cracks their knuckles. Does that mean I have a mental illness(es)? I'm really trying to understand what road we are on, where apparently EVERYONE has some sort of disease.

Hmm. That's a pretty big jump, no?

But don't worry, making pretty big jumps is just faulty logic, not an actual disease!

I get that First child dad wants to be supportive, but wow, he needs to slow his roll. When I was pregnant, there was no way I even think about hospitals and day care and baby furniture in the first trimester. She's focused on the job which is familiar and can control. She will focus on the other items when she's ready and he can have done the research already to make a joint decision easier. Please don't project your timeline on her right now — it's a recipe for disaster.

Thanks for this.

(Though this is where all the D.C. folks chime in and say BUT FINDING A SLOT IN A GOOD CHILD CARE PROGRAM IS SO BANANAS THAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE RESERVED IT BEFORE YOU ARE EVEN PREGNANT!)

Doc, I'm worried that your words: "Sometimes planting seeds about misbehavior and the effects of one's actions doesn't make a difference right away, but the seeds do eventually sprout..." are going to reflect the FIL's expectations on his next visit. He's going to tell himself that his DIL has had plenty of time to realize her place, and will be a better hostess/caretaker to him. I'm truly hoping this doesn't happen, but this is exactly what my parents expected of me on their visits. (Compounded with other problems, it's now been a few years since we've talked to each other.)

Ugh, I am so sorry to hear that latter part.

And you are right — time can certainly harden his own habits, as he tries to justify them and maybe imagine that his daughter-in-law will "come around," as you said. But I stand with you in hope that this will not be the case!

I'm an only child and I do have other outlets for this. But I'm seriously sorry about all this. I hope your husband will become more proactive in this. Can't you or he be clearer rather than just leave his plate "Dad, please clear everything off the table and bring it into the kitchen to help with cleaning up after dinner. We all pitch in around here and that would definitely be a help." He doesn't need special training to pick things up from the table and put them down on the kitchen counter.

I imagine OP may be too exhausted to be any clearer, but I totally agree that in an ideal world, Hubs would step up to the plate (no pun intended) here!

Be discreet. Perhaps "discrete" in the sense of going by yourselves ("discrete" means separate) and just saying, "We're going out for the day" instead of being more specific.

Ah, yes!!! And I usually notice when people switch that around.

Will you forgive me if I go back and edit it to pretend that I never made that mistake? (Perhaps you'd prefer it!)

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance." — George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and essayist "Absent a correct diagnosis, medicine is poison, surgery is trauma and alternative therapy is witchcraft" — A. Kent Allen

These are both great.

Maybe don’t meet at your house? Meet at neutral places?

Could help!

Cut out the size labels? Or maybe take size labels from his older clothes and use them to replace the larger ones in the newer clothes? :-)))))

These may cause more drama than they're worth, but I can't resist posting!

"Funny how the whole clothing industry changed exactly in synch with your gradual weight gain." Might hit home. Or at least make him realize how silly he's being, thinking he can keep up this denial.

Ouch!! I imagine there are ways to say this with love.... maybe?

Possible script: I am happy to do what I can if he reaches out to me, but not once, in the many times over the years I've reached out to him, has he wanted to maintain a relationship. After all these years, it has to come from him.

Perfect. Thank you.

"I've never forgiven my parents for taking me out of a gifted and talented program on the East Coast to move to the Midwest." OP needs to stop bearing this old chip in his shoulder.

It sounds pretty intense, yes. I'm curious there.

Make sure you plan one trip back to the old location. Encourage video chats. And for kids under 8 their friends are just whoever is in proximity so they will adjust fine. (I moved every 2 years for about 14 years then every 4-ish years for another 20)

Thank you!

On the bright side, driver-less vehicles will be here soon.

Very true! Then we can deal with all the new phobias of them!

OP here. To clarify, his finding it "Difficult to focus on more than one thing at once" relates to stuff happening in life, eg heavy workload, moving house, rather than an attention issue.

That's what I had figured. Thank you!

*if* you want to go into the dining room again, maybe you can enlist a friend (a man?) who can get in the waiters face for you and report it for you (since a man’s word is often treated as more valued).

I like how you emphasized the "if" here, because it is indeed totally up to her!

Thank you. Really, it's the only thing that's made me feel better since it happened. I'm under pressure either to address it, or to overlook it, but I don't want to do either. I just want to pretend it didn't happen by pretending the dining room doesn't exist.

And that's totally your right. Don't let anyone tell you any differently, or they are subjecting you to the same "You don't deserve to be in control of what happens to you" that the waiter was!

It sounds like you feel really affirmed by the diagnosis of misophonia. But buried in your letter it says "In fact, he said he didn't need me to be diagnosed and all that matters to him is that the noises bother me." This isn't him denying these conditions, it's him denying that the only feelings that are real are the ones that are labeled. It's not the label that makes it real for your husband, it's the distress that makes it real. To be honest, I think we could all learn a lot from that perspective! And I think it works great especially where distress is outside of culturally recognized norms, where others might be inclined to dismiss the pain because it doesn't have a label and so isn't "real."

Yes, I think this is a great point. I hope you'll forgive me for a tiny "but"-- I think with misophonia in particular, part of not viewing it as an actual disorder could have more serious ramifications. Because if it's just about "These sounds bother you," then it's easier to dismiss a quirk on par with some of his own tastes or preferences. Bland couscous bothers me. Doors that are too heavy to push open bother me. The fact that my washing machine seems to make every single sock disappear bothers me. But that's not the same as having my brain send me into a panicking rage due to some specific neuronal circuitry hypersensitive to the perception of certain sounds. So I think although it's great that husband respects and empathizes with the fact that it "bothers" her-- misophonia is not really on par with all those other quirks that we have within a marriage. So it feels a little invalidating to make it just about the "bothering."

My father is American and taught psychology at the college level and is very label averse! So not necessarily a cultural thing. Can you reframe it for your husband? For example, until my daughter was "diagnosed" with having a learning disorder, the school could not/did not make any accommodations to help her learn. That doesn't help you with your misophonia, but could help with future children.

Great point that it's not necessarily a cultural thing.

To be clear, though, as a fellow psych professor (cheers to your Dad!) I am also as label-averse as they come. I am a rabid fan of looking at things on spectrums and understanding the gray area (as if you chatters don't know that by now!) Labels can demean and pigeonhole and oversimplify, and people are people, not diagnoses. That said, the actual circumstances of OP's situation-- whether we call it "misophonia" or not, the fact that the sound of chewing in her brings about actual biological reactions-- shouldn't be ignored, and need to be validated and empathized with and understood.

Thank you so much Andrea for the script and another poster for further suggestions. It’s possible he’s scared of driving. I wouldn’t rule that out, but he’s never indicated any fear or anxiety about it before, he just finds excuses. He procrastinates terribly whenever he doesn’t want to do something, to the extent I usually end up doing it (e.g. I end up dealing with all the bills, household admin, pet admin) but I can’t learn to drive for him. I’ll have the conversation though and be sympathetic to the possibility he’s scared to drive.

So glad to hear back. Definitely keep us posted!

"It's never too late to be who you might have been." I realized in my late 20s that I wanted to go to medical school but thought I was too old to begin that journey. This quote spoke to me at the time. Graduating with my MD in several weeks!

Woohoo!!! Love it. Congratulations!!

I’m so entertained by Andrea’s suggestion to take care not to use too many euphemisms! I can just imagine the LW hinting that they’re going to “enjoy nature” and a cousin misunderstanding and bringing their birdwatching binoculars along!

hahahah! Or with the "in our altogether"-- someone reading it and saying, "Hey, good news-- they want us to go to the beach all together!"

I understand that you don't want to fight this battle, but can you discreetly contact other women in this club to ask how many other women he's treated this way? Because such perps rarely stop at one victim.

Thanks. It would be good to know, but I'll continue to beat the drum that she doesn't have to if she doesn't want to. 

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Sounds like the OP has not let go of this. I doubt his parents moved to the Midwest precisely to rip him out of the G&T program by his roots. Chances are they moved, and that was an unfortunate side effect. OP, you are not your kids; your present situation has NOTHING to do with them or teenage you. And lastly, an 8yo is not a 12- or a 16yo. Best of luck.

Thank you!

I didn’t get that vibe at all. More “she’s enthusiastic about her job ... but not about the pregnancy...” and of course pregnancy isn’t like a job: you can’t quit or get a different one. I got a “we are in this forever, why isn’t she excited? Her lack of excitement scares me” vibe.

I may need to go back and reread. You could be right, but I did get more of the feeling that it was about the actual planning/logistical aspects where she was falling short in his eyes.

It could definitely be related, though, and it might be pressing that button for him, which could help explain an additional layer of worry/upset for him.

I read it that he's worried she isn't really into having the baby, or preparing for it, and he's not sure how to engage without overstepping. He fully recognizes it's her body. I'm a woman, and I sympathize. We want men to be involved until we don't.

It's an angle that likely needs more attention than I gave it. Thanks.

I was rubbed the wrong way on this one too. I am a "career-minded woman" who isn't pregnant but is trying to be, so I'm pretty easily able to put myself in the wife's shoes here. Pregnancy and impending parenthood is terrifying and hugely unknown, whereas her job is 1) something she knows how to be good at, 2) is more or less totally under her own control and 3) going to face a lot of upheaval over the next few years. It's not remotely confusing to me that she's able to pursue her career goals and problems with logic and vigor, and is a little overwhelmed at figuring out daycare. Mostly just emphatically agree with your point that there is no reason daycare, post-natal finances, etc. should be mostly on her plate - she's already bearing the brunt of this, and it's OPs time to step up and do what he can to address baby logistics.

This was my thinking, too. Thanks.

It sounds like you are considering moving to a rural area — is there family there? Do you regularly visit? THAT is the place to encourage your husband to get behind the wheel, out on a not-too-challenging dirt road where he can drive five miles per hour, learn to work the brakes and the steering — in other words, a safe environment with no other traffic. It's not, perhaps, strictly legal, but learning the basics without having to deal without having to go too fast is a real benefit. (We live in a rural community, and most twelve-year-olds have some  —very slow and very carefully supervised — behind the wheel time out on a dirt road...)

Good consideration-- thanks!

True in many countries. A number of nations' psychology associations have been using the arts to raise awareness about such stigmas.

Yes! Those interventions give me hope.

As someone in a similar situation with my only sibling (minus the parental favoritism but including the pressure from parents and my spouse to reconnect or "see how s/he's doing," you have two courses of action. Either stop doing it, "We aren't close and you know that," or make the decision to send a routine note every once in a while with no expectation of a response. I texted sibling that I would be in a town near where s/he lives and would be happy to get together. No details, no tentative plans, just facts. As expected, no response. Same with holidays: A simple 30 second note wishing happy whatever and nothing else. I became the most comfortable with the situation when I accepted that sibling is not interested in reaching out for whatever reason and unless I was convinced there was a serious need for intervention I would not press them for a relationship they weren't interested in.

Yes. Acceptance, one way or the other, and giving yourself permission to live your own live without any more expectations of that person, can be freeing.

Thanks.

Tell your parents to invite him and you (and your kids) all to THEIR house!

Yes. Why not?

Arriving late here. Is there any medical issue that would prevent the guy from getting a license (and that the girlfriend wouldn't know about)? Unless they live in Manhattan, it's pretty unusual for an adult man — maybe more so than a woman — to refuse to learn to drive.

Good question — though I've been hearing from several today where it's the man!

According to the LW, the ownership of each of the 2 plots are split 4 ways - each aunt owns 1/4 as do both sisters. If they are going to ask for money for the plots - they should certainly take that into account.

Ooh, I think I missed this. Thanks.

Missed you live today but I think your readers would appreciate Dierks Bentley's song Burning Man. 'I still go a little bit crazy sometimes, but now I don't stay near as long.'

Niiiiice!

Time got the best of me, yet again!

Thanks so much for all your comments and questions and for being here today. I look forward to next week already.

In the meantime, I'll see you in the comments and on Facebook.

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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