Baggage Check Live: Break the ice with a hammer

May 07, 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.

Follow Dr. Andrea on Facebook here.

Hi, everyone!

How are you this week?

First things first — an exciting announcement! Next week we will have our very first Baggage Check guest (guest Baggage Handler?) and I couldn't be more thrilled with who we've booked: Nora McInerney, host of the Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast and author of the recently released "No Happy Endings." As many of you may know, she is a (reluctant!) expert on loss, having lost her husband to brain cancer on the heels of losing their baby and also her father, all in a six-week period. She speaks to the humanity and hope in all the mess that life can bring, with wit, grace, and honesty. And we are lucky enough to have her here, for the second half of the chat next week!

(I know she is doing a live "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" episode in D.C. on May 30 at Sixth & I. The folks over at Sixth & I said that as of today, there are still a few tickets left.)

So, please — fill up the queue for her next week, as I can't imagine a better first guest for this chat. So lucky.

Now, this week. Today's Baggage. How does LW get their kind, considerate partner to not be all up in their grill so much?  And in L2, will a 30-year friendship hit the skids because of a brouhaha over a beach house?

Let's see what you've got!

Good afternoon Dr. Bonior, My husband has always had low level hearing loss especially in his left ear. As he has aged it’s gotten progressively worse. I try to adapt by always sitting on his right side, but he is also losing hearing in the right ear now. He has hearing aids which were specifically and personally fitted to be comfortable for him, but he refuses to wear them. Hence the kids (teens) and I usually have to speak loudly and repeat ourselves a few times before he understands us. If we repeat ourselves too loudly he feels hurt because we are “yelling” at him. He also has become really loud and gets mad if we ask him to lower his voice so he is not shouting at us. It’s exhausting, and we are tired of having to be concerned about his feelings about the deafness when he could just wear the hearing aids for a few hours. We have all started avoiding being around him for any length of time. I’ve discussed him getting new aids if these are uncomfortable, but no, he just doesn’t want to wear them. Short of us moving to a second home without him, do you have any advice?

This is sad, but oh, so common.

And I can imagine since your husband is the father of teenagers, then he is even younger than the typical person who has to face the reality of hearing aids, making him even more resistant.

He needs to understand, though, that by giving in to his "not wanting" to wear them, he is choosing to damage the relationships with his family. Over time, this will isolate him, diminish his emotional connection (when we should be wanting every morsel we can get with our teenagers!) and build resentment. It also may actually increase cognitive decline in the long-run. It is increasing everyone's stress response, and adding conflict and discomfort to your home.

All because..... he no wanna wear them.

It's time for a reality check.

So, be empathetic to what's going on with him-- reckoning with aging, self-consciousness, heck, maybe even mortality. But establish the fact that choosing not to wear them is choosing to create complications and stress for your family.

If that's his choice, fine. But he needs to own it-- and doesn't get to turn it back on you that you're "yelling" at him when that's the only path he's created for you.

Lately, it seems every conversation between my partner and me quickly goes off the rails into conflict. Yesterday, I bought him a new golf shirt in a smaller size than he used to wear (he has lost 30 pounds) and in a color that complements some patterned shorts he bought recently. Imagine my surprise when instead of “Hey that was really sweet of you to think of me, he said “What size is it? I like my shirts roomy." Followed by “What’s it made of, will it shrink or be too hot?” I said, just try it on after your shower without cutting off the tags and I will take it back if it doesn’t work out. I also said that it would have been nice to hear a thank you first before telling me all the problems the shirt might cause him. He backtracked a bit then but sometimes, in situations like this, he just gets mad at me for being sensitive. BTW, the shirt fit him beautifully but he wants me to take it back because he doesn’t want a shirt that fits him, he wants a looser shirt. Should I get the shirt in a larger size or just take it back? How do I prevent uncomfortable conversations like this, that seem to happen every day?

I think there's a key here: "He gets mad at me for being sensitive."

If he's going to call you too sensitive for wanting a thank you before a critique, then you get to call him too sensitive for getting upset about the fact that you're supposedly too sensitive.

Whoa, I think my head just exploded.

But seriously, this is all part of escalating a conflict. So, the issue becomes figuring out what other factors contribute to the escalation, and how you can mitigate them. Are you choosing times where he is preoccupied or harried to gift him with these things? Is he feeling burdened, like the expectations of appreciation are too much and he'd rather not have you choose clothes for him at all because he wants things how he wants them? Are there sometimes too many strings attached to your gifts, in his mind? Do you both have more stress than usual lately, and are you doing things to take care of yourself? Are you carrying resentment about something deeper? Are you using tones that are pushing the other person's buttons?

This could be a quick adjustment with some effort on each of your parts, or it could be more ingrained and need a little more help, from a professional. First step: identify what you see as the pattern, using lots of "I" statements, and talk to him about what he thinks is contributing to it.

Hi! I am the original poster about eggshells with my MIL from two weeks ago. Thanks for taking my question and it was interesting seeing the comments that followed. My concern is less about me and more about setting the example for my kid about how we treat people and let others treat us. Even if I am stressed during our hangouts, I can shake it off afterwards. The reason I care is because, as others pointed out, Grandma is a significant person in our lives and her little snipes will certainly be noticed. My husband "Ty" was in therapy for about a year before we were married, and one element he really had to delve into was the realization that his parents' dynamic wasn't healthy. It is a painful realization for a young adult and it affected our relationship in ways that weren't fully clear to me until I witnessed how his parents interact. So long story short, I think things need to be addressed for the sake of kiddos growing up and thinking their dynamic is healthy.

I agree that makes a lot of sense. Sometimes one of the trickiest parts of parenting — which a lot of people don't realize is going to hit them — is figuring out how the quirks of their own upbringing need to be reckoned with and revisited in order to keep them from doing damage.

I am so glad you wrote back!

To Uprooting a Young Family from last chat: Not a parent, but a (grown-ish) kid who experienced this. My parents moved us from our home in N.C. after a few short years. At the time, my sister and I were very young and VERY upset. We didn't want to leave, even though we were moving one state away and closer to family. Years later we learned the reason: One of my parents absolutely hated their job. It led to depression. So we moved. Your kids may be annoyed and disoriented but in the long-run, they will come to appreciate the sacrifice you made. Please PLEASE know that your reasons for wanting to leave are entirely valid! Finding out why we moved changed my perspective on the situation and my anger dissipated. You, and your kids, will be alright.

Thank you for this perspective!

My mom is coming to visit this weekend. She and I used to be very close when I was younger, but we have grown apart in my adult years, in large part because I started setting physical and emotional boundaries (for my own wellbeing) that she doesn't like and doesn't respect. Every time I have tried to explain why these boundaries are important for my mental health, she accuses me of judging her and throws herself a pity party. (She has some lifelong mental health challenges that she addresses by self-medicating.) My mom is generally a good person and has always been very loving and generally a good mom, but her parents had more serious mental health challenges, and that's a major reason why my mom is who she is. I know that things will never change and talking about them with her doesn't help, so instead, I'm working on holding my boundaries and trying not to let her make me feel guilty for it. I don't have a question, just hoping for a little moral support during her visit, although if you have any additional thoughts or suggestions on this topic, I'm all eyes. Thank you in advance.

Consider yourself morally supported!

I think it comes down to two major things: 1) holding firm with you boundaries (which you can remind yourself helps not only you, but your relationship with your mother as well — so try reframe the guilt as excess, unhelpful noise that is an artifact of your history together), and 2) looking for bright spots where you can maximize pleasant conversation and connection. Are there activities you can do together that you both find comfortable and enjoyable? Are there topics of conversation to have at the ready? Are there things you can do to help her "generally good and loving person" see the light of day, and nudge her "boundary steamroller person" into a closet?

I just found out 2 weeks ago that I'm pregnant (a big surprise). I have some ideas for the husband about how his wife might be feeling. 1) There are days that this doesn't feel at all real, and it can't be possible that there is a baby inside me. Husband said it was recent, she's may still be processing this (I sure am!). 2) My hormones are fluctuating and making moods change, some days I'm happy and glowing other days I'm grumpy and not wanting to even think about my long pregnancy to do list. Seriously, husband, she may look the same on the outside, but I promise she doesn't feel the same on the inside! 3) Nothing can prepare you for the way this feels, it is complex and emotional. And if the wife is anything like me she is feeling terrified and overwhelmed in addition to the happy and excited. So please, cut her some slack!! She gets to feel however she feels about this, just as you do. And anything you can do to help instead of list items for her to do. Research prenatal vitamins (why are there so many?), read your health insurance documents, get yourself a father's pregnancy book and read it, etc. But stop putting even more pressure on her about what you think pregnancy should look like, especially if this is still within the first 2 months. Good luck! There's going to be a baby soon, hopefully you'll still like each other when that happens.

Thanks for these words! Always very helpful to hear from someone in the throes of it.

Yup, let yourself feel. It's all part of the process, and when partners can embrace each other and not put undue expectations on what things "should" feel like, all the better.

Wonder if OP from last week is out there!

For both of my pregnancies I have made a spreadsheet assigning different tasks to each month (note that these are not all tasks for me to do by myself!). It has been helpful to me to have a sense of what to focus on each month without feeling overwhelmed by EVERYTHING all at once - because adding a baby to the family can feel very overwhelming. It's a working document, too, so I can add or change things as needed. This likely won't work for everyone but I have found it very helpful so I thought I would share.

A great coping mechanism for people who thrive in the structured world of the spreadsheet! Thanks.

My anxiety seems to be very, very high recently, to the point it's interfering with my life. I see a therapist regularly so I'm not flailing in a sea of crisis but struggling, nonetheless. I tried some breathing meditation last night but it seemed to have the *opposite* effect of what I wanted. After meditating for a bit, I felt like I couldn't take a deep, fulfilling breath (borderline hyperventilating) and felt super hyper-aware of everything going on with my body (not in a good way). I know this is my anxiety speaking, but I feel like I must be doing meditation wrong and/or I'm somehow beyond the help of meditation. Is this a common thing, where sometimes meditation doesn't help? Should I be doing something else?

There is absolutely nothing "wrong" with you, I promise.

It's true that if you are new to meditation and are in the throes of really high anxiety, then the practice can feel awkward at best and anxiety-provoking a worst. Because you were getting at the first part — becoming aware of you bodily sensations — but were unable to complete the most important part — observing them as a gentle, curious observer and trusting that they will pass. Instead, this accentuated the anxiety cycle between your thoughts and sensations rather than mitigating it.

Meditation might be a little too much for you for now. Can you isolate some of your symptoms and target them more directly instead? In other words, instead of just trying to open your mind and observe them, can you go into something like progressive muscle relaxation or a targeted rolling of your shoulders or something like that that will actively decrease the tension, rather than just making you aware of it?

Definitely talk to your therapist about this and practice within the session! There are all kinds of variations on meditation that can be helpful to get you started.

I think I need to talk to someone but I have no idea what a counseling sessions is like. I’m not even sure how to articulate what is wrong. Years of things snowballing and building up have turned me in to someone who is just trying to get through one hour at a time. How do you get started? Will I do all the talking? Will a counselor ask me questions and guide the conversation?

Different therapists have different styles in terms of how active they are, but they all have the goal of creating a space where you feel valued and as welcome as possible to bring up difficult feelings.

I suggest actually bringing this up when you talk to a therapist in an initial consultation. "I feel like I am just trying to get through an hour at a time, but there are so many things that have snowballed over the years I don't know how to begin. It might be difficult for me to talk, even. Will you help guide me?"

Please do persist in finding someone. I promise I've seen many people who had that initial reluctance, but I considered it my job as a therapist to help them find their voice.

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. Bernard Baruch This serves me well.

A classic! Thank you.

A friendly note to any chatters who may be joining us for the first time, or the first time in a long time — Dr. Andrea has put out a request for any quotes that speak to you about life in general, or thoughts and feelings. Please send them in! 

I have two sisters — we are all in our 60's. I am best friends with my sister Elise and usually on cordial but not close terms with my sister Fran. In the past, the three of us have had some happy, fun times together but not since our father died last year. (Our mother passed away 30 years ago.) Elise lives near me and Fran lives several states away. Elise gets along with everyone and has a knack for not taking things personally. I have an apparent character defect, and have to consciously work at de-personalizing hurtful things that Fran says. Elise gets hurt too, but then she gets over it. She more readily sees Fran's behavior as human frailty, nothing more. Two or three times a year, Elise and Fran make plans to meet up without me. Since I get the pleasure and benefits of seeing Elise on a frequent basis, I would like to stop feeling left out when they make plans and instead be more accepting of Elise and Fran having some sister time together. I think I have no desire to socialize with Fran. But I still feel left out and hurt and have to work at de-personalizing it. Is that just what adults do?

Well, how well does the de-personalizing work?

If you generally get over it, and it's getting easier over time, then I think that might just be a price you pay. But if it seems to be getting worse, and it takes a while to get over it each time, then it could be worth exploring further. There may be something in your background where you learned to take things overpersonally (um.... believing that you have a "character defect" is actually part of the problem here, in a meta way! How hard to not take things personally if you already thing there's something wrong with you!)

Your two sisters getting together without you could definitely sting; that's human. But how long and how deeply it stings is what's key here. Ultimately, your actual lack of desire to socialize with Fran can help remind you that it's better to not be part of those trips anyway.... but that realization will only go so far if the hurt is too thick.

My husband and I have always had differing libidos, with his higher than mine. But throughout our time together, nearing a decade, it hasn't been a significant issue. I have been generally happy to do something for him without return. For me, it's important to keep the intimacy alive in a long term relationship, even if I'm not feeling it, I can still go along with it. The issue is heightened now with a 10-month old baby. We've dealt with the obvious sleep deprivation to start, my body recovering and then nursing, and then seemingly spent the entire winter sick with our kid picking up every daycare ailment. Now my libido is at zero. I don't know how I feel about it. Sometimes the idea of sex makes me curl away and other times I miss the idea of wanting it. I don't know if 10 months postpartum is now long enough to think there is an issue. All I want to do at the end of the night is fall asleep.

You listed many reasons why your libido would realistically be down — and yet I get the vibe that you're still doubting whether or not your feelings are justifiable.

You are exhausted.

You are not sleeping well.

You have the stress of a baby.

And you have all the hormonal fluctuations that go along with your baby still not even being a year old yet.

All of this is completely common, I promise.

But I understand if it is bothersome. If you want to see if you can find your libido again, I think you need to work on (I know, I know, how awful for me to give you something to "work on" when part of the problem is there is too much you are already having to deal with!) helping yourself recover more generally. It's only natural that your body doesn't prioritize sex when it's in surviving-the-day mode.

So — what might you need to feel more like yourself? Not for the sake of sex — there is nothing saying you "should" want it right now — but for your own sake. What can help you get more sleep? How are things around the house, division of labor-wise? What can help you have more uninterrupted time with your husband? I know it's cliche to suggest date nights in this scenario, but the underlying idea is a good one: freeing yourself up to get a little self-care and connection. Not because you're "supposed" to,  but because you deserve to have your head above water. And then — added bonus — you might just find your libido creep back in. But I promise you, having it take some time after a baby — even upwards of another year or so (as much as you and your husband may not want to hear that) is completely normal. 

I have a lot of big stressful things going on right now, including a bout with depression, and I've had a recurrence of panic attacks. I'm on a new anti-depressant and meeting later this week with a counselor. Any other advice to get through the panicky moments besides just breathe?

If you do the breathing right (slow inhales through your nose that allow the air to go all the way down to your diaphragm and expand your belly, slow exhales out of your mouth that allow you to visualize your body breathing tension out of your system), then that is a significant step.

Work on identifying your panic triggers as unreliable narrators, labeling them as activations of your central nervous system that are due to your stress, but are NOT actually telling you anything about what you should be afraid of. They're old artifacts of fight-or-flight that may have served us when fighting woolly mammoths but now are often false signals that we need to let pass.

It's great you are seeing a counselor-- you can prioritizing these techniques and others.

My favorite quote is from Nietzsche: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. A classic, but it helped me a lot while I was going through my depression. Sorry for not pitching in last week, I was attending my boyfriend's PhD dissertation defense (and it was awesome!) Now the rule at home is that I will call him doctor only if he calls me master :)


I know not everyone loves Nietzsche, but I am glad it has been helpful for you! Congrats to your boyfriend.

My question was in last week's chat. I see what you are saying. When I do say how their comments bother me, my family typically doesn't apologize or change their behavior. They just say, "Well, your cat IS really fat" or "[whatever] in your house DOES need to be fixed" and I feel badly because I know it's true and I have a hard enough time not beating myself up about it already. If I then invite them to help me fix the problem they decline and don't seem to learn anything from the conversation. Interesting to consider the poster who suggested meeting outside of my house because I do feel like these comments happen more frequently at my home (or maybe I just notice them more there).

Yeah, to me, that is a much larger issue — and a potential dealbreaking one. That type of behavior borders on the "Why would I actually want you in my home?" type of vibe. It's not their criticism; it's the fact that they see criticism as a valid way to interact, even when you have expressed that it bothers you immensely, and they are not open to change.

This makes them a more formidable threat to your mental health — so I would consider setting stricter limits on their visits accordingly.

Response to today's column. Have you said anything to your girlfriend? Or do you just internalize the feelings? You say she's assuming, but you don't say you've asked her to change. Learning to express your needs kindly and firmly is hugely important. There's a big difference between "Hey, I need a little space for a bit" and "Don't touch me." Practice asking for what you want and giving clear context that this is a personal necessity, not a rejection of her.

Yes, this is beautiful. I do really sense LW's difficulty with speaking up, which makes it even more important to do so. Thank you.

I am a mom to a 5yo and a 20m old. I am still breastfeeding my 20m old baby. I don't usually travel for work, but there is an opportunity to go on a 3-day national conference for work in a month. I really want to go but I am feeling extremely guilty. My husband has been supportive but I can sense his reluctance. He's not going to be alone, my parents have volunteered to help (mostly with the 5yo). How can I get over this?

I could start with the usual — you have nothing to feel guilty about, your children will benefit from getting some alone time with Dad and the grandparents, it is good for them to see that Mommy has a life, etc. — but I also think it might be helpful for you to address your husband's reluctance with him. Because even if he is overall supportive, if there is a vibe that is undermining that support and sending a message, it needs to be talked out.

These type of things will get easier over time, but perhaps most important to remember is this: if you unduly stunt yourself in order to fit in some box that your guilt has prescribed, you will grow resentful over time. And that does not make you a better parent. A 3-day conference at this point in your children's lives is extremely reasonable and can only supplement your ability to feel like a full human, which will have ripple effects for our whole family. Thank the stars for breast pumps, and let your toddler get some bonding with other important people in their life.

This really is a win-win, if you can breathe, step back and allow yourself to open your eyes to it.

"It ain't what we don't know that'll get us, it's what we do know that just ain't so." Will Rogers, American wit.

Very timely!

Response to last week's chat: I also have a hard time making friends and get really frustrated with the feeling that I invite people and they never reciprocate. One day, after successfully arranging to have coffee with an acquaintance who is on the way to becoming a friend, I just said straight out how scary it was to call and invite her and how good it felt to go out for coffee. She was empathetic and grateful and said it was hard for her too. Sometimes the best way to break the ice is with a hammer.

Yes! And that was a particularly pretty, non-aggressive hammer!

I also recommend this even just in terms of addressing awkwardness too. So many people struggle with making the first move within a platonic friendship because it can feel weird and stilted and uncertain. Addressing that with humor often accelerates bonding.

Spreadsheets, of course! My husband and I love lists. Thanks for the tip, I'm going to start making them immediately (ok, probably after work).

Make sure to make a spreadsheet to keep track of your spreadsheets!

I live in the basement unit of a townhouse, and the upstairs unit (which has been used as an Airbnb since I moved in two years ago) will now have permanent tenants starting next month. I’m excited at the prospect of permanent neighbors versus a revolving door of guests, but also a little anxious at the change. I think the anxiety is stemming from: 1) not knowing who they are yet 2) I’ll be out of town when they actually move in and 3) hoping we get along since we’ll be “sharing” stuff (heat/AC, water, electricity). I might be overthinking this, but I’ve heard horror stories about noisy neighbors and how it can cause stress and issues. Any advice on how to navigate this?

I am thinking we will get some advice from chatters here, but one thing sticks out to me: it is likely that permanent tenants will be much more easy to handle than a series of random AirBnB guests, no? It's true that if the new long-term renters are actively bad, then of course it would have been better to still have the stream of other folks. But actively bad renters are kind of like finding a cockroach in your dinner at a restaurant — doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it gets all the attention and becomes the story that people hear about. In other words — I think the odds are in your favor for this to be improvement over the AirBnB-ers, because goodness knows there are plenty of stories about them too! It may help with your anxiety to develop a plan. How will you introduce yourself? How can you make nice right away? What will you do if there are some difficult issues early on? The more concrete visuals can help you feel more in control.

The quiet of meditation does make some people nervous, and there's something out there called "active meditation" — sorry, I don't have any links — that is something like falling into a soothing rhythm, for instance when you're out walking, or doing a repetitive task. This will probably work better for you than "standard" meditation.

Yes, thank you! I don't have any links offhand either, but I bet google will turn up some things.

This is why things like knitting can be so helpful for anxious folks.

Not everyone feels empowered by making pregnancy into (yet another) project. During my first I had a very demanding job and the last thing I wanted to do was come home from work and spend hours researching brands of prenatal vitamins, or reading the doorstop of a reference book so helpfully sent to me by our car insurance company after I stopped in to pay a bill in an obviously pregnant state. A whole chapter on rare genetic defects, just what I need. I wanted to know the basics to be safe and healthy and get on with my day.

It's a great point. Everyone is different, which is why OP really needs to talk through and LISTEN to what feels best for his partner — and how they can meet in the middle to truly collaborate.

Here's another path you could try: refuse to repeat anything because he's not wearing his hearing aids. You say something to him, he asks you what you said, you say, "go put in your hearing aids" and nothing more. Some variation on that.

I could certainly understand if she takes this path, though I hope it can be resolved before then!

Tell him by not wearing his hearing aids, he has a greater chance of developing dementia. It's a fact. Google it.

It very much is, which I tried to get at. Thanks.

Also be sure that you all work closely with an audiologist who takes time to help you understand both hearing loss and how aids work. (1) It is not like putting on glasses and suddenly seeing clearly. It takes time and A LOT OF ENERGY to adapt to suddenly hearing sounds that were absent or muffled before. It takes time and a lot of energy to learn to filter background noises (e.g., keyboard clicks, furnace fan, etc.) and focus on voices. Some people find that wearing aids a few hours at a time, first in quiet environments, helps as you work up to wearing them all day. (2) Just because you have hearing aids does not mean you can hear all things well. Spouse and kids need to understand sound frequencies and voice pitches. I have a high frequency loss, which means I may *hear* you but I can't always understand you. If an s and and f sound the same to me (they do), words can be confusing. More so when there is background noise. Especially so if you are trying to talk to me over the *&^% TV commercials. I know a few people who think I am "faking" a hearing loss because I can hear some things or understand some things but not hear/understand others. The idea that volume and frequency are not the same can be difficult for people with average hearing (or above average stubbornness) to understand. (3) The person with the loss also needs to understand clarity v. just hearing and learn to be patient with the progress. It is a whole-family adaptation. As are most things in life. Good luck.

What a thoughtful, detailed post — I really appreciate the extra considerations and I am sure OP will too. Thank you!

Ugh. I empathize with anyone who has to deal with the hard-of-hearing who resist easy solutions. My old geezer has profound hearing loss, needs a hearing aid, and refuses to get one. He can’t hear most of what I say, claims I mumble, and responds “The who?” to me frequently. He talks too loud, usually has the TV volume turned up too loud, and can’t follow the plot of a TV show or movie. He had started turning on closed captioning. Some older folks (both men and women) whom I know talk about how their lives changed dramatically for the better after getting hearing aids. Also, I’ve heard often that Costco has good quality and affordable hearing aids and great service — they won’t try to sell you something you don’t need and supposedly will refund your $ if you can’t adapt to using the hearing aid. My old geezer once agreed prior to significant surgery to be INTUBATED if needed by an intern/resident, then after she left the room asked me what she meant by INCUBATE. So, hearing loss can have serious consequences! (The Who? The Who? The Who?)

Okay, I am laughing here and I know (hope?) that your "old geezer" descriptor is said with an abundance of love.

The denial/refusal really can do so much damage to relationships. I am glad at least that your partner's trachea was not unduly harmed!

Excellent description. Work on not feeling guilty, or not expressing guilt or contrition to your mother. Instead of explaining why you need your boundaries to her, just say something light like "sorry, that topic's off the table, how about those Mets?" or "Yep, Mom, I'm judging. What would you like for lunch?"


I like the idea of having those conversation shifters at the ready!

I am in my early 30's, but after struggling with a rare disease five years ago I struggle to move around as much as someone my age. To handle this, I usually have to plan things differently (order groceries online, avoid concerts, take days off work if there is a walking intensive activity I want to do). I do most of this without cluing anyone else in so I think some times people close to me forget my struggle. My father-in-law also struggles to move around and my mother-in-law feels like this is due to his own choices because he is overweight or sedentary. She frequently remarks how if he would just move more it would make his life easy. She will often complain about how lazy he is and how easy to is to walk to X or do Y. At some point, I'd like to speak up and remind her that it isn't as easy for everyone, but I don't know if it's my place. I guess I take this personally because of my history, but I really hate hearing her grumble about him. I guess I should just work on taking this less personally than trying to "fix" her, but I struggle with that.

I am sorry. But I can't imagine why it wouldn't be "your place." But I also think you shouldn't have to do it alone if you don't want to.

What does your partner say in all this? There's no mention of him/her at all. To my mind, they should be part of this. Their mother is unduly criticizing their father in a way that personally hits close to home to their spouse.

So where are they?

But, by all means, if you want to speak up, speak up. "Well, I am sure it is not that simple for Harry to just get up and go. It's not as easy as laziness, and that's tough for me to hear. I also struggle with mobility, so I know how hard these issues can be."

Can you frame it to yourself this way? "I get to have lots of time with Elise without Fran, so it's only fair to let Fran have Elise time without me."

Good reframe!

If you went back on the pill after giving birth, it's possible that it's affecting your libido. They tend to give specific pills that are for breast feeding mothers (it was a different hormone than I had ever taken) and it caused low libido. So after 6 months they changed it to another one variant of the pill ( I had to stop breast feeding because of illness) and my libido came back. Would help to get a physical with your ob/gyn.

Potentially very helpful. Thank you!

My mom adores my 5 yr old son and wants to spend lots of time with him. Including a week here or a week there. (Yay). The problem is that she sees herself almost as a second mom and does "mom-like" things with him like: piano lessons, swimming and works with him on writing. I don't have a problem with it in theory, but he doesn't always like doing these kinds of activities with her. I have suggested to her that she do other things with him, but she won't listen to me either and gets very defensive if I criticize her (which I try and do very gently). I'm trying to come up with a script of what I can say so that she will actually hear what I am saying to her. I want her to know that I appreciate all the time she wants to spend with him, but that she needs to just let him be a kid.

I wonder if your Mom's time with him is too open-ended, giving her a totally understandable excuse to try to fill it up in ways that match her style? In other words, if she has a totally free week with him at her house, doesn't that make it understandably easier for her itch of "I must teach him piano! We must show him the breaststroke! He must correct how he draws his 8s!" to crop up?

I hate to say it, but maybe a week is too long to expect her to just be fun grandma. It's a substantial amount of time, so could it be that it's the time itself that makes it hard for her to avoid doing the "mom-like" things?

I'm not saying you need to stop letting her have him that long. But I am saying that perhaps you could help plan some more structure into the days, in ways that you and he would like more. Trips to the zoo that you plan and subsidize. Books that YOU have picked out that you'd love for her to read with him. Etc.

Or is there some middle ground here? What if working on writing, she taught him to bake something? What if instead of a piano lesson, they went to a concert?

Part of me just feels like she wants to be helpful and since she has him that long, it's only natural that it's not all "vacation," especially if she is a more structured, academic-growth-oriented person. It might just be the price of admission. After all, it beats having her just sit with him watching soap operas and eating Funyuns.

The first night I wasn’t with my first kid (age two at the time) was when kid two was born. Apparently she didn’t even think to ask where I was before she was halfway through breakfast (and she wanted to watch her shows before she called!). With my second, I went solo to a family wedding for a weekend when she was 18 months (and still nursing some). There was a little trepidation, but all went really well, and those days were so restorative. I vote go!

My vote too! Thank you!

My father has always had hearing/listening problems and my mother's hearing suddenly started going too. They're both resistant to hearing aids. As someone with a quieter voice and healthy parents that aren't that old, I'll admit I'm kind of dreading the next 30 years not being heard, repeating myself, shouting and getting frustrated. I don't really have some advice, just that you're not alone and we'll get through this somehow.


I really want to be empathetic to what a big deal it is not only to admit that you may need a hearing aid, but also to adjust to wearing one in all that entails. I am sure it brings about all kinds of stress, fear, and even sadness. I've seen it. But I also think that there's a reality check needed about just how much more isolated — emotionally and cognitively — you can become if you have always been a hearing person and are now unable to participate in the same way and refuse to attempt to help the situation.

"figuring out what other factors contribute to the escalation, and how you can mitigate them. Are you choosing times where he is preoccupied or harried to gift him with these things?"

Whoa. Factors that contribute? Like, Boyfriend's a glassbowl? And the wrong time to give someone a present? Really? I doubt she's shoving it into his hands when he's racing out the door holding his coffee and briefcase.

Ah, but let's think about the nuances of what a "present" is here.

I have seen many people where the biggest marital issue is that what one person considers a gift, the other person does not. Especially with things like clothing, where messages about bodies, what you should look like, and whether you are considered attractive can be hovering just under the surface. Or things like gifting a spouse who does the bulk of the cleaning a vacuum cleaner.

I'm not saying that is necessarily what's happening here, but I do think it pays to dig a little deeper than assuming that he is a glassbowl!

Do you think guided meditation would help? I think this might help you move through the meditation so the you can tap into the calming, centering sensations that could help.

I think it could definitely be worth a shot.  There's no limit to the number of guided meditations out there, whether via an app or via Youtube. The key would be finding one that didn't make OP dwell on the alarm signals they were detecting in their body.

I, too, hyperventilate when I try breathing exercises, and I'm just not good at meditating in general. What helps me (I think what actually saved me) is doing crossword puzzles. They take me out of myself and keep my busy brain occupied, but the problems get a rest. And I've learned a bunch of new things!

Yes! I am a fellow find-my-zen-with-a-good-crossword devotee. Unless it's the Sunday Times one. Then I want to rip my hair out.

When they say, "Well, your cat really IS fat!" you reply, "why are you telling me something I already know?" or "and why did you feel the need to point that out? Just to make me feel bad?" A counselor could help you write a better script.

It would be really good if they were willing to think about the answers to those questions, though it does sound like there is some close-mindedness in play already.

Thank you!

When reading any of the Live Chats on an iPhone, there is a line that appears on the screen (about 3 lines from the top.) It’s been like this for close to a week, I think. When I first saw it, I thought the screen had cracked. I don’t like it. Does anyone else see it? Is this a bug or a feature?

Hello! I pulled up the chat on my iPhone and didn't have the same issue. I'm not sure what it could be, maybe a browser issue? If any other chatters are having this problem, please let us know! 

I have to go away every month and my husband has the kids by himself. At first it was tough (so many texts...), but now we both appreciate that it is really good for them to have alone time.

Love it!

I had the same problem, and it was at it's absolute worst when my kiddo was 10-12 months. It has been slowly getting better, and it's MUCH better now that she's about 20 months. It just takes time. Try to have a calm conversation with your husband and help him understand. I did not, and we ended up having a HUGE fight and it was a mess for a while. It gets better though!

A great data point. Thanks. Interesting how people assume it should get progressively better, when indeed there may be a dip at the end of the first year (probably coincides with the new, exhausting challenges that come with the baby's increased mobility and having to be watched second-to-second even more than when they were just a little burrito.)

So glad it got better for you!

Having had five kids so far, I would second Dr. Bonior's advice on the importance of time alone, even if it's just reading together (or to each other-awesome!) on the couch. Sex in a marriage is so heavily dependent on time and emotional connection. I would offer one more, probably less popular, comment: try to make time for sexual intimacy twice a week for at least 15 minutes, even when you don't want to do anything. Assuming there's no medical issue, that 30 minutes a week will improve your relationship with your husband immensely. It hurts to be turned down when you try to initiate with your wife, which is not good for a marriage even where his feelings are irrational. If you can be an enthusiastic partner twice a week, this is something you will work through rather than something that will build up into mutual resentment. We all do things in a marriage--and bring genuine enthusiasm--because it's important to our spouse. On the plus side, it's really not much of a time commitment :-)

Thank you for this.

I do feel the need for a disclaimer, as you likely suspected-- your latter suggestion is one that should be considered only if OP truly wants to make the effort. Of course there's a fine line between nudging oneself to make the effort versus feeling forced to make the effort because she "should." But her own volition is key!

... from Mary Oliver, as a life quote. And most else that she wrote. ( Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers. Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.) Also, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least." – Dorothy Day and, of course, large sections of Winnie-the-Pooh

Thank you!

Oh, man, we could do an entire chat on Mary Oliver.

("I tell you this to break your heart. By which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.")

May she rest in peace!

This is the problem: "If I then invite them to help me fix the problem they decline and don't seem to learn anything from the conversation." Perhaps stop telling them how you feel and go straight to "Please help me fix this, or don't don't bring it up as that's not helping, it's just putting me down."

I would love to see OP be more direct and see if it helps. Thanks.

At 50, about a year and a half ago, I got hearing aids. Something to take into account — if you need hearing aids at a young age, it's easier to adapt because your brain is more flexible — so the sooner the better for a number of reasons. Quite honestly I knew I'd needed them for about a year and prevaricated about the bush for reasons of vanity, aging and mortality. They Changed My Life for the good!! I hadn't realized how much energy it was taking to listen and suddenly I had effortless hearing back. I heard birdsong! Music is more complex! Factors that made the difference a. a wonderful, sensitive audiologist who understands the emotions behind needing hearing aids young and knows her stuff  — I told my friend to get another audiologist after hearing about her experience and my audiologist's guidance was excellent and I asked a lot of questions, b. happening on the best hearing aids for my hearing — the over the ear can be programmed for your hearing so you can test drive different brands, c. I actually bought two different hearing aids at once (long story why) and it re-enforced that one were amazingly right for me. The others put my teeth on edge and did other 'weird' things, so they went back for a refund. I actually can forget I have my hearing aids in. Tt's that good, they mimcic my natural hearing so well (they're Oticon by the way). OK — so I think you husband might not be as comfortable wearing them as he says. I could not have worn the other ones I test drove — it would have driven me potty. Perhaps a visit to another audiologist? Does he have an answer as to why he doesn't want to wear them?

This is just beautiful. I am so glad you were able to chart a path that worked for you, and I have no doubt this can help others. Thank you!

When my MIL finally caved and got hearing aids, they were almost worthless. I was told by an ENT doctor that the longer you wait to get them, the harder it is to adjust. Something about the brain no longer processing the way it did when they could hear. I've polled several friends who have aids and they were told similar things. So it is possible the husband waited too long and cannot adapt.

Oh, my goodness. This is disheartening. I had not heard of it.

But all the more reason to take these issues seriously, early.

I submitted the comment about my “old geezer” with hearing loss. I was mostly venting (in a kindly way.) I want to say a heartfelt thank you very much to those who provided helpful suggestions and insights. I plan to discuss with the “O.G.” the increased dementia risk and also the tips about adapting to a hearing aid.

Love this.

And I love your old geezer too!

I have the same issue, but on desktop! I'm using Chrome browser.

Thank you for writing in! We have a few other chatters saying they have the same issue. I will alert publishing support. 

Could this be not working so well??

Good catch. Worth some consideration!

When I met my current partner, he was really good at expressing his needs as an introvert. He'd say "I had a lovely weekend, but I need a few days to recharge," or "Actually, today really took a lot out of me, can we reschedule for another time?" It was clear that he liked ME well enough, but he also had social limits. When we moved in together, it was much easier to say "Hey, I need some time alone tonight," because that groundwork had already been laid. If she can't or won't respect your requests, that's telling too.

Yes. It seems your partner must have had good practice in spelling out their needs so well. So many people really struggle with this!

Just throwing out there that it's a pretty odd apartment situation (we own several duplexes) where the tenants share all the utilities. A. It may not be a legal duplex. B. That's just asking for trouble. It the basement tenant anxious because he/she's in an unreasonable rental situation?

I detect an attorney vibe here. Always grateful for the added perspective!

The simplest solution would be to let him buy his own damn shirt.

This path may end up being a valid one!

Based om his reaction it sounds like maybe he would prefer you not buy him clothes. It wasn't a good way for him to communicate that (by rejecting this gift), but perhaps be open to the fact that could be his message!

There's potential there.

I definitely was curious about the clothing piece, and whether it carried baggage in their history together.

Maybe the husband doesn't like his wife buying his clothes. He doesn't see it as a "gift" to say thank you for.

Good point — and good use of "whiff!"

My father recently got hearing aids, and the audiologist told him that they would be able to better correct his hearing if he had come in sooner. So maybe explain to your family members that they longer they wait, the more profound the hearing loss will be and the more difficult it will be to correct, and it's not going to get better!

Yes, I am haunted by this now that the other poster brought it up. Thanks for the corroboration.

Early attention to this seems more important than ever.

You're understandably seeing father-in-law's struggles to move around through your lens but it might be different. It could be that the main problem is him being sedentary and now that's being exacerbated and the nagging is misplaced concern it's going to become chronic. Perhaps the way in is to talk to them about your struggle and that you know it's not easy and what does his doctor have to say?

Good points. To me, it seemed that OP was just bothered by the lack of empathy in general. Does seem worth a conversation, no matter what.

OP here: I really, really appreciate everyone's suggestions. I'm thinking about trying the Calm or Headspace apps which have come recommended from friends — but now my over-active anxiety is telling me that I should be disconnecting from technology, not diving in more. What do you/chatters think?

Late in the game here to hear other chatters' opinions, but I say, definitely give it a try if you are so inclined. I try not to be too broad-brush against technology. Goodness knows (as do my kids) that I tend to veer toward putting the analog world above the digital one, but I do think various apps like meditation ones are bright spots that can offer help even where the analog world cannot, and it doesn't make sense to shy away from them just because they are on your phone!

So my mom is the grandmother, and I'm just the aunt. But when I visit my family back home, I've noticed that my parents both seem to strictly 'parent' my sister's kids in pretty much the same authoritative way that I was raised. (And my sister is an excellent, hands-on mother, for the record!) I implore them to just have fun with their grandkids, but they seem incapable. Anyway, on my last visit home, I noticed that my mom was pinching my 4 year old niece when the little girl started biting on her nails, "for her own good." This seems over the top to me! Should I say something to my sister? If so, how?


Yeah, I think you owe it to your sister to be matter-of-fact about it. You don't want to create unnecessary drama, but parenting culture changes from one generation to the next, and I dare say that most parents of this day and age would not love their 4 year-old being pinched, even (or especially!) if it came from Grandma.

"Sis-- not trying to start something here, but I did want you to know what I saw the other day. Do with it what you wish."

I am the original poster and appreciate everyone's suggestions. I expect to have a lot of family time in the coming months so I will get a lot of practice being more assertive! Thank you all. This is a great community and helpful resource.

It really is, isn't it?

Grateful for you all.

Do keep us posted!

I have 3 sisters and it's hard to realize that you have different relationships together and one-on-one. Like, when it comes to marriage advice, my sisters will ask the oldest and marriest sister, rather than me. That doesn't mean that I have no input on anything or no relationships with them, just that relationships differ. Enjoy your together relationships, your one-on-one relationships and allow the other two to also have a one-on-one relationship.

Makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

You openly state that your sister is your best friend, but then resent that you other sister would also have a relationship with her. Maybe I'm letting my imagination run wild here, here but how do you think Fran feels knowing that you think Elsie should belong only to you and that you resent any relationship that they have with each other.

Good point.

I think OP understands that her feelings aren't necessarily functional or rational, but hopefully she can keep nudging herself through them.

But never forget, the cat is the boss of you both!


Buster the Pup disputes that assertion.

To live's a privilege, to love is such an art. (Larry Norman, Christian singer-songwriter)


I've always been partial to Maya Angelou: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them."


Man, I feel like I do over the holidays when my clothes keep getting tighter —  this chat keeps getting shorter! (Is it me?)

I'm so thrilled to have had you here this week, and I can't tell you how much I look forward to having Nora on next week. Thanks to Rachel, you can already send in questions to her in next week's chat, right here!

In the meantime, I will 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.”
Recent Chats
  • Next: