I wrote in a few weeks ago about being "too honest" at the start of my new relationship, and disclosing far too much information about my sexual history. After countless conversations and nights of me getting upset over something that was said by my boyfriend, I used phrasing similar to this: "You realize it's just you and me right? I care about no one but you. I think about no man but you. I haven't talked to any exes since I've even known you. Would you really rather that I be thinking about my exes when I'm with you? I'm completely content not doing so, so you need to support that. You don't think about your exes, I sure as hell don't think about mine. Leave mine alone, and I'll leave yours alone." . . . Since this discussion, about 3 weeks ago, we have not had a single disagreement, and he has not given me a hard time about anything related to this. Well, once he let something slip, but I gave him "the look", told him I loved him, and he quickly changed the subject.
I think that's a great point you made, that his bringing up your exes meant you were constantly forced to think of your exes at a time you would prefer to be thinking of him. I also applaud your coming to a solution organically that works for both of you.
I do have reservations about predicating anyone's confidence in a relationship on the promise, execution or convenient illusion of a complete ex blackout. Obviously it wouldn't work for me, since I'm in touch almost daily with my ex-husband, but I'm also hardly alone in this. Life is messy, and eventually your relationship (and each of you within it) is going to need to be strong enough to leave these idealized conditions of "I think about no man but you!" and withstand exposure to mess, including inevitable thoughts of others, head-turnings by others, sudden reappearances by others, bizarre and unwelcome dreams of others, etc.
I am blown away that you would recommend that a victim of domestic abuse--including a BEATING in front of their child--forgive her ex's "weakness." Tell me I misunderstood and you weren't characterizing violence as a weakness.
I regard people who need to impose their will on others, be it through control, possessiveness, violence, verbal abuse, emotional abuse or withholding, or by seemingly benevolent hovering, as insecure and yes, fundamentally weak. People who are strong do not need to suppress the strength of those around them.
I wanted to say thank you to every single person who spoke up in the Hax Philes over the last week responding to my initial query. I read every single answer, and I really appreciate everyone taking the time to tell their stories. There were a lot of common themes in there, and I learned a lot... hopefully enough to deserve more than a guilt-induced visit from my kids once a year when they are grown. I'm sorry so many of you have had to deal with this, and after reading through, all I wanted to do was hug my kids. And I did.
Thanks for reminding me. I checked in, too, but early enough that I doubt all the results were in by then.
If anyone else wants to unburden, the link is and will remain open.
Since you seem to have the answers to all of life's quandaries, I am wondering what you think about how much married people are allowed to flirt. I am a naturally flirtatious person and I just got married--to a loving, thoughtful, handsome man who makes me laugh all the time and with whom I am over-the-moon-happy. Even though I am happily "settled down," I still love having flirtatious conversations with people (in appropriate settings of course, i.e. not at work). One of my friends recently said, "You're married, stop flirting!" but another responded "She's married, she's not dead!" If it matters, these flirtations are mostly harmless, I always mention that I am married, and my husband seems to find it amusing (and of course, he loves when I'm flirtatious with him). Mostly I wonder: does marriage mean that I am supposed to shut down charming or flirtatious conversation with everyone except my partner? Where's the line?
Marriage means you don't flirt with intent. Since that's an inside measure, and you seem to be concerned with outside perceptions, here's another standard: If you're going to flirt, flirt with the world, and not any specific people.
Now that we've got the "No, you don't have to shut down who you are" assurances out there, I'd like to know: "mostly" harmless?
And finally: No, just the quandaries I choose to address, and sometimes not even those.
Hi Carolyn, My husband is going through a selfish period brought on by stress at work. He has asked me to be patient with him as he works through it, but I'm starting to wonder whether that's an unreasonable request, considering there is no reason to think his job troubles are going to change anytime soon. This is also affecting our plans to start a family. How long do you think it's fair to give him to get his bearings while I continue to do more than my share of the housework, listen while he complains about his day every single day, turn to other people to support me when I need it, and pine for a baby?
These are all questions you need to bring to him. Open it with something along the lines of, "I realized you asked me to be patient, and I'm prepared to be, but I've found that I'm not ready to do so indefinitely." Ask him how long he thinks things will be this way, and what specific change he expects will bring you back to the way things were.
These are fair questions, but they're also difficult, so ask them only when you know neither of you is rushing off to something else or actively juggling something difficult.
I have my first therapy appointment scheduled for this weekend. I never wanted to go but my wife convinced me that issues I struggle with were damaging our marriage. I can't help but feel like I'll be smarter than the therapist when it comes to knowing what I need, and that I'll find his advice pointless. Still, I want to do this for my wife and marriage. Do you have any advice for how a non-therapy-believer can keep from self-sabotage? I want this to work, even if deep down I don't believe it can.
Do you go into doctors' offices thinking you know more about anatomy and biochemistry than your doctor? Into a garage thinking you know more about cars than your mechanic? Into a class thinking you know more about the subject than the teacher?
So why do you assume there's no way a therapist can know more about emotional patterns and habits than you do?
Please do this not for your wife and marriage, but for yourself. The arrogance of certainty is the surest way to close yourself off to new knowledge and experiences, and new knowledge and experiences are, to my mind, the whole point of getting out of bed in the morning.
I'm considering proposing, but the family involvement in the wedding and just telling them about the proposal is making me wary. I'd be the only one happy if i didn't include them, so that's out of the question, but dealing with my family talking behind our backs the whole time or outright complaining doesn't seem appealing either. Is this one of those deal with it moments or something else? Also, i'm certain that any attempt to "lay down the law" with ym family about the issue would only make matters worse behind the scenes, if it's taken seriously at all.
I'll say upfront that I have no magic method you can use to develop thicker skin. It just takes time, a commitment to getting tougher, and a -full- embrace of the idea that what people say about you behind your back doesn't matter, is not important, and always says much worse things about them than they're saying about you.
That is, however, exactly what you need to do: Get yourself to the point where you KNOW they're trashing you and you just don't care. Even if it's to your face, you can just smile and just say, "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."
If it helps this process along, think of them all as a pack of hyenas, and why would you care about what hyenas cackle about when they're off in their caves? Hyenas do cackle and live in caves, right? That's what Disney taught me.
It's an especially good time not to care about hyenas when you're in love and eager to formalize a life with someone. Concentrate on that (and consider good pre-marital counseling if your family's emotional MO is as negative as your question suggests).
Had a baby two months ago. I'd never do anything to harm him or myself, and I do love him (he's my kid after all), but I hate being a mom. I stay at home with him after being a high school English teacher for ten years, a job I loved and was good at. When he screams, I wish I was wrangling surly teenagers because at least that's something I understand and am good at. I'm tired of getting up all night, I'm tired of never having time to myself, I'm tired of the house never being clean. Husband is helpful but doesn't understand how I feel like a failure. Our families are local and I get lots of support from my mom and my MIL (whose pushiness doesn't help things). I get out of the house everyday: walks, errands, and I take the baby to all of these things. But overall, I'm not thrilled that my whole future is full of nothing but him. How do I learn to like my new role and "career?" Without losing my mind and my identity? I don't think I'm depressed, as I can look at all this without passion. Logically, I know this was a mistake. I'll never have another kid, that's for sure. What do I do so this one never knows how meh I am about everything?
First, I am so sorry. I know you feel bad on many levels.
Second, yes, this can be postpartum depression, even if you're "without passion." Seek a screening for it asap. Go go, call your OB-GYN right now, before the weekend makes you wait.
Third, just about everyone with a new baby feels desperate for "something I understand and am good at." Every newbie must learn about babies ... and every parent at some point in their child's development will feel like it's just household-by-household wheel-reinvention every time your kid grows into a new stage. Part of that is due to our culture's ridiculous expectation that "stay-at-home parent" reflects the way we live now--an isolated, house-centric existence--instead of reflecting what parents and little kids need and used to get, which is a community-centric existence. The other part is just the nature of raising kids: It means that as kids learn and change, parents need to learn and change with them.
This points to a bunch of different answers and lifelines for you--among them that you can decide you'd be a better working mom than at-home mom; that you will be one of those parents who feels stymied and frustrated by babies but feels like Super Parent to toddlers, tweens or teens (it is so normal to have preferred ages); that you need to lean on your help even more, and not beat yourself up for it; that your feelings for your baby just "haven't come in yet," which is also not unusual; that nobody's house is clean!; and other answers that I hope you start to harvest from spending time around other parents of babies, through an organized group if needed. Don't be afraid or ashamed.
But, again--start with the doc. It'll get better.
"I'll find his advice pointless." Just wanted to point out, Carolyn Hax gives advice. Most therapists do not, at least at first. If you go in expecting to be told a bunch of answers in a couple of sessions you're going to be disappointed. Good therapy starts just by having a conversation about what's bothering you and having the therapist listen. It is a big leap of faith, but you have to sort of trust that process. And kudos to you for going. That in itself is not an easy step to take.
Yes, excellent point. The closest most therapists come to advising is to guide your self-examination, flag things worth a closer look, and suggest strategies for getting different results from the ones that put you on the couch in the first place. Thanks.
Hi, I'm LW1 from Wednesday, about the children and the drunk mom. Just wanted to let you know I called the hotline. I actually heard her in the house screaming the previous Sunday, but couldn't hear what she was screaming or at whom and didn't hear anybody else or sounds of violence. They said that if there's no proof of physical abuse, there's probably nothing the authorities can do, which makes sense. She said to keep observing, but she was equivocal and said that she wouldn't discourage me from calling CPS, if I want. The problem is, for all the reasons mentioned in your response to my question, I don't want. And I wonder if I should want. So I'm kind of back to square one on that particular part of the question. But I will keep observing, as she suggested (though winter will probably make that harder), and wanted to thank you for taking my question.
You're welcome, and I'm sorry the answer you got was as maddeningly vague as the one you came to on your own.
There is something else you can do that might help kids, parents and conscience: If you know the kids' names, then you can tip off the principal of the local elementary school that there's chaos in this home, and specify that it's not to the call-police level or else you would have done so. They won't be able to talk to you about it, but they can listen or read a letter from you.
You can also be nice to these kids. Past discussions of dysfunctional households have turned this up as a theme, that the kindness of outside adults is a lifeline, even if you don't get any more involved than to say hello.
Dear Hax, I have a friend who says "I wanna come or can I come" every time I mention a vacation I'm planning. It doesn't matter if its with my old friends from 20 years ago that she's never met or if it's just a vacation with my family. How can I say, very nicely, that her presence isn't wanted. Ooh, that already sounds harsh! I do need to add that she did come along on a vacation with my friends from 20 years ago (we meet yearly) and it was strange.
"I'm sorry, it's just my family." "I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to invite anyone along." Etc. You can also avoid talking about your vacations unless absolutely necessary--i.e., someone else brings up the subject--and you can make specific plans with this person. That opens up the, "Not this time, but why don't we plan a weekend of our own soon?"
I know it feels mean, but someone who regularly puts you on this spot is missing the usual signals, and so the ones you send need to be clearer.
At my wedding six years ago, my mother gave a tipsy, boneheaded toast that implied she wasn't all that fond of my husband. My husband has gotten over it -- he and my mom actually have a great relationship -- but his parents were completely offended, and made it clear at the time that they weren't interested in any joint family hangouts. This hadn't been a problem, as our parents live 500 miles away from each other, but now my husband and I are expecting our first child. I anticipate some family blending is going to be necessary -- beginning with this Christmas, when both sets of parents want to come visit the new baby. Do you have any advice for how I can mend this unkempt relationship? Should I ask my mom to apologize? Should I apologize on her behalf? Or...what? I don't expect my mom and MIL to become BFFs, but I feel the disastrous toast should be addressed before throwing them around the same holiday table.
It doesn't sound as if it's a sure thing that his parents aren't over it themselves.
Can't your husband talk to his parents? And if they are still nursing hard feelings, say to them that he's not only over it, but also has a great relationship now with his MIL--and would they please give it a chance, for him?
I am a healthcare worker and one of my direct supervisors is a proponent of some complementary/alternative health things that I don't necessarily agree with, since I'm more of a "show me the data person." Nothing that I think is dangerous, the sort of thing that if a patient asked me about it I would say that I don't know if it will work but probably won't hurt, so go ahead and give it a try if you're so inclined. Whereas she will recommend them to patients spontaneously. I'm not going to contradict her to or in front of someone else, but is it ok that when she starts waxing poetic to me about organic this or that, I say vaguely affirmative things like "I'm sure there's a lot of untapped potential in nutrition"? It irks me a little because it feels not quite honest and I'm not sure about encouraging her to keep pushing this stuff with patients, but I also want to keep the peace.
How about: "Do you have any data on that? Because if there's evidence that it works, I'd love to be able to recommend it." Show sincere interest with a sincere point about your limits.
I swear I was you. Wait until the baby is three months old. They call it the fourth trimester for a reason - the baby is just this blob, a howling black hole of neediness and an endless giver of poop and NOTHING ELSE. Everyone told me three months would be the point where it got better and honest to goodness, I checked my journal - Day 92 of the kid's life was the first day I felt like I hadn't just ruined mine. I still do not care for the baby stage to the point that mine's an only, but OMG, five year olds are the best thing ever.
Thanks for this. My only caution is that even such milestones are individual; I don't want someone hitting the third month and freaking out that it isn't better yet.
I'll just throw out my experience: I tended to have, and feel intensely, three phases.
1. The sweet-baby-deity*-what-have-I-done phases, with the despair and terror combo that fatigue nudges toward abject desperation, when the kids were hitting a new stage of development and I therefore had no idea how to handle it. The newborn time counts as one of these. It's just a sense of being caught flat-footed that seems like it will never get better.
2. The ooooooh-now-I-get-it phase. This is when the learning curve has been scaled and it seems like, okay, I've got this, who knows why I was so freaked out before, cheez.
3. The if-they-don't-outgrow-this-age/behavior/set of needs-soon-I'm-going-to-check-myself-into-a-hospital (just for observation!) phase. This is when you think you can't bear another wee-hours feeding, another diaper, another tantrum, another barrage of questions, etc.
Having friends or relatives who have been through this really helps with 1, and having help (be it a co-parent, relatives, buddies with similar age kids, babysitters, day care) can really take the edge off 3. No. 2, obviously, you hang onto with both arms.
*I can't thank whoever-it-was enough for this.
Can I ask why you decided to have a child? I am not asking to be mean, I am asking because I fear being you. I always thought I would have kids. I feel a biological clock ticking. But I don't actually know if I WANT a child (particularly a baby). When I've expressed this to others (my husband, mom, friends), I mostly get, "oh that's normal, when it's your baby you will fall in love." I wonder if you had similar doubts and got similar brush-offs? Carolyn, I'd of course welcome your thoughts as well :)
This was me a year ago. I was sure I made a terrible mistake. Do you like working? Why can't you continue to do so? Even if every penny goes to daycare, if you are happier, your relationship with your baby (and your husband) will be too. For some people, stay-at-home parenting is really what they want to do; for others, that separation as a person is critical. No way is intrinsically better. I felt a thousand times better when I went back to work. Affording childcare and working can actually be an unreachable luxury for some families, but if it isn't for yours, throw any preconceived notions of being a "good" parent out the window and see if it's something you want to explore. A good parent is the one that does the best thing for their specific family - self included - not the one that stands up to an ideal that isn't applicable.
Best advice I never got was to find a local mommy group. There is a great one run by inova hospital in Virginia. It's lead by a nurse and we sit and discuss our babies, get to know what we are going through and help one another cope with the new role. It was my saving grace and in it I found some new and wonderful friends and our children now play together. Stay at home moms aren't just cooking, cleaning and diapers I promise you. There is more. Don't give up about discovering what educating just one mind can do for you as a person. As an educator you are in a better position than most.
since she has local support from family, why not tutor high school kids once or twice a week for an hour. If that is overwhelming right now, make it a goal for when the baby is 6 months. A 2 month old is exhausting, but it usually gets better, sometimes as early as 4 months.
Husband would rather head-in-the-sand this problem. i.e. "Our parents are very different types of people, probably won't enjoy each other, and we should just always keep them separate, including perhaps holding separate dinners for them this Christmas." He's built all of this into an even bigger thing than I have, and I think needs to be shown that we can all, yes, manage to spend a day with each other without anyone dying at the end.
"Oh, suck it up." Seriously. But, then, I'm a real joy to live with.
If you have any kind of warm relationship with your in-laws, then say openly that you'd like to get both fams together and you hope there are no lingering hard feelings from your mother's drunken buffoonery at the reception. If you don't, then just throw them all together and expect them be adults about it. They may not, but that doesn't mean you'd be wrong to treat them as if they will. Sometimes trying to anticipate people's bad behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Plus, any poor behavior at a holiday event will be the fault of of the person behaving badly, not the fault of the host.
I was about to suggest to your producer that Gladys Kravitz probably didn't want her name used on the chat - but then I googled it and now I feel stupid. Dear Carolyn, The chats that my advice columnist does every week make me feel feeble-minded. What should I do? -Tabitha
Take heart, because all of you who missed it make me feel old.
I went to a counselor with my wife. I insisted on the counseling, but let my wife choose the practitioner. From the first moment, I felt this woman wasn't as intelligent as me, as worldly, as tasteful, or even as self-aware. Ugh, her speaking cadences! Ten or twenty minutes in, I realized thankfully how much of that was either crap or irrelevant. Maybe I am brighter (or maybe not), but she was the one with the outside and unbiased perspective of our patterns of relating, and the training to recognize them for what they are. The cadences were something I easily adapted to, as we adapt to most people once we are able to put our own bag of crap aside. My wife ended the sessions before I thought we were done. Now I'm thinking maybe I need to go back on my own.
This is an awesome post for so many reasons. Thanks.
Dear Carolyn, I'm ecstatic to be newly engaged after 3 happy years of dating. We're planning to move in together at the end of the year. Recently, while talking moving logistics, he confessed that he's not looking forward to having to "check in" with someone every day. I responded that I don't need daily check-ins--instead, why not reserve them for when we actually have agreed-upon plans? He said okay, but that he still feels nervous about losing other aspects of his autonomy in marriage. This conversation escalated until eventually I asked him why he wants to get married at all, if he's so scared to share his daily life with me. He answered that he knows "it's what comes next," meaning that it's the natural next step in our relationship. I am afraid/aware that this isn't a good answer. I know he loves me a lot--the strength of our relationship so far proves that in my book--but now I feel like I've unwittingly forced him into marriage. My excitement over getting married is deflated. What now?
Let him know, kindly, that "It's what comes next" is not a reason to get married, and that, while you love him and were excited to be engaged, you're not going to marry unless and until you're with someone who wants to spend the rest of his life with you. As in, day in, day out -wants to,- not because he thinks he's supposed to. Explain that you're not doing this out of anger and will give him time to sort out his feelings. Then do it. (Not indefinite time, but, time.)
He could go either way with this--either feel relief to be released from what was feeling like an obligation, or feel like an idiot for letting his freakout get in the way of what he really wanted.
When you want to be with someone, "check-ins" are a moot point. You either know where the other person will be because you have plans and routines, or you get in touch because plans/routines have changed and you don't want to be rude or leave the other person out.
I never thought I'd hate being a mom. I've always been good with kids, and when I got pregnant last winter after three years of infertility issues I (we) were thrilled. I knew it'd be work but I never bought it'd be like this. People say the first 6 weeks are the worst, then the 3 months are worst. When does it get good? I'm wishing he was a teenager already but I'm afraid that I'll be so unhappy by then I'll have messed him up permanently. Everyone thinks this should be easy for me and that I'd be a blessing to any kid who was lucky enough to be mine, and no one wants to hear the truth about how much he screams. I feel like I've been gaslighted. And I'm so ashamed that I feel this way.
Do not be ashamed, do not. Don't because there's no shame in admitting this is hard, and don't because shame keeps people from telling truths that need to be told.
In this case, the truth you need to tell is "about how much he screams," to your pediatrician. There might be a health issue here--and one of the first ways many parents discover a health issue is by being pushed to the brink by a child who screams or won't sleep or won't hold down food or won't settle. Since so much child care goes on behind closed doors, many if not most parents just don't know how much crying/screaming is normal. And, yes, the parents of these kids think they're failures, regret having kids, feel like they were tricked or gaslighted into it by a societal conspiracy to goo-goo over babies and not talk about how hard it all can be.
If it turns out there's no health issue to explain it, besides the crazy-making but temporary "colic," then line up as much child care as you can accept/afford and find ways to hold it together till this phase passes.
The "when does it get good?" answer varies, but to me "good" is any time a parent is able to meet a child's needs, which can mean many things--including giving yourself breaks when your gauge is on E.
I don't get this. Why? If you know certain groups wouldn't get along, why even bother hosting them altogether? My husband's parents and mine barely know each other. It was super awkward at the wedding when they met. I'm not inclined to foster anything because I rarely see my parents so when I do, I'd like to make sure it's not awkward. Why do we have to force the Cosby Show ideal family onto everything?
Well, if it's an insurmountable obstacle or if you have no interest in togetherness, then I'm with you.
In this case, though, the obstacle is an injury that is in the past and, among some of the key parties, already healed, plus there's the reasonable expectation that a grandchild will create a bunch of milestone-marking events that will involve mixing. So, best to get on with it now, before the child's memory of said milestone event is on the line.
I have been married for almost 20 years and I honestly am not even sure what these people are talking about. If husband is doing something other than coming home from work, he lets me know as a courtesy, right? Often, with kids' schedules to juggle, we have lots of conversations about who is driving whom where and all of that -- this isn't "checking in," this is life. Am I missing something?
That's what I was getting at, thanks.
Only 8 Fridays until Christmas. Do you have a date picked for the holiday hootenanny of horrors yet? I'm expecting all sorts of great Thanksgiving stories this year...
Creating them, right?
Idunno. The 6th or 13th. 6th. I think it's better early--before people are already sick of The Holidays.
And a pox on you for making me think of this in October.
Dear Carolyn, My husband has never been a great father to our two sons. When he worked full time, he spent his evenings on the couch and in front of the TV. He never changed a diaper, played with or read a book to them, or brought one of them to bed, etc. Now he has retired early, making the promise to "make up for all those lost years" with the boys. Well, nothing changed. He sleeps different hours of the day, and retires to his TV room at three in the afternoon, and doesn't get up for the rest of the day except to eat. Needless to say, the boys do not respect him whatsoever. They are embarrassed by his weight (he has gained over 180 lbs. and is now morbidly obese at 360.) and angry that he keeps promising to spend time with them but doesn't. (So am I, and he knows it.) The very few times my husband decides to get off his a** and be present around the boys, he expects them to turn all their attention to him. This morning he yelled at our 13-year-old, because he felt he should be getting respect and more attention. My son was in a rush and was actually confused because dad NEVER hangs around in the kitchen in the a.m. or even says goodbye, so he wasn't chatty with him. I stayed around all these years thinking it best not to divorce, since my husband wasn't actively being a jerk to the kids. But if he is now going to start berating them because they aren't close to him when he has ignored them for years, I think it borders on emotional abuse. I am tired of making up for his deficiencies and trying to make excuses for him to our boys, and I am past the point of caring that he and I have almost no relationship. Hopeless case? Husband would never, ever consider counseling.
Then please go without him, to figure out how to handle this in the best way for your boys. The status quo right now isn't good for anyone, including your husband. People don't isolate themselves and gain 180 lbs because they feel great about their lives or themselves. There might not be anything you can do to help him specifically if he won't go along with it, but you can address the situation.