Category Archives: Relationship

coparenting with ex

How Do You Coparent When You Don’t Get Along?

Divorced parents, who don’t get along, are always asking me how they are supposed to coparent when they are always fighting? The truth is, they can’t. If you can’t get along and are always being harsh or disgruntled with each other, you can’t successfully co-parent. 

You have to make a choice. One parent can take primary custody of the kids and end the co-parenting relationship altogether, or you can decide to make a change. Together the two of you can make the decision to be civil with each other, to be kind, to communicate effectively and calmly because you have to. You have kids that need their parents. Constantly putting them in a toxic environment or bad-mouthing each other in front of your kids, is not helping them. In fact, it is doing the very opposite.

Shift In Dynamics

Someone in the relationship has to start this shift in dynamics. One of you has to make the choice to keep your mouth shut for the sake of your children. Ok, so you don’t agree with your ex’s behaviors, personal choices, or whatever it is that irks you but I am sure you can agree on one all-important thing: You love your kids. You want the best for your kids. 

Your kids need to be in a positive environment. They need to be raised in a place where they feel loved, safe, and comfortable turning to either parent in times of need. As a parent, you need to help guide your children in making the best decisions and you need to set an example. If your children are always seeing you and their father and/or mother arguing, name calling, being verbally abusive, or talking bad about each other behind the others back, you are teaching them that this behavior is ok. And, your child is likely going to experience more feelings of anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. They will likely withdraw from both of you because they don’t feel safe and secure with you. 

Best for your Child(ren)

You decide. But, the answer is simple. You have to get along with your ex in some capacity in order to raise your children in a healthy environment. To do what is best for them, you need to get past your differences. If you can’t, then it is time to decide who your children should be with. 

Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help you to determine the best course of action for you and your kids. 

boundaries post

Setting boundaries: The cost of avoiding conflict

Your friends call you “easy going.” You never get into an argument about where to go eat dinner, or who is going to do the chores, or pick up the kids, or host the holiday dinner—you are known as a “people pleaser.” And, while it sounds nice and simple, it has some long-term costs.

By failing to set boundaries with others, you will quickly take on more than you can handle. Those around you may abuse their relationship with you because they know you will never say “no.” You may start to form feelings of resentment against those in your life for putting so much on your shoulders. 

Creating Balance

That being said, standing up for yourself also has its challenges. It tends to lead to arguments—it forces you to stand your ground, and to take a stand for you. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, forces you to have some “guts.” But, contrary to popular belief, it can actually strengthen the relationships in your life. 

So, how do you create a balance? How do you set boundaries you are comfortable with?

1.) Recognize and acknowledge your feelings—Recognizing your feelings instead of pushing them to the side is the first step in making positive changes. By acknowledging that your feelings have merit—that you matter—you can take better care of yourself.

2.)Evaluate how your boundaries have been crossed—Does this person always call to borrow money and never pay you back? Does a friend always expect you to take care of her kids? 

3.)Decide how to set a boundary—Come up with a plan to talk calmly and confidently about your feelings to this person. Determine the best solution to the problem, maybe you will pick up the kids from school two days a week instead of five.

4.)Voice It—You have determined what the problem is and how to approach it, now do it. Set the boundary. If you experience some backlash, understand that it might be better to just walk away for the time being. It won’t do you, or the other person, any good to argue. 

5.)Take care of yourself— Don’t feel guilty for doing something to improve your wellbeing. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. You need to be healthy and happy, so you can be the best version of you—so you can do your best work, be a good spouse, parent, and friend.

undermining

Ask Mabel: How do I communicate with my husband in front of our kids without undermining him?

Dear Mabel, 

I am reaching out to you again for your guidance and support. I have an issue with my husband and the way he addresses our children when he is angry. He can get to the point where he looks and speaks very terrifyingly at them, and my heart just breaks. They are fearful and he drowns himself in shame afterward. This morning he was yelling at my six-year-old daughter and she was dysregulating in all kinds of ways as a result, which was pushing him even further into his anger. I felt compelled to jump in and protect her, which often results in him feeling betrayed by me and upset that I am making him a “monster” in front of the kids. 

Today we were able to talk afterward and I told him that I feel like I need to protect them and his feelings when I intervene because I am in flight-or-fight mode myself. It is usually very hard. I am stuck. What language can I use in these moments to communicate that he needs to stop without undermining him in front of the kids? This is a heavy day for our family. 

Sincerely, Amy from Florida

Mabel: Hi Amy, I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. There are a few ways you can approach this situation. You can have a family meeting when calm, where you all make an agreement that when things escalate you each are empowered to call a time out and take a break. Make a plan that you can all follow. If you are all following the same plan together that would take the shame out of it. I also suggest you look at the Zones of Regulation curriculum for some help on the language for self-regulation and emotional control. 

Together, you two can come up with a plan, or code word, for timing out and determine how long the timeout should last. Come up with something you can both agree on. Determine what you can do when he is in that state to deescalate the situation. 

This is a quick bandaid. Long term, you need to have a discussion about what he wants to do about this and go from there. Seeking some help from a licensed mental health professional could also help the two of you to work together as a team in these situations.

love practice

Love Is A Practice

Love is part of being human but it is not something that just comes naturally, at least that is what one analyst believes. Loving another takes work. It requires effort, discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. Love is not a feeling, rather it is a practice.

Psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm outlined this perspective in his 1956 book, The Art of Loving. Fromm thinks of love not as something that is mysterious or magical but rather something that can be analyzed and explained. His theory revolves around the idea that a person cannot fully experience real love until they have developed their total personality. Part of this involves self-love. It means learning how to care for yourself before you can fully care for another. It means taking responsibility for your choices, your decisions, your actions. It means respecting yourself, knowing and being honest with yourself about your weaknesses and your strengths. Truly knowing and understanding yourself means being realistic. A person must learn to love their neighbor with “true humility, courage, faith, and discipline,” he writes. 

Work To Be Loved

He believes that a person cannot fall in love but rather they have to work to be in love. It is not something that happens to a person, but instead is something that is worked at achieving. Fromm argues there are four basic elements to true love: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. 

His perspective, while agreed to by some and criticized by others, contains a foundation that is undeniably true across all relationships—you can’t maintain a relationship without putting in the effort. That is the bottom line. It is not smooth sailing all the time. You can’t throw in the towel every time things get difficult. You really have to work at it. It does take discipline, it does take a level-headed mindset and the ability to consider both sides of the spectrum. 

Regardless of beliefs or theories, at the end of the day, I think we can all agree that love is beautiful and as Fromm would say “is one of life’s greatest achievements.” 

Holding it in: When Gender Roles Collide With Marriage

Marriage is not easy. It is a work in progress. It is constantly evolving, changing, expanding. As a marriage counselor, I often see trends in the couples I am seeing—common issues. When these things arise they make me think that these points of contention are not a single relationship issue and more of a common overarching marital issue. 

Gender Roles and Privilege

Over my years I have seen the tone of marriage counseling get harder and deeper as conversations about gender roles and privilege emerge. I hear from wives that they have spent their whole marriage doing nothing but caring for their husband and children and they want time for themselves. They want the autonomy to make their own choices. They want to do things for themselves, make decisions without consulting the other party.

From the men I hear frustration and hurt. They thought they were making decisions with their wives as a unit. They thought these were things they were doing together. The men had assumed a high degree of cohesion. Now that their wives are feeling the need for autonomy, the men are wishing for more consideration of their feelings and needs. 

The wives in these cases are resentful. They feel like they have been attending to their husband’s needs and feelings this whole time and now it is time to care for themselves. 

Overrun With Guilt

The reality of these issues is that women are raised to think they need to be caring for their spouse and their children and putting their needs ahead of their own. This is what history has shown us. These are the examples we were taught. So all this time we are doing these things and keeping our mouths shut. We want to do things for ourselves but instead, we are overrun with guilt. We have this deep-seated obligation to please our spouse whether it hurts us or not. It is something I am not even sure most women think about or realize until they hit a breaking point. 

It is when they hit the point of feeling overwhelmed, not themselves, lost, confused, depressed, whatever it is..it is then that women start to see the way things have been all along. 

Marriages would operate much better if we saw these potential problems from the beginning. If we could communicate to our spouses that we don’t want to stay home with the kids, we don’t want to clean the house by ourselves, we don’t want to cook dinner every night. If we asked our spouses for help. If we were open, honest about our feelings things could be better. 

The key, as it is with most relationships, is communication. It is about having an open, honest dialogue with your spouse. Your happiness matters. Your needs matter. Speak up for what you want. Express concern to your spouse.

Why You Should Never Compare Your Relationship To Others

Comparing your relationships to the others in your life comes naturally to many of us. Without even realizing it you might start thinking about how kind your friend’s husband is to her and how you wish your husband would be more like hers. You might have grown up in what you felt was a perfect family home, with parents who had a “perfect” marriage or at least one you have strived to have of your own. This practice, however harmless it might feel, is a dangerous one. It can be toxic to your own relationships. 

First of all, it is important to note that no matter what you are seeing on the outside of someone’s relationship might be very different from their private life. You don’t know all the nitty-gritty details, even if you think you do. Second, by focusing on what your relationship is lacking (by your perception) you are setting yourself up for failure. 

Missing The Positives

When we are always wishing things were better, wishing they were different in some way, we are ruminating on the negative and missing the positives. Maybe you see your friend and her husband going on weekend hikes and you think that is something you wish you could do with your husband. But, your husband has bad allergies or a bad knee and hikes just aren’t in the cards. Maybe you are forgetting that you and your husband spend your weekends having other special moments, maybe you binge watch TV shows, cook together, or try to have a special outing of some kind.

Maybe you wish your husband brought you coffee in bed every morning because that is what you see when you stay the night at a relative’s home. But, then you are forgetting the other things your husband does for you— folds your clothes, puts the dishes away, wipes the snow off your car windows, starts your car before he goes to work, whatever it is we all have different ways of expressing love. 

Blind You

Comparisons can blind you from the things that were once important to you. It leads to resentment and sadness. Suddenly they don’t seem as important because you are so focused on what you are missing. Your relationship is special in its own way. You are a different couple than others in your life and that is healthy. Comparing just leads to unhappiness, arguments, and increased frustrations. It clouds your vision. It disables your ability to see what is truly beautiful in your personal life. 

Reign it in. Stop comparing. Instead, catch your brain before it starts ruminating and ask yourself to think about five good things in your relationship. If you can’t, well then, maybe you should reevaluate. Or, consider seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to sort through your feelings and come to terms with what you want out of your life and your relationships. 

Ask Mabel: My husband is always complaining about me and says I have mental health issues

Dear Mabel: My husband is always complaining about me. He often gets frustrated and says that I have mental health issues (I actually have been diagnosed with ADD). He is constantly telling me he thinks I have Borderline Personality Disorder or other issues and wants me to go see someone. I don’t know what to believe. He is the only one who ever seems to have complaints about me. I am not hearing these things from anyone else. Which makes me think is it really me or is it him? What do I do?

Sincerely, Margaret from New York

Mabel: Hi Margaret, I am sorry to hear you are struggling with your husband’s comments. Based on your email, I don’t have a clear picture of how your husband treats you, how you treat him, or the dynamics of your relationship. Unless your husband is a licensed mental health professional, he shouldn’t be diagnosing anybody. Nonetheless, it sounds like he is trying to communicate something important to him. I think both of you may benefit from couples counseling to gain an understanding of the ins and outs of your relationship, the frustration points for each of you, and what can be done to enhance your relationship.

There are quite a few similarities between ADD and BPD, would you be open to exploring those? I am not saying your husband is correct but often times it is those who are closest to us that notice our blind spots. If you have a mental health professional help you to explore, rule out, and/or potentially treat any problems then you would know for sure. 

Maybe he is right and you are just unhappy about what you are hearing from him. Maybe you are right and he is being inconsiderate to you. Or, maybe both of you are right and wrong at the same time and could benefit from some couples counseling. 

What I propose and what would be a positive solution to solving this issue would be to explore the scientific evidence. Look at the reality of things and gain more understanding of yourself and the dynamics of your relationship.

Ask Mabel: My partner hurt me when he insisted I needed my ADD meds to be in a relationship

Dear Mabel: My partner recently said something that really hurt me. He said, “you will never be able to have a relationship if you don’t take your ADD medication.” To me, it sounded like he was saying people are only able to love an edited/altered version of myself. It sounded like he was telling me I was un-loveable as is. What am I supposed to do with this comment? How do I move forward?

Sincerely, Mary from Virginia

Mabel: Hi Mary, I am sorry you are struggling with this comment. It sounds like your partner is trying to communicate something important, but I agree he could say it in a different way. You see, love and having a relationship are two different things. Love is a feeling. It is something that comes from deep within a person. Relating, on the other hand, is a behavior. You can love someone and not have a relationship with them, for whatever reason that is. Someone can love you for all of you. They can care deeply for you but they may be unable to maintain a relationship with you because of your ADD/ADHD symptoms. Symptoms, as I am sure you know, of ADD/ADHD can be severe enough to drive behaviors that might sabotage a relationship. For example, you may not be able to complete basic tasks or find it difficult to focus on things that need to get done thus frustrating and angering your partner to the point where they decide they need to move on. Rather than thinking of your partner’s comments as a blow to who you are as a person, think of them as an honest request from him to keep up on your meds so you can function to the best of your ability. 

Medication may help some folks focus better, but that’s only one aspect of the treatment. Changing habits and coping strategies can help tremendously. You may find it beneficial to seek help from a licensed counselor who can help you to develop some coping strategies, new habits, and work through emotions to make sure you are doing the best you can for yourself. 

You are not obligated to take BS

We all cross people in our lives that put on an act, give us their bullshit and expect that we will just lay down and take it. But, we don’t have to. It doesn’t matter who this person is in your life —a boss, a coworker, a parent, a close friend, a spouse, an acquaintance, a doctor, etc. It doesn’t matter who they are, you are not obligated to take their crap. 

There is no concrete rule book in life, but one thing is for certain—you need to be your biggest advocate. You can’t rely on others. Even the closest people to you will let you down sometimes. We are all human. When someone is treating you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you don’t need to just sit back and take it. Stand up for yourself and set boundaries. 

Those boundaries can take many different forms. It might mean ignoring calls or texts from this person. It might mean ending all interactions. It might mean being straight with them. You can tell this person that you won’t put up with whatever they are doing. Be honest with them and yourself and be your biggest advocate. No one knows you better than you. No one is inside your head feeling what you are feeling, seeing things the exact way you see them.

Even if you are someone that doesn’t like conflict, you are afraid of letting someone down, or you worry about how you are seen, what about you? The ball is in your court. You can protect yourself and separate yourself from toxic situations. You don’t have to leave all the choices up to others. You can make the best choices for yourself. Trust me, even if it is hard to make the first move you will feel better in the long run. 

What to do when your stepkids ‘hate’ you?

It is hard being a stepparent. You may feel like an outsider entering a family where there are children that are not blood-related and have another mom or dad living in a different house. You may butt heads. You may feel like they “hate” you. 

There are many reasons why a stepchild might be angry and uncomfortable with you being around. First, they may blame you for their parents’ separation. They might think “if my dad/mom never met you, my parents would still be together.” You, as the adult, likely know otherwise. But, that is a hard concept for a child whose home has suddenly become broken. 

They might have been holding out hope for their parents to get back together, and now that you are in the picture their hopes have been shattered. They likely see you as not their “parent,” since you have come into the picture after they already have two parents. They might fear you will try to control them or put rules into place that are different from what they are used to. 

Gaining Acceptance

Obviously, this is a tricky situation to navigate. You love their dad/mom and you want to have a blended, happy family together but you feel like you will never get in good with your stepchildren. What can you do? How do you earn their acceptance? 

First, understand these things take time. Your stepchildren are going through their own internal struggles and they need time to adjust to the idea of you being around. You need to work to develop a new normal. Don’t try to take the place of your stepchild’s mom or dad, understand your role is not the same. Instead, work to start new traditions with your stepchild. Maybe you can be the one to take them someplace special occasionally. Open up to them, be honest about your life and let them know they can trust you. 

Ease into their lives. Don’t try to jump in too quickly. Start small. Talk to your spouse so that you are on the same page with rules and discipline so that you aren’t trying to overrule him/her/they. 

Talk to them. Show them that you can be a friend, a shoulder to lean on, a team player; not a replacement but rather another person on their side. 

If you feel like you are in an impossible situation or need guidance on where to start, consider seeking family counseling with a licensed professional. They can help all of you to move forward in a healthy way that works for everyone.