Category Archives: Relationship

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. 

Ask Mabel: How can I stop myself from cheating?

Dear Mabel: Help! I am married and I feel like I am slowly falling for a guy at work. It started with happy hour, then instant messaging, and lately we have had a few conversations about maybe meeting up outside of the office. I love my husband, I really do. But I have to admit that I am enjoying flirting. It’s fun. How can I stop myself from cheating? I don’t want to but I am feeling the temptation.

Signed, Annie from Philadelphia 

Mabel: Hi Annie, we are all human and it’s not uncommon to develop feelings towards another individual even when we are married. Obviously, there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed such as your internal conflict and the connection between you and your husband. You need to examine why you are attracted to this other person and what struggles might be occurring in your marriage that are making you feel like you need to look elsewhere?

However, kudos to you for wanting to do the right thing and avoid betraying your partner. It’s not easy to fight these feelings and urges, but it can be done. It’s important to remind yourself why you want to protect your relationship with your husband. Why is your marriage important to you? What do you love about your husband?

As difficult as it may be, it all shall pass. Plants need water, sunlight, and nutrients to grow. Relationships are similar. They need a few key components to germinate: time, proximity, and chemistry. Without one of those, a relationship can not survive for long. So what do I mean by those components? Well, time is the amount of time you are in contact with the other person, whether in-person, phone, or online chatting. Proximity is the physical distance between two people (this is why long distance relationships are hard). And, chemistry is liking each other, attraction, and common interests. Since you are flirting with this person, there is obvious chemistry. In order to avoid acting on that chemistry, you need to eliminate the other two components—time and proximity. I don’t expect you to quit your job, but you do need to separate yourself from this other person. You need to end the instant messaging, avoid happy hours where he is present, and decrease any time spent with this person in a non-professional setting. You can get through this if you take the right steps. Staying focused on your marriage and working to get through whatever struggles may be causing you to stray can help to keep your mind and heart in the right place. 

Ask Mabel: My husband and I fight about folding clothes

Concerned Client: My husband wants me to fold his clothes but not in my way, he wants me to fold them his way. I am not big on folding clothes in any special way. I do it the way I was taught which he thinks is “too messy,” or “incorrect.” That is what I know. It doesn’t bother me that my clothes are folded this way and my kids could care less. I could learn the way he wants me to fold, but it seems pointless to me. He is losing his patience and I am growing frustrated. 

He could just fold his own clothes himself but it takes him a week to get to the basket and by then it is overflowing with clean, unfolded, wrinkled clothes. I at least want to get them into the dresser, out of the way. It makes no sense to me why he is ok staring at a basket of unfolded clothes for a week but not ok with me folding and putting away his clothes. He says he doesn’t care if it doesn’t make sense. He just wants me to fold the clothes his way. He says it is “my job” to take care of the laundry and I should do it “his way.” What the hell? He works full time and expects me to all the stuff around the house, the cooking, the cleaning, and all the laundry to his standards. I am ok doing it my way, but why does it have to be his way? 

Mabel: Before I make the assumption that this is a misogynist behavior, I need to get a bigger picture. What is the implicit or explicit agreement that you currently have with your husband in terms of division of labor (i.e. you take care of all the stuff in the home, while he handles the stuff outside of the home)? Do you expect him to adhere to certain standards when it comes to the yard work? Or taking care of vehicles? Why he expects you to fold the clothes his way may be his way of executing what he thought might be an agreement. Have you ever talked about an agreement of who does what and how? Sometimes couples assume an agreement and really they need to discuss it with each other.

Setting boundaries with repeat offenders

The first time someone does something that offends me, I let it go. I try to educate the person on why they offended me and ask them kindly to please refrain from doing it again. Then I brush it off. 

The second time someone offends me, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I think “well maybe it was a misunderstanding.” I talk to them and keep open lines of communication. I move on. 

The third time that someone offends me, that’s it. I have been kind and open-minded up to this point. I have educated this person. They know exactly how I feel and realize what they are doing is going to be hurtful to me. Yet they do it anyway. This person is being blatantly disrespectful to my wishes. They obviously don’t care enough about my feelings to change their ways. 

Set Boundaries

It is important for your own wellbeing to set boundaries with repeat offenders. People that are constantly disrespecting your wishes, overstepping your boundaries, offending you in some way or another, are not worth your time. These people are toxic to your mental health. It is ok to let these people go from your life. You don’t have to be around or interact with people who don’t care enough to respect your wishes. 

Boundaries are crucial to your happiness, your personal comfort, and your overall health. Feeling hurt or stressed because people are consistently offending you is damaging your mental wellbeing and therefore also harmful to your physical health. You have the right to stand up for yourself, to fight for your happiness. You need to take care of you and show these repeat offenders that you won’t stand for their behavior toward you. Then let it go. 

Is it really cheating if your partner is doing it too?

It is common for a person who is already being cheated on by their partner to feel like they have a free pass to cheat also. They think it is not really cheating since their partner is already cheating on them. While it might feel like the fair choice, it is still cheating. 

Infidelity in any form is a violation of a couple’s relationship agreement. So, yes your partner may have violated that agreement but do you also want to violate this contract? It is about being a bigger person. That (written or unwritten) contract was created because you and your partner had a connection and while that might be on the rocks currently you have to ask yourself which path you want to take. Would you rather contribute to the dysfunction by committing infidelity yourself, or would you rather take the high road and end the relationship with your partner (or take steps to try to fix things) before pursuing other relations? 

Creating Wounds

Infidelity hurts. It creates wounds in relationships that are difficult to heal. But just because someone hurts you does not give you the right to hurt them in return. It might feel good for a minute, like payback or revenge, but in the end, it will only lead to more pain and suffering long term. 

Even though your partner did not respect your relationship agreement, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Confront your partner. Have a conversation. Seek counseling to determine next steps. But, don’t stoop to the level that got you into this mess, to begin with. Don’t add insult to injury. Just because you may have been the second one to commit the act, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.