Tag Archives: marriage

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.

How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy After Baby

Let’s be realistic. Having a baby can be a wonderful thing for a relationship but it does not leave any relationship unchanged. Babies are a huge life transition for anyone, which comes with a lot of challenges (and joys). 

In order to keep your relationship healthy post-baby:

1.) Change your expectations — Don’t try to go back to the way your relationship was before you had a child. It is not going to be the same because now you have another to care for, another to share your time with, and another to support. Your relationship will change and in many cases grow even deeper than it was before. 

2.) Communicate — As with any relationship, communication is key. But even more so during times of big transitions, you need to be honest and open. Talk to your partner about your needs, your desires, your struggles, etc. You can’t help each other through these times if you don’t know what each other is dealing with. 

3.) Schedule alone time — Yes, you have this new life to care for but don’t forget about your need to bond with your spouse. Even more so now date nights (even if they are at home on your couch while your child sleeps in the next room) are of crucial importance. You need time together.

4.) Give each other a break — Support each other during this transition time. There will be ups and downs and you both will need breaks. For mom, that might mean a good nights sleep, some girl time, or a massage. For dad, that might mean time for hobbies that they love and no longer have as many hours to give to them. 

5.) Have Patience — This time is going to be hard for you both, in different ways. There will be days when you feel angry or frustrated with each other. There will be days when you are so exhausted you can’t even think straight. Cut each other some slack. It won’t be like this forever. Recognize this is a rough patch and you will figure it out. 

Having a baby is a beautiful thing but few couples realize the complete life-altering impact of creating a family until they are in it. It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to struggle a bit with this transition. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to not lose sight of what really matters. You love each other and this new addition to your family, and your child needs parents who care for each other and support each other. Talk it out and remember you are on the same team. 

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.

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. 

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.

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.

How to tell if divorce is the right decision: Part 2

This is part two (read part one here) of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider. 

The second option for couples to consider, which will be examined during discernment counseling, is separation. If during the counseling process it is determined that one or both people in the couple simply cannot stand the idea of being together any more then separation would likely be the best option. This is a couple that no longer wishes to live under the same roof. One or both of them has a strong desire to end the relationship and is not willing to try to repair it at this time. 

Choosing to Separate

A couple that chooses to separate will each go their own way and will likely later file for divorce, unless after a brief separation they do decide to make the effort to fix things. It is impossible to fix a marriage if both parties are not open to the repair. Even if one of you is adamant about trying to fix things, if the other is unwilling then fixing things is unlikely. This is when discernment counseling is helpful. Because it looks at the needs, wants, desires of both parties to help determine the best path for the relationship. The goal is to help the couple come to an equitable decision, both are in the process, both are participants, both are involved. 

A broken marriage takes a lot of work from both parties. It takes commitment to change, openness to communicate, and willingness to try. Without those core desires separation may be the best option. 

How to tell if divorce is the right decision: Part One

This is part one of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider. 

Making the decision to get divorced can be one of the most difficult decisions a couple can make. There are a lot of factors that play a role and there are many details to consider. Nobody wants their marriage to end in divorce but it is, unfortunately, a common reality these days. If you and your spouse are considering divorce — how do you know if it’s the right path for you? 

Discernment Counseling

When seeing a couple who is considering divorce it is important for us, as counselors, to help not just one partner but both to explore three options. The process is called discernment counseling. Developed by Dr. Bill Doherty, discernment counseling focuses solely on helping couples to decide what they want to do with their relationship. It is unlike traditional marriage counseling, which is designed to save a marriage (but doesn’t work unless both partners are fully on board). Generally, discernment counseling is brief with the goal of getting couples unstuck so they can move forward in whichever direction they have determined to be best for them. 

Making the decision

The first option for a couple to consider is to do nothing. Doing nothing is exactly how it sounds. It means everything stays put. Couples that choose to do nothing will not seek any additional counseling. They simply will keep things as is in hopes that whatever bumps their marriage is facing is just a “phase” that may eventually pass. A couple who chooses to do nothing may not be ready to make the decision of whether or not to get divorced. Maybe they have kids and they are just not ready to put them through that process, or maybe they are holding out hope that things will get better. Whatever their reasoning chances are they may return to discernment counseling at a later date, or decide down the road to seek marriage counseling. 

How long should it take to get over a divorce?

The other day someone asked me how long it should take to get over their divorce?

While I would have loved to give them a simple answer, it is not that cut and dry. The truth is it will take—as long as it takes. Every situation is different. Divorce itself, even if you and your partner agree that the marriage is not working and divorce is the best option, is not easy.

Your marriage ended for any number of reasons that can be hard to accept. Your divorce challenged your innermost voices, it put strain on your self-esteem and turned your entire world upside down. It is not supposed to be an easy thing to recover from. Even if you know in your heart that it was the right choice, it doesn’t mean that you will instantly feel wonderful. 

Your Internal Core

When you got married you expected to be with your partner forever. You made a commitment to each other to care in sickness and in health, to stand by each other in times of stress, and to grow old together. Just the mere factor of that not working out is a huge disappointment. It is a major blow to your internal core as a human being. 

That is not even taking into account things like children, pets, shared possessions—like homes, cars, etc. You are now faced with figuring out a new normal. If you have children you are likely feeling the strain of their own emotional distress. You are trying to make things as easy as possible on them, while it is hurting you to see them hurt. You may have been forced to move out of your home, split up possessions that may have been of high importance to you, and you may be feeling more financial strain than ever before—divorce is not cheap. 

All of these things make getting over such a thing extremely difficult. Don’t try to rush your heart. Instead, take comfort in knowing that you will find that new normal. You will. You will be able to move on. Your kids will be ok. You will find that happiness, that relief, whatever it is that you need. You will. In time. These things take time. 

Counseling services are always there for you if you need an extra set of ears to bounce things off of, or if you need guidance in how to move through this major life change.