Tag Archives: marriage

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. 

Surviving Valentine’s Day Post-Divorce

The day of love is here, but you aren’t feeling it. You recently got divorced and want to forget this day even exists. And maybe that is what you do, maybe you distract yourself with something else. Valentine’s Day can be a hard day for anyone not in a relationship but especially for someone who recently got out of a marriage. 

Create a new normal

Maybe burying yourself under the covers of your bed looks really good right now. I get it. But, I generally don’t encourage avoiding situations. This day might be hard but doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it. Avoidance just pushes away feelings that will show their face later down the road with more strength. 

Rather than avoiding the dreaded Feb. 14, embrace it in a different way. You can celebrate Galantines Day, as it is often called, and treat your friends to a special date. Share a moment with the girls and relish in how loved you are. If you have kids, treat them to a special dinner. Embrace the day as a time to show love to those in your life, not just a romantic partner. 

Try something new

Take it as an opportunity to do something you wouldn’t have been able to do before. Make a new normal. Maybe you love Thai food but your ex did not, take yourself shopping and buy yourself something special, get your hair cut, your nails done, or get a massage. Use the day as a day to love yourself. Recognize that the most important person in your life is you. You deserve to take care of yourself, to treat yourself, to show yourself how much you are loved and how much you deserve. 

Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Take yourself to a movie, do something special for someone else, whatever it is that makes you feel good. Read a good book. If the idea of being out with other couples just makes you cringe, then don’t. You don’t have to expose yourself to uncomfortable situations. Rent a movie, order in food. The bottom line is to ask yourself what matters to you? What is something that would make you feel good? Then do it. 

If you are feeling particularly down, take a moment to think of five things you love about yourself. Write them down, repeat them to yourself. You do you. Make this day about love, loving you, loving your friends, your family, your pets, whoever has been there for you. You will get through. Tomorrow is a new day. 

Ask Mabel: A wife questions why she can’t get over her husbands affair.

Dear Mabel: Why can’t I get over my husband having an affair?

I am a mom with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, who is deeply religious. I recently found out my husband has been having a longterm affair and I am struggling with moving past his actions and repairing our marriage. It is all I can think about. 

After a brief time away from our family, as a result of his confession, he claims he is a changed man. He, who has also struggled with alcoholism, no longer drinks. He has started attending individual counseling, as well as couples counseling, and he regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He repented in church and prays every day with me and our children. He claims he is “over the moon” in love with me and is constantly telling me how sorry he is and how he will never do such a thing again. But, I just can’t move past this. 

Every time he leaves the house I immediately begin thinking that he is going to be with another woman. I think about his actions all the time, and especially during sex. I don’t know if I will ever be able to trust him again. I don’t know if I can get our marriage back. What do I do? What can I do? Why can’t I get past this? 

Mabel: 

I am so sorry that you are going through this. Infidelity is an extremely difficult thing for anyone to accept. There are a few things that I think are making this situation even harder for you to move past. First, because of your religious affiliations, you have an internal battle you are struggling with. Religion teaches that sex is sacred which is the opposite of what your husband was doing when he had an affair. You are married and have children with this man. That means that he made a pact years ago to stay committed and loyal to you always, and he has betrayed that. 

While he did go to the church to repent and become a reformed man and had the church pray for your family, the expectation is that you would forgive him and sometimes it is just not that simple. He did his job of apologizing to the church, which gives the expectation that he should receive forgiveness in return. But that expectation is only suppressing and invalidating your rightful anger. It is ok to be feeling betrayed, hurt, distraught over all of this. You have every right to those feelings. 

Your emotional security is in turmoil. Your marriage to your husband was a secure relationship, a place where you felt safe. That sense of safety is in question now. You feel emotionally unsafe, insecure, and are anxious that these actions will repeat themselves. But, this is your husband and your family and deep down you are scared to lose that as well. 

Those are a few of the reasons you might be having trouble getting over these actions. I want you to know, your feelings are completely warranted. My suggestion would be to give yourself time. Don’t feel like you need to rush into instantly repairing anything. I also suggest you get yourself some help. If you haven’t already, seek out a licensed counselor who can help you to work through things and help you take care of you. 

How to ask for a prenup

Explaining to your fiancé your desire to have a prenuptial agreement can be difficult. It is a touchy conversation that often can result in an argument because, in order to talk about a prenup, you have to talk about divorce. 

Talking about divorce before you have even walked down the aisle can seem counterproductive. It might come off as hurtful. Or it might seem to your partner that you are not fully invested in the relationship. But, let’s be real. Divorce rates are staggeringly high. Half of all marriages will end at some point. Even if you insist that won’t be you, different people have different reasons for wanting that prenuptial document. Maybe you witnessed a friend or family member lose everything in a messy divorce and you want to protect yourself. Or, maybe you just want to feel like you are being responsible. Whatever the reason, if it is something you feel passionately about then you need to have a conversation. 

So, how do you approach such a sensitive topic?

1.) Prepare — Before starting the discussion, grab a piece of paper and fold it in half. Write down ten reasons why you want a prenup on one side and then write down potential responses from your partner on the other side. Being mentally prepared for the discussion and what might come up is key. You need to have a deep understanding of what you want and why you want it. Be authentic and honest with your reasoning. 

2.) Have a conversation, don’t issue demands — Instead of saying “we are getting a prenup,” say “let’s talk about a prenup—what do you think about getting one?” Wait for he/she/they to answer before responding.

3.) Stay calm—Avoid being defensive or argumentative. Don’t get worked up that your partner may not agree with you. That will only make it worse. 

4.)Really listen, ask questions — Have an open mind. Listen and try to see your partner’s perspective as well as your own. 

5.)Talk about it as early as you can — Don’t wait until the week before your wedding to have this conversation. Even though you might know what you want, your partner might not have thought of it in detail. They will need time to assess their feelings and maybe some space to consider your reasoning. If the conversation does not go over well consider approaching the topic again at a later date.

Getting a prenup does not mean your marriage is doomed from the beginning. It just means you want to be prepared for the worst case scenario, and that is ok. The best thing you can do is keep communicating with each other about your thoughts and feelings. 

What do you think about prenups?