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The Marriage Therapist Answers Questions (#1)
This post is a follow-up to last week’s Relationship(s) Matter(s) post: Ask the Marriage Therapist a Question.
Before I answer any questions, I want to make some things clear:
- This is not marriage therapy. Do not attempt to make direct application of these responses to any real-life situations. My responses are generalizations based on a very limited amount of information.
- If there is abuse or violence in your home, contact the police, Social and Rehabilitative Services (SRS) or some other appropriate resource or shelter for help with accommodations. Do not attempt to “fix” an abusive or violent spouse without seeking professional, qualified help.
This question came from Mrs. Ruby Slippers:
"Following the birth of our baby my husband said my weight was making him look at other women. Considering I had just given birth, shouldn't he take responsibility for his wandering eyes instead of pushing it off on me? I am doing my part by working out and eating right to lose the weight and I think he should be patient and be attracted to me since I ruined my body to give him a child."
I’m sorry to hear that he finds it so easy to say such hurtful things to you. There are two problems here that need to be addressed. First, your husband needs to learn to take responsibility for his own actions. If you presented yourself to him with the face of Grace Kelly and the body of Pamela Anderson he would still be looking at other women. Bearded Gnome put it well when he posted “your weight wasn't making him look at other women. something in him was making him look at other women.” A “man” takes responsibility for his own actions and for his own mistakes. Your husband is relationally immature and lacks self-control. If he’s a Christian, he needs to pursue an understanding of how he can better apply Ephesians 5:25 to his marriage: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (ESV, emphasis added). Your husband’s words do not reflect love, and he needs to fix that. And, he needs to quit looking at porn, which I’m sure he is doing. Big time.
Secondly, you also have a problem to look at. Your response to his inappropriate comment was “I am doing my part by working out and eating right to lose the weight and I think he should be patient…”. When did “working out” and losing weight become necessary for receiving love? Where did you get the idea that you need to work on meeting a set of external physical standards in order for him to be attracted to you? I’ve gained 70 pounds since I got married and my wife, well… let’s just say that she no longer fits in her wedding dress. I would like to address my weight gain for several reasons, but at no point has my wife said “I can’t be intimate with you until you lose some of that lard from your behind.” Your husband communicated that EXTERNAL BEAUTY = LOVABILITY, but you didn’t rip him a new one? Somewhere along the line, you bought into the idea that you need to earn his love and acceptance by never gaining weight, never going grey and always keeping up with the airbrushed “beauty” of Ms. October. If you want others to love and accept you for who you are, start by being the first one to say “I will love Mrs. Slippers for who she is, large butt and all, regardless of how others judge her love-ability!” Your chubbiness is your glory, a symbol of your motherhood. It’s entirely your choice to keep your chubbiness or to lose it, but don’t be shamed into slimming down when the real solution to the problem is for your husband to grow up.
It seems that you both have shame and self-loathing issues that need to be addressed. He’s seeking validation through another person’s external beauty, and you don’t have the self-esteem to realize that you deserve love just for being who you are. It seems to me that there is a lack of healthy self-love in your lives.
From Ms. Magoo:
"How do you go about finding a good marriage counselor? My husband and I are on our third one, but each one we found to be extremely bothersome. The first told us she is currently battleing an eating disorder, the second never said a word (literally, during each session, just let us talk and then ooh time's up!), and now we're on #3. Is there a science to this? A helpful website or good recommendations?"
I then asked her to tell us more about their relationship with therapist #3…
We've been for about 3 months, weekly sessions. On one hand, I do like her. She comes up with a lot of good questions and things to think about and gives us homework each week. And I do feel like I can talk freely and openly around her. However, sometimes I get a judgemental vibe from her. She is divorced and has several children with her first husband, and when we talk about the "D" word or other issues that might be "sensitive," she hasn't been hesitant to call names or tell us how she really feels :) This has been a little too abrasive for me a few times, where I feel put-down after the session. These things have only occurred twice now, and very recently, so I'm now questioning sticking with the this one too! So for now, I'm still trying to figure out if we'll ever find someone we really like, how to find that person, or if I'm just being too particular
I’m more than happy to address the first question and I’d also like to comment on the Magoo family’s experiences with their various therapists as well.
You find a good marriage therapist by asking people you trust. Your family doctor is a good person to ask. If you know anyone who has been to a therapist, ask them if they’d recommend that person in the future. If you are part of an organized religion, your minister/priest/rabbi most likely knows someone that they trust. Apart from that, you can use the web to do some research, but every clinician’s website is basically touting that person’s view of themselves. I consider it a red flag when a clinician claims to be proficient in 20 different areas of mental health. Counseling psychology is a lot like the medical field. You go to your general practitioner for flu symptoms, “it hurts when I smile”, and mysterious rashes, but you see a specialist for issues that are clearly unique and require expertise. I’m more trusting of a clinician who lists a handful of competencies than I am of someone who thinks they’re good at everything. Also, when you are searching on the web, certifications and credentials should mean something to you. Some of those certifications can be difficult to obtain and they can tell you a lot about the clinician’s orientation and skill-set.
Some thoughts about your various relationships with your three therapists:
Some would consider her disclosure to you unprofessional and inappropriate, but I will not immediately judge her for what she said. I self-disclose to my clients when I deem it appropriate. Was she turning the attention away from you when she told you about her disorder, or was the statement related to your treatment? It’s been said that every therapist has their own therapist. (I’m an exception, but mostly because I cannot afford one!) She has a problem that she’s working on, so don’t discount her for being human. I would say that her eating disorder was not, by itself, a reason to fire her. Her mental health issues are really only a problem if she was impaired by the eating disorder, impaired in a way that would affect her therapeutic skills.
Every therapist has a different style. Some are very vocal and directive and they fill the therapy room with their personality and ideas. These are the ones that come out and tell you what you need to know with a tone of authority. Dr. Phil would fit that mold [eyes rolling…]. Others are minimalists who say very little and give direction in slight nudges, ultimately letting you find your own path to healing. Some of the very best therapists take this kind of stance, and have a nice way of letting their clients discover their own answers. Their words are few, which makes each statement they make that much more meaningful. But, I think a good therapist needs to communicate their style to their clients, especially if they are literally saying nothing at all during their sessions. My guess is that #2 was either a brilliant genius, or way in over his head (and terrified) with all the messy feelings you two brought into your sessions.
She is “sensitive” around divorce and some other issues, and she often leaves you feeling “put down”. Number Three is ashamed of her failures in life and she projects that onto you (and onto others, such as her children, I’m sure). She’s an example of what Jesus meant when he said “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”: She has wounds that need to be addressed so that she doesn’t spew forward from her wounded place. That’s not a good “join” to have with a client. In fact, the issue of chronic shame can be linked to a number of mental disorders. Shame can really hurt. Going to a therapist who makes you feel small and ashamed is like going under the knife with a surgeon who’s running a fever and sneezes a lot, but won’t wear a mask. Shame is not a path to healing. You need to be supported, not berated. I hope #3 can afford a therapist of her own.
From Mrs. WhatsGoingOn:
"OK, so...addiction to TV/Video games/computer. Currently, my SO does not have a "career" (he has an almost-fulltime job, not great). Everytime I come home, he's on his video game, and he plays until at least 1 or 2 in the morning (last night, it was 4am). I have to beg him most of the time to look for jobs. He's had problems finding one lately (no shocker), and he's really discouraged, so he uses that excuse to not look at any others. I pay almost all of the bills too, and he is really stingy about any money that he gives me. He has thousands in the bank, but it's for a "new car" (which he does need, but it's a very unpractical sports car unsuitable for Kansas weather). Anyhow, he also keep me up at night when I hear him playing his game outside the door...last night I got about 3 hours of sleep because of the noise. If he didn't have to get up for work, he would sleep until at least 12pm every day. It has taken a toll on our relationship obviously, as I'm a very productive person, and I won't relax until I feel like I've gotten things done...where he is the exact opposite. I try to be okay with it, but our intimacy suffers, and we fight about it a lot. Am I being unreasonable to think that this behavior is NOT okay for someone in their mid-20's, who doesn't have a full time job? He just tries to make me feel bad by saying I'm just trying to sabatoge it because I "hate the game." It's true...I find yelling at people halfway across the country and acting like a high school bully moron is pretty immature, but while I want him to have his fun, I want to feel like I'm actually with him, and not his babysitter. I love him, and we have a great time when he's NOT playing his game and actually spending time together, but he can't get away from it long enough to do that most of the time."
I can personally relate to parts of your story. I know what it’s like to stay up late playing games or looking at porn. I remember some of the reasons why I did that, and I hear similar themes in what you’ve described to us.
You used the word “immature” to describe his behaviors on-line. Mr. WGO has hit the limits of his maturity, and that’s why he invests his time and energies the way he is right now. You can tell what means a lot to a person by looking at their checkbook register and by looking at their weekly schedule. Your husband gets more satisfaction out of saving for a sports car than he does by contributing to the family budget. In terms of money, his values are: toys mean more than fiscal fairness & integrity. Your husband also spends more time in a fantasy gaming world than he does in any other “real” experiences. He drags his butt all day at work because he values his accomplishments in the war against alien-zombie-Nazis than he values his career. From what you say, it’s getting to the point where even you matter less than the gaming. In terms of time and energy, his values are: escapism is preferable to real life.
Why would he want to live like this? My guess is that he really doesn’t want to live like this, but because he doesn’t have the maturity to cope with how hard life is for him as a married twenty-something trying to get ahead in a difficult economy, he must turn to an escape. He hates his job, but more importantly, I think he hates himself because of his lack of accomplishments. He kills evil enemies for hours every night in a virtual world to help himself feel like he’s done something meaningful in life; something he doesn’t get from his mundane job and the rest of his real life. He’s probably fighting off depression, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s had suicidal thoughts.
You are in a tough spot, because on one hand, 1) you must stop enabling him (and you are enabling him); but on the other hand, 2) he really needs your moral support. About the enabling: demand change and demand equity. If you spend 80% of your paycheck on the bills, then he needs to give the same proportion of his check. Tell him that he’s not buying himself a car, but that he’s buying the family a car, and that you expect him to make an auto purchase that’s appropriate for the family. You aren’t his girlfriend or his roommate, you are his wife, and his use of family resources (what he calls “his” money) should match the needs of the family. Sports cars are for single people and for families that already have the grocery-getter paid off. That doesn’t immediately make sense to him because the dream of the sports car is key to him feeling good about himself; so he’ll throw a major tantrum if you try to kill his Corvette dream. At the same time, because his ability to cope with his unhappiness is being taxed, he needs a lot of emotional and spiritual support. It’s not a crime to be immature (we were all that way at one time). You helping him grow through this problem would be like him helping you limp around if you had a broken foot. He needs your love and understanding, and he needs you to set limits and to articulate expectations as his wife. If he’ll talk to you about how he feels, give him a chance to spill it all out. Let him see you as more than a complainer. Let him experience you as his biggest fan and supporter, and a wife who expects him to fully show up for “life”.
BTW: He’s likely addicted to that game. The answer to that problem is to quit cold-turkey. Get ready for another manipulative tantrum when you bring that up. Good luck.
Monkey “C” asked:
“How can a wife help to make a wonderful stay-at-home father not feel immasculated due to his lack of financial income?”
Why should any stay-at-home-parent feel that, regardless of gender? That struggle is not limited to men. I have a good friend in Johnson County whose husband makes plenty of money (cha-ching!!), so she stays home and home-schools their kids. What she’s doing has immense value to their family, yet she still expresses that she sometimes doubts the importance of her contributions. We like it when we can measure our accomplishments (like, by the size of a paycheck), but the most important things we’ll do in life usually defy being measured in any way.
The structure of your question makes me wonder where these feelings of emasculation are coming from. I’ll share two ideas with you. First of all, you have to take responsibility for feeling like a man 24/7/365. Your wife cannot do that for you. You have to remind yourself that you are living according to your values; that you are being an involved dad because you know it will be an immeasurable blessing to your children that they had a parent at home with them full-time. Secondly, does the bread winner have more power in your home? In many traditionally-structured American families, the dad was the one who earned the money and he controlled all major decisions about how that money was spent. Are you now living a reversed version of that with your wife in the 21st century? Alm77 even gave this telling reply to your question: “She needs to let him continue to make important decisions.” Does one of you “let” the other make important decisions because they bring in the bread!? Even the wording of that seemingly equalitarian response reveals our tendency to grant greater power to the person who makes the most money. “Let”? If you feel like you are in a one-down position with her because of her financial contributions, I think you need to have a talk about power and equity in the home. The “rules” you apply to yourselves today will be honored by your children in their homes later in life, so demonstrate equalitarian values to your children if you want them to value fairness when they are married. There need not be a subordinate position for the one who stays home, not unless you’ve both agreed that is how you want to live. Some families choose for one to be in the leadership role because of tradition or religion, and because that structure reflects their (his and hers) values, it usually works out well for them. If you’ve become secondary in the power structure, and without any agreement or discussion about becoming the Mini-Me to her Dr. Evil, then you need to have a talk with the wifey about power and money.
Lady J asked a question that’ll resonate with more than a few of the wives out there (and, maybe a husband or two):
Here's one that has been discussed in our "hen" group. If a husband and wife go to sleep and then hubby wakes up and can't go back to sleep, should the wife be expect to wake up at 1 a.m. (and lose sleep) and "help" him get back to sleep? Now here's the tricky part. When the wife goes to sleep all was fine but evidently said or did something when he tried to wake her up, that she has no recollection of, that made him mad and he is mad the rest of the day. Should the wife be held accountable for something she said or did in her sleep? Should she be expected to wake up several nights a week?
For those who are wondering how she “helps” get him back to sleep: she gives him sex and that helps him relax and get to sleep.
I also have a hard time getting back to sleep when I wake up. I also need help sleeping at night and even have a diagnosed sleeping disorder. The answer is: a sleeping pill. Are you a sleeping pill? Tell him to take responsibility for his own sleep and to go see his doctor. And, if he’s mad all day over something you mumbled in your sleep: again, he needs to be more responsible for his moods.
This may seem unrelated, but does he show signs of ADHD, have anxiety issues or issues with premature ejaculation? “What in the WORLD do those things have to do with my husband not sleeping?” you ask? His sleep problem is alleviated by sexual release, which suggests to me that he may have trouble self-soothing and calming himself. Also, ADHD symptoms and premature ejaculation are sometimes correlated with anxiety. His sleep problem may be an anxiety problem. Also, if he looks at porn, his anxiety, self-soothing and premature ejaculation problems are at risk for worsening (those are potential side-effects of chronic porn use).
InaTux asked a really great question…
I've heard (maybe this is true, maybe not, hence why I'm asking) that marriage counseling can make matters worse for a couple. Have you had any experience with that happening? I suppose what I'm asking is, is counseling for couples a good idea if they're at the breaking point, or is it one of those things where it'll get worse before it gets better?
Before I come out an answer the question, I’ll ask a related question: What is the ultimate goal of marriage/couples counseling? Some therapists advocate for the idea of the “good enough marriage” and consider any marriage that doesn’t end in divorce to be a success story (assuming there isn’t abuse, violence, coercion, etc. taking place in the family). Other therapists consider it their calling to strive for something beyond the mere preservation of the union, but rather endeavor to enrich relationships and build intimacy in marriages. They want their clients to do more than just survive, they want them to thrive. So anytime we are asking questions about success or failure, we have to ask ourselves what we wanted or expected from the process when we went to a therapist in the first place.
OK, I’ll answer your question with an analogy. Marriage therapy is a lot like 1950s dentistry: Most people only go after they are in so much pain they cannot take it any longer, the treatment often hurts more than the sickness, things are really bad early in treatment (which may require some extractions), things may never again seem completely “right” again (even if the treatment goes well), and it usually involves the dentist saying something like “You should have come to see me before it got this bad”. And, as Vertigo indicated, it is common, or even expected, for things to get worse on the path to things getting better. The reason why couples fight, avoid each other and say hurtful things is because of painful junk in their lives that they aren’t addressing. Addressing that “junk” is sometimes difficult, and sometimes the end result is that the marriage (or the engagement, or the courtship) ends as a result of what is revealed in therapy. Sometimes, the ending of the relationship is a “good” outcome of therapy because it is what’s best for the situation.
Now Bacon had a long question about his wife’s behavior that I won’t paste because of how long it is… but I’ll recount the highlights: She is out all night, many nights a week. She has lame excuses, if any excuse at all, for why she’s out late. She neglects her role in the family as wife and mother over whatever it is she’s doing all night long. She’s constantly texting and taking phone calls and having to talk in some other room, and feels like her privacy is being invaded if he asks questions about it. She also accuses him of cheating on her any time he gets an unexpected call or text message.
Well, three things need to be acknowledged or at least considered:
First of all, she has “abandoned” Bacon and the Bacon Bits. She’s no longer present as a fully functional member of the marriage or the family. It’s only partial abandonment, but abandonment is happening.
Secondly, as sure as water is wet, she’s having an affair. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but her behavior is classic for adultery.
Thirdly, you need to also consider that she may be an addict. Addiction and adultery share many of the same signs, and her behavior could be explained by the presence of an addiction. But, even if that is part of her problem, she’s probably also having an affair alongside the addiction
Give her an ultimatum: She works to restore fidelity, or she leaves. You and your kids deserve better treatment. I kinda hope you made all that stuff up, because otherwise your life is only going to get even more “interesting” in the near future.
J.C. Stepmom 28 asked:
So what does one do when various methods of therapy are attended (family, couple, single) and fatherchuck is attentive during the session but any homework or aftercare is avoided at all costs.
At this point there needs to be some work done around motivation. We have a saying in the therapy biz: “Believe Behavior”. Meaning, that a person who claims to be full of motivation but who doesn’t actually follow through isn’t actually motivated at all. There may be some reasons for the lack of motivation, and those reasons need to be addressed. My guess is (and this is just a guess) that Mr. Stepmom has a long history of getting by with lip service, so he’s been conditioned and trained to just tell people what they want to hear as a way to reduce the volume of complaints. But, of course (as I’m sure you are discovering) there is a consequence for this form of procrastination: eventually a breaking point is reached and lip service is no longer enough. You and your therapist will have to work on changing the patterns of interaction between you so that he can discover that lip service isn’t enough.
Amesn gave us some family history about her father having a “midlife crisis” and skipping out on his first wife for a newer model down in S. America. She’s surprised that her father’s fling has turned into a full-fledged commitment to wife number 2 and she asks:
“what suggestions do you have for men and women alike who begin to see signs of their spouse grasping desperately to hold onto their youth so that it doesn't end as badly as my parent's marriage did?”
Is the “midlife crisis” an attempt to “hold onto… youth”? I don’t think that the classic “midlife crisis” divorce (wait for children to leave home, then pursue adulterous liaisons with women half his age, then leave first wife for newer, sportier “trophy wife”) is an attempt to hold onto youth. I think there are some common themes to the “midlife crisis” divorce scenario:
- A lack of intimate connection in marriage #1. People who have profoundly close connection to each other rarely stray into adultery. Intimacy has been called an inoculation against infidelity. When people stay together for 20+ years and then suddenly divorce, it’s usually because they spent the best years of their marriage working on raising kids in lieu of working on raising their marriage. When the last of the kids leave the nest, it’s like a fuse is lit on the marriage and if someone doesn’t address the lack of connection between them, then one of the two will sometimes leave.
- Immaturity. Do you know why “normal” adults don’t pursue romantic relationships with teenagers? This is because we are rarely attracted to people who are at a different level of maturity than ourselves. When I was 15, I thought 15 year-old girls were awesome. At 46, I can appreciate the beauty of a person of any age, but would never expect my heart to go pitter-patter over someone who’s at a different stage of maturity than I am. When a man who is a grandfather (the “elder” stage of life) is deeply attracted to a woman who hasn’t even completed the task of raising her own children (early in the “parent” stage of life), then it speaks to the actual maturity level of the older person who wishes to share his life with someone so young. Amesn’s dad may be a captain of industry, may hold advanced degrees and may be a grandfather, yet he can still be immature for his age (or, for his apparent level of maturity). Aged wine is better than new wine, and in the same way, immature people don’t have the maturity to satisfy the relational needs of the mature. If Amesn’s dad has found his “soul mate” in the much-younger woman, it’s because he’s “behind the rest of the class” and needed to go back and repeat a grade (in a manner of speaking).
- Arrogance. Some people simply think they are entitled to whatever they want without any concern for others. Anecdotally, it seems to me that many of these left-the-first-wife-for-a-skinnier/bustier/younger-trophy-wife stories involve men who think a lot of themselves. They are narcissistic and behave as if they should have whatever they want because they are special, in their own eyes. It seems that some on the most outrageous stories of infidelity involve doctors and politicians. Often these are people who, at least in their own minds, see themselves as being above the rules. They cheat, and when they are caught, they respond as if they are justified. That’s just me sharing an observation.
But I haven’t really answered Amesn’s question very directly. The truth is, I believe in the idea that intimacy is your best weapon against infidelity. Profoundly-joined people just don’t want to leave. They are less tempted. A person that is part of a well-joined and mature union doesn’t see their aging partner as broken down, but as well broken in. If Amesn wants to avoid following her father’s path, she is best served by pursuing deeper connection with her spouse than he did. Being wrapped up in the same stuff (money, kids, church, etc.) doesn’t mean that two people are creating a profoundly rich bond with each other.
OK, it’ll be a while before I do another one of these “Ask the Marriage Therapist a Question” posts because this was more work than I bargained for. But I appreciate the energy with which so many people participated in the discussion.
OH! I almost forgot to address any of the zombie questions! I’ll end with this:
If your spouse has turned into a zombie, you should immediately divorce them. One reason is obvious: there is no hope for reconciliation if they insist on eating your brains. Where’s the give-and-take in that? Also, you vowed to remain married “Till death do you part”, and if he/she is a zombie… they are dead, and technically, the “fault” is on them for becoming undead in the first place. So you should get to keep the car and the house… as well as the ammunition and freeze-dried foods.