It was nice to be home early for a change. Instead of the nightly fire drill, Carolyn felt quite relaxed as she looked through the mail while Tom got dinner started. “What’s this?” she asked. Tom came over to look. “I don’t know,” he said. There was a $15.00 charge on the Bank of America credit card from a merchant neither of them recognized. “I’ll call the 800 number here tomorrow,” said Carolyn, making a note. “And what’s THIS? $360.26?” Her relaxation was slipping away and thoughts of fraud were starting to dance in her head. It was so common these days. Once they had had a $700 charge from Charlie’s Liquor Emporium in the Philippines. Quickly resolved, thank goodness.
A half-hour ago she had presented him with her high school graduation party plans. Everyone, apparently, was going to an after-party that would last til dawn, and then out to breakfast. What Sam almost said was, "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?" What he really said was, "Well, Honey, let's talk about this a little bit." They came up with a compromise that both could live with. Alicia would skip the breakfast and be home by 3:00. She and her best friend would stick together at all times. She also promised to call him if anything at all went wrong, and he in turn promised not to give her a hard time if she did.
“Why is this happening to us?” Kristina moaned, as only a teenager can. “We’re good people. We haven’t done anything wrong!” We’d all been carpooling together for a week while our other car was in the shop getting a couple thousand dollars worth of rehab. Then we found out that this car was also needed work and it was going to cost the same if not more. I laughed. “It doesn’t have anything to do with being good people, Honey. Cars need repairs every so often. Sometimes big repairs.” “I know,” she said, “I was really just joking.” I was trying to take a parent-with-broad-shoulders tone.
I remember when I was young and single, and I listened to older people at work talk about their weekends. It was all about chores! I felt badly for them. I thought they were B-O-R-I-N-G. I was too naïve (or in denial?) to realize they were just in a different life stage—a life stage that lay in store for me, too. And I certainly had no idea what effect that life stage has on sex and romance. But now I know! Workloads, stress, sick kids, unresolved relationship issues—none of these are sexy.
“It’s such a downer,” sighed Donna. “When I pictured being married, I didn’t picture arguing with Kyle about chores all the time.” Donna’s disillusionment is far from unusual. The historian Stephanie Coontz, who has written several books on marriage and the family, says that a husband’s willingness to share housework and child care is the second most important factor in how happily married she is. (The first is being tuned into her emotionally.) But your average couple is still not splitting the housework fairly. According to a recent study at Ohio State University, today’s young men are not doing more much more housework than their fathers did. Given that 47% of women are now working outside the home, what we have is a recipe for resentful, unhappy wives. No wonder so many couples argue about chores.
If you find yourself in that frightening, disorienting position of suspecting an affair, the uncertainty can be torture. How do you find out for sure? What should you do first? These are some of the questions clients ask. So, today I'm giving you three concrete steps you can start out with in order to find out the truth. Examine Yourself Your intuition could be spot-on. Or, you could be over-interpreting what you're observing. The first thing you should do is try to take a long, honest look at yourself. Do you tend to be jealous? Do you have a pattern of being jealous of past partners? Do you tend to be jealous of things other than people, such as work and hobbies? Do you have a pattern of feeling insecure about your partner's feelings?
I like to think I'm pretty down-to-earth. Of course, as a marriage therapist, I'm definitely more touchy-feely than your average person. But I like to teach people communication tools that hopefully won't make them sound like a therapist! And won't make them feel like they have to turn into a therapist in order to have a marriage that's close and connected. One great tool is the "one little thing" technique. It's a way to bring an issue up without things blowing up. But first, let's look at what happens without it. Say my husband and I are in the kitchen getting dinner ready and I spear the pork chops with a fork to take them out of the pan. John: "Don't do that! Use the coated tongs! How many times do I have to tell you that using metal on non-stick pans ruins them?"
Everyone gets lazy from time to time. We fall into ruts, often when we're working too hard or dealing with a lot of stress. We go for a long time without bothering to try anything new or get a change of scene. But there's another, less obvious cause of this problem that you might not have thought of. I often say resentment is a sneaky emotion. One of the sneakiest things it does is masquerade as boredom.
"All I need is a little attention," cried Carol. "Is that so hard?" Instead of the warmth and caring she wanted to see in Kevin's face, she just saw a sort of blank look. It made her feel panicky. Was she dealing with this all alone? Carol's mother was in a nursing home recovering from a fall. Thank goodness she didn't break a hip, always the big fear, but still it was a wake up call. It was time to do what they all had been avoiding: arrange a safer living situation for her. We all know the kind of feeling that is. You're dealing with more than your share. You really need a look of understanding, a word of support, a hug, ANYTHING that reassures you your spouse is right there beside you. When you don't get it, it's really easy to go to the dark side: "He just doesn't care." Was Carol right? Was Kevin really just checked out?
Claire: Detachment Parenting is an interesting title. Why did you decide on that? Heidi: Most parents I know do not struggle to develop loving attachments with their children. In fact they may be over-involved in kids' emotional lives and have difficulty stepping back and letting kids learn to manage their own feelings. When parents act in a calm, concerned and detached way, they're able to see the big-picture view of what's happening and guide kids to make positive choices. Detachment Parenting shows moms and dads how to keep their own feelings in check and guide the coping process for their kids. Claire: What's the first thing a parent should do if they're overwhelmed by their children?