June 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
We’ve all had our share of stressful days at the office, after which we’ve gone home to greet our hubbies with little more than a peck and a grunt. But for Jon, a 38-year-old chief financial officer at a small engineering firm, every day is sheer torture. And his wife, Lara, a stay-at-home mom to their 1-year old son, can’t deal with his stress any longer.
Lara’s turn Jon is completely shut-down, anxious and jumpy, and ignores her and their son. She wants to help ease his stress and empathize, but every time she asks a question about his day he snaps at her. He’d been out of work before he took this new job, so she understands he’s reluctant to leave it, but his boss is a raving tyrant. She did anticipate that Jon would work hard, but he’s doing more than that, keeping his phone on at all hours and skipping weekend activites. They haven’t been married very long and Jon didn’t work for much of the marriage, so she knows they’ll be able to survive if he gets out of this horrible situation. So why won’t he help himself?
Jon’s turn He’s so tense from the situation at work that he has no energy left for his wife or his son. He’d heard his new boss was difficult, but he had no idea it would be this bad. The man bullies everyone, berates his employees and calls Jon at 2 in the morning. He was happy at his former job but when the company moved to a new state and Jon didn’t go along, he thought he could find something else he liked just as much. Now, he feels stuck and he’s not sure why – maybe because he was recently unemployed or because his own father unhappily stayed at the same company his whole career to provide for the family. Jon plans to stick it out and learn to deal with his ogre of a boss, but he’s resigned to a life of misery that his wife can’t accept. Read more
June 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
It’s true that the mother-in-law, or, as she’s often known these days, MIL, gets a bad rap. (Monster In Law, anyone?) Even the way she’s referred to, with the “in law” bit, implies a certain coldness and distance that’s not always the case. But for Kathy, a mom of two young girls who’s been married to John for five years and hated his mother for all of them, her MIL may as well be from H-E-L-L.
Kathy’s turn Her MIL is an intrusive, bullying troublemaker, and her husband won’t stand up to the woman. Barbara blames Kathy when John doesn’t return her calls, whines that her son loves his wife more than her, shows up at their home unannounced and refuses to come over without her dog, who bites. John tries to ignore her, leaving Kathy to run interference, and criticizes her behind her back but won’t say so to her face. He stifles all his anger then explodes when Kathy complains, punching walls and throwing things. Kathy’s been a people-pleaser since childhood, so she tries to smooth things over, but the stress ends up making her anxious and gives her headaches and insomnia. She won’t stay married to a man who won’t stand up for her.
John’s turn He knows his mother is a total nightmare. She throws fits if she’s made to wait at a restaurant, only gives presents with strings attached and lashes out in anger constantly. She got pregnant young and left John to be raised by his grandparents, so he’s never had a relationship with her and doesn’t want one now, and his solution is to avoid her as much as possible. Their phone conversations are the same every time: She complains about their relationship, invites herself over and freaks out when he says no. But he’s a people pleaser, too, and he feels obligated to stay in contact. And he hates losing his temper but his mom makes him so angry he can’t help himself. He’s desperate to gain control over his mom and his marriage.
The counselor’s turn In-law problems are very common, but this case is extreme. Barbara is narcissistic, needy and irrational, and it’s not surprising that her son doesn’t know how to deal with her. There are two choices: sever ties with Barbara completely or set iron-clad limits and stick to them. Separately, Kathy had to deal with her anxiety, which stemmed from her childhood and grew worse with her MIL, and she needed to stop trying to “fix” the mother-son relationship. First, John agreed to call his mom at scheduled times, and she began to ease up on the phone calls once she knew she’d hear from him. If Barbara started to get upset, John refused to engage her and politely got off the phone, and when she didn’t get the reaction she wanted, she stopped flipping out. John also learned to express himself to Kathy, and letting his feelings out helped him manage his temper. With the added structure, the mother-son relationship has improved, though they’ll never be best friends, and Kathy no longer feels responsible for making everyone happy. The couple is a united front, and Barbara is less of an enemy.
June 9, 2011 at 11:43 am , by Jennifer Castoro
Texting, emailing and chatting online with your spouse each day can be a great way to stay connected (and remind him to walk the dog and buy some TP). But when face-to-face conversations are completely replaced with digital ones, your easy solution becomes a big problem. Heidi, a high-earning management consultant with two preteen kids, and her husband, Brett, a part-time paralegal, only communicate via texts and emails while Heidi’s away for work.
Heidi’s side It’s too tough to find the time to call while she’s away all week, so texting and emailing are perfect solutions. She’s in constant contact with her husband, sometimes sending 15 messages in a day, yet Brett still accuses her of ignoring him. Yes, they’re short and to the point, but what does he want, love letters? Things have to be done while she’s away and if Heidi doesn’t remind him, it won’t happen. She feels horribly guilty that she’s missing her girls’ childhoods but she’s the breadwinner and has no choice. She bought her girls cell phones to keep in touch, which Brett mocks as “teleparenting,” but it’s the best she can do. She’d love to work less if her husband would find better employment, but since he won’t help lighten her load, he needs to stop criticizing her about it. Read more
June 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
In case you haven’t heard, it’s tough to get a job these days. And for the thousands of college grads now heading out into the workforce, or at least attempting to do so, odds are many will find themselves back home with mom and pop while they hunt for a paycheck. (Or while they slog through the denial that they’re now “adults,” which could take even longer.) One question in all this boomeranging: What happens to a marriage when a couple’s little bird has flown back into the nest? Meg and Paul, a mid-40s couple married for 24 years, is facing the dilemma with their 22-year-old daughter, Kim, a college grad who’s come back home jobless.
Meg’s turn She thought their only child’s departure would hurt their marriage but in fact her leaving brought them closer. It was wonderful: They could go out for dinners or movies alone, their sex life perked up and Sean began to help around the house more. When Kim came home, Meg reverted to waiting on her, doing her laundry, cooking dinners and all the things she’s sick of doing after 20-plus years. And her husband is backsliding, no longer helping around the house, leaving dishes in the sink like his daughter and bickering with her that she’s too lenient with Kim. Their new-found closeness evaporated, just like that. Read more
May 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
We all love the barbecues, parades and patriotism of Memorial Day – not to mention the day off – but in the spirit of the true purpose of the holiday, this week’s marriage drama highlights the realities of life as a solider. Greg, a father of two and member of the Army’s Special Forces, has been deployed to Afghanistan twice during the 12 years he’s been married to Maggie and is returning again in a few months.
Maggie’s turn It’s as if Greg never really came home. He’s totally withdrawn, spends all his time alone, won’t do any of the activities or take any of the trips Maggie planned for his return and refuses to go to church with his family. She can’t imagine how hard it was for him overseas, but that’s part of the problem – he won’t discuss it. He gives her grief about their two kids being spoiled, even though they’re doing well in school and behaving, and he treats them like mini-recruits. She comes from a military family so she’s used to long absences and, though she hated them at first, it’s gotten easier each time her husband has left. She’s developed systems to run the family while he’s away, so she’s resentful when he’s critical of them. She’s afraid if they stay so disconnected, they won’t be married when he comes home the next time. Read more
May 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
At some point during the course of your marriage, you may have uttered some version of the following phrase: “I have three kids: A 6-year old, a 10-year-old and a 45-year old.” Because sometimes all the feeding, clothing, reminding and directing extends beyond the kids. Donna and Leo, married for 25 years, are locked in the same sad cycle. She feels like she has to monitor and pester him constantly, and he feels like she’s being his mom.
Donna’s turn Her husband is the most irresponsible person on earth. He forgets to pay the mortgage, refuses to monitor his diabetes, comes home late without calling and won’t involve her in their finances. Donna went through a bout with colon cancer, and all he did to help was to tell her she’d be fine. She’s always run the show since childhood, when her parents worked long hours and she was left in charge of the household chores, so she’s assumed the same role in her marriage. Her husband always compares her to his mother, whom he doesn’t seem to like: When his mom says to do something, Leo does the opposite. Donna hates that he’s not affectionate in any way, and their sex life is on autopilot. He doesn’t appreciate all she does for him, and she’s finally fed up.
Leo’s turn The way he sees it, he’s just trying to protect his wife. He was the only child of loving parents and didn’t grow up expressing his affection, so he doesn’t understand why Donna can’t see that because he supports her financially and stays faithful, he loves her. She worries too much, so he tells her things will be fine or leaves her out of managing their finances so she won’t stress over them. He hates her micromanaging of his health, so he “forgets” to take his pills or eat properly to spite her. And he only kept repeating that everything would be okay when she was diagnosed with cancer because he thought that’s what she needed to hear and he was terrified to lose her. Despite everything, he’s desperate to keep his marriage alive. Read more
May 13, 2011 at 10:30 am , by Jennifer Castoro
Wives (and husbands, too) come up with many a reason to skip out on sex: a headache, a sleepless kid, an especially compelling episode of Dancing With the Stars. But what happens when you’d love to get it on, but it actually physically hurts? The couple in our latest issue’s Can This Marriage Be Saved? column (on newsstand’s now! go buy it! Sheryl Crow is on the cover!) is dealing with that heartbreaking issue. Kiera, 38, has suffered from endometriosis her whole adult life but it’s recently worsened, which makes sex with her husband of 10 years, Ryan, virtually impossible. The condition causes terrible pain in the days before, during and after her period, making even everyday activities excruciating.
Kiera’s turn She longs to be intimate with her husband, but the constant pain and discomfort caused by her endometriosis makes it tough to run errands or cook dinner, let alone have sex. She’s noticed a change in Ryan recently – he gets home late from work and has strange, dark mood swings – and she thinks he may be having an affair. She’s caught him looking at online porn, which she hardly blames him for, since there’s no action anywhere else, but it hurts her that he’s resorted to that option. He’s withdrawn from helping around the house, too, and they constantly argue over parenting decisions. She’d rather be alone than feel like she’s letting her husband down. Read more