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 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
April 14, 2011 at 4:26 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
As if a marriage with healthy kids and humdrum daily stress weren’t tough enough, the couple in this month’s new Can This Marriage Be Saved? column is facing a parent’s worse nightmare: the death of a child. Thirty-four-year-old Bree, a stay at home mom to two girls, and Dan, 35, have been married for 14 years. Their son, Sean, died two years ago at age 6 from a metabolic disorder he had from birth, and the couple haven’t been the same since.
Bree’s turn She is so deeply, horribly depressed that she can’t get herself out of bed most days. When Sean was born, she was told he wouldn’t live past a year, but he made it to 6 and became the sole focus of her life. She feels Dan is no help with any of the kids, since he’s always traveling for business for weeks at a time, and is resentful because of it. Dan is also demanding and exhausting and gets upset when Bree doesn’t give him enough attention. She swings between feeling guilty that she didn’t do enough for Sean and angry at her husband, her girls and life in general. And she doesn’t understand how Dan has seemingly moved on with his life, gone back to work and wants to have sex, which she can’t even fathom. Their marriage died along with their son. Read more
April 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
I love sports. Watching them on TV, going to games, playing them. . . .I may as well be a dude. This makes my baseball-obsessed boyfriend very happy. But what happens when your husband is consumed with all sports, all the time and you’d rather spend the day trapped in a jail cell with a rabid raccoon than watch a game? Could a sports obsession actually doom a marriage?
That’s the issue this week’s couple, Carlos and Gloria, are facing. When they met, Carlos was a divorced, doting dad who loved taking his new lady out on the town, while Gloria impressed him with her cooking and her loving way with his daughter. Now, they’re locked in a passive-aggressive battle worthy of one of Carlos’s beloved teams’ matchups.
Gloria’s turn Everything her husband does involves sports: watching them, going to see them, playing them or teaching them to his daughter. Gloria’s lonely and bored because, though he’s often in the same room, her husband just isn’t there. She hates sports and initially tried to watch with him but now can’t even bother. She didn’t know how obsessed Carlos was until they moved in together after they wed, and now she misses the things they used to do while they were dating. Read more