Advice Column: Answers to difficult questions

A Child's Dilemma

My parents have been fighting a lot—every day for the last week. My dad found out that my mom was cheating on him (with my ex). I am hurt because my mom knows that I still love him. What will help my mom and dad work out their problems? I don't want them to separate. My dad still loves my mom. They are fighting as I write. I just need help because I do need my mom and she thinks I do not. She has never been around when I needed her the most; she keeps pushing me away from her. I don't want anyone to know my problems.

B

Sometimes parents can get so wrapped up in their own problems they forget that they have the important job of parenting to do. Sometimes they can be jolted back to reality. Perhaps that is the case with your parents now.

You have something important to tell you parents. It would be wise to call them together for a meeting and tell them you have something to say that they need to hear. Speak from the heart, just as your letter does. Tell them what you have told me: that you love them both and that you don't want your family to break apart, and that their constant fighting scares you and hurts you. Then you could turn specifically to your mother and tell her that you need her, and that you need her even though sometimes you feel she isn't there for you, but that you hope she will find the way to be the mother you need right now. She may get the message, but she may not. (And she certainly shouldn't be fooling around with your boyfriends, current or former, but that is a whole other issue.)

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Remember, painful as it may be to watch things unfold, it is not your job to fix your parents' problems—they are the adults; and you should not feel that it's your fault if your parents split. The hope is that when they are reminded of the parenting they have to do, they might begin to consider your needs as well as their own. Maybe they can go for help in fixing their marriage once they remember how important it is.

A Date with Depression

I am a divorced mother who has been dating a gentleman (for over a year) with whom I have a lot in common. He has been divorced for three years and is also the father of four wonderful children. He runs his own business and shares custody of his kids. He has a very likeable personality and is easy-going, and sensitive to other people's needs. I am very pleased with our relationship and feel very strongly for him, however, I am concerned about our future because he has had frequent episodes of depression. During these episodes, he experiences a total lack of energy, sexual desire, and self-appreciation. At times I think that he truly believes his life is worth nothing except to take care of his kids. I have never experienced depression like this before and it worries me to see him like this. He is very health-conscious, and is physically fit. Is the depression something I should be concerned about, from a relationship standpoint?

Ann

Your concern is well-founded, as bouts of depression tend to increase in severity and frequency over time and usually have very subversive effects on relationships. Depression makes people irritable, withdrawn, easily overwhelmed and unable to enjoy life, and usually results in an increase in arguing. The actions of the depressed person can also make the nondepressed partner feel rejected and lonely. There are many ways that the potential for misunderstanding is greatly increased.

Depression also can have a very negative impact on a person's ability to function at work, a real concern as it could threaten your friend's livelihood and the well-being of his children. Such an outcome would be a huge stress and could greatly compound any depression.

But depression is a highly treatable disorder. In general depression results from a collision of biological vulnerability with life stresses, and these may come from internal sources as well as external situations. Everyone's biological vulnerability is set at a different threshold, and so are the stresses they are subjected to.

Some people truly seem to need the chemical kick start of antidepressant drugs like Prozac to help them out of the mental rut that depression puts them in. All depressed people need to learn what makes the vulnerable and ways to manage their moods; the best way is though psychotherapy with a mental health professional highly experienced at working with the depressed. Further, many men have trouble gaining access to the emotional pain that is typically at the core of their depression, and your friend would probably benefit from therapy that can help him do that as well.

The best way to find a qualified therapist is to ask someone you know who has been helped by therapy. Or search our therapist directory to find someone suitable in your area.

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