By Hara Estroff Marano, published on November 1, 2007 - last reviewed on January 9, 2008
My wife and I are both teachers, so our vacation time coincides. But in the course of our marriage—my first, her second—we have not taken one family vacation and we do very little together as a family. I have planned vacations and day trips but end up going by myself while my wife usually goes somewhere with her ex-husband, her daughters from their marriage, and our daughter. When I protest, she tells me I'm insecure and jealous and that she is doing it for her kids. In this past, several of their vacations have been overnight, with my wife and her ex sleeping in the same room. I am not welcome on these trips although she tells my daughter that I am invited but don't want to go. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable, angry, and longing for something better. I have considered separation or divorce but am concerned about the impact it will have on our daughter.
You've been longing long enough for something better; it's time to start creating it. A marriage doesn't automatically happen after a wedding, and certainly not a family; it's something two people have to actively construct. Neither you nor your wife is doing your share. Your wife has yet to put her two feet into her current marriage. She's more than insensitive to your needs; she's deliberately challenging you in running off with her ex and then feeding your daughter negative information about you. Not to excuse her behavior, but it's hard to leave the past behind when there's nowhere exciting to go. Here's where you must rise to the challenge. Plan a time to sit down with your wife and tackle the most obvious problem area. Together, design a family or joint vacation that fulfills both of your dreams. With her input, plan when this dream vacation will be, how long it will be, where, and what you will do on it. If money's no object, plan two vacations—one for you and your wife alone, another that includes the kids. At the same time—this is a must—draw some firm boundaries around your household; your whole family is suffering from the lack of them. Overnight trips and substantial time with former partners and spouses are off-limits; without that, you have less of a marriage than a housing arrangement. Carve out some time every week for your family to be together. Encourage each member of your household to suggest activities for this time; you need to whip up everyone's excitement and create a sense of belonging. Nightly dinners with everyone joining in conversation could be helpful. Allocate specific time for the two older girls to go on vacation with their father; if they want your daughter along, that's a good time for you and your wife to vacation alone.
I met a guy at a friend's dinner party. We really hit it off and ended up having sex. I can't remember all the details—I had way too much to drink—but I think I was the one making the moves. The next morning was awkward—he couldn't leave my place quick enough. I was too hungover and embarrassed to attempt adult conversation. I think I've blown it—and he was the first guy I've connected with in ages. I want him to know I don't usually act like that but at the same time I'm annoyed with him for walking out the way he did.
Neither of you wins the Best Behavior Award. He may be feeling as awkward as you are. Or he may just be over it. You don't have a lot of maneuvering room. You might try composing a very charming and witty—not to mention brief (four or five lines, max) e-mail. You can get his e-mail address from your mutual friend. This is not the time to be too aggressive, but neither do you want to fall all over yourself telling him that you're not really like that. Confiding embarrassment might fall into the charming department, if you don't overdo it. Sweetly tell him you thought he was interesting and specify one thing that appeals to you ("I really like your sense of humor") so he knows he's more than just a notch on your belt and that you weren't totally blotto. Don't expect an immediate answer, and bear in mind that you may not hear from him at all. Don't resend the message; accept defeat gracefully.
I am in my 20s and mature for my age. I seek meaningful relationships, but my standards and pickiness are getting in the way. Before long, I tend to find something I deem undesirable and end the courtship. I hold myself to high standards and I want to find an equal. I am certainly not panicking yet, but I do not want to turn away otherwise dateable women if my approach is flawed. I would tell myself to give the woman more time to change, but waiting for someone to change is not a sound approach to relationships. How should I approach this situation?
Dahlink, I hate to break it to you, but you're not mature enough—certainly not emotionally mature. It's not others who need time to change, but you. You're taking a purely cerebral approach to romance, which is an insufficient foundation for living with anyone; if you continue this way, you will never feel the closeness such a relationship is meant to provide. And since you overvalue your own dry standards, no one can match that checklist in your head. You need to end the estrangement from yourself and turn up your emotional sensitivity. The ability to feel passion for others may give you some compassion for yourself so that you can learn to live with—gasp!—your own imperfections. All of which will allow you to appreciate the richness of the human experience. Opening yourself to love means opening yourself to the possibility of loss, hurt, and pain. People who attempt a purely cerebral approach to love have often experienced loss earlier in life and are trying to protect themselves from feeling hurt again. By substituting a checklist for your feelings, you get to reject others before they get close enough to find out that you might be less than perfect yourself. It's time to expose the inside of your soul, including whatever fears or sadness you have tried to plaster over with your intellect. Start tuning in to your fears and other unsettling feelings that may arise. You don't have to wear them on your sleeve, but you do need to privately acknowledge them. And remember that people may be attracted for many reasons, but deep connections are forged only through the power to share vulnerabilities.
I had a brief fling with a former colleague and friend years ago. Then he moved abroad and married a woman who seemed his perfect match. He e-mails all his friends with tales of their doings and travels, but he also sends me private e-mails describing his wife's "selfishness, temper, and dreadful behavior." I suggested he seek professional help for his marriage, but he has written that he "might turn up on my doorstep one day looking for a place to stay while he gets himself sorted." This is not acceptable, as I look after an elderly parent and my home situation is tense. He has a history of broken relationships, and I think he sees our fling through rose-colored glasses. I told him that I have my own problems and can't take his on. I feel he thinks I've let him down.
A fling is one thing. But entanglement with someone who is giving you clear signals about his own weak character is another. Flingman mistakes you for a welcome mat. You are right to feel uncomfortable about the possibility that he might land on your doorstep—not because you're caring for a parent but because he would be using you and abusing the good feelings you shared under completely different circumstances. He has since made it clear that he runs out on responsibility, is duplicitous, and uses others. Did I mention selfish? He didn't even ask whether his self-serving plans might be workable for you or your family. And you're worried about letting him down? You should be urging him to clean up his own mess. Make it extremely clear this instant by e-mail that you're happy to remain friends but you are not a hotel and he is responsible for making his own sleeping arrangements wherever he happens to land.
My husband works for about two hours on his laptop after dinner each night. I don't like it because it cuts into our time together, but we have discussed my feelings; I understand it's something he needs to do for his job as a trader. At least I understood until I went to give him a surprise neck massage and caught him watching porn. He was very embarrassed and said it was a one-time thing.
And I have a bridge to sell you. Sure, lots of guys look at Internet porn; its incredible accessibility makes it difficult to resist. But porn isn't the real issue here. Why, when you are readily available, has your husband chosen to avoid interacting with you and retreated to the company of fake women? For some reason, mindless fantasy is more attractive than reality to him right now. Some possibilities: Maybe he doesn't know how to ask you for what he really wants. Maybe he has concluded that he can't get from you what he really wants—do you reject any of his advances but don't count that as distancing? Perhaps what he wants isn't terribly vanilla. Or maybe he hates his work, despite how lucrative it might be, and seeks easy distraction. You need to know. You have had discussions with Hubby about your feelings; it's now time to talk about his. Drag him off on a long moonlit walk and ask him about his inner and outer world and what's happening in it and what he would like to be happening in it, at work and at home. After you spend a lot of time listening, and demonstrating your willingness to listen, perhaps you and he can both feel loved enough to jointly come up with some new agreement on how you want to spend your time together that also accommodates his need for (real) homework.
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