The other half of co-dependence:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

My therapist told me to find a book on co-dependence so today I visited the Sober Camel, an AA book store. My last two husbands were alcoholics and my therapist is trying to prevent me from getting involved with yet another one. There were so many books on this theme that I spent the whole day flipping through them but I just did not seem to fit the mold. They talked about shame, guilt, poor self esteem and being easily manipulated. That is not me. I am a good Christian and I loved my husbands despite the fact that they were good for nothing. I did everything in my power to help them. They became my whole life. It was only when things became so bad that it was affecting our kids that I left number one. Number two left me, despite the fact that I put him through school! As soon as he got on his feet he walked away.

I have infinite love and don’t see myself as having poor self esteem. I am just being a good person. Does this make me co-dependent?

Belle

Dear Belle,

You are quite codependent in a way that is common in our culture- you put other’s needs before your own. You sacrifice yourself and show your love by doing tasks. You are a ‘giving tree,’ like in Shel Silverstein’s book of the same title. You see yourself as a hero but heroes die and giving trees get cut down. The consequence in your case is that you are role modeling codependent dysfunctional relationships for your kids. This is why children of enablers often marry substance abusers themselves.

It’s true that books are often written solely from the point of view that partners of alcoholics are victims; but as you noticed, you are not a victim. I’ve found that just as often, it’s the case that when one partner does too much, it enables the other to do too little. By your sacrifices you are only maintaining status quo; and your partner can continue to avoid his own issues.

Codependent enablers often see themselves as heroes rescuing others. But this type of rescue keeps partners weak and violates their free will. Instead of being grateful, they just get mad at you. Being rescued fosters dependence; adults often resent those they depend on.

Enabling heroes believe that love is redemptive. Ironically, the more you love someone unconditionally the more they are likely to stay the same. A broken child can sometimes be healed to a certain extent by unconditional love; but not always.

Change is difficult and really can only be achieved through personal struggle. People often don’t choose this personal struggle if someone else is enabling them. A healthy life is about balance. I recommend you try to find someone who can take care of themselves yet still chooses to be with you. This is more a balanced relationship.

The rule of thumb I teach clients is, “If you are mothering someone you can’t sleep with them, that is incest!”

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: the Martyr Hero model has been around for a long time. It’s a fabulous diversion for people who prefer to focus on solving other’s people’s problems rather than fixing their own. My own mother was a martyr and I despised her for it. After undergoing therapy in my 20’s I realized exactly what her problem was and tried to talk with her about it. She was oblivious. She couldn’t imagine seeing the world any way other than she did. She tolerated a neglectful husband and meddled in everyone’s life on a constant basis until a month or so before she died of heart failure at age 59. At that point, she was just too tired to care anymore.

The last time I saw her, it was such a relief to not have her asking me what I wanted every five minutes and presenting me with things she’d bought me that I’d never need or want. It was the fondest memories I have of her. I didn’t cringe every time she came in the room. I didn’t know she was going to die, I just saw that she’d finally hung up the martyr shroud and it was like a burden had been lifted. Solve your own problems, Belle, and stop meddling and mothering. No one appreciates it quite as much as you.

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Loosey Goosey:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

How can one measure the looseness or tightness of their vagina?? I have a fear that I am loose. How can I get it tighter without surgery?

Miss Fit

Dear Miss Fit,

As a therapist I always have to ask what provokes a question. If you have been told you are “too loose”, and in an insensitive manner, this is probably a symptom of a much larger problem. There is rarely such a thing as being “too loose” if you’re in good health, reasonably fit, and have not yet had children. If your partner has cited this as a flaw, it could it be his size, not yours. Of course, after giving birth there can be another story.

The vagina is made to expand and accommodate, but after delivery it can often use some help getting back into shape. There are simple exercises for the pubococcygeal muscle which supports the pelvic viscera. I will let Granny explain how they work, since, lacking a vagina, I’ve never actually done them. There are additional perks in training this muscle. Contracting it during intercourse will give your partner a nice surprise. However, as with all body building, don’t go crazy with it. A snug fit is great but too much of a good thing can be problematic. I once dated a woman who could crack a vibrator with her vagina. This made sex with her a little bit scary- she had to be careful not to inflict permanent damage.

There are other issues to watch for in good vaginal health. Lubrication and elasticity are functions of estrogen, so pain during intercourse is a sign there might be an imbalance. Some woman complain of quite the opposite of your question- they feel so “tight” that intercourse is painful. This could be from fear, anxiety, or bad technique, because the vagina will accommodate anything to the size of a baby.

A sex therapist might be helpful for you.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: the exercise that Dr. Brilliant speaks of is called a kegel and I got quite an education when I took natural childbirth classes. First, you need to locate the muscles in question. Here’s how: the next time you are peeing, clench and cut the urine off midstream. Congratulations- you’ve done a kegel! This exercise is best done lying on your back. To begin, tighten those pelvic floor muscles, hold for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, then relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions. Don’t hold your breath! What you want to aim for is three sets of ten repetitions per day. Be consistent!

Does it work? Yes, it does. And Granny can testify personally about that “surprise your partner” thing. The first time you give this little “handshake” to a guy, he usually freaks out. If you want to have some fun with him, pretend you don’t know what he’s talking about.

Here’s the practical truth- if you continue a kegel clench off and on during intercourse, the size of your vagina is irrelevant; the effect is dynamite. I’ve applied the clench method when I was with a guy who had a rather small organ; it seems to level the playing field on both ends. Another plus- tightening your vaginal muscles during orgasm actually intensifies the sensation and can open the door to those “multiple orgasms” most people only read about in porn mags. I recommend this technique for every woman. You’re welcome, men.

A final note- there is no standard size you can apply to sexual organs; they are what they are. Comparing yourself is the road to madness. The idea is to find a partner who appreciates YOU.

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The depression of success:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

I am a 38 years old and have it all. Good job, good husband, great kids, enough money, and a dog. We have a nice house in a nice suburb of a nice city. Things were great until three months ago when I asked myself, “is this it?” Now I can’t quiet my mind. I am restless and I feel empty. I can’t enjoy my kids, husband or situation. Every time I fake an orgasm I feel like a piece of me has died. Am I going crazy? My best friend is on antidepressants and says it sounds like I need one too. Lately I have been obsessing about this guy at work and I am afraid I will do something stupid. What is going on? I have no reason or right to feel this way.

Losing It.

Dear loosing it,

If this is the first time you have ever felt this way, I call this the depression of success. By all of our cultural standards, you have won. End of game. Some poets have killed themselves upon achieving success rather than go on and loose what they have achieved. I call that narcissistic stupidity.

What you have built up to this point is a base. It is a starting point for the next level. Trashing it and starting over would not only be stupid but would also eventually lead to this exact same point again. Now that you are secure and stable it’s time to think about someone other than yourself. When Madonna reached this point she adopted a poor starving Afro-American child. This child brought meaning to her life, through service. This was something she learned from the Kabbalah. For you, some form of charity or service would serve the same purpose. You might argue, “but I have no time!” But I have to ask- if you have the leisure to contemplate the meaningless of your life and enough time on your hands to contemplate screwing it all up, you have plenty of time to rearrange your schedule to do service and help someone who doesn’t have your blessings.

I was curious as to what she would say so I asked my ten year old daughter how she would solve this problem. Her response: “get into art!” Since art is about learning how to look, you could probably use this skill.

We live in a throw away culture and many people who have reached the same point you have throw their lives away as well. You can be infinitely more imaginative than that.

Taking antidepressants for this type of depression is our cultural reflex, but it is a mistake. Medication will just enable a person to avoid making important changes in their life. For a while you will feel better; you might care less about everything. But over time, if you change nothing in your life and add nothing of substance to it, you will come again to emptiness. Your doctors will probably up your medication, then change your medication, and soon what started as an esoteric crisis will be diagnosed as bipolar because the medication itself will cause bigger and bigger emotional crashes. Sometimes antidepressants can be lifesaving but not all depression is the same. Find someone who can help you distinguish the difference.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I’m not as ready to classify these feelings of yours as narcissistic stupidity, Losing It, although the solutions that you are considering don’t show a great deal of intelligence. I think that you are long over-due for a self-evaluation, and you at least have the sense to question your first instinct to reach for pills and illicit sex to fill the void you admittedly now face. What I am first taken by is that in qualifying yourself as “having it all,” you list absolutely nothing but material possessions and social standing. I’ll give you a nod for the kids and the dog, but you distinctly left out the fake orgasms; I suspect you left out a lot more as well. You are living in a house of cards, lady, and it’s starting to come down.

In our culture, we are trained to be good consumers, otherwise there would soon be no culture left. Everything here costs money. People won’t struggle to get the cash to buy goods unless they are brainwashed into thinking that material possessions and personal desirability are the ultimate goals in life. You’ve been brainwashed. Now, for the first time in your life, you are starting to realize how empty this “dream” you’ve achieved is.

Perhaps you can bring more meaning to your life through service, but I would not go into it with attitude of “I have so much, now I must give to the less fortunate.” Quite honestly, you ain’t so fortunate. You are spiritually empty, selfish and shallow. All you have to give is your time and your money. Before you can give emotionally to anyone else, you need to gain some genuine emotions. Perhaps you should do some volunteer work with the idea that YOU have something to gain, not those poor souls whom you are supposedly saving.

I can’t read Madonna’s mind or make any assessments as to her spiritual depth or motivations, but I do have to observe that the one time in recent history when I saw her out with her adopted African son, they were at the Grammy’s, both dressed up like pimps and acting cool and cocky. Madonna did not exactly seem to be extolling virtue or service of any kind. It looked to me as her son was following in his adopted mother’s craving for the spotlight, status and flashy clothing. I’ll say no more.

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My son is exposing himself:

Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

My wife and I divorced nearly nine years ago. After the divorce, she moved back to be with her parents in another state, taking my three children with her. I talk to them every day, but I am not there to discipline them.
Since my divorce, I’ve developed another relationship and have two additional children. My middle child, who is living with my ex wife, is now eleven and is acting up in school. Today, I was told that he exposed himself in front of his class.
I am not there to punish him. I don’t have time to find out what is wrong. I don’t understand his behavior and I don’t know what to do, but it has me concerned. Far Dad

Dear Dad,

This is a difficult situation but if you don’t have a great relationship with your ex you are at her mercy because she has primary placement. How much she will allow you to help may depend on her feelings about you. However, as you said, you don’t have much time; and if punishing him is your idea of helping, you wouldn’t really be much help.

Your son needs to be seen by a counselor in order to objectively evaluate the situation. He is too old for this sort of behavior to be simply normal experimenting. He knows this isn’t a socially acceptable thing to do. This is serious. He needs help and he needs it now. Offer to pay for it if they have no insurance.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I’ll be honest, Far Dad- my advice to you is to stay far, far away. Punishing your son under such circumstances would have been a foolish thing to do. You don’t want to drive his impulses underground…it is important to shine a clear light on such a troubled gesture. I’m with Dr. Brilliant on this one. Your son needs to see a therapist, and he needs to do it pronto. By the time a child is eleven, if he does not understand that flashing is inappropriate behavior, he has been raised under a rock. This was a cry for help. Far better that he make such an appeal where help might be found, than to commit inappropriate acts where no one will see. Punishment won’t help at all, but your financial backing could help your son get the treatment he needs. Fork it over if need be and let your wife handle this.

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Nude photo requirement:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché:

Why do famous people have nude photos of themselves in the first place? Is it a job requirement? I don’t know anyone who has nude photos of themselves??? At least not that they admit to. Does everyone secretly have nude photos of themselves and I missed something socially? Should I do the naked selfie now?

Naked and waiting

Dear Naked,

I have no idea!

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: oh, please. It’s obvious. The one thing that nearly 100% of famous people have in common is that they are self-obsessed and want attention. This self-obsession is usually narcissistic in nature, and those who think that they are beautiful have GOT to document the evidence. Physical perfection is fleeting. What if nobody ever saw how beautiful they were? It would be like it never happened.

To be honest, I like looking at pictures of attractive naked people. They are like living statues, lovely in line and form. Of course, it’s a violation when a stranger broadcasts such pictures without consent, but anyone who keeps nude photos someplace where hackers can get to them, I can’t be that sympathetic.

Another thing- sometimes nude photos and sex tapes ARE how people become famous. Look at Kim Kardashian, for god’s sake. She has nothing to recommend her except for a silly voice that is dynamite fodder for SNL skits. Were it not for her “stolen” sex tape, we’d never know who she was.

I have one last observation to make about naked celebrity photos that go viral- the star in question is always drop dead gorgeous. Otherwise, no one would want to look.

Perhaps the best protection against stolen viral pictures is to get REALLY out of shape and never wear make up. Of course, then the Enquirer will be after you for its “Best and Worst Celebrity Beach Bodies” issue.

Sometimes ya just can’t win.

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My daughter wants to marry an Internet creep:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

My 19 year old daughter isn’t really into school. She sees no reason for it but she’s attending because I want her to. Recently, through her online video game, she met a 35 year old man from across the country and after two months she thinks she is in love with him. They Skype and she has seen his kid and says he is real cute and she loves him too. He claims he got custody of his child after the end of an abusive relationship with the mom. They council each other on the woes of their lives. She wants to drop everything and move in with him.

So far, she has submitted to my ultimatum: “over my dead body!” But I think that when she turns 20 she plans to leave. What can I do? She says they relate because he “doesn’t think like a 35 year old.” This is what scares me- my daughter is not the most mature kid on the block. What if she goes? He says his ex was the abusive one but it takes two to tango. What if she has kids. I don’t want to be burdened taking care of her kids should it come to that.

HELP!

Fearful Mom,

Dear Mom,

Unfortunately, unless your daughter can be proven mentally ill or so mentally retarded that she cannot be responsible for her decisions, there is little you can do. Despite her immaturity her age qualifies her as an adult. Perhaps you could tell her, “you can go, but I have to move in with you too.” It often helps children behave in school if a parent threatens to go in and sit behind them.

As far as any children that your daughter may have, that’s a tough issue. What does one do with adult children who have children of their own? I hope that this guy would step up to the plate, but statistically it is unlikely. You should talk to your husband about what your plans are, when and if that should happen. I would also talk to your daughter about a copper IUD; it is good for 10 years. It has a higher risk of infertility than shorter methods but it doesn’t require any maintenance. Talk to your daughter and her physician about options. Preventative medicine is the best policy here.
Good luck,

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: your daughter is a fool, Mom. Let me relate a true story to you; this actually happened to an airhead friend of mine. Jude was a fanciful girl who smoked a lot of pot and tended to think in “cosmic” ways. She struck up a correspondence on the internet with a guy in California who claimed to have his own ranch. He understood her deepest thoughts. They felt the same way about the cosmos and about life and love. He sent her pictures and made promises and she was so besotted that she packed up all her stuff and drove across the country, from Providence, to be with him. When she got there, this little gnome of a guy who smelled terrible greeted her at the end of a dirt road, where she followed him to his cabin. Thank god she had her own car. It turns out the guy was a consummate liar and he was actually the caretaker for a large ranch someone else owned. He’d lied about everything. The only reason they “understood each other so well” was that they were both equally stoned and lacked a sense of concrete reality.

Jude drove back home the wiser for the experience and never made the same mistake again. Here’s a message to your daughter, Mom: anybody can say ANYTHING on the internet and make it seem true. Nothing in their life has to match, not their age, their occupation, or even their gender. All they have to do is fabricate an identity for themselves and convince someone without any ambition or life plan to fall in with their fantasy. If she’s lucky, your daughter will simply be let down. If she’s unlucky, she could end up dead.

Men will say anything to get what they want. They prey on young impressionable kids like your daughter because no one else will fall for their crap. The internet is a perfect place to do this. Any35 year old man who is picking up teens on the internet is a LOSER, no matter how you look at it. As far as what you can do? I’d show your daughter this blog. It may not open her eyes but I hope to god it prompts her to ask a few more questions. Another idea- have your daughter ask the guy to fly out and meet you and your husband. If he’s really serious, he’d welcome the chance to make his intentions known to mom and dad. If he refuses, that picture speaks a thousand words.

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Should we let the dirtbag die?

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

I am a mental health worker. Today I received the strangest request. One of my clients, who has had a less than reputable past which includes drug abuse and alcohol, is now older and sober; but he is paying the price. He has gone into kidney failure and he will die if he doesn’t get a transplant. His life can be temporarily prolonged with dialysis but only a transplant can make him well. Today, the transplant center called me to ask if he is mentally capable of receiving a transplant. They told me that kidneys are very scarce and if he will be noncompliant with treatment his body will reject the organ. This would be a waste when it could have gone to someone else. Additionally, the medications required after a transplant will be very harsh on his mind and body. Essentially, they needed me to tell them if he is worth saving. This is an argument I can run many ways in my head. What is your opinion?

Life or death

Dear Life,

Mental health is not relevant to this case at all and neither is your own opinion. Our cultural standard demands that, right or wrong, one cannot withhold lifesaving procedures based on mental health, sex, or race. Not even for economic reasons although in reality health insurance withholds treatment all the time from people.

If this man’s insurance covers it or he is willing to pay for it himself and the kidney is available, in our culture, he has a right to it. If dialysis is an equally effective treatment alternative then it is between the patient and his doctor to decide those options. If dialysis is a lesser treatment, you cannot substitute it simply because you might feel he is less deserving of the kidney than someone else. Even if you feel he might not be compliant with treatment follow up, this doesn’t justify the right to withhold treatment. It would just require extra effort on the treatment provider’s side to help him with compliance issues.

All you can say as a mental health professional and licensed doctor is whether the patient is able to understand the proposed procedure, risks and benefits, and if he is mentally capable of signing his own consent.

Medical ethics is a fascinating field but like law it is not simply based on ethical right or wrong. What determines right or wrong? What is right for the individual often conflicts with what is right for the community as a whole. Therefore many ethical decisions in medicine are based on legal rulings and or community standard.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: This confuses me. If the transplant issue is a matter of law, why is the transplant center seeking this mental health worker’s opinion? Are they taking the law into their own hands and playing God? That seems unlikely. I would like to know the reasoning behind this unusual request.

However, if you want Granny’s opinion- if this issue of who gets the kidney WERE to be decided on intrinsic worthiness, it would not be possible to make such a decision without a thorough investigation into the next kidney patient on the list as well. The patient who was described seems no less worthy of an organ than anyone else. Everyone has problems and no one is without fault…but this man has faced up to his wrongs and through his own efforts he has overcome problems which many people lack the character to address. In my eyes, this would make him more worthy, not less. We cannot judge people by the mistakes they make. If we are to judge them at all, it would be to judge their willingness to accept responsibility for those mistakes and their efforts to right the wrongs. Anyone can coast along an even path…it takes a strong individual to survive an earthquake. Many people who resort to drugs are in terrible emotional or physical pain for reasons not entirely their own. I do not judge them. I feel at least an initial compassion for them. It’s the boneheads who don’t even bother to try that I have no use for.

Dr. Brilliant clarifies:

No this isn’t a legal issue technically. I said medical ethics decisions function like law based on a community standard.

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Nice vs. Kind splainin:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

I read your recent blog on the difference between “nice” and “kind.” I wonder if you could explain this further. It seems like there’s an important point here
and I would like to make sure I understand. I think I might have a problem telling the two apart myself.- I could use some “splainin”.

Mary Doormat

Granny says: Here’s the difference between “nice” and “kind” on a purely word & language level- “nice” is behavior that you learn and it involves a display of social consideration: “Be nice to your little brother” As a nice person, you are seen as a person who likes others. Niceness can be viewed from outside, it is behavior that is easily seen.

On the other hand, “kindness” is an innate instinct that we either have, or don’t. It is not learned behavior- some people are born kind while there are also people who get joy and satisfaction in creating troubles for others. Kindness is not always seen from the outside, and sometimes it means looking like the bad guy- a “nice” mother might let the teens party in her house, but a “kind” mother knows how wrong it is and boots them out.

It’s easy to be “nice” on the outside while being a self-serving bastard and having no compassion at all for others. But it takes genuine kindness to feel a reflexive caring for one’s fellow humans.

Dr. Brilliant comments:

This is a topic I usually spend an hour lecturing on and years thereafter reinforcing but I will try to hit the highlights.

In the self help world and codependent literature nice and kind are split the opposite way. I believe kindness is a set of learned skills and nice is culturally trained behavior which becomes reflexive. I’ve included a chart of differences: nice vs. kind.

The way I see it, nice derives from what we are taught living in a codependent culture. Nice is one sided and revolves around self sacrifice. I don’t believe this is sustainable because it leaves personal needs out of the picture. Nice people are hyper aware of other’s needs and are compelled to get involved and help.
Unfortunately, most people often aren’t aware of their own needs or suffering so when a “nice” person comes in and takes care of everything, it only helps short term; the problem itself remains unchanged so things get worse over time not better. Nice people live in immediate time not long term. The general rule I teach is if you do too much, everyone else does too little.

In the 50’s sitcom, Leave it to Beaver, Mom does everything for everyone, as the perfect mom. But in reality these sacrificial moms were probably on Valium; Anger, resentment and disappointment can build underneath a nice person’s constant sacrifices. No family is sustainable if everyone doesn’t pitch in.

In my practice I see sacrificial moms often ending up cheated on or taken advantage of by their husbands because they exist merely as a reflection of others, which is boring and tiresome. Based on Game theory, the more one sacrifices, the more of a victim they become and the angrier everyone else gets at them for doing it.

Being “nice” and sacrificing maintains status quo but it can’t change anything because it doesn’t add anything new. If you are only a reflection of what you think everyone else needs, you aren’t even you.

“Nice” can’t ever be neutral. Nice has to get involved. Nice doesn’t let others sort things out on their own so no one learns how.

“Nice” doesn’t Consider intent or goal based planning. It isn’t a discussion with others…it is a doing for others. “Nice” people show love by performing tasks. “Nice” people often are not present in the moment. If you are always doing, you are never present. Nice people will run themselves to depletion.

“Kind,” on the other hand is often counter intuitive. It is skill based and requires asking good questions: what is the consequence of my intervention long term? Did they ask me to help? What is my goal and intent and what is their goal and intent? “Kind” is having a presence in the moment and having an ongoing conversation with all involved. Most importantly “kind” is living by example- role modeling.
Rather than doing everything for everyone, kind people are good teachers and role models. They help others to help themselves. Kind people understand that suffering can motivate creativity, personal growth and change as long as the right tools are available. Kind people do not infantilize everyone in their life by doing everything for them.

Kind people understand happiness is self generated. You do not make others happy. A kind goal is not happiness but contentment.

Kind people allow themselves to be replenished by others.

Good reference books on the topic is: The Inner Bitch Guide to Men, Relationships, Dating, Etc. by Elizabeth Hilts and The Original Warm Fuzzy Tale by Claude Steiner

Here is a summery chart that compares the associations of nice vs. Kind.

Nice——————————————Kind

—————————————————————–
Reflex—————————————Skill based

intuitive————————————learned

Allergic to suffering————————Can say no , can be neutral

Compelled to do something——————–Bigger picture mindful. The doing of non-doing

Love as tasks——————————–Love as presence

Doesn’t add self, acts as if was
the other person—————————–Role models. Self is a role model following INTENT

Western compassion /getting in the way——-Eastern compassion,getting out of the way

Self is others thus nothing new is added—–Role model and teacher

Status quo is maintained———————NEW

Can build: Resentment, anger,—————Can be neutral
disappointed, guilt, shame

Tied to outcome——————————Witness

Feeling based——————————–Balance oriented

Depletion/Sacrifice————————–Reciprocation

Happiness is the goal————————Contentment is the goal

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Be kind not Nice:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have been dating a woman, Sara, for about 2 months. We talked about our past relationships and I gathered that her last one wasn’t a good experience. In her eyes, the guy was “abusive.” She recounted stories about how manipulative he was, how selfish, etc, etc… They were never married, but were together for a long time before it fell apart in an ugly way. I had a different experience with my ex- we’ve remained friend through the years, although admittedly we weren’t very friendly for the first 6 months. But we both learned lessons and I don’t hold any blame.

Here’s the problem I’m having with Sara- she doesn’t seem to have taken anything but animosity from a relationship she put many years into. Sara is a lot of fun and she is intelligent and attractive. But during a recent out of town trip she took, I had a lot of time to think about things. Now I’m wondering if I should go any further into a relationship with her. She does seem to have a problem being direct about her feelings if something upsets her. I don’t want to be the next guy she’s describing to her new boyfriend as an abusive a-hole.

Steve Notahole

Dear Steve,

This is a very astute question which most people don’t even seem to consider. Every relationship is about at least two people, and you usually only ever hear one side. No one can have a relationship with a partner who doesn’t reflect their own relationship skills. This means that Sara probably has some issues. But on the other hand- who doesn’t?

In a relationship, there’s more than one way to respond to issues. Usually either one partner pushes the other’s buttons and brings them out or they diminish their impact by not responding to them. If you balance her by not reacting to her stuff, you might be good for her; she might also do the same for you. But if you are a “rescuer” you will make her issues worse.

As long as you two can openly and honestly communicate a lot of things might just work themselves out, but an ongoing conversation is essential. It’s the nice people who keep everything silently to themselves who suffer the most.

Be kind not nice. There is a huge difference.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: Two months isn’t long enough to know what the future will hold. Most people are on their best behavior during the “honeymoon” phase…then when they start feeling comfortable, you see what was behind their company manners.

I think it’s unfair to judge a person on past relationships because this would mean that no one learned or grew through experience. However, something you said about Sara sets off my Granny BS alarm: “she doesn’t seem to have taken anything but animosity from a relationship she put many years into.”

Animosity is not fertile ground for learning and growing. Continuing animosity means that that a person is festering, not healing. It also usually means that they are placing the blame largely on the object of their anger. People who are obsessed with blame rarely question themselves. It takes two to tango and Sara and her ex both had their own part in whatever dysfunction existed. If Sara can’t admit that, she’ll never update her personal relationship skills. If those skills now lean towards finger pointing rather than problem solving, you can expect to have many fingers pointed at you over the course of your relationship, should it continue.

My suggestion is that you tell Sara exactly how you feel, although for god’s sake, be tactful or you will seem abusive in her eyes. See how she reacts. If she gets angry, this is how she will always react. If she is concerned for your happiness as well as her own, she will engage in a conversation.

An ongoing conversation IS necessary to a healthy relationship. If you can’t start the conversation, I’d advise against trying to start the relationship.

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Absolute morality of my husband:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have a secret. I don’t want to have a secret but my husband, although a completely reasonable man in all other respects, is adamant in his stance towards alcohol- he is a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in 14 years, and to him, alcohol is an evil that nearly destroyed his life. He is tolerant of people in social situations because he doesn’t think he has a right to impose his beliefs on them. But as far as I go- I am a reflection of who he is and if I drink, this is a reflection on him and a violation of his deepest creed.

So I am a secret drinker. When I say secret drinker, I don’t mean that I have bottles hidden around the house. In fact, I never drink at home. I consider drinking to be an occasional social pleasure, to be moderately indulged in with the company of other responsible adults who are relaxing and enjoying life. If I go to a friend’s birthday party, I see nothing wrong with toasting her along with everyone else. If I have dinner with my mom and we both have a glass of wine, I’m not careening down the road to ruin.

But my husband has zero tolerance, so I hide it from him. And I have to keep everyone I know in on the secret.

Drinking has never been a part of our life together, so I don’t miss it at home. But it puts me in a position where I have to keep up a front, make sure no pictures are ever posted of me at parties, etc, etc… I have tried talking about the issue with my husband and he says he sees my point, but he just couldn’t live with it and he knows that.

Literally everything else is fine in my marriage. We share thoughts, household chores…our sex life is fine. This secret is like a little pebble in my shoe that is an annoying constant presence.

got any ideas?

Betty

Dear Betty,

Overall this is a moot point- as unimportant as alcohol is to you, you could just as easily have a soda with your friends. This is really not about alcohol but about control.

To gain back a feeling of equality in this matter, understand that the human brain is so good at denial that if you tell him the truth in a diplomatic way, he most likely will just ignore your forays. Just tell him. “I know we disagree about social alcohol and I agree never to have any at home or to keep it at home out of respect for you but I don’t want to lie to you. Occasionally I have a drink while out with my friends. It is my right and we can agree to disagree on this point. I will not bring it up again and I would appreciate you not to be a bully about this.”

He is not going to leave you over this and if he did it would be indicative of a much larger problem and in that case, good riddance. One couple I know did indeed divorce after the husband turned born again and adopted an intractable morality and nothing the wife did was righteous enough for God (or his liking.) Absolutism often doesn’t differ much from narcissism, but I don’t sense this in your husband’s case.

Don’t keep up a front, just be yourself- but I don’t recommend flaunting it.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: If this issue is about control, it’s about the control Betty’s husband is exerting. Her desire to have an occasional social drink as an adult is completely normal and healthy and soda is hardly as relaxing or convivial as a glass of wine. Soda is also not good for your bones, if you want to pick nits- it leeches calcium.

Here’s the real problem I see- every lie builds a wall between partners. It’s not a healthy practice for anyone in a relationship, especially when it concerns an important issue. One nearly always ends up getting found out- and then the lie is as big, or a bigger, betrayal than the act itself.

Dr. Brilliant’s idea is great for getting the truth out…IF your husband reads his lines as planned in the script you’ve prepared. However, people tend to be annoyingly uncooperative in real life. You may have to do more than count on his being in a coma of denial. You may have to explain yourself and it may get messy.

Here’s what I recommend. First, give Dr. Brilliant’s suggestion a try. But in case your husband starts asking questions, have another speech prepared: “Honey, I love you with all my heart, but you are one half of this relationship, not the dictator of a small country. I’d like to have a respected third party mediator called in so that we can get a better balance into this marriage.”

If this backfires, then Dr. Brilliant is right- there’s a bigger problem here than drinking, and it may not be solvable.

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