Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 5:22 am.
Families exist along a broad range of healthiness and unhealthiness. Some people are fortunate to come from families where the parents have a healthy (but not necessarily perfect!) relationship and raise their children with a strong sense of safety and of their own value as people. Some families have more than a few problems: parents that don’t get along, personality clashes between the parents and the kids, depression in a parent or other issues. These issues can affect the children’s sense of safety and happiness in the home to quite varying degrees.
Some families are troubled by problems that are quite severe: alcoholism or drug abuse in a family member, domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse of the spouse or children. Sexual abuse is one of the most destructive of these severe family problems. It may seem odd, but sometimes sexual abuse is the “quiet problem”. It can be happening but is not as obvious as violence and alcoholism in the home. This is because of the secretive nature of sexual behavior, the obvious taboo against parent-child sexual contact and the fact that most victims of sexual abuse are threatened by the perpetrator not to tell anyone “or else”.
It would not be uncommon for your sister not to realize or start to deal with the fact of having been sexually abused until her early or middle adult years. I see this all the time in my practice. And her realization may have been there long before she felt brave enough to tell you about this. I can understand your extreme shock and not knowing how to respond. Often people doubt whether this could be true of their own parent. However the incidence of false memories or vindictive fabrication of abuse stories is close to zero and I would take your sister at her word.
Families deal with the blow of this kind of revelation in lots of different ways, but the most important thing you can do is listen and give emotional support to your sister. You may be the first or only family member to whom she has disclosed this. I also recommend not taking any kind of impulsive action toward your father, such as confronting him or cutting off contact with him, until you have had time to deal with this yourself emotionally. Anything you do should be in consultation with your sister and respectful of her wishes. It may be helpful for you to talk to a counselor who knows about sexual abuse to help you with your own emotional reactions.
The occurrence of sexual abuse in families is real and unfortunately more common than we would like to believe. Both women and men can be abusive and both girls and boys can be victims of abuse. I am glad you wrote in about this topic. My hope is that anyone reading this column who has this problem, whether they are committing sexual abuse of a child or a victim of sexual abuse, will be awakened to the fact that this behavior is completely unacceptable and wrong and that they need not remain silent. There is help available for every family member, whether the one acting out their problems by abusing someone or the victim, spouse, or other members of the family.
Posted on Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 1:25 am.
Dear Dr. Beth, I am in my 30s and came from a family that I knew was dysfunctional. Apparently, I didn’t know how dysfunctional our family really was. Recently, my younger sister (we are pretty close in age) visited and told me a secret she had been carrying around for over 15 years. She said she was sexually molested by our father when she was between the ages of 10-13. I’m in total shock. I don’t know what to believe or how to react. Please give me some advice.
Posted on Monday, February 8th, 2016 at 12:04 am.
This is an incredibly tough issue for parents and their teenage or young adult children. No matter how open or welcoming you have been to conversation on this topic with your daughter, it is likely that she truly fears that you will be negative and disapproving of her desire to begin sexual relations with her boyfriend. In truth, most parents understandably have large concerns about their child becoming sexually active. It is a huge turning point in both of your lives.
It sounds like there is some degree of health and maturity in her decision to have sex with her partner. It appears that she is in what is probably a stable relationship (I would consider it “long-term” for someone in her age-group) and she is doing the right thing by trying to learn about contraception and sex. I would certainly support you in trying to talk about this with her but give yourself some time to move beyond your immediate emotional reactions before initiating the conversation. Don’t be surprised if she really doesn’t want to talk to you about it and simply isn’t willing to do so. On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised.
It is appropriate for you to share your thoughts, feelings and concerns with her about her choices, but please don’t leap to the conclusion that she has already decided in favor of having sex. She may still be in a process of making a decision. While you may be able to influence her decision-making, there is actually little you can do at this stage to deter her if she has already decided to go forward.
Your best bet is to support her but with an emphasis on safety and what you see as healthy and unhealthy reasons for becoming sexually active. The potential for unwanted pregnancy or STDs should be your main concern. You other main concern would be not creating a serious rupture in your mother-daughter relationship.
If your religious values are extremely strong about teen sex and premarital sex, this will be a monumental challenge for you. You might seek someone who is knowledgeable and trustworthy with whom you can discuss your feelings and concerns. Perhaps your family physician or a counselor who is experienced in working with teens can help you cope with this new development in your daughter’s life.
Your daughter’s decision is not a reflection on you being a good or bad parent. There are many other influences in an older teen’s life and the values and norms of society continue to change. Life is complicated and our children’s lives seldom unfold as we would wish them to. In my opinion, the love and connection between you and your daughter is ultimately the greatest value to consider here. Take the long-term view and know that you have given her a good foundation for living a healthy and rewarding adult life.
Posted on Sunday, February 7th, 2016 at 4:42 am.
Dr. Beth, I am writing because I am really confused and upset about how to approach my daughter. I found out from looking at the history of recent website visits on the family computer that she has been looking up sites about sex, contraception, and similar topics. My daughter is 17 and has a boyfriend that I like (he is also 17) and she has been dating him for about 7 months. She has not mentioned one word to me about wanting to have sex and I am hurt because I always left the door open for her to talk to me openly about this subject. I’m also scared for her. What do I do?
Posted on Saturday, February 6th, 2016 at 2:55 am.
This is a tricky question because the line between working hard and being a workaholic is pretty thin. It is also tricky to know what we can reasonably ask from our partners about altering their work life to meet the needs of a relationship.
I don’t know what kind of job he has but there are some jobs that put extraordinary demands on the person holding the position. However, there are also people with “normal” jobs that don’t require that level of sacrifice, but which someone can make into workaholic situation by the perfectionist expectations of themselves that they bring to their work.
In addition, in this vulnerable economic time, some people feel they must put in an extraordinary effort just to make sure they are not downsized in the next round of job layoffs. Sometimes this is true. You would have the clearest idea about the circumstances surrounding your partner’s job situation and whether these are truly demands of the job or demands he is putting on himself. Another factor that matters here is whether the overtime is project-driven and therefore time-limited or appears to be without end.
It is perfectly OK to want and ask for time with your partner, especially if you feel the current situation is harming your relationship or creating a significant disconnect between you. You and he need to find a way to talk about this issue that allows him to move beyond his defensiveness and have a constructive conversation. Ideally, he would also be willing to look at himself and really consider the reasons for his choices around his job.
In approaching this, it would be useful to start out by listening to him talk about his job: what it means to him and why he gives so much time to it. Validate that you think he is awesome and that you support him in his profession. See if he will open up about the “why” of his extreme dedication to his job. Then ask if he is willing to listen to your feelings. Is he in an emotional place to really hear you? If not, your conversation is wasted. If he agrees to listen but gets very defensive quickly, don’t persist in the conversation right then.
If you can’t converse successfully you could try writing him your thoughts in an email or a letter and then setting a time to talk after he has had time to digest what you have shared. You could also see if he is open to having someone else meet with the two of you for just a couple of sessions to try and bridge the communication gap.
Ultimately, if he is entirely unwilling or unable to approach the topic or try to meet your needs in the relationship, you will have to decide if this is something you can live with and whether the long-term relationship package is satisfying enough to warrant continuing in the relationship. My hope is that the love the two of you share will allow you to move into a constructive conversation and find a mutually satisfying solution.
Posted on Friday, February 5th, 2016 at 4:59 am.
Dear Dr. Beth, I’m in a relationship with someone I love very much. We both work full-time and overall we have a very good relationship. The main problem I am dealing with is that I think my partner is workaholic. He is really awesome at his job and I respect that, but he works anywhere from 50-70 hours a week. Although I think he really loves me, we really don’t get a lot of time together and I’m frustrated. When I bring it up he gets defensive. How do I talk to him about this?
Posted on Monday, January 25th, 2016 at 4:28 am.
Basically, you as having two major options for dealing with this sometimes obnoxious holiday. You can ignore it or you can redefine it to make it an occasion more to your liking. Number one is a little hard to pull off, but really not all that difficult. Don’t watch television, avoid romantic comedies and try to avoid the card section of stores in the few weeks prior to the holiday. The less attention you pay to the cultural frenzy, the happier you are going to be.
However, if people say Happy Valentine’s Day to you or give you a well-meaning card, accept it with grace and then recycle it or tuck it away in a drawer. If it is from a special friend, you might be able to enjoy it sometime in the future when you are feeling less negative about the holiday.
Redefining the holiday means exactly that—transforming the meaning of this occasion into a broader, more personally relevant framework of understanding. Many people who are divorced, have recently broken up with a partner, or are living a long-time single lifestyle can still enjoy the week of Valentine’s Day by using it as an opportunity to express love and appreciation for their friends and family members.
Treat it as a time to celebrate your friendships instead of a time only for celebrating your connection with a romantic partner. You can go out to dinner with one or more of your good friends (and it doesn’t have to be on Valentine’s day). You can give one another cards—or not. Perhaps just go for a hike or snowshoe and enjoy nature together. It’s just another opportunity to express your appreciation for your good friends, your nieces and nephews, your parents or other people in your life that you are fond of.
The romantic emphasis given to the holiday by the culture need not have a stranglehold on how you relate to this period of time. After all, it really is just a brief blip on the calendar and then we are off to the rest of ski season and the harbingers of the spring to come. Certainly, there are much more enjoyable ways to spend the holiday.
Finally, you also have the option of treating yourself as your own significant other and plan something on your own that you might enjoy during that week. Head for a long drive, rent a cabin, see a couple of movies, work on a puzzle or cook a favorite meal for yourself. After all, you really are your most important friend and partner in the long-run and if you aren’t, you can work on making this true by treating yourself with fun and kindness during this time.
Posted on Sunday, January 24th, 2016 at 4:38 am.
Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. I hate this holiday. I don’t even know why it exists. All it does is make me feel bad about not being in a romantic relationship. Do you have any suggestions about how to make an unpleasant holiday more bearable to us divorced or recently broken up single people?
Posted on Friday, January 22nd, 2016 at 12:19 am.
What a great opportunity for you and your husband! I think you have already identified one of the key challenges of moving from a long-established home in a part of the country you know you love (Colorado, of course!) to a completely new and different part of the country. Of course you will miss the people you love, your familiar haunts and the wonderful companionship you currently enjoy.
There are several factors that influence a person’s reaction to a move. Probably the most important is whether the move is chosen and desired or necessary for reasons other than genuine desire. Many spouses, both men and women, who move because they are following a partner’s job opportunities face greater challenges in adjusting to the new place and finding satisfaction in their new environment. But even moves that are chosen and desired can be more challenging than we might expect.
I would like to offer you some observations and suggestions based on my experience and the experiences of many of my clients and friends who have made similar moves:
1) One of the biggest issues related to a large move is clearing out your long-term home. What to keep, what to discard, what, if anything, to store, what to give to family members or friends. This can be a lengthy and emotionally difficult process. If you have the luxury of a few months before moving, give yourself at least a month or 6 weeks to sort through and make conscious, intentional decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. This can make your move much easier on the other end of the journey.
2) During the period before your move and before the move is imminent, make time to spend time with all your friends, coworkers and neighbors. Tell them what they have meant to you, discuss your intentions and expectations around maintaining contact with each other and generally take this unhurried opportunity to enjoy your time with each other while you are still in the area. If possible, it can be really nice to have a “bon voyage” party or a fun group gathering at a restaurant or park before you leave.
On the arrival end of your journey, there are several things you can do to facilitate a smoother transition.
1) Introduce yourself to at least a few of your immediate neighbors, check out a welcoming synagogue, church or meditation group, and consider joining the city’s official Welcome organization if there is one in your new town. It can be both fun and helpful to take the time to drive around your new community and become familiar with nearby shops, major streets and a couple of the nearby neighborhoods. Walking and bicycling are other fun ways to get to know your new city.
2) Be aware that it typically takes up to 2 years to become fully comfortable in your new environment. You may meet people you think will become friends and some of those potential friendships may develop, but it is not uncommon that there are some initial acquaintances you like that don’t turn out to become friends and this can be disappointing if you have high hopes for immediate connections.
3) Be brave and take the initiative with people you meet. Most people you meet will have already established social groups and friendships and it may take a bit of effort to become part of their social circle. Others you meet may also be new to the area or established living there but still looking for new friends and people with whom to share particular activities. Keep your eyes open for people who enjoy working out, quilting, doing art or love to read, depending on your interests. These are just a few such activities that may help you meet new people and potential friends.
These are only a few ideas. These days there are many resources to help people with the challenges of adjustment to a new region of the country. Needless to say, there will be things you really like about your new home and things that you really dislike. There are advantages and disadvantages to every place you live, but if you cultivate a positive attitude, gather a few tools, look for support and investigate resources, the transition may be easier than you think. And hopefully, on the other end of your move, you will find a satisfying new life. I wish both of you the best in your new adventure.
Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 2016 at 3:34 am.
My husband and I have been living here for 20 years and he has a great job offer in Oregon. We’ve visited Portland and other parts of the state a couple of times on vacation but we have never lived there and don’t have any personal friends there. Even though I am excited to explore a different part of the country, I am worried about the psychological and emotional parts of the move. I am especially worried about being lonely and missing my long-time friends here in Colorado. Any suggestions about how to make the transition easier?