Dr. Michael Tobin has been a psychologist since 1974, specializing in marital and family therapy. He is the author of numerous articles on marriage and family relationships and is the founder of WholeFamily.com. He's been married to Deborah for 38 years and is the father of four children and grandfather to five.
I don't envy the Austen-Kutchinskys. They've got so much on their plate that it might be wiser for them to look for a miracle worker than a family therapist. Where do you begin? Which problem do you tackle first?
Let's start with Joe Jr. Imagine you had an angry and bitter son like Joe Jr. Would you know how to get through to him? The kid is sinking under his hurt and grief, but hides behind his self-righteous attitude. He's got all the answers - that is except for one: He doesn't have a clue about how to be happy. He desperately needs love and guidance. Will he let anyone touch him? If he does, I suspect his tough exterior will begin to melt and the grief that it was designed to conceal will finally surface.
How would you deal with a daughter like Judith? You marry Joe and she loses her friends, her home and is expected to adjust. What sixteen-year-old faced with a similar situation would say to herself, "I know this is what Mom wants and I want her to be happy?" This is the second time your decisions have turned your daughter's life upside down. First it was the divorce and now it's total readjustment. Can you blame her for being nasty and cold? How does a parent help a child accept a life she doesn't want?
Then we have Chris, a girl who wants love but is looking in all the wrong places.
She dresses to attract boys and then panics at her success. She needs a mom; a big sister would help. Will she allow Pamela or Judith to have a place in her life?
And how can Joe and Pamela possibly help their children when their marriage is so shaky? Can Joe finally put Maria to rest and let Pamela share his life? Was Pamela's anger at Joe's failure to consult her justified? Or, is it symptomatic of some deep fear she has about losing her independence?
Will Pamela and Joe have the patience and determination to learn how to accept and love each other? Milan is not Brookfield. In Milan, they had each other. In Brookfield, they are two distinct families with a total of five kids, two of whom hate each other. With the possible exception of Mac, there's not a whole lot of enthusiasm for this arrangement. If I were Joe or Pamela, I'd have to wonder if it's even worth it.
These are only a few of the many problems facing the Austen-Kutchinskys. The key to solving them lies with Pamela and Joe. Their strength, love and will or lack of it, will determine whether this family will make it. Yet, you have to wonder how they're going to be able to build a marriage while in the midst of so many difficult crises. If they had consulted with me prior to their marriage, I would have attempted to prepare them for the expected problems. I would have wanted them to go into this marriage with their eyes open and with a well thought out strategy on how to take this seemingly insoluble mixture and turn into a blended family.
But it's too late for that.
Now, in the midst of the battle, they create instant strategy: Joe will speak to Joe Jr. and Pamela will talk with Judith. I see it as a positive sign. Despite their conflict over therapy, they were able to agree on a plan of action. I'm not certain what the outcome will be but at least they're confronting the problems. I hope they can find the strength to give the same message to their children: "I know it's difficult for you, but this is our new life and we need each of you to help us to become a family."
Next Episode: Joseph and Joe Jr. Have a Talk
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Dear Dr. Tobin,
I have been married nine years and we have four children three boys and one girl. I feel that my husband is very self-centered. He is a full-time public defender who puts no effort into child care or maintaining the home. He also puts no time into our marriage.
The unfortunate thing is that even though he works 60 plus hours a week nearly half of the money we live on comes from my job as an occupational therapist. When I ask him for help in maintaining the home, he says he can’t because he needs time to prepare for his cases. His argument to me is that we agreed from the beginning that he would be devoting a significant amount of his time to his career and that I would be responsible for everything else. It’s true that I agreed at the time but I had no idea that I would be a slave to his career. I assumed that our marriage would be a priority and that we would have some fun time together and that he would share in some of the responsibilities. I don’t even get appreciation. In his mind we are partners working toward a successful future. He believes that he is building his reputation now and that in the near future he will open a successful private practice. He tells me that I should be patient and trust him and that all our efforts will bear fruit. I don’t know if I believe him and I don’t know how long I can continue in this marriage. I often have fantasies of just escaping. If I didn’t have children, then I would. Please advise me about what I can do. I’m desperate for an answer.
I wonder if your husband knows how lonely you are. Does he understand how much you miss him? Would he be surprised about how unhappy you are?
You have made it very clear in your letter how you feel victimized by his focus on work, his “unwillingness” to help, his lack of commitment to the marriage, his absence as a father, and the lack of parity in your financial contribution. You feel overworked and underappreciated, filled with resentment and disconnected. In short, you’re describing a relationship devoid of love and intimacy.
What you write is painful; what you don’t write is revealing. Over the years, I’ve answered many questions from visitors to my website and almost invariably they tell me about how much effort they’ve invested in getting their spouses to respond, to change - to do something different. They often write of a failed therapy experience, a consultation with their rabbi or minister, which led nowhere, or an attempt to unilaterally act differently in order to improve the situation.
Susan, I may be wrong about this but what I sense from you is that you’ve been building up resentments but you have not taken the “risk” to change a situation that causes you so much pain. You have described a marriage that sounds untenable and is dangerously close to divorce yet I have no idea if you’ve communicated any of what you feel to your husband.
I’m going to assume that you haven’t, and if I’m wrong and you have, then I want to help you find a new and more effective way of communicating how you feel and what you want to change. Here is a list of suggestions:
· Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left side write Resentments; on the right writeWants.
· First write your list of resentments that you feel toward your husband. For example, “I resent you for not helping with the children.” Or, “I resent you for not spending time with me.” Or, “I resent you for taking me for granted.”
· Now on the right side under Wants change your statements of resentments into statements of want. For example, “I resent you for not spending time with me,” becomes “I want us to spend time together,” or “I miss you and I would like us to spend time together.”
· Once you’ve completed your list of resentments and wants, I would like you to notice the difference in how you feel when you express resentments and then wants. To be very frank, it’s easy to express resentments and to feel like a victim. It’s quite another thing to speak proactively in the language of someone who wants to create positive change. It’s the difference between acting out of fear or finding the courage to do what must be done in order to change a difficult situation.
· Once you feel you are ready to approach your husband in the spirit of wanting to create change, you can either set a time to speak to him or write him a letter if you feel that may be less threatening. You need to be careful not to lead with your negative feelings. If so, he’ll most likely react defensively. Lead with what you desire; not with what you don’t want or like.
· Even if you take the correct action, there’s no guarantee that he will respond positively. He may feel so overwhelmed by his work and feel misunderstood and unappreciated by you that he will hear all of your requests as demands and criticisms. If so, try not to react negatively. It’s a strong indication that you will need marital therapy to help you through this difficult period.
The main point that I would like you to take from my response is this: Take responsibility to change a negative situation into something positive. Feeling and acting like a victim is an absolute guarantee for unhappiness and failure. Finding the courage to be proactive and taking control over your life is one of the main pathways to happiness and fulfillment.
Dr. Michael Tobin
Marital and family psychologist
I'm impressed and moved by how much you love your daughter. It's very scary to think about your 17-year-old daughter being out on her own without the support and closeness that you provided for her before. It's like a bird that leaves a nest before the mama bird feels it's ready to fly.
Folks, some of this stuff is hard to take. Hang in there and write to us with your questions and reactions. 1) You can’t make anyone love you and nobody can make you happy. 2) Try all you want; you'll never change your partner. However, if you change yourself, your partner may change. 3) People don’t marry people; they marry illusions and fantasies. (What a surprise to discover that your partner is as human as you are.)
One of the hardest marital truths to learn is: No matter how hard you try, you can't change your partner. In a codependent relationship, one partner tries desperately to cure the other's problem (drinking, drugs, etc.) -- often deflecting attention from her own inadequacies or problems. As long as the codependent is more concerned about her partner's problems than the partner himself, the partner will not change.
The torrid tales of marital Infidelity are as ancient as the Bible, as vibrant and painful as the tales of the Greek gods, and as tragic as the demise of Tiger Woods. Yet why should we even care?
As you will observe this is probably the thousandth time Marge and Phil have had this fight. Why do they persist in locking horns over who is the bigger martyr, and in the process, persist in driving themselves crazy?? Why don't they just get their act together, split up the jobs, get their kids involved, hire help and do it! They both claim their physical and mental well being are at stake!
She wants to spend now for the children, he wants to save for the future. They fight and don't resolve their differences.
This couple prove the obvious - men and women have different communication styles. Brad typifies many men. He withdraws in order to deal with problems and concerns. If he's tired and pressured, he has nothing to give to Kathy. It's hard for Kathy to understand that it's almost physically painful for Brad to be with her when he's in this state.
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