Dr. Tracy's Advice Column

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Controlling Parents
Verbal Abuse
Fundamental Differences

Controlling Parents

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I was married when I was 24 and divorced after 3 1/2 yrs. It's been 2 yrs since the divorce and I have met a beautiful women who I am going to marry. She was married for 7 yrs, divorced for 2 yrs with two children ages 8 and 9. We both know mistakes we made and are both more mature now than when we first got married (we are both 30).

My problem is with my mom. She and my father have been married for 40 yrs. The divorce hurt her I think more than it did me. When I now talk to my mom about getting remarried, she gets me and my fiance upset. She thinks that I failed in my first marriage and that I do not know what I am getting into in my second one.

My feeling is that it is my life to live. I really am not looking for her approval, but rather just an acceptance of my fiance and to be happy for me. I know she only wants the best for me, but I am truly happy with this woman.

What is the best way to handle my controlling mom?


Dear Truly Happy,

Finding someone in life who makes you truly happy should make your days filled with joy. If your mother is too controlling to let you enjoy this special time, the best thing you can do is decide once and for all to stop letting her control you.

You have this choice. You and the woman you love can simply make a conscious decision to decide not to be upset by anything your mother does or says. Remember, it’s not what other people do to you, it’s how you react to what they do that gets you upset.

Step one: Stop reacting. Mom won’t enjoy her power as much if she doesn’t get any reaction from the two of you.

Step two: Concentrate on each other, not family members.

Step three: Practice the "broken record" technique. This means that whatever mom says, you simply answer her calmly and say, “I can understand why you might feel that way, but we’re very happy and we’re going to be married.” Then she rants and raves and says derogatory things, and instead of getting upset, you simply keep repeating your statement. What you’re doing is letting her know you’ve heard her, that she’s entitled to her opinion, but that you’re going to do what you want.

Step four: Stop looking for her acceptance. She doesn’t have to accept you and your fiance or be happy for you. That’s her choice. If she chooses to be upset and difficult, fine, then let her. Simply tell her, “Mom, if you want to talk that way, I’ll leave now.” Then get up and leave. You’ll be surprised at how quickly she’ll change her tune.

Mom doesn’t really want to drive you away. When she realizes that’s what her behavior is doing, she’ll decide to change.

Remember, she will react to changes in the way you act. If you keep acting the same way, she’ll continue to act the same way. Change, and she’ll change in reaction to the new you.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Verbal Abuse

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am 44 years old and have been with my husband for almost 20 years, married almost 18 years. We have two daughters, 15 and 10.

My husband and I can never seem to have a discussion without it escalating into an argument. He seems to hear negativity and criticism in everything I say and, consequently, constantly interrupts me when it's my turn to talk. I found some information on the Internet pertaining to this form of "verbal abuse" and e-mailed it to my husband.

This is my e-mail:

One of the most frustrating and common habits of abusers is to constantly "butt in" and cut off their partner while talking. This is frequently the most aggravating habit many abusers have. They can't give it up because it serves some very important purposes. It blocks any possibility of communication, it allows them to say whatever they want, and most importantly it gives them total control of the conversation.

Usually partners try reasoning with them about all sides being given a fair chance to talk. What they don't realize is that abusers don't really care what their partners are saying so it serves them no purpose to listen. In fact, the abuser would prefer that the partner not talk and simply accept their assertions as Gospel. When the partner learns this, they can truly have an understanding of the hopelessness of fixing an abusive relationship without professional counseling. There is no possibility of communication if one of the parties is determined not to communicate.

This is my husband's response to my e-mail:

WHAT? Get off your HIGH HORSE you hypocrite. Until YOU learn how not to interrupt yourself, (which according to you and your sources is verbal abuse) I suggest YOU STOP trying to dictate the number of interruptions YOU find acceptable. YOU spend so much time concerning yourself with the "rules of engagement" that the purpose of the engagement is consistently lost. Pull your head out of your ass and address what's really pertinent. This also is not a numbers game, as in, "you interrupt more often than I do!." How childish is that? Until YOU can look yourself in the mirror and honestly say to yourself, "I never interrupt", then don't expect to receive the Nobel Prize for communication etiquette. According to YOUR rules, YOU too are guilty of, oh my god!, "VERBAL ABUSE." STOP placing labels on everything except self awareness, PRINCESS.

I am very frustrated trying to maintain this relationship. My husband has not had a steady job for almost three years, will not get his driver's license back for months and has, basically, been supported by me for the past three years.

Is it time to just cut my losses and move on with my life?

Dear Frustrated,

Your problem with your husband goes way way beyond interrupting. People who love each other live with all kinds of problems – and interrupting is a small one in the grand scheme or things. If you and your husband loved, respected, and understood each other, you could get past this problem.

However, neither one of you -- certainly not your husband -- knows how to compromise or solve problems. Instead of stating what you would like, you talk about what you don’t like. People who want to get along learn to follow some simple rules for criticizing their mate's behaviors.

Never ever use the “you” word. Especially avoid the “you always,” and “you never,” as in “You never listen to me.” Or, “You always interrupt me.” Those are fighting words, sure to make the other person feel angry and defensive.

Always say three nice things before you say the critical thing. For example, “I love you, you’re such a kind person, and you’re a wonderful husband.” In other words, soften him up a little before you say what you want.

Change your negative complaints to positive requests. Instead of saying, “You’re a lousy communicator and you’re verbally abusive,” say, “I’d feel better if we could discuss our problems. Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you?”

Open the lines of communication by letting your partner tell you everything that’s bothering them without interrupting. Keep saying, “What else is on your mind?” Don’t defend yourself. Don’t argue. People sometimes just need to vent.

All that said, you and your husband are beyond helping yourselves. You need counseling. You need the help of a professional. Your marriage is in danger and may be about to disintegrate because you and your husband have lost respect for one another.

You are disdainful and your husband is angry and unmotivated. He won’t get a job and he doesn’t appreciate you. That’s part of what happens when you do too much for a man. He begins to hate you for it.

Give this marriage a chance with counseling, but if you don’t see an improvement in his attitude, cut your losses. Stop enabling him not to work by supporting him. Tell him that he has to get a job and set a deadline. If he won’t go to counseling and work on improving, if he won’t get a job, if he refuses to cooperate, then throw the bum out.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Fundamental Differences

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm a 26 year old single woman in a relationship with a wonderful person, and the relationship, despite the now long distance, is going very well. So far we seem to be a really good team. Our caring and communication is wonderful. In spite of these similarities we have some strong ideological differences. He is a quite religiously conservative. I'm very non-conservative in religious matters. Generally I have a pretty liberal outlook religiously, politically etc. The differences in opinion that our sometimes opposite ideologies create is becoming a bit of a bone of contention in our relationship. It's interesting that our fundamental values are so similar but our expression of them and inspiration for them are so different.

I agree these are things we need to talk out and be open about to each other, and to accept differences without judgement and pushing the idea that one of us is "right". It's a thing in our relationship which can help us grow closer if we deal with it maturely. But, I worry about the tension this juut might create in our future.

Do you have any advice on strategies on dealing with such different views in a relationship? Breaking up is not really an option I want to consider because I really am happy with this warm and wonderful man. But I do think I need to find some effective and loving ways to deal with our differences.

Dear Liberal,

You have all the “right” ideas – not having to be right, accepting differences without judgment, being caring and communicating openly. However, all the “right” ideas don’t mean a thing when your mate says abortions should be illegal and you disagree, or that war is a good idea and you're for peace, or that everyone should believe in the Bible and you think it’s just a nice story.

You’re right, there can be great tension in the future over these differences. The two of you will likely choose different friends and spend time apart going to different places – him to church, you to a peace march.

The key to being together and being different is to love the other person so much that you don’t care that they think differently than you do. You have to love him enough to be happy that he finds comfort in his religion. He has to love you enough to be happy that you’re happy supporting the Green party.

Lots of couples who marry and spend their lives together work out their differences because they put the relationship and their partner’s happiness first. Then the differences just become a part of the person you love, and not a source of constant tension in the relationship.

Before you make plans to spend your life together, you should be sure you can live together. A long distance relationship isn’t a good test for whether you and Mr. Conservative can make a life together. If you’re really serious about him, I suggest living together before you marry. There’s nothing like day-in, day-out exposure to another person’s radically different ideas to find out if you can make a life together or not.

Before you consider marriage, see if you can agree on some important basics, like how your children would be raised, what church if any you would go to, and what causes you would support.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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