Dr. Tracy's Advice Column

Cartoon Kiss

9/29/2002

Second-Time-Around Problems
Can Men Change?
Most Relationships Don't Work Out



Second-Time-Around Problems

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I have looked in your archives and don't think I see any answers that apply to my situation. I'm 40 and recently married to a 48-year-old man. This is the second marriage for both of us.

Our dating relationship was really wonderful. We took it slowly, which he didn't mind. We got to know each other and dated for almost two years. I thought I had checked everything that could be checked. But, now that we are married and I have quit my job and moved to another state to be with him, I'm having doubts. Suddenly, everything has turned into a huge deal -- I apparently don't know how to do laundry, run the dishwasher, or do anything around the house to his satisfaction. Plus I'm not unpacking fast enough or throwing away enough of my stuff to meet his satisfaction. I just feel constantly criticized and overwhelmed by his negativity.

Even more distressing, he also seems to have become irrationally jealous of my relationship with my nine-year-old son. Before we were married, my new husband said that he understood that my child has been with just me for a long time, since his dad and I divorced when he was two. (My son sees his father in another state about every month, but they aren't especially close.) But my child and I have been through a lot together, including his having to leave all of his friends and start at a new school this year after our move.

I guess what really upsets me is that, first of all, I gave up my home, my job, a community I really liked, and everything familiar to relocate to a new (and decidedly unappealing) place. I moved here because he has a very stable career that he can't do anyplace else. I thought I would find a job pretty easily, since I'm a schoolteacher, but nothing worked out before school started. Now, I feel really unsupported in my job search. (His mother and sister, who both live nearby, have apparently decided that I should stay home because they do! So he keeps telling me that I need to relax and take some time off. What I need to do is find a job to keep my teaching credentials current!) And I'm really most upset about his immature attitude toward my son.

Am I expecting too much, too soon? We have only been married a month. Is this going to get any better? And how do I find a balance so that my son, who didn't have a choice in any of this, gets what he needs, and my husband gets what he needs?

I know we all have a tough adjustment ahead, much tougher than I had anticipated. How do I go about helping all of us get through this? Do you think family counseling is something I should look into?

I'm just tired of crying all night and only getting three or four hours of sleep. When I woke up this morning and my first thought was "I just want to go home", I knew I needed to start looking for help. Please tell me what to do.

Dear Overwhelmed,

Moving is one of the most traumatic events in a person's life, second only to events like the death of a parent or getting married. So you've recently engaged in two of life's most stressful experiences, moving to a new place and getting married.

What's making it more traumatic, though, is your husband's criticisms and his insensitive attitude about you not unpacking fast enough or getting rid of enough of your stuff. Explain to your new husband that unpacking is very difficult since you have to find space in his house, and it would help if he were more welcoming. Agree on setting aside a room that's just for you and your stuff, where you can create the space that you want, no matter what's in it. Instead of throwing things away, sell them on EBay. It's lots of fun and you'll make money too. A woman needs money of her own, and you need some autonomy in this relationship.

If he won't agree to that, or he won't stop criticizing, then you'll have to get to a therapist or counselor right away. A constant flow of negativity is sure to set your relationship into a downward spiral.

Remind your husband of the positives you felt for each other before you were married, and make sure you are giving him enough time and attention. Let him know that he's your number one priority even if it seems to him like you are giving your son a lot of attention. Make time for both. Set aside time that's just for your husband without your son. Then find special time to spend with your son when your husband is at work.

Actually, what may be most upsetting for you is having no roots or support system in your new location. You are being very negative about where you live now. Even the most "unappealing" area has something to recommend it. Find the beauty in your surroundings and learn to enjoy what is there. If you don't know what it is, check with the local library for books about the region. Spend some time exploring.

The most important part of a new area, though, is the people who live there. Make new friends by joining local groups. Volunteer to help with community projects. Sign up for classes. Learn about local culture. Get involved with local politics. Become a substitute teacher or a special ed teacher - there is always a demand for them.

Also, do something physical and challenging that will help you fight depression and also tire you out so that you'll sleep better.

Don't be bugged because you gave up your familiar stomping grounds for new ones. That was a decision you made, so stop beating yourself up over it. Stop thinking about going home as a solution. Instead think about finding the resources you need in your new home that will make you happy.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy



Can Men Change?

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm female, 25, and never married. I've been dating the same man for about three years. I always enjoy his company: he's witty, intelligent, and makes me feel good about myself. He doesn't stay out late with the boys; he doesn't hang out in strip joints; he doesn't cheat. So what's the fly in the ointment? It seems he went through some fairly horrific experiences as a child, with the end result that he's terrified of anything remotely related to committment. He doesn't even like the word "girlfriend." It should also be noted that he's never dated anyone, other than me, for more than three months.

Some time ago, I told him frankly that I wanted a relationship that would lead to marriage, family, that sort of thing. He wasn't thrilled. I was intending to go back to school for a graduate degree, so I exclusively applied to schools out of state. He seemed fairly upset when I accepted a school halfway across the country. For the duration of our time together, he suddenly seemed much more attentive: calling four or five times a day, asking to see me almost every night, being more physically affectionate.

After I moved, he took time off from work and flew up specifically to help me with the unloading and unpacking (sort of a surprise house-warming party). We'd never been together 24/7, and it surprised me that he seemed very content with it. After his visit, he began making plans to move to my area. He seems serious. He still calls every day. He's practically begging me to come down over the holiday break. He keeps talking about us getting a house together after he moves up here. He's even mentioned the "economic benefits" of marriage (not the greatest proposal in the world, but he's not the most demonstrative fellow, either). I am impressed, because for him to move here would mean he'd lose his job, have to retake at least a year of school, and have to pay substantially higher tuition. Add in the hassle of moving, and it seems like a lot of trouble to take.

I'm touched, but I'm also a little worried. It seemed that my move was the best time to break off the relationship without severely damaging anybody's feelings. I would like to believe that he's serious about moving things along, but I find it hard to imagine that a complete committmentphobe could turn over a new leaf so rapidly. I'm afraid he'll move up here and we'll end up in the same situation as before. I really don't want to spend the rest of my life waiting on a guy who may never be ready. I've had several men ask me out lately. Although I was tempted, I would feel horrible accepting them, especially since "my guy" insists he's waiting for me.

I suppose what I'm asking is: does it sound like my young man has had a real change of heart, or is he just stringing me along for some strange reason? If he's stringing me along, I really can't see what he's getting out of it, other than a horrendous long-distance bill.

Would appreciate any insights!

Dear Waiting,

You've been dating the same man for three years and he can't use the word "Girlfriend?" That's a serious problem. However, you may have just jolted him into changing.

Your decision to move could have been a wake up call for him. Men often do a complete turnaround when faced with the possibility of losing the woman they really love. As long as you were willing to date him and go along with his commitment-phobic attitude, he was not going to change. But once he realized you weren't going to accept the status quo anymore, it is possible that he would do a complete turnaround.

If you still want him, and that's something only you can decide, then you should make your desires clear. Tell him in no uncertain terms that you're not willing to accept a rerun on the relationship you had for three years. Let him know that unless he can use the word "girlfriend," plus the word "engaged," plus the word "fiance," he should stay where he is and let you get on with your life.

Remember, nobody can behave toward you in any way that you refuse to allow or accept.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy



Most Relationships Don't Work Out

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I recently have been reading your columns. It livens up my day at work when it is slow and I have learned a lot of interesting things from them.

My question is this: I have read several of your columns that stated "The simple truth is that most relationships don't work out." (I cut and pasted this directly from one of your columns)

The first time I read that, I thought maybe, you meant something else by it, or that I took it out of context, but I have read hundreds of your columns so far, and have seen that same remark in many of your replies on advice.

Do you really think that? And if so, why would you be counseling others on their relatioships if you feel so negatively about relationships in the first place? Please tell me if I am misunderstanding what you have written.

Dear Livened Up,

I'm glad my columns liven up your slow days at work. However, I'm concerned that you have misunderstood what I mean when I say "most relationships don't work out."

That doesn't mean I feel negatively about relationships. To the contrary, I feel very positive about relationships. However, I am a realist. If every relationship worked out, we'd all be married to our first high school sweetheart, and there would be no divorces.

Someday, when you have a young daughter and find her broken-hearted because she thought young Tommy loved her but he just invited someone else to the prom, what are you going to tell her - "Susie, relationships are supposed to work out. That was your only chance find someone. What did you do wrong?"?

No. You'll tell her that there are lots of young men out there, that her preferences in men will change as she gains experience, and that what she learned from dating Tommy and others she will date will eventually help her find a man who be right for her.

Most Relationships Don't Work Out. What that means is, in order to find the relationship that's right for you, you will have to try and try again. Plan on it.

Think of finding the right relationship as trying on running shoes. Most are not right for one reason or another - but you certainly can't tell by looking at them. You first have to try them on. Then you find that most don't fit you right, or they're not good for the way you run, or you just don't like how they feel. You try several pairs, maybe go back and forth between two, until you decide that you've found one that's just right. Once you've found the right pair, all the rejects fade into the background.

That's how finding a good relationship works. You try and try until you find one that works for you and fits your needs. Then you stick with it. As time passes, you might have to make adjustments, get a thicker sock, tie the laces tighter, but you stay with it because you know it works for you.

I can help people pick the more promising shoes, and when they find the right ones, suggest when to tighten or loosen the laces, but everyone has to do their own running, their own trying.

Most Relationships Don't Work Out. What that means is, don't stay in a horrible or abusive relationship because you think it's your only chance. You're allowed to try again. If a relationship doesn't work, that's not the end of the world, it's normal. Just try again. If you have many relationships that don't work out, that's still normal. Keep trying.

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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