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Posts Tagged ‘setting goals in marriage’

Stepchildren!

Over the years I’ve seen many marriages fractured because the husband and wife have few skills for dealing with the problems that arise with having stepchildren.

Julie and Jim have been married for seven years. They have no children together but Jim has two children, ages 12 and 14, by his former wife. Jim complains to me that nothing his children do is right in the eyes of his wife. He thinks Julie is too demanding and critical.

Julie fights back by saying that the boys are disrespectful to her. They never say hello, goodbye, or thank-you. They rarely share information about their lives and when she asks a question they either don’t answer or give a minimal response. They leave their clothes and shoes all over the place, make messes in the kitchen, and resist even the simplest chores, like emptying out the dishwasher or helping to cut the grass.

For seven years the boys have stayed with Julie and Jim every other weekend. Julie has cooked for them, entertained them, picked up after them, shopped for them, and made a big deal out of their birthdays, but rarely does she get a thank-you from them or from Jim.

Julie thinks her husband is too passive with his ex-wife. She often calls on Jim to take the boys when she leaves town for a weekend. Because Jim wants to be with his children he almost always says yes. The problem – he rarely checks with Julie first. This has led to numerous fights and bad feelings.

Julie is also angry because she feels Jim is a soft touch when it comes to buying extras for his sons. Because she and Jim put their earnings together, she feels it’s not fair that part of the money she earns is spent on the boys. And Julie also senses that Jim wants to keep the boys to himself and doesn’t want her to have too close a relationship with them.

Lately the boys have resisted coming over on Jim’s designated weekends. Jim blames Julie because of the unfriendly atmosphere in the house.

When it comes to the children, Jim sees Julie as the persecutor and his sons as the victims. Julie, on the other hand, sees the boys and Jim as persecutors and herself as the victim. I, as the therapist, see Jim, Julie, and the boys as both persecutors and victims.

The boys are persecutors when they ignore Julie and don’t pick up after themselves. They are victims because they must live in a hostile environment which is only partly due to their behavior.

Jim is a persecutor when he makes plans with his ex-wife without consulting Julie. He’s also a persecutor when he doesn’t discipline his children and insist they show respect for his wife. On the other hand, Jim’s a victim because when he gets the parental urge to treat his boys Julie puts him through the third degree. He’s also a victim because Julie frequently expects him to side with her against his sons.

Julie is a persecutor when she refuses to understand that parents sometimes want to buy things for their children without having to account for the money. She’s also a persecutor when she fails to acknowledge that Jim’s boys are children and children are going to make messes and resist doing chores. At the same time, she’s a victim of their messiness and rude behavior. She’s also a victim when Jim plans her weekend without consulting her.

Here are some solutions for these far too common problems with step-children:

1. Sit down with your mate and agree on what you both expect of the children
when they’re at your house. Should they make their own beds? Clean up dirty dishes? Put away their clothes? Establish standards. Then both of you enforce the rules.

2. Decide how much money you will spend on the children each month in addition to child support payments.  Stick to the agreement.

3. Always check with your spouse before making plans regarding your children- no matter what.

4. Compliment your spouse in front of your children. You might say, “Great meal you prepared for us” or “Thanks for getting the hockey tickets.”

5. Encourage your children to thank your spouse for cleaning their room, taking them swimming or making their favorite dessert.

6. Make the children aware that their stepparent is also contributing to pay for their camp or swimming lessons.

7. Always make sure that your chil­dren remember your spouse on his or her birthday, as well as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. All stepparents deserve this kind of recognition for the many hours of their lives they give because they are stepparents.

8. Examine how you feel when your spouse becomes emotionally close to your children. If you start to feel jealous, don’t act on the jealousy.  Understand that a good relationship between your children and your mate is a gift to your children.

9. Be respectful of your spouse in front of your children and they, too, will learn to be respectful.  And when they’re not, confront them.

The very problems that plague natural parents as they are raising their children plague a parent and stepparent. But the parent and stepparent run a greater risk of becoming polarized. They often wind up fighting each other instead of seeing that they can solve their problems – if they pull together as a team.

 

 

 

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Do you respect the people you live with?

I know a husband who keeps asking his wife to please close the garage door at night. She rarely does.

A teenager wants to dry a blouse she has just washed. So she takes the wet clothes out of the dryer and throws them on top of the washer so she can dry her blouse. She never puts the wet clothes back in the dryer.

Take the following test to see how you fare in the respecting-others department. Answer yes or no.

1. When you know someone is sleeping, do you tiptoe around, keep lights off, and turn the volume down on the television?
2. Do you put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder if you use the last piece?
3. Do you always ask before you borrow clothes, jewelry, money, tools?
4. Are you ready to go when it’s time to leave for church and family outings?
5. Do you let others in the family know that you’re going to bed and do you say good night?
6. Do you shut off your alarm clock when it starts to ring?
7. Do you clean up your snack dishes and wipe off the counter?
8. Do you leave the bathroom in good shape for the next member?
9. Do you give others their messages?
10. Do you get off the phone when you know someone else wants to use it?
11. Do you sometimes pick up after other family members?
12. Do you refill ice-cube trays after using them?
13. Is your tone of voice as pleasant when you’re with your family as it is when you’re with your friends?
14. Do you do your fair share of chores?
15. Do you wait until someone is off the telephone before starting a conversation?
16.  Are you careful not to interrupt when someone in the family is talking?
17.  Do you keep yourself from saying hurtful things even though you would like to blast someone verbally?
18. Do you keep your part of the house clean?
19. Do you use the word “please” when you ask others in the household to do something for you?
20. Are you conscious of not taking or demanding too much of the family’s income for your own wants?

Every “no” answer shows some disrespect for another family member.

If you are respectful outside your home, you are displaying a virtuous quality.
If you are respectful in your own home, you
are truly virtuous.

 

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What happens if your adolescent or grown child starts dating someone you don’t like? As a parent, do you take the risk and say something? Or do you say nothing, hoping that the relationship will end?

If your child is in the throes of adolescence, it’s best to keep your negative remarks to a minimum. No matter how well founded or well meaning your comments are, they definitely will bring results that are directly opposite to what you want. This is known as the “Romeo and Juliet effect.” The harder parents try to keep their teenager from getting involved with a particular person, the more determined the child will be to get involved.

If your daughter is 17 and her new­found love is 22 and a loser, you certainly have every right and responsibility as a parent to discourage your daughter’s involvement. The best way to do this is to limit the time she spends with her boyfriend rather than repeatedly pointing out his flaws.

If your child is over 20, he or she may listen more to your objections. But it’s still risky business to lay out too many negatives. If the child proceeds with the relationship and winds up walking down the aisle, you can bet all those negatives will come back to haunt you.

I had one couple come to my office heartbroken. Their son was marrying a girl they were sure wasn’t good for him. In their eyes she was demanding, critical and controlling. They had warned their son of this woman’s flaws but he was refusing to listen. What were they to do?

The advice I gave was to start recognizing this woman’s good qualities.  I also advised that they start building a relationship with her if they wanted to continue to see their son. They didn’t like my advice. Unfortunately, these parents continued to air their displeasure. The son married and moved away, the daughter-in-law is openly hostile, and the parents rarely see their son.

Another couple I saw for counseling faced a similar problem. Their 27-year-old son had fallen for a divorced woman of 34 who had three small children.

This certainly wasn’t their idea of happiness for their son. They worried about how he would be able to support the children and if he had what it took to step into a ready-made family. They were concerned that this woman was an opportunist who saw their son as a meal ticket. They also wondered if they would be able to accept her children as their grandchildren.

On the plus side, they liked the woman and the children and from what they had seen, they thought she was a good mother. So they decided to support their son and keep their objections to themselves.

I ran into this couple a few years later and learned that the marriage was working well. The factor that no one could have predicted: The son was sterile and couldn’t have children. So a built-in family was a gift to everyone.

It’s painful for parents when their child chooses someone that they wouldn’t choose. And it’s difficult to keep objections to oneself. At the same time, it’s a good idea for parents to soft-pedal their disapproval, switch the focus, and figure out what their child sees in the other person.

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I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling and although each couple has a unique set of problems, one thing stands out: Couples who are having problems often stop doing nice things for each other. It may be that when she went shopping she used to always buy him a little present – a tie, a special blend of coffee, a half-pound of English toffee. Now she goes and buys for the children and herself. But the treats for him have stopped.

He, on the other hand, used to stop by the grocery store on the way home from work and bring her strawberries. He also used to make a point of bringing home his company’s newsletter for her to read. Now he does neither.

Here’s one technique that I’ve been suggesting to couples which brings quick, positive results and good feelings.

Get a large note pad and draw a line down the middle of the page. Write your name on one side and your mate’s on the other. Every day each of you should do three nice things for the other and write them on the paper. Your list for several days may look like this:

Joan     11/1 Brought him coffee, Picked up his cleaning, Told him his haircut looked good

Jim       11/1 Got her popcorn at the show, Told her “I love you”, Helped her wash windows

Joan     11/2 Bought food for his hunting trip, Bought him new wool socks, Fixed him breakfast

Jim       11/2 Gave her a back rub, Made a fire when she asked, Made her coffee

Joan     11/3 Sent him a card, Had a key made for his locker, Made him a cherry pie

Jim       11/3 Made dinner and cleaned up, Listened to her about a job problem, Told her the house looked nice

Joan     11/4 Complimented him on his tie, Said “I love you”, Sewed a button on his shirt

Jim       11/4 Sent her a card, Picked up milk, Bought her doughnuts

The trick to this technique is to keep doing it even if you’re annoyed at your mate. And keep it in a place where you can both see it – on the kitchen counter, on the dining room table. If you have children, let them see your list.  It’s good for them to know that Mom and Dad do nice things for each other.

Every couple who has used this technique has reported good results. Try it for a month. I guarantee, it works.

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My letter to a young couple…

Dear Beth and Mat,

Happy Wedding Day!
Since within a few hours the two of you will be taking your wedding vows, I decided that a little counsel might be in order. As you know, through my work I’ve watched a lot of happy couples interact with each other and I’ve worked with a lot of couples struggling to make their marriages better. Each couple has taught me a lesson about marriage. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

No two people are alike.
Now you’ve probably heard that before. But sometimes when we hear something so often, we forget the essence. What this means is that the two of you will sometimes see some things differently. Beth, you may want to use your extra money to buy furniture. Mat, you may want to use it to go on vacation. One of you may want to get up early and get going while the other wants to sleep late and enjoy a quiet morning. One of you may be a talker and an analyzer, but the other may be more quiet. One of you may be acutely aware of your feelings. The other may not be aware of them at all. Remember, neither of you is right or wrong. You are simply different. Some differen­ces are genetic. Some you learned from your families as you were growing up These differ­ences make each of you unique. Be aware of them, smile and laugh about them, work to accept them.

Be generous with your praise.
Right now you are probably telling each other how attractive you are. The two of you are exchanging a lot of hugs and smiles and “I love yous.” These compliments helped you fall in love. If you give them daily, they will keep you in love.

Be cautious with your criticism.
Married people sometimes begin to think they have a right to critique their partner or to make helpful suggestions. Keep it to one criticism every two weeks and your partner will feel safe and want to be in your presence.

Know your own flaws
and correct them so they don’t interfere with your marriage. If you are always late, decide from now on to be on time.  If you get too mad, work on your temper.

Listen. Listen. Listen
to your partner talk without interrupting. Listen to his or her feelings. Listen when he’s happy, when she’s disappointed, when he’s scared.

Enjoy love making.
Accept your partner’s approach and approach your partner. Have fun and be generous in bed.

If you step on your partner’s feelings, say you’re sorry.
Recognize that you have erred. Remember, it’s easier to love someone who admits mistakes.

Play together.
Continue to develop interests…back-packing, dancing, cards, tennis. Develop a group of friends that will bring additional energy to your marriage.

Be respectful.
In marriage there is no room for screaming, or name calling, or refusing to talk, or threatening divorce.

Keep in touch with your families.
Let them be of comfort to you and share your joys and sadnesses. But, remember, each of you now should come first with the other.

Both of you are very much in love today. Choose to live in such a way that your love will last forever.

Your friend,

DORIS

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“Let’s go to a movie tonight, “ said Janet.

“That doesn’t sound good to me,” yawned Ralph.

As Janet was gathering up her coat and purse, Ralph suddenly clicked off the television set and announced he would be joining her.

Janet, already set to have a nice evening alone, asked, “Are you sure you want to go?”

Ralph assured her, and out the door they went.

As they drove into the parking lot, Ralph mumbled that the last movie must not have gotten out yet. So where did they expect everybody to park? Certainly the theatre could do a better job of scheduling.

As they waited in line to buy tickets, Ralph said that everybody and their brother must have decided to see this movie judging by the length of the line.

Janet, sensing Ralph’s annoyance, made small talk. She wanted this to be a good evening.

When they got into the lobby, Janet suggested that Ralph go with the crowd and find seats. She would get the popcorn.

Ralph replied, “You’re going to stand in that line just for popcorn?”

Janet shook her head yes, and in her head told Ralph he was acting like a jerk.

With popcorn in hand, Janet made her way to where Ralph was seated. His comment on seeing her: “You didn’t get anything to drink?”

“No,” she said. But she offered to go back after the movie started to get Ralph a drink.

“Never mind,” Ralph said.

“No, I’ll go back,” Janet replied. “I just didn’t think you’d want anything.”

“I don’t now,” said Ralph.

As they sat in silence waiting for the show to start, Janet struggled with feelings of guilt over the drink and irritation over Ralph’s negativism.

During the movie she couldn’t help checking on Ralph, trying to determine if he was having a good time. Every time he shifted his body, she felt a twinge of anxiety.

Once he commented that the popcorn tasted stale.

At the end of the movie he asked her what she thought. She said she loved it.

And what did he think, she asked. He said it was okay.

They rode home in silence.

The moral of this story: Good sportsmanship goes beyond the playing field.

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A man called my office one morning to make an appointment. He said he had gotten my name from his lawyer. Out of the blue his wife had filed for divorce, and he was very interested in staying married.

Then he proceeded to tell me that he thought his wife didn’t know what she wanted and was maybe going through a mid-life crisis. Also a few days ago she had said she would go to a marriage counselor, but now she didn’t think so. He just couldn’t understand why his wife was leaving him.

I volunteered that maybe she was interested in someone else or maybe she was just fed up with some of his behaviors. He said it was the latter, his behaviors.

I told him I could give him an appointment, but it would be about a week before he could get in to see me. But since he sounded as though he was in pretty much pain, I offered to arrange for someone else in the office to see him sooner if he wanted an appointment.

He didn’t respond to my offer to help him get an appointment with another therapist, but when I gave him several dates that he could see me, he kept pushing for me to see him sooner.

Before we had an appointment time nailed down, he said, “You’re in Clayton, right?”

I said that I had moved from Clayton and then told him where I was. As I tried to give him directions to my office, he kept interrupting and trying to tell me where I was. I got quiet, and, after he explained to me where my office was, I said that he was mistaken. Then I gave him directions.

I then went back to setting the appointment. I told him that it would be good if his wife would accompany him, but if not, I would see him alone and we could figure out what he might do differently to save his marriage. I pointed out that divorce takes time and perhaps not all was lost.

What I already knew about the guy was that: he didn’t listen, he didn’t answer questions, he shifted responsibility for the failure of the marriage, he needed to be in control, and he discounted my time by trying to go on and on over the telephone.

Incidentally, he never kept his appointment nor did he call to cancel. I guess he concluded that his wife was having a mid-life crisis.

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