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I have been divorced for the past two years. My ex-husband has become everything I don’t want my sixteen year old son be. He’s into partying and women and general irresponsibility. I know I’m not supposed to put my son’s dad down to him, but I want him to understand that I don’t want him to turn out the same as his dad. So far, he’s a good kid, but I’m afraid that his dad’s influence will eventually rub off on him. How do I discuss this subject with my so, or should I ?

Dr. Carter: You are indeed facing a trying and delicate situation. Studies show that when divorced parents speak ill of the other parent, the children suffer. Yet I can understand that you do not want to stand idly by and let the dad’s behavior go unaddressed.

I think it would be wise to speak frankly with your son about the differences between you and his dad. After all, at sixteen, he is old enough to realize that your philosophies of life are not on the same page. It is reasonable to let your son know what you stand for regarding morality and spirituality and responsibility without insulting his dad. Simply let him know: “You know that your dad and I differ in the way we think. I can only let you know what I think is a smart way to live, then it will be up to you to determine which path you will choose.” Then at that point you can address the issue on you heart. Put your opinions into play without necessarily putting down your ex. I am hoping your son will appreciate your candor and that he will see that you are trying to be open without being condescending to his dad.

In the meantime, it will be helpful for him to have exposure to other families that share the same values as you. I hope he is open to church youth activities and other outlets that likely would expose him to solid role models.

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My husband and I have been married almost 20 years. Recently I learned that he had an affair with a woman at work. He assures me that the affair has been severed and that he absolutely will not go back to her. We are in counseling and the counselor seems to think that his efforts to restore the marriage are sincere. My problem is this. The two of them still work near each other and it is not likely that either will quit their jobs, at least not in the next several months. My husband would leave the job, but it would be hard for him to get new work, and we have bills to pay. How can I keep my sanity knowing that the woman he shared himself with is still lurking nearby? I want to trust him, but how can I ?

Dr. Carter: When individuals have an affair, it is unusual for them to consider the problems that you have just described. Oblivious to reality, they mistakenly assume that they can somehow avoid the sticky circumstances that are part of the aftermath of an illicit relationship. It takes exposure to the loved ones to get these people back into reality. Unfortunately that is your job now, though you certainly didn’t ask for this job!
In most instances after an affair has been discovered, it is necessary to stop all contact with the other person. In this case, since it is not likely that this will happen for a while, there are other measures that can be put into place that can help create the accountability that you are looking for.
First, it would not be inappropriate for you to talk personally to the other woman, letting her know of your intentions to keep your marriage together. I know that could be difficult for you, yet it makes you more real to her, and therefore, perhaps she will be less inclined to “swindle” someone who has a face and a voice and legitimate priorities. Second, I think it would be most necessary for someone that he respects at his work to know about what has happened. I know it would be hard for your husband to be open about this, but it could put some humility into play, and that is certainly not a bad thing. It would also mean that you have an extra set of eyes on him when he is away from you. It would be appropriate for you to check in with this person regularly.

Finally, I would assume that he is willing to be completely accountable regarding his time, money, phone records, etc. His full compliance with such measures would be considered a good sign. Any indication from your husband that he, not you, will call the shots regarding these matters is a bad sign.

I’m glad you are in counseling with him. Stay with it!

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My seven year old daughter is a TV junkie. She watches TV whenever she is home with free time. When I try to tell her to stop watching, she’ll just go to another part of the house and watch a different TV. No amount of pleading can make her obey. What can I do?

Dr. Carter: It seems to me that the wrong person is calling the shots at home. I know that TV can prove to be a powerful lure for kids, which is why they need parents to help them apply the restraint that is not natural to them. Don’t plead, use consequences. It is reasonable to put limits on the amount of time she will get to spend watching approved shows (say, one hour per day, if that much). When she chooses to disobey, then let her know what privileges she will forfeit. When she predictably complains, don’t bargain with her or argue the legitimacy of your position. Be calmly firm and let her know that you will follow through on the consequences. When she tries to pull a run-around by going to a different part of the house to watch TV, that immediately is met by a consequence. (E.g. When she will not cooperate, she will lose TV privileges for the next day.)

Your daughter needs you to be firm and she actually will feel more insecure if you don’t show firmness. Perhaps you are reluctant to be as firm as necessary because of a need to be seen as a “good guy.” Remember, she needs you to be her parent, not a coddler who is afraid to hurt her feelings.

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My husband has an associate at work that he is obviously very fond of. She is vibrant and attractive and he openly states that she stimulates him because they have so much in common. It is not unusual for them to have lunch together, and although he says they discuss business, I know it is more than that. I have asked him not to have any one-on-one time with this woman because it could lead to something further. He says I’m being paranoid and that I don’t trust him. Am I out of line?

Dr. Carter: No, you are not out of line nor do your sentiments represent paranoia. People who think of themselves as being invulnerable to an extramarital affair are deluding themselves. Given the right set of circumstances, it could certainly happen, which is why it is so necessary for each of us to guard our hearts carefully. As a general rule of thumb, I believe that it is ill advised for married persons to have one on one time with a person of the opposite sex, engaging in activities that could have a social connotation. Flirtations come easily in such circumstances and a form of bonding occurs. Also, it is wise not to discuss personal difficulties with the opposite sex (except in the course of something like counseling or pastoral care) because that too creates closer ties that can pull at emotional strings.

It is very reasonable to talk frankly with your husband about this matter, letting him know your strong reservations about his boundaries with this woman. If you know the woman in question, it would not necessarily be wrong to also address your concerns with her. You will need to refrain from unnecessary persuasion or histrionics, yet you can proceed with confidence in knowing that yours is a needed perspective.

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The Anger Trap
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