Scoop Essentials: Your Marriage Questions Answered
Earlier this month we brought you Scoop Essentials: Save My Marriage, a conversation about marriage and relationships with marriage and family therapist Diane Smith in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Now, Diane answers your questions on everything from coping with stress to finding time alone.
Our disabled son has executive dysfunction and memory disabilities which keep him from safely negotiating the world independently. He is 15. My husband does not always see this deficit in my son, although it is well documented by experts. Consequently, my spouse and I are not always on the same page when it comes to how to handle my son’s comings and goings. How can I get him to see the need to protect our son? — Diane K., 56, San Dimas, Calif.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Diane: I can really understand how concerned you must be for your son’s safety. I also can sense your frustration with your husband’s different response to your son’s vulnerabilities. It’s difficult to know the reason behind his seeming underestimation of your son’s challenges. One possibility may be a denial of the limitations. Another possibility is that you and your husband may have different perspectives on your child’s strengths and deficits. Balancing concerns for safety with promoting independence is very challenging for parents. Generally speaking, we mothers tend to see our kids as more vulnerable, whereas, fathers tend to push for more independence, especially in their sons. Both concerns have merit. It would be helpful if you and your husband could talk openly, perhaps in the presence of a therapist, in order to share your perceptions of your son and work toward a balance of safety and independence.
My husband was raised in the style of “old school” discipline, which doesn’t work well with our son on the autism spectrum. We have many disagreements about how to shape behavior and address our son’s outbursts. While I’ve been reading books and attending seminars to learn about our son’s condition, my husband doesn’t like to read that stuff. What should I do? It’s obvious to our son that we disagree on how to deal with his emotional dysregulation. Thanks. — JT, 44, Olympia, Wash.
Diane: Certainly those of us who have kids with emotional dysregulation problems know that “old school” discipline just doesn’t work. In fact, it can escalate the problems. The differences you have with your husband regarding child rearing practices are not uncommon. Given that you are doing all the reading, you have become the “expert.” Husbands sometimes have difficulty getting “corrective feedback” from their wives, as they may feel criticized. Additionally, we all carry over our experiences from childhood when it comes to how we interact with our own children, sometimes doing the exact opposite of what our parents did, or repeating those very patterns. In my professional experience, when couples can sit down with a therapist and explore these differences in a non-judgmental environment, couples begin to practice more flexibility in their behavior management strategies.
We have been married for 25 years. We have 7 children, ages 20 (twins) to 7-years-old. Our marriage started out loving — best friends. We were able to communicate on just about everything. Through the years of working, having children, me dealing and trying to get a handle on my bipolar depression — which my husband has never accepted as a real, true illness — our marriage was put on the back burner and everything else came first. He never took me seriously all those past years when I did try and communicate my concerns that we were drifting apart. Year after year, my resentment of not being listened to, not being respected, and not being number one in his life (besides our children) grew and grew.
Counseling really did not work because he never really believed in it. I would go for myself. He always blamed our problems on my BPD and my moods. Well with a mindset like that, it would just make my BPD more unstable as I had more stress, besides doing most everything with the children and working part-time. My question right now is: after years of grief and turmoil and not communicating, I fell out of love with him and I do not respect him anymore, but for the kids we are still together. It is miserable. How do we try and connect even if it’s just a little, so we can finish raising our children in a semi-decent surrounding? How do we get back to communicating without always arguing? How do we put the laughter back into the family and not have it so fake between us? — Worn Out
Diane: You certainly have a lot on your plate, with many challenges. All these stresses, made more difficult by your bipolar disorder, can be more than one person can deal with. Please know that any answer I can give is very basic. Firstly, I hope that you are getting both medical and psychological help for your mental health issues. That would be crucial for your own well-being. Secondly, your marriage needs serious attention and professional assistance. I am happy to hear that you have not given up on your marriage and still have hope that things can be somewhat better. However, after years of anger, resentment, and hurt, you will most likely need help in working through those layers to reclaim the core of your love. It can be hard to remember what brought you together in the first place and made you want to create this family with one another. But, you described that the feeling was once there and a lot of things have gotten in the way. If your husband will not participate in counseling, at least get help yourself. I would also recommend that you find some support in your community, through an organized support group or informal support of friends and family. In the meantime, try this exercise: Ask your husband to write down what he thinks is difficult for you with the kids and your life together. Then ask him to write down what he thinks you need from him. You do the same for him. Find time to be alone and exchange your lists. Really LISTEN to each other without interrupting and see if you can discover something about each other.
What about when you have two children with mild disabilities – LD, ADHD — who are also teens and everyone blames the parents for being the cause of their teen’s problems with drugs or drinking when it is so prevalent in schools? We currently have a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old who is on probation and house arrest. We cannot leave him alone or take him anyplace. The 17-year-old we watch closely. And forget romance when you work until midnight every night and are so exhausted. I grew up with a sister with a severe disability but I think that it is much harder having boys with mild disabilities who everyone thinks should know better and be good at all academics and then blame us when they are not. Any suggestions on how to manage it all? — C. A. Wissick, 57, Columbia, S.C.
Diane: Your question about how to handle it all has no easy answer. I can see how frustrating it is when you feel that everyone blames you for your child’s behavior. It sounds like your family life is very stressful. So I can understand how romance and time alone would be so far down the list when you have so many pressing concerns with your kids. You and your husband could really use some support from a therapist or other parents. See if there is an organization called Because I Love You or Families Anonymous. Both of these organizations could provide you some much needed-guidance on dealing with your kids in areas such as setting boundaries. The groups can also support you in taking care of yourselves through this tough child-rearing.