Emotions run high during the
holidays. We talk about holiday stress, loneliness, and handling
family issues. But what about your relationships with your mate, or
a man you just started dating, or your "acting out" 17-year-old son
who lives with his mom, or your estranged sister who's in trouble
and now wants your help, or your move with your husband to the city
he grew up in, or avoiding your brother because of your abusive
sister-in-law, or your adult children who don't want you dating so
soon. These are the present situations of many of my clients (names
changed of course) this holiday season. The holidays don't cause
these problems, but they do intensify the situations. Below are a
few of their stories.
I'm Overstressed & They're Ungrateful: Linda and her husband
have been in marriage counseling for a few months, and things were
starting to improve. Then with the holidays, they began canceling
all their appointments. Linda was baking cookies, buying presents,
sending cards, and even took on a 3-night benefit. It wasn't until
she was back in my office after 2 months off that she realized she
had regressed into her "overgiving and resenting" behavior. She
isn't close to her sister, but got a call that she better check on
her and found her in an overdosed state and rushed her to the
hospital, paying for everything since her sister had no insurance.
She called her husband to come and help her and he said he was busy
playing poker. After Linda's boyfriend arrived at the hospital at
3am, Linda felt she could finally go home. Then the police called at
4am telling Linda that her sister had checked herself out against
doctor's orders and that they were headed over there to arrest her.
Needless to say, she got no sleep that night. Later, her sister
called and yelled at her for interfering in her life! That was
ungrateful #1. That morning Linda had a doctor's appointment for her
daughter who had found a lump in her breast, and of course she kept
the appointment even tho she had no sleep. Then her daughter wanted
to go be with her friends instead of helping her get some chores and
errands done. That was ungrateful #2. Her husband called after that
appointment, and instead of asking how the appointment went, said,
"We need to talk." They met for lunch Quiznos and he confronted her
about some issues in their marriage. All she could say is, "Not
now." Especially since she had had no sleep at all, and his office
party was that night. Her husband owns the business and Linda had
singlehandedly set the entire party up "Martha Stewart style." She
so didn't want to even go, especially when he yelled at her right
before they left because he couldn't find something he was looking
for. That was ungrateful #3. The next morning, her husband
disappoints her by informing her that he won't be able to make it to
her benefit that night. Not only did she need him to take the gifts
in his SUV that she had gathered for the event, but of course she
also wanted to have her husband by her side. That was ungrateful #4.
Linda feels used and abused and can't understand why nobody seems to
care about her, i.e. the fact that she walked out of that hospital
at 3am alone with no one concerned, the fact that she had no sleep
before going to the party, the fact that it should be obvious to
everyone that she is ready to collapse!
As if it wasn't obvious, I told Linda that she was doing way too
much and that when you keep taking on more and more, people just
accept your overgiving and don't think about you. Linda doesn't show
that anything bothers her - and never says no. I told her that she
had regressed into letting her husband treat her badly again without
setting boundaries with him. She was back to playing "the good
little wife" perfectly. I reminded her that people will do to you
whatever you let them get away with. I told her to stop and nurture
herself, and she told me of the 10 more things she had to do first,
including go to a client party with her husband that evening. I
suggested she "bow out" of it the way he had "bowed out" of her
benefit and that she use that time to "veg" in front of the TV. "If
I stay home, I should bake cookies with my daughter instead, she
replied. I reminded her that she never says to anyone, "NO, I
can't/won't do anymore and am taking a break." It's her job to say
enough is enough, not theirs. Her daughter will for sure understand.
And she just needs to tell her husband that she has a right to
cancel on him if he has the right to cancel on her.
Linda also needs to confront her
husband and let him know how she feels. Since it's the holidays, she
keeps telling me that she can't yet because this or that event will
get ruined. The problem is that she is building a huge case against
him, and he doesn't have a clue. Sure, he has been a jerk, and she's
feeling pretty sure that she wants to divorce him at this point.
BUT, for her to be healthy, she needs to speak up and not hold it
in, whether she stays with him or not. Besides, people will get
worse in the way they treat you when you don't tell them to stop!
What she did:
She promised to skip her husband's party, and to go have a drink
with a friend instead, and decided to take a girlfriend up to the
mountains for a weekend ski trip and relax. AND she scheduled an
appointment for next week. She also agreed to write down a list of
all the issues and confront her husband this week. But, I'm not sure
it will really happen until after the holidays!
I Refuse to Spend Time with Her! My client Mary was in turmoil
about the holidays and the way her brother's wife treats her. The
sister-in-law makes rude comments to her when Mary is in her home,
and her "older and somewhat controlling" brother just says to get
over it because his wife doesn't mean it. She doesn't want to lose
her relationship with her brother, but is not willing to take
anymore abuse from his wife. What to do.
Of course, I told her to tell him the truth, "I'm not coming to
your house for Christmas because of the way she treats me!" Then she
should tell him that she still wants a relationship with him, but it
will have to be outside of his house and without the wife. And if he
refuses to do that, she will have to let him go, at least for awhile
until he believes she is serious.
What she did:
She called and excused herself from Christmas without telling
him the real reason why, but made plans with him to meet for a drink
after the holidays and tell him then, even though she knows it will
make him really angry.
Jane & Margie's issue:
I Wish My Mother Would Get a Life! Though Jane & Margie are
clients who don't know each other, they are both single and both
have mothers that are needy and who guilt-trip them when they aren't
constantly attentive to them. They ask me, "How much of my time does
my mother deserve? And do I need to feel guilty when I would rather
go on a date than see her? And I'm an adult, do I really have to
keep reporting in to her?"
No, you do not owe your mother to report in to her or spend
large amounts of time with her. What you do owe her is: letting her
know what she can expect. Try telling her, "I can come over next
Saturday from noon til 3, so let's decide what we'll do during that
time." Make it clear that you won't see her until then, and that you
will call her Friday to confirm (which says, don't keep calling me
in-between). It's no different than dealing with a needy man or
woman that you're dating in that you first try indirect boundaries,
and if that doesn't work, you have to be very clear, i.e. "I can see
you once a week (or once every other week, or whatever)," then stick
to it. If she keeps calling, tell her which day in a week you have
time to talk and talk to her then, but at other times, tell her, "I
can't talk right now, so unless it's something urgent, I'll talk to
you Friday like we always do."
What they did:
They both followed my advice and said that it worked
beautifully. And guess what, they both stopped feeling resentful
toward their mothers. Besides, maybe their moms will have to "get
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Question: How Do I Make Peace With My Mother?
I enjoyed the article you sent me on "Making Peace with Your
Mother." However, how do you deal with a mother who since her
divorce twenty years ago has become a different person? I am the one
who has defended her to an abusive man, but somehow she and he have
made me some kind of scapegoat for their problems. I have stayed out
of their business and even though this man cheated on her and now is
married for the third time, she thinks his divorcing me when he
divorced her is "my fault". I am from my mother's first marriage. I
try to tell her my feelings and how others also see the problems and
she just gets angry. It is very sad. I am now saying very little to
her since it just makes her mad and she pretty much ignores me. I am
afraid it is going to be like this until the end of our lives. This
is so sad, because my mother has been such a vibrant woman when she
was young and we were close.
Should I just keep my mouth shut and go on, stop
beating my head against the wall? Or is there something I can do?
Thank you for any and everything,
You need to "agree to disagree" since your mother
will never be able to see it the way you do. Women who have been
abused and haven't gotten help and/or moved on to a nice man end up
very depressed and bitter! You can't fix her or make her "get" it.
If you have personal issues involving how you were treated by your
stepfather, or how it affected you when he abused her, these are
valid to discuss with her. You may want to put them in a letter, and
yes send it, and that will help you. However, it sounds like you did
try to "help" or "rescue" her in the past, and I'm sure it was with
good intentions. But, people who need help, but didn't ask you for
it, are not appreciative. In fact, they are resentful that you
interfered, even if somebody needed to. You may need to apologize to
her for interfering, and admit you overstepped a boundary, reminding
her that it was only because it hurt you to see her get hurt by him.
Then let her know what you want from her now, i.e. a loving
relationship, support, love, etc. describing how that would look.
Tell her in a vulnerable way that you do not want the two of you to
be at odds forever, and plead to her motherhood regarding developing
a loving relationship before it's too late. Good luck!
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Carolyn Bushong, L.P.C,
is an expert on relationships and a licensed therapist. She is known
for being one of the top relationship therapists in the country and
the author of 3 relationship books. She has appeared on Oprah, the
View, and many other TV shows, and she has been giving relationship
advice on Denver radio for 10 years. She has been helping people
like you improve your life and relationships for more than 25 years.
Cosmo, US Weekly and other magazines quote her expert relationship
advice, and she writes articles for on-line article banks. Carolyn
Bushong always has fresh, up-to-date, hot information on topics
that will inspire you and change your life and improve your
relationships. She has clients all over the country, some who come
into her office and others who receive Carolyn's expert advice
through phone counseling. Carolyn Bushong is an excellent
psychotherapist, but she also lives what she teaches, as she is in a
happy, healthy relationship with Alan, her mate of 21 years.
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