Thursday, August 20, 2009

Battling the Summer Invasion

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 55 years old and have been married for seven months to "Tony", a widower. When we got married, I sold my condo in the city and moved into Tony's house in a seaside town about forty miles away. It was great until Memorial Day weekend, when we started getting besieged by visits from his brothers and sisters and their families, plus his two grown daughters and their kids. There were literally five days all summer when no one was visiting. Some of these visits overlapped, and when they did we had as many as nine guests at a time. One sister and her teenage kids stayed two weeks, and practically no one stayed less than a week. Tony had given me the impression that his family's visits were pretty much a weekend thing. I have a home-based consulting business that's impossible to run with all these people around. I'm already dreading next summer. Tony's a wonderful guy but he just can't say no to his family, and he's off at work five days a week and doesn't have to deal with everything the way I do. Any suggestions, short of running away? ("Ann Marie" in the Carolinas)

DEAR ANN MARIE: The old saying is, unfortunately, true, that you don't marry a person, you marry his whole family. And when you come in late in the game, there's a well-established system in place that is not going to be easy to dismantle. But if you want to stay married and also stay sane, you---and Tony---are going to have to make some changes to the system.

The first thing the two of you need to do is to have a serious conversation. You can point out, correctly but calmly, that you were under the impression that the visits were mainly on the weekends. You were mentally prepared to deal with having houseguests two or three days a week, and (presumably) you'd be willing to live with that in the future. You can also explain, if he doesn't realize it already, that you can't run a business with up to nine people wandering in and out of the house all day.

But try not to criticize his relatives overtly, even if they deserve criticism; it will just make him defensive. Instead, make it clear that you need to work together to come up with a solution for next summer and beyond. What you'll probably have to do, prior to the end of this year, is to send out joint letters or e-mails to everyone who's visited and let them know that next summer you won't be able to accommodate guests other than on weekends, and even then only one group of guests at a time. Urge them to make their "reservations" as early as possible, and mention that you'll be happy to help people find hotels or rental properties if they want to stay longer.

Inevitably, you're going to be "blamed" for this. "Gee, Dad marries Ann Marie and all of a sudden she's running the place." And if he's the soft touch you say he is, he may be tempted to bend the rules if his relatives plead their case to him directly (and they will). But, for the sake of your marriage, it's vital that the two of you present a united front.

So, I hope you won't need to run away next summer. But maybe at the end of the summer you and Tony can go away somewhere for a week or so and enjoy some together-time, away from your jobs and other people. Knowing that you've got a nice "reward" ahead of you may make it easier to put up with the disruptions that even weekend visits can cause.

Good luck, Ann Marie, and let me know how it turns out.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"It Takes Two, Baby..."

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: In your last post [Tuesday, August 11] you advised "Stephanie" to seek marriage counseling and/or sex therapy. But what if her husband refuses to go with her? That's my problem. My husband and I have all kinds of issues but whenever I bring up counseling he says I can do what I want but he's not interested. Should I just go on my own? I'm sick of beating my head against the wall. ("Roberta" in upstate New York).

DEAR ROBERTA: You certainly can go to counseling on your own, but it wouldn't be marriage counseling. Marriage counseling (or "couples" counseling) by definition requires the active involvement of both parties to the relationship.

I don't know your husband, so I don't know the reason he's reluctant to participate in marriage counseling. However, there are several possibilities, the worst of which is that he's simply washed his hands of responsibility for maintaining the relationship. In this scenario, he's saying, in effect, "Hey, it's your problem (if you think there's a problem). Do something about it if you want, but don't bother me."

If that's truly his attitude, you should still seek counseling on your own, but the counseling will have to be focused on you: whether you should stay in the marriage or not, whether you can live a satisfying life knowing your husband is unwilling to participate in problem-solving, etc.

A second possibility is that your husband knows he's wrong, but is afraid of being told that by some outside person. He may feel that he's capable of changing, but that he'll do it his way. Of course, "his" way may mean doing nothing. But in this scenario, there's at least a glimmer of hope, in that your husband doesn't necessarily see the problem as yours alone.

A third possibility is that he may think that you and the marriage counselor are going to gang up on him, especially if the counselor is a woman. Or he may fear that he won't be able to express his feelings the way a woman can. In cases like this, one solution might be to find a male counselor, especially one who doesn't use a lot of intimidating jargon or "therapy talk." But even before you get that far, your husband might want to see a counselor on his own for a few sessions. It's possible that he's reluctant to express his feelings about your marriage in front of you, but he might open up to someone if you're not in the room. After a while, he might lose his inhibitions and be ready for a traditional "couples" approach.

Whatever your husband's reasons may be for avoiding counseling, you need to stress to him that a) you still love him; but b) your marital problems are not going to go away just because he chooses to avoid them. I wouldn't threaten him with divorce at this point, but I would say something like, "Our marriage means so much to me, and I would hate to see it end over something we can still work out."

None of this will be easy, but if you're persistent in a positive way there's a good chance your husband will come around.

Good luck, Roberta, and let me know what happens.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When "Honesty" Goes Too Far

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any question you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 49 and have been married nearly twenty years. I love my husband and would never want to leave him, but our sex life is the weak link in our relationship. I've probably always had a stronger sex drive than him, but the gap seems to be widening. He can still perform, but I always have to initiate everything, and even then he'll often find a way to put it off (too tired, etc.). That's the background. My immediate problem is that earlier this summer I had an affair. I met a very attractive man at a conference we were both attending, and we wound up having sex three times that week. I knew from the beginning there would be no future in it---he's married, too, and lives halfway across the country---but I did it anyway, and now I'm feeling terrible. I can't get rid of the guilt, but at the same time I know that I wouldn't have gotten into that situation if I was getting what I needed at home. Should I confess to my husband? At least then he would know how how frustrated I am, but also how much I want to stay married. ("Stephanie" in Canada)

DEAR STEPHANIE: Confessing to your husband would be a mistake, even if accompanied by a declaration of love and a plea for forgiveness.

I gather that there's no continuing communication between you and the other man---if there is, end it immediately---so there's little or no chance your husband would ever find out what happened on his own. What possible good would come of your telling him? Think about it. Do you really think his reaction would be that he's sorry he pushed you into the affair by ignoring your needs? Do you really think he'd be able to forgive, forget, and start trusting again?

Despite the lip service we all pay to "honesty", it's not always a virtue, especially when the person on the receiving end never asked for full disclosure and probably isn't prepared to deal with it. It's no fun bearing the burden of guilt, but you'll feel even guiltier if your confession backfires. A famous writer once said that we may hurt ourselves with our sins, but we only hurt others with our confessions. He's right.

But you can still turn your experience into something positive for your marriage. It's understandable that you're unhappy with your sex life at home, and if something isn't done to improve it you'll eventually be seeking sex outside your marriage again (temptation will often trump guilt, especially when you add self-justification to the mix). The two of you really need to see a marriage counselor and/or a qualified sex therapist as soon as possible. I'm not necessarily saying that your husband's sex drive will ever be the equal of yours, but with awareness and motivation he should be able to please you a lot more and keep you from looking elsewhere.

The only things you need to "confess" to your husband at this point are your desire to have a more satisfying sex life and marriage, and your interest in getting outside help. As long as you express your needs clearly but without overtly criticizing your husband or blaming him, he shouldn't be threatened by these legitimate requests.

I hope this helps, Stephanie. Let me know how it turns out.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Is There a "Right Time" to Remarry?

(NOTE: Beginning today, my blog will be devoted to relationship questions submitted by readers. If you have a question, please send it to

DEAR JIM: How soon after a divorce is it OK to get seriously involved with another person? I'm a 41 year old man, was married for nine years, have been divorced less than a year, and have three boys who live with my ex, but whom I see several times a week. A month after my divorce became final, I met a woman who seems ideal in every way. We've become enormously attracted to each other, and neither of us wants to date anyone else. She's beginning to talk about living together and possibly getting married. I do love her, but I'm a bit uneasy about that level of commitment. Am I being too cautious? I don't want to lose her, but I want to be sure I never go through another divorce again. ("Scott" in Texas)

DEAR SCOTT: You're right to be concerned. Men, in general, are far more likely than women to become involved with a new person soon after a divorce. There's nothing inherently wrong with forming a new relationship so quickly, but many men do it for the wrong reasons. Wrong reasons can include panic, depression, a need to restore self-esteem, revenge against the "ex", an inability to function without a woman around, or pressure from a new girlfriend to commit prematurely.

Because men like to define themselves by actions, in times of stress men are prone to "do something" rather than dwell on the causes of the stress. The problem is, what a man will often do is the same thing that brought about the stress in the first place; jumping, so to speak, from the frying pan into the fire. This is one of the reasons why second and third marriages have an even higher divorce rate than first marriages.

You actually have made a commitment to your new girlfriend, in that you love her and are not interested in seeing other women. What you need to do is to reassure her that your commitment is real, but that you need more time to reflect on what went wrong in your marriage and to get over the hurt of your divorce. You also need more time to see how your relationship with your kids evolves, and to see how her relationship with your kids evolves.

I think that if you just level with her, and emphasize that you're not stringing her along or seeing other women on the side, she'll understand. She may even respect you more for it. As for how long this will take, I don't think waiting another year is unreasonable. It wouldn't be the worst thing---for either of you---to hold off until you've had an argument or two, and seen each other in good times and bad.

Good luck, and let me know what happens.