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Partner Had An Affair 

Dear Gerda:

I have suspected that my partner has been having an affair for about six months now. I finally decided to confront him about it and he confirmed my suspicions. I am devastated and confused. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

At its very least, betrayal of trust can make you question everything you thought you knew and believed in. It can shatter your world and land you in an unreal place leading to what you describe as confusion. It causes you to question yourself, your knowledge of the situation, and your reactions to it.  Whatever you do, try not to deny your feelings. Identify the emotions and do not feel guilty about them. Self-care at a time like this is crucial, so be sure to take care of you. Stress demands a lot of energy. Eat well-balanced meals, exercise, and be sure you are adequately hydrated. Most of all try not to be alone. Connect with friends who will listen and not judge or give negative unsolicited advice. If you are part of a church, spend time there. Do not focus on the details of the affair, but rather try to gain some understanding as to the reasons why it happened, and what it means for you and your relationship.

You did not mention your partner’s reaction to confessing to the affair. Is he still engaging in the behavior? Is he remorseful? Is he willing to do the necessary work to salvage the relationship? There are also some questions you need to ask yourself. Do you still love him? Are you willing to forgive him? Are you willing to put the time and energy needed into rebuilding the relationship? Do you feel you played a part in the breakdown of the relationship, and if so, what can you do to improve things?

Take time to focus on yourself and what is right and just for you. Carefully consider your feelings. Your partner was honest in admitting to the relationship, which is a ray of light in this dark situation. Attempt to engage him in open, honest communication about his motives and behaviors. Make your feelings and fears known. In the event both of you are willing to rebuild the relationship, counseling may be helpful.

Husband Has Been Having An Affair

Dear Gerda:

I recently found out that my husband has been having an affair with a woman at work for over a year. Our relationship has always seemed good. What went wrong? Is it possible to save our marriage?

In basic terms, you and your husband have had a breakdown in communication. I don’t know at what point this occurred. There are always some cues that we miss. He has been living a divided, fragmented life. If you were observant, or more specifically, knew what to look for, you may have noticed many inconsistencies in his behavior. Was he buying new clothes? Changing his look? Going to the gym when he never went before? Making excuses for staying late at work or not showing up for dinner? Making unusual purchases?

In response to your other question, yes, the relationship can be saved, if in fact one existed at the start. If he is remorseful and you have a willingness to forgive, and both of you are willing to take a ride on the communication express, your chances are good. You must both be open and honest, and have a desire to be committed to each other. Individual counseling would be helpful for both of you. If he won’t go, you should consider going alone.

Partner’s Internet Porn Habit Causing Problems

Dear Gerda:

My partner is constantly looking at porn on the internet. Our sex life is suffering. We also fight a lot lately. What can I do short of leaving him?

You are in the anger stage in grieving the loss of your relationship, and rightly so. You are feeling cheated on by your husband and are competing with The Technology Monster. She has invaded your home and your relationship, and has attacked you at the core of the one thing you held sacred: your sexuality. It can certainly make you feel undesirable. Looking at garden variety internet porn where there is no live interaction is not cheating. It is not real. It is, however, a deviant behavior that can be a prelude to cheating and more destructive behaviors. It is already denying you and your partner of a shared and wholesome relationship.

The use of internet porn can be a sign of anxiety, obsessive disorder, or symptoms of problems in your relationship. The behavior should be confronted, but in doing so you should focus on the behavior and its effect on the relationship. Don’t fall victim to playing the role of the jealous female. You are not competing with another woman. Also do not allow your partner to minimize the problem. It is his problem. Do not accept any blame or responsibility for it, but be open to hearing his reasons. Do not lose yourself in the situation by monitoring all his internet activities.

There should be some commitment from your partner for change. The computer should be moved from a private place to a shared location. Go to bed together each night. Develop daily activities for improving your relationship. Should he continue the behavior after you have both discussed it, you should refuse to keep it a secret and seek professional help.

Mother-In-Law Is Invasive

Dear Gerda:

My husband and I have been married for almost two years. The problem is my mother-in-law is invading our lives. My husband refuses to talk to her about it, and I am at my wit’s end. What do you suggest?

The good news is that your marriage is still very young, therefore the opportunity still exists for boundaries to be established. It is the responsibility of both you and your husband to jointly set the operational boundaries for your home. It is your husband’s duty to speak to his mother about the role he would like to see her play in the family. When you have an opportunity and you think the time is right (and your mother-in-law is not the topic of discussion), make plans together about how and where the holidays, religious or otherwise, will be spent. Talk about how you will establish your family as a unit if or when you have children.

Your husband may not realize that his mother is interfering and may be enjoying having two women taking care of him. The difficult thing to realize is that although her actions may be upsetting, in her distorted way she believes that she is protecting and looking out for the well-being of her son. Your mother-in-law is always going to be the mother of your husband and is always going to think that she knows what is best for him. There are certain factors that can add to her hands-on involvement. Does she have a partner? Is he an only child? Was he the last child or is he the only son?

Apart from setting boundaries it is possible to neutralize a meddling mother-in-law into an important helper. The strategy: First make her feel important. Chances are she needs to feel vital and wanted. Give her things to do that are useful, but very time-consuming. If she lives in close proximity encourage her to take lunch to her son to ensure proper nutrition. This directs her efforts at him and he will likely begin to feel the annoyance. Schedule her to come over and do things with him during his free time instead of yours. This includes holidays and weekends. If she insists on being the best cook, put her to work on making a family recipe book. Last but not least try to get to know her, including her background, interests, fears, and dreams. Have her preserve items from your husbands’ childhood to pass onto his children. She will be busy and flattered to know that her good work will be carried into history.

Husband Has Different Values

Dear Gerda:

I have been married for just over a year. It is becoming obvious to me that my husband and I do not share many of the same values and ideals I thought we shared. We do not agree on a long and growing list of issues. Are we headed for divorce?

Differences are a part of any healthy relationship, especially marriage, and your ability to solve problems will pave the road for a prosperous marriage. What are the specific disagreements about? Do they affect your core values, such as spirituality, sexuality, and family issues? Look at them carefully one at a time and try to find resolution for each one. If they do not affect your core values I would encourage you to focus on the things you have in common rather than those you don’t. If they do, you may need to reconsider the relationship.

Fortunately you are still in the infancy stage of your marriage. If you are willing to work together toward growth and development you can achieve a solid relationship with room for both disagreement and understanding.

Most couples spend more time preparing for a wedding than a life together.

Husband Parented Another Woman’s Child

Dear Gerda:

My husband had a relationship with a casual friend of mine while he and I were engaged. When I found out, I broke our engagement. After much time and discussion we got back together and a year later we were married. We have two children together (we had one child before we were married and one after). I recently found out that the other woman had gotten pregnant by my husband and had a son. We all agree that the child should have interaction with his father. The problem is the child is a constant reminder of my husband’s infidelity. It has become so disturbing for me that I have separated from my husband and filed for divorce. Now I feel guilty about the fact that my children are not living together with their father. Any help would be appreciated.

You have had a lot to cope with. It appears that you are a strong and decisive woman and the choices you have made have been both bold and courageous. You are actively practicing selfcare, making life decisions that support who you are and how you feel. Guilt brings mixed emotions and can make us question our judgment and decisions. Your guilt emanates from the fact that you are a responsible parent with good morals and values. Know that your children don’t have to live with their father to have a father. The best things you can do for your children are to promote their father positively to them, never speak negatively about him, and provide ample opportunities for him to spend time with them.

Sister-In-Law Problems

Dear Gerda:

My sister-in-law is a menace. She lies, manipulates, and causes unnecessary stress and problems within the family. What can be done about her inappropriate behaviors?

The problem lies within the relationships between you and your husband and your husband and his sister rather than with the family unit. You did not focus on any specific problem; therefore I will speak in general terms. Your in-laws are a distinct part of your spouse’s life and will be a part of yours as well. The first rule is never put your spouse in a situation where he has to choose between you and your sister-in-law (or any relative for that matter). Instead, try to understand the relationship or lack thereof that your spouse has with his sister. If possible try to support this relationship even if she puts your spouse through emotional hell and severe stress. It is his sibling. Love him through it and he will know when he has had enough.

You and your husband together need to establish boundaries for your relationship and your immediate family. You also need to decide together what role your sister-in-law will play.  Set rules for the use of your home, your money, and your time. Without being inflexible, uphold your boundary limits. Should your limits be violated, avoid communicating through a third party. Do not expect your husband to confront his sister about things she does that offend or hurt you. Also do not send messages to her through him. Talk to your sister-in-law directly. Your actions should be swift and direct, focusing only on the issue at hand and not on other feelings you may be carrying toward her. Learn to be a good listener when it comes to your husband and his family. You will find that many times the best response is to say nothing. Each of these efforts will pay off.

Be mature and kind. Even if you have to grit your teeth, try to say something nice when you speak to your husband about his family. Attacking them equates to destroying the base of who he is. You are his wife and his present family. Use your life together to love him and build a solid, respectable relationship. He will likely choose to spend less time with his original family.

Know yourself and stay true to who you are in your beliefs and actions. Do not try to be the person your sister-in–law wants you to be. Your husband must have loved the difference in you. He married you.

Unmotivated Husband

Dear Gerda:

I’ve been married for 28 years. I am a young 55-year-old who likes to travel a bit and experience life. My husband doesn’t like to do much of anything, not even for birthdays and our anniversary. Nothing I say or do seem to motivate him. Can you give me any suggestions to get him going?

It may be a good time to focus on the earlier part of your love relationship, including courtship, and try to recapture the things you once enjoyed together that led you to decide to spend the rest of your lives together. First you need to recognize the point in your marriage when your husband began to experience this social bankruptcy. When did it begin? What were the circumstances at the time? Was there severe stress or a crisis of some type.

You did not mention your husband’s age or medical history. This lack of social interest could also be a sign of depression or another medical problem. I would suggest that you start with a visit to his primary care provider for a complete physical. It may be that your husband is not happy with himself, life, or both.  Help him to identify and verbalize his feelings about his present situation, his fears, and his regrets. It may also be a good time look at intimacy between the two of you. Try some new and exciting ways to get your husband feeling in love and sexy again. Ask him what his likes and dislikes are.

Having parties or other events at home may help your husband become more social. Try planning a house party for the next birthday, anniversary, or favorite sports event. Involve him in the plans. If finances are available consider using a caterer so that there will be little burden on the two of you and you can more readily enjoy yourselves and interact with your guests.  

Dealing With A Controlling Spouse

Dear Gerda:

Whenever an issue comes up in our relationship, my husband yells at me, blames me, and tells me I am immature. He says he wants no discussion. I do not feel that I can get through to this man and am considering divorce. Do you have any advice?

It sounds as if your husband has a constant need to be right and in control. This could be a sign of his fear of competition and confrontation.  I am curious as to why the thought of divorce is your first consideration. Is there another form of abuse going on? Have you already sought counseling without improvement? The yelling and blaming that you refer to constitute emotional abuse or a severe case of disrespect for you as both an adult and his wife. I would recommend reading about abuse and trying to gain a better understanding of it and how to recognize it. I also recommend seeking professional help from a skilled counselor.

Problems With Mother

Dear Gerda:

I thought I had a very close relationship with my mother. Recently, after she had a long stay in the hospital, I planned to have her stay at my house until she recuperated fully. The day of her release from the hospital, she went home with my sister instead. I was devastated. I had provided all of my mother’s care up to that point and her decision to stay with my sister was never discussed. What went wrong?

It appears that either there is a conflict in the relationship between you and your sister or your mother felt the need to “share her care” and figured you would not be offended by her choice. Perhaps she loves you both and does not want to hurt either of you, but sees you as the one that is more understanding and forgiving. It is also possible that you are both victims of a mother who cannot, for whatever reason, maintain a solid relationship with two people at the same time. The bottom line is she failed to communicate with you, and possibly with your sister as well.

You mentioned that you provided all the care for your mother up to this point. Why? Where was your sister the rest of the time? Perhaps your sister was unable to provide assistance until your mother left the hospital.

No matter what the situation, since sibling relationships are usually the longest-lasting relationships we have, I would encourage you to make every attempt to maintain and improve your relationship with your sister. Also approach your mother in a kind manner when she is feeling better and inquire as to why she made the choice she made. In the meantime, your continued efforts to assist your mother will set an example of how to love, care for, and appreciate others.

Husband Has A Wandering Eye

Dear Gerda:

My husband is constantly looking or staring at other women or flirting with them, especially if they look sexy, have a lot of cleavage showing, are wearing a short skirt, etc. No matter where we go or what we do, it is the same situation. It is causing a lot of tension between us. Whenever I bring it up, he says all men do it and that I am insecure and jealous. Whenever I dress that way he doesn’t like it, in fact he usually makes negative comments and tries to cover me up. What gives?

Looking is not cheating. Constant looking and staring, however, are rude and thoughtless behaviors. To the affected partner, they can generate feelings of disrespect, anger, and insecurity. This is in response to the thought of being considered a lesser woman than the object of interest. Looking is a primitive trait and research has shown that men are very visual by nature. Even a baby tends to look intently at different and attractive objects.

Speak to your husband about the behavior while it is happening and tell him how it affects you. Do not be tempted to compete with the objects of his interest.

Devise new ways to improve your relationship. Your husband saw something in you that he loved which is why he married you and committed to spending the rest of his life with you. Rediscover why and try to incorporate it into your daily love life.

You mention that when you bring up the issue you are accused of jealousy. I would suggest that you focus on how his behavior makes you feel rather than attempting to control him. He cannot deny your feelings. Emotional withdrawal, nagging, and/or competing with the objects of his interest will never solve the problem. Communicate with your husband to gain some clarity as to what the looking or staring means to him.

You partner apparently does not want the type of woman he looks at for a wife because he makes negative comments and attempts to cover you up when you dress that way.

Partner Who Gives Too Much To Others

Dear Gerda:

My partner is very kind and giving. Sometimes too much so. He gives things to people and does things for people, and then complains that everyone expects him to be the “doer” and that he never gets anything in return. Why does he put himself in this position?

Doing for others without feeling appreciated can be very discouraging and emotionally draining. It is apparent that your partner needs acceptance and when his giving is not reciprocated in gratitude he becomes angry. He may be feeling insecure and needs approval and therefore seeks to boost his ego by giving. He could benefit from coaching which could help him to develop healthy ego strengths. You could try to help him to see the pattern and help him to break the cycle. This may be very difficult, however; because as an adult it is hard to believe that we should know and do better. Make attempts to teach and model self-care behavior without criticizing. Do not make attempts to save him or speak negatively about those he becomes involved with as he will view it as an attempt to control him.

Teach him how to say no without feeling guilty. Acknowledge his attempts at protecting self despite however small the progress may be. By modeling the behaviors you can teach him how not to volunteer himself before he thinks through the cost physically, socially, and financially. He may need help with anger management skills because some of his overcompensating and committing may be an attempt to avoid conflict.

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