Advice: Husband? Or Landlord with Benefits?

Dear Bartender and Priestess: For the last ten years I have been married to “Shaun”. We’ve both been married once before. Shaun and I get along well and like many of the same things, so courting seemed easy. It wasn’t long after we were married, though, that he informed me we were going to split every expense exactly down the middle. Everything, 50-50. He makes significantly more money than me, and I don’t begrudge him that, but he doesn’t even adjust what I should pay to account for our disparity in income. I moved into his house, which is in his name, and he won’t make me a co-owner on the deed because I can’t meet the equity he’s got. Instead, I pay him rent every month.

I am expected to pay my half on everything. He recently took his teenage son on a two-week vacation, and I couldn’t go because I couldn’t finance my end. When we go to dinner it’s Dutch. He sets spending limits on gifts and, if a gift I give him is of lesser value than one he’s gotten for me, he will return what he got me and get something at a lower price. He’s generous with his son and with organizations he cares about, but he clamps down with me. Of course, we hold no joint bank accounts or credit cards. That’s out of the question.

I’m paying off a large loan, but that’s projected to be completely paid off in two years, so at least that will loosen up my income a little. But he makes me feel like I’m less of a person, a second-class citizen or something. I know Shaun loves me, but he always puts everything else first–his son, his career, his tech gear, his public persona as a charitable giver. I’m practically living hand-to-mouth in his beautifully appointed home, generating cash for him to spend. Am I wrong to think that as far as he’s concerned, I am more of a servant and less of a wife?

— Indentured Servant

Dear Sweet Servant.

P: I’ve read this and read this and read this, looking for comfort to give you. I can’t find it. You have a relationship, legally, it’s a marriage, but it seems far more a financial relationship than one of mutuality and tender regard.

B: You know, I think I need to have a bit of a lie down after reading this letter. There’s a throb, directly over my left eye, that isn’t going away. I am with Ann. I can’t find the comfort. I can’t find the other side of the story. This just seems…depressing. And an unreasonable way to want your wife to live.

P: You don’t say, and I don’t understand: What are you getting out of this? He’s getting rent and a half share on the expenses. Even the language; why isn’t your input part of the cost of living together? I’ve known people who split expenses, but done that based on how much each person was making… and still… are you married or are you roommates?

You say he loves you? How do you know that? And more to the point, do you love him? Why? And what does “I love you” mean for either of you?

B: Exactly. I’m not seeing a whole lot of loving interest in this part of the story. It’s hard to hear someone say, “I know he loves me, even though I am the last of his priorities.” You might want to examine that. While the son will probably always take some kind of priority over you (and rightly so), at some point the career, or the tech gear, has to get bumped back to give you space to thrive. Because you’re not thriving, you’re barely surviving. God help you if he ever gets a dog.

Moreover, you make a point of saying that “it wasn’t long after [you] were married” that he instituted his 50/50 plan. Which tells me his pre-nuptial behavior was different. Perhaps there was some courting. Some spending. Some dinners or trips. Or, at the very least, no discussion of whether or not you were going to live in his house and have to pay him rent.

Rent. RENT?????  Look, if you’re going to pay rent somewhere, at least let it be in a place in which you have some power. Like, in your own apartment. I can almost get around the idea that you’re not on the deed; it might not necessarily be a simple matter of adding a name to a sheet of paper, depending on the lending bank’s policies, and if you outlive him you’ll get the house anyway. I have to ask: What if you refused to pay him? Would he kick you out? Is that how you envisioned your marriage?

P: I think you need to figure out less where is he in the relationship, and more where you are. Why are you in this relationship? So far, I’m not understanding.

I don’t know how you think through these things, although I can say your last method wasn’t great, because it led you here to ten years with a balance sheet.

B: I would say she shouldn’t even worry about where he is in the relationship. In his mind, he may be the most relationship-positive monkey in the tree. For the moment (and only for the moment, as this is dreadfully uncharacteristic of me) I will assume that he’s not doing this because he’s on some weird power trip and that this is legitimately as good as he gets. He may think he’s the king of boot-straps and tough love, and his bean-counting is helping to build your character because after all…he worked for every penny he ever earned, so by gum… This may be his (deluded) logic. What you say at the heart of your letter is, his logic is bonkers. And, his best is nowhere near good enough in terms of making you feel loved, or valued, or that you’re worth anything more to him than as a roomie with benefits. Is that what you want to be?

Now that I’ve given one benefit of one doubt, let me return to my usual cynical self. I feel like he’s totally manipulative, and part of the reason he wanted you to be his wife is because he could wield financial control over you. Like he’s thinking, if you can hold your own, great, but if not…where the hell else are you going to go? It’s not like you’ve got the money to leave. Right? Does that ring true even a little? Then strategize an exit plan and work toward making it happen, because nothing will get better from that.

P: I think you know the answer to your first question. The real question is what do you want? Is this really a relationship you want to be in? Why? What are you getting out of it? (Go ahead, fill up your own balance sheet with pros and cons.) You may be willing to stay in this relationship for real reasons, but I’m not hearing them here. But go or stay you need to get all those things addressed.

People who see things in black and white, or in his case black and red, are not always easily engaged in conversations about change.

But you can’t ask him to change until you know for sure you want to be there, and what you’re going to do when he says he likes life as it is. And why shouldn’t he? So far, yepper, you sound like you’re a roommate with bennies. What bennies are you getting?

B: I like the idea of filling out a balance sheet of pros and cons; it might be the only thing that makes sense to a person who’s caught up in bean-counting. The super-hostile part of me wants you to present him with a bill for any and all work done around the house. Do you cook? Do laundry? Vacuum? Mow the lawn? Spend your time grocery shopping? If he’s going to charge you to live there then part of me thinks you should charge him for services rendered. And then I’m exhausted by my own spite because seriously, sister. That is no way to live.

P: You do just sorta toss that “I have a large debt” thing in. Are the arrangements you’ve made based on your money handling in the past? Were these agreements you entered into knowing this? Which does change the question a bit. In that case, get out of debt and get some financial counseling. Actually, get some financial counseling and get out of debt. Sometimes they can help us think things through differently than we do, they know the options. Financial counselors are our friends, just like therapists are. At some point you may be able to involve your husband in this, if that makes sense, but not before you figure out how to move from your indebtedness.

B: To be fair, Ann, she also says she’s paying down the debt and projecting it will be paid off in two years’ time. It’s not as though she’s disregarding the debt or floundering through it in an “I can barely pay the interest” sort of way. Though it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea anyway to meet with a financial counselor, particularly if leaving is an option the letter writer is leaving on the table.

P: That said, the house thing really bothers me. At what point do you live there? Is the house paid off? Are you paying him rent on a house he owns? That would be icky. If he dies before you, do you have to move? This is messy stuff. But it’s stuff you need answers to.

B: I may have come off as a little flip before regarding your rights to ownership if he dies before you do. You may want to look at his will and find out if he’s specified to whom his property will go.

P: So many of the questions the Bartender and I answer come down to the same advice. You have to figure out what you want and how you’re going to get it — and failing that, how you’re going to cope if you can’t have it.

Because too few of us learn these skills these days, either at home or at school, therapists are our best friends. They not only teach us to identify and ask the right questions, they help us figure out what to do with the answers, even when they’re uncomfortable.

I’m afraid you have some uncomfortable answers ahead of you. You at least have some uncomfortable moments, if you decide that staying is what you want to do. You’ll have to deal with feeling less than a partner. If you ask for what you want and don’t get it, you’ll be faced with all sorts of ugly realities.

B: For what it’s worth, if you do decide to leave it should be a relatively easy financial split, since you don’t have to worry about dividing out any accounts. Should you decide to stay, please bear in mind that you’re going to continue to fall to the back of his priority list, so you’ll need to be at peace with that or it will continue to tear you down and perpetuate your already-established feelings of second-class citizenry. Subsequently, figure out ways to make yourself, your own priority. Maybe you can’t afford a two-week vacation (right now); can you do a spa day? Or have a girls’ night? Can you take a class you’ve always been interested in? Or start working on The Great American Novel?

You can do all that with a loving and supportive partner, too. But making yourself a priority while you’re with Shaun might help you find direction and self-worth.

P: Really, please find someone who can support you in asking yourself the good questions. If he ever agrees to couple’s counseling, make sure he pays his half. [mic drop]

No but really. What DO you want?

No but really. What DO you want?

A Lonely Island Lost in the Middle of a Foggy Sea

1.5 oz Rhum J.M Agricole Blanc
.5 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum
.5 oz Old Port Deluxe Matured Rum
1 oz Pineapple juice
.75 oz Lime juice
.75 oz Demerara syrup (1 part demerara sugar, 1 part water)
.25 oz La Colombe Pure Black Cold Press Coffee
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.
Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and strain into a tiki mug filled with crushed ice.
Garnish with pineapple leaves and coffee beans.

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Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

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Advice: Life After Ashley Madison

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I don’t know what to do. I just discovered that my wife was registered with Ashley Madison.

Distraught Husband.

Dear Distraught,

B & P: Wow, we’re so sorry. This is a difficult moment for anyone to face.

B: But first things first: Go to the doctor. Get fully checked for STDs. Make sure your physical health is not compromised. This way, if you have anything, you’re catching it as early as you can, which can in turn make treatment easier.

P: As you’re spinning around, there are so many things you need to check into even before you start to deal with the emotional aspects of this. Hopefully, since sign up was free to women, you are unlikely to have been infected with STFD (Sexually Transmitted Financial Debacle). But I would want to check. You haven’t said whether or not you’ve confronted her, but even so, she has not been particularly trustworthy lately. I would want to know that my finances were not exposed. All of which is added insult to injury, I know. I’m sorry.

B: Weird, Ann, you’re the practical one, and I’m the feely one today. Back to you, dear letter writer, you also need to get yourself — with or without your wife — to a family counselor. STAT. Honestly? I would suggest you go alone first, to try and separate out the feelings you have in response to your discovery, vs. the feelings you have about your wife. There is so much you need to sort out. Do you still love her? Do you want to try and make this work? Are you ready to make a break? Because — let’s face it — this may be game over for the two of you. But I think you owe it to yourself to explore your own feelings without having the conflict and pressure of “couples” counseling. I think you need to understand what you need next from this relationship. The first set of feelings you need to be concerned with right now are your own.

P: You may not know yet what you really want from this marriage given that you’re probably still stunned by this revelation. But, since Terri’s handing the therapist part so well, I’d advise that you check with a divorce lawyer so you know what your rights are. We don’t know your family situation or your work situations, you may not know exactly what you want, but it’s good to at least have the information about what’s what.

Your wife can’t say that she fell into a relationship with someone, which would have been painful enough. But she deliberately sought this out and kept it from you. She’s been saying one thing for a while and doing another.

Protect yourself.

B: Because it seems like you went fishing for information on the hacksite. Your letter is super-short, so there’s a lot we’re surmising due to lack of information. But you say you “discovered” her registry, which indicates to me that you went looking. Which indicates to me that you suspected her in the first place. Which indicates to me that you (at the very least) sense (but may not know) that something is terribly wrong with your marriage.  Like Ann said, protecting yourself in this situation is key, but you don’t mention any additional players in this game. Do you have children? If so, then they need protection, too. This situation is going to require a difficult mix of delicacy and honesty if you have kids you need to shelter from this fallout. Actually, just gird your loins for an onslaught of honesty. I’m afraid you can’t get away from it after this.

P: I’ve realized that this site, now revealed, is a lot like the Wednesday Afternoon Hotel in small towns. People would cruise by and see who was having sex with whom. You’re not alone, although this is a particularly personal assault on your heart and relationship. Apparently there are only 3 zip codes in the US where someone isn’t registered. With 32 million people involved, you’re probably not alone even among people you know.

One of the things you’ve probably done, since you’re human, is told someone; your mom, your brother, your friend. Word will get out and it will get back to her, so you need to decide what you want to do, how you want to work on this.

B & P: Despite all the other people you’ve spoken with — despite the therapist, and your mom, and a lawyer, and so on — you still need to have a conversation with your wife. It’s going to be hard, but you have to have that conversation. She needs to know that you know. And you need to not be preoccupied with checking up on your wife’s behavior by reading her texts when she’s out of the room, or going through her emails, or cruising her computer history to see what else turns up. That’s no way to have a relationship. That’s no way to live a life.

 Again, we are so, so sorry you have to handle this thing that’s been ingloriously thrust upon you. But you need to manage your family situation. And you need to remember, despite her actions, or any accusations she may hurl at you, her decision to register with Ashley Madison is not your fault. She may not have been happy. You might not have been communicating successfully. You may have both grown apart, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But her decision to pursue a (potential: we don’t know if anything came of her registry) affair is entirely on her. Adults discuss problems; they don’t deceive. I’m sure you’ll have to face hard questions as you address the fracture in your marriage, and you’ll probably have to face ownership of some of that. But don’t you dare take ownership of Ashley Madison. Good luck.

bnp ashley mad napkin

Cocktails come later, when you get your head on straight.

 

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Advice: My Father Won’t Attend My Wedding

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I am a successful, generally happy gay man. In a matter of a few weeks, I am going to marry the man of my dreams. My boyfriend and I have been together, lived together, for 10 years. Eventually we’re going to throw a huge party for all our friends and extended families, but we decided we want to keep our wedding day small. Immediate families, extremely close friends.

Unfortunately, my father has declared that he’s not coming to my wedding. He hasn’t given me a good reason as to why. He was initially…not thrilled…with my announcement when I came out, but I thought he had grown to accept me and my (now) fiancé. He didn’t seem all that bothered by our relationship when we were just living together but now, stubborn man that he is, he has made his decision, dug his heels in and isn’t budging. He won’t come to my wedding. That’s that.

Of course it bothers me, even if I tell people that it doesn’t. It’s difficult not to compare this to my brother’s (straight) wedding, at which my father was happily in attendance. How can I convince him to come? And if I can’t, how can I make peace with his behavior?

–Disappointed Future Groom

Dear Future Groom (we are leaving out the “disappointed” part!),

First, let us say, congratulations! We are thrilled that you and your beloved are getting married. May you build a grand and glorious life together!

Now. Your father.

P: I’m so sorry your dad is being … so many possibilities here and who knows what he’s being. And we can’t figure that out. Hopefully we can help you come to terms with what you want without the gloss on it. You don’t need to protect him by “being cool.”

I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve run into this. It’s way too common. And the fact that other people are becoming more accepting doesn’t mean that you hurt any less — in fact it may make it worse.

B: Weddings ought to be a time for joy, but like any life-changing event, they can rustle up a whole host of baggage. Much of said baggage ultimately has nothing to do with the principal actors (in this case, you and your fiancé) and everything to do with the third party throwing their baggage into the mix.

That being said, it sure feels like it’s personal. And, as a side note: PLEASE don’t carry any sort of resentment toward your brother for how your father responded to his straight nuptials. Your brother loves who he loves, too. It’s just that for a man, loving a woman doesn’t break new ground.

For parents, a wedding brings a finality to their role in your life. You are so not the kid at Little League any more, or the boy who used to read on the front porch swing, or the gangly kid who’s all arms and legs, with that unruly cowlick. With a marriage you are, undeniably, an adult, making your own way and choosing your own life, and parents’ roles, while still important, inevitably go on the decline. You say that your father has come to accept your life with your partner, but was that when his social status was still just sort of…a partner? He may have thought that one day you’d switch back to women, or he may have preferred not thinking about it at all. Shifting your relationship and your fiancé’s status from “partner” to “husband” is a brave new world for the old guard. You’re getting married and A) declaring your love for this person while B) asserting your right to be recognized as an adult, and your father may not be ready to take this step. To fully accept who you are. To acknowledge he has no control over you any longer.

P: So let’s think about this. Can you say first to yourself, exactly what you want from your dad? Because unless you’re clear with yourself, you lower your odds of getting what you want! What you’ve said is that you want him to be there because he was for your brother. With one family we set it up so she could take a series of steps that helped her clarify what she wanted. 

  1. She had to admit to herself that she wanted to be able to talk about her wedding.
  2. They didn’t need to come, but she needed to let them know that it really hurt that they weren’t coming.
  3. In the end, she was able to tell them, that they needed to get over whatever it was and that they needed to show up, that she deserved that.

The wonderful thing was they listened and were able later to tell me how glad they were they showed up.

But what really mattered was her taking the slow steps through her own pain about what was going on to get clear what she wanted. Your dad may say no. But you will have said what was important and asked for what you want. So what do you want? Get clear. Write it down.

B: Having your father by your side on your wedding day would be nice. It would be wonderful, even. We grow up wanting our parents’ approval and I don’t know if that ever really changes. Theoretically, your father should want what’s best for you, and as an adult you’ve decided that what’s best for you is embodied in the man you’ve shared your life with for a decade. Theoretically, since you are now an adult and a peer, and someone he loves, your father should want your approval too.

P: If your dad isn’t someone who you can talk to about this, or if you can’t talk about this without his being defensive or your being too vulnerable, consider a letter. You don’t want to accuse, you just want to say what you want. “You’re my dad, this is what I want from you.” You might also want to say, “This is my wedding, and it really hurts that you don’t care enough about me, my partner and our happiness to show up.” Be direct. Don’t leave a lot of room for waffling or attacks. Don’t be accusatory. Say what is true.

B: But bear in mind, there’s only so much you can do with a stubborn old man who’s set in his ways, and—here’s the hard lesson—you can’t change him. I’ve said this before, but the only behavior you are capable of controlling is your own. So let me ask you—what do you want to do? How do you want to feel? It’s your wedding day! Do you want to feel happy? Or do you want to feel resentful? Will your father’s decision to not show up affect whether or not you and your fiancé will marry? Of course not! So take the time to rejoice in your love for each other.

As for the sting I know you feel, the disappointment, the rejection…be bigger than it. I know, it’s easier said than done, but I think the healthiest way to move past that sort of pain is to turn it around. Anger won’t help. Sadness won’t help. Both of those reactions allow your bad feelings to remain internal. Those feeling emanate from the question, what’s wrong with me that he did X? You’re still granting your father some right to dictate how you feel. And there’s nothing wrong with you; you’re simply marrying the man that you love.

Again, I KNOW THIS IS DIFFICULT, but your position of strength in all this is compassion for his passive-aggressive behavior, and forgiveness. Forgiveness takes your negative emotions and makes them external, and so much easier to let go. Have compassion for his inability to move forward with the times. Have compassion for whatever negative emotions he might be feeling. Have compassion for whatever planted those seeds in his soul that brought him to this. Forgive him for causing you pain. Forgive him for not being open to your happiness. Forgive him for shuttering himself into his world, at the expense of the people around him. Your happiness with your future husband is not dependent on your father, so forgive your father for his empty, passive-aggressive petulance. Forgive him for not being the parent you want.

P: And then decide what you want to say to people. If you’ve got a lot of feelings, you’re better finding a friend to process this with or a therapist. You don’t need to tell anyone whether or not your dad is coming. You don’t need to tell them how you feel about it, unless they’re beloved friends. Tell your friends about how excited you are about the wedding, marrying your partner. Tell them what a great cake you’re having. Tell them how fabulous your Priestess is and that your Bartender is hi-larious and oh, so skilled. (Oh, right, we’re not doing your wedding. Sorry.)

Because now that it’s just a handful of weeks away, you want to get clear of this and focus on your wedding. Don’t give your dad your wedding day. Because you’re marrying your beloved of ten years! He deserves your wedding to be about him and your commitment. You deserve your wedding to be about him and your commitment. You deserve your wedding to be about you and him.

B: The fact is, we don’t have the families that we want. We have the families that we have, and our recognition of what constitutes a familial landscape is changing. Norman Rockwell is going to have to modernize his Thanksgiving Day family painting. Families are different now, which is neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s just different. But for a lot of people, change is difficult and unwelcome. Don’t let the rut-dwellers impact your happiness. Now, get out there and marry that guy! And take our best wishes for a wonderful, long, strong, healthy, love-filled life.

The path to l'amour is never easy, dearest.

The path to l’amour is never easy, dearest.

To find out more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

If you have a question, email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces and add appropriate punctuation. All questions will remain confidential.

Thank you for reading! Now go tell all your friends.

Advice: He Yells, I Cry

Dear Bartender and Priestess: I married a man who was raised completely differently than I was. I grew up in a very quiet home. His was loud. We never raised our voices to one another. When my husband gets worked up about something—it can be anything he feels emotionally engaged in—he uses a very strong voice. My emotions are close to the surface, so if we argue and he starts to get loud, I retreat, which usually results in me crying.

We didn’t have a lot of arguments while we were newlyweds, but in the last couple of years they’ve been on the increase. I’m hopeful that this means he’s more willing to tell me about things that make him unhappy, but then my emotional reactions kick in and I start to cry, which makes him feel like the bad guy. And it’s just how I am, that’s what I would do if anyone spoke strongly to me.

I’m prone to creating distance, so I will leave the room when he starts getting loud and try and re-engage him later, but he says this makes him bottle up his feelings. And he never tries to do anything about the way he speaks to me. I know we have wildly different ways of communicating and we need to get better at it. Am I too sensitive? Is that the main thing I should work on?

–Tired of Crying

B: I’m so torn about this. Part of me thinks, abso-fricking-lutely, you need to grow a thicker skin, if you ever want to be a functional member of the world around you. And part of me says no, you don’t need to work on being less sensitive. I don’t know if I would ever advise anyone that it would be better to numb themselves down. Where these parts of me merge is in the belief that you need to work on being more of an adult, and less manipulative about how you manage an argument.

Because make no mistake about it, crying in response to a raised voice is both immature and manipulative. You want the noise to end. You lack the skills to say how it should end, so you pull a reactionary sucker-punch which you hope will shut your husband up. And if that doesn’t work, you walk away.

P: I’ve been on all sides of this argument, even sometimes, I hope, the rational, reasoning one we all want to head toward.

I also grew up in a household that was very quiet and rarely confrontational. Lovely quiet, seemingly calm status quo. We avoided dealing with our own problems AND we never learned to deal with anyone who does it differently.

I have an awful memory from my first job. A VP was telling me about something someone said I was doing (which I wasn’t!). I started to cry. The VP was about to push me out the door until I stopped him with, “Dammit, I have something to say. You’ll have to wait until I’m done crying.”

So I sat and snuffled and then rebutted. Right after that I found a shrink to work with. OK, maybe not right after. But PRETTY SOON, after only a couple more humiliating crying experiences, I found a shrink — because if my response to a surprising situation in the office is to burst into tears, I’m not going to be very effective. Plus, humiliating, and not very grown up. I had to work on my own tendency to leak… which is a not always effective tool in the workplace. Or anywhere.

B: I grew up in a loud household. We were always shouting over one another, and I have carried that trait forward. If I get passionate about something—anything, a sports score, a run in my stocking, a poorly-written news article—I tend to get loud. George has asked me why I’m yelling at him about things he had no control over. I have actually said, “I’m not yelling AT you. I’m yelling NEAR you.”

The thing is, though, he’s still subject to the force of my emotional tirade, even if it’s not specifically directed at him. It makes him feel bad, and I have to take that into account, because my relationship with George is not all about me. We have figured out how to start addressing it, though it took us a while. He tells me, “You’re yelling,” and I try to dial it back. I tell him, “You’re internalizing,” and he works to let his bad feelings go. We’re not perfect at it yet—not by any means!—but we work towards a mutual understanding of how we express ourselves and the effects we have on each other. I think that’s the thing both you and your husband have to learn. You have so many feels you can’t handle passion. He has a streak of bombast that he won’t temper lest he “bottle it up”. And what you’re both doing is creating impenetrable borders between yourselves and the space where you can let your relationship happen.

P: Why are your feelings hurt every time your partner is outraged by what’s going on? His outburst at a baseball score has nothing to do with you.You can handle this — and not just for the marriage. You can manage this because you want to be as effective as you can. A good shrink or an assertiveness training workshop can help. Walking away is only ONE coping mechanism.

B: Yes, it’s a coping mechanism. But who wants to simply cope? What you should aim for is a management strategy. I would love you to try and open up space between you and your husband, mid-yell, and say, “Bill, you’re yelling. You know I don’t like it. Can you please say what you need to say, right now, in a more moderate tone of voice?” It gives him the opportunity to speak his mind without being able to accuse anyone of asking him to bottle things up, and it gives you the opportunity to see that all passionate voice-raising doesn’t have to end in tears.

If neither of you are willing to put the borders of your own selves aside, then I’m concerned for the fate of your marriage. “This is how I am, la la la, too bad, you have to deal with me” is no way to nurture a healthy lifelong partnership. And ultimately, your goal should be that you’re healthy and stable. You can’t be stable if you’re constantly on eggshells, wondering when the next outburst is going to send you into a tizzy.

You're making me tizzy, my head is spinning.

You’re making me tizzy, my head is spinning.

P: BTW, you won’t get it right immediately. And you won’t always have it in you to stand up for yourself. It’s all part of the learning curve.

B: You know, I used to cry, when I would have arguments with my ex. (Yes, really.) I just wanted the noise to stop. We never got anywhere in resolving our differences, because he would feel bad (or frustrated) for making me cry and I was too scared to confront anything. And our relationship became really unhealthy. By the time I grew up enough to start trying to talk to him our perceptions of each other were so damaged we didn’t have common ground. Or the willingness to be vulnerable. We’d built up these tremendous walls. I honestly believe we would have divorced earlier and moved on with our lives with much less damage, if we’d just figured out how to talk to one another.

P: If your partner is a loud guy… his vocal spew isn’t about you. He’s just loud. And a loud conversation or an argument can be, simply, loud. But he’s probably always been that way. So why did you marry a loud guy? And this is a serious question. Think back. Why did you marry this guy despite and because of his decibel issues?

If you married a loud guy thinking you were going to change him, you devalue an aspect of him. He’s a loud guy. He’s probably always going to have the loud opinion and the over-the top reaction. He could probably use a little lesson in cultural sensitivity. Does he do eyerolling, too? Side note: Why is there not an eye-rolling icon? Silicon Valley, get on this. Priestess needs an eyerolling icon, more than she needs many things.

B: Silicon Valley…she’s right, she does. But I digress.

P: But the important point is, darling, you’re not going to change him, because he’s a loud guy. Now, as for your increased fighting. I’m a lot better about this in the abstract than in reality. My husband and I are not talented at fighting. And let’s be clear. Not everything’s a discussion to be worked out. Some of it’s just fighting.

I yell, wanting to be heard. He yells too. And he’s also particularly sensitive.

Luckily we’re completely committed. But we both say stuuuuuuuuupid things. And we both need to learn to shut up and listen. We both need to walk away. And we, both of us alphas, need to learn that there are some things we just don’t care about. And we’re working on those things.

How are you working on it? Looking for someone to take sides doesn’t help. Ganging up on a loved one does NOT lead you forward in relationship.

B: Fighting ought to have an objective. Theoretically, you’re having an argument because there is dissonance in your relationship and you would like peace. I feel like I say this a lot, but you need to make space for the relationship to happen, and that means you need the space for an argument, too. It has to be about a specific thing outside your own selves (“We need to keep an eye on our finances so please make sure all ATM withdrawals are logged in the check register”), rather than an attack (“Why don’t you ever log your stupid ATM withdrawals? How irresponsible are you?”). A good argument should have mutual resolution in mind, not one-sided victory. It should never devolve into anything other than the original topic of discord (“And another thing: six months ago you said you would…!”). And it should, at the end of it all, give you both a better understand of who each other is and where you stand in regards to one another.

You can’t get there if he’s yelling and you’re crying. Or if he’s yelling and you’re walking away. All you’re doing is blocking each other out, putting up walls. No one ever looked at their partner’s walls and said, ooh, nice walls! I gotta get me some of those! And going back later to talk usually doesn’t work, because you’ve already hurt each other by not being there at a crisis point.

P: Put yourself and your well-being first, because you don’t want to be at the mercy of your sensitive feelings every time a disagreement erupts. At home, in friendships, and at the office, you lose the opportunity to provide your own input. You avoid setting things right. And you stop growth because everyone stops to take care of you. You are so much more powerful than that but it’s time to use your powers for the good. It’s time to start figuring out what you want from this relationship. His broad enthusiasm, and your emotional sensitivity, can be wonderful if you can make it work.

And then, when you have your goals settled a bit, find a workshop (there are a billion out there) that helps you work on communication with each other.

Workshops work because there’s often a blend of doing your own personal work that reminds you both how much you love each other (which leads to fun when you get home or even better in your hotel room in the middle of the workshop), helps you build skills, and reminds you that there are lots of people who are not innately skilled at talking things through.

B: My Priestess is right! You have to put your well-being first. You can’t be in a healthy relationship if you’re not healthy, yourself. Or, at the very least, working towards it. Love and attraction are great to have in any relationship, but the day-to-day mechanics of living together…talking to each other…respecting each other…honoring and tending to your partner’s vulnerabilities…managing all that requires compassionate effort, and can be so difficult when feelings and egos get in the way.

P: My dear, you are not the only couple with communications differences and problems. But you could be one of the couples that makes it work in your favor!

Relationships. Finding their own balance is key.

Relationships. Finding their own balance is key.

To find out more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for their generous use of location!

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to models George and Marjorie for playing along!

If you have a question for The Bartender and The Priestess, email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com; human non-spambots, remove spaces and insert proper punctuation. 

Thanks for reading! Now go tell all your friends.

 

Advice: He Cheated Once. Now What?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

Some years ago, my husband was unfaithful to me with a co-worker. We decided we still loved each other enough to stay together and put this nastiness behind us, and have managed to rebuild our marriage since then.

But. Of course there’s a but. He used to work with this one woman that he’s still friends with. When they worked together they often exchanged conversation during their down times (mornings before work, or during a coffee break), and from what I understand nothing ever came of it. She has taken another job at a different company, but they maintain their friendship. She’ll send him emails asking how he is, or forward jokes to him.

I can’t help but think that he’s connecting with her through his work email to keep this relationship secret from me. Why not just use our home email account? Am I just paranoid, or insecure, or what? This is driving me crazy. If their friendship is just platonic, why try and keep me from knowing about it? Why not just tell me? My guess is he would say he is keeping this friendship from me so I wouldn’t have to endure the knowledge that he’s friends with her. But why all this going behind my back?

–Fretting and Fearful

 

Dear F&F,

P: I think there are a lot of questions to be looked at here. Marriage. It’s complicated.

I guess the first question I’d want to know is what kind of work did you do to put the “nastiness,” or as we like to call it infidelity behind you? Did you actually do therapy and talk about what happened or did you just pave over it? Because (am I really going to use a paving analogy here?) roads crack if the road bed isn’t solid. (I guess I am.)

If you’ve done the work, and somehow I’m not hearing that in your description, then it should be fairly easy to enter into an ongoing conversation.

B: My initial question is: How long do you plan to conduct a relationship with someone you don’t trust?

The unfortunate thing is when a relationship suffers a betrayal, and the parties agree to stay together, it inherently requires that both parties work to move forward in that relationship. Which means leaving the past in the past and facing the future together. Which is, of course, easier said than done. You don’t mention whether you two went to marriage counseling.

It is entirely understandable that you are gunshy about your husband’s making friends with a woman at work. It’s also understandable that you spend more than a reasonable amount of time thinking…and thinking…and thinking…about his history and how it matches up with his present.

It’s understandable. It’s not acceptable. Note the distinction.

Hmmmm…conducting this through his work email, so you don’t find out about it…

Does that mean you’re snooping his emails? Going through his phone while he’s in the shower, hacking his work email account when he goes out to run errands?

P: I also noticed that you don’t say how you found out about the email relationship he’s having with this former co-worker. You don’t make it sound like it was through a conversation you had with your husband. If you’re snooping, and perhaps not without reason, then you haven’t really put the past behind you. We all need our space in relationship, but when there’s been infidelity, some things, more than others require disclosure so as not to arouse suspicion. He was the one who was unfaithful, he needs to avoid certain behaviors, honoring you, your relationship and your realistic fears.

That said, snooping raises another flag. I would find it difficult to be in a relationship where I was tempted to spend my time keeping tabs on my partner rather than reading or writing the next great American novel… or even playing solitaire on line.

B: Seriously, honey, if that’s the case then you need to settle down. First of all, if you’re compromising his work email, you may place him in a precarious position at his job, since there may be sensitive business information there that is only meant for employee access. And secondly, his cheating on you does not immediately void him of any sort of privacy. He has a right to a personal life that doesn’t include you. Would you like it if he read your diary? Or hacked your email, or scrolled your phone? Of course not, it’s your private stuff, your inner life. You deserve that much, right? Why doesn’t he?

Take our advice, friend!

Take our advice, friend!

P: But snooping is an awful waste of your time. You deserve a relationship where that’s not necessary. And you deserve to be a person who isn’t constantly suspicious. You’ve got some of your own stuff to deal with — which doesn’t in any way negate his responsibilities!

B: There are three elements in every relationship. There is Partner 1. There is Partner 2. And there is the relationship. Both partners come to the relationship with baggage, and history, and quirks, and humor, that have been formed and are independent of the formation of said partnering. Being in a relationship doesn’t eliminate the boundaries between one person and another; you are still separate, distinct creatures. Your husband, independently of you, can be friendly with other people, particularly ones that he’s had to share a third of his waking life with. That share at least a nominative professional interest.

Then you say, “I can’t help but think…”. So, you assume. You are finding him guilty every day of a past offense, and not even giving him the benefit of explaining himself. Is it because you ARE snooping and don’t want to admit that to him? Regardless of why you’re doing this, the thing is, you’re having entire conversations with him INSIDE YOUR HEAD that he’s not even aware of. Partner 1, Partner 2, the relationship. You’re having your relationship without including Partner 2, which is no relationship at all. If you choose to stay in a relationship, then choose it in all its fully-formed, three-pronged messy glory. Tend to it. Have the difficult talk wherein you lay out your fears and concerns and insecurities. If he’s hiding an innocent friendship from you then believe me, he senses this already.

P: We don’t know what kind of relationship he’s having with her. If he’s on a list of people she emails jokes to, then that’s one thing. If it’s a deeper friendship then that’s another.

Responses would be different depending on what they’re doing. People don’t need to be doing the bed mambo to be unfaithful to their vows and relationships.

So, I’m never buying the “but we’re not sleeping together.” Sex? It’s sex and it’s complicated. But emotional infidelity? If he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you. And if he’s hiding that he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you and she’s… oh, right we don’t care so much about her.

B: The fact is, your husband has a job which involves him going out into the work force, and unless he works at the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, he’s going to encounter female co-workers. Also, people tend to try and get along with—even befriend!—people they’re in an office with for forty hours + per week. I would worry that he wasn’t making any sort of friendship with female co-workers, because when people work together that’s a normal thing to do.

P: In healthy relationships, you don’t always gauge the people according to whether your spousal unit will like them, but you pay attention, especially when they’re the opposite sex. Generally, it’s good when we say, hey, I know this great woman from work, let’s make a double date and go out with her and her husband, I think we’ll get along.

But if that didn’t get suggested when they were working together… you’re not wrong to ask questions. And the oh, I wouldn’t want to hurt you? Um… too late. You are. Lying to me hurts me. And this is lying. Omission, commission, schmomission… Lying!

Because, if you develop a friendship with someone your partner doesn’t particularly want to hang with, you find something in the relationship with this new friend to share with your partner. Share the jokes or progress on the joint project. All of us, if we’re healthy, have friends with people of the opposite sex. Certainly my husband and I do. But we know what’s going on in one another’s lives. We know who the friends are and why we’re hanging out. I don’t want to go to his music meetings. He doesn’t particularly want to go to my ministerial stuff. Both of us have challenging and interesting relationships with other people outside our marriage… and we’re glad to share that with one another. This doesn’t sound like that. Sure, one of us may forget to mention we had lunch with so-and-so, but that’s really different that hiding that we’re talking to someone by private message every single morning.

B: While all that is true, the only behavior you can ultimately control is your own. How do YOU want to handle this? Do you want to confront him about his friendship and explain—calmly, with reason on your side—why you don’t like it? Or do you want to be tense in your guts and hope to that he just figures it out on his own? No matter what you think he might think, he’s not a mind reader, and neither are you. I can hear you right now…but he..! But he..!  Yes, but he. I know, right? He did it. He cheated. And years later, he is still being tried daily and found guilty of an offense he committed, by your own admission, years ago. Two? Ten? I don’t know. But you haven’t moved on, since you’re living in his betrayal every day.

Sure, I would most certainly have things to say to him about this, too. But I’m talking to you.

P: So, I want to know are you getting counseling? In a healthy relationship, it’s good when we want more than for our partner not to fool around on us. What do you want from this marriage? Is that realistic with this partner. Because his lying and cheating negates he knows how to build an addition on your house. One you can hire out for… the other, not so much. And if he’s NOT lying and cheating, you’re wasting precious time and narrowing what you are getting for one another.

B: I almost think you have the harder job than he does in the recovery of an affair, because you’re the one whose feelings were trampled on. If you want to function more healthily, you’ve got to learn to let your anger and resentment go, and put your trust in someone who has already violated it once. That’s tough, I get it. But right now, the options before you are A) living with stress-inducing, crazy-making insecurity or B) agreeing to find a way to put this past in the past and truly, as partners, move forward together. Or C) splitting up, if neither A nor B are feasible options. You may want to find a marriage counselor to help guide you through this rocky time. But the sake of your health and your heart, find a way to live in the present, and come to understand the husband you have now, not the one who betrayed you then.

P: I’m just big on people’s being happy and healthy. Sneaking peeks at the relationship is like sneaking chocolate. Sneaking and good health and good relationships are not compatible. (I know. That is so not fun to hear.) If he’s going to have these relationships while being in your marriage, are you willing to accept that and develop other interests? Or are you going to set some firm boundaries about what’s ok and what’s not — for you?

That's how it is.

That’s how it is.

 

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photography!

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for location, location, location!

Thanks to glamorous model Marjorie for joining us on our photo shoot!

If you want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

Got a question? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. If you are a non-human spambot, remove spaces and insert punctuation. All questions are confidential.

Thank you for reading!

Advice: Eating Disorders, Honesty, and Marriage

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I have always believed that couples are allowed to keep portions of themselves locked away from their partners. You know, the part where we keep our deep secrets, where we can turn thoughts over as we work to understand how these thoughts and memories and philosophies have helped shape us into the people we become. (I mean, does my husband need to know that when I was a kid I had a secret crush on Walter Matthau? But he was so funny..!) My husband similarly keeps things to himself; I didn’t know about when he nearly got expelled from high school, until we had been together for quite a while. Suffice it to say, we both have our skeletons, and I think they can, for the most part, stay deep in our respective closets.

I do struggle more with some issues than other, however. For more than a decade, I’ve hidden my binge eating from my husband. It kind of didn’t matter. I was handling it, you know? And it wasn’t like it was something I did every day. I reasoned that I would keep it from him because it was my problem, not his, and…OK, I admit it, I’m ashamed of it. And I’ve started to realize just how bad this is for me.

I need to fix this. It’s not going away, and I am not getting better. My kids are getting older, and I don’t want them to normalize any of my behavior. I feel so trite when I think about by binge eating, because it connects to a litany of problems. Oh, great, I’m Therapy Girl. But I need to be free of this, and I have to say…I have no idea what to say to my husband. What’s my opener? Hey, honey, funny story, but I thought you should know I compulsively cram food in my mouth until I’m ready to burst, and then tearfully throw out all the evidence?

Sincerely,

Sick And Tired Of All This

Dear Sick and Tired,

B: Indeed, you are absolutely right. A coupled relationship is made of two separate individuals, both of whom have the right to keep some things…

HOLY POCKETS! Hold the phone! Wait one second…did you just compare having an oddball man-crush (for the record, I crush on Oliver Platt, want to make something of it?) with having an eating disorder?

You do realize, these two things are not legitimate comparatives, right? That’s not a matter of pitting apples vs. oranges, that’s like trying to compare apples vs. nuclear submarines.

What I find interesting, and heartbreaking, is the way you diminish yourself and your issues under a jokey mask. You ha-ha, push away, then denigrate yourself for being some kind of pathetic “Therapy Girl”. Do you think you don’t deserve to spend time on yourself? Does asking for help give you heartburn?

I understand, it can be incredibly difficult to admit that you’re vulnerable. That you have a problem, that you need help. There is a culture in the US that glorifies the idea that you can A) pull yourself up by your bootstraps as you B) stoically suffer in silence. You know what that brings? Worn out boots and endless suffering. And, in your case, a face full of whatever’s in the fridge. I want you to repeat after me: THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT. Again. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT.

P: I’m really glad you wrote to us, because it means you’re scared enough to do something about it. Terri’s points are really well taken. There is no shame in getting help, in fact, there are only kudos for thinking you’re worth it.

I think you’re missing the point that this isn’t just a shameful habit, it’s a disease that is harmful to you. Eating disorders aren’t a problem just because you’re controlling your world through food (and of course binge eating is giving up all control), they do your body damage.

You’re owning up to living with this for at least a decade. Now is the time to get help. This isn’t about calling a therapist (this isn’t JUST about calling a therapist.) This is about calling your doctor immediately and getting enrolled in a program.

Many food disorders need to be dealt with in live-in programs. This could be a question of life or death. I think writing to us is a statement that you’re willing to choose life. Because nobody writes to the Bartender and the Priestess thinking we’re going to say, there, there, don’t bother.

I’ve known two people who died of eating disorders and many who have spent years in in-house programs. We don’t want this to be you. We want you to live and be happy and healthy.

We hope you want the same.

B: What Ann says. Binge-eating isn’t just a “thing”. You don’t have a weirdo quirk, like having to put your left shoe on before you put on your right. And it’s not like having an inexplicable crush on a potato-faced celebrity. You have a legitimate disorder and it is serious. Your binge eating could impact your health in the long run, as it has been shown to contribute to various diseases, like type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers, just to name a few.

P: Of course, ultimately, you’re right in that this is your problem. Addictions have family implications, but they’re an individual’s problem and disease. It’s the weird thing about addictions — They are diseases, to be sure; but they’re also a problem. It is up to you to decide you’re worth saving. This is your chance. Take it. Do something with it.

And, this is your partner, your mate, to whom you promised faithfulness. Lying about anything is cheating. Lying about addiction that is potentially harmful to you and to your family system is big time cheating. Marriages need honesty: first, with yourself; then, with each other. Hell, every relationship needs honesty. Who else are you lying to? And is being a liar how you want to think of yourself? No, it’s not. So you need to stop. However painful that is. But when you’re telling the truth, remember, you’ve said you’d handle this for years now. You haven’t — because it is both a problem and a disease.

So now you need to try something different, something that admits the imperfections, (everyone has them, know that, everyone), and starts working on honesty in self and in marriage. Imagine a life where you had no dirty, little secrets. It would be so freeing. It would be so healthy.

B: Why do you think your husband doesn’t need to know this? If he were, say, an alcoholic, do you think it would be his problem and his alone to manage? I would hope you’d say, of course not. I would hope you’d say, I married you, and we are a unit, and I will be there to support you as you struggle to regain control of your life. I would hope you wouldn’t say, “La la, your problem, bud, not mine. See you later!” And if you would say that to your life partner, then I would have to ask, why are you even married? We are supposed to find comfort and support in a relationship, not every-man-for-himself-ism.

P: You have children. Giving life means honoring it. It means honoring your own life and sticking around to raise the ones you brought to life. You need to model good health. You owe them the healthiest you you can possibly give them.

PS, your children probably know more about your disease than you think. You probably spend more vulnerable moments with them than with your husband. You’re used to hiding it from your husband; in even the closest marriages, you have a lot of time apart. The kids are with you and they’re always watching. And learning. Do you want to teach your kids to binge, or do you want to teach them that it’s really, really unhealthy.

And kids have a keen nose for lying. You not only want them to think their health is important, you want them not to lie. Lying’s a lousy way to go through life… you’re recognizing that now. That’s what you came to us wanting to change.

You also want them to know they can trust the people they love — family and friends to know the worst about you and love you still.

B: I’m glad that you’re motivated by not wanting this behavior to seen normal to your children, because they deserve better than to have to grow up under the burden of your issues. I just wish your primary motivation was because you loved yourself too much to keep hurting yourself. You talk about your concerns about your husband (does he really need to know…) and your concerns about your children, but where is your concern for you? When you finally say you know it’s bad for you, you immediately counter that by declaring yourself “trite”. Oh, dearest. How I wish you would make yourself a priority.

Going back to your initial question: yes, it is OK to keep skeletons in the closet. If you cheated on your high school boyfriend, learned life lessons from your un-stellar behavior, and don’t feel like that needs to be listed on your disclosure sheet, that’s fine. I don’t think anyone in a relationship needs to discuss former lovers, their “number”, or what your aspirations at age 12 were for your adult career. I don’t think you necessarily have to talk about your awkward period, what color bike you had, when you had your first beer, or any of that. UNLESS it is still impacting your life. You had your first beer at 15 and haven’t stopped drinking yet? Disclose. You cheated on your high school boyfriend and now he’s stalking you? Disclose. When you were 12 you really wanted to be a marine biologist but your parents would only send you to school for accounting, and you’re still resentful and angry about it? Disclose.

You have a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that you’ve struggled with for a decade?

Disclose.

There’s no way to soften the telling, there’s no jokey mask to hide behind. Send the kids away for an overnight with a babysitter, then sit your husband down and talk to him. Just say it. Write it down if you need to, so you have a script in front of you that you can simply read. Forbid him from speaking until you’re done, if you think you don’t have the wherewithal to get past interruptions. But for mercy’s sake, tell him. And then make yourself a priority, so you can let the healing begin.

P: Right. This is not an insignificant issue that might make him think less of you; this is your life, and your sense of self worth. Even if you think he’s going to bolt if you tell him, hiding this is not an option; not if you’re going to get better. I do think you have a couple options in the way you tell him. Which will feel better to you? Which will help him cope?

Do what the Beautiful Bartender suggests: Make the time and the space, tell him.

See your doctor; be clear with the doc and yourself that this is an emergency. Be ruthlessly honest. Find out what your options are — and then, sit down and do what the Beautiful Bartender suggests.

Bottom line: Care for yourself, as much as you care for your family.

Bottom line: Care for yourself, as much as you care for your family.

To find out more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

If you have a question you’d like us to answer, please email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces and insert punctuation. 

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