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Ask Dr. Mike: August

The doctor responds to questions about marriage, tolerance and anxiety over Aurora.

Teaching Tolerance

Dr. Mike,
My husband and I were at the movies the other day with our 8-year-old son. There were two teenage boys in front of us who were holding hands, which was uncomfortable for my husband to see. He was uncomfortable with having our son witness other boys display romantic affection in public in that way. My husband became so upset that we had to change seats, which upset both my son and me since we ended [up] with horrible seats. This wasn’t the first time we had to leave some place because of my husband’s disdain for homosexuality. My husband is vehemently against homosexuality, and so is his entire family. As Christians neither of us endorse homosexuality as a lifestyle, but his strong views concern me since I DO NOT want to raise a homophobic child. Your thoughts on this delicate topic are appreciated.
I in Loudoun County

I,
I think you need to have a very serious conversation on this topic with your husband as soon as possible. Based on what you have written, it appears your husband’s beliefs on homosexuality are likely rooted in the way he was raised and have been with him for a long time. Convincing him to believe in things differently at this point would probably be met with strong resistance. Rather than focusing on homosexuality as the main issue, I think you should instead discuss the importance of your role in raising your son so that he will be happy and successful in life and not angry, judgmental or close-minded. Perhaps discussing how homosexuality is viewed in today’s society may be a good start to the conversation. While your husband does not accept homosexuality as a lifestyle, our society as a whole has. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder and the American Psychological Association followed suit in 1975. The World Health Organization finally recognized homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexuality in 1990. As you know, many states now recognize gay marriage, which has had changing implications for employee benefits and insurance. And same-sex couples are also now adopting in larger numbers than ever. The point for your husband to get is that his son is growing up in a world that has become increasingly accepting of homosexuality and other alternative lifestyles. Your son is going to be exposed to all sorts of people across his development and life, and he is not always going to be able to simply change seats or remove himself from individuals or groups he does not approve of. In your conversation, I think you should get behind your husband with what you both agree on. Perhaps, as Christians, neither of you endorse homosexuality, and you both certainly have every right to raise your son with the values, morals and faith-based lessons you feel are most appropriate. At the same time, I would point out to your husband that his overt, negative disapproval and disdain for homosexuality will likely only cause your 8-year-old son emotional conflict over the coming years. At 8, your son is beginning to identify more with his father, but again, the world in general is not as negative or disdainful of homosexuality as your husband seems to be. Your son should enter preadolescence and adolescence with limited conflict as his own sexuality and beliefs are forming. The take-home lesson for your husband is that he has a right to raise his son with the values and morals he espouses and holds true for himself, but he also has a right and responsibility to teach his son to be tolerant, non-judgmental and accepting of others.

 

Deliver Disturbing News to Spouses

Dr. Mike,
We are launching our third and final child into the world at the end of summer. She is 18 and will be heading off to college. I have been very unhappy in my marriage for many years but have stayed because I wanted all of my children to be raised in an intact home. Well, I accomplished my goal, but it is now my time to move on and to give to myself. I am not angry or sad at this point, rather I am very happy and am excited about the next chapter of my life. I haven’t communicated my unhappiness to my husband at all, so I’m sure the news will come as a shock to him. Any advice on how I might have “the talk” with him would be appreciated.
A in Loudoun County

A,
I recommend seeking the assistance of a well-seasoned couple’s therapist and to introduce your thoughts and feelings in the context of the marital work. Your next steps as a wife and mother will be very important ones with the main goal of preserving your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your children and husband. I understand that you are done with your marriage and have been for some time, but, as you noted, this will likely come as “a shock to him” since you have not openly communicated your problems over many years of unhappiness. A good couple’s therapist should be able to help you both dismantle your marriage respectfully or mend what needs to be mended. I have had many couples show up at my office intent on getting divorced and then with hard work, changes and time, the marriage is saved. On the other hand, I have had many couples show up at my office with stated smaller issues, and, with work, we discover that the marriage is over. Regardless of your outcome, you have your children to think about in addition to yourselves in the decisions you and your husband make. Remember, being parents to your children does not stop at 18, and you will be co-parenting your children for the rest of your lives. You will be at the same graduations and the same weddings, and you should work to resolve your issues as a couple now (together or divorced) so as not to place any undo conflicts or problems on your children later.

 

Getting Over with Past Indiscretions

Dr. Mike,
I just learned from my husband that he cheated on me when he spent a year abroad as a college student one year into our relationship. He told me that the affair he had has caused him great stress and guilt and that he couldn’t keep the secret any longer. I understand that we were 20 at the time and that was 14 years ago and before our marriage, our children, our house, etc. I’m still very hurt and angry about what happened and we haven’t spoken for days. I’m sure our kids are picking up on the terrible energy and tension in our home. I also feel stupid for making such a big deal out of this because we have such a beautiful marriage and life together and a lot of time and effort went into to creating all the good that we have. He has always respected and trusted me, and I have always respected and trusted him … or at least I thought there was always mutually shared respect and trust. Not sure what to do.
C in Loudoun County

C,
The hurt that comes from being betrayed by a loved one does not have a statute of limitations. While the affair happened 14 years ago, it was after you made a commitment to one another, and he broke that commitment by cheating on you. You have every right to feel what you are feeling, and your husband should give you time to digest the hard news. Some things to keep in mind while you are processing things: First, you were both 20 at the time and 20-year-olds do stupid and impulsive things sometimes. Second, you were not married. Third, since you have been married you note that you have both worked hard to co-create a wonderful life, which now includes children. Fourth, your husband did not need to say a word about his dishonest behavior from 14 years ago, but it seems he did out of his respect and love for you. In time, this wound should heal. If it does not, I recommend you seek the assistance of a couple’s therapist to help the two of you work through this news.

 

Post Aurora Movie Anxieties

Dr. Mike,
It seems as though my 12-year-old son has developed a fear or phobia due to the Aurora, CO, shootings. We were going to see the film as a family the other day, but he pulled me aside to tell me that he was scared something might happen. My husband and I then did everything we could to reassure him that nothing would happen, but to no avail. We didn’t end up going to see the movie. My son is very sensitive, so we aren’t really surprised by his response. Any thoughts on how to help my little guy get through this?
F in Loudoun County

F,
The Colorado shootings were naturally very upsetting to many parents and children, and as the director of a private mental health practice and a psychologist, I have been inundated with numerous questions from many of my patients’ parents this past week on the matter. Children develop fears and phobias when they are unable to manage the feelings they are experiencing in response to a stressor or trauma. You write that your son is a sensitive boy, and it may be the case that his temperament or personality style has left him emotionally vulnerable to adequately deal with the horrific news. I recommend a few things to consider to help get your son back on track: First, your son is watching how you act or react to the news as parents, so you need to remain calm and reassuring. Be the strong pillars he can lean on to get through this, by focusing on clarification and support when discussing the shootings or the Batman movie. Second, you may want to gradually expose your son to the stressor in order to overcome his fears. Perhaps you could suggest a going to a different movie; just being in a movie theater would be a good first step for him. You could perhaps also recommend watching Batman movies on DVD and in the comfort of your home. By mastering his anxiety by gaining closer proximity to the stressor, your son’s fears should lessen over time. Watch your son’s emotional and behavioral functioning closely over the next few weeks. If he becomes more clingy and dependent or acts younger, if he becomes increasingly avoidant, if he continues to discuss the movie or what happened, if he demonstrates increased anxiety with separation, or if he just seems to be worried or preoccupied in general, I recommend taking him to a child psychologist for a consultation.

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