Dr. Mike: New Year’s 2013

The local psychologist takes on a range of new topics from readers.

My Neighbor’s Odd Behavior

Dr. Mike,
We live next to a family with a very odd teenage boy. Many of his behaviors are consistent with Adam Lanza’s in that he isolates, has no friends and has a mental health history (so I have been told by other parents in the neighborhood). My children also think the boy is very odd as well. My husband thinks I am being ridiculous, but how can I be certain that the boy next door won’t be a threat to my children or others? After the Newtown, CT, shootings, I am really scared that something will happen in Virginia.  Help.

I in Loudoun County

What Mr. Adam Lanza did in Newtown, CT, was horrific, and I am not surprised that you are experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety and concern for your family as a mother. But try to keep things in perspective. What happened in Newtown was an extraordinary event that will hopefully lead to changes in gun laws, increased security in schools and more attention to mental health research and policies. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that something bad will not happen in Virginia; in fact, it already did at Virginia Tech just a few years ago. I also cannot tell you that your neighbor will or will not act out violently or aggressively. Based on what you report here though, I do not think you need to be concerned about the teenager next door. Some teenagers isolate, some teenagers have limited social lives and some even have mental health histories. That formula does not make for a violent or aggressive teen. One very good way of mastering anxiety is to gradually expose yourself to a problem to see that there is no real danger. In this light, you could try to get to know your neighbors more. By reaching out or spending time with your neighbors, you should start to alleviate your fears. Also, you could encourage your kids to be more engaging with the “very odd” teen next door to challenge their perception of him and to help him fit in more with others.

To or Not to Tell about Cheating

Dr. Mike,
I cheated on my husband several years ago when our relationship was in a bad place. Things have improved since than, and I have been struggling with whether or not I should tell him. My therapist feels that it is better to be fully honest with my husband out of respect to him and our marriage, but my friends think I should keep it to myself since it’s in the past and it will only hurt and anger him to find out now. Your thoughts are appreciated.

O in Loudoun County

You have two options:

  • Option 1: You can tell your husband about the affair from several years ago, which will cause him great emotional pain and may even lead to the end of your marriage.
  • Option 2: You can live with the secret of what you did for the rest of your life and preserve your marriage.

If you decide on Option 1, it seems like you have already done the work on yourself to figure out why you did what you did. That information will be important for your husband to have when you discuss the affair. He is likely going to want to know why it happened and what was not working for you both as a couple at that time. Of course, you cannot predict how your husband will react or what he will do with the news. It could be an opportunity (albeit a very painful one) for the two of you to improve and strengthen your marriage or it could lead to separation or divorce. If you proceed with telling him the truth, you might want to consider seeing a psychologist for marital therapy to process what happened as a couple. That psychologist can assist in helping you repair the emotional pain you are likely to experience as a couple in being wholly honest with one another.

If you decide on Option #2, as your friends are encouraging you to do, you would preserve the good marriage you now have and you would avoid causing him (and yourself) great emotional pain. You would, however, need to be able to contend with the “struggling” or guilt that is now your burden to manage alone. Easier said than done as time unfolds. I am reminded of the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” But is it really? That is for you to decide, and whatever you do decide, remember to be good to yourself. You are not perfect, but no one is.

Avoiding Resolution Rerun

Dr. Mike,
Every year my husband and I come up with New Year’s resolutions, and every year we fail to achieve them. Any advice on breaking this horrible trend of ours? I’d like to lose 20 pounds, and he’d like to quit smoking.

K in Loudoun County

First of all, I don’t think you should be so hard on yourselves. According to surveys, more than 90 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail, with close to 50 percent of those failures occurring by the close of January. New Year’s has always been a time to reflect on the changes we want, or need, to make, and to resolve to follow through on those changes; but for most of us, sticking to our goals for positive change is difficult. Every year clients of mine tell me their lofty plans for New Year’s resolutions – lose weight, work less, spend more time with family, quit smoking – and inevitably, like most people, when I ask about the progress of their resolutions weeks later, they confess that they have abandoned their goals. I hope that you and your husband can sustain your resolutions this year by following my four basic steps.

  • Step 1 – Reset reasonable expectations if you’ve already lost focus or direction. Too often we set the bar too high. If you set unrealistic goals you will be doomed from the start. You will find yourself discouraged, lacking motivation and eventually facing failure. Be reasonable with your expectations of yourself – instead of a goal to lose 20 pounds, try to first lose one to five pounds and then reassess from there. If you believe your goal is attainable, then you will be driven to meet it.
Don’t be overly ambitious. It is hard enough to focus on making one positive change at a time, yet many people overload themselves with several resolutions. Trying to quit smoking, to better manage your finances and to start exercising regularly is a lot of responsibility to take on all at once. Tackling goals one by one will be far less overwhelming and will improve your chances of success. Remember, January isn’t the only time of year we can resolve to improve our lives; once you meet your goal, then plan to tackle another.
  • Step 2 – Determine an action plan and the steps you will take to meet your goal. So, if one of your goals is to lose weight, define the steps you will take to get there – eat four fruits and vegetables a day, get at least 8 hours sleep, develop a manageable exercise routine, schedule a physical, etc. Make sure these steps are reasonable for you, as discussed above, and don’t make your action plan more than you can handle. A resolution without a plan of action is merely wishful thinking.
  • Step 3 – Develop a support system. If you are committed to making change, share your plan with your family and friends. They can help push you and encourage you along the way. Your goals of losing weight and quitting smoking make be too much to take on by yourself. Consider seeking out a support group in the area or online if you need it. Talking to people who are struggling with the same changes as you can help you move forward and meet your goal; it helps to know you are not alone.
  • Step 4 – Reward yourself. Recognize the positive changes you make along the way and reward yourself. Take pride in your accomplishments and share your progress with others. Once you pass certain milestones, plan a treat for yourself, for example – once you hit your weight loss goal, treat yourself to a night out. By setting rewards for yourself you have something to look forward to in addition to the self-satisfaction you will feel.

As the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Remember, if you fall off track, don’t wait until next year to try again. Here’s to a healthy 2013 to you and you husband!

Siblings, Sharing and Caring

Dr. Mike,
Our mother and father are elderly, and I have taken care of them exclusively over the past 10 years since my older brother and only sibling lives on the West Coast. I have managed my parents’ finances, appointments and other things, and they are often at our home to see their grandchildren. I have never complained about my daughterly duties, but I recently came upon my parents’ life insurance policies, which shows that the benefit will be divided equally between my brother and me after they pass. The news was very upsetting to me because my brother has done absolutely nothing for our parents over the past ten years, while I have spent much of my own time and money to care for them. It was like this growing up with him too, where they treated him like a prince; he always seemed to get more and get away with more. I am not a selfish person at all, but this just isn’t fair. I know that I can’t say anything to my parents because it will just upset them. Since I discovered the policies, my life with my parents in Northern Virginia has been a chore and not a pleasure. I also now resent my brother more than ever. Any advice?

E in Loudoun County

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to me that your parents would want to split their estate equally with their two children to avoid you or your brother feeling less important than the other or from feeling left out. Yet, on the other hand, you are feeling entitled to more because of your active involvement in their lives as an adult child. I agree that approaching your parents with your upset over this would not be a good idea. I suppose you could reach out to your brother and express your concerns to him. If you do, you might also consider asking him to split costs with you when spending money on your parents as a daughter. You cannot fault your brother for doing less because he lives further way from your parents, but by his knowing how you feel and by his contributing his financial share, you will hopefully resentment him less. I think you also need to get over your “little sister” issues with your brother, which appear to have been triggered by your finding the policies. You are no longer that younger sister in your childhood home that gets less or gets away with less than her older brother. I encourage you to think of your duty as an honor that you and not your brother has had the good fortune to experience. I am sure that you and your children have wonderful memories of your parents from the past ten years. Those moments and memories are priceless and will mean more to you and your children than any dollar amount left to you after your parents pass.

joe brewer January 01, 2013 at 01:14 PM
I intend to quit being a bu$$head in 2013. OOOps out the window with that resolution!


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