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Counseling and Relationships

Unintended Consequences

My sister is celebrating her tenth anniversary this summer, and I'm concerned she is letting her relationship go.  Her husband refuses to acknowledge any problems and doesn't believe in counseling.

At the time my sister married, she was a successful businesswoman with a promising career.  She worked through the birth of her second child, putting her husband through school, buying his first dental practice, and making their mortgage payments.  She became a full-time mom at the birth of her third child. 

Her husband just doesn't seem to get it.  He doesn't seem to know how to be sensitive to her need to feel loved and appreciated.  He works just four days a week and spends at least one day a week golfing.

She's tried to make him understand, but he doesn't think anything is wrong except he doesn't get to golf as much as he likes, and she doesn't "put out" like she used to.  I've tried to be a good listener to my sister, though we live thousands of miles apart. 

Once her children were in school full-time, my sister went back to work.  The hours she spends on the road (she's in sales) give her far too much time to think, and I'm afraid she's going to make a decision about her marriage and family without any help or reason.

I suggested she get a referral to a therapist.  Although it would be great for the two of them to go together, there is no way he would go, and he would only lose respect for her if he knew she was going.

Would it be bad if I called her husband myself and got his take on the whole situation?  The way my sister is talking, it sounds like she may just call it quits.


Karen, in the "The Monkey's Paw," a famous short story, a couple wishes for money and they get the exact sum they wanted.  It is compensation for the death of their son, who is horribly mangled in a factory accident.  The moral of the story is clear: be careful what you wish for.

We absolutely understand your concern for your sister; however, there is no guarantee what you wish for will help.  We often get letters from people who were pleased with the course of their marriage counseling.  It became individual counseling and led to divorce and the beginning of a new life.

Therapy may only confirm your sister's feeling about starting a new life without her husband.  If you call your brother-in-law, he may feel secrets of his life and marriage have been shared without his knowledge or consent.  You could be putting ideas into his head. 

Your brother-in-law may view your sister's new job as shopping for a new husband, or he may complain about his meddling sister-in-law.  Your brother-in-law may become angry, stubborn, or vengeful.  He may drive a wedge between you and your sister.

Many of us want to correct everything which goes wrong in our quadrant of the universe, but it is simply beyond our power.  You don't want your sister to get divorced, but that is beyond your power.  What is within your power is to be there for your sister, as her sister, no matter what happens.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


A Covey Of Counselors

Last year I cheated on my girlfriend and she found out.  It was awful.  We broke up and I undertook therapy, which was a great thing for me to do.  She was and continues to be in therapy, and she is a therapist herself.

When we got back together, we were very codependent.  It seems we were not totally able to rebuild trust.  Though we traveled and practically lived together the last few months, we also got into criticism wars about the most stupid things.

Last month she found a job.  I criticized her for not committing more to our relationship and for spending too much time working.  She became attracted to her boss.  This guy, who has offered her lots of money not to leave, values her professionally.

A week ago she broke up with me.  At first she said it has nothing to do with her job, then she admitted she had strong feelings for her boss.  Now they have already spent nights together.  I am devastated.

I am currently unemployed and living at my mother's, and he is older and successful.  I really love her and want her back.  I have a wild hope this is all about getting even and that she will come back to me in time. 


Mac, I have a wild hope this is all about you getting your life together. What you need to focus on is getting a job, standing on your own two feet, and paying your own bills.

You're clinging to a relationship in which you are in therapy, your girlfriend is in therapy, she is a therapist, and she is sleeping with her boss, a therapist.  Maybe, just maybe, therapy isn't going to save this relationship.

You are jobless and dependent on your mother.  Being with your girlfriend would be a definite step up for you, but if you were pursuing a career and lived in a place of your own, the world would look different to you.

Right now you are looking for a relationship to help you out of your hole.  You need to focus on helping yourself out of the hole. 

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Taking Leave

Thank you for reaffirming my beliefs in your recent column.  It definitely takes two to make a relationship work, but only one to end it.

I have often enjoyed your columns, although for a time after my divorce, I tried skipping them feeling that I had failed at marriage.

After a marriage of 26 years, my ex-husband fell in love with someone else.  It had not been an easy relationship.  I worked hard in marriage counseling when he was willing, and on my own when he was not.  And yet do you know how many reasonably intelligent people said to me that "it takes two to make a divorce."

Life is much easier for me now.  No one criticizes me, or my choices, or my friends.  I have less money but also much less stress.  The time and energy I put into my marriage I can now put into life itself.

But the fact remains that I did not want the divorce and would have worked harder than ever, if I'd had the opportunity, to rebuild our marriage.  Fortunately for me, that choice was never available, and I'm now enjoying life immensely.  But thanks again for the reassurance.


Lisbet, boxing, fencing, and tennis require two players.  So does marriage.  When your partner refuses to show up, the game is over.

You know you did not fail.  You did all you could, and it didn't work.  The result?  A better life for you.  Most people get stuck feeling they failed, but the real mistake is believing that there is some technique which can save any relationship, even ones in which the other person refuses to show up.

You know that though your marriage did not last, you did not fail.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


A Passing Grade

I was listening to a woman author on Oprah.  Paraphrasing her, she said something like, "If you were happy 50 percent of the time, you had a good marriage."

I am in a marriage with an alcoholic who is in recovery.  I deal with lies, broken promises, rage and denial.  You know the profile.

We have been through a turbulent decade.  I learned many lessons about myself.  I have grown.  My husband is still in denial about his role in our problematic relationship. He wants out. 

I suspect he is running away from himself more than me.  I decided I would stand by my vows of marriage.  I was divorced before and left when the going got rough. 

My intuition says time, perhaps 15 or 20 years, is needed for some relationships to settle down.  What do you think?


Aimee, when we were in school, 50 percent was a failing grade.  If you accept 50 percent, then failure becomes the norm, and ever diminishing expectations are accepted. 

Perhaps this author was acknowledging she doesn't know how to raise the number to a passing grade.  Or perhaps she was saying she doesn't know what 100 percent is because those people don't see counselors.  Keep in mind she is talking about her own experience. 

You divorced because the going got rough.  Then you married an alcoholic.  Where is the learning in that?  This time, all factors considered, you've decided to continue no matter what.  Surprise!  He's decided to bail on you.

You are interfering with his drinking, and drinking is what he wants to continue.  It's hard to believe he chooses alcohol over you, but he has a legal right to and you can't stop him.

When people start believing 50 percent is acceptable, chances are they will enter a failing relationship.  Why doesn't it dawn on them settling for half is likely to be the height that relationship ever reaches?  The other side of 50 percent happy is 50 percent miserable.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)



I am a 32-year-old male, married for five years.  My married life has not been happy because I daily regret marrying the woman I married.  Even as I said the vows, I knew I was not being honest.  Our values and loves are vastly different. 

Stupid as it sounds, I went through with it.  Perhaps as a consequence, I never felt committed and cheated throughout our marriage.  I often think we are merely meeting a social expectation by remaining married.

I went to a counselor, but ended up having an affair with her.  Now I feel I need to find happiness, but have no idea how to end my marriage.


Sergio, you stood at the altar and spoke what you knew to be a lie.  You sought counseling as if a counselor could undo this lie.

It is poetic justice your counselor proved by her actions she doesn't have one of what she is selling.  Both of you need to go back to where you made your first mistake.  You to the courthouse.  She to her academic advisor.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Unprofessional Conduct

I am sitting here so unsure of what to do anymore.  I've never asked anyone for help of this type, as many people come to me for answers.  I am a social worker and my husband is a psychologist.  We should have the answers, but we just don't.

We have been married 10 years and have an 8-year-old daughter.  The problem as I see it is my husband refuses to help out at home.  He will not do anything associated with domestic work.  He does not mow the lawn.  What he does is work a full-time job, play music in a band on weekends, and play in two sports leagues.

He is very negative, and over the past few years, increasingly critical of me and everything I do or don't do.  I work a full-time job with a private practice on the side.  I take care of everything and somehow manage to stay sane.  When I bring up the unfairness of our roles, I am always met with, "I don't want to hear about it.  Shut up.  Go away.  Leave me alone."

I work my butt off every single day and am so tired.  Yes, I get crabby sometimes, but it is because I feel I am living in a hopeless situation.  I feel more resentful as the years go by, and my blood pressure was high enough to start medication two years ago.

We are in debt because my husband returned to school seven years ago to get his Ph.D.  Divorcing now would probably ruin us both financially.  He tells our daughter we will never divorce, yet when an argument starts, he tells me we should get a divorce and end it.  I am not one to give in easily, but I don't feel he loves me.  I feel used.


Priscilla, in what book or counseling session did your husband learn to settle arguments by threatening his spouse with divorce?  In what class on conflict resolution did he find that little gem?  People who are pretty amiable and choose to stay together, usually can.  But when one person won't participate, there is nothing you can do.

Your husband is treating your house like a bed and breakfast--all the amenities of a home without any of the responsibilities.  Behavior follows feelings, and his behavior supports your belief that he does not love you.

You don't give up easily, but you know how this often plays out.  When a woman has been doing it all, even if the husband is finally willing to make an effort, it is too late.  The wife is already dead emotionally.  You already feel used, and there are limits to how much criticism a person can take. 

Lay your cards on the table.  It's one thing if he is willing to do the talk, meditation, body work, or whatever it takes to break him loose from where he has been as a person.  It is another not to be willing to begin.

You are not one to give in easily, but when sailors drown, it is not because they lack resolve but because they are dealing with forces beyond their control.  In finding the limits to what you can do in your own life, you may have learned what you can and cannot do to help others.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Shooting The Messenger

I am writing to object to your one-way, no alternative advice when it comes to infidelity.  While other long-term advice columnists--such as Abby and Ann Landers--always recommend counseling, you two go to the other extreme of "forget kids and family, let's divorce immediately."

Every case is different!  How can you be so judgmental?  My guess is, it is based on your personal experience.  The divorce rate is high enough.  Please stop trying to increase it!

People change over the years; people grow apart; sometimes it is possible through hard work to grow back together.  This can be a wake-up call.  A heartbreaking, devastating wake-up call!  I only ask that if one person recognizes they have made a mistake and wants to reconcile with their spouse to whom they pledged "till death," don't be so one-way and adamant in your advice!


Violet, the narrator of Daphne du Maurier's novel "The House on the Strand" is a man named Dick Young.  At one point Dick says, "Truth is the hardest thing to put across."  We agree, and we would define truth as that which corresponds to facts.  Truth is not what we wish to be true or what we would hope to be true.  Truth is what corresponds to facts.

The most obvious question about adultery is, Why is there such a strong taboo against it?  The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle grouped adultery--along with procuring, poisoning, assassination, and desertion of a comrade in battle--as an act which must always be wrong.  Jesus of Nazareth in the Sermon on the Mount listed it as a case where divorce is permitted.

Virtually all religions and legal systems make adultery the one instance where divorce is allowed.  Why?  There must be a reason deep within us.  Cognitive scientists use the term "unconscious" to describe brain structures we cannot view directly, but which we know by their effects.  Is that where this taboo comes from?

Who taught the 16-year-old girl to feel jealous when another girl gives her boyfriend attention?  Who taught the 16-year-old boy to feel sick to his stomach or angry enough to fight when an older boy moves in on his girl?  No one taught them.  Those feelings are innate, and there is no evidence counseling can change innate brain structures.

Last year was the 75th anniversary of marriage counseling in the United States.  If there is someone under a bush or in a cave who doesn't know about marriage counseling, we'll leave it to the 99 percent who know about it to inform them.  But we won't imply that marriage counseling can do more than it can do.

People may stay together for financial, religious, or social reasons, but we never get letters from people who say they "got over" their partner's infidelity.  The letters we get are from those who feel the pain of betrayal decades after the fact, or even years after the death of a spouse.  Why?  Because, as humans, we want love from someone who loves us to the exclusion of all others.  Infidelity is the proof we don't have what we most deeply crave.  There is simply no way around that.

People need to hear they don't have to put up with a spouse who violates the most basic tenet of the marriage contract.  Strong reasons from religion, law, and cognitive science support leaving.  If one person knows the other won't leave no matter what, then that party has enslaved the other.

We agree with you that the divorce rate is high enough, but we also believe in dealing with reality.  We could give the traditional yadda yadda yadda answer which implies everything can be fixed, but that would fail the truth test. 

Truth is that which corresponds to facts, and as Daphne du Maurier's character said, truth is the hardest thing to put across.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Flea Treatment

My marriage counselor just gave me information on your column.  I married husband number two about six years ago.  He cheated on his first wife.  Over the last two years he has sought out relationships with other women.  He says they are only “talking.”

But last summer when I went on a week’s vacation with my daughter, he carried on a phone relationship with a coworker all hours of the day and night.  I learned from phone records they called each other over a hundred times.  I spoke with the woman, and she said it was innocent flirtation. 

She said her husband had an affair, and she was getting back at him.  She says my husband is charming and funny and they have a lot in common.  She apologized, saying she realized it was wrong.  My husband has not apologized.  In fact, he yelled at me because he said I was the cause of him losing this friendship.

Last November his employer sent him out of town.  He said he had to go, but I later learned he volunteered.  We both have full-time jobs and run a small home business.  I reassured him I could handle it, because if he had to go, he had no choice.

He was gone two weeks, and when he came home for the weekend, he was distant, quiet, and suspicious.  He went back another three weeks.  He never called to say I miss you, I love you, or anything like that, and he discouraged me from coming to see him over the weekends.

I thought that was very odd.  A couple of weeks later I received a phone call from a woman who said she met my husband at a bar in the other city.  She said she approached him, and they danced, ate, and kissed.  He told her he was divorced and just beginning to date again. 

When I received the phone printout, I saw he called her relentlessly, sometimes 40 times in an eight-hour period.  He says nothing sexual happened.  I don’t believe him.  He has a history of lying to me.  I have talked with other women, and they say my husband acts single.  He never wears a wedding ring either.

I’m a good woman, a great wife and mother, but I am continually disrespected.  I recently agreed to marriage counseling.  We’ve had three sessions, and he has not been totally honest.  I know now I can’t change him.  I love him, but am so very tired of the lies, late night phone calls, hidden phone records, and flirtatious email.  I feel like a fool.  Lately, I feel the best thing for me is to call it quits.


Fanny, going into marriage counseling with someone who isn’t going to tell the truth is like going to a physician and lying about your symptoms.  There’s no way that can work.

Counselors aren’t supposed to take sides, but your counselor wants you to hear what he or she knows we will tell you.  And what is that?  You have the power to make an honest man out of your husband.  You can make sure the next time he tells a woman he is recently divorced and just beginning to date again, he is telling the truth.

Sometimes we get stuck in patterns of thought which don’t make sense.  Let’s see, rich people put their pants on one leg at a time.  If I put my pants on one leg at a time, then I will become….  No, that one’s not going to work.  Let’s try another one.  If I go to counseling with a two-timing, double-dealing, dirty dog….  No, that’s not going to work either.

Wise counselors have the power to lead people to the right solution.  Wise counselors do it every day.  But people must realize the right solution may not be the one they hoped for.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)


Shadows Of Things To Come

My husband recently asked me for a divorce.  I don’t want one.  In the past he told me things he would like us to work on.  Time went on and I thought everything was going great.  Then he came back from a three month job-related trip and acted distant.

Days went by and there was no talking, so I snooped in his email and found love letters from another woman.  I confronted him.  He told me he wanted to leave me, but not for her.  We have two kids.  I think we can work things out, but he doesn’t think anything will change. 

He has a history of leaving me, even before we were married with children.  He says he isn’t going to see this other woman, he just wants to be alone.  He says his feelings are dead.  I don’t think they are.  I think he’s blocking his love because he is stubborn.  I love him very much and don’t want us or our family broken up. 

He finally agreed to go with me to counseling, but he doesn’t believe it will work.  He has fooled all our friends and family about his intentions.  Help!


Amber, the initial problem in your relationship is still there.  Your husband kept trying to leave, and you kept dragging him back.  Now he has had three months to practice being single.  He likes it.

If you go into counseling with false hopes, you will get hurt even more.  Each of you has predetermined what the outcome of counseling will be.  One of you will be wrong.  Your marriage counseling may turn into a discussion of how the divorce will be handled.  At the very least, you want to negotiate how your husband will continue to father his children if you part. 

I would like to give you encouragement, but in all honesty, you need to realize how often our beginnings determine our ends.

(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

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See also Wayne & Tamara's article:
Open Letter to a Therapist