Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Demanding Relative

Dear Jocelyn,
I am hosting a party for my daughter. I have invited only immediate family to it. Now, I have a relative telling me that if I do not invite her boyfriend (of less than a year), she will not come. What should I do?
-Give In?

Dear Give,
It depends - how important is it to you that this party is only immediate family? If you can easily fit in this boyfriend, it might be worth it to keep the peace. However, if there is no room, or if you wished for this to be a relatives-only affair, simply tell her that you are sorry, but you are only having immediate family there. If she reiterates her threat, then tell her you are sorry she won't be able to make it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Won't He Talk About Money?

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a question about how to approach sharing money in a marriage. My boyfriend and I have been together for a long time, so of course we think of getting married someday. His parents are wealthier than mine, and his career also generates more money than mine does. He likes to buy his parents expensive gifts for holidays and birthdays—things my parents would like but cannot afford. Before marriage, these choices are his, but if/when we get married, I feel that his money and my money become our money, which means we have to agree on how to spend it.

When I heard of the most recent gift he bought his parents, I mentioned that as a married couple, I thought it would be fair to buy expensive gifts for our parents only if we can afford to give comparable gifts to both sets so we don’t favor either his or mine. He shut the conversation down, as he does with most conversations about money. I worry that he secretly thinks that he should be able to do what he wants with “his money” and that “what he wants” might not include my family. I worry that he thinks my family deserves their debt because he doesn’t agree with all their choices. I also worry that his parents may unconsciously expect these expensive gifts from him and that I might become the “bad guy” in their eyes—or worse, his—if I would rather save money than buy expensive gifts for anyone, even if we could afford it in the short term. He says that when we get married, things will change and that our new family will take priority over either his parents or mine. But should I believe that based on his current actions? How does one prepare for such a big change?

Please help! I know that arguments about money are all too common in marriages, and I want to learn how to deal with this topic fairly and effectively before committing to a lifetime with him or anyone. What are some common guidelines that people follow? How do we figure out what works for us? What does it mean if we simply disagree with each other?

Expecting Fairness

Dear Expecting Fairness,
You're right - money is one of the most common things people argue about in marriage! How one handles finances is very personal and reflects how a person was raised, his values, priorities, and personality. 

It is good to think about how your boyfriend's current behaviors would play out in marriage - that is something people commonly don't do. (Many people simply get married and assume all will be fine, and then are surprised to find out it isn't.) I applaud you on really thinking this through.
It is fair of you to ask him to discuss how he expects to handle money as a married couple. How much will you spend, save, give away? (Rough estimates are all that is required, not exact figures!) Will you combine bank accounts and incomes? If you have children and decide to stay home, will he view it as his money that you get some of, or is it the family's money?

What isn't fair is to hound him about why he is spending his money in a certain way, when he might not make the same choices once you marry. Don't forget, you likely spend money on things that he thinks are frivolous - eating out, books, clothing, etc. You might be a bit miffed if he questioned you spending money on take-out because he expects that you and he will cook at home once married.  I
t is not fair to judge him on how he buys gifts for his family as a single person. Keep in mind - right now he is the sole arbiter of his money, and if he likes to spend money on expensive gifts for his family, so be it! That is completely within his rights. You say you believe that "before marriage, that choice is his," but the rest of your letter belies that statement.

You say he shuts down most conversations about money - this can indicate different things based on the circumstances. Is he very closed off about money in general? Or do you frequently ask him hypothetical questions about money in future situations? If the latter, he might simply be shutting down because he doesn't want to talk about what might be.

It sounds like a related question is how he feels about your family (in-laws are another top argument for married couples). Does he typically treat them respectfully? Or does he seem to judge their life choices or have some disdain for them?

I would highly recommend that once you are engaged, you two take Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU), and getting premarital counseling. FPU is an excellent class which teaches budgeting, saving, getting out of debt, buying a home, and much more. My husband and I attended this class before we married, and it worked wonders in getting us on the same page about money. At the very least, it will get you talking about the right things. 

Premarital counseling is simply a tool to get you two discussing your differences in an open way so you go into your marriage more informed about the other person. It helps you learn ways to resolve differences and stay in love. If he has issues with your parents or with money, this is where you should discuss it. 

Note - I said to do this once you are engaged. Before then, this stuff is not something that needs to be discussed terribly in-depth. Not until you are engaged (at which point you can reasonably expect to spend your lives together) do you need to explore all these issues.

I hope this helps you resolve the issue!


Saturday, November 3, 2012

How Do You Know If a Relationship is Healthy?

Dear Jocelyn,
What are the traits of a healthy relationship vs. an unhealthy one? If one of your patients were talking to you about a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, what do you look out for to assess whether the relationship has problems?

Dear Curious,
That is an excellent question! A healthy relationship is as unique as the people in it. The couple might be quiet, or loud, or teasing, or respectful. It is difficult sometimes to judge what a healthy relationship can look like since everybody has their own preconceived notions of what a happy couple should do - therefore, if two people do not fit that mold, they might be perceived as incompatible.

It is also difficult to predict which couples will succeed, and which will fail, considering the myriad of factors that go into a divorce or a lifelong marriage. However, one researcher I greatly respect has made that his life's work. Dr. John Gottman has conducted several studies, in one of which he was able to predict whether a couple stayed married or got divorced with a 93.6% accuracy rate.

His book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work explains how successful couples interact. These principles are explained briefly here. They include turning towards each other, nurturing fondness and admiration, and letting your partner influence you.

Dr. Gottman's research also showed what negative characteristics couples had that pointed them towards divorce. Those were criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

These guidelines might seem pretty commonsense, but they can be revolutionary for some couples. It boils down to whether the behaviors and feelings in a relationship are usually positive or negative. So, if you are trying to tell if a couple is healthy or not, look for the little things. Do they compliment each other? Affectionately touch each other? Seem to respect the other person? Or instead, do they create distance, nitpick, and seem to have disdain for the other person? While obvious milestones may seem to define a relationship (marriage, children, etc.), it is the little, day-to-day actions that determine whether they will last.

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Hasn't He Said I Love You?

Dear Jocelyn,
When is it "time" to say "I love you"? I have been in a relationship for over nine months. He's a wonderful man—an engineer, and a very, very pragmatic individual who has a difficult time acknowledging his emotions. I love him truly, but I know I cannot wait forever for him to figure it out. He easily shies away from discussing anything emotional and when we have talks, it's mostly me talking. He's 26
I am told this is young for guys. I also have not met his family yet. They are out of the country and I will be meeting them next month. He has made comments about his roommate's parents meeting her significant other and how big it was for the family to meet him, so I am guessing it's cultural and that he's waiting until his family gives the seal of approval to really make a verbal commitment with me.

It's actually what I am desperately hanging onto as far as an explanation as to why I feel so unsure about where he is. It's all so cryptic, like I am having to read into everything he does in order to find out what I need to know. He's not much of a "sweet gestures" kind of guy
 flowers, cards, and so forth are not quite his speed, although he knows I love that stuff. It's something I have accepted, and gladly so. He has a heart of gold, he's a Christian, close to his family, and a very reasonable man. I trust him. He is loyal as anything, but just emotionally stunted.

I'm willing to wait. I'm definitely excited to meet his family and see what he's like in his home, but what if he never says "the L word"? Do I say it? If he doesn't say it back, is that a deal breaker?

I want to spend my life with him. I want to travel with him, have a family one day with him, and all those things. He's a great companion. But I'm getting antsy for some sign of commitment and I feel as though I am becoming one of those girls who tries to force it out of him, which will then make it all null and void. It needs to happen organically, and I know that when (if ever) he does say "I love you," it will be exceedingly meaningful. I guess my question is this: Is it ever too late? Is it abnormal to wait this long?

Dear Unsure,
Oh, this is one of the reasons I am happy to not be dating anymore. I say this in all sincerity and with full sympathy. The timing of saying "I love you" is a very individual thing—one person might be ready after the second date, while another person might not be ready until a year later. This is not because the first person has stronger feelings, but because of what they believe love is. It also has to do with personality; someone who is more outgoing and effusive is more likely to say it than someone who is reserved.

It can also be influenced by personal beliefs. The first time my husband said, "I love you" was during his proposal—he didn't believe it was right to tell a girl he loved her without making a promise of marriage. At that point we were both fairly bursting with the desire to say it to each other.

All of this is to say that there are many possible explanations for why your boyfriend has not yet said that he loves you. It is likely that he is waiting until after you have met his family, although that is impossible to say for sure.

It seems like the real issue is that you are unsure of how he feels about you and where your relationship is heading. This is something that can only be solved by talking to him. It is not too forward to sit your boyfriend down and ask him where he sees this relationship going. Doing this well depends on your tone and how you pose the questions; ask him out of curiosity, not to pressure him into one answer or another. Once he tells you what his intentions are, it is up to you to decide what you want to do. If you want to marry him, and he says that he is happy with perpetually dating, that would be cause for concern (and might be a sign for you to end the relationship).

You said in your letter that you want a "verbal commitment"; however, that is not what "I love you" is. Two 14-year-old children can say that to each other
that doesn't mean they have made a commitment. Those words are certainly very nice to hear, but a real sign of commitment is an engagement ring.

If you do become engaged, I would recommend premarital counseling to help you communicate with each other. If he has trouble expressing his feelings while you are dating, that will cause problems in marriage. It is certainly not an insurmountable issue, but it is something you should address before getting married. You also might want to read the book The 5 Love Languagestogether to learn how to express affection in ways each other can appreciate.

I know this feels like a big struggle right now, but try to think long term for your relationship. Keeping the future in mind helps bring things into perspective.  Waiting a bit longer to say "I love you" will not harm your relationship, but forcing it too early might.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Live Person

Dear Readers,

I wanted to share a new website that I am a member of: Live Person.  It is an online counseling site, where you can reach hundreds of therapists (or other experts) and talk to one immediately  There are options to talk over the phone, via instant messaging, or email. It is an excellent way to do short-term therapy in situations where one might not want (or be able) to talk to someone in person.

If you would like to receive actual counseling from me, and not just advice, please visit my profile.  If you have any questions about this site, please feel free to ask in the comments section.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Should My Boyfriend Be Invited?

Dear Jocelyn,
I have been dating my boyfriend for 5 years. We are high school sweet hearts (I am 20 years old). I am also the youngest cousin in my family, and my family has always thought of me as the baby. I am in college, but I still live with my parents. We recently just got invited to my cousins wedding. She just turned 40 and I am so glad that she has found the one! Our invitation was addressed to 'The [Family Name]' and on the inside of the invitation is says to write down 'how many guests are attending'.

If I have 3 people in my household, do I write down 4?

Should I ask if I am allowed to bring my boyfriend? Who do I ask? The bride? The bride's parents? I know weddings are expensive, but my boyfriend has become a part of my family as well. I don't want to be rude at all! I also will not be mad if she says no. I just don't want the bride to feel like she has been pushed into something.
-Trying Not To Be Pushy

Dear Trying,
Wedding invitations should be addressed to each individuals by name (including children and dates) to avoid this kind of confusion. Since they left it open ended, you are perfectly within your rights to email or call the bride and ask if your boyfriend may attend. You have the exact right attitude about it - you can be hopeful that she says yes, but not bitter if she says no. It is kind of you to understand the pressures and expenses of modern weddings, and it might help for you to say that during your request.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Husband Renting Rooms to Women?

Dear Jocelyn,
What can I tell my husband who thinks it's okay to rent to all female foreign exchange students and live there with them, without me? There are 8 of them right now (in the two rooms upstairs, he is downstairs). While I trust him to remain pure, there are concerns, including his Christian witness. He and I are reconciling our marriage (after only one year) and he has work that needs to be done, and rent to collect, but I know God can provide a way for others to help with this.

I trust him, but I'm not okay with the mingling at times like in the kitchen, etc., especially how some of them dress, or should I say don't dress. He says it means nothing to him, but it isn't right. (Plus he is very friendly and outgoing - he can't help himself sometimes...) I've mentioned what the Bible says about avoiding the appearance of evil, even his pastor said "Others don't know what goes on behind closed doors," which is the exact thing I said. It breaks my heart to think of him talking, laughing, sharing with them when he should be with me talking, laughing, sharing, etc. I feel like my feelings don't matter. I'm trying not to say too much anymore, since I've already told my husband how it hurts me and why.

-Worried About Him

Dear Worried,
I'm so sorry to hear about your marriage troubles.  This is a tough situation to comment on, since I don't know your husband's heart, and his side of everything.  The first part of my advice is going to largely give him the benefit of the doubt, and then I'll share what I think he is doing wrong.

I wrote a while back on co-ed roommates; I agree with you that it is not a good idea.  However, there are some differences between having a roommate and what your husband is doing.  For one, these women are students (and I am assuming he is not).  This, of course, does not mean that they are any less attractive, but it does mean that they are probably not viewing each other as peers and potential romantic partners.  In addition, he is renting to eight students (how big are these rooms??), which means that there is not the same one-on-one intimacy that a roommate has.  There is a good chance that these students mostly keep to themselves and to each other, and don't talk more than just in passing with your husband.  Of course, I am not there, and cannot guarantee anything. It is possible that there is something inappropriate going on, and that your husband has bad motives for renting to females—but it is also possible that the situation is completely innocent.

It sounds like jealousy might be clouding your view of the situation.  Jealousy is not necessarily badhaving a certain level of possessiveness towards one's spouse is normal and natural.  However, jealousy usually becomes more pronounced when we are feeling insecure and uncertain about the partner.  You are going through an extremely difficult period of time right now, which is contributing to these feelings.  After a year of being separated, you clearly still love him and want to reconcile.  But knowing he has eight women staying in his home is probably stirring up old arguments and feelings that had been laying dormant for a while.  It is easy to ruminate and picture him talking and flirting with scantily-clad students over breakfast.

My recommendation is to first realize that this might not be the case.  Examine what you know about your husband and these women, and what you have seen of them.  Do you see evidence of them being overly friendly with each other?  If not, consider that your heart might be hurting more than it needs to over this situation.

Secondly, if you are not already doing so, please get marriage counseling.  This is not optional for you and your husband—it is a must.  If he won't go with you, you need to go alone.  

Now, a word about his actions: I do not think that what he is doing is wise.  What I wrote above is to help you realize that you might have a much different mental image than what is really going on.  I also think that if he truly wants to reconcile with you, he needs to make some sacrifices, including giving up renting out these rooms to women if it continues to make you very uncomfortable.  While the main issue that you need to work on is jealousy, the main issue he needs to work on is respecting your feelings. You say that it seems like your emotions don't matter, and that you've already told him that it hurts you.  This is exactly why a therapist is neededif he does not respond to you being hurt and take your feelings into account with his decision-making, then reconciliation is going to be much more difficult.

I hope you and your husband reach a compromise on this issue and are able to mend the rift between you two. The best thing you can do right now is pray and seek counseling.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Does Boss Get Invited?

Dear Jocelyn,
My boss, his wife and I are good friends at work, however they don't really know by daughter (who is getting married). Should I invite them anyway to the wedding?
-Parent of the Bride

Dear Parent,
That depends - are you paying for the wedding? Is your daughter fine with having someone she doesn't know at her wedding? If you are paying and she had given you carte blanche to invite your friends, feel free to. He should not be offended by a lack of invitation, so it is really a matter of personal preference.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Menu Cards?

Dear Jocelyn,

For a wedding reception, can you have menu cards at the place setting if its a buffet?

-Curious Bride

Dear Curious,

While this is not the normal sort of question I get, I thought I would answer anyway. The answer is: you can do anything you would like! (Within reason, of course.) Menu cards are not necessary if you are having a buffet, so you do not need them. However, you may certainly have them if you would like. It may help guests with allergies identify foods to avoid, or move people more quickly through the line if they already know what is available.

Enjoy your wedding!


Friday, March 2, 2012

Plus One Gift?

Dear Jocelyn,
When I invite my "+1" to the wedding, is it best not to ask them if they will contribute to the wedding gift, because they are my guest, not invited by the wedding party themselves?
     -Original Invitee

Dear Invitee,
Yes, in general it is not polite to ask someone you invite to a wedding as a date to chip in for a gift. Just get the happy couple whatever you would have bought them if you were coming solo to their wedding. You should sign the gift as yourself, and not include your date's name on the card.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stop Stealing My Spot!

Dear Jocelyn,
Most of the time I get out of my chair or get out of bed my husband moves into my spot. I have asked him not to do this many times. His reply is, "Well I was going to get up as soon as you got back". Am I being too territorial or is his behavior strange?
     -Want My Spot Back

Dear Spot,
There is a lot of context that is missing that would help here. For example, does he get up from his chair and move into yours? Is he coming in from another room and taking your spot? Does he actually move quickly out of your seat when you come back?

No matter what the answers, yes, your husband's behavior is strange. Whether he is being quirky or passive-aggressively a jerk is dependent upon these answers. For now, let's assume the best. Let's say your husband is simply a bit odd and quirky. You can take one of these approaches:

 -when he does this, come back and sit in his lap. Don't give him any warning, just sit on him. This will either annoy him, or spice up your sex life. Win-win.

 -ignore it. His behavior is vexing and annoying, but probably not worth fighting over. This has the added bonus of decreasing his behavior if this is a passive aggressive attempt to get a rise out of you.

-do the same to him. Whenever he moves, take his spot. Either this will have no effect on him (in which case, try the other two suggestions), or it will help him realize how annoying his behavior is, and he will stop.

Let me know if you try any of these, and if they work!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sunday Brunch a Must?

Dear Jocelyn,
Is it the norm these days to host a Sunday brunch if your wedding celebration is on the prior Saturday?

Dear Curious,
I consulted several wedding and etiquette sources, including Miss Manners, Emily Post, and  Unless I missed something, the Sunday brunch is entirely optional and up to you.  The purpose behind a Sunday brunch following a wedding is to spend more time with wedding guests, especially those who might have flown in from out of town just for the occasion.  If you are not leaving for your honeymoon immediately, it is a nice option (especially considering that most brides and grooms are unable to spend time with their guests, due to the stress of the wedding weekend!).

However, this does add one more event to what can be an already-packed weekend.  Consider whether you would rather rest the day after the big event, or gather with friends and family.  There is no wrong answer - it is up to you and your soon-to-be spouse!