Murphy's Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
Mourning the school lottery results and having a husband who chooses exercise over family time
Dear Stacy: The [D.C. Public School] lottery just happened, and the charter school parade continues through the next month or so. Our little girl is in a pre-school program that serves our needs just fine so far. It may or may not be a long-term solution, but we didn’t get into anything else. We may just have to sit tight another year. I’m disappointed, but hopeful. I wish I could say the same for my friend, “Cassandra.” We got to know each other through our kids’ class room this year, and it has been nice to make a new friend. She was very much hoping to get into a different kindergarten program for her daughter but was shut out of the lottery. Ever since, it’s been like she’s mourning a death in the family. I have seen her teary-eyed at morning drop off. I listened to her ranting on the phone a few afternoons while at work and received a 2 a.m. email plotting “our” strategy for getting the most out of our current school if “we are both stuck here for another year.” She wants us to meet with the principal together to list our demands, such as which teacher our daughters both must have next year and how much weekly emailing “we will expect” from that teacher. I don’t really know Cassandra that well. It has been good to have a new friendship with someone in a similar boat, but I have NO interest in putting my name on her list of demands. How can I distance myself from this craziness? -Looking for a Chill Pill in Upper Northwest
Dear Chill Pill: I think you labeled Cassandra’s behavior exactly right – not when you called it “craziness,” but when you called it “mourning.” She is in mourning. She had her hopes set high, yes, maybe too high. Regardless, she is grieving the death of her heart-felt expectations. The thing about grief is that it follows no one’s calendar. It’s about as nonlinear and crafty an emotion as you can find. Her process is not predictable. But that doesn’t mean you have to be her one-woman support group, either. The lottery was just a short time ago, and Cassandra is right in the middle of her sadness. But you don’t have to be right there with her – particularly in that you also had a horse in this race. Firm boundaries are needed. You can decide what that looks like for you (For me? No more calls at work is a start). There is nothing wrong with being honest about why you are distancing yourself: “Cassandra, I also was disappointed, but talking about this all the time is making it worse for me.” If you do not want to sign onto her ransom note to your principal, you may have to be very specific about your reasons. It sounds like she is very much identifying the two of you as feeling the same about all these things. You may need to explicitly name why that’s not true for you. But give her a little time first. I’d lay odds that her grief will subside with a little more distance herself from the initial shock of not hitting the lottery this time.
Dear Stacy: My husband of 16 years has put on some weight in the five years or so. He made a New Year’s resolution to get back into exercising, and unlike the rest of us, he has kept to it. Great! The tough part is that he insists on exercising every single day of the week. He’s an all-or-nothing kind of guy. This has turned our household upside down because has been unable to participate in several family activities due to his selfish regimen. We have stopped sharing the to-ing and from-ing at our kids’ schools. He spends Saturday mornings doing “long runs” with a group, and so is not helping with the dance class/sports game juggernaut. He assumes that as long as I am taking the kids with me to the grocery store, he’s cleared to take a quick trip to the gym. I am exhausted and, of course, not feeling super attractive around him and his newfound obsession with BMI [body mass index]. I have never felt further away from him and am not sure how to explain myself without sounding unsupportive of his efforts to get healthy. -Another Gym Widow
Dear Gym Widow: You say you have “never felt further away” from Husband than you do right now. This is the place to start when you have your conversation. (You knew I was going to recommend a conversation, right?) I’m going to urge you to explain this from your point of view and try to avoid phrases like “your obsession” and “selfish regimen.” I’d assume that you and your perspective on his weight gain had a lot to do with his interest in getting healthy in the first place. A simple check-in about how you are experiencing his resolution may be very helpful here. At the same time, we need to be clear that while exercise is a great thing, overexercising actually is an addictive behavior. Brain research shows us that exercise triggers the same endorphins and other pleasure chemicals that create dependence in lab rats. With a seven-day-a-week training schedule, it sounds like Husband might be overvaluing exercise compared to the other parts of his life. Start talking about how his new priorities are impacting your family, and how you are open to helping him find some balance. Again, avoid phrases like “Stacy says you’re an exercise addict.” As with any addiction, addicts never go into treatment or recovery just because someone else told them to do it. They have to come to the conclusion on their own, but you can help get the conversation going by gently explaining your side.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.stacymurphyLPC.com and you can follow her on twitter @StacyMurphyLPC. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to email@example.com.