Advice from the Trenches: Autoimmune Brain

Dear C and Dr. B:

My wife gets really down on herself – she self flagellates. She takes everything personally and feels it is her job to make the world a better place, and if something goes wrong, she just cant let it go. She can’t bear to disappoint anyone. Right now, she feels that she hates her job, but I think she just hates herself. With every job she has ever had, she’s done the same thing – playing the scenes over and over again, trying to get things just right. 

It’s ruining her sleep and affecting her mood and energy level. She loses her ability to focus and get others things done. She’s been in therapy multiple times and tried a number of medications – all without change. What else is there?    

 – Howard

Dr. B says:

Recently science has discovered the guilt and shame center in our brain, called the habenula. It is a negative reinforcer – its purpose is to beat us up emotionally in an effort to keep us safe by causing us to avoid behaviors which have brought us negative results. It works via an on and off switch – an environmental stimuli can turn it on. Life can be fine, then suddenly and instantaneously you feel horrible, crushed, devastated. It stops you in your tracks.  It is the emotional equivalent to what happens when you put your hand in a flame. 

We are only now developing medications that address this switch. But since this has been part of human nature since the beginning of time, we have already developed many different cultural approaches to suffering. The default current American culture advocates self-love and compassion. Buddhism teaches that suffering is an inevitable part of being alive and it advocates that we treat it with neutrality.  Psychotherapy would ask us to understand the root of our suffering and learn from it, that we should sublimate or transform this energy into something meaningful and useful. Cultural Judaism (as in the Woody Allen approach) teaches us that suffering is random and meaningless – it is nothing personal, so we should learn to laugh at the slapstick comedy of it all. 

If her other attempts have failed, your wife needs to find a therapist who takes a different approach. If that fails, then I suggest you find a psycho-pharmacologist who specializes in newer medications. 

C says:

Howard, you have described nearly every woman I know. Your wife is, granted, an exaggerated, neurotic version, but the behavior you describe is hardly abnormal. The need to make sure everyone and everything is alright is pretty much burned into our female genes. 

This behavior wouldn’t be a problem if your wife could put her drive into something that produced results, but what she seems to be doing instead is turning her own energy against herself. It’s similar to what happens when a person has an auto-immune disorder – their own cells turn on each other.

It is tough to handle a drive that is being constantly generated inside. But I think it would help if you took a look at this from another angle. 

Are you familiar with search dogs? These are some of the most heroic creatures on the planet. Do you know where these dogs come from? Animal shelters; generally on death row. They were abandoned by owners who just couldn’t deal with them anymore. Ironically, the very drive that makes them superheroes and savers of lives also makes them the family pet from hell. 

Search dogs need a job, and if they don’t have one, they will eat your sofa. If you throw them a stick they will NEVER stop fetching it and if you lock them in the closet they will chew their way through the door and then find the stick and bring it back to you.

Your wife is a search dog without a cause. That must be a bitch to live with. But rather than putting her on psychiatric meds, I suggest finding her something to channel that drive into. All the talk therapy in the world won’t do a damn thing to neutralize nervous energy. She needs to learn to live with it and simple solutions can be remarkably effective  – a regular, rigorous exercise program would probably do more to help her turn off her brain at night than anything you’ve tried. 

Historically, medicine has always taken a rather misogynist approach to “female hysteria,”

somewhat along the lines of “OMG, calm the bitch down, quick!” But a personal drive always needs a target and a task. It is when there is no direction or purpose that our thoughts begin to turn on us instead.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Coma boy

Dear C and Dr. B:

I’m in a weird situation.

Jay and I have been married for a little over 2 years. Sex was never a big thing with us, it’s one of the things we had in common. We had so many of the same interests and we could talk about anything – sex just didn’t seem that important.

But now, 2 years in, I find myself attracted, not to a man, but to a woman at my gym. With her, there’s a spark that was always missing with Jay. I’m suddenly interested in sex for the first time, and I realize that the reason I wasn’t before is that I thought I was supposed to be into men, but maybe I’m actually gay.

Here’s the weird part. When I told Jay how I felt, instead of deciding it was a deal breaker for our marriage, he told me that it was OK with him if I explored my feelings for women, but he thought we should stay married until I really know what I want. He wants me to be happy, but if this is just curious on my part, he still would want me as his lifetime companion.

Is he a really enlightened person, or is he just weird? I wonder if he’s in denial because he can’t face the truth. I am really not sure. I’m not sure what to think about the whole thing.

Dr. B says:

Gender identity, sexual attraction and sexual identity aren’t etched in stone – they can change over time, and are highly influenced by the culture in which we live. All of the new gender labels we’ve developed are a recent invention. They can complicate things because feelings can never be entirely captured by words. We expect our relationships to follow whatever the social norms are. We’ve gone overboard with classifications in this country – the result is chaos and conflict. It is my opinion that just because you are sexually attracted to a woman it doesn’t necessarily mean you are just gay. You just may be attracted to this particular woman. 

Couples therapy would be beneficial because you need to set some ground rules going forward. Good counseling is all about clarifying intentions and honest communication. Counseling can’t save a marriage that just doesn’t work, but it can really help to clear up the confusion you are feeling right now.

I don’t know Jay so I can’t say anything about his personality or motivations. Maybe he’s enlightened… or maybe he’s asexual or gay.  I have never met anyone so “enlightened” that they could actually mean what you tell me Jay has said. He wants to give you an opportunity to explore? Then he says it’s OK if you leave him if this woman will make you happy? It sounds fishy. Nothing is ever without strings and if someone isn’t willing to fight for you I would wonder how much they value you.   

If the two of you had children, there’d be a lot more to consider. But as things are, the most important question is: What do you want?

C says:

Here’s the question I’d be asking: if this situation were reversed, and Jay came to you and said that he was attracted to a guy at his gym, how would you feel? 

If it were me, I’d freak – and not out of petty jealousy.

The one thing that both you and Jay are forgetting is that this other woman is not a new toy that you are going to play with for a while and then maybe return. She is a human being with feelings, needs and a history of her own. She is an unknown quantity. You have no idea how she could affect your life, what she could bring to it, or what she might possibly do to damage it beyond repair. It changes the entire equation, however it turns out.

Jay’s casual acceptance of this sudden revelation shows one thing very clearly – you’re on your own here. He’s not treating this like it’s real, or as if it affects him at all. He’s just like: “well, call me when you’re done, I’ll come pick you up.”

If I had to guess, I’d say that Jay isn’t enlightened, he’s in an emotional coma. If this is the first real thing the two of you have had to deal with and Jay is just sitting it out, I’d wonder how much help he’ll be when future problems arise.

You might have your answer right there.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Enemy of the people

Dear C and Dr. B:

The world has really changed since I graduated from high school back in 2018. First, it was the 2016 election, then COVID-19, now the war in Ukraine and the threat of conflict on every side. We have all faced losses – we lost our social freedom to COVID-19, some lost their homes, jobs, or loved ones and we all lost our sense of security and trust when the nation went to war over COVID-19 restrictions.

What I lost was my belief in the inherent good within people. All the insane conspiracy theories on social media and one mass shooting after another in the news – it seems the trend is to hate people we’ve never met, turn on each other, then grab whatever we can to save ourselves when supplies run short. 

I’ve come to believe we are all a bunch of assholes and it doesn’t leave me much hope for the future. Do you see any?    

– Hopeless Harry

Dr. B says:

Humans learn through role modeling.  People aren’t the enemy. People are only the poor saps whose lives are destroyed by divisive politics. The colonialism philosophy that founded this country and is still active today is the real enemy.  That “in the name of god, gold and glory” camp crossed the border a long time ago. Look at any country anywhere in the world and you can see how these things led to the conditions that cause people to treat each other poorly and forces them to live in terror for their lives.   

They say the arc of justice always swings toward the positive, but I don’t see this in evidence. History just keeps repeating.

C says:

What a load of hooey! You know why history keeps repeating, Dr. B? It’s because of people. Ideas and philosophical tenets are not the enemy. Colonialism philosophy and the divisive politics that destroy the so-called “poor saps,” are all made up of and by people. These things weren’t discovered under a rock. They were all generated by people, and the flaw lies in people themselves.

Human nature, all on its own, is capable of corrupting any ideal which is placed in its hands. The struggle for pecking order, territorial control, power… that all comes from people. Look at what happened in the book Lord Of The Flies – a group of school boys become isolated together and without the influence of either politics or capitalism, their own nature plays out in a frightening way.

If we can’t admit that we are the problem, and stop blaming these huge abstract concepts for our own self-serving behavior, history will indeed keep repeating itself. Sure, let’s blame the government for everything, blame the pharmaceutical companies, blame the terrorists – it’s a lot easier than blaming ourselves. We are content to gather facts that support our own theories and spar with clever words and theories, but seriously – it’s all just blowing hot air.

If there were about 7 billion fewer people on this planet, there’d be 7 billion fewer problems. 

The world is too big. Period. And there’s too many people in it, with too many different ideas and no way to please everyone. These “vast formless things that shift the scenery to and fro” are there because people can’t be trusted to govern themselves. Unfortunately, absolute power corrupts absolutely and we can’t trust the people in power either, but it always starts with a person – one whose greed and ego contorts the ideals that launched their own campaign. The bloody cartels and political parties are not run by robots. Russia did not declare war on Ukraine. Vladimir Putin did.

But I am not nearly as pessimistic as Dr. B. Don’t lose hope, Harry! The solution also lies with people, and the person it should start with is you. Here’s what I suggest – stop living through the news and magazine articles, the podcasts and media messages, and get involved with other people. Do things that you feel good about. You will probably draw like-minded people who want to do some good as well. 

Get out of your bloody computer, your news feeds and your second-hand information! Get out in the world. There are still a lot of giving, sharing people out there. Hint: most of them avoid publicity like the plague it is. They have no ambition to become famous or entertain others with their intellect. Every influencer who is influencing you has a thirst for the spotlight or they wouldn’t be in it. Think about it.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Dream girls

Dear C and Dr. B:

I recently met the most amazing woman. She intrigues me in every way – she’s smart, funny and completely captivating. When we start talking, our conversations seem to spark all kinds of connections. 

The problem is that I’m a 44-year-old man, who’s been married for 21 years. I’ve got four kids. Until now, I’ve had a stable, comfortable life and I thought no further.

Since I met this woman, I’ve been energized. Thoughts of her infiltrate my dreams. I’ve felt attracted to other women before, I guess most men do, but it was always a passing casual thought. This is hitting me on a much deeper level. My emotions are all over the place and I’m really torn – is it real? But how can it not be real?  It’s more real than anything else. 

And what does this say about my marriage?                     

– Torn Terry

Dr. B says:

I can’t tell you what to do but what I can say is: humans are physiologically wired to feel infatuation and passion. In and of itself it doesn’t indicate a problem with your marriage. Most of us go in and out of these feelings for various people over the course of our lives whether we’re married or not. No emotional state lasts forever – it is natural for the passion of dating and early marriage to become contentment over time. If you left your wife for this new woman your feelings would probably change in the same way over time. But it does raise the question: is there a problem in your marriage? 

You make decisions every day that give meaning to your life and these accumulate to build your future. There are consequences to everything you do. Weigh those consequences. 

Infatuation is more about you than it is about this new woman and is not reflective of a deep love. Infatuation and passion act like a drug – they don’t go on forever. Our society, however, is split on the issue of love and attraction. The messages we hear in the media are either “anything outside of the sanctity of marriage is a sin, blah, blah, blah,” or, “Live today like it was the last day of your life, just do it!!” Neither is the basis for a reasonable course of action. 

What you do repetitively and consistency is what you become. This is the definition of personality. So you need to decide what kind of person you want to be  and work towards that.

You can live infinite lives in your dreams. That doesn’t mean you should do any of it.

C says:

Let me save you some time, Terry. This woman doesn’t really exist. You have fabricated her out of these moments you’ve shared in a very rarified bubble of time. You have never been in the real world with her. You do not know what may lie beneath her bright social presence. You have no idea who she really is.

Now let’s think about this wife of yours. You’ve shared 21 years of your life with her. During that time, you functioned well as a team. You’ve solved problems together, you’ve raised children together – you built a real home. Now you’ve hit middle age and you feel an itch to try something new. 

What exactly do you think will happen with this new woman? Are you imagining that a real life with her would be as it is in your rarefied bubble? Will you both stay in this bubble together and need nothing else?  

The bubble of radiant joy we feel upon meeting someone new is a very fragile thing. The hard edges of the world tend to pop the illusion. You can’t live there.

I have no doubt that you need more stimulation in your life. But please don’t be so foolish as to think that this woman is the answer. She has her own needs, her own history and her own ambitions. She has her own life. You may not fit into it anywhere at all.

I’m guessing that you are torn and confused because a very real part of you isn’t buying this infatuation either. My advice? If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. As time goes on, the picture will come into focus. 

But there are some things that once broken are never the same again. The trust of your family is one of them. Don’t blow it over a woman who is nothing but a dream.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com.

Advice from the Trenches: Chronic

Dear C and Dr. B:

I’ve just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that I’m going to have forever – IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). Although I supposedly can keep it under control, I have to deal with a lot of discomfort, pain and a need to never be far from a bathroom.

I need to figure out how to live with this! I can’t eat like other people. I have to limit certain activities and I sometimes have weird pains that nearly flatten me, then just disappear again. I am not sure what to do when I’m with other people. It scared my boyfriend to death the first time he saw it happen. Yesterday when I talking with a client at work I had a pain so bad I could hardly breathe… Luckily, my supervisor walked in and the customer had a question for him. I covered my reaction, and ducked out. 

Should I just let people know this is going on? I can’t stand it when people act like babies over aches and pains, but I feel like I’m living a lie if I just pretend nothing is wrong. 

– Chronic Connie

Dr. B says:

Honesty is the best policy. Leaving it up to people to misinterpret your painful expressions is a bad idea – it can be misconstrued as disgust or dislike. People often take nonverbal language very personally. They could easily think, “She doesn’t like me, she isn’t taking me seriously!” As a result, they might complain, or worse, be mean to you. Honesty up front might cause people to be overly sympathetic, which can be annoying, but – so?  You will get used to it; that’s simply people trying to be nice. 

C says:

As a person who has lived with Crohn’s Disease, a form of IBD, for over 40 years, my advice is quite the opposite – keep it to yourself, Connie.

A simple question: when people see you coming, do you want them to say “Look, it’s Connie, everyone be nice, she has IBD”? Or do you want them to say, “Look, it’s Connie. Wow, she killed it at the meeting yesterday!”?

The less attention you pay to pain and discomfort, the less you feel it and this is exactly why sharing your problem with others is so counterproductive – the more you talk about your condition and focus on it, the more real it becomes, until in the end, it is more real than you.

I’m not saying that you should hide real problems, but the only people who need to know your private health concerns are your doctors. If your employer asks about your health as part of employee records, you must, by law, admit that you have an autoimmune disorder but if I were you I would add that you are in remission and under control. Never mention it again.

In all the years that I have been freelancing, I have NEVER told a client I am technically an invalid and often in pain. It has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to do the job. My clients have learned to trust me. I’ve never missed a deadline.

If you need support, join a group with people who have the same health problem. They are the only ones who really understand. Healthy people with no experience of chronic illness don’t know what to say. They feel obliged to be nice, so they utter vapid condolences or make inane suggestions such as “take a TUMS, that always works for me!” They do this because they have nothing to offer and feel awkward. You are doing them no favor by putting them in that position.

Learning to control your reactions actually has health benefits. When pain twinges are a familiar and recurring thing, it is entirely possible to calm your facial expression and simply wait them out. Such deliberate relaxation also lessens pain; I’ve been doing this for years. There is no need to create drama or call attention to your symptoms, but if you keep accurate personal records of your episodes you can educate yourself on how your own system works.

Take a lesson from hypnosis – it has been proven to be very effective in helping patients ease pain. But unlike painkillers which mask pain, hypnosis helps you to manage the fear and anxiety you have related to that pain. Anxiety and tension is what increases the existing pain.

Everyone with a chronic condition has two choices: 1) Make your life an endless explanation about your disease and your symptoms until the disease has become your core identity, or 2) Figure out how to deal with your restrictions and symptoms as quietly and efficiently as possible and just live your life.

Research and learn, Connie. You are the best regulator of your own body. If you take really good care of yourself, living a good life with autoimmune disease can be done. I promise.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice From the Trenches: She’s leaving home

Dear C and Dr. B:

In just a few short months my teenage daughter Sabrina will be moving away to college. I am worried. They didn’t teach script at her high school, so she can’t even sign her name. She can’t write a check, let alone balance a checkbook. She can’t read a clock that doesn’t have digital numbers. None of these skills were taught to her!

Her reaction? “Like, chill out mom, those are skills from the dinosaur age. Can you do Venmo?” I do have to admit that until she asked me, I had never heard of Venmo.  

But she can’t even do her own laundry! Once, I didn’t have time to wash her clothes before I went to visit my mother for a week and when I got home, her clothes were still in the hamper. She’d simply borrowed clothes from my closet and then left them on the floor!

Will she survive living on her own?

Dr. B says:

One can survive without clean laundry or a checkbook. There was once a time when everything was new to us too. I had a car accident the first week I had my car. When I went to college, I didn’t know how to write a check. A nice cashier at the supermarket showed me. I flooded the laundry room at college under soap bubbles the first time I tried to do my own laundry. A nice woman at the laundry room taught me how to measure detergent. I learned. So will your daughter.

C says: It is true – the world has changed and with it, the basic skill sets. Checks have been replaced with Venmo and credit cards, Quicken does our taxes and our accounting… in fact, the virtual world has replaced the real world to a frighteningly large degree.

But none of this has anything to do with how your daughter will do the first time she’s out on her own. This is the point where other parts of her character are far more likely to affect her survival.

It is not your daughter’s lack of writing or laundry skills that worries me, it is the fact that when you couldn’t do her laundry, she didn’t even attempt to figure it out for herself. Dr. B may have flooded the laundry room, but at least he tried. 

I constantly run art workshops with children who, like Sabrina, can’t write in cursive, can’t read the hands on a clock and don’t know how to use a phone with a circular dial. But those aren’t the kids I’m concerned about – rather, it’s the ones who just sit there with their art materials and wait for me to tell them what to do.

There are going to be many surprises and challenges that life will bring to your daughter. This is what life brings to all of us. The people who can deal with the unexpected are always better off than the people who are limited to any particular skill set. Let’s say you are a genius on the computer and can text 80 words per minute – great! What are you going to do when the electricity goes off and your cell phone dies? Just sit in one spot and wait for the power company to turn the lights on?

One of the most valuable things that children can learn from me is that they don’t have to know how to do something in order to be able to do it. If they aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and they persist in their efforts, they can usually figure it out by themselves.

What I see as the most damaging lack in our current educational system is that no one is being taught the coping skills and emotional resilience necessary to deal with the exigencies of life. We memorize, digitize and surf the web for information, but faced with the unknown we wait for the “experts” to save us. It’s one of the reasons that fake news can take hold so easily in politics and in our worldview.

The most damaging and self-defeating decisions that people make are usually done in the privacy of their own minds, when no one is looking. That is where character, common sense, and core values come in – and where otherwise highly skilled people are too often lacking.

The jury is still out on your daughter, mom, but it’s all up to her now. I wish her the best.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Nurse Stripper

Dear C and Dr. B:

I am saving up to go to school. My parents wanted me to follow in the family tradition and become a medical doctor, but I decided that I would rather become a nurse practitioner. Their approach to health is much closer to my own, and the research I did shows that while three in five doctors want to quit their jobs, NP’s are optimistic and their importance in health care is expanding with the current changes. But now my parents refuse to pay for college, because, “The pay scale starts at HALF of what a doctor makes!”

Even with scholarships (which I don’t have) I can’t swing it, and my parents make far too much money for me to qualify for assistance. Now I have to figure out how to get the money.

My friend Laura is making literally thousands a week working at a strip club. In comparison, the only other minimum wage jobs I could get barely cover rent, let alone food and class supplies. I am thinking of joining her – just for a year or two – until I can afford to go to school on my own.

I’ve read that a lot of people put themselves through school doing jobs like this then go one to find success, so – why not? I have a good body. I’ll never get to school if I can’t afford it. But I would like a second opinion.

– Lola

C says: 

Nobody ever “just” does anything, Lola. You either do it or you don’t, and once you do it, it’s done. Let’s look at this sentence: “I’m just being a stripper for now, until I get the money for school.” Remove the qualifying explanations and what you have is: “I’m a stripper.”

You should know that there are strippers who consider their work to be a legitimate profession and an art form. The top pole dancers can hold their own with gold medal gymnasts. It is generally the opportunistic gold diggers who go down the wrong path – and that’s where your own attitude becomes a problem.

You’re imagining that you’re going to get in and out without any of it touching you, but that’s a fool’s dream. Ever hear of Stockholm Syndrome? It’s a natural human tendency for people to react to, and often bond with, those around them – even their kidnappers. Do you really think that you are going to go in there, perform, take the money and run? The women you work with, the way the men treat you…all of it will affect you, possibly in a way that could alter every goal you now have.

I knew three women who became strippers to pay for school. None of them ever got to school as far as I know. The most successful of the three went on to become a travel agent. The last time I saw a stripper I knew in Buffalo, she was modeling for an artist who painted women in bondage. The other – who knows? I will imagine for your sake that she is now running for congress.

The future is a story we tell ourselves to keep going, but the things that we give our time and energy to are what become real. No one should forget that when they do something “just to get by.” 

If you choose the stripper route, I hope you are luckier than most. One word of advice? Don’t drink on the job. It makes it a little too easy to “go home” with the customers for some extra cash.

Dr. B says:

I have had multiple strippers for clients and here is what I’ve learned:

• They make about the same per hour as I do.

• They, like many doctors, are bad at saving money and for the same reason – the lifestyle is often expensive.

• Their job is more dangerous than mine.

• When a person makes that much money, it is hard, if not impossible, to settle for less and few other jobs pay as well.

• It is impossible to live a separate life and not take the job home with you. Every job affects who you meet, and how you feel about humans in general.

• Being numb to one’s surroundings in order to survive can cause PTSD and personality disorders along with substance abuse problems. Numb is not neutral. Numb is toxic. 

• The attention feels good! Power feels good! It is hard to give that up; it is psychologically addicting.

• If you’re hoping for a relationship, one formed out of a strip club has little chance of surviving. Desire is not love. It seldom has anything to do with love – and it has absolutely nothing to do with a college education.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Double-Crossing Douchebag

Dear C and Dr. B:

I know now that trust is a really important thing, maybe THE most important thing. But I only learned that after losing the trust of everyone I know. 

I cheated on my wife and what’s worse, the person I slept with was the wife of a member of our formerly close-knit social group. It was one of those things that seemed so “we’re just friends” at first, then little by little, the attraction grew. When the intimacy started, it felt right for us to fall together – we could both explain it to ourselves with crap like “I’m happier now, so things are more pleasant at home, we’re not hurting anyone…”

But of course, as always, the truth came out and everyone was hurt. Not only our spouses, but also our friends – we’d lied to them as well. Everyone felt betrayed.

The affair was over after that. It changed everything. We have two kids so my wife hasn’t left me yet and if there’s a way to save our family I want to. We’ve been going to therapy and talking a lot … but I don’t know if it helps with the feelings. Feelings seem to have a mind of their own – she just doesn’t trust me anymore. Every text, random phone call, me being late or “smelling funny” becomes grounds for anxiety and apprehension. 

Our friends have cut me off, and as a consequence, avoid her too.

How do I fix something like this? Can I? 

– Bart the Betrayer

 Dr. B says:

Here’s the thing about feelings – part of being an adult is to never base behavior on feelings. Our culture seems to advertise just the opposite of this, but feelings are not always based on facts and if you let your feelings steer your life, it becomes a rollercoaster.   

Your feelings got you into this mess; only INTENT can get you out. You and your wife need to have a rational, intent-based conversation. I ask patients: “What do you want your relationship and life to look like 20 years from now?” Working backwards from that, you should only make choices that lead to that outcome. You need to have the skills necessary to enact those behaviors that lead to your intended future outcome.  

You do not have these skills at this point and likely neither does your wife. Without the right skills, you will never reach that 20-year outcome. Some of what you need to learn is consistent behavior, open and honest communication and equal and reciprocal division of tasks and power within the relationship. You also need to stop enabling each other in your respective weaknesses and rationalizing subconscious behaviors. And that’s just for starters.

There is no point in placing blame or punishing each other. You need to learn healthy adult play. Love has a zillion definitions and our culture is very limited in what we see as love. Sexual attraction counts for more than respect in our culture. You both have a lot to learn if you want to be able to have a long-term healthy relationship with another human. If you role model good relationship skills it will affect those around you in a positive and reciprocal way.

C says:

That is undoubtedly good, board-certified advice on how to rebuild a fucked-up marriage, but this is the real world and that is a very long, involved list which involves years of painful, uncomfortable work. That kind of change is HARD. If there’s not enough motivation, it doesn’t stand a chance.

I understand your motivation, Betrayer. You’re pissing your pants because you got caught and now everyone knows you’re the kind of guy who would betray his wife and stab his friends in the back. You’ve poisoned your own circle. You probably have no one to turn to but the therapist. 

But what is your wife’s motivation, aside from the kids? Why should she want to jump through all those hoops? So she can have “healthy adult play” with the slimeball who made her feel like humiliated garbage?

Whatever problems there were in your marriage, your behavior was inexcusable. It showed poor character and bad decision making. You can role model good relationship skills all you want now, but you’re just following a script: “Look, honey! See how good I am?” Unfortunately, the question your wife will always be asking herself Is: “What is that bastard going to try to get away with when he thinks no one is looking?”

Everyone has their personal secrets, that’s only human. But if you are married, you don’t keep secrets with your mistress and lie to your spouse’s face. That’s a deal breaker.

You can stay together for the sake of the kids, and you might attain a stable home life over time. But if you ever expect anyone to trust you again, it might be easier to move to a new city.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Customer Service

Dear Dr. B and C, 

I work in customer service and dealing with customers is difficult and exhausting. People are always in a rush and have no patience. Talk about rude! And none of them listen. I swear, I can give someone the same information forty times and then they turn around and ask the same question again.  

I need my job to have a roof over our heads and food on our table or I would quit in a heartbeat. I worry that one day I will tell someone off – or worse, jump across the counter and throttle them. How can I survive this 45 more years until I can gather my social security and retire?

Reticent Rita

C says:

What is wrong with you, girl? You say that the customers don’t listen to you – well, listen to yourself! Get the message! There is absolutely nothing you enjoy about your job, you are forced to repress every genuine emotion you have while working, and yet your only excuse for staying there is “I need my job to have a roof over our heads and food on our table.” 

I did the math – and if you retire at age 66, you are only 21 years old. Unless one is a victim of extraordinary hardship or has made extremely bad decisions, very few people have large families they are going to need to support for the next 45 years when they have just turned the legal drinking age. I think your excuse is total BS.

You will not get any advice on how to stay and cope with your job from me.

Dr. B says:

You are not alone, Rita. The whole American workforce is currently re-examining their jobs. People suck, which makes most jobs suck. People have always sucked, but now it’s un-American to not say what’s on your mind. As a result, customer service is even more difficult. It might be the same anywhere you go, but you can at least try.  

The real answer is get back into school and specialize in something so that your value increases in the workforce. Serving customers sucks at every level but with a better pay scale at least you will be able to work fewer hours and have time to focus on work-life balance. A nurse or doctor can work three days a week and make a good income. The cost of school at this level is irrelevant as there are many loan repayment programs available: for instance, the federal loan repayment program, or the military services.   

C says:

Sorry, but I have to jump back in for a moment and inject some reality. The cost of school at this point is NOT irrelevant. Many people graduate with crippling loans to pay off, and loan repayment services are hardly a sure thing. Most of them require 10 years of payments before they will dismiss the balance. Even then, it is only a solution for someone who has the means to get by until graduation brings a job – which is never guaranteed. 

Additionally, going back to school full time doesn’t allow for anything but part-time income and school supplies are not included in student loans. Who is supposed to pay Rita’s rent and utilities while she’s in school? I don’t get the impression she comes from a cushy socioeconomic situation where mom and dad are going to shell out while she re-educates herself.

There are on-the-job training programs in non-degree careers that might be a much better choice for Rita. She could also find non-degree jobs right now that pay just as much, or more, than customer service. That’s where I would start if I had limited income.

But the real point is that if you don’t look, Rita, you aren’t going to find anything. So – stop bitching and start searching. That IS something you can do in your spare time. But resigning yourself in your 20’s to a lifetime of stress and anger is going to get you nowhere but an early grave.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice From the Trenches: Agnostic, or noncommittal?

Dear C and Dr. B:

My friend Kevin says that he is “an agnostic.” I can’t explain exactly why that pisses me off so much, but it does. I think that everybody is basically entitled to believe whatever they want to believe, but Kevin’s attitude is like: “God hasn’t been proven to my satisfaction. Someone needs to prove it to me in a concrete way, then I’ll consider it.” 

I just feel like saying to him, “well, who the hell are you?” The guy has been on this planet for less time than it takes a good Scotch to age, but if something can’t be proven in a way that is within the grasp of his tiny brain, he won’t even consider that it exists. How narrow minded can he be?

I wonder if he still believes the Earth is flat because he hasn’t seen it from space. 

Maybe you can offer some perspective.

Cyn Tack

Dr. B says:

The longer I live the more convinced I am there is no intelligent life anywhere.

Kevin is being neutral and I believe he would say is open to whatever. And why not? If you approach the question scientifically one has to be agnostic as there certainly is no evidence of a god or intelligent design. I have heard arguments for such like the human eye is so perfect and so complicated that it’s proof of god. This just shows the lack of science knowledge by those stating this as the human eye has serious design flaws. All such “evidence” falls short of a scientific standard. 

On the other side there is no concrete evidence for a lack of a god. Science shows that humans are wired for faith, to believe in a god. We are very limited in our awareness and can perceive only a tiny piece of everything that exists.  

There are no faith-based stories from any religion that aren’t completely nuts if you take them literally. But we believe anyway because we need the universe to make some sense. Maybe if we thought there was no god, we might have to take responsibility for ourselves, our treatment of the planet and our treatment of each other – especially those that believe differently than we do.

C says:

I think Dr. B is confusing atheists with agnostics. Atheists do not believe in the existence of the Christian God, or any gods for that matter. This does not mean they are amoral. Although the  atheists I know could rant for hours on the hypocrisy of the clergy, they trust their own instincts when it comes to ethics; they don’t require proof that people should treat each other fairly. But any fundamental agnostic would refuse to decide one way or another, on pretty much any issue, unless there was absolute concrete proof. That’s the difference. 

Objectively speaking, there are certain flaws to agnostic thinking – definitive proof of any theory or phenomena can only be gauged using existing testing methods. Since science constantly outgrows its own instruments and theories, it is possible that what we can’t prove today will be entirely provable next year. And there are also some things that can probably never be proven, no matter how long science stares at its tests and statistics. 

Of all the things that can’t be scientifically proven, love probably tops the list. And yet this unprovable thing we call love is the fuel behind nearly every work of art and literature that has existed through time. It’s also probably the only reason we don’t all kill each other.

This is just a guess, but I think that you are more frustrated than angry. I think you want something from Kevin that he just can’t give you, and it has more to do with the idea of commitment and emotional connection than with whether or not god exists.

Kevin clings to the known. That’s not really a negative trait, but let’s be honest – on planet Earth, there are no sure things. A person who will only believe and act on sure things is emotionally limited. If you were hoping for magic or passion with Kevin, I wouldn’t hold your breath. But if you need help selecting a health insurance plan, you can count on him to be very thorough. Be happy with that… and look for an intimate connection elsewhere.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com