ARTICLES ASK DIANA ABOUT
 
Diana Shepherd, relationship expert

As well as being the co-founder and former Editorial Director of Divorce Magazine, Diana Shepherd has had personal experience with divorce both as a child and as an adult. As the stepmother of three wonderful teenagers, she urges divorced parents to set aside their differences for the sake of their children.



I don't know what to do. I'm living with my fiance, and he thinks that I should be doing all the house work. He also likes to watch porn, which I don't like. How can I get him to stop watching porn without an ultamatim, so that he'll want to on his own? And how can I get him to help me clean around the house? And to just to treat me nicer? He's nice to other people, but he's not nice to me -- why is he nicer to other people than me? It really hurts. I love him and don't want to leave him, but I need to know what you think I should do. Please help and write me back as soon as you can -- I don't know what to do.
– R.B.

Dear R.B.,

If your best friend were living with a man who treated her this way, what advice would you give her?

If being someone's unpaid maid turns you on, by all means, go on living with this guy. If not, you have to make a change ASAP. But before you do, you need to figure out why you would let someone treat you like this. If you truly loved yourself, if you thought you were an amazing human being with a lot to offer the world, then you wouldn't allow anyone to treat you so disrespectfully. Your fiance should think he's damn lucky to have you; if he doesn't -- or if he doesn't show it -- then you should think very carefully about why you're getting married. Love is not enough to sustain a relationship: couples who have been happily married for 40+ years say respect, friendship, common goals, and commitment to the relationship are as or more important than love.

So here's my advice:

1) Do whatever you need to do in order to regain your self-respect. This may involve counseling, reading books, attending workshops -- whatever is going to get you thinking about and treating yourself better.

2) Have a serious talk with your fiance about boundaries, commitment, and what both of you need to be happy together. Make a list of "must have," "would like to have," and "could easily give this up" before sitting down and talking to him. If you don't know your own "bottom line" before you meet, you're not going to be able to have a very powerful conversation with him. Try to have approximately the same number of items you absolutely need and those you're willing to give up -- that way, you have less important items to "trade" for your non-negotiables. Here are a few examples (of course, you'll design the lists to suit your own needs and desires):
Must have:
A) You must treat me with respect. This means no name-calling, no acting as though I'm your servant, and we make all major decisions (from buying a TV to where to go on vacation to buying a house) together
B) If I cook, you do the dishes -- and vice-versa
Would like to have:
A) I would like you to take me out for dinner every Friday night
B) I would like you to stop watching porn
Could give up:
A) I would like you to bring me breakfast in bed every Sunday morning
B) I would like you to clean the bathroom once a week

3) If he won't agree to provide you with your non-negotiables (in exchange for his, of course), then you need to seek couples counseling immediately. If he refuses to go to counseling with you, then think about what advice you'd give your very best friend in the world about her relationship with a man like this -- then take your own advice.

Best,


I have been dating a 25-year-old man for a year and a half. His parents were divorced when he was 21. They had been married for 26 years. His mother left his father because his father has a drinking problem. My parents are still married and have been for almost 28 years. My boyfriend has told me that he's scared to get married because he doesn't want to screw it up and end up divorced. What is the divorce rate for children of divorced parents? What is the divorce rate for children of parents who are still together (like mine)? Does the fact that my boyfriend's father has a drinking problem play a huge role in his future? Is he likely to develop a drinking problem? Is he likely to repeat some or most of the things his father did to him as a child that has made him so angry at his father today?
– Amy

Dear Amy,

Take a look at the story entitled The Legacy of Divorce in the Divorce Magazine "Reading Room." It should answer most of your questions.

As for how your own relationship is going to turn out, that really depends on both you and Eric. In my experience, if people don't get help processing traumatic experiences -- such as divorce -- their emotional scars tend not to heal well. "Help" doesn't always mean counseling, although in certain cases, it's an absolute requirement. The first step is a willingness to face the past and find a way to let it go: by counseling, by attending a personal-growth seminar such as the ones offered by Landmark Education or LifeSpring, or by reading self-help books. The important thing for Eric is to take action, and to stick with it until he's achieved his desired goal.

You might consider taking a course together, like "Getting the Love you Want"; for more information, go to www.imagotherapy.com. I took this course a few years ago and found it excellent.

Anyway, don't get too hung up on statistics: they can only tell you what most people do, and you and Eric may not be "most people." But do pay attention to the things he says, and even more importantly, the things he does. If he demonstrates to you by his actions that he's not ready to commit to marriage -- and if he's not willing to do anything to get over his fears -- then you should consider whether he's the right guy for you at this time.


I have a question about my soon-to-be-ex-husband's girlfriend moving in with him this summer. My husband and I have been married for 12 years, and we have three children together. In March 2003 we decided to divorce.Last week he told me that his girlfriend and he were moving in together this summer. She has two teenage daughters; she has been divorced twice and does not have a reputation for fidelity.She is very nice to my children and owns a gymnasium that they get to play in, so of course they adore her.

When we were negotiating the divorce settlement, I tried to get him to agree that neither of us could live with a partner unless we were married while the children live in our homes. He wouldn't agree to it. I thought hard about going to a lawyer and pressing the issue, but was advised by friends that no judge would force him to put that in the agreement. When my husband hit me with the news about his intentions of having his girlfriend and her girls move in with him, I was shocked. My trust in his ability to keep the children first has been demolished.

We are Catholic and soon my girls will be learning about the sacrament of marriage. A live-in relationship does not provide the same safety and security that a legal, moral marriage does. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but I want my children to grow up and be able to make good decisions about long-term relationships.

I don't want to end up in court because I know that would be really bad for my children in the long run. I am prepared to do that however if I feel like he is jeopardizing their long-term mental health.

Thanks in advance for responding.
– Denise

Dear Denise,

You're not going to like this answer, but there's nothing you can do about whether or not your ex-husband lets his girlfriend move in. Your friends were quite right: no judge would have made that part of the divorce agreement.

One of the hardest things for a divorced mother to face is the thought of sending her kids off to another house with an adult she didn't choose -- and often doesn't like. However, being divorced means that you no longer have any say about your ex's relationships -- unless there is obvious danger to your children. While I can see how upsetting it is to you, the situation you've described does not qualify as dangerous, and no judge is going to change your co-parenting arrangement becauseyour ex has moved in with this woman. If she were currently a drug addict, alcoholic, criminal, etc. -- and you could prove it in court -- you might be able to change your custody arrangements, but even that wouldn't be a sure thing.

This woman sounds like she has money of her own (so you don't need to worry about her being a gold-digger and taking funds away from your kids), and if your kids love her, she must be treating them well. You already know kids don't love people just because there are perks (like a gym, or a pony, or a trampoline in the backyard); as well as letting them play in her gym, she is obviously being kind to your children, and you need to realize how lucky you are that this is the case.

You also can't force your ex to make the kids his first priority -- legally or otherwise. This will be very upsetting to you, and I suggest you find a friend -- or better yet, a support group for divorced parents -- where you can express your feeling of anger, frustration, and disappointment about what you view as your ex's failings as a parent. Expressing your feelings to him will probably be counterproductive; chewing him out may provide some short-term gratification, but in the long term, it will be bad for your co-parenting relationship.

You also need to read some books about stepfamilies to give you an idea of what's "normal" as well as prepare you for the future. I suggest you read The Truth about Stepfamilies: Real American Stepfamilies Speak Out about What Works and What Doesn't When it Comes to Creating a Family Together by Anne O'Connor (Marlowe & Company, 2003) and Stepwives: 10 Steps to Help Ex-Wives and Stepmothers End the Struggle and Put Kids First by Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood and Louise Oxhorn (Fireside, 2002).

Maybe your ex's relationship will not be permanent, but maybe it will -- which means you will be connected to him and this woman as long as your kids are alive. Since this is a real possibility, you do not want to alienate this woman. You may never be friends, but you will probably have dealings with her in the future; for your children's sake as well as your own, you need to develop a respectful relationship with this woman.

Best,


I have been with my boyfriend for eight months, and he has asked me to marry him. I am 18, and he's 20; he used to live next door, but he has moved to New York for work. I haven't seen him in a while, but we talk on the phone a lot. I love him so much, but I'm afraid he will find somebody else unless I can be with him. My Dad says I can only go out with guys from our church, but I don't want any of them. Why can't my Dad like my boyfriend for who he is and let us be happy together?
– Pink

Dear Pink,

Although this isn't really a divorce-related question, I'll try to answer it. You're probably not going to want to hear this, but love isn't enough to create a long-term, committed relationship. And fear that your boyfriend will find someone else is definitely not a good reason to get married.

For the last 25 years at the Family Research Lab at the University of Washington, Dr. John Gottman has studied what he calls the "masters and disasters" of marriage. He studies heart-rate, facial expression, and how people talk about their relationship to each other and to other people; from his research, he's able to predict with 90% accuracy which couples are going to make it, and which will not. I suggest you take Dr. Gottman's test -- see Making Marriage Work in the Divorce Magazine "Reading Room" -- to get an idea of whether your relationship is likely to last.

As you probably know, marriages between people as young as you and your boyfriend almost never work out. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to create a great relationship with this guy, but you should try to make sure you're doing it for (at least some of) the right reasons. Fear of being dumped, lust, or being in love without deep liking and mutual respect are not good reasons to get married.

If you're interested in learning more about what makes relationships work, go to: www.gottman.com.


 

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