Answers to your questions about parental sex, collecting, extramarital affairs and more

Ask our therapist: answers to your questions about parental sex, collecting, extramarital affairs and more

Mark Fromm

My 16-year-old daughter caught my wife and me having sex. She is upset and says she’s scarred for life. What should I do?

Dad

You might approach the situation by acknowledging that it could be upsetting and you wish it hadn’t happened. But you could also let her know that she saw something positive and beautiful–the very act from which she sprung. Tell her that you hope she can deal with it maturely.

If she remains upset for a period of time–teens often believe their reaction will be “for life”–it may be due to embarrassment. Let her know that you and your wife are not uncomfortable or upset with her.

Four years ago I began an extramarital affair. Earlier on, my lover told me what I wanted to hear. Now, he wants no emotional ties. Why do I still want him–because of what I’m missing at home?

Confused

It’s difficult for anything positive to flourish under these conditions. For a relationship to work, you will need to put your external and internal houses in order. You, your husband and your lover have all contributed to this atmosphere. But only you can determine what you want in your life and make it happen.

Your affair has likely contributed to the distance in your marriage. Like you and your husband, your lover seems to be capable of only partial, dishonest relationships at this time. From your description, there is no reason to believe he has strong feelings for you. Most likely, you are using each other.

My boyfriend thinks my large Japanese musicbox collection is childish and a waste. Is collecting bad? Or is he being unreasonable?

Collector

One person’s childish waste of time is another’s meaningful hobby. To find out if this is indeed a problem, ask yourself these questions: Is this activity having destructive consequences? Is it distracting you from important life tasks? Do you find yourself thinking about, ar engaging in, the activity more than you want? Do you need to engage in the activity more and more to get the same feelings from it? Do you experience emotional “withdrawal” when you don’t do it? By engaging in this, are you avoiding emotional pain or other challenges?

If you conclude that this is simply a hobby, then it becomes an issue of working it out with your partner. It’s best to let our partners be who they are. Let’s hope that yours can find joy in supporting your interests.

Before our divorce, my ex-husband and I went to a professional counselor. After two half-hour sessions, the counselor recommended that we separate. Why would the counselor say that after just one hour with us?

Baffled

It is unusual for a therapist to make such a strong statement so quickly. If it would help ease your mind, you could investigate it–ask the therapist why she or he came to that conclusion. Relationships expert John Gottman, Ph.D., has done significant research in this area. He says that, after watching and listening to a couple for just five minutes, he can predict whether or not they will divorce.

He predicts divorce when he sees couples engaging in criticism and showing contempt, defensiveness and avoidance. He also looks for one or both partners becoming overwhelmed. However, with the right tools, he sees even these couples as having success. Neither he nor I would be likely to make such a statement except in extreme circumstances.

Mark Fromm, Ph.D., provides psychotherapy and personal coaching in the San Francisco Bay area.

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