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"He's Never Home"
Sean traveled constantly for his job, only to criticize Cecelia as soon as he was home. Can a couple learn to live with-and without-each other?
"Here we go again, fighting about Christmas," said Cecilia, thirty-five, an at-home mother of two. "Sean has always disliked the holidays because his family, who was very poor, rarely celebrated anything. He doesn't share my excitement about putting up the tree, decorating the house and baking cookies. And if I don't consult him before buying gifts for the kids, he accuses me of spending too much.
"Well, what am I supposed to do? As an officer in the merchant marine, Sean is at sea four months out of the year, and if he isn't home by early December, I have to do all the shopping. That's fine with me, but I can't stand being criticized and second-guessed for every choice I make.
"I've always been very responsible. I grew up in the Midwest, the oldest of four. My mother left my abusive father when I was five, and we never saw him again. Mom was incredibly independent and self- sacrificing, and I learned a lot from her. Still, I missed not having a dad.
"In my junior year of college, I fell in love with a classmate and unexpectedly became pregnant with my son, Charlie. I married my boyfriend, but it didn't last long. I managed to finish my teaching degree though, and taught elementary school for several years.
"I had no intention of getting into another relationship until I met Sean at a friend's wedding. Every day after that for three months, he called to ask me out until he finally wore me down. I was pleasantly surprised; he was charming, gentle, funny, and down-to-earth. We married, and Sean adopted Charlie, who's now fifteen. After I had Christina nine years ago, I quit teaching and opened a home-based gift-basket business.
"I was determined not to let us become another failed military marriage. Before the wedding, Sean and I even went for a few counseling sessions at church to talk about the problems we might face. Honestly, I wasn't concerned about Sean's traveling, though it is hard not being able to speak to each other for months. Even when his ship is in port, it's expensive for him to call collect from places like Kenya or Thailand, and the time differences are always difficult. At night, I'm so tired I don't always feel like writing long letters. But Sean gets upset and says I'm hiding things from him if I send a short note.
"The first few days after Sean gets back are like a honeymoon. Then the trouble starts. He expects time to stand still while he's away and gets upset when he realizes it hasn't. When he comes down hard on Charlie and Christina for minor matters, then says 'Let's go fishing' half an hour later, they're not going to forget everything and rush off with their dad like they did when they were younger. So Sean feels hurt.
"I'm forever playing mediator between my husband and the children. Sean doesn't understand that kids act up every once in a while, or that it's normal for them to leave their rooms a mess or forget to turn off the lights no matter how much you nag. I've learned to pick my battles, but Sean fights the kids on every front and tells me I'm too easy on them.
"Our biggest arguments by far, though, are about money. I try to keep to a budget, but Sean accuses me of wasting his paycheck. I hate having to defend every little thing I buy, from grape jelly to Christina's soccer gear. The public schools here aren't the greatest, so Charlie, who's very bright, wants to transfer to a private high school next year and take the advanced courses he needs to get into an Ivy League college. We can afford the tuition if we budget carefully, but Sean won't hear of it.
"I admit I've made mistakes with money. When I was starting my business, I ran up five thousand dollars on my credit card. For a long time, I kept it a secret from Sean, but I finally confessed, and we're paying it off. He was understanding at first, but now whenever a financial problem crops up, he flings that old debt back in my face.
"Sex is a huge issue, too. Sean wants it all the time. Well, I'm not going to drop everything just because my husband happens to be home and in the mood. Not long ago, he asked me to tell him what I like in bed. That's not really my thing, but I made a suggestion about something I wanted to try, and he accused me of having an affair! 'You didn't learn that from me,' he said. So I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. The other night, I refused to sleep with Sean, and he hasn't spoken to me since. Not that he really cares what I think. He talks, I listen, and if I open my mouth, he says I'm wrong.
"I want our loving relationship back. But if something doesn't change soon, I may have to leave."
"I don't understand my wife at all," sighed Sean, forty-two. "Cecilia knows the holidays always stress me out, and that I worry about money. So why does she have to go crazy buying gifts? Can't we give Charlie and Christina one nice present each and be done with it?
"I'm tired of feeling out of place in my own family. When I'm at sea, I miss Cecilia like you wouldn't believe, but she doesn't seem happy to see me when I return home. I feel as if I'm intruding in this special world she's created. I don't get any affection or sex from Cecilia, or any respect from her or the kids. She's also stopped writing the long letters I used to look forward to receiving. We don't have Internet access on my ship, so mail is the only way I can keep up with home life. Is that too much to ask?
"Everyone is on their best behavior for maybe a week when I'm around, and then it all falls apart. My kids ignore me and refuse to do the simplest things, like turn off the TV when they leave the room. When I try to lecture or punish them, Cecilia won't back me up. The other day I asked Charlie to help me stack some firewood. He moved one log, and then wandered off. Why should I pay several thousand dollars to send him to a fancy private school when he can't muster any courtesy for his father?
"I think I have a perfect right to question my wife's judgment, especially when it comes to money. I don't understand where it all goes, Cecilia rarely bothers to balance the checkbook. Then there's that huge debt of hers, which took me completely by surprise. I hate feeling that unpleasant things are going on behind my back. I had enough of that when I was growing up.
"I wasn't the happiest kid. Cecilia is right when she says I don't have pleasant memories of the holidays. I was raised on a farm in Pennsylvania by parents who were constantly fighting; only when I was older did I find out that my dad was drinking away his paycheck and sleeping around. I was the only boy, and in my dad's eyes, I couldn't do anything right. He always said I'd never amount to anything. My mom was tense about money because we never had any, and she taught me how to be thrifty, which I think is a virtue.
"I had no direction when I graduated from high school. I worked odd jobs and spent several years in the Marines. I joined the merchant marine in my late twenties because I love the sea and traveling, and it seemed like a good opportunity. Still, it's not easy being away from my family for so long.
"You know, I never mean to tear Cecilia down. I love her, and I'm doing everything I can to keep this marriage together. If we could just figure out a way to stop butting heads, we'd be fine."
THE COUNSELOR'S TURN
"Sean and Cecilia's issues are similar to the ones couples face when one spouse works long hours or travels often, only to come home and feel like a stranger," said the counselor. "It's also easy for the spouse at home to establish a routine where she's no longer dependent, emotionally or physically, on her partner. But it is precisely interdependence that deepens intimacy and allows a marriage to flourish.
"Sean was desperate for the love and attention he lacked when he was at sea. Feeling unappreciated and craving a connection, he badgered Cecilia to have sex with him and to include him in the family decision-making. As the son of an alcoholic, philandering father, Sean had grown up wary and mistrustful of others.
"His neediness, suspicion, and second-guessing, however, robbed Cecilia of her confidence. Competent at handling things on her own, she found it hard to switch gears to bring Sean into household decisions when he was home. The more he criticized her and urged her to talk, the more she pulled away, which Sean took to mean that she didn't love him.
"At our first meeting, we established a commitment to work on the marriage. I also told Sean that while his anger over his wife's credit-card bill was justified, it was time to set that matter to rest and stop rehashing past mistakes in order for both of them to move on.
"We discussed some basic communication skills. Their first assignment was to write a letter to each other every week addressing five issues: what made them angry, what made them sad, what they were afraid of, what they regretted, and what they wanted to happen. This not only helped Sean express what he wanted, but also showed him how negatively he came across at times.
"Talking about their letters helped Sean understand Cecilia's need for space, so he tries not to pester her. Feeling less hounded, Cecilia now has a better understanding of his need for affection and reassurance, which he lacked growing up. Once their anger and resentment dissipated, the emotional and physical intimacy both of them yearned for was restored.
"Cecilia had work to do, as well. She admitted that she wasn't the most efficient bookkeeper; so she balanced the checkbook and looked for ways to handle their budget as effectively as she ran her business. This reassured Sean that she wasn't squandering their money and made it easier for them to agree on how to spend it. For instance, they agreed that Charlie would benefit from going to private school, so Sean enrolled him in the winter semester.
"It was also true that Cecilia was subtly undermining Sean's authority as a parent. I encouraged her to involve him in choosing family activities, and to be more consistent about disciplining the children, instead of letting Dad be the bad guy. As he learned how to control his temper, Sean also learned not to get upset over every little annoying thing the children did, which made a big difference.
"Sean and Cecilia now make a concerted effort to set aside time each week when he's home to discuss what's working for them and what's not. They also go out on dates without the kids so they can talk and simply be together. Knowing it's important to stay in touch while Sean is away, Cecilia is more conscientious about writing. Keeping a diary helps her remember important details to include in her letters.
"Although there are times when these two slip back into their old patterns, the difference is that they're now aware of when they're doing it and know how to stop. They're looking forward to spending the holidays as a family this year. Sean doesn't worry about Cecilia's Christmas shopping anymore. In fact, he even suggested they could go to the mall together to pick up a few last-minute stocking stuffers for the kids."
|Introduction: Love Lessons across the Generations||ix|
|Secret #1||Deepen Trust: Securing the Anchor of a Good Marriage||1|
|"My Husband Is Having an Affair"||4|
|"I Can't Face Another Christmas with This Man"||11|
|"I Had a Fling with My Boss"||18|
|"My Husband Is Sleeping with My Best Friend"||24|
|"He Placed a Personal Ad"||30|
|"He Drinks Too Much"||35|
|"My Secret Is Destroying Our Marriage"||41|
|Secret #2||Communicate: Saying What You Mean, Meaning What You Say||49|
|"He Criticizes Everything I Do"||53|
|"My Perfect Husband Wants Out"||59|
|"We Have Nothing in Common Anymore"||65|
|"He Always Tunes Me Out"||72|
|"He's Ashamed of Me"||79|
|"He Expects Me to Give Up My Life"||85|
|"He's So Irresponsible"||91|
|"Our Baby Was Stillborn"||98|
|Secret #3||Fight Fair: Working for, not against, Your Marriage||107|
|"My Husband Is So Moody"||110|
|"He Says I'm Pushing Him Away"||117|
|"He's Never There for Me"||124|
|"He's Always Angry"||135|
|"We Fight All the Time"||142|
|"He Hit Me"||148|
|"He's Jealous of My Success"||158|
|Secret #4||Defuse Power Struggles: Respecting, and Accepting, Differences||165|
|"He Won't Do His Share"||169|
|"My Husband Wants a Perfect Housewife"||176|
|"He's a Child, Not a Husband"||182|
|"My Husband Is a Perfectionist"||190|
|"He Needs Me Too Much"||196|
|"He's Never Home"||203|
|"My In-Laws Are Driving Me Crazy"||209|
|Secret #5||Be Money Smart: Discovering What Money Can and Can't Do for Your Marriage||217|
|"We Always Fight About Money"||221|
|"My Husband Is So Cheap"||228|
|"My Husband Is Having a Midlife Crisis"||234|
|"My Compulsive Shopping Is Ruining Our Marriage"||241|
|"My Job Makes Me Happier Than He Does"||247|
|"He Spends Too Much"||253|
|"My Husband Is a Compulsive Gambler"||259|
|Secret #6||Make Love: Keeping the Marriage Hot||267|
|"He's Never in the Mood"||271|
|"He Had a One-Night Stand"||279|
|"We Haven't Had Sex in Years"||285|
|"We Can't Have a Baby"||291|
|"My Husband Is Impotent"||299|
|"He No Longer Thinks I'm Sexy"||307|
|"My Husband Keeps Calling Those Sex Hotlines"||313|
|Secret #7||Team Up: Balancing Parenthood with Partnership||321|
|"He's a Super Dad but an Awful Husband"||325|
|"My Stepdaughters Are Destroying Our Marriage"||332|
|"He's Spoiling Our Son"||339|
|"Our Daughter Is on Drugs"||346|
|"I Wish I Had an Empty Nest"||353|
|"We Had to Give Up Our Baby"||360|
|"I Love My Kids More than I Love My Husband"||366|
|Workbook: Checklists and Strategies: A Workbook for the Two of You||373|
|A Quiz for Wives||376|
|A Quiz for Husbands||377|
|Power and Control||399|