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June 4, 2001


His Daughters, and 

A Fling



Dear Mrs. Web, 

I am married to a man 14 years my senior. He has 4 grown daughters. He is not speaking to one and sees the other three occasionally. I have a real problem with how they treat their father. They are disrespectful and only see him when they want money. They never give him a gift or card, not even for his birthday.

They think their mother is so wonderful. I cannot stand them. They are always gossiping about and cutting down everyone, including me. I donít know who they think they are! 

I really want to tell them off but donít want to damage what little connection my husband has with his children. What should or can I do?

Parents sometimes get the children they deserve. 

His children are part of the package. The relationship your beloved has with his children is the one he has created with them.  This is not your issue. You have no real options here except to be polite, warm, and a bit distant. This emotional distance will permit you to listen or watch them and not emotionally react to their behavior.

By stepping into their relationships, you lose. The best thing to do is to stay above the fray without looking elitist. Dear Mrs Web has an entire list of sentences I use when confronted with poor behaviors. All of them are non committal i.e. "Really, that is how you feel?" Then change the subject.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I have been involved with a woman for 4 years. We helped each other through difficult times and we were always there for each other. I love her very much.

A few months ago she went away to visit her father. She was gone a month. While there, she met another man and fell in love with him. She now claims she loves him and that he is her soul mate.

Since she has been back, the man has not called her. He did send her a ring, she called him once, and they talked. He has never called back or kept in touch.

I still love her and I donít know what to do or say. She says she continuously thinks of him. I know this because I am her best friend and she has been talking to me about it. I am confused. What should I do?

I may be seriously wrong but my guess is that her soul mate might have been what was once known as a "fling." The man is not calling, no plans are being made, I think she is being dumped.

In the meantime, one of Dear Mrs Webís cardinal rules is to never listen to how your beloved is doing with other men. You may have been her best friend at one time. However, you had also become the beloved and have been hurt deeply. I would tell her that and withdraw the support. She needs to discover what life is like without all of you, and not just cherry-pick what she needs from you.  


June 1, 2001


Sister's Anger, Am I Insecure?  Where's My Ring?



Dear Mrs. Web,

My sister recently divorced. Our mother and I have taken her in.  My sister screams at her daughter constantly. My mother and I have tried to intervene but she turns on us. We are both angry and upset with her. What can we do?

I think it is time to sit down and have a family meeting, just the three of you. Donít sit down when everyone is angry; wait until things are calm. Your sister is obviously undergoing a stressful and unpleasant time and needs some help.

I think you and your mother need to discuss ways you can help alleviate her stress and help her with the difficulties of raising a two-year-old (probably the most difficult year of young childhood). No one wants to yell at her child and she probably feels guilty and defensive about it. Set up ground rules for each of you, and go to the library and look for some parenting books that can help her find some skills during this sticky time.

Check my Bookshelf   for some great parenting books. I particularly recommend YOUR TWO-YEAR-OLD.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My husband and I are expecting our fifth child. Our fourth child was born about 1 1/2 years ago. At that time, we experienced some financial troubles and I had to go back to work. We work opposite shifts to avoid the cost of daycare. Our marriage became pretty rocky.

My husband had fallen in love with a woman at his work. He admitted the feelings and has sworn he was not or ever would be physically unfaithful. He told me later that by admitting he had those feelings, they went away.

A year later he has remained friends with this woman. She now is going through a divorce. He thinks that it is funny that the rumors at work are that he broke up their marriage. He tells me that they are just friends and that is all that they will ever be. 

I would love to believe him, but it is extremely hard. Every time that I think about the time that they spend together, I feel very hurt. If I say anything, he says he loves me and he would never risk losing me.

Am I wrong? I am so confused, and I don't want to push him away by being insecure, but I can't help it. Please help.

You are not wrong. You are not insecure. There are boundaries in a marriage and they are being breached. Your husband is way out of line. There is a woman in the middle of your marriage.  

Your husband needs a new job and to distance himself as far as possible from this situation. Well-meaning people are caught by emotions all the time and blow up marriages and families. If there are rumors around about his behaviors, he has been out of line, even if he has kept his pants zipped. Others are watching. He has a wife and five children. It is not time for Fantasy Island. You may need to get a minister of your faith involved here or some other form of marital counseling. Stay strong and stay with your feelings. These will help preserve your marriage and family.



Dear Mrs. Web, 

I have been involved in a wonderful whirlwind romance. We are in our 40s. He has seemed to be the wonderful man I have been wanting in my life.

After 3 weeks of seeing each other, on New Year's Eve, he proposed marriage to me (on his knee and everything!). He gave me a family ring, but said he wanted to take me shopping to buy my engagement ring. He continued to tell me over the next month that he wanted to take me shopping. I dropped the hint that I did not want to pick out my ring, instead, wanted him to pick it out and surprise me with it.

I thought he would surprise me on Valentine's Day, but nothing happened. My friends started making snide remarks about him. In a fit of anger in March, I told him off about the ring that he said he would buy for me. I told him I doubted his intentions (but I didnít say it so nicely!).

When we were calm we discussed the incident, and he told me he was sincere about marriage. He said he felt there was no reason to come up with a ring, since the ring he gave me was good enough. I asked him why he said he wanted to go ring shopping, but he didnít really answer me. He said he wanted to marry me with in the next 12 months, and that he is afraid of marriage and failure.

It is June; I still have no formal engagement ring. My friends will not have anything to do with him because they feel he is not treating me well and tell me to dump him now.

Am I wrong to think that I am entitled to a formal engagement ring? Is he wrong for him to ask me to marry him, and then backpedal on the issue? Am I supposed to feel that the ring he gave me IS good enough? I have worn it on my middle finger since I received it. Money is not an issue here, believe me. Any advice for me?? 

You have a ring. He gave it to you when he proposed. He said he would take you out shopping for another ring. You gave him the hint that you wanted a ring he picked out and would surprise you with. When you were not surprised when you wanted to be surprised, you became hurt, upset, and demanding.

An engagement ring is a gift that seals a promise. It is not entitlement. One doesnít demand a gift. You have a promise, sort of. There is no date set for your wedding. That part does not seem to be moving forward. I donít actually count anyone really engaged until there are definite plans for marriage. He says he has a fear of "relationship failure." Donít we all!

It sounds like you both need to talk about your plans and your expectations about the future. Look at my listing of Topics to Discuss before Marriage to help you both to broaden your communication and get to know each other better.

I do not understand your friends. They seem inappropriate and out of line. This ring issue is between you and your beloved. To have friends give advice or their perspective is one thing; to have friends involved and punishing your beloved seems way out of bounds. A lack of a second engagement ring is not a mistreatment. Do you have good boundaries about your relationship with this man or are you discussing details best left private?



May 31, 2001


In-Law Woes, and 

How to Make Our Relationship Last?


Dear Mrs. Web,

I have been married for four years. My husband and I have one child and are very happy; however; when his parents come to visit it is difficult and unpleasant. 

They leave me out of conversations and activities, they try to control everyone, and they say mean, inappropriate things to me.  During these times, my husband does not support or defend me. I know my husband loves me but he has a difficult time standing up to his father.

I am beginning to resent my husband because of this. I have discussed my feelings with him and he understands, but he always has excuses for his parentís rudeness. I do not want him to argue with his parents, but when they are out of line, I expect him to intervene on my behalf. I really need an objective opinion on this matter.

I think you have a legitimate concern. I also think some people take a long time to find their voices around their parents. Your husband is finding it difficult to fulfill his first commitment, which is to you. His fear of or allegiance to his parents is interfering.

This is something you both need to work on together. Think of the different options that you both have, and see if you can come up with a workable first step. He doesn't have to be belligerent or negative with them. Maybe the both of you initially need to just leave the room when they are acting up.

You can state how you feel, "Gosh, that hurt my feelings," or "Did you really mean to say I am a shoddy parent?" Use a calm voice, even a slightly disbelieving one. He can just restate what you said, "I think you have just hurt Janeís feelings. Please donít."  Let them respond.  Don't argue, though.  Instead, change the subject.

The first steps in setting up boundaries where people have been historically trampling over them are always challenging. They may try to trample harder for a while, so things may get worse before getting better. It is not that they are getting meaner; instead, they are attempting to assert a previously held "right."

The best way to handle mean or thoughtless people is to detach emotionally from their difficult behaviors, decide what you donít want to deal with, and with a touch of kindness, tell them to stop. Give them grace, people do forget and backslide. Just point it out each occasion it occurs. Habits usually stop in about three months.


Dear Mrs. Web,

I have been dating a man for three months and I love him. He loves me too and tells me that he has never felt this way about anyone. He said he is committed to our relationship for the long run. At this time, our relationship is long-distance. How can we make it work? I am frustrated and want to see him all the time.

In addition, I am afraid the feelings we have are the same ones everyone gets in the first months of a relationship. I am even thinking of moving out there to live with him. How do I know whether this is the real thing?

You are correct. You are having the intense feelings that come with a new relationship. These feelings will die out, that is normal,  and how you structure your relationship, expectations and future will determine whether you are a short-term couple or in it for life.

The only commitment that has any decent chance of surviving is marriage. So, if you have a good thing and want to carry it into the future you should be thinking about how marriage would work with your beloved. Statistically, people who live together prior to marriage are more likely to divorce than people who do not play house before the nuptials.

I support courtship as a way for couples to discover more about each other and clarify themselves to each other. See my Bookshelf for more information on courtship. Also, see my Topics to Discuss with the Beloved .  

If you use the time apart to plan together and work for a future, it will not be as difficult to be separated.  Communication is important.  Working for a desired future often makes hearts light and hopeful.


Attractive Younger Woman and Two Returned Emails




Normally Dear Mrs. Web emails her responses to her correspondents within 24 to 48 hours. However, sometimes after 4 to 8 days letters are returned undelivered. If you have not heard from Dear Mrs. Web, it is because your email server is not accepting her reply. Dear Mrs Web always responds or sends an acknowledgement that she has received your letter. She knows how hard you work on these letters and she is honored to receive them. The second two letters in this column today are from the dead letter file.


Dear Mrs. Web,

Normally, I'm comfortable around women. I date fairly regularly. However, a month ago, I noticed a woman in her mid 20's, who started working at a marketplace near my office. I go there almost every day for lunch. 

Because this woman is probably several years younger than I am, I shouldn't be intimidated. However, every time I get ready to approach her and say "Hi," I lose my poise and walk away. 

Is this something that happens to other guys? What would cause such a "slump"?

Dear Mrs. Web is often unnerved by handsome, younger men, particularly her five year old. "Honey! Please donít drive nails into the aquarium!"

No, I donít think you are going through adolescence again! But I do think that you are reacting to her youth and appearance much the way an adolescent reacts to an attractive young woman, viscerally and sometimes even physically.

Yours is not the first letter I have received from men who are unnerved by younger women. There is something about your attraction to this woman that overwhelms your normal poise. Evaluate what that is so you will be able to install appropriate emotional distance so your feelings donít overwhelm you.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I am a woman, 27 years old with a 2-year-old. My childís father and I have been together for 5 years; the last three years have been difficult with separations. We married this past December, separated once, and are now beginning divorce proceedings. We both have been cruel to each other, but he has done a couple of truly outrageous things.

When we separate, Dear Mrs. Web, I begin by hating him. After a few months I begin missing him and want our family back together. I realize things havenít changed but I still get lonely.

I am involved with another guy who has always been supportive to me throughout this. As wonderful as my boyfriend is, I really miss my husband. I just canít shake him. What should I do? Should I stay in the marriage and make it work?

You sound confused and needy. I donít know whether you should be with your husband or not, but I think it is important for children to be raised with both their parents if possible. I think that the two of you should get in some intensive marriage counseling Ė at least 18 months worth. Twice a week initially, if possible. I am assuming, of course, he is not hurting you or your baby.

You both have been dancing around for five years now and your dance has produced a little one who needs two loving, committed parents. It is time for you both to stop playing games and hurting each other and begin acting like grownups.  That is what you both want out of your lives together, isnít it?

By the way, there is nothing like a boyfriend in the wings to make it difficult to fully commit and give everything to a relationship. It is an effective armor against full commitment.



Dear Mrs. Web,

Three years ago, I met a woman in my major at college. We started dating and had a child together. We had some tough times but we stayed together. Then I had some personal problems and we broke up.

We both became involved with other relationships but they failed and we ended up seeing each other again, sporadically. My personal problems have cleared up and I have done well.

Now she tells me she does not want us to get back together, but she does continue to be intimate with me. She says she feels guilty that we are not married.

Her mother does not approve of me yet she invites me over when her mother is not home. Sometimes she says the oddest things. We were discussing something I was planning to do and we had a small disagreement. She suddenly stopped and said, "Well, we are not together so it really doesnít matter how I feel." 

When I asked her whether it was a bad thing to be together, she said no. So a few days later with a lot of pondering behind me I risked and emailed her and told her I still loved her and would like to maybe get together. She wrote back mentioning the little disagreement we had and felt we would "kill" each other.

She seems to like me and then she says no, not right now. How do I approach her about my desire to be with her without her becoming upset or defensive? Should I wait for this relationship?

I cannot answer this question without knowing one thing, where is the baby? Creating a baby with someone changes the relationship.



May 29, 2001


The Under-Performing Teen



Dear Mrs. Web,

I am a single parent with a 15-year old daughter.  She is a freshman in high school. We are not having any great problems except for her grades in school. She has been on a downward spiral in math, science, and history, from C's at the beginning of the year to F's in all three subjects. She does well in her literature and writing classes.

At each progress report, we go through a little dance. We talk about her grades, she claims she is trying and when the report card arrives, she is failing.

My daughter is smart, funny, bright, and a quick learner, but when it comes to those subjects, something is wrong. The teachersí all say that she could improve with more effort. She talks in class, works below potential, is missing homework, and needs to pay attention. Her guidance counselor at school recommends that I check her homework every night, that she has an assigned time for homework, that she has no television, telephone, or other privileges. I also got the "you should be more involved in her life" lecture.

I am my child's only parent, I have tried these suggestions before, and they donít work with her. I work 40+ hours a week, and have been diagnosed with an exhaustion syndrome a few months ago.

My parents and sisters are very supportive, but I canít see involving them because it would only be more of the same, nagging and getting nowhere.  My daughter is just beginning to become independent and I am not sure whether her behavior is related to her attempts at independence.

I have asked at school if she could be tested for a learning disability. Officially, the response has been that they do not feel it is needed. The special education department head suggested we have a meeting next autumn.

I have done a lot to try to change her behavior: I have expressed my concern, my disappointment, my sadness at her grades, my anger at her lack of ambition, I have tried to help with homework, I have arranged for her to have counseling, and I have also just let her stew in her grades.

Nothing works. We are no closer to solving the problem than before. I think she is aware of the effort she has to put in. I am about to tear my hair out in frustration. Please tell me if I am doing something wrong.

This is a great problem. You have an under-performing 15-year-old. She has clearly had to abilities to make it this far in school and has become undisciplined.  I donít know where her dad is but if he can be brought into the picture to help, you could work together as a coordinated effort.

Of course, she is intelligent. The toughest kids to parent can be the bright ones. She knows how to wear you down. She knows if she just keeps slacking off you will give up and she wonít have any consequences. Except the long-term ones of only being educated enough to flip burgers.

To be honest, you seem to be trying to pass off this tough part of parenting to the special needs department of her school. You and your family have to become involved here instead of giving  her a convenient label to ease your conscience. You have teachers telling you what this kid needs, consistent riding, boundaries, and for you to be more involved.

I imagine she has played you like a violin for a while. Young teens are a lot like 2-year-olds. Heck, recent brain research has recently shown that young teens actually have the same changes happening in their brains that two-year-olds experience. Because of these changes they often cannot fully comprehend cause and effect and follow through on it. They need authoritative, loving, involved parenting.

They need boundaries, firm limits and clear, meaningful consequences. You do not have a miniature adult on your hands, although at times, she does look and act like one. You have a child who needs your guidance, direction, and limits.

Her teachers are saying you need to check her homework.  Have her come home with teacher-signed assignment pads. Each teacher signs it each day,  even if there is no assignment.

Be with her while she does her homework every night, and be in the school every week catching up with the teachers to make sure she is participating and improving. You have family members who are willing to help, lucky you!! Coordinate with them and the teachers involved and to help eliminate this rebellious lack of discipline.  

Defiance takes many forms in life, this is one of the most common.  You will need to list out her privileges. Dear Mrs Web thinks that three hots and a cot, safety, warmth, and health care are her only rights. Everything else she has or does is a privilege.

No television, radios, CDs, no shopping, no going out after school, no friends over, no sleepovers, no mall, nada. She needs to earn these and any other privilege by improved performance. If she were mine, I would sit her down with my family and graciously, kindly and firmly tell her the new rules.

Also, assure her if there is not a noticeable and immediate  improvement in her behavior, Mom (or an other designated family member) will be going to school with her everyday. They will sit next to her in all her classes to help her focus on her work so she can have the grades she needs to assure her a productive future. Couch this with caring words, as her mother you are concerned about her future. Always talk to her in a matter-of-fact tone and without anger, even if you have to step away and return to the issue later.

It is time for you to do this part of your job as mother.  I am not trying to minimize your illness or heavy schedule. This will not be easy.  However, this is a time to rely on others, drop every other ball possible, and focus on your daughter. Right now.




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