Archive for December, 2007

December 30, 2007

I have a problem sibling….

by Rod Smith

“I have a problem sibling. My sister and I spent four long years not talking, much to my mom’s distress, and many other years bickering. We made up, mostly for my mother. It didn’t seem fair to me that I had to humble myself and beg her to let things go (even though the whole thing was almost entirely her fault) but I did it for the sake of family harmony. My children wanted to see their cousin (her son). We are now on speaking terms, but because of distance we only see each other once a year. She drives me crazy, but for that one short visit I just suck it up and smile.”

Congratulations. You are no doubt stronger and wiser for your humility and your enduring acts of reconciliation. As a result of your efforts your mother is potentially less anxious and your children get to see and know their cousin: everyone, including you, appears to gain.

It is not who caused the issue or the division that is as important as who is strong enough to facilitate the healing.

Besides, let’s remain aware: it takes at least two to tangle! (No, I did not mean to say “tango.”)

December 29, 2007

Our mother was upset over our sibling schism…

by Rod Smith

My elderly mother was very upset at Christmas because my brother (32) and I (29) are not speaking (to each other) and so we came to Christmas Day at her house at different times to make it easier for her. We didn’t plan to come at different times: it is something we’ve worked out without actually talking about it. Now she is not speaking to me. Please help. (Letter shortened)

Given your capacity communicate without “actually talking” with your brother, I’d suggest you each also possess the ability to find enduring reconciliation. I will remind you that it is likely that you will have a brother for longer than you will have a mother.

Finding peace with a brother, quite apart from alleviating the pain the schism inflicts upon your mother, is usually a good and healthy thing to do.

When families are split it is the stronger person, and not the guilty person, or the “problem” person, who holds the keys of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Approach your brother in a spirit of humility: it might surprise how open he is to embracing his estranged sibling, and, at the same time, you will each be giving your mother a belated Christmas gift she will not stop talking about.

December 26, 2007

Relatives consider moving her stuff…..

by Rod Smith

“My sister-in-law died two years ago and her husband is still grieving for her. He continues going to work everyday and is slowing starting to pick up his life. However, he has not yet disposed of her personal items. Some other relatives feel that he should have done so by now and they may be considering doing it themselves. I do not agree with them. Two years is not a long time. Please comment.”

Leave the man to do what he needs to do, and to do it in his own time. Of course meddling relatives ought to be persuaded to mind their own business, and to leave him and the belongings of the deceased alone.

December 26, 2007

He needs sex to maintain any kind of decent mood…

by Rod Smith

“I love my husband but he is sending me into an abyss. He’s become more and more jealous, insecure, and needy. He requires sex to maintain any sort of decent mood. I pay the emotional price if I don’t have sex every two or three days. He never admits to being controlling and I don’t think he believes he is. I have lost most of my sex drive. I am constantly fearful of crossing his moods. He says his mood cannot improve without sex. I feel it’s abusive to submit to something sexual when I am feeling hurt, sad, and exhausted. Are we in a catch-22? Is it unusual to have one’s libido destroyed by a requirement to provide sex?” (Edited)

Until you, not your husband, govern your internal (emotional, sexual, spiritual) life, things won’t improve. Control and love cannot co-exist within the same relationship.

Your husband’s belief that he needs sex (from you), more than you need kindness (from him), demonstrates his distorted, immature understanding of sex. It is this very misunderstanding which reduces sex into something cruel, divorcing the act from anything resembling love.

Of course your libido is diminished: you’re in an abusive cycle that won’t improve until you find and use your voice. I don’t doubt you THINK you love him (you believe you love him and cannot, at this point, conceive of NOT loving him) – but can you love him enough to stand up to him? His controlling behavior (and your submission to it) does neither of you any good.

December 26, 2007

Try (also) liking the people you love….

by Rod Smith

Sometimes liking (enjoying, being pleased to see) someone is even more powerful than loving someone. I’ve met a few men and women who, in trying to sound magnanimous or even holy who have declared: “I really love my son (or my husband, daughter, in-laws, pastor) but I just don’t like him (her, them) right now.”

Great! Thanks. What does one do when one is on the receiving end of such a “compliment”?

If you do not like a particular person whom you also confess to love, I’d suggest you have some homework to complete.

What is it about you that you cannot reconcile these two distinctly different responses (love and dislike) within you, when it comes to the very same person?

Of course, I understand that people whom we love can and will do some detestable things and sometimes must be censured for their objectionable behavior. But is confessed dislike the helpful response?

My challenge is, and I direct it as much to myself as I do to readers: work on yourself to the place where you like and also love the very same people.

December 23, 2007

Break a family tradition…..?

by Rod Smith

“For thirteen years my family has met at my brother’s house for Christmas. I want to have my family at my house but my brother says it is a tradition and he will not hear of it. Now I have to choose to invite my in-laws (the other side of the family) to my house at the cost of not going to my brother’s house. It would be helpful if my brother were a little more flexible. Please help.”

As an adult with your own immediate family I hereby grant you permission to have Christmas wherever you choose. The contest of wills with your brother will not be resolved before December 25th, 2007 since its origins are deeply embedded in your childhoods.

Sometimes growing up and having your own family involves a degree of “moving on” and I’d suggest you break this 13-year tradition and begin a few of your own.

December 22, 2007

Birthday Gift – or – My First Family Intervention (Part 1)

by Rod Smith

I think I was eleven. I might have been ten. I waited until Dad returned from the bar and until Mom and Dad were finished with the normal routine of shouting about his drinking and were finished with the attacks and counter attacks I had heard re-run for the full span of my life. I was very tired of it. When it was all said and done, all the topics covered, the room was quiet and she went into another room, I edged close to the wall and down the short hall between our bedrooms. I entered sideways to be less noticeable.

It had to be the two of us; I wanted no interference from anyone else in the family. I looked at him face-to-face.

“You’re a coward.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re a coward. I hate you.” The hate part I did not plan and wished I hadn’t said the moment it left my mouth.

I had his attention even though things were not going to plan. He turned red and sad and nervous. There was no backing down:

“If you’re not a coward, prove it by never drinking ever again.”

“I will.”

“Then sign this.”

From the pajama jacket pocket I took the contract:

“I, the undersigned Mr. E.W.G. Smith, will prove to my son, that from tomorrow (the date), onwards and forever, I will never drink again, ever.” Witness One, and Witness Two, and a line for E.W.G. Smith’s signature were at the bottom.

I could see his surprise as he read.

“I’ll sign it if I can have one drink on Christmas days only.”

I took the contract and I added with the way you add things to contracts that he could drink on Christmas days only. Forever.

I gave it back to him. He moved to sit up in his bed. I called for my mother to be the legal witness one and for my brother to be legal witness two, so when he awoke the next day and I showed him the signed contract, he couldn’t say that he did not sign it or that I had made him sign it or that he did not know what he was doing. I knew how contracts worked and for these reasons, I could not be one of the witnesses.

While there were some cynical comments from my witnesses, I was dead serious. He sat up in his bed. He signed it. I was happy about that. We were all happy. I had a good sleep.

He did not come out of his room for many days except to throw up in the toilet.

Mother took meals into him.

I heard her tell him how important this was to me, and that he could not let me down now.

I was sad when I heard him cry, but I knew I had done the right thing despite the pain he felt. He was “dry” (a word which I knew from books I had read) for a long time.

Everything was peaceful until midnight on the night I turned twelve or eleven cause my birthday is on Christmas Eve. He kept the contract perfectly and began with a bottle of brandy held up to his lips at exactly one minute past my birthday.

The next day, which was Christmas Day, he forgot there ever was a contract.

My whole body got very stiff in my back and my throat and my eyes not only until midnight on Christmas Day but for a very long time. I couldn’t wait any longer and in March of the following year, with the contract now perfectly broken, I threw the useless piece of paper away.

December 20, 2007

Friend gets offended if I don’t call….

by Rod Smith

“My friend and I talk on the phone a lot. Yesterday I was very busy and I forgot to phone. When I did he reamed me out like I was a schoolboy who did not do his homework. What do you think I should do?”

Apologize. Call him exactly on time the next time. Tell him you were very busy and that you are sorry for your insensitivity. Remind him that adults are better off when they offer each other the leeway to be late, opportunity to be wrong, and even the room to sometimes be insensitive.

Remind him your forgetfulness was not the result of malicious intent, but the result of being very busy. Tell him you love him, that you are pleased to be his friend, but that friendship with him would be very much more rewarding (for both of you) were he to grow up, develop a thicker skin, and resist talking to you as if you were a schoolboy who’d not done his homework.

December 18, 2007

First year of fourth marriage has been “down”…

by Rod Smith

“I have been married a year and it has been so down. My husband prefers drinking with his loser buddies than being around any positive people. I hardly see him. I feel like we are in a very early stage of a relationship. I have been married four times, and I think I am crazy! First, I was a teenage bride and my husband abused me, then the next had an affair. My new husband spends his days drinking after work and I get left out. He wants a mother. I am very intelligent except when it comes to love. I forgive and then I get shafted. I need some friends.” (Letter edited)

Intelligent is, as intelligent does. I’d suggest you get some individual, personalized, help about how to find out who you are and what you want. Clearly you are searching for something and are possibly looking for it in a few unwise places. While it is easy to place blame on all the “loser” men in your life, you are the one, common, factor.

December 18, 2007

Typos have a life of their own…. HELP!

by Rod Smith

I ordered the book containing the 450 columns and – to my dismay – found numerous typos. PLEASE, if while reading a column on this website, you trip over a typo, please drop me a comment so I can fix it!

In the meantime I have decided that typos are like ZITS:

Seven things to know about Zits (and typos):

  1. Zits appear in conspicuous places
  2. Zits emerge no matter how much you scrub
  3. Zits (on you) appear larger than they are
  4. Zits look worse if you try to fix them
  5. Zits go underground when you look for them
  6. Zits have a willful and perverse life of their own
  7. Zits collaborate – get one, and before you know it, three new ones appear

Typos are zits in print. Actually, typos are worse, they are like finding a fly in your soup, or a dead mouse in a box of cereal after you’ve just indulged in two bowls.

Don’t let my typos stop you from enjoying the Fourth Edition of A Short Course in Good Manners – see, I knew it was “Fourth” and not “Forth”. With the help of readers we’ll get the website cleaned up, too.

Oh for the day the copy editor could get her hands on the web just as she does before the column goes to print.

Thanks for your help,