Avoiding in law holiday disaster: Your spouse visiting your family’s house.

If you take your partner to your family’s house for the holidays, you better have their back.

One thing young American couples have in common is that in the first years of their marriage, they usually continue past Christmas traditions with each other’s families, often going back and forth from year-to-year or in one day if they live nearby, as the young bride and groom have not yet stepped into the stage of life where they become the matriarch and patriarch of their own family. Since our families come in all shapes and sizes, we will be dealing within a range from the most un-regimented, accepting, free and easy families to the rigid, nasty, boundary-less, rule-filled and judgmental kind. So, each new spouse needs to have an awareness of what they are dealing with, and that is why a pre-visit conversation should take place between the young pair that includes:

1. Understanding home family customs, traditions, expectations, and foibles. What are the family’s quirks and eccentricities? What do they love, what do they hate? Are they generally accepting of others? Should certain subjects be avoided? A discussion on how the visiting spouse can have the best time and have the most successful visit should be discussed.

2. Will we stay in the home with the family? If there is any question of how the new spouse will be treated, hotel, Air BNB reservations, or a request to stay at someone else’s house should be made. Protecting your new spouse from your family is a huge bond builder and is what any spouse hoping to have a thriving marriage must do. Think this way: I value my spouse’s comfort over my family’s, because when your married, your spouse comes first.

3. Home spouse must lay the groundwork prior to the visit with their family. The home spouse should speak with his/her family prior to the visit and get the lay of the land, set expectations and boundaries, and if necessary, let their family know that no family funny business will be tolerated when it comes to the visiting spouse. Treat the spouse respectfully, period. Once there, if the family blames, judges or negatively interacts with the new spouse, to their face or behind their back, the home spouse will always protect, defend, and side with the new spouse. If anyone talks to the home spouse about the visiting spouse negatively, the conversation is immediately shut down.

4. Do not succumb to home family pressure and control. During the visit, the couple should make decisions together about what they want and are willing to do, and then the home spouse is the spokesperson who sets the boundary. I strongly believe that if you are not able to set boundaries based on your partnership’s best interest, you aren’t ready to be successfully married.

5. Remember the Golden Rule. The wise old biblical rule of, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” is a wonderful guide to use when in doubt of what to do.

6. If it doesn’t go well. If, despite all your efforts, you and/or your spouse have a miserable time, don’t return a second time. Seriously. Part of growing up is to be able to stand in opposition to your family when they do not treat you and your family right. When you can do this, it means you are growing up.

By now it should be obvious that in a new marriage, a new spousal unit must be protected at all cost. A visiting spouse must have certainty that no matter what goes on in the home spouse’s family, he or she will have their back. At the same time, a home spouse also needs to know that the visiting spouse will also be kind, open, friendly, pleasant, respectful and helpful to his or her family while there. If you married someone where this is a concern, then good luck, because personal self-control and diplomacy are two qualities that help make marriages work, and lacking those qualities is a predictor of bad things to come. Also, I have seen spouses in my practice who insisted on the holidays being spent at their family’s house always, and they were not flexible on the subject. This presents all sorts of problems that are deeper than just the holidays alone and speaks to the person’s emotional immaturity, so sometimes the holidays show us who are spouse really is, or isn’t. Luckily, immaturity is a fixable thing.

Like many women, I have my own Harvey Weinstein-like stories.

Most women have been sexually harassed many times in their lives.

Although the story of Harvey Weinstein misusing his power and influence to sexually harass and abuse women is shocking to many, the pattern of his obnoxious and unconscionable behavior is nothing new to our culture. Indeed, most women can name more than one time in their life when someone like Weinstein tried to pressure them with unwanted sexual talk, physical contact or advances, including me.

One incident that comes to mind is when I worked for the Hearst-owned San Antonio-Express News  and was a very green and inexperienced reporter who was eager to learn and please. A managing editor from a Midland Hearst-owned paper came around the newsroom to meet everyone and see what the San Antonio paper was doing. He kept coming by my desk to chat throughout the day, and finally asked if I would go for a drink with him after work. I was a single mom, it was not my night with the kids, I thought I might learn something from him, so I said yes.

We got together and soon he began touching and trying to kiss me. I refused. We were having dinner in a restaurant and luckily I saw another reporter and her husband walk in, and I begged them to come sit with us. He continued his obnoxious and unwanted pursuit right in front of them. I was terrified to be too mean to him because in essence, he was a boss.

As soon as I took him back to his hotel I called my managing editor and told him what happened. Human Resources was brought in the next morning, the man completely admitted it, and what his punishment was going to be was all that needed to be decided. The paper begged me not to encourage his firing, as he was beloved by his staff in Midland. They promised they would demote him and see to it that he did not advance in his career, so I agreed.

A few years ago I checked to see what he was doing. Yep, he was editor of the newspaper – a huge promotion. So much for justice. I was told back then that I could sue the paper for all of this and expect to get about $40,000, but I would never be allowed to work in the newspaper business again.

I was labeled a troublemaker – shame on me for wanting a better world.

So you might understand why I had a reaction when reading that NBC quashed correspondent Ronan Farrow’s reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. By all accounts, Farrow had women ready and willing to tell their stories, and also had the damning secret recordings of Weinstein doing his ugly sexual bullying. At one point NBC told Farrow to stop pursuing the story altogether. Finally they released him to report it elsewhere, and the rest is history — like the Berlin Wall, Weinstein came tumbling down, and deservedly so.

Reading all of this caused me to remember numerous incidents in my own life like the one above, and still another one while reporting as a features writer and columnist at the Express-News in the late 1990’s. For two years as I was chief reporter for Fiesta, a 10-day long party fest and festival with numerous events and parades from morning til night. I knew almost everyone involved in every aspect of events.

There is a Fiesta King each year, crowned by a group of men known as the Texas Cavaliers. The Cavaliers is a by-invitation-only organization and at that time consisted of mainly privileged white men who were conservative old rich, though I know they have since sprinkled in some men of color. They wear outfits that are bright sky blue with red trim, that look eerily similar to Nazi uniforms, and organize a River Parade during Fiesta that is world-renowned.

A huge Fiesta tradition is collecting Fiesta medals, and King Antonio has medals he or his assistants pin on the public he encounters.

This particular year I was getting a lot of voice mails and emails (mainly anonymous) claiming that old King Antonio was using pinning medals as an excuse to stick his hands in women’s bras and cop a feel or a pinch. The more I looked into it, I found women who said it happened to them, and that their boyfriend or husband saw it and was furious and it was all they could do to keep their partner from throwing King Antonio a purple shiner to go with his fancy red plume. One woman who talked to me was a local news anchor.

I took it to the editor of the paper, and each time he told me to gather more information. Whatever I had was never enough. Finally, a man called me who was a Cavalier insider, and he told me that the King had commanded that all flat-chested women be pinned by his assistants, and big-bosomed women reserved for him. Another woman called and told me that the Party Pix guy, who roamed many of the events, had snapped a photograph of her with King Antonio pinning a medal on her, and in it you could see The King’s hand far inside her dress, which was a tank-like garden dress. I went to the Party Pix store, and after roaming through several hundred photographs, found the one she told me about and a few others.

I bought those photographs and the editor said it wasn’t enough. The story never ran, and I was pretty disgusted and disillusioned about it. This sort of editorial omission has been going on forever. Every reporter has seen it. If the editor rubs elbows with the people you have found some unpleasant truths about, the chances of the story running can be small.

I hope we are entering a new era where women can courageously speak out against any sort of violation perpetrated on them by men, and especially the ones who abuse their power and position, and find a media with the equal amount of courage to report it. How else will we ever change this dark piece of our culture?

In the end, I had gotten to know many Cavaliers because of my reporting of their many Fiesta events and participation, and we had an extremely cordial relationship. When word spread that I was working on a story about their King that wasn’t so positive, many criticized me to my face, and I was shunned by the organization and the men in it. So the person doing the investigating risks isolation or personal and professional damage. Something all whistleblower types know a lot about. This is why so many women don’t speak out. The finger gets pointed at us. We become trouble-makers and lose friends and goodwill in the community and workplace.

As for me, I am grateful that this may be coming to an end. We all have to have to have the courage to fight for what is right, and men need to learn to treat us with respect, without exception. http://www.texascavaliers.org/

How The World Screws Us Up

Common things people say and do that screw us up.

A therapist’s life can be complicated. We go to school and intern for years, we study, write and read a zillion books and articles, we do research and walk away with a bunch of extremely helpful knowledge about how to be happier, healthier, and a better person and family member. The fact that we aren’t allowed to tell every dysfunctional person we see out in the world how they can apply what we know to their life stinks. Why can’t we do it?

1. Counseling ethics dictate that we can’t pursue people for therapy. They have to come to us.
2. Appropriate boundaries for all of us means acknowledging that all adults have free will to do as they please, so long as it doesn’t cause damage or hurt others. Unsolicited fixing and advice is a boundary violation.

So, since I can’t say anything to anyone unless they ask, here is what my life can be like:

• A couple at the grocery store verbally lashing out at their child and I walk past with zipped lips.

• A couple obnoxiously bicker and make cutting remarks to one another at a dinner party while I glance down, digging my nails into my thighs under my napkin.

• Someone says something on television or in the media that I know will reinforce some wrong or misleading idea that will influence people negatively.

So, it can be difficult to know what I know and sit back and observe the things people say, but I can write about them in a blog so long as I don’t call anyone out. So here goes:

He’s so selfless. The person saying this means it as a compliment and I wince each time I hear it. The average person will deduct from this that is not OK to do for yourself, which is not true. In fact, it is necessary to put yourself first and to make sure you’re healthy and happy in mind, body, and spirit before you can start doing for others.

All that attention and love is going to spoil her. As far as I know, there is not an amount of attention, love, time and affection that is too much. Give all you can, whenever you can. The only issue here is to make sure your giving nature doesn’t create expectations, and you do that by setting boundaries with the people you do things for.

That’s selfish. I hate this word and think it should be removed from the English language as it also discourages lack of self-care. Selfishness is lack of consideration for others. To do nice or generous things for yourself is not selfish.

Well, that girl is one who follows her own drummer. When I’ve heard this, the speaker usually meant that the person was different in a bad or look-down-your-nose way, with the implication that if you are outside the box there is something wrong with you. This will encourages those who are different from the rest to feel bad about themselves.

She thinks she’s better than anyone else. This should never be said. Most people that are judged in this way are simply shy and introverted, and may even have social anxiety. They give off the impression that they aren’t interested in others, but the truth is it causes them such inner turmoil to interact that they just stay away. Anyway, it is a boundary violation to guess or assume what other people think or feel, or why they do what they do. Instead of assuming, why not ask the person themselves about it?

These patterns of communication screw us up because of what will be insinuated from them. People often don’t feel safe to let others know what they’re thinking, feeling or doing out of fear of hearing stuff like I listed above. My advice is to do be yourself, do what you want so long as it doesn’t hurt you or others, and forget about what about what society judges will say. I promise you that they don’t know what they’re talking about, anyway.