Holiday wars damage Marriage Town.

Holidays are difficult for families because of all the things we plan and how they clash with what other people want and plan. Then, show up to family events and throw in the personalities of people who have no filter with the people that do, and you have holiday wars.

For the people who want and plan you will deal with, “I want you to go to Grandma’s on Christmas Eve,” while you say, “Well I want to visit my husband’s family,” and on and on. When you’re single, it’s relatively easy because you there’s usually just one or two families to deal with, but when you marry you’ve got those plus the wishes, desires and obligations of someone else. A lot of damage can be done to the relationship if you don’t know the best way to handle it … so here are some relationship felonies you’ll want to avoid:

1. Changing plans at the last minute. You had agreed to go to your husband’s Aunt Thelma’s house on Sunday for a holiday brunch and moments before it’s time to leave, you make an excuse and bow out, but he knows the truth. Your husband angrily goes alone, but when he gets back you’ll find your plot to manipulate will backfire. Spouses get insanely angry when they see their partner make up excuses to get out of things, and if you do it at the last minute and leave them to handle the mess, and you do things like that repeatedly, your married days could be numbered.
2. Dropping a serious bomb on the family during an event. If you’re one of those who likes to drop bombs into pleasant family events, then watch people run when they see you coming. Telling your sister-in-law you saw her husband kissing Mrs. Santa Claus in the backseat of a car at the Christmas dinner in front of everyone is not the time or the place, and your spouse will probably be so mortified that you be getting a well-deserved dressing down when you get home, as well as the title of loose cannon. Reasonable people don’t want to be associated with loose cannons.
3. Not standing up for your spouse to an offending family member. Did members of your family go for the verbal and/or emotional killing of your spouse while you did nothing? If so, I wouldn’t want to be you when I got home. Showing solid and definitive loyalty toward your spouse in front of others, especially your family, is the only right thing to do. Fail this test and your spouse will not only lose respect for you, they will question your love, and this is not good.
4. Getting visibly inebriated.

Do what you can not to damage your marriage during the holidays.

Do what you can not to damage your marriage during the holidays.

Don’t embarrass your spouse in front of your, or his, family, or anyone, for that matter. When a spouse has to make excuses for your inexcusable behavior I can assure you that your stock will be going down in their eyes, and could eventually crash.

To make it through the holidays with your marriage intact I recommend that a person be generous when it comes to accommodating their partner as far as where your time will be spent, and be on your best behavior when around friends and family. Do show up, and try to enhance each holiday experience for your spouse. Flexibility and a positive attitude will serve you well in the marriage arena, and in the rest of your life as well.

Family relations in a digital world.

man with computer hit by boxing glove social media cybermobbing and cyberbullying ,  mobbing and bullying concept isolated on white background

man with computer hit by boxing glove social media cybermobbing and cyberbullying , mobbing and bullying concept isolated on white background

Recently a couple who’ve been together four years and are now separated came in for an assessment, and the girlfriend had her arms crossed and was glaring at him out the corner of her eye.

”I’ll be thinking everything is wonderful in our relationship, and then he’ll send me a text blasting me and telling me how unhappy he is. It’s totally out of the blue and it freaks me out!”

I look over at her boyfriend and he says, “I hold it all in until I can’t take it anymore, and then I just don’t have the courage to tell her how I feel, so I text her.”

Good God, people! Could you be handling your relationship business any worse? Unfortunately, this couple is not unusual at all. The problems in this short scenario are:

  1. Storing up issues and not dealing with them individually as they come up.
  2. Using technology to communicate issues with your partner instead of a face-to-face conversation.

The new world of technology has changed relationships and has brought a whole new set of concerns for American families. In the old days we had to talk to our partners either face-to-face, answer a phone or write a note. Then came the fax machine, followed by caller ID, voice mail, cell phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, video conferencing, texting and more to get the communication job done. What I tell my clients is, if you live in the same town and are going to have any sort of serious conversations with your significant other about your relationship, face-to-face is the only adult way to do it. The rest of the technological advances should be used regarding mundane details and logistics like what time to pick up the kids and funny and flirty thoughts and ideas.

One of my favorite ways to communicate with my husband is through text, for example. I might tell him I’m going to be late from work or that the dog needs to be let out. I might send him a pic of a beautiful landscape, a funny or exasperating situation I’ve seen, a link to something interesting or a smiling selfie saying, “I’m thinking of you!”

Keep in mind that as your partner goes about their day, a text or email message or public statement on Facebook needs to be something that produces logistics information or neutral or positive thoughts and ideas. Far too many people use texting and email to bring up disappointments and to start or continue a fight, and use Facebook as a dumping ground for their personal problems. Why? Because they don’t have the patience to wait, nor the guts to do it face-to-face. My opinion is that if you don’t have the courage to take on difficult conversations in person like an adult, you are too immature to be in a relationship. And yes, most people are too immature to be in relationships. That is why so many people are unhappy, and so many people get divorced.

With that in mind, I’d like to list some things we should never-ever send by text or email, or post in or to any other electronic method:

  • Lewd, nude, or X-rated photos of ourselves or anyone else, or that demeans them in any way. First of all, why would you want a digital record of nudity anyway? Second, this may be used against you later. It’s always best to keep your side of the road clean!
  • Anything that would embarrass someone. No one needs to be made uncomfortable with inappropriate content, so don’t do it. As a good example, in 2013 Irish golfer Rory McIlroy broke off his engagement to Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki when she posted a photo on Twitter of him sleeping with his mouth open.
  • Anything that is preachy or judgy or meant to instruct or teach someone a lesson, or show them how to be a better peson, without their invitation or permission. This is a terrible thing to do no matter how you deliver it.
  • Any serious earth-shattering news regarding your relationship that even your partner doesn’t know and doesn’t want known such as, “I want a divorce,” or “I am pregnant with Jeffrey’s child.” If what you have to say will be distressing, you need to keep it in the family.
  • Absolutely do not fight electronically. Things such as what angered, frustrated or disappointed you in your significant relationship or any relationship, such as, “I am really mad about how you behaved in front of my boss last night,” or “My Aunt Sue will pay the price for what she has done!” should be dealt with person-to-person, face-to-face or not at all.
  • Anything you don’t want kept on permanent record that could be used against you.
  • When it comes to technological communication, do unto others as you would have done to you.

The idea is for all of us to get along in a (new) world where messages and postings stay around forever. If you send a nude photo of yourself at age 19 for grins to your friends, know that it may be an obstacle to getting that job you long for at age 34. As you email, text and post, leave a positive and respectful digital trail, and if you’re upset with someone, call them up and ask to meet for coffee so you can deal with it head-on, or leave it be. Set your intention to be a person that exhibits maturity, human decency, and compassion toward yourself and others.



Five years without you: A memoir of life without my son.

Benjamin's graveside service at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX in October 2011. from Left, Benjamin's best friend and Marine escort, Jeremy Laster, Benjamin's sister Casey, Mom Becky, and her husband John Cheairs.

Benjamin’s graveside service at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX in October 2011. from Left, Benjamin’s best friend and Marine escort, Jeremy Laster, Benjamin’s sister Casey, Mom Becky, and her husband John Cheairs.

My precious son was killed on October 6, 2011, in a mother’s worst nightmare scenario on a ledge in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The details of what happened that Thursday afternoon have trickled in over the last five years as the family has taken bits and pieces from numerous sources to put it all together –we need and want to understand it.

My brain takes these pieces and plays the scenes in gruesome technicolor. Worse than any horror movie, it goes like this: Benjamin and his Marines Scout Sniper platoon had been trying to take down three Taliban snipers causing trouble in the area all afternoon. Perched on the right end of a huge horseshoe-shaped ledge, Marines are all over the area on other parts of the ledge and behind them. Benjamin has been laying on his stomach almost in a snuggling position with his face pressed against his fellow sniper’s shoulder in the role of spotter. They have killed two of the snipers, and are trying to take the last. The Marines stop to listen to the Taliban sniper fire so they can calculate his location and finish their business. In their line of work, every Marine in the area knows where the other
ones are, and their positions are frequently updated and confirmed.
Suddenly, five seconds of tank fire begin spraying the area where Benjamin’s Scout Sniper platoon is working. They all know immediately that is from their own group of Marines perched several hundred yards behind them. Benjamin and the other Marines stand to run for cover. Benjamin looks over his shoulder to see where the tank fire is coming from  … “Stupid bastard!” Benjamin thinks to himself. “You’re shooting at your own men, fool!” He turns to run, the shooting stops, then starts again for 5 seconds. The second spraying of bullets hits Benjamin. A bullet goes into the right cheek and goes straight through his brain and blasts through his skull in the upper left rear portion of his head. The camera rises and shows my son’s buddies running to him where he lays in an ever-growing pool of blood. He is gone and his body is shutting down in some sort of death convulsion. It’s a brutally ugly scene that will haunt them forever. They’ve lost their friend, and want to kill the men in the tank who made the decision to spray fire their way.
While this was going on, Benjamin’s family was going about their day in San Antonio, Texas, oblivious to what news
was about to come. Our lives would never be the same. Something so dear was gone forever due to unnecessary military stupidness.
I sometimes fantasize that I was there to hold him in those final moments. I should have been there with him in his darkest time. I get so sad, then angry. My anger is a response to my thoughts: I have been ripped off, why can’t I see my son grow up, why did the tank Marines do such a stupid thing, why!?
Then I think of the baby boy he was. So adorable, active, hilarious … and always fascinated with guns and war. This is the exact opposite of his mother, who has always hated those things. Raised in the 1960s when assassinations and war were on the news almost every day, I had long concluded I had no use for guns and violence. Believe me when I say I did my all to raise pacifist children, but Benjamin was drawn to be a Marine and could not resist the call to be a part of the Enduring Freedom war when the opportunity came.
I always imagine what might have been had he lived. I try to solve the mystery of who he was and where he was going by using information from his last phone calls, the messages he left, letters he wrote, conversations we had. It seemed
after a treacherous teen hood and college experience, he was finally maturing and becoming determined to get his life together. He wanted to focus on making the world a better place and have a family of his own. As a mom, I was ticking the days away until he would be out of the Marines forever, and then I could see if his words would turn to action. He had six months left in his 4-year commitment when he was killed.
There always will be so much pain, I think of it now as a chronic broken heart, but there are blessings, too. People can be so kind and thoughtful, and show such caring and love. I regret being such a numb zombie at the time to the point that I could not respond to everyone who reached out. I just couldn’t muster the energy. I continue to be so deeply touched and nourished when I hear from his friends from childhood, high school, college, and the Marines.
They tell me things about him I didn’t know, share stories, and tell me how much they love and miss
him. Hearing from them or spending time with them is like a healing medicine, and I can never get enough.
Then there were also people who I was sure would be there for us, and they were not. Some people just don’t know what to do or what to say, and some assume you are blanketed by throngs of loving friends and don’t need another. What I have taken from it is to never doubt that your friends need you and want to hear from you. I know now that I want to be a person who always shows up to let my friends and family know I am sorry for what they have lost, the pain they feel, and let them know that I care very much. I know how much that means.
One hugely important – and surprising – blessing in my American nightmare story comes from the connections made through social media, especially Facebook, since Benjamin died. Without such a resource I never would have come to know Benjamin’s fellow Marines, who reached out to me there. From the depth of my heart, no one or nothing can make me feel more unburdened or normal again as spending time with these boys who served with my son and loved him so much.
Just this year I met several of them in person and spoke with them for many hours. They all had similar things to say: he was an amazing and gifted Marine and Scout Sniper, he never judged anyone and would never join in bashing people, and they looked up to him as a person they wanted to emulate. Seeing their tears of pain, the fact that they made the effort to visit me, and feeling their love and caring was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I hope to have many more, as I know we help each other.
I was a member but barely used Facebook in 2011. The night I was told of his death I knew there were numerous people to call, but the thought was overwhelming.. Thankfully, my family offered to do it for me. Somehow I mustered the heart to call one person, Benjamin’s girlfriend Taylor Ryan, myself. Why? Because one of the last things Benjamin told me before he left for Afghanistan was, “If something happens to me I want you to be the one to tell Taylor.”
After I hung up from talking with her in one of the world’s saddest phone calls, I knew word would soon be spreading, and I really wanted my friends to hear it from me, so I went to Facebook and posted it there. During those first days we posted news about his memorial service and more so everyone would know what was going on. People began to reach out and post photos and stories that I still cherish to this day. A fellowship began to form. Since that time we have created a LCpl Benjamin Whetstone Schmidt memorial page on Facebook that hundreds of his friends have found and
joined. There we share photos, stories, memories, and talk about how much losing him hurts. Every time I see a new photo or video of him it makes me feel joy and happiness! It is like one more piece of news about him I hadn’t had before. The big jigsaw puzzle of Benjamin with so many missing pieces becomes clearer and more complete over time as more and more of his friends contact me and share what they have and what they know. There is nothing I appreciate more than my old and new friends of Benjamin staying in touch and keeping him alive with heir stories and in their hearts. Some of the new friends are caring Americans that I have never met and who never met Benjamin, but who found his story and reached out. The way people from across the country have contacted us and sent loving mementos is beyond thoughtful and so appreciated.
Part of the journey these past five years has included some crazy thinking. One of my crazy thoughts is how fortunate I am to have had my son become an honored war hero, as there are so many opportunities to honor him throughout the year. When your child is a war hero killed in action it is not deemed crazy to keep talking about him and celebrating his life year after year. I feel for the parents who don’t feel they have the freedom to do that, but I also encourage them to do it anyway.
I want to say a word about Benjamin’s sister, Casey Marie, who has already outlived her older brother by two years at age 26. The two of them grew up within the madness of their divorced family, and she has lost her only other witness to talk about all the nuttiness with. He was so special to her, and her to him, and it pains me to see her missing him so much. Parents get much sympathy when they lose a child, but siblings, not so much.
I spent the 5-year anniversary of Benjamin’s death doing things I love to do. It’s my husband’s birthday and we always go to dinner and do the gifts and cards, and because we are in California for a few days, we went for a mountain
bike ride on Mt. Tamalpais. Riding through the wooded trails I thought Benjamin would want me to be here, to keep living, to keep myself fully engaged in life, and I’m doing allI can to achieve that. As the day wears on, my heart gets heavier, the mind will play more movies.
The best blessing you could give Benjamin and his family is to let us talk about him, and for you to hold him in your heart for a few minutes on days such as this, and whenever you can.