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Teetering in Trenton

  • Posted on October 2, 2016 at 9:46 pm

Dear Christine,

I’ve done something really impulsive and now I’m afraid to tell my husband. Each year his family comes in from out of town and stays with us for Thanksgiving for a 4 day weekend. That includes mom, dad, brother, his wife and three young kids. I love him. I’ve put up with his family who are still a bit judgey about the gay thing for 6 years now. I’ve been kind and gracious, I think, but I will lose my mind if I have to deal with them this year. I haven’t told him yet but I bought an airline ticket to visit my friend in New Mexico for that weekend. I can’t even work up the nerve to tell him. Now that I’ve done it I feel really guilty. What should I do? I’m teetering between getting out of town and cancelling my reservation. I’ve never even really told him how much I dread these visits. I love him so much. help!

Teetering in Trenton

Dear Teetering,

Seriously?!  You are married to your husband, co-hosting his “judgey-about- gays” family for Thanksgiving for not 1, not 2, not 3 but SIX years.  And it never crossed your mind to tell him that you dread these visits?  And you think he has no clue as to your actual feelings of dread? What kind of marriage is this?  Apparently, there is no honesty about what each of you need and how either one of you feel!  My prediction is that this marriage can’t last long.

Trust is one of the fundamentals of a healthy relationship.  Trust comes from being vulnerable, honest and open with your spouse.  It’s not easy.  It’s not fun.  But it’s entirely necessary to build trust.  It would seem that your husband values his family coming to visit at Thanksgiving each year, despite their moral stance.  Seriously, you have never said a word to him about how difficult this annual ordeal?!  Time to change that!

You can keep your reservations for New Mexico if you don’t tell him, but you might think about looking for a job and an apartment there while you are visiting your friend.  I’m not sure your husband will appreciate your surprise disappearance.  Or you can just fess up to your husband and let him know just how uncomfortable you are with his family visiting and see if he is willing to graciously let you out of this co-hosting of his family.  Or you can cancel the tickets and fess up to your husband that you’ve been hiding the real you from him for six long years and see if he gets your misery or feels hurt and angry.  Your choice.

Physics teaches that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  No matter what you decide to do or when you decide to do it, there will be a reaction.  You choose what is the best course for you and for your marriage.  If you have any hope of this being a long-term marriage, I’d suggest cancelling the tickets and then telling all to your husband.  And I mean all.
Maybe he’ll understand your desperation and give you the green light to avoid his  “judgey” family.  Maybe he won’t understand and resent your cowardice.  I don’t have a clue.  Good luck to you, but just remember, honesty is the best policy and the sooner the better.  This would have been a really good conversation in year 1 or 2.

Take care,
Christine Cantrell, PhD

Psychologist

Torn in Trenton

  • Posted on August 21, 2016 at 7:02 pm

Dear Christine,

I just turned 50 last week and it hit me. I’m finally ready to come out. I’ve led the life I thought I was supposed to for all these years. Married 22 years, two kids who are now 18 and 20 years old, and a successful career in auto sales.  I’ve never cheated, never sought out the gay community until now.  I put in some search words to find out how to handle this and found you. I’m ready to do this but need a push.  How do I do it without hurting the people I love and where do I start?  My plan is to come out at work as well as to my wife and kids. I’m terrified and have no idea how this will play out. 

Thanks, Torn in Trenton

Dear Torn,

Good question.  How do you come out and not hurt the people you love?  I don’t know if that’s possible. It sounds like you have lived your life according to others’ expectations and it isn’t working for you.  You love your family.  But you haven’t been you, who you really are, at your core.

The start is being honest with yourself about who you are and what you are feeling.  Then, you start telling people you trust.  People who can accept you for who you are.  Get some support for yourself as you go through this.  Get into psychotherapy with a gay affirming therapist.  Join a Coming Out group at Affirmations www.goaffirmations.org in Ferndale.  Find people who will listen non-judgmentally and with understanding.  http://www.goaffirmations.org/programs-services/support-discussion-groups.

Perhaps you don’t need a push.  You will know when it is the right time to tell family members.  They will not hurt less if you don’t tell them.  And perhaps some of them have seen this in you all along, or have wondered about you.  It’s a scary time, but give those you love a bit of time and space to deal with this.  You have been struggling through this for a while now, maybe even 22 years or more!  Your family will need support too.  Individual psychotherapy and  family counseling can help, and there are free support from groups such as PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).  There is a chapter, PFLAG Detroit www.pflagdetroit.org that meets monthly on the second Sunday at 2 pm in Troy at the Lutheran Church on Crooks Road just north of 16 Mile.  Their website has a page on Our Friends and Allies at http://pflagdetroit.org/Friends_Web_Links.html.  This list may open more doors to support and information for you and your family.

If your wife does not have an inkling, this can be very hard for her.  The hardest is if you are in love with a man and you’ve finally accepted yourself, and you are finally happy.  She could feel rejection, low self worth and find it difficult to be glad for you.  She may feel lied to an betrayed.  She may be understanding and relieved as this piece of information may make sense to her about you and the marriage.

Give your family and friends space and time to adjust.  Encourage them to talk to you and share their experience.  If they can’t share with you, then offer them resources such as PFLAG to assist them in adjusting to your new reality.

I have watched families go through this  situation.  There may be a time of distance, hurt or misunderstanding, but over time, sometimes months, sometimes years, the love can find a way to continue among all of you.  Keep in touch and let me know how your coming out process goes.  Take care,
Christine Cantrell, PhD

Psychologist

Neutral in Novi

  • Posted on July 18, 2016 at 5:50 am

Dear Christine, My wife “Mary” and I have a beautiful, smart, well adjusted 12 year old son.  When we decided to have a child we made a decision that we would raise him to know both of our religions as well as educate him about other faiths so he could make his own decision.  This decision came out of a compromise we made years ago. “Mary” is very Catholic and I am a non-practicing Jew who didn’t want her son raised Catholic without exposure to other options.  It’s turned out to be an educational experiment and we have purposely tried not to sway his decision.  Last night our son came to us and announced that after thinking really hard about it, he doesn’t want to participate in any religion.  He said he thinks they are all just a bunch of made up stuff and there’s no truth to any of it.  I’m thrilled about his choice, My wife is quite upset and is telling him he needs to continue to go to church with her at least until he turns 18.  Needless to say, we have a problem.  I think he is old enough to make his own decision, but maybe that’s…

Fertile in Farmington

  • Posted on January 26, 2016 at 10:24 am

Dear Christine,  

Hi there, My partner and I have been together 8 years–our anniversary is this week– Yeah!!  Celebration time!!!  We’re ready to start our family, and decided to go the “known donor” route so the child would be able to have some awareness of who their biological father is… Here’s the problem: none of the men we’ve approached (and don’t misunderstand, they’ve all been pretty together, gay-positive men) have been able to “handle the idea”. They say things like “How could I handle having a child, but not really being a father,” or “I would feel too responsible to the child.”  Geez, where are all the totally irresponsible men I dated before I figured out who I really am? They were only too happy to let ME worry about contraception back then. Why have the rules changed now? Talk about irony. We spend half our fertile lives before we’re mature enough to know who we are and what we want trying NOT to get pregnant and the other half trying desperately trying to. Sometimes, life sucks!

Signed, Fertile in Farmington

Dear Fertile in Farmington,

Congratulations on your readiness to start a family! Yeah, the timing isn’t so great for you, looking for a “together, gay positive man” to donate some sperm and be known to the child that results. Apparently, in the time you matured in your lesbian relationship, those “irresponsible” men have grown up too! Respect these men for taking your request seriously and sincerely. If you are going to have a “known” father for your child, he definitely needs to be on board with the whole fathering part, even if he is only known from a distance. Many men have strong feelings about wanting to be known or never known by their offspring. I heard a BBC story on the radio a few years ago about a sperm donor who was discovered by his 15 year old son several years back. Apparently the sperm donor donated sperm to help an infertile couple have children, much as you or I might donate blood to help someone else we’ll never meet. However, as the son grew up, he became curious about his parentage, and had access to the Internet, and was able to get his DNA checked, and realized that there were few other people in the UK with the particular markers of his DNA. He started calling people with the surname that was most common with these markers, and pretty soon found his sperm donor father. The father couldn’t have been more shocked! He had no idea he had a child out there, and never ever expected or wanted any contact with that child. Some agencies will help you get sperm from a donor, and a year after the child is born, they will contact the donor and see if he would like to be known. He is aware that this policy before donating, so he won’t be caught off guard as this British man was. Check for one of these sorts of agencies to see if you can get a ‘known” donor. Whatever way you choose to bring a child into your family, I wish you the best. Good luck to you both.

Christine Cantrell

Not Quite Out in Oxford

  • Posted on December 30, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Dear Christine:  

 My girlfriend and I have been together for a year, and maybe I moved in too fast(second date…) but I’m having a hard time with her relationships with her family. Her two daughters live with us half of the time and half with their father. I am very close to the girls and they talk with me all the time, and tell me that they love me and even come into our bedroom at night to kiss their mom goodnight, and me! My girlfriend isn’t gay, and she’s isn’t comfortable telling the girls, or anyone else in the family, that we are in love and we are a couple, and with the girls, we really are a family. Her family is involved with Christmas, and last year, we pretended I was just living there for a while, to help them out. She wants me to move out of the bedroom, so her sister and brother-in-law can have her bedroom when they visit for Christmas. That’s the living end for me! I’ve been out and proud for over 20 years, and I just feel like a maid. I’m “the help”, helping with the household, cooking, driving kids around etc, but not given the respect of being family! My girlfriend has been telling me all year that she wants to tell her family, but that she’s not ready. I’m afraid she’s never going to be ready, and I feel like I’m going crazy. Help! What do I do to not feel like a maid, but be a part of this family? Signed,  Not quite out in Oxford

Dear  Not Quite Out in Oxford,

The holidays are such a stressful time, even without the pressures of coming out to family! Sounds like you have a very loving and good relationship with your girlfriend and her children, and that’s wonderful. Since you’ve been out forever, and she never saw herself as lesbian before, it’s really important to give her space and time to figure out how to acknowledge this relationship with her family. I would be surprised if the kids haven’t figured out that the two of you are a couple, saying good night to both of you in your bedroom! Kids are pretty sophisticated and aware these days. They may not know the labels, but clearly they feel connected to you, and treat you like family, not a maid. I’m not recommending you move out of the bedroom for visitors, as I don’t recommend a couple in their own home give up their private space to others. One example of why, is the story I heard recently. A man stayed overnight at a friend’s house, and she let him use her bedroom. He opened a bedside drawer, looking for a clock, and he found some handcuffs! Clearly, she hadn’t expected him to go in the drawer! He found it very embarrassing to see her the next morning, thinking “Good morning Mrs. Handcuffs” but tried to keep cool and be appropriate. When he thinks of that friend, the handcuffs are the first thing that comes to mind. So, keeping your privacy is important, both yours and your girlfriend’s. Keep talking with your girlfriend about her process, but back off of any ultimatums. Listen to her thoughts and feelings, and trust the love that you and she and her children share. Love conquers fear, always. Trust your girlfriend’s process and hopefully she will tell her family directly, soon.

Good luck!

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD.
Psychologist
christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Fearing Regret in Redford

  • Posted on August 24, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Dear Christine,

I grew up with catholic, republican, homophobic parents.  My dad passed 20 years ago and my mom is 85 and starting to have health issues.  I’ve never come out to her and we’ve never talked about the issue though I’ve always figured she must know or suspect.  She gave up asking for grandkids years ago.  I’ve had a “roommate” for 15 years and we’ve kept the appearance of not sharing a bedroom when my mom is over.

My question is, should I come out to her while I still have a chance?  I fear I will regret it if I never fully share who I am with her.  I guess I want her to love and accept the real me.  I’ve been weighing the pros and cons and need to make a decision soon.  The downside is if it will upset her too much as gays “go to hell” you know.

Fearing Regret in Redford

Dear Fearing Regret,

My gut feeling upon reading this is that you want reassurance to come out to your mom.  Fear is about the future and regret is about the past.  I don’t hear that you regret not having come out to your dad and that you are ok with having lived a “don’t ask, don’t tell” life with your mom.  You are right, she probably knows your truth.  What you and I don’t know is whether she will be able to cope with that truth being spoken.  Many conservative, religious, homophobic parents go into the closet when their child comes out.  They then have to try to reconcile the beliefs they have held for so long that are judgmental of their child they love.  PFLAG has helped many parents figure out how to hold their gay son or lesbian daughter in love and respect but not have to forsake their values or spiritual beliefs.  Those parents are looking for a way to bridge the chasm between loving their child and having always believed what the church taught:  “gays go to hell.”

I have a few quotes concerning fear and regret I thought might be helpful to you in your deliberations.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha

“My life is my message.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The message here is “be you” fully and completely everywhere and with everyone.  But that means “be” you, not necessarily proclaiming to others who you are.  Sometimes words are superfluous.  I heard a joke yesterday.     How do you find out someone is a vegan?  Just wait, and they will tell you! And they will keep telling you!

“Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Confronting the fear by speaking your truth will take away your fear, but it may be replaced with some other feeling, which might be preferable to living in fear.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

So, if you are going to confront your fear, prepare yourself well.  Make sure your heart, your soul are in the right place and that you are coming from love and truth, not self-righteousness or anger.  Write out what you want to say so you can take the time to sleep on it and then do a gut check on those words to see if they reflect you and your intention.  You may not get the reaction you want, but you will have been as clear, direct and loving as you are able.  You may not able to predict or control what your mom’s response will be, but if you use those loving and brave words, you are creating a space for a deeper level of honesty and a closeness that has not been available to both of you.  Your mom will not have had the time to prepare her reaction.  After time to reflect and process, she may modify her words.

“I don’t really have any regrets because if I choose not to do something there is usually a very good reason. Once I’ve made the decision I don’t view it as a missed opportunity, just a different path.” – Andrew Lincoln

“If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude.  Don’t complain.” – Maya Angelou

Examine your beliefs about yourself, your mother and the strength of your bond.  If you believe you must speak your truth to her before she dies, do it.  But be aware she is on a different path and expect nothing.  If her different values and beliefs  have too much risk of judgment or rejection, perhaps this is a very good reason for missing this opportunity.  And then, years from now when you look back, take responsibility for the choice you make now while she is here and know you did what you felt was best for you and for her, given your experience, awareness and understanding at the time you decide to take or forgo speaking your truth.  Accept whatever choice you make and be at peace in your heart whatever the outcome.  There are no regrets when you do what you are able to do, knowing that you cannot make someone else do, feel, think, choose or respond in anyway.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” decision here.  You may decide today that you cannot risk rejection from your mom, but a month from now, you may decide that you are willing to accept her no matter what she says or does, but speaking your truth is most important.  You will learn a lot about yourself from this process, and probably a lot about your mom as well.  Good luck, and let me know what you decide if you so choose.

Missing Him In Metamora

  • Posted on July 30, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Dear Christine,

I never thought I’d be in this situation and can’t believe I’m writing to you for advice on this matter.
My husband and I were high school sweethearts, graduated in 92 and have been together ever since. We’ve been raising 2 children that we first fostered, then adopted. Life has been pretty good for two gay men. In the last 5 years, my sweetheart started drinking more than usual and acting totally out of character. Last month he lost his job due to his drinking and because he is a mean and verbally abusive drunk, I have asked him to move out. He is living in his parents basement now and they are at their wits end too and don’t know what to do or how to help him. They want him to leave but fear what will happen to him if he has no one. He refuses help or to admit he even needs help. I still love him.Is there something I or his parents could do to get him the help he needs? I want my old love back.

Missing him in Metamora

P.S. Second question. How could something like this come on when he was never like this before? I never saw it coming.

Dear Missing Him,

I am sorry to hear of the difficulties you and your sweetheart are going through right now.  It sounds like your partner has developed alcoholism later in life than many.  Two thirds of alcoholics begin drinking at an early age, say starting at age 14 compared to 21.  However, that leaves one third who are older adults when they become alcoholic.  These are called “late onset drinkers.”  Having alcoholism in the family can be a predictor of a higher prevalence of lifetime alcohol dependence, but it can happen to anyone.  There are all sorts of triggers and no single answer, but major life-changes often precede social drinking becoming alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.  The high stress events of divorce, being fired from a job, death of a parent, death of a spouse, retirement, a major change in health status or other perceived losses (income, mobility, social, social network losses) all can contribute to Late Onset Alcoholism.  People who had substance abuse problems early in life are at higher risk of developing drinking problems even after decades of abstinence. (http://www.choosehelp.com/topics/rehab-older-adults/late-onset-alcoholism-treatment-needs)
The hardest fact for you as the partner of a late onset alcoholic is that there is very little you can do.  You are doing the right things:  Set clear boundaries.  Make sure there are consequences for his drinking, abuse and unwillingness to get help for this problem.  Something happened five years ago when he began to drink more heavily and whatever it is has developed into a huge loss for the entire family and his job.  I understand that his parents are fed up with his behavior too.  It is excruciating to watch someone you love destroy his life and refuse to do anything to slow or reverse that process.
Try as you might, you, nor his parents, cannot make him do anything!  You can continue to be clear about the consequences of choices and behaviors, meanwhile suggesting, encouraging and urging him to get treatment for this disease.  It is very hard for parents to throw their middle age son out of the house for continuing to drink and not get treatment, but that may be necessary. He may need to “hit bottom” before he is willing to change. There are treatment programs, from individual counseling to inpatient treatment to make sure that he does not die from a sudden withdrawal of alcohol by the delirium tremens (DTs).  Someone I know recently turned her life around by entering the Salvation Army program, and by avoiding the people who trigger her drinking and working while living in a half-way house, is managing to be employed and sober.  This person seemed ready to live under a bridge rather than get help, and the family is grateful it didn’t come to that.
I wish I could encourage you to believe your old sweetheart will come back, but there are no guarantees.  There is a saying by Heraclitus “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  The relationship you had, the family you and your partner and kids were is irretrievably changed.  Hopefully, there can be growth, healing and reconciliation, but each of you will be marked by what has occurred in this time, and all of you will be different.
I wish you and him and your family the best.  May he see the light and enter treatment with an open and willing heart.  Christine Cantrell, PhD, Psychologist