The Case of the Robbing Mama / The Best Surprise is No Surprise
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I am not making this up. My wife’s mother comes to visit occasionally, and I am about 95% sure that she steals from us! I have found things (some of them expensive) missing after her all-day visits. I have commented on the missing items to my wife and she just shrugs it off with, “Oh, I’m sure they’ll turn up.” Yeah, I know where they will turn up: In her mother’s purse! What can I do about this?
Dr. Hurd replies,
We could infer from your letter that your wife is evading your concerns. But that’s not really true, because you haven’t yet expressed your concerns; at least not directly. In marriages, one of the most frequently violated rules is, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” The most common reason spouses don’t do this? “She should know what I’m saying.” Wrong! You can’t expect your wife to “go there” just because you raise an oblique question.
Think like a detective. Are there any other explanations for the disappearance of your items? Be prepared to explain why you’re ruling them out. Now think of your mother-in-law’s history. Has she been caught stealing before? Or at least suspected? If not, what leads you to suspect her in this case? You’ll need something more than circumstantial. Courts require it, and your wife will require it even more because it’s her mother.
I expect you’re feeling ignored and psychologically invisible on this issue. It’s hurtful and nobody likes that. But, at the same time you’ll have to go farther. You’ll have to be more direct: “I know this is really difficult. But I suspect your mother has taken these items. I’m prepared to explain why. Will you sit down and have a talk with me about it?” If she’s closed to discussion, then you have cause to insist. “This is really important to me. I don’t expect you to automatically agree. And I might not even convince you. But I know I’m important to you, and this is really important to me. Won’t you hear me out?”
Your letter didn’t indicate that you’ve done any of these. Try all of this first, and then write me again if the issue is not yet resolved.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My boyfriend and I met in our teens and have been together for 14 years. The number of times we have been intimate with each other has dropped dramatically over the past year or so. However, more than once I have been surprised to walk in on him while he is (in the words of Bernadette Peters) “making love alone.” And this is happening more and more. I’ve tried to put on my game face and join the festivities, but he zips up, acts ashamed and leaves the room. Nothing has changed in our relationship (as far as I know) other than that. I feel rejected and I don’t know what to say to him.
Dr. Hurd replies,
There’s an expression: “You cannot NOT communicate.” By not saying anything to each other when you walk in on him, you’re still communicating. The question is, communicating what? And whatever it is, it’s subject to great misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
By not saying anything, your boyfriend could be conveying a number of messages. I notice, for example, that he’s not trying to conceal his behavior from you all that much. If he really wanted to conceal it, you probably wouldn’t keep running into him in his “unzipped” condition. This could be interpreted as an invitation for you to get more sexual with him. I talk to people about these issues all the time, and they tell me—very privately—things about sexuality with their partner that their partner would, I’m quite sure, never guess. In over 30 years of talking to people professionally, I’ve learned that when you assume something about your partner’s sexual attitudes, it’s just as likely that you’re wrong as you’re right.
And this makes sense. If you never talk about a subject openly, how can you ever hope to understand one other? What if you did all the grocery shopping, but he never told you the kinds of food he likes? You’d never know. Of course, sex is different. It’s more emotional and difficult to discuss. However, no discussion at all will lead to as much confusion and misinterpretation as failure to discuss any other topic would.
There are other explanations. Maybe he has lost interest in you sexually. Maybe he’s bored with the way you two have sex. Maybe it’s something that involves him. Don’t be afraid to say something. And it doesn’t have to be confrontative. Even use humor, if you can. Or simply ask, “Are you trying to tell me something? It’s OK. I have no problem with what you’re doing. Should we talk it over?”
You feel rejected and hurt, but those feelings are based on assumptions that may or may not be true. You might as well be saying, “I never ask him what he wants at the grocery store. And I keep getting the wrong items. What should I do?”
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.