Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Empty Nest’ Category

Mother’s Instinct

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 8, 2013

Marley, fifty-three year old, mother of three adult children, is in constant battle with her husband, Kirk, over how to help her children launch into adulthood. In particular, Marley is struggling with how to help her oldest, Nan, thirty-two, become more independent. Marley’s instincts tell her that Nan needs the School of Hard Knocks,‎, whereas Kirk believes that he and Marley should pay for her health insurance, help her out with her rent, and pay for her car insurance. Marley and Kirk cannot seem to come together on this issue, so by Marley’s report their marriage is in deep trouble. “I just don’t know what to do,” Marley says. “I really trust my instincts about what will help Nan. I know the kind of kid she is, and I know that if we help her out, we will take away her incentive to become independent. Kirk thinks I am being too hard on her, but I think she needs the tough approach, since when we supported her, it seemed like her development was stunted. I am not being mean, although Kirk says I am and that is hard on me.” Marley explains how she does not want to compromise and further, she is hurt that what she sees as good intention,s is perceived by her husband of thirty-five years, as “mean”. “Does Kirk think you are a mean person, in general, or only now, with respect to Nan?” I ask, wondering if Kirk is using this conflict as a way to express deeper feelings towards Marley. “No, that’s not it,” Marley says emphatically. “It is just that he does not like conflict, so he wants everyone to get along, and I think that conflict is necessary to grow, especially now that we really need  to help Nan grow. Sure, we could give Nan money, and sure, there would be less tension, but I can’t stand the fact that Kirk cannot see the bigger picture. This tension is hard, but it is necessary. I feel that in my bones.” Marley explains how she is so clear, in her mind, about how to proceed. Now, Marley sees two problems. One, is how to help Nan grow up, and two, how to cope with Kirk, who from her point of view, is conflict-avoidant. “It must be hard when you are so sure of yourself, and yet, you are living with someone who approaches life so differently,” I say, stating how this conflict is bringing up the larger conflict in their long-standing marriage. “You and Kirk are very different kinds of people.” I repeat. “Yes, and when we are not fighting about our kids, that difference is OK, but when it comes to hard decisions, that difference rises to the surface and creates a lot of tension. Maybe Nan will grow up and our marriage will survive, but maybe not.” Marley says, hinting that divorce is on her mind. “Will marital therapy help?” I ask, wondering if they need professional assistance. “Yep, I think so.” Marley says with a bit of hope in her voice.

Posted in Emerging Adult, Empty Nest, Mother/Child Relationships, Parenting, Psychotherapy | 5 Comments »

Feeling Important

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 12, 2012

Nile and Shoshi, both fifty, have been married for twenty-five years. Their two children are both in college, so their empty nest is unevenly empty for Shoshi, but less so for Nile. Nile seems to appreciate that Shoshi can focus on him more now that the children have sprung loose. Shoshi, by contrast,  at first felt lonely when her last child went to college a year ago, but over time, she has come to appreciate her freedom. She never saw herself as a caretaker for Nile, so it did not occur to her that Nile would become more emotionally needy when the kids went to college. Shoshi plans the family trips, for the four of them. She recently planned a trip to the Caribbean, and as she booked the plane flights, she signed up for miles for herself and one of her two children. She did not take the extra step to find out the mileage number for her husband and older child. She figured that they could add the miles on the back-end of their trip. As she thought about it, she could see that this might be insensitive, but she was still stunned by Nile’s reaction. “I am tired of feeling like a second class citizen,” Nile tells Shoshi, which Shoshi then relates to me. Shoshi explains that it seems like Nile let loose about years and years of feeling like the children came first. Nile, according to Shoshi, never stood up for himself, but at the same time, he gets mad when he does not feel important. Shoshi feels that Nile does not understand this dynamic, so he is constantly feeling victimized by Shoshi.

  “Did you explain to Nile that he is important to you?” I ask, wondering if Shoshi does not understand her role in their dynamic. “No, I got defensive, of course,” Shoshi laughs at herself. “I can see how Nile got his feelings hurt, but at the same time, I am very busy and I planned the trip, and I did not do one detail, and I feel like it is not fair to get down my throat about that.” Shoshi explains to me her pent up resentment about feeling misunderstood with regards to the work of trip-planning. “Yes, but if Nile needs to feel important, taking the time to do these details might be important symbolism for him that you care about him,” I explain. “Yea, I see that, but I wish he would talk to me that way, rather than being fixated on the miles. Nile does not explain himself very well and he does not know how to create an environment where others treat him like an important person.” Shoshi says, throwing the dirt back on to her husband. “That may be, ” I say, “but the issue for us is that you could understand that he needs to feel like he matters, and taking care of details, is one way for him to feel that way.” I say, bringing the conversation back to Shoshi’s insensitivities and away from Nile’s inarticulateness. “I see that now, but I did not see that last night,” Shoshi says, with a feeling of regret and dismay. “Maybe you should tell Nile how you feel now that you have the benefit of distance from your argument,” I say, stating the obvious. “Maybe,” she says, with characteristic arrogance in that it is hard for her to apologize, especially to Nile, where she seems to need to feel superior. “Think about it,” I say, encouraging her to slowly change the dynamics of their long-standing marriage. “Everyone needs to feel important,” I say, reminding her that Nile’s needs are understandable and sympathetic. “Yes, but I also think it is Nile’s responsibility to assert himself in a way in which he commands respect,” Shoshi says defensively. “That may be, but you can still deal with your side of the equation,” I say. “Of course, that is true,” Shoshi reluctantly agrees.

Posted in Empty Nest, Relationships | 3 Comments »

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