A few months ago, ESSENCE.com invited visitors to pose their relationship questions to author and personal-growth expert Iyanla Vanzant. And you responded with hundreds of pressing relationship problems and dilemmas in just a matter of days! Many of the questions we received, and Iyanla’s very direct answers, appear in the August 2001 issue of ESSENCE magazine. If you don’t find clues to solving your relationship trouble there, you may find them here, where the new talk-show queen shares more of her uncommon insight. Get ready to hear the truth!
My husband doesn’t help out enough.
Q. My husband helps out around the house with taking out the trash, cooking and some housework, but when it comes to scheduling family outings, doctors appointments or taking care of our 18-month-old son, he thinks I’m solely responsible. How can I get him to help?
I could be wrong, but it feels like there’s something else going on in the situation you have described. Many women would give their two front teeth to have a husband who helped around the house. In response, they would gladly plan family outings and take the children to their appointments. It is called cooperation. From what you have shared, you seem to be in a better position than most. Your cup is half full! Yet, it does not seem to be enough. Assuming that what you have shared is accurate and that you are not a “can’t be pleased person” there is a very simple response to your question. Ask him! Share your true and honest feelings with him and ask for his support in the areas you find lacking. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if his response to you is, “I can never do enough to please you, can I?”
I feel like my mate’s mother
Q. My husband and I wed young, have been married 32 years and have four children. He has consistently been a good, kind and decent person. But for years I asked him why do I feel like your mother and not your mate? I matured; he didn’t. I don’t want to start over, yet I feel I’m being cheated and still have much to offer. Any food for thought?
I would encourage you to ask yourself the same question you are asking your husband: “Why do you feel like his mother?” Quite often, in the role of mother and wife, women confuse nurturing their mate in a loving, intimate way with taking care of him. Women often lose sight of where protecting, teaching, guiding the children ends and co-creating, supporting, respecting and anchoring the mate begins. When this line is blurred, the man becomes a little boy who is often punished and resented for not asserting himself in the family dynamic. Unfortunately, the wife/mother is unaware of the role she has played in creating the situation. There are a few other questions you may want to consider: 1) Do you love this man? 2) Do you respect this man? 3) Are you willing to allow him to be a man? 4) Do you believe that as a man, he can create a life together with you? Your answers will determine your direction.
Fatherless and frustrated
Q. I’m 31 years old and never married. I believe I’m sabotaging my relationships. My mother was a single mother who later remarried, but she raised and disciplined my younger sister and me. Two years ago, I saw my father for the first time in over 22 years at my grandfather’s funeral. That meeting stirred many emotions in me — the anger, the resentment, the hate, the sadness, the confusion and the pain of being abandoned by the one man God put in my life to love me forever. I’d like to learn ways to deal with my anger about being robbed of my father, learn ways to bury the pain, and learn to trust my feelings with men.
Signed, Daddy’s Little Girl
Self-diagnosis can be very dangerous! The challenge is that if you diagnose the wrong problem, you will engage in the wrong treatment. I suspect this is what you have done. It seems that you have begun your diagnosis with the lack of a relationship. From what you have shared, this may not be the best place for you to start. You may want to start with the belief that you are a saboteur and check to see how this plays out in the rest of your life. You may also want to consider that you could be addicted to telling yourself stories that obviously keep you in pain. Being “Daddy’s Little Girl” keeps you in pain. A man wants a woman, not a little girl. Your belief has in essence rendered you unavailable to men or relationships with them. If you believe you were “robbed” of your father, the “one man” God put in your life, you don’t expect there will be another. Consequently, there isn’t. Unless of course you want to consider your step-father. Wasn’t he in your life? Or, did you choose to not see him? Many women have issues of abandonment, rejection, fear, abuse, neglect, etc. related to their fathers that carry over into their relationships. In fact, my Beloved, this is the divine purpose of relationships. They help us heal those places in our consciousness that we are not aware of. In order to heal those areas, we must be able to see them. You have cleverly created an experience where you have missed the forest by looking for the trees!
Why can’t I meet a compatible mate?
Q. I am a 33-year-old single parent, semi-educated (completed three years of college) and I earn $65,000 per year. I am funny and have a great personality. I’m a God-fearing, completely independent woman with better-than-average looks. Why can’t I meet a man with at least half of those same credentials? I have the house, car, kid, dog, savings account and great listening skills. Eight out of the last ten men that I have met don’t even have their own apartment. I don’t expect a man to come and sweep me off my feet, but I need help meeting a brother with whom I am compatible! Every single man that I meet is either attached to his baby’s mama or living with his mama! Help! What’s a single mom to do?
Signed, Unlucky at Meeting Decent Men
Your letter reminds me of a song from the movie South Pacific. If I remember the words they are: “If you don’t have a dream, you have to have a dream. How you gonna have a dream come true?” You may find it helpful not to start your dream for a relationship by comparing possessions.
Q. Passive-aggressive behavior has eroded my relationship. I recently paid the heaviest price ever for this behavior. In my final phase of struggles to complete my Ph.D., I had asked for a Thanksgiving holiday free of houseguests and minimal responsibility for what had always been three days of cooking, cleaning and preparations traditionally expected of the wife and mother. I had been very clear about my needs. My husband (who does not cook or clean), in a dark angry cloud, silently refused my request and invited his sister for the holiday (five day visit) as well as our college son’s roommates for holiday dinner. The results? I missed graduation by 6 points. This is a glaring example of the “stumbling blocks, putdowns and ambushes” I have experienced over the years. Any suggestions?
I suspect that you will find it very difficult to accept what I am about to share with you. Not completing your degree has absolutely nothing to do with your partner. Some place in your being there is the belief that achieving your goal must be hard and that you don’t have the support you need to make it happen. You were right! It was too hard for you to do on your own and you didn’t get the support you needed. The question is, now what are you going to do? Stumbling blocks can be avoided. Putdowns need not be accepted. Ambushes work only when we are not observant and discerning. I do, however, concur that passive-aggressive behavior has eroded the relationship – – the one you are having with yourself.
My soul mate is a former addict
Q. I’m a single mother of four starting a new relationship with a wonderful man who I believe is my soul mate! My only concern is he is a past substance abuser and at times still struggles with his past addiction. I love him very much and feel he is the piece that was missing from our family. My children love and respect this man just as much as I do. I’m 31 and he’s 34. We are not kids, we’ve both been in past relationships and marriages that had no chance of working out (hindsight is something, huh?!). In past relationships I’ve stayed too long, thinking “he’ll stop hitting me,” for example. Should I just walk away and say this is not working out?
It’s not clear from your letter what you mean when you say that your new beau still struggles with his past addiction. If you mean he still uses or considers using drugs I would be extremely concerned for you. A soul mate is one who supports you in having a greater experience of yourself as a loving being. A soul mate is one who compassionately and lovingly reflects your truth in ways that support you in healing the wounded places inside of yourself. If you believe that your soul mate is one who is actively using or considering using drugs, the question then becomes, To what are you addicted? Perhaps it’s abusive and dysfunctional relationships. If this is your pattern, thank your new beau for bringing it to the light, then run as fast as you can to seek professional help and support that takes you away from this relationship.
I don’t trust my husband
Q. I have been married for five years. Over the last year I have noticed a change in my husband. I find that he can’t be trusted. I have caught him in several lies and I now find myself doing detective work around the house always trying to find the truth. I stop short of following him in my car. I have not gotten that desperate yet. I know that whatever is going on, it will be revealed to me eventually. However, my husband says it’s my problem that I don’t trust him, and I say it’s his because he brought the mistrust into our marriage. I pray every day but it’s getting harder to conceal my contempt for him.
Stop it! Stop it right now! There is no quicker way to destroy your sense of self than by trying to disprove what you already know. Why should you trust a person who lies to you and then makes you responsible for his inappropriate behavior? Why would you even try to make sense of it? Stop being a detective, Beloved. For your best interest make a choice – – lay down with a liar or fly the coop.
My friend’s boyfriend is a player
Q. I have a good friend since elementary school with whom I talk or hang out about three or four times a month. Her boyfriend had a baby by another girl about a year and a half ago. I had heard about it but didn’t tell (you know, always kill the messenger and not the message). About a year ago someone told me that he was messing around on her again, so I told her (big mistake). She confronted him and gave him my name. I was very pissed about that. Well, now he’s mad at me. Now I only speak to her about once a month. I just heard that he had another baby on the way by someone else. Should I tell her?
Signed: Not trying to break up an unhappy home
Get a grip! Take a hint! She doesn’t want to know! You can be a real friend by being there when she needs you without any “I told you so’s.” Other than that, keep your eyes, ears and mouth shut. It’s her lesson to learn. What’s yours?
My fiance’s babysitting for his ex
Q. I recently got back together with my ex-boyfriend (my daughter’s father) and things were going good. I started planning our wedding and would let him know what I was doing. We were having lunch one day and I mentioned to him that he needs to get his guest list together for invitations. I mentioned a few people to invite, and I mentioned his ex-girlfriend that I don’t want him to invite. He was like “oh, I am glad you mentioned her because I’m supposed to keep her daughter for a couple of days.” You know I wanted to go off. I was trying not to seem uncomfortable, but there were so many things going through my mind that I didn’t know where to begin. I’m in need of some sistergirl advice. Please help me!
Could it be that he forgot to tell you that her daughter is his daughter? Or perhaps you never asked. In any event, there’s a clear indication that your beau has not brought the relationship to closure, meaning there’s unfinished business that will undoubtedly spill over into your marriage. More important, he’s showing you that he doesn’t have clear or appropriate boundaries. If I were you I would stop being shocked and seek clarity before I ordered the wedding giveaways. If not, you’ll be writing me again in two years when the truth is revealed.
Should we live together?
Q. I live in Atlanta and have been involved with a man who lives in San Francisco. We’ve been seeing each other for about 12 years now. I wanted him to move here to Atlanta but he doesn’t want to leave California because of his 10-year-old daughter. He’s buying a house there and wants to marry me so we can live out there with both of our daughters. Mine is 9 years old. I already have two houses here. Shall I sell one and move there to start our family or should I just forget about the whole thing?
The math of your relationship is not adding up:
You Him = 12 years
Him Daughter = 10 years
You Daughter = 9 years
Before you sell anything or move anywhere you might want to consider spending some time together. It’s possible that bridging the distance between you requires that you both do a new kind of math. When this relationship really adds up for you, what to do will not be a missing part of the equation.