DEAR AMY: I married my wife a few months ago. She and I have been friends for 33 years. She has three sons, ages 22, 17, and 15. For the most part, they are all good kids, however, they have never been given any responsibilities. Ever. Our house constantly looks like a war zone — there are clothes everywhere, dishes in the sink, and they wrestle with each other until all hours of the night. I tried to put my foot down and assign responsibilities and chores for them to help us out, but they never follow through. My wife and I are constantly picking up, cooking, and then cleaning up after them. I am burnt out! The oldest has recently dropped out of college and lives with us, paying no expenses. I think he should be paying rent and his car insurance since he is no longer in school, but his mother won't have it. We are struggling to pay our bills, and this is causing friction between us. I get upset with the kids, and then my wife gets upset at me for saying something to them. Am I wrong for feeling angry? How do I get my wife to cut the cord and realize that I am just trying to help them to become responsible adults...?
Mr. Nice Guy
DEAR MR. NICE GUY: The dynamic you describe was already established when you chose to officially enter the family. If you hoped that things would magically change when you got married, then — well, you were wrong.
Instead of being your partner, your wife has partnered primarily with her sons, and your assigned role is to assist her in making sure they grow up to be entitled man-boys, who have little respect for their surroundings, and no life skills.
These sons are behaving exactly as they have been taught. A 10-year-old can make his bed, load the dishwasher, and learn how to make pancakes for the family. Yes — even teens will do their jobs (reluctantly) if there are consistent consequences attached to both positive and negative behavior. High-functioning families work as a team, understanding that their daily health and happiness is interconnected.
For things in your household to change, your (new) marriage will have to change. Your wife will have to agree to put the marriage at the center of the family system. She will have to stand alongside you, instead of undermining you.
You and she should have a heartfelt talk — not about the kids, but about your marriage, and how devalued you feel. This book should help you to get started: "Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America's Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship," by relationship researchers John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman (2007, Harmony).
DEAR AMY: Help! My family and I have been trapped in our home for a month now, due to our state's shelter-in-place rule. We are all coping pretty well. Our kids are staying pretty much on track, and my wife and I are doing our best to stick to a routine. Our anxiety isn't too bad. Obviously, we are all spending a lot of time together — and that has been (mostly) good for us. My problem is this: Boredom. In normal times, my wife and I stay very busy. Now, I feel bored — super-bored — for a part of every day. Any advice?
DEAR BORED: I could give you a list of suggestions about trying new things, doing home workouts, and reading ALL the books, but for most of us, boredom creeps in, anyway.
Boredom can actually be something of a gift, if you lean into it — and simply let yourself feel that way!
A few years ago, I decided to do some of the exercises in Julia Cameron's groundbreaking book, "The Artist's Way" (25th anniversary edition, 2006 TarcherPerigee). The game-changer for me was a free association writing exercise. Every morning you write three pages of just whatever you want (this is NOT a journal). You can write "I am so bored" over and over across the page. (I tend to write a lot about the weather.)
Doing this unlocks ... lots of things: Ideas, fantasies, feelings, and insight.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for publishing the question from "Caring Neighbors," who were looking for ways to help their hardworking immigrant neighbors during this challenging time. I thought your suggestions were good — and their intentions were golden.
DEAR IMPRESSED: Weird times can bring out the wonder in people.