relationship therapy

Andrea Syrtash, our relationship expert, is back and fielding reader questions today! If you have a question for Andrea, you can leave an anonymous comment under the post and perhaps she’ll answer it next time.


READER Question #1:

Why, as a woman, do I get upset when I discover that my husband has masturbated? I think it’s because I would like to have sex more frequently than we currently do. Something about him – home alone, watching porn, pleasing himself irritates the shit out of me. I have no problem watching it together (to enhance OUR shared experiences) and have made a conscientious effort to make him well aware of my desire for him. I think I would feel better knowing that ‘if’ he ‘has to’ pleasure himself that, at least, it is I to whom he is seeing. Not sure if you can help, but any advice on how to communicate with your partner regarding taboo subjects (frequency of sex, masturbation, porn, etc) would be greatly appreciated.

Andrea’s Response:

You are not alone! I’ve heard this same gripe from a number of women who feel their husbands aren’t giving them enough sexual attention. It’s probably no surprise that most men watch porn. It becomes an issue when it interferes with their lives or if they’re avoiding sex with their partners and directing all of their sexual energy to the women with giant boobs on their tiny screens. It sounds like you’re okay with your partners viewing habits; but want him to be a little more in balance and direct his desire to you a little more. Totally fair.

One suggestion I have is to watch porn together, so you’re part of his turn on. You mention you’re open to this, so I’m wondering if you’ve tried it yet. Another thing to try is to send him a sexually charged text or email talking about your desire, inviting him to take advantage of you later and/or telling him that you’re turned on. This may catch him by surprise, which is the point.

In terms of having “taboo” conversations about sex, I’d suggest framing things in terms of what you love and want instead of what’s not working. If you’re too shy to say what you want face-to- face, try broaching the conversation with the lights out. One more thing to consider: it’s not just women who need to be courted or feel connected outside the bedroom to feel like getting down. Reinforce to your husband what you appreciate about him. It can be as simple as texting him to thank him for helping the kids with their homework to saying he’s kicking butt at work.

All of us need reinforcement and acknowledgment and it usually helps spark more intimacy in the bedroom.



What do you do when your husband can’t take constructive criticism and is also kind of hypocritical? Example: you leave candy wrappers on the side table in the living room after late night snacks (naturally) and he freaks out. However, any time he empties a package in the kitchen, he leaves the trash on the countertop. If you say anything to him about his behavior he gets mad and defensive, but you’re just supposed to accept his criticisms? What gives?


The folks who criticize the most are often the ones who don’t acknowledge their own flaws. The Dalai Lama says “To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in someone else.” Perhaps you need that fridge magnet?

In all seriousness, this is frustrating and a trait that’s tough to deal with. Instead of getting into a defensive back-and-forth where you’re both tallying up how many thing you’ve done wrong; challenge yourselves to a week of taking positive inventory. You can set the rule that for the week you should write down your frustration without voicing it and challenge each other to pause and notice what is working. This is the great challenge of all relationships, by the way.

If your partner balks at the idea (some people like to stay in complain-y mode!), let your husband know that you want to set a cleaning schedule so neither of you feel you’re pulling all the weight. You can say something like, “I know you’re frustrated that sometimes my candy wrappers are out on the table and I’m frustrated that your dirty socks are on the bed. Since we’re both frustrated by this, let’s set a schedule with tasks we’ll both complete. Otherwise, we’ll keep having the same silly argument over and over again.”

If he’s still resistant and won’t play along, you may just have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re with someone who is great in many ways and a little emotionally immature in others. Instead of defending yourself constantly, don’t give in to his criticism. You can nod your head and walk out of the room when he complains. Eventually, he should get the point that it’s not working for either of you.



My mother-in-law drives me nuts. Don’t get me wrong, my mom is wacky too, but my MIL is too over the top. Any tips for dealing with a narcissist for holidays, birthdays, etc? She spends way too much on things she likes and then gives them to us. Many things we receive are not our taste at all (especially some of the crazy kids toys or weird decorations) but she expects to see them in use whenever she visits. Which she does fairly frequently. Sometimes without permission. I know there are a lot of boundaries I need to work on, but she does not listen. She’ll blow me off or just talk through me (and my husband) if we’re saying something that contradicts her thoughts. What would you do? It strains our marriage because of the stress she puts us under. And causes the occasional fight. But we’re mostly on the same side.


Years ago I edited a book about how to ‘survive’ in-laws and interviewed hundreds of people about their extended families. It’s unreal what people deal with when it comes to their in-laws, and I totally feel for you! There’s a reason so many jokes focus on in-laws. (Whenever possible, it’s helpful to have a sense of humor about it…though not easy.)

This habit of bringing over random chachkas and weird decorations is also not unusual. In a way, it seems your MIL wants her presence all over the house — whether you like it or not. The funny thing is, I suspect that if I spoke to her she would say that she’s being thoughtful and contributing because she really loves you guys. She probably thinks the gifts (that are in her taste, and not yours) are exactly what you need. Why? Because in a way, she still needs to be needed by her baby boy.

There’s a fine line between over-bearing and over-caring, and sometimes we need to switch our perspective to “over-caring” so we don’t lose our minds. Next time, when she comes by with a bizarre dollar-store item, repeat this to yourself: “She just needs to be needed. She thinks she’s being caring and helpful.” You may find that when you look through this lens, you’re a little more patient with her.

Another thing to mention: you are totally right that boundaries matter. If she shows up unexpectedly or constantly blows you off, your husband needs to talk to her and let her know that that’s not okay. It’s good that you’re mostly on the same side with him about this. He knows his mom well and can express to her, “We love seeing you but we want to be able to schedule it. It would work better for us, okay?” She obviously wants to be heard, so he can dialogue about it and be honest in a gentle but firm way.


Thanks for sharing such great questions. If I didn’t get to yours this week, I might get to it next time. Please keep sharing your questions on Mommy Shorts!



Andrea Syrtash is a relationship expert and author of the book He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s A Good Thing) and Cheat On Your Husband (with Your Husband). You can read more about Andrea here or follow @andreasyrtash on twitter.