Dear Maria,

I think my co-worker may have a drinking problem. She brags at lunchtime about the partying she does over the weekends. She showed up drunk to a company event, and though she wasn’t falling down or anything, she was slurring her words and fell asleep during a guest presentation. It’s a small company we work for, and there’s no official HR department. She’s been here longer than any of us, including her boss. We used to get along, but now she won’t answer emails I send and doesn’t get me the info I need to do my job. I can’t figure out if she’s upset with me, or if the drinking is becoming a problem, or a combination of the two. I don’t want to go to her boss because I’ll be labeled a snitch and everyone will figure out I was the one who complained. Any suggestions?

Signed,

Is it 5 O’Clock Yet?

Dear 5 O’Clock,

It’s one thing to party on the weekend, and quite another to show up drunk at work. I suspect you’re not the only one who sees this behavior, but they are reluctant, like you, to speak up. I know a little bit about dealing with alcoholics (and I welcome my readers to add their comments), and one thing I have experienced is that the rules always change. With alcoholics, you never know from one day to the next if you’re in their good graces or not. And if you do fall out of their favor, they won’t tell you in a constructive way. They’ll either passive-aggressively shut you out, or during one of these storied parties they’ll find a way to get in a few good digs or a full-blown rant against you if you’re around and they’re drinking enough.

Job-for-coffeeI suggest you separate the two issues: 1) the stalled communication; and, 2) the drinking during work hours. First, ask for a private meeting with your co-worker. Calmly offer concrete examples of communications that are going unanswered. Ask if you need to clear the air about anything. (Leave your suspicions about her drinking out of it.) Hopefully, she will be receptive, you will have a constructive conversation, and you’ll see improvement in the future. If she shuts you down, and her behavior doesn’t change, then the next step is to talk to your boss. Again, focus on the work-related concerns and see if steps are taken to help improve communication between you two. It’s important that your boss knows that you first addressed the situation directly with your co-worker.

Addressing the drinking is a different issue entirely. Interventions may not go well for the intervenor. Alcoholics function in systems that tacitly allow the drinking to go on. Those around the alcoholic accept increasingly alarming behaviors as normal. Then, a car accident, or a job loss, or a serious injury occurs. Everyone wonders, “How could this have happened?”, when the truth is they DID see it coming in the progressively sloppy actions of the alcoholic. It takes immense courage to be the one who calls out the inappropriate behavior of the alcoholic, because the intervention includes the entire system of people the alcoholic interacts with. The size of the company and the absence of an HR department give you little protection should you air these concerns to your supervisor. Have there been enough instances of suspicious behavior during work hours to merit waving a red flag at management? Are you willing to risk possibly being ostracized by your coworkers and seen as the “bad guy”? Or, are there others who’d be willing to stand with you? Do you want to engage in the drama that will surely follow a public airing of these concerns? Shining a light on your co-worker’s behavior may be the right thing to do, especially if she’s a danger to others or herself. As with most principled stands, however, there’s a price to be paid. Only you can decide if the trade-off is worth it to you.

As you mull over these questions, I recommend taking the high road and initiating the conversation described, above. Be your professional best through the process, and watch how people react: your co-worker, your boss, etc. These observations will give you valuable information about the organization, and if this is an environment you can (and want) to work in. Dust off your resume in the meantime and be open to new opportunities that come along. Her stone-walling is affecting your performance, and you can’t let that impact your professional development. Good luck!

 

Dear Maria,

Do you make your bed every day? My husband insists that we do, but I always end up doing it. Some days, I let it go and wait for him to do it. I figure, if it’s so important to him, he can take care of it, right? But then I see the unmade bed later in the day, and I know he doesn’t like it, so I break down and do it. Do you think the bed needs to be made every day? If not, how can I convince my husband that it’s okay to leave the bed unmade?

Signed,

Rumpled and Resentful

Dear Rumpled,

Yes, I pretty much make our bed every day. I didn’t used to, as I grew up in a 2-story house, so it didn’t matter if you made the bed because nobody was going to see it (and better yet my mom never made me!). The master bedroom of the house I live in now opens onto the living room, so I make the bed. I confess, it took me a while to get into this habit. Now, I realize that I like the look of it. (My husband will smile as he reads these words, because, like your husband, he was the made-bed advocate in our house for a long time. You could say I came around to his way of doing things. At least on this issue!)

I think your question isn’t as much about the value of making the bed on a daily basis, as it is about how the two of you are resolving the issue. If you’re making the bed only to make him happy, that motivation will lead to resentment. On the other hand, if you find value in a made bed, then do it for that reason. Or leave it unmade. Whatever you do, make it your choice and not only to avoid conflict with your spouse. Making the bed, and who does it, shouldn’t be a big deal in a marriage.

If, however, there are multiple instances of you being left with housework that your husband wants done and doesn’t contribute to, then I suggest you have a sit-down with him and divvy up the jobs. The simmering resentment you’re currently feeling will boil over if you don’t. Marriage is a series of discussions, negotiations, and compromises. Talking about simple things like making the bed can help make bigger, more substantive discussions easier. So, making the bed and who does it isn’t really a small thing after all—it’s a daily reminder of the connection you share with your partner.

Here’s a piece of advice that has saved our marriage more than one time: “Whoever is loading the dishwasher (making dinner, loading the car, making the bed, etc.), is doing it right.” Share the load, keep talking, and appreciate your partner’s efforts. Here’s an article that says it’s a good idea to NOT make the bed. So, show him this letter, and the article. That should get the conversation started!

 

Stop and Smell the Primroses

In honor of July 4th, and the family and friends it brings, here’s one of my first columns, published in 2006 in the St. Louis Suburban Journals.

Each long summer evening, as dusk settles on my neighborhood, there’s a show that’s better than anything on cable or dish.  The show starts gently, without fanfare, yet bursting with beauty, dance and song in every movement.  Slowly, like the coming of night, it begins—shining like the stars, taking one’s breath away…bringing hope.

I discovered the show one typically harried night, with laundry running, a child in the tub, a kitchen in need of cleaning, a report due at work, and the anxiety that comes when there aren’t enough hours in the day.  My husband, Steve, just in from mowing the lawn, told me our neighbors, Don and Eunice Neal, had invited us to watch the flowers bloom.

“Ah, to watch the flowers bloom,” I sighed, wishing I had the time.  But, I was intrigued:  “Flowers that bloom at night?” I thought.  “Hmmmm.”  I quickly put my plan together: get the little one out of the tub and in her jammies, call our older one over from firefly catching, leave the clothes to wrinkle in the dryer, and head out to see the show.

MO primrosesWhat followed was truly a breath-taking sight.  Don’s lush bushes of wild Missouri Primroses sported dozens of yellow-green buds.  As darkness grew, each bulb “popped” open, and the soft yellow petals unfolded and opened as a child’s hand reveals a tiny treasure.  Each fragile bulb’s bursting seemed to stop time for a moment—to focus my harried heart on such glory I felt almost unworthy to be in its presence.  The buds opened effortlessly, bounteously, blessing each of us with their innocence and beauty.  In an instant, when there seemed no time, a miracle cut through the clutter of my life. And in that instant, my world was transformed.

The show goes on every summer night.  ‘Bout 8:30 p.m. or so, you’ll find Don, Eunice and assorted neighbors, family and friends vying for a front-row seat.  They are gracious hosts, and freely share this blessed show with all who stop to see.  The audience, with lawn chairs, bug candles and snacks were a curious spectacle last 4th of July.  Police officers, on patrol for illegal fireworks, stopped and asked why the group had gathered.  “To watch the flowers bloom,” came the sincere reply, which fell on somewhat skeptical ears—not unlike those of a tired working mom one prior evening.

Since the night the primroses danced for me, life has slowed down a bit.  Oh, I still have just as much to do, and just as many people depending on me.  But the flowers reminded me that beauty is there for the basking, calling me to put the stuff of my life in proper perspective.  I used to think “seeing what’s on TV” was relaxing.  More often than not, all the channel surfing did was waste my time and leave me empty—like junk food that temporarily fills the hunger but never really satisfies.  A few moments with the primroses did more to nourish me than endless hours in front of the tube.

I don’t make it to the show every night, but the primroses and the Neals seem to understand.  For whenever I do return, I’m greeted with the same warm welcome and spectacular beauty that touched me the last time I visited.  For these, I have all the time in the world.

Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.