Dear Margo: Same Song, Second Verse

Should differing beliefs spell divorce? Margo Howard’s advice

Same Song, Second Verse

Dear Margo: “Ron” and I have been married for three and a half years, together for four and a half. (I’m 30, and he’s 31.) When we first started dating, I honestly didn’t care if he went to church with me, shared my beliefs or got along with my parents. Now, four years down the road, I realize I do care if he goes to church with me, shares my beliefs and gets along with my parents. He gives in and goes to church maybe once a month, complaining the whole time about the pastor and his “sheep.” He doesn’t know if he would let his children be raised in the church, and he doesn’t really get along with my parents. Divorce has come up several times — along with massive fights and screaming matches. He usually walks out, and I always beg him to come back because I love him.

Now I’m the one who wants to end our marriage — before we bring kids into the picture. Ron is now begging me to work it out and telling me he wants the marriage to work, saying he’ll go to church, change his beliefs and try to get along with my parents. Do I try to salvage my marriage? Do we split up and go our separate ways before we end up hating each other? We’ve tried counseling, but didn’t get very far. We were basically told, “You know what your problems are. Now fix them.” I do love my husband, but I don’t know that I’m “in love” with him anymore. — Wondering in the West

Dear Won: As you may know, I don’t think much of the complaint, “I love him, but I’m not in love with him.” To me, that’s an issue of maturity and expectations. In the situation you describe, however, the two of you are thrashing out basic issues that many couples try to come to terms with before they are married. Because of your history together, and your having laid down the gauntlet, I would give him (and the marriage) a trial period. If he can live up to his pledges, then you will have a better idea of whether it’s a go or a no go. — Margo, experimentally

Disability, Families and Bias

Dear Margo: I am Mom to three beautiful girls with autism, ages 11, 15 and 16. Their 49-year-old aunt is getting married for the first time in the late fall. She invited two nieces to be flower girls and two nephews to be ring bearers. She did not invite my girls to even attend her wedding and, to clear up the “chatter” in the family, sent an email to her brother saying, “There will be no other children under the age of 18 at my wedding.” My mother-in-law thinks the exclusion of her granddaughters is perfectly acceptable behavior. What do you think? And would you attend this wedding? — Miffed Mom

Dear Miff: I know of a man with Asperger’s who married an autistic woman, so it seems to me that if people with autism can marry, they certainly may attend weddings. Granted, this is anecdotal and not scientific data involving a large sample, but I detect in your situation a prejudice against persons with disability — and the fact that it’s family makes it all the more hurtful.

I would bring it up directly with the elderly bride (49; meow) and state your feelings. Use this incident as a teaching moment. You might also mention the sting of exclusion to your out-to-lunch m-i-l, who is clearly leading or being led by her daughter. (So much for doting grandmothers.) But do attend the wedding. If you cannot get your sister-in-law to change her mind, you will at least have gone on record and made your point. — Margo, instructively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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134 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Jrz Wrld says:

    Argh. I’m an atheist and I refuse to date religious people because of types like LW1. You want to change the rules on him. That’s not fair. I can’t imagine being coerced into going to a church I didn’t believe in via the threat of divorce. That’s just sick. And of course he doesn’t want to raise his children in your church since you’re showing a rather unsavory side of the whole religion thing – he sees his children facing the same sort of coercion he is. He sees you suddenly withdrawing your love because they might not believe as you do (as my mother has done lately to me, so don’t say it’s unthinkable). As for not getting along with your parents, some details would help, but I can’t help but wonder if they play the same games you do.

    LW2, I think people with mental health issues should be included in all things, BUT having read more than the average bear on autism and having had a few relatives working in the field (in addition to knowing some autistic children), I can’t help but wonder if they were excluded out of kindness. You don’t say how high-functioning they are, but many of the autistic kids I’ve encountered and read about would be completely freaked out by a wedding. Heck, all I’ve got is ADD and I find weddings to be a rather nerve-wracking trial. From what I understand, routine is vital to autistic people and unfamiliar sounds/sights/activities can produce real anxiety. Weddings are basically a lot of mumbo jumbo ritual followed by a noisy and splashy party – not routine at all. Before you make a stink about this, please make absolutely certain you are weighting their welfare and comfort above your need to see them included in a family event.

    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      Jrz Wrld:  That was most interesting about how the different spectra of autism affect people. Thank you for the edification.

      • avatar Jrz Wrld says:

        Grazie:) I’m not an expert, but one of my cousins was responsible for developing protocol for individual children as an aide at a school for autistic children – she emphasized that it was all about being consistent. And Temple Grandin has some interesting things to say about it in her books, too.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      “I can’t help but wonder if they were excluded out of kindness. You don’t say how high-functioning they are, but many of the autistic kids I’ve encountered and read about would be completely freaked out by a wedding.”

      Maybe yes, maybe no. I think after 3 children and over 15 years’ of experience with autism—the mom would have either agreed with the aunt’s decision or disinvited herself if the kids were unable to function at an event like a wedding. As it is—she wrote a letter because it upset her.

      • avatar Jrz Wrld says:

        I dunno – I admit I’m coming at this from a bad angle, but my mother frequently misjudged my capabilities and interests and I was made miserable as a result of her unrealistic expectations. I have, perhaps, a warped view of moms, but I’m not entirely convinced that the mother who wrote the letter doesn’t have some blind spots of her own. I’m not sure how horrible that is of me. I’m also coming at this from the angle of a kid who was miserable in party dresses and hated going to church with a passion.

        • avatar yeahright says:

          well said. Frequently, parents of autistic children think the rest of the WORLD should “make allowances” for their children’s behavior. Or, that they are “not that bad” I think the mom needs a clue or two.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            I know, right? And those AWFUL wheelchair-people.

          • avatar PinkFlamingo says:

            Some CAN be awful, as can Walking people, and blind people, and “NORMAL” people, and Ladies… PEOPLE can be awful, and amazing and terrifying etc…
            Generalizing in such an inflammatory way makes me disregard any valid point you might have…

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            “How To Recognize Obvious Sarcasm” is available at

          • avatar Deeliteful says:


            I keep looking for the sarcasm font. Perhaps one must be fluent in sarcasm to recognize it (obvious or otherwise)?

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Anytime it looks like I’m playing devil’s advocate by making some sweeping, heartless generalization—I probably am.

            “AWFUL wheelchair-people?” Sorry, I thought I was being obvious.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            It was.

          • avatar Jrz Wrld says:

            ARRGH that’s not what I meant at all. I actually do believe the world should make wide allowances for people with disabilities when it is possible. I grew up with undiagnosed ADD, and I was fortunate to have people cut me a lot of slack even though no one knew what was wrong with me. They recognized that I was trying, thank God, rather than writing me off as lazy or manipulative. I don’t know whether the daughters can behave with minimal disruption or not, and honestly, I think it’s a poor person who’s so obsessed with staging their perfect wedding that they can’t tolerate a meltdown or two by a mentally/neurologically disabled loved one. Life happens, ya know?

            The nature of autism however is that sufferers often don’t deal well with disruption in their routine and what they know – novelty is often traumatic. The mother sounds as if she is coming at it from the angle that her kids will be hurt if they are not invited, but it’s highly unclear if she is imposing her idea of normalcy on them or not. The dilemma here is not, if these children deserve to be at the wedding or not (they absolutely do), but which party is acting in their best interests.

          • avatar Jrz Wrld says:

            And it’s not even about “deserving” if that under 18 rule is evenly applied. As Briana pointed out, the wedding party doesn’t count…

          • avatar vdcthiessen says:

            My son with autism is probably more well behaved than your typical children. Every child is different. Obviously you know nothing about Autism otherwise you would never have made such an asinine statement.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        David, as the mother of an autistic son, and having known the parents of many autistic children…and many parents of simply “garden variety” children (I don’t use normal. What the hell is “normal”?)…you are expecting far too much reason from parents as a whole. Yes, it could be true that LW2 is absolutely accurate in her assessment of her daughters’ ability to attend a wedding/reception. Or she could be like far too many parents, and be over-estimating their ability to deal with a long ceremony, and then the excitement, sometimes frenetic activity, and noise of a reception. I am sure you are all too aware of the parents of young children who believe they have produced lovely cherubs who issue forth with only the most dulcet of tones, whilst pooping rainbows and ice cream, and fluttering harmlessly about…while the reality is shrieking little beasties hurling food at your head from the opposite table during the late dinner hour at a fine restaurant, and ravening between the tables, in sagging, filthy diapers, causing havoc for the servers. Now, multiply that state of delusion for certain parents of children with special needs. Do you see the problem?

        My son, now 20, is what is referred to as high-functioning. He is verbal, of standard intelligence, can hold a conversation and deal with most social situations. It still took a long time to get him to that point. He was not ADD, or ADHD, but his tolerance for noise and swirls of activity were low, as was his ability to cope with social situations involving strangers, both before he reached puberty, and in his middle teens. Autism is not only a spectrum disorder…but each and every case is utterly unique. One of the LW’s daughters may be perfectly able to cope…even the youngest…while one, or both of the others might have a meltdown from the stress.

        Her family may be chattering…not just because her children were excluded, but because she doesn’t understand why. I am not stating this as fact…but I do know of what I speak. I do so wish I had a dollar for every situation we had to leave, for every meltdown and tantrum (yes, autistic children can and do learn to try and manipulate), for all of the rolled eyes and glares as I scooped up my son from the floor and nonchalantly left a store (I simply can’t be embarrassed anymore), or told him in a neutral voice to pull up his pants, and the thousand other things that I accepted as part of him. It isn’t always easy to accept reality…and far too many parents of all sorts never do…much to their children’s detriment.

        I would advise LW2 to ask a few other relatives for their absolutely honest opinions of the aunt’s decision, before she makes up her mind to be hurt and offended. Others may be unwilling to state the obvious because she is overly sensitive (no, there is no reason to be that way. There is no way to predict what you’ll get in the genetic lottery. My younger son is “garden variety” gifted and talented and so far, stable as can be. You deal with what you have, and you do your level best. People with special needs are not the center of the social universe because of their differences. I know…I am one of them…diagnosed with four separate Axis I disorders. So? I should win a prize?) and is unwilling, perhaps even…resistant…to any suggestion that her daughters are less than able to cope.

        But be prepared for a reality check.

        • avatar Mrs. Doolittle says:

          Not sure how this works but this reply is to Brianna, the mother of a son with autism.  Kudos to you!  You sound like the kind of parent my bother is.  Accept your child, love your child, but don’t expect others to live their lives around him.  My brother has, on several occasions, declined invitiations because he knows the invites are out of kindness but that his child wouldn’t function well in that environment and would become a disruption and ruin the celebration or whatever.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          What I was saying was a comment about Jrz’s hypothesis that the children were excluded “out of kindness,” which may or may not be the case. But the fact that LW1 wrote a letter because she’s apparently upset with the decision would indicate that she doesn’t exactly view this as an act of kindness, but rather exclusion. Someone needs a reality check here—it’s either 1) LW1, who has children who would not be able to function at the wedding, or 2) the aunt, who either views the children as being a potential disruption, or who doesn’t want children at her wedding for whatever reason (other than the cutsey-role ones). In any case, LW1 should send a card and list her obligation to the wedding under the “done” column.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Oops—that’s LW2. Although I bet they weren’t invited to LW1’s wedding either.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            @ David Bolton, who said: “…Someone needs a reality check here…”.

            Precisely my point. I don’t know if the sister considered her decision an act of kindness or not, and I wouldn’t begin to make that presumption. We don’t even know what sort of wedding/reception she’s having. There are two sorts, in my humble point of view, the sort of casual, mellow, family oriented variety at which children (not just the strictly decorative, over-dressed, sedated with Benadryl for overly-precious…and quite hideous…Wedding Memories Photographs…type) are welcome and can be comfortable…and the very formal, sit-down-dinner, champagne, open bar, $$$ extravaganza at which everyone is likely to view them as a royal pain-in-the-ass, even their parental units (unless they’re the sort who think of their children as always adorable and entertaining…even when they’ve consumed far too many hors d’oeuvres and are vomiting on someone’s $2500 Jimmy Choo stilettos), and also at which they will be bored, whiny and miserable.

            This can definitely apply to the average teenager as well. LW2 gives no indication as to the sister’s chosen style of wedding. Generally, flower girls are “tots”, as are ring-bearers. Personally I find it quite delightful when small children behave like the pod people they are…and decide to pull down their formal trousers, or lift their horrid pageant dress, collect the flower petals rather than distribute them, lie down mid aisle for a small siesta, eat the ring…or projectile vomit from the stress and all of the scolding they’ve received to make them behave in an over-heated church full of cooing, stuffy adults. Pah. But, back to L#2. The LW’s daughters are not “tots”, not suitable as flower girls, not in the wedding party, and the bride-to-be has made it clear that no sub-adults are welcome except for the flower girls and ring-bearers. None. Period. End of Story. Poor parents of the tiny prisoners of formal-wear and photographic sadism.

            The question being: is there a reason that LW2 is reading so much into the bride’s decision? Again: no other persons under the age of 18 are being invited to either the wedding or the reception. Why would she view the lack of an invitation for her daughters in particular as an exclusion if no other teens, or pre-teens, will be attending? Does it really matter if the bride-to-be wants children at her wedding (accept as decorative objects…and best of luck to her…though I find the practice distasteful and saccharine)? It is her wedding (and while I am not into the whole fetish of the Bridezilla and It’s MY DAY!, a couple does have a right to exclude children) and unless there is something profound missing from the letter, why should the bride be subject to a reality check regarding the LW’s daughters? O, she may get a reality check regarding the wisdom of trying to force space aliens into behaving like rational, adult homo sapiens (actually, those can be vanishingly rare at weddings, too) while performing complex duties such as walking without dancing, skipping, tripping, crawling…and standing still sans nose-picking and pulling at creeping under-things.

            But the true need for a reality check is with LW2. I suspect that she may be carrying an enormous chip, perhaps the size of a Sequoia tree, on her shoulder, because of her autistic daughters, and she views anything that can be remotely conceived of as a slight as just that. LW2, do yourself, and your probably lovely girls a favor, and drop the chip. They are different, yes, Growing up different has some interesting, frightening, and sometimes terrible challenges. I did it as a bi-polar I, schizophrenic, OCD-afflicted female…and my son is high-functioning autistic, bi-polar II and has severe behavioral issues. I’ve made a commitment to never let him think for a moment that he needs to have a chip on his shoulder because he’s different, or that the world revolves around him or owes him a thing because life is more challenging for him. Or me. Sadly, his biological father doesn’t see it that way…hence the behavioral issues, and a horrible sense of entitlement.

            If LW2 can’t talk to the sister, and actually discover the reality of the situation, and can’t resolve what she perceives as her daughters’ being excluded…then David, you’re absolutely correct…she should send a card, from the family. I personally would not be sardonic about it, because either the bride is really a clueless bitch, and won’t get the point anyway…or there actually is no ill intent at all, and nastiness will only lead to confusion and hurt. She may be a bit dim…but my feeling is that it’s only in regard to using an alien race as wedding props. One that consumes ribbons, metal, flowers and then displays its feelings through ear-splitting shrieks and regurgitation.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      Thank you for your information on autism.  Also, I have to say, I did not have ADD but I too found weddings to be incredibly uncomfortable and boring at the ages of 11-16.  In fact, I think I only started to enjoy them after I was married myself! 

    • avatar Amy says:

      L#1: “If he can live up to his pledges, then you will have a better idea of whether it’s a go or a no go.” Really? Why must HE live up to HER ridiculous demands? From her wording it wounds like she harps him constantly. Please dear, let this poor man go he can find a good woman and you can find another “sheep” you can get along with.

      L#2: I commend your sister (in-law?) for declaring no one under 18. I am not convinced that this has anything to do with cutting out specifically YOUR kids. Simply because you have special needs children doesn’t mean that the world revolves around them. weddings are often long, drawn-out events for tots and they can get bored with all the “adult fun”. She is free to denote her guest list as she deems fit to allow for maximum enjoyment and relaxation.

      • avatar Pdr de says:

        Just an observation – 11, 15 and 16 year old girls are not “tots”. Tots is a nickname for toddlers!

    • avatar dthomas74 says:

      Jrz Wrld–I have to disagree with you.  The writer is not changing the rules so to speak, but she is re-evaluating what are important beliefs and views in her life.  Her husband is not just passively letting her go to church, but criticizes her beliefs to her.  That is disrespectful.  How do you know he doesn’t make disparaging comments about her family either?  Would you be able to accept that kind of behavior from a partner?  This does not have to do so much with religious beliefs, but of the respect that each person in a marriage should show each other.  Would you still have your opinion of this letter if the person said that they both shared the same beliefs but the spouse still made critical comments to her all the time?  The issue is not so cut and dried.  Who would want to have kids with someone who did not respect them?  I agree that a trial period is in order, but not for attending church, they need to draw some ground rules that encompass mutual respect.

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        Your first point is an issue of semantics.

        It definitely seems that both partners could learn a bit about respect though.

    • avatar LCMom says:

      I’m with JrzWrld on both of these points.

      LW1 – when you got into your relationship, and indeed, your marriage, you made an agreement that your differing views on religion made no difference and would not come into play. You are responsible for breaking the agreement that you said you made with each other, and it sounds like he’s exactly where he was when you got together 4.5 years ago. That’s not right. You’re crying foul when it’s you that’s doing the fouling.

      LW2 – I’m also in agreement, and having read David Bolton’s comment as well, I have to say, I still agree with JrzWrld that often moms have major blind spots that are both good and bad. I’ll be the first to admit, I have them myself.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        “I still agree with JrzWrld that often moms have major blind spots that are both good and bad.”

        Well of course this is true. But it’s not unreasonable to say (or assume) that it’s possible this particular mom knows the abilities and limitations of her daughters. And… considering that there was “chatter” about this particular exclusion—which was quickly followed up by 1) an explanatory email from the bride eliminating ALL children (except for those being used) and 2) further justification from M-I-L, then it’s possible that the mother has been invited to events before and the daughters were disruptive, or that indeed the mother has justification for feeling the way she does.

        Look, it’s the bride’s wedding and she can invite whomever she chooses. But I’m of the belief that weddings are about a celebration WITH family, and not just the convenient kind.

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          There was no “justification” from LW2’s mother-in-law regarding the alleged exclusion of her grand-daughters…in fact, the LW simply states that the bride’s decision didn’t seem to disturb her. That does not equate to her justifying the decision to have no non-adults at the wedding…not does it imply that she agreed or disagreed with her daughter-in-law’s assessment that the bride was “excluding” the girls. What it means is that it didn’t bother her…exactly as LW2 stated. Maybe she just doesn’t like young people. Perhaps she is tired of her DIL’s constant defensive posturing. Or it truly is a case of…And so?

          As for the “chatter” regarding the decision…was that really about LW2’s daughters…or was that about the complete exclusion of all people under eighteen…save for the those in the wedding party? I tried to exclude children from my first wedding reception (purely a cost factor…and the fact that the venue offered no “children’s meals”…O, and we had an open bar) and I know the kind of venomous acrimony that arises when that decision is announced. It could very well be that others making a general complaint…and that LW2 is so focused on her own misperceptions that the blanket decision to have NO children had to be explained to her.

          Perhaps LW2 is fully aware of her daughters’ capabilities…and perhaps others see much more clearly how things really stand. In any case, forgive me, but she comes across as being far too ready and eager to seize any opportunity to “defend” her children. And it is the couple’s choice on who to invite…or not. Weddings…faugh. Give me the JOP and a little birdseed and a plain gold band.

    • avatar astrobasego says:

      Wow. So I am agnostic, but was raised in church. I know a couple going through pretty much the exact same thing, threats of divorce ect. But instead of calling his wife sick, I suggested for the sake of both that he attend, and instead of viewing it as a forced attendance issue that he look at it like a theology class. Everyone can benefit from positive messages. It matters little where the message originates. This couple now has healthy discussions about what the sermon contained, it has almost become more of a ‘date’ Sunday morning than torture for him. Conversely, his wife agreed that if he attended Sunday that she would do something with him she had no interest in, so Sunday night they kick back and share a cocktail at a sports bar and watch football. She engages and asks questions just like he does at church. Instead of fighting, they reached something called ‘compromise’, a handy tool in any relationship. They are doing better than ever. Will he ever actually believe in god? Will she actually become a football fan? Only time will tell. One thing is clear- nobody has hired an attorney.

      • avatar ann penn says:

        There are “churches” and then there are “churches”. Not all religious institutions have preachers who preach sermons that are worthy of discus