Carolyn Hax Live: Cheating as a deal-breaker, ethical non-monogamy and backyard mommy wars

Jun 17, 2011

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, June 17 at noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hi everybody. Reminder, I'm off next week, and back the following Friday (July 1) as usual.

In light of the whole Weiner scandal, DH and I have had a series of discussions about cheating and what it means in a committed marriage. I told him that if he ever cheated on me, I would be devastated and would want to get counseling together, but that I probably would not consider it the end of our marriage--definitely not if we had kids. He surprised me by replying that if I cheated on him, he would leave me, no questions asked--he would not stay married to a "cheating wife." Now, I have no plans of cheating (of course), but it really bothers me that after all we've been through together, my husband would be willing to end it all over one bad decision on my part, especially when he already knows I would try to work it out in the reverse situation. Am I being naive here? Or do you agree with me that my husband's approach is too hard-nosed?

I don't think I'm going to choose between "naive" and "too hard-nosed." No sense in having both of us wander into a snake pit.

Instead, I'll advise you to think carefully about exactly why your husband's response bothers you, and then say that to him in a calm moment.

For me, the distress would be rooted not in the idea that he'd dump me flat after all we've been through (though that does of course factor in), but instead in his choice of words--which I assume you reported here accurately. "Cheating wife" has a whiff of the virgin-whore dichotomy to it, suggesting I'd cease to have value as a woman/wife if I proved to be impure. If there's any of that thinking behind your husband's response, then that's a toxin you want to identify and flush out.

Most people have an extremely low opinion of where I work and what I do -- they think that we are uneducated, washed-up thieves and morons. Its gotten to the point where I clam up every time someone asks me where I work and what I do there. I start off vague, but it eventually comes out, and I end up with the inevitable negative comment. Its hard for me to separate people's perception of who works for this agency and the fact I am an agency employee; it touches a personal nerve with me. While its subjective, I think I am a decent, smart human being and a good citizen and the vast majority of my co-workers are great, outstanding people regardless of how the media portrays us or how ill-informed the public is. How do I avoid the awkwardness of explaining what I do, and how to I respond to people's horrible perception of myself and my co-workers?

I presume you have little interest in being a one-person educator on the merits of what you do, the people you work with and the general idea of not being quick to judge based solely on popular impressions. Nevertheless, your job and your discomfort with people's judgments put you in a good position to speak usefully on all three of these things.

If you prepare something quick and informative to say to people in response to their negative comments, you can both get yourself out of these awkward situations quickly and pre-empt (I hope) a few in the future, if not for you then for others in similarly awkward spots. For example: "We're used to that response, but some of us are good people doing good work." It might be even more effective if you skip the vague-answer dance and just say what you do.

And if people respond to your "good work" observation negatively as well, then just shrug and say "It's a big company"--implying that no one can possibly know that every single person  there is evil, and therefore the one who assumes such a thing is an idiot, while budging not an inch off the high ground.

The other choices are to stop caring how people react, and to stop saying where you work. "I'd rather not get into it" is one way, and another is deflecting with a more sturdy resolve never to give up identifying details. 

You do know that everyone who reads this now wants to know what you do for a living. 

 

Hey Carolyn, I have a hopefully pretty light question for you. In our home, we have a no phones at the dinner table rule. In larger dinners with more extended family, there is one relative who clearly has no problem with being on his phone through dinner (apparently our company is much less interesting than whatever is going on in facebook land). While it's their perogative to have all the cell phone use they want at their dinner table, my question is: can I enforce this rule with extended family when they are dinner guests at my house? Or is that rude to impose rules on guests. I really appreciate any insight, as they are coming for dinner tonight, and I'm expecting to see the top of his head all night as usual as he plays on his phone, unless you think it's ok to ask him to put away his phone while at my dinner table. I'm very tempted to ask him outright if we bore him so much that he can't even converse with us over dinner, and why he comes at all if he isn't interested in visiting, but I know that will be over-the-top rude and I definitely don't want to come off as high and mighty. Thanks Hax!!

If he walked into your home tracking huge clumps of dirt, you wouldn't hesitate to steer him back to the door so he could use the doormat or take his shoes off.

It's not perfectly analogous, but someone who doesn't have the sense to clean his muddy shoes on a doormat is similar enough to someone who doesn't have the sense to put his phone away at a dinner table. So, don't hesitate to steer him to a kitchen counter where he can leave his phone, saying that you don't permit phones at the table in your home.

 

Hi Carolyn, Do you think it is possible to have multiple satisfying, open relationships at the same time? I've noticed that much of your advice (esp. around people moving in together) is premised on a vision of relationships progressing in the direction of marriage. I find this idea problematic in my own life for various reason, and have recently thought that if I pursue relationships openly with a mind to everyone being open and thoughtful, I won't be so anxious about the One Relationship working out. I respect your take very much, and have never seen anything like this expressed in this space. Have you thought about it much?

Actually, this has come up from time to time, and my answer to it is the same as my answer to people who are looking for a life partner, or who are more comfortable with the idea of serial monogamy, or the people who just have no interest in a mate at all. As long as you are true to your words, true to your values and honest with the people in your life, and also careful not to violate any laws or exploit anyone, then you can create an ethical life of just about any configuration. Your success will depend on your ability to find cooperative partners, but that's true of every life path except complete solitude.

I have two boys, 2 and 4. My husband and I live in a mostly older neighborhood, so I was happy when a young family moved in next door with kids the same age. The wife/mom is very nice and a joy to be around; we spend a lot of time out back watching our kids play. Yet lately, she has become very judgmental of the fact that I work full-time (she doesn't have a job). She makes comments that imply that her kids are better taken care of and more important to her than mine are to me. I'm not completely sure whether she knows being offensive. What should I say to her?

It's tough when it's a next-door neighbor, because the escape hatch from a failed confrontation--avoiding the person ever after--isn't available to you. 

So, before you say anything, give fair consideration to the idea of letting her provocative comments lie there untouched. Think of it as not closing a circuit; there's no power until you make the connection.

That choice, of course, will keep you from becoming good friends, as well as leave your anger inside to build up into something much tougher to handle than what you have now. If you'd rather state that you're picking up these vibes and find them objectionable, then do it with care and with questions: "I get the sense that you're uncomfortable with our being working parents. Am I misreading that?"

Whether she states her home-is-better position or backs off it, you have an opportunity to say something conciliatory, along the lines of, "I have no preference myself, I just think families have to do what's right for them, and that's going to take a lot of different forms."

 

 

And, hey, good luck with that!

I, too, work in a highly political environment. To add to what Carolyn said, I also say, "I take pride in what I do as do all my coworkers. This is my dream job, and I worked hard to get here." That usually settles it. If not, then...you know, whatever. It has zero affect on me because everything I said is true.

Good stuff, thanks.

I am fighting with my fiance over empathy. I feel that it is a natural response that when someone I love has been hurt, I feel angry or upset for them--not in an over the top way, just in that it is pretty easy for me to get defensive in the "hey, no one hurts someone I love!" way--and particularly when I agree that they are right to be upset by whatever happened. But my fiance feels that my approach isn't normal at all, and that my desire for him to show me empathy in that way is very difficult and frustrating. I feel a little heartbroken when he takes the side of people who have done things to hurt me to try to get me to see that I'm wrong and shouldn't be upset. Is this something that is worth working on? If our instinctive approaches to being a compassionate person are so radically different, is it fair to ask someone to change?

First of all, I don't think it's fair to ask someone to change unless there's a clear problem that the someone recognizes and wants to fix, and without those conditions it usually doesn't work anyway. It's quite possible that what you're describing amounts to two different but equally valid ways of doing things.

It could also be that one of you is wrong--but from what you've given me, I can make two completely different arguments, one that says your approach "isn't normal" (gah) and one that says his isn't. For example, if you're seeing that people have "done things to hurt me" when in fact it's possible no one did anything to you, you'r ejust interpreting it that way out of hypersensitivity or self-absorption, then he's not going to empathize with the feelings you have as a result; he's going to see those feelings as self-inflicted and ewxcessive. On the other hand, if people are actually doing you harm, and he oppositional to the point of denying you any sympathy for the harm you suffered, then he's the one operating outside the range of healthy.

If you're both in agreement on what happens in these situations--X happens, Y is responsible, and it results in Z harm to you--then it could just be a matter of having different approaches to compassion. If you just want to be heard (and solve any problems yourself) and if he just wants to solve (and keep conversations clear of unproductive lamenting) then it's possible for you both to understand and adjust to each other.

What this all amounts to is a suggestion that you take this fight to a mediator of sorts. Look for a reputable pre-marital course, seminar or counselor, and start digging.

Sorry for the long(er) silences today. I seem to be picking questions that demand more careful wording than usual, even for this forum.

And if you are angry about what he said, understand that there's no way he can accurately predict his reaction to such an emotional and game-changing event. I was in his camp, I thought, until I recently found out my spouse cheated. After I sorted through all my emotions, I realized that I also had a lot of forgiveness in me. Share your feelings with him so that the resentment doesn't build, but understand that he gave you an emotion, not a guarantee.

Nice perspective, thanks.

Carolyn, would your advice change any based on the age of the telephoning dinner guest?

Circumstances always matter. I wouldn't confiscate the phone of, say, a doctor on call, but age alone doesn't strike me as relevant. If you're talking -authority- (would I treat my father like a naughtly child and make him put his phone away?), then that does have some bearing on the advice, I suppose.  The people in charge/in the generation that raised the  offender's generation have more leeway to insist. Still, since the phone at the table is a crime against respect, it's important to be respectful in dealing with the phone junkie.

I'm perplexed by the assertion that the full-time mom is a "joy to be around". If she's really so wonderful a person, and the letter-writer even acknowledges that full-time mom may not know these questions are causing offense... I would add that there's another available approach, namely to really, deeply consider the possibility that no judgment is intended. I feel like there are any number of comments that could be hard for a working mom to hear, but which seem innocuous to anyone not in that position. E.g. "Oh gosh, I just couldn't bring myself to leave the kids with a stranger" or "No job meant as much to me as my kids did" might ring to a working mom like, "You're being irresponsible with your children's care" and "You love your job more than your kids." But the speaker might just mean, "We really had a terrible time finding childcare" and "I had a job I hated anyway, so I ditched it." I.e. it's only meant as a description of her situation. As in so many things, I think seriously entertaining the possibility that it's not really about you can be so helpful...

Yes, paired with two useful perspectives: that the working mom is sensitive/defensive about her choices and therefore inclined to see things as judgments, and that the at-home mom is sensitive/defensive about her choices and therefore inclined to say things to pump herself up. Looking for humanity vs looking for a fight. Thanks.

In the answer to a woman whose husband stated that he couldn't abide a "cheating wife," (no way, no how), you said "If there's any of that thinking behind your husband's response, then that's a toxin you want to identify and flush out." One of the themes that I've seen come up in your writing an awful lot over the years is the idea that one person really can't change another - a person can either ask another to modify their behavior (which may or may not work), or find a way to deal with the other person as best they can, or get the heck out of Dodge. How, then, can one person "flush out" another person's "toxic attitude" (which, in this case at least, I admit could become a problem in their marriage, especially if he defines cheating as "standing too close to someone when talking to them")?

The "flush out" phrasing was deliberately vague, because there isn't one fixed outcome. It could mean talking about it so that it's out in the open, giving both husband and wife a chance to deal with it in any number of ways; it could mean explaining it in a way that allows the husband to realize he has this bias, which he might never have realized before; it could mean giving them a chance to debate and defend their viewpoints, since "You can't change people" is not the same thing as saying people are incapable of changing their minds;  it could mean her realizing he sees all women this way and getting the heck out of Dodge.

Hi Carolyn, A few weeks ago my sister, who I was never close with and is two years younger than me, decided to give me unsolicited advice about my relationship. She felt that my boyfriend of 4 years was never going to marry me, that I'm stuck on him like a piranha (her exact words), everyone knows I'll never leave him (again her exact words), and now that he is moving to a different state he is just going to coast with our relationship and never make a move. I got really upset and told her to MYOB, to which she returned with vicious attacks about me, him, his character, our relationship, etc... I also may have said some nasty things to her as well, but I was provoked. The funny thing about all of this is that my boyfriend is an amazing, sweet, caring guy, I was perfectly happy with the way our relationship was progressing, and coincidentally, he proposed to me a few days later (it just so happened that he had the ring in his possession at the time my sister was berating me and my life). Now here's my question: Her bridal shower is next Saturday and i have ZERO desire to go. I have not forgiven her for the absolutely rude comments she said to me and my mom thinks that we're both being immature (I'm 28, she's 26)... So she wants me to go regardless. I also have no desire to go to her wedding in July (to which she told me that my boyfriend-now-fiance was not welcomed at her wedding...don't ask, she's nuts). How do I handle this? Am I wrong in wanting to boycott her major life events (even though she's my sister), especially since she continually mocks mine?

I can definitely see boycotting the milestones of someone who calls you a piranha. "Remora" was clearly the correct fish in that circumstance.

Your sister is being openly hostile, it seems, and so you're completely justified in saying "no thanks" to these two events. Given her refusal to include your now-fiance, you have grounds to decline even if she wasn't being hostile. Excluding a sibling's longtime companion is just not acceptable behavior, and, unfortunately, agreeing to go without your partner is tantamount to acceptance.

So the real issue you have here is with your mother, because your relationship with her is still intact.

First, ask her whether she knows of anything your sister isn't telling you. It's a long shot, but, who knows; maybe your BF/fiance did something to harm or upset your sister, or to harm or upset you that your sister witnessed. It's a long shot, both that something happened and that your mom was told, but the ferocity of your sister's opposition makes it worth asking. (If you mom knows of nothing, put it to your sister flatly: "I'd like to know: Has Boyfriend done anything that give you this impression of him, anything I should know about?")

Once you've cleared that hurdle, then talk to your mom about your options. Specifically, ask her how she sees your behavior as immature? Because from your perspective, by not inviting your fiance to her wedding, your sister hasn't given you much of a choice. Listen to Mom's answer carefully.

If she cites something that you agree was childish on your part, then own up to it and make amends as needed, even with your sister.

If all she can offer is that she doesn't want the sisters to be divided, wants you to ignore the hostility and go to these functions, then she's essentially telling you that she wants you to bend because she knows your sister won't. With this information, you can make your decision: Do you want to be the one who bends? I say this with no bias in either direction.

If everything here is true as you've laid it out, then your sister doesn't deserve your concessions--but you aren't going or not going for her. Whatever you choose has to be for you. Even if you go to please your mom, you'll be doing it to satisfy your own need to please your mom.

So inquire, look inward, think, act. Making sure you don't skip any of these steps is the best way to choose a path that you won't come to regret.

 

 

I have been married to my husband for 4 years, together for 8. We have never had such a discussion. Do you think it is something we should do? I just never thought about asking or talking about it. Am I being naive in thinking we don't need to have a preemptive discussion about this?

I think it's good not to have a preemptive discussion about this. Just knowing each other (and knowing you can't possibly know everything) is a much more useful approach.

Hey, each week I wait for a theme to emerge. This week it's black-and-white thinking. "All people who do xxxx job are lazy bottom-feeders." "All working moms are bad moms." "I would leave if you cheated." The answer to every one of these questions could be: "Life is complicated, and so are people. Everyone makes their own deals, and has their own deal breakers. Is there really only one way to look at this?" Copy and repeat, I think.

Sold. Though the parts can speak for the whole, too; each of your copy-and-repeat sentences stands alone as an answer.

How do I tell my best friend from my childhood (who I've promised to be my maid of honor at my wedding when we were children but has since drifted apart) that I've picked another friend to step in? I originally did not even want a maid of honor but my fiance has an identical twin whom he wants to stand beside him and so therefore I chose a good friend who lives close by to be my maid of honor. How do I delicately break the news to my childhood friend without hurting her feelings?

Have you spoken of this promise at all in the modern era of your friendship? If not, then just carry on without saying anything at all; she'll know she's not the maid of honor when she gets the wedding invitation/save-the-date card.

If you have spoken about it semi-recently, then you could still go with not saying anything, since I put myself in the jilted MOH's shoes and I think how much I'd rather deal with any disappointment in the privacy of my own mind. Id almost be embarrassed that you thought my feelings needed attending to over a childhood declaration.

Otherwise, you can call her to say you dispensed with the wedding party and you're just going with one attendant each, both of whom live close by and are already helping out in various non-ceremonial ways. Done. 

Tonight I'm planning to meet my boyfriend for dinner and end our relationship of one year. I've had the urge to do this for a while and think it's probably the right decision. Yet now just thinking about it, my legs are shaking and I can't stop thinking I will regret it forever if I do this. Does this mean I'm making the wrong decision, or is it just jitters before a hard conversation?

I have no idea, but I do hope you don't break up with him at a restaurant dinner. Public places are cruel unless they're necessary (say, if you fear a vilent reaction).

Why are you breaking up with him? Or, I should say, why do you think it's the right thing, and why are you fearing you'll regret it?

What do you do, when you see a relationship spiraling down the toilet, riddled with verbal and sometimes physical abuse, and yet the victim (wife in this case) is determined to "make it work". He has her convinced that if she'd just do this right, do that right, and not do all the things he's blamed 110% of their problems on, that they would be happy and he wouldn't have to berate her for being so stupid all the time. Sigh. I and numerous other people (some of whom have experienced similar relationships and managed to escape to build a better life) have advised her over and over that his behavior is abusive, it's not okay, he's not likely to change, and she needs HELP. He agreed to counseling because he believes the counselor will help prove to her she's as crazy as he says she is. (They've been once). Yes, we've told her she needs individual counseling as well but that is not yet in the works. I feel so helpless watching this and not being able to do anything to help. She complains heavily and lengthily about her situation but doesn't seem to want to do anything about it. I'm both afraid for her and also (ashamedly) becoming annoyed by the constant re-hashing of the same issues with no end/hope for a better future in sight. Your thoughts?

Give her some reading--"The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker, of course; "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" by Patricia Evans; "Domestic Violence: The Facts," which still exists, though it's like the whack-a-mole of cyberspace. Currently I'm finding it here.

I also urge you to urge her to do the survey; it's from de Becker's company and it's an online tool to help people see the dangerous patterns in their intimate relationships. It's excellent. In fact, I listed it last but it should have come first, since it's fast and clear.

I'm at home on maternity leave with my second baby. We took my older son, 4, out of daycare for the time being, to save money while I'm home. Is it normal that I'm finding him excruciatingly annoying right now? I try to be patient and to show him as much attention as I possibly can, but I find that I have to try very hard to avoid snapping at him ... at 4, I know he can understand what I'm saying when I tell him I can't play with him right now because I'm feeding or changing the baby.

Understanding and feeling okay with it are two different things. If you consider that adults can feel unwanted and sad for weeks, months, even years after a breakup, then it won't seem so strange to imagine that at 4, he will have a hard time with the feelings he has when Mommy won't play with him. Snapping at him is somethign all parents will do at some point when strained and drained, but it's not justified, by his comprehension level or anything else, and will only make him feel bad on top of bad.

Obviously you can't just play every time he asks; that's neither realistic nor healthy for him. But you can go out of your way to make sure there's some time in each day--or just some moments he can count on--when you're all his. Think of little traditions you can start with him and scatter throughout the day, or things you can do when the baby naps, or times when you can have a sitter or mother's helper take the baby out in a stroller while you and your son enjoy each other.

Also make sure you have time in your schedule for yourself. Whether the father can take them both at scheduled times on weekdays or weekends, or you hire a sitter/mother's helper, or you get involved with a co-op day care where you can drop off your kids in exchange for working a shift there, or arrange an informal kid swap with another at-home parent, you need to feel free sometimes, or else you'll just get crabby with your kids. Get some rest, then do some thinking/planning on behalf of your older guy. Bringing out his smile will bring out yours.

Hi Carolyn, A month ago, the husband of a woman in our friend group died. We are in our twenties and the death was very unexpected and was a huge shock, especially to my friend (the wife). The funeral was held in a location about four hours away from where my friend group went to school, and where many of us now live. Many of us coordinated to drive to the funeral. One of my closest friends, who was also close to the wife of the now-deceased man, refused to go. Her reasoning was that she didn't want to sit in a car for that long on a Saturday, and that she would just call our friend later. The funeral was a few weeks ago, and I'm still really bothered by my close friend's reaction. Her reaction seems so callous to me, that I'm still upset by it. Now I'm seeing that her reaction to our friend's tragedy fits in to a larger pattern of her actions. She complains when friends' needs go contrary to her own; she complains if weddings are out of town or if a family throws a bridal shower and invites her because that means she has to bring a gift and give up one of her Saturday nights to attend. I have considered this person one of my closest friends. Should I be rethinking this? Is my reaction to her reaction justified? And if yes, what do I do?

This is a self-answering question, really. You are rethinking her, whether you should or not, and it's a reaction to her choices; whether it's justified is moot, since your reaction hasn't invoved any action, just thought. Reacting isn't a choice and thinking doesn't need justification.

The "What do I do?" answer will come on its own, too, because you will continue to feel close to and interested in her as a friend, or you will feel annoyed/disgusted/repelled by her. I don't think it's really an option for you to decide you're overreacting and talk yourself into liking her again--not because it's wrong, but because it doesn't sound possible. You're saying wow, it's all  about her.

Will you recover from that? I don't know, but if you don't, then, you don't. Whether you explain your change of heart is the only real decision you're facing.

I hope you are straight with her: "I have considered you one of my closest friends. But you complain if weddings are out of town or if a family throws a bridal shower and invites you because that means you have to bring a gift and give up one of your Saturday nights to attend. Now that you've complained about having to spend time in a car when our friend's husband is dead, I'm still upset. I hope I'm wrong, but it looks to me now that you care only when it's convenient to you." It's a tough thing to say, but if she's as self-centered as she appears here, then the truth could save her life, the emotional side at least. But, then, I don't have to be there, so it's an easy thing for me to want.

I'm struggling. I have great friends and family and I'm employed, that should be enough, right? But after countless first dates and no prospects on love, and going to a job everyday, that although I appreciate, I hate, I'm feeling incredibly down. I feel like I'm in a slump. When I'm out w/ my friends, I want to be home. When I'm home, I want to be out w/ my friends. I just don't know what to do to make myself happy again. I feel like 28 is too young to just be going through motions.

I bristle a bit at "quarter-life crisis," because though you may have meant it just as a quickie headline and no more, the impulse to lump things into a larger phenomenon can hinder the process of figuring out what's really wrong. As "cold feet" does to someone who is having second thoughts about marriage, it gives permission to brush it off as nothing serious, everyone has it, etc.

You say things that suggest depression, so you should get screened. You mention a quest for love, so you should shelve that and think of other ways to make productive use of your non-work time. Do you have any affiliations or hobbies or causes that give you a sense of purpose? If not, then that needs to be your primary focus: figuring out what gives yo a good feeling, what draws on your talents, what you daydream of doing when your task at hand is boring. 

There's no right age to "just be going through the motions." It's where you end up when one of two things happens: when you're depressed, or when you're failing to use your imagination in charting the course of your life (or, sure, a little of both). Get a professional look to rule out the first, and then scrape up your energy to tackle the second. 

 

Given that all good relationships take work, how do you know when it's TOO much work? In other words, I know if he were my soulmate, it wouldn't feel like work at all. But I don't really think soulmates exist. Where do you draw the line?

I'd define "too much work" as a relationship that wears you down more than it restores you.  To be fair to both of you, the excitement of newness (or anything else that you can be certain won't last) can't go into the "restorative" column.

You need to chuck the whole "soul mate" thing, by the way. You can 't define it as if it's real, and then say it doesn't exist. You're basically saying you know what you want but can't have it, so how far off perfect do you stoop/settle for?

A more productive way to look at it is to decide what you want based on your knowledge of and experience with people. E.g., I know that there's no such thing as a person without any traits that annoy me, but I do know it's possible to know someone for 20 years and still be happy when s/he walks into a room. Or, I know it's not possible to agree on everything, but it is possible to disagree respectfully, and to feel safe saying something I know the other person won't agree with because I know it won't turn into a fight. Qualities/standards like those are directions for where to draw your lines.

You have to sign up and pay for the de Becker threat assessment? I just went to the website and tried to use it and it asked for personal information and mentioned a fee. Is there an alternative free and anonymous resource?

I used it myself to see what it involved, and there wasn't a fee; that was a few months ago so I will check again. It says clearly on the disclosure page that "If you are registering to conduct a Domestic Violence MOSAIC, you are not required to use your real name."

Well-validated research suggests abuse increases when couples in an abusive relationship get therapy together. The usual guideline is that, where physical abuse is present, individual therapy for both members is indicated, until the physical abuse has been laid to rest for a year or more.

I am not familiar with the one-year standard, but, yes, it's true that where there's abuse, individual therapy is indicated. Thanks.

Yes, both people need to be able to root for each other. But in my own relationships, the ones that are strongest are ones where we can call each other on our crap. A good friend/partner doesn't co-sign my bull. It's how we bring out the best in each other. And, of course, the time-tested technique of prefacing a rant with "I need to vent, but I don't think I need feedback on this" works too.

I hope people scroll to the original question to see where this starts, because it's a great way to look at it., thanks.

"A good friend/partner doesn't co-sign my bull" isn't just the mark of a good relationship. It's also a mark of maturity to be able to handle constructive input from people close to you, vs getting defensive. Clearly if criticism is all you get, then there's a problem of a different sort--but people who are largely supportive of you also need to be able to say, "Actually, I think you might have read the situation wrong and taken it too personally," without having their loyalty and compassion questioned. 

Not that this is a justification, but it's possible that your friend appears self-centered because she may be mildly agoraphobic, or have social anxiety. She may shy away from large gatherings, even though she's okay with small groups of friends. And she might complain that things are inconvenient because she's ashamed to tell her friends that she's afraid of travel or large groups. Just something to consider.

Interesting take, thanks. 

Okay, that's it. Thank you, and see you the Friday after next, when we gather together to listen to the crickets left behind on the first afternoon of a summer holiday weekend.  

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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