Baggage Check Live: Not worth a plate of falafel

Apr 23, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

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Welcome, everyone! How are you doing this week? I'm so glad you are here.

In this week's column, we've got a neatness versus clutter issue-- and at what point does it become "controlling"? And in Letter 2, we've got a teenager who constantly worries about her health. Can anyone relate?

Also, here's a seemingly random request-- do you have any quotes that speak to you about life in general? Or thoughts and feelings in particular? I am compiling them for purposes that will become clear later. I'll start with one of my favorites-- a lyric from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem"-- "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." Anyway, if you have a favorite and you don't mind sharing (with proper attribution, of course!) I'd love to hear it.

On that note, let's begin!

I never understood why no matter how hard I tried, I could never be tidy and organized the way my mother and younger sister were. At age 40 I was diagnosed with ADHD, and suddenly so many things — including my organizational skills and habits — made sense. Just something to consider ...

For sure. I see all these things as a spectrum, of course, and it it's true that people who are more toward the ADD/ADHD end of things have a harder time being conscientious and structured about their belongings and routines!

My MIL "Lynn" is sensitive to criticism and quick to anger with her immediate family. I've been with my now-husband for a decade and we live an hour away, so I've spent a good amount of time with her over the years. This past weekend has two great examples over dinner that Lynn prepared for the family. My SIL asked for where the salt shaker was, to add some to her soup, and Lynn got huffy and said that there was enough salt. Suggestions that the soup was great but everyone likes different levels of salt went unheeded and Lynn was adamant that the salt shaker stayed out of the dining room. Later, my FIL went to clear my plate after asking if I was done. Lynn must have missed my nod and smile, and she snapped at her husband for rushing me. These little snipes are a constant and luckily they never reach full yelling, but they keep me in a constant stressed feeling when with her. It's definitely to the point where visits with my in-laws aren't enjoyable. Now I have an almost-year old daughter, in addition to a niece and nephew both under two years old. Soon they will pick up on what's happening. I don't them to grow up thinking this is an acceptable way to treat others. According to my husband, over the years various people have called Lynn out in the moment to no change. A few times it's been enough to convince her that she needs to see a therapist for anxiety, and she will make a single phone call, learn that one therapist is not accepting new patients, and that is it. The new strategy for the family, apparently, is to avert our eyes and change the subject. My husband knows how I feel, but I think isn't quite aware of how much it stresses me out and I need something to change.

So, I wonder if now that there are little ones underfoot, that would give Lynn extra motivation to change. If she was willing to go as far as making a phone call before, might she take it one step further?

It's not that you want to make your child(ren) pawns in this, but it is a very real and concrete and valid consequence that if she continues being so harsh with people, she will get less time with her grandkids. And she needs to be made aware of that, and understand her effect on people.

I think there needs to be a more solid and specific conversation than just "Yeah, you could use some therapy." I think she needs to hear particular examples and their effects ("When you said X to so-and-so, it really deflated everyone's mood and upset people, because it came across as Y.") Calling her out in the moment may bring more trouble than it's worth, as you want to ideally do it in a time where she is as un-wound-up as possible (and I'm guessing those times are few and far between.)

Enlist your husband, enlist his father-- but just sweeping this under the rug will only prolong the agony of it. And in the meantime, with little eyes and ears around, you can make a point to counteract the snipes with kindness and diffusion of the tension.

The online link to the Lifestyle section has been broken since Monday afternoon. When you click on Lifestyle, it takes you to a page that says "Weddings", but it is blank. You cannot access any other part of the section . Please pass this on to someone who can fix it. Thanks.

Oof. Thank you for letting us know. I can't guarantee I am high enough on the food chain to get this fixed immediately, but it is being noted!

I have noticed this on the Post website also! Publishing support is aware of the issue. 

“I try so hard to help her build habits...” Does she want to build these habits, and/or want your help? Or are you wanting her to behave differently and repeatedly asking (telling?) her to do so, regardless of how she feels? You don’t like a cluttered home; it’s stressful. Perhaps she’s trying to tell you that she wants a spouse who lets her come in the door (and make a mess) to a welcome without judgement. Being told daily that you’re doing things wrong is stressful, too. And I agree that we don’t know whether she was always this “tornado”; whether your or her standards have changed; whether your work environment or a portion of the space can be made your haven and a portion made hers; etc. One thing is certain, though. You can’t change her. You can tell her how it impacts you. You can offer to find a solution together. You can’t make her change into a minimalist. You have to accept your spouse as they are and decide to work with their flaws, or leave the marriage; your marriage/life together can’t be conditional on her being someone she’s not.

A lot of great points here. Thank you!

I wrote the question about communicating with my husband about baby prep. Thanks so much to you and the other chatters for your insights. I should have been more clear that I don't normally think I am crazy, but pregnancy hormones are triggering high anxiety levels in general and it's also a running joke in my household that I am the Type-A planner of our partnership, so while I usually try to not overwhelm my husband in planning, I couldn't tell if I was being particularly, unnecessarily anxious about it right now! I was also annoyed that our normally gender-equitable partnership is for the first time dividing into "traditional" roles where he thinks I know a lot more than I do about all things baby. The reality check from you was very helpful, and it was useful to hear how others have approached this divide! We had a good, relaxed conversation over the weekend and he is on board with getting organized sooner rather than later. Plus, I realized when a chatter pointed it out that yes, he is contributing in other ways ... I am apparently the information-prepper and he is the physical-prepper (buying furniture, repairing the bathroom, etc...which he did all weekend). Thanks for the confidence boost and guidance!

Bravo for the talk! So glad it worked out, and that you are feeling better about things. May I say, sounds like excellent teamwork. Thanks for writing in!

Hi my siblings feel like I intensely need counseling but just me not them. I do find myself quieter and carry hurt feelings when people lie to me, or don’t include me. I also have made many mistakes in the past which I have owned up to and apologized for but I feel that’s the reason I get treated like a doormat by my family. It’s causing me a lot anxiety

Well, the way I see this is — you have a lot of anxiety, so you deserve to get some help for it, no matter where it comes from. I can understand that you feel caught up in the "Whose fault is this" and "Who has the problem, me or them" battle here, but to me, that is beside the point. If you are struggling, you deserve to get some help. Going to therapy is not about being "right" or "wrong" — it's about helping you cope with whatever is thrown at you and trying to find your way through it.

My 64 year old husband feels he doesn’t have a lot of time left to do the things he has always wanted to do. So he is pursuing them to the detriment of our marriage, household responsibilities and family obligations. I also have waited years to retire and check off my bucket list. I’d appreciate more help with day to day chores not to mention spending more time together. Large home chores are being left undone and he’s missing grandchildren’s important moments to fulfill his "dreams."

So, does he see the effects of his actions? Does he know how much he is missed in terms of the grandchildren, and how much he is needed at home — and how it is causing some resentment? Is the pull of these bucket list items so big that it blinds him to that — or that it makes him not care?

Whether you can work this out on your own will depend entirely on his ability and motivation to see your perspective and prioritize it. If he's willing to give a little, then that in turn can be helped by your bending a little, too, depending. Are there bucket list items that overlap? Are there things he can get out of his system now and then settle down after? Are there items he can decide to put off for a few more years?

You probably already know that this will take compromise and communication — on both your parts. But you can start by conveying to him the depth of your feelings in terms of how this is affecting you. The same general rules apply —choose a relaxed time, use "I" statements that reflect your own emotions rather than accusing him of things, and try to propose a path forward.

Keep us posted!

My father in law was originally going to see us for Easter, getting in on Thursday and leaving Tuesday morning. That I can deal with, it's only 5 days (really 4) but decided at last minute to stay with us until Monday of next week. That's almost 2 weeks. I get along with him but I can't take him for 14 days. My husband has to work which is fine. I also have to work but I work from home so I have no "office" and I can't work out of a Starbucks/anything similar. Andrea he's a damn lazy pig. For Easter breakfast and dinner when we were done, he left the table to sit on the couch while my husband and I cleaned up, never offering to help. For breakfast he either leaves his dirty dishes in the sink or leaves then on the kitchen table. He leaves his shoes all over, walks around barefoot, not to mention constantly passes gas without saying excuse me, picks at his feet on the couch (again hello foot fungus) .... The list literally goes on. I've said something to my husband that I'm not a maid and he needs to speak up but he hasn't. He's done well with cleaning up after his dad but I'm at the end of my rope. There is NOTHING wrong with my father in law other than he's lazy. He's sharp as can be, mobile, etc. He is widowed and was this way even before my MIL passed away but she always cleaned up. I think he assumes it's my responsibility being a female. Since I'm working he sits in our living room and reads but it's like he's watching me. If I get up to get water he stops reading and looks up to see what I'm doing, go the bathroom he looks up etc. It's like I have a babysitter and I'm in my 30's. I don't know HOW I'm going to do this the rest of the week. Suggestions? My husband is to "scared" to speak up because he's an only child and thinks his dad will get "mad" so I'm the bad person.

You know it's bad when someone's attempts to spread their foot fungus around are the least of the issue.

I'm afraid that my best answer here is to find a time machine, because honestly, standing up politely against the extension of the visit would have been optimal here. We will trust that you and your husband will join forces to do that next time.

In the meantime, create as much of a barrier as you can. Close the door when you are working. Go to bed early. Protect your personal space. Go to a restaurant if that is easier than waiting on him hand and foot.

That said, for the long term, might there be some positive activities to find to do with him that will help him feel more connected (which it sounds like he is desperate for?) Because if we look at this whole story from a different framework, we see a widowed, lonely guy who really wants companionship but had the unlucky fortune to have never been told that what he was doing was coming across as obnoxious. He sounds bumbling and clueless but not unkind. Ultimately, those specific offenses are something that needs to be addressed — for all of your sakes — because it's not fair to him that he may not know how he is coming across. If your husband isn't willing to speak up, are you? Of course, in an ideal world it would be your husband, but we don't have that here.

But back to finding something positive — if he wants companionship, are there some activities/conversations/shared interests/events that the three of you could do, to create some connection?        

My 30 year old son had a sexual relationship with a co-worker before they became "girlfriend and boyfriend." They quickly fell for each other and my son found out she became pregnant a few months after she conceived. They decided to commit to each other and lived together with their daughter, they conceived their son four years later, and then got married. At my son's urging, they had a paternity test for the first child a few weeks ago and found out she is not his daughter. Now my son is terrified that if his 6-year-old daughter finds out he may lose his relationship with her. Right now he is so upset he cannot even go to work and is seeking good therapy but cannot find it. He asked me for help.

I'm a little confused here.

They are still married, no? Why would he suddenly not have a relationship with his daughter (and yes I am going to call the girl his daughter, because he has been her father, no matter what the DNA says.) when the family is otherwise intact?

(And — inquiring minds want to know — why was he so concerned with getting the paternity test in the first place if he was not ready for the results? That sounds cruel of me, and I'm sorry. But I'm just trying to figure out what his real motivations are here.)

The way I see it — nothing has changed. He has a family. Where is his wife in this? (Is there concern that the biological father will enter the picture?) But why would he think that she would at all contribute to the severing of his bond with his daughter?

I am so sorry for his angst — I do not mean to minimize that at all — and I do think he needs support. (Keep trying on the therapy end!) But I also think that in a loving family, the truth can come out in a respectful and honest way that doesn't have to change the love part.

For adult (or teen) children grieving their parent, and struggling with a "new" replacement. Try reframing this in your mind. If your father (mother) had not really loved their spouse a lot, they would not be in such a hurry to replace them. Marriage was so good, that they want it again. If it hadn't been, they would not be looking so hard. Maybe if the child can look at it this way, they will not feel so threatened or hurt by the surviving parent moving on.

Thanks for this. It's a sentiment that does help some people move forward.

Hi Dr. Andrea, I have kept my atheism a secret from my mom, with whom I otherwise have a great relationship. However, while I lost my faith, hers is getting stronger as she gets older. Not to mention she worked two jobs so that she could send my siblings and me to religious school all our lives. Recently, she keeps bringing up the fact that my cousin didn't have her babies baptized. My husband and I are planning on having a baby in the next year, and the thing is, I don't want to baptize my children (unless they choose to be baptized when they are older). We got married in a church and I didn't realize I was an atheist until later, so it's going to be a really brutal shock. I don't know where to start in breaking this to her without ruining our relationship.

Well, she's giving you an opening by bringing up your heathen (ha!) cousins.

This is one of those conversations that will be painful no matter what, so part of the process is just reminding yourself that it's important to you to have it. And I am assuming it is — since you don't want to enlist your child in living a lie just to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.

Give some thought beforehand to really empathizing with your Mom and what you think she will be most frightened of/angry with. Are there ways that you can sooth those feelings? Is it a worry about Hell, or morals, or cultural practices and traditions of the religion? Is it the fear that she's "failed" you by your not keeping the faith she tried to instill? Is it a fear of it having been a waste?

The more you can empathize with her, the more you can have some answers prepared that help assuage some of those direct concerns. But remember, there's no magic way for her to not be upset. But this is about being true to yourself. Let that be the value that guides you into this conversation, and add love, respect, and consideration to the mix and it will go as well as it can. 

My family is very Christian and does not like pagan religions. However, as I grew up, I found myself drifting away from Christianity and towards paganism. The problem is that I am now in a bit of a problem. My sister is very frightful of such religions and has recently had a son and I'm worried that if I say what I truly believe that she would separate me from my nephew in order to protect him from something she views as dangerous. I can't really keep this belief of mine to myself for the rest of my life due to my family asking questions of what I'm giving up for Lent or if I'm celebrating Shrove Tuesday and it's getting to the point where I think people are getting suspicious. What should I do?

This is interesting on the heels of the other question!

I'm thinking there are degrees of answers, right? Like, there's a HUGE spectrum between lying that you are giving up something for Lent versus outlining the ins and outs of your own beliefs and how they directly contradict even the idea of Lent in the first place.

Could you spend some time perfecting the outward persona of someone who is "None of the above" rather than espousing specific aspects of paganism?

Or would the "none of the above" be just as offensive?

Ultimately, it's a cost-benefit analysis here as well. What shape do you want your relationship with your nephew to have. There's closeness and then there's "closeness." The more you lie about who you are, the more you'll get of the latter, but the less you'll get of the former. Then again, there's a point at which it sounds like the more honest you are, the more you risk either type of closeness.

The short answer? Dip your toes slowly and gently into the conversation of introducing the fact that you don't practice Christianity as much as they do. Be kind, warm, and respectful, and see if they can meet you where you are.

I recently found out that I am the co-owner of two cemetery plots. My grandparents bought them, and when my father died (20 years ago, and I just found out about the plots!) they passed on to my sister and I. My two aunts are also co-owners. My aunts want to use the plots for themselves and asked my sister and I to sign them over to them. We don't plan to use them, but these plots have value and they didn't offer to compensate us. We both have very rocky relationships with our aunts, one in particular didn't speak to us for years, and makes no attempt to have a relationship with us. If this was a house we are talking about, we wouldn't just give it to them without some compensation, and I feel this is kind of the same thing. But I also don't want to start another family feud. What to do?

It really is a cost-benefit analysis at some point. How much would the money make a difference to you, and to your sister? (I admit I am not up on the funereal real estate market.) Is it worth severing whatever shards of a relationship may have remained? Or do you already feel that those shards aren't even worth a plate of falafel?

If you do decide the compensation is important to you (no judgment here), then you could broach it in a very matter-of-fact, respectful way. It will help if you and Sis are on the same page. "Indeed, we would be glad to keep those plots in the family as we had not planned to use them. We understand they are estimated at about X dollars, and while we wouldn't charge you that given our relationship, we can't totally donate them either. We discussed it and thought Y was reasonable. How does this sound to you?"

My son has an ADD diagnosis. My father very likely has it, but undiagnosed. I'm positive I have it, but have had difficulty getting to the right person for a diagnosis. I saw an psychiatrist who specialized in ADD, but he was so focused on kids with ADD that he wouldn't refer me for testing but just dx'd me with stress from grad school, and maybe depression. My therapist refers me to my primary care, who dismisses my reports of struggling with work and home due to ADD symptoms, and says I just have anxiety and stress from having an ADD kid and a cheating husband (paraphrasing). I asked my son's psychiatrist, who is great, but she won't take me on as a patient because he is her patient. So, how do I find a doctor who is willing to test me for ADD, when the ones I have tried to get help from just see me as a middle aged lady with a stressful life, even when I can provide documentation of ADD symptoms since childhood?

Wow. I feel for you and am so sorry that this has been so invalidating, but can I just say this is a TEENY bit not-totally-awful for me to hear as a practitioner, given that the usual complaint is that ADD diagnoses are given out like promotional tote bags?

That said, no, it is not right for you to be dismissed in such a way, not at all. You need a totally new practitioner, and I would advise going to a neuropsychologist for a full battery, rather than a psychiatrist or a GP. They will take you seriously. And if for some reason they don't — I remain totally flabbergasted.

Keep us posted.

Also, something to think about  — you might not successfully get your MIL to change. How can you change YOUR expectations/coping/anxiety in order to let these things not bother you so much? If this is how she is (and you can't control that) and presumably you have to spend some amount of time with her (theoretically in your control, but family is hard that way) — what could you do to let it roll off your back more? (I get it — I'm easily stressed out by others too but in many cases it's more my issue than theirs!)

This is a great point, and one that I feel we could write a whole other post on. Thanks. Because once the reality is established of what the visits will look like with her getting help or not, there's still a relationship to maintain on some level, no matter how limited it is (I didn't get the feeling that total estrangement would or should be in the picture here.)

Doing some sort of visualization and mental reminder about her limitations can be helpful. Framing it as a way of giving more empathy to OP's husband, for instance, that he had to grow up with the constant sniping, or framing it as gratitude that your own family life will be more loving and warm, etc. That can help detach her snipes from their sting and give OP a little breathing room.

Simple, and perhaps trite and unoriginal, but easy to remember: a lyric from Pearl Jam's "Thumbin' My Way"  "No matter how cold the winter, there's a springtime ahead." I use it to remind myself no matter how sh--y things are in this moment, it is only temporary.

I love this! And can just picture a sweaty Eddie Vedder singing it. Many thanks.

It also reminds me of "The darkest hour is just before the dawn," a phrase that has probably been around practically forever, but which I will always hear (minus the second "the") in the voice of Mama Cass from "Dedicated to the One I Love."

I submit: "Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future." Apparently it's a Native American (Lumbee) proverb, though I don't know how that attribution was originally sourced.


Thank you so much.

"If," by Rudyard Kipling. In a town where people's egos get way out of control, this is the perfect way to remind yourself of how to stay on the right path, even as you try to excel. And sure, the last line refers to men, but I tell myself it's because Kipling was talking to his son, and that it's universally applicable.

Oooh — feels particularly timely, even!! Thank you!

When I was in crisis and my then-divorcing sister told me that I needed to be in therapy, my first thought was "Clearly, you need to be in therapy." Years later, I finally got the help I needed and started to feel normal and happy again. The delivery maybe was wrong (or I took it wrong), but it's worth considering that maybe you could benefit from some therapy.


I am so glad you got the help you needed.

I think our culture has spent so long making it seem like therapy is for people with "flaws" that it is hard to recognize that it doesn't have to be about that at all. That it can be about getting support that is sorely needed and deserved given what's going on in someone's life.

LW could be overwhelming their wife with the expectation that *EVERYTHING* has to be neat and tidy to their specifications. I myself am the kind of person who likes' ... but the idea of keeping all things neat at all times in the exact way my partner wants (especially when I get home from work and quite literally dump all my bags. shoes, jacket, etc. on the floor) feels very stressful and disrespectful of my needs. I feel like there can be some room for compromise. Can LW and wife designate a corner/closet/table/chair/etc. as a designated dumping zone? That LW will make no comments about (important caveat!) and is on wife to deal with. If the wife feels like she has a place to unload (literally and metaphorically) without judgement, I have a strong suspicion keeping other areas neater will come easier.


I am hoping there is compromise here.

I think a lot of families and partners are having these exact same kinds of conflicts in the age of Kondo.

Just chiming in as a neat freak to say I think the idea of a "dumping zone" is a great compromise! 

Can you tell him it’s difficult for you to work with him around and suggest things for him to do (museums, etc)? In the moment, can you politely ask him to change his behavior? Like, Dad, can you please move your shoes to the [appropriate place]? Dad, we try to keep hygiene activities limited to the bathroom — can we make sure you have a place to sit and enough light to work in your feet in there? Dad, can you bring me your plate from the table? Dad, we are splitting up chores: do you want to wash or dry dishes, or wipe down counters?

I know you’ll end up parenting him a little bit maybe you’ll resent him less and at least you’ll be setting expectations. As for “watching” you — if he isn’t commenting, just reading his book and glancing up when you leave the room, that seems like pretty peaceful leaving you alone-ness. Can you reframe that one in your own mind?

Really helpful insights here — agree on all of it. Thank you!

"If we can't laugh, we would all go insane."— Jimmy Buffett & "Breathe in, breathe out, move on," also Jimmy Buffett

I can hear the steel drum as I read this! Thank you!

It's so true that humor doesn't get enough respect in times of crisis. Even the research shows that it can have a significant role in healing.

Will your kids really infer from their crabby grandmother that those kinds of interactions are OK in general? You and your husband model something entirely different at home. You're not going to be able to make sure your kids never engage with people who don't comport themselves perfectly. They have to figure out to function within those types of situations.

True, but Grandmas aren't just any random ladies on the street. There's definitely an esteemed place there (as there should be), and I could understand there being some confusion about the way people treat each other at Grandma's house and what goes on in your own.

I do agree, though, that when the kids get to an age where they are able to understand the complexities of people's personalities, then it could be an opportunity for growth to talk about what they're witnessing. 


I call BS on "If your father (mother) had not really loved their spouse a lot, they would not be in such a hurry to replace them. Marriage was so good, that they want it again. If it hadn't been, they would not be looking so hard." My parents had a horrible marriage. If not for my father's spending every extra penny on booze and cigarettes, the religious burden, the social costs of divorce in the 70s, and the impact of gender discrimination on wages, my mother probably would have left him. He is a narcissistic jerk. He trotted out this BS after she passed away to justify joining dating websites within a month of her passing. He began dating a horrible woman who takes great offense at boundaries, and the two of them preen and post for the masses about how wonderful their lives are now. It is horribly insulting to my mother's memory.

I am so sorry to hear the way this unfolded.

It sounds incredibly hurtful.

Clearly, that idea doesn't ring true for everyone — and could even be used as a weapon to justify problematic behavior in some cases.

You can also not make it a thing. “Yeah, I know Becky didn’t get baby Johnny baptized. Maybe she’s not very religious anymore. I mean, Spouse and I aren’t religious, neither are like a third of Americans. Hey, what did you think of going to the same place as last year for Mother’s Day Brunch?”

This is a roll of the dice, for sure, but I would love to see it work out!

My husband and I were like this. I was the slob, he was neat. I tried very hard to be less of a slob. He appreciated the effort and didn't expect me to meet his standards. If he felt like something needed to be tidier, he did it himself — but it didn't bother him because he knew I was trying. If people bring good faith to the discussion, they can find a compromise that works.

Good faith is so key here! Thanks. And may you and your husband have many blissful meeting-in-the-middle moments to come!

Love the Cohen! Possibly the theme of my life. Also, I have to repeat this to myself regularly, from Teddy Roosevelt: "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Ooh... that is a good one! Thanks!

Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Cohen — first time in the same chat post? I am guessing so!

Hi there! I was just reading last week's chat about how to deal with a father who is really prejudiced and spends a lot of time posting memes online. My SIL's husband "Aaron" is kind of like that as well, and I try as best I can to talk about neutral topics. Oddly we are both really into gardening and certain TV shows. But what I'm curious about is the psychology behind the rise of trolls. Aaron is definitely a troll who enjoys riling people up, mostly online but sometimes in person. I follow him on social media and fortunately have never seen him personally attack someone like a female gamer, but more generalized postings. How do you handle people like this besides just ignoring them? And is there any research into the rise of trolling? I would feel more understanding possibly if I understood it, other than just thinking Aaron is an a--.

Unfortunately, I do think ignoring them is part of the solution, to an extent, because at some point, attention is positive reinforcement that keeps it going. Especially when people are doing purposely TO rile up — that is their whole motivation.

And online, well we know a lot of psych principles that make that behavior tend to be worse. There's a distancing between you and the consequences of your words. There's a deindividuation that makes you feel less responsible for your actions. There's perhaps a dehumanization of the people you are speaking out against. Not to mention the whole, ugly brain-pickling that happens when people just stare at these memes all day long and start to think of them as the normal way to think.

It's the same question that has haunted the field after some of the worst atrocities that humans have inflicted upon each other over history. What is the nature of "evil"? And what creates the slippery slope to get there? It's more circumstantial than you think. Some of Philip Zimbardo's older writings come to mind!

I am sure that someone is studying trolling as we speak ....

I don't think there is anything OP can do to sooth mom's feelings about her grandchildren going to hell because she failed to raise her daughter correctly (projecting here ...). Why does OP have to reveal much of anything, other than just say "mom, these are our family decisions about religion," etc?

Well, OP doesn't HAVE to reveal anything, but my guess is that they think they are going to have to have an explanation for the no-baptism thing, and it will become not a thing but a Thing.

I dunno about the Hell piece being so black-and-white, though. It's not like they are the first family to deal with this — and I've definitely seen people reconcile some ideas that at first seemed unreconcilable, with extra empathy and love. Especially when people are able to put the relationship on Earth first.

It may also help to figure out what you will/won’t do. Like “I will attend Christmas Eve services with my mom, but I won’t be baptizing my kids.” Or “I won’t send my kids to Hebrew school, but we don’t really eat pork and shellfish so I can avoid giving those to the kids for at least a few years.” It may help if you (and your spouse/other relevant people) have discussed what you can offer so you can say “It won’t change Christmas” or whatever.

Yes! Nuance is important here, and can give OP's mother something to hold on to.

I've joined a club as a place to relax and check out. Unfortunately, one of the staff members has gotten too personal with me. If this were just a restaurant, I'd go elsewhere, but it's my club. For the same reason, I don't want to confront him, or complain about him, because it will be awkward, the very thing I don't want! I go there to relax, not be stressed. Do you, or others, have some advice on how to extricate myself from this unwanted attention with a minimum of discomfort? Why, why, why do some men take these liberties just because a woman is single?

Ugh. I am so sorry.

But here's the thing — is "awkwardness" any worse than being "stressed"?

I suspect I will be joined here in my chorus: Assert yourself firmly. You have nothing to feel awkward about, or guilty for. Depending on the nature of the attention, you can do it in the moment "Can you please move your hand off my back?" or more generally "I've tried to make it clear that I'm not interested in going out — please respect my wishes."

I suspect that you would feel guilty or "impolite" saying these things — they don't sound like your voice — and I hear that and understand it. But within that is likely the message that you don't deserve to stand up for yourself, that you should tolerate discomfort instead of the person perpetrating it on you.

Why should he have a right to ruin your relaxation? If he was doing something else that was unprofessional, you might give yourself permission to call him out on it — so why not with this?

To me, this issue is a good one for analyzing by considering the Worst Possible Outcome. In other words, LW (and her sister) need to initially determine what outcome they'd like to avoid. Perhaps it's a further a deterioration with the aunts (in which case, just give them the plots you hadn't known about for the past 20 years). Perhaps it's losing the cash-value you now know you have (in which case, presumably the aunts cannot force you to give them over). Perhaps it's something else? But LW & sister should determine what they **don't** want to happen and then work backwards to an approach that minimizes that chance.

I like it — a guiding light through the cost-benefit analysis. Thanks!

Unless you're a contestant on Jeopardy!, in which case knowledge of lots of arcane facts really helps :)

Yes indeed!

And if you are a professional sports gambler who has no qualms betting 40k on a daily double and has an absolutely unbeatable buzzer finger, all the better!

I keep a whole wall full of quotes that speak to me at home, mainly about anxiety and taking risks and one of my favorites (I think it's actually attributable to Joe Yonan in WaPo Food) is a reminder that you should take risks in the kitchen because, after all, it's only sugar and flour and can't taste that bad. I try and spread that to the rest of life, too.

It all comes back to the WaPo, huh?

I love this! And I also think we need to teach it more to our kids. I do feel like so many of us are so scared of the mess and too busy to let them explore and make mistakes.... but the risks and mistakes are such a huge part of growth.

I don't want to be defensive but as an only child I'd like to ask - why is being an only child always bad? It's just like anything else, there's positive and negative features. Yet at the moment, it's a truth universally acknowledged that it's worse to be an only child than have siblings. I had a great childhood, I don't feel deprived, I don't feel less than and I wish we could get out of this mindset. OK — rant over!

I hear you! That's not how I took it, though. I just took it that if he were to have a conflict with his father, that's the only original family he has, and he wouldn't necessarily have anyone else having the conversation with him as support. I took it that the "only child" piece was more about the potential consequences of a rift rather than revealing anything about the temperament of the husband. 

But your "rant" is always welcome here because I see the larger issue!

Hi Andrea, I look forward to your chats every week! I've experienced the same frustrations that so many others have had about getting into therapy. I've been seeing psychiatric nurses for a while and one finally referred me to a therapist. It took a month to get a call but I did yesterday! I felt a huge sense of relief just knowing I jumped a hurdle. I urge everyone else trying to jump to stick with it. This chat has felt like a lifeline for me on some pretty dark days. Thanks to you and everyone for being there.

Thanks so much for taking the time to write in. I am so glad that the community that we are building here has been as meaningful to others as it has been to me.

That said, I am always disheartened to hear how hard it is to find a therapist. I so wish it were different. But I very, very glad that you have crossed that hurdle.

Here's to chatting for many, many Tuesdays to come!

A new book by a therapist who used to be a screenwriter explores the process of therapy and the shrink's reactions to/interactions with her clients. Have you read Lori Gottlieb's "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone"? Any thoughts? 

It is definitely on my list, but I haven't yet!

I would love to get Lori here as a guest as well.

That right there was a very controlling quote. It's your joint house but you're fighting for the type of home YOU want to live in, not the one you BOTH want to live in. "I need to have an uncluttered environment" and "I need her help." There's no mention of any joint existence here. I can see why she's resentful too. She's sharing a life with someone who finds her habits annoying and wants to eradicate them. Why bother marrying her at all?

I can see this perspective, but part of the problem here is that I have to edit the questions down for the print column. In my recollection, the original question was more nuanced than it might have come across, so I'd hate for me to have added a selfish flavor to it that wasn't there before, just by trying to diminish the word count.

I agree, though, that the more empathy there is on both sides, and the more they look at the home environment through their partner's lens as much as possible, the better off both people will be.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

Beautiful. Thanks.

"There is no journey gone so far, so far you cannot stop and change direction. No doom is written in the stars; it's in our hands." Children of Eden, Stephen Schwartz "You may travel far, but love's never lost." A Man of No Importance, Flaherty/Aherns

Ooh, I love these both. Thank you!

The first one really reminds me of all the times I work with people who think it is "too late" to change something or do something or question something — it is never too late.

Going to therapy might help you separate what's right for you, from what's being imposed on you selfishly by your family. In other words, going to therapy might give you the confidence you need to know whether you need therapy.


(This is in response to the chatter whose family was pushing therapy.)

I think worth focusing on this very last statement. It seems to me that as a practical matter there are two near-term outcomes which need to be made (clearer) to Husband: either his father "may" get mad at him for speaking up (about his own home!) or his spouse WILL be mad at him. It's husband's choice. It's not a happy one, but time to make it. BTW: If Andrea has the keys to the time machine, when is a good time to borrow them (asking for a friend-ha!)?

Yes! Great way to frame this.

As for the time machine, I've got my son on the case. I figure that his building a functional one of those for us is appropriate payment for all of his other rogue "engineering" projects, which pretty much started from the day he learned to crawl! 

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It says it all.

It's pretty golden for a reason!

And maybe he will think twice about spending 2 weeks with you. Win-win!

Could be!

I've suggested and as my husband MANY of places to go but he keeps saying he's content just staying at home. In the couple days he's managed to break the couch (I have no idea how), ruined our TV stand by keeping an uncapped soda bottle that my dog accidentally knocked over with his tail (I didn't know it was sitting there until the dog hit it). I've said "Hey I'm cleaning up, can you bring in your plate ..." He'll do it once and then stop.  Right now he's microwaving fried fish from yesterday. I don't need to tell you the smell that is now permeating the air. I told my husband this morning that tomorrow is my last day, if something doesn't change I'm checking into a hotel for my own sanity.

Oh, man — this is like a Sitcom Character raised to the power of a Sitcom Character.

I am so sorry.

I take it that board games will not be a magic bullet here?

In all seriousness, as long as you can stand keeping on reminding him each time, that seems like the best solution for now. (Not that that isn't exhausting, I get it.)

There ain't no good guy. There's only you and me and we just disagree. Dave Mason

Now I am humming along. Thanks!

They might not think it's OK but it might cause a lot of confusion/cognitive dissonance when the parents teach that the behavior is unacceptable in all settings, except around grandma. And it's not okay for anyone to behave that way, except grandma. And that good people stand up to mean people, unless the mean person in grandma. And that when grandma says mean things to mom/dad, mom/dad just have to accept it. and the kids could grow up resenting both their grandma and parents for enabling the dynamic. and then subsequently dread major family get-togethers even as a young adult because as grandma got older she got meaner and now it's too late to stop the runaway bulldozer. (Don't worry, I have a good therapist)

I am really glad you have support!

And yup, I totally agree — there's a lot of confusing and contradictory messages about how to treat others when the rules are so vastly different in different places within the family.

"We understand they are estimated at about X dollars, and while we wouldn't charge you that given our relationship," There's a market price — my in-laws double stack plot is $10,000 in Newport Beach, Calif. A Brooklyn single plot may go for $5,000. LW can find out by calling. Another narrative to their aunt is: "We were planning on using the plots, but will have to pay $X,000" for replacements." LW can decide to ask for compensation in part or whole, or none. Often, we are so shocked by what is absurdly requested of us that we go along despite our gut objections. On the other hand, Aunt is not friendly to LW so there's no "relationship" to preserve so is positioned to say "no".

Great points.

And wow — eye opening about the costs! This really helps give context.

"Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again." " 'Get busy livin', or get busy dyin.' ' That's God damned right. For the second time in my life, I'm guilty of a crime: parole violation. Of course, I doubt that they'll put up any roadblocks, not for an old crook like me. I find I'm so excited that I can scarcely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think that it's the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man at the beginning of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope that I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope that the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope."

Thank you!

It took me a minute to place that last one. I think Shawshank Redemption has gotten some love here before!

I was the only grandchild not raised in the family religion, because my father quit, and married a non-religious woman. I was always the less-favored grandchild of my paternal relatives in life, and got the short end of the inheritance stick in their wills. Sometimes it just sucks to be the outsider. But no way would I have embraced my relatives' religion, because I didn't believe in it.

Being true to yourself can be priceless, for sure.

You can safely stay out of the salt-shaker argument, but if it were to happen to me, I would have laughed it off, added a bit of self-deprecating humor about needing more salt than usual and then I would use the salt shaker. And make a great deal of how much better it tastes now.  All in good humor. The undertone is the I'll do it my way. You give people the permission to treat you they way they do. The art is in conveying the denial of permission to control/direct. A few rough patches are the price you have to pay to convey that message. Once they know you're like that, they will learn to adjust and even admire your gumption.

Well, I think this CAN be a thing, and I love humor in trying to diffuse, but I'm guessing it will only work if MIL is willing to actually bend her will to someone else. Sometimes anxiety/anger/controlling tendencies seem to prohibit that.

What the heck kind of a profession is THAT? I can't imagine his parents proudly telling people their child is a "professional sports gambler" (rather than a doctor, lawyer, educator, accountant, or psychologist).

Well, if he does half as well on it as he does on Jeopardy, methinks his parents are pleased as punch!

I cannot find the source of this, but it makes me well up whenever I read it because I cannot seem to get to the life I wanted and time is running out: "''On death's shore there will be, for all of us, no right or wrong just a moment of judgement; Was this the life I wanted?'

Oh, wow! Yes, I will have to hunt for the source on this. Much appreciation!

On the bright side, at least your husband's less likely to be disinherited, to the benefit of a sibling.

ha! True.

The Shirelles sang it first!

Yes! Very true!

The Mamas and the Papas' was a bit slower and more mournful... somehow sticks with me more.

I think what I really want is a way out that is neither awkward nor stressful. But perhaps it doesn't exist.

Ahh.... yes. Unfortunately, someone else created the awkwardness — it's there. But it's just up to you how to stand up for yourself.

With so many tragedies around the world, sometimes it feels that I cant do much to help but then I think about this phrase: Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. St. Francis Of Assisi

Baby steps, put much more eloquently! Thank you.

The best part of a designated dumping zone is that it can work for a neat freak's logic (speaking as one): The mess in the dumping zone is not clutter or disorder — the mess is in the correct, contained space serving the appropriate purpose. Hence, the cluttered mess becomes order. <boom>

Yes. A consolidated dumping zone could really help — but I'm guessing that it doesn't quite feel as satisfying for the person who just wants their jacket and scarf and shoes and bags off their body!

I am so bummed to have to stop — the questions and comments and quotes are coming in at quite a pace! But it is that time (or more specifically, past that time).

Thanks so much for being here. Can't wait for next week already. In the meantime, see you on Facebook and in the comments!

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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