Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, Jan. 20)

Jan 20, 2012

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, Jan. 20 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

Got any of Carolyn's answers or readers' questions from the past year stuck in your head? Submit them for next week's Best of Hax 2011 chat that will take place while Carolyn is on vacation.

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. It isn't every day that a topic of ours gets all presidential campaigny. (It just seems that way.)

Hope you've all been well since we last typed ... though  not so well that we have nothing to talk about.


Wednesday's letter really bothered me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I had no idea that anyone could be so judgmental about a co-ed shower. My husband and I had a co-ed shower. Our twins arrived after several lost pregnancies, including a gruesume and hugely physically and emotionally painful second-trimester miscarriage. My husband had been there for the sadness and the loss and the interminable medical testing; it was only fair that he get to be there for all the happy events, as well. As for the male guests, they were (and are) our friends and were very happy to bring a pair of onesies and drink a beer and spend an afternoon with us. If the letter-writer doesn't want to host a shower that doesn't conform to a 1950s stereotype, then maybe she should just offer to give a help to the the couple's friends, who, as non-relatives, are the ones who should really be throwing this shindig in the first place.

If it makes you feel any better, mail was overwhelmingly in support of re-thinking the whole approach to showers. The argument you give for co-ed showers--that fathers are so much more involved now that segregating the celebrations makes no sense--is the most persuasive, in my opinion, but I also don't think a persuasive argument was necessary in the letter-writer's case. The writer was offering to host, the couple wanted a co-ed guest list, so what was there to dicuss? 

Not that that kept me from discussing it anyway.


I'm seriously dating a guy, and we've talked about marriage. He's had a couple of relationships in his time, but mostly had a history of casual dating and living up the single life. This has included going to strip clubs, which he has done a couple of times since we've been together. He says he won't go anymore, because of my issue with it. More recently, he has gone to a bar with some friends where the waitresses are ridiculously scantily clad. This bothers me, especially after our discussions about my feelings about strip clubs. I don't want to start a situation where he'd rather just go because he finds it harmless and enjoyable, and then not tell me, because he knows I'd be bothered by it. I'm just not sure if this is one of those issues to let go (when everything else is great), or a make-it or brake-it one.

What I'd really like to hear is why you find these places so threatening (that you want him not to go), and why he finds them so appealing (that the only reason he'll give them up is to appease you).

Since there's no practical way I can be a spectator to this conversation, all I can do is advise you both to have it--on one condition. Have it -after- both of you have given careful, INDEPENDENT thought to why you both approach this issue the way you do, since this topic is all too subject to the "because that's what guys/girls do"-type reacting, which is the doorstep to foot-stomping, eye-rolling and going "because he finds it harmless and enjoyable, and then not tell[ing] me," which you're right to flag as a possible undesirable outcome.

When you're ready, go into the conversation with this goal and no other: understanding each other. Good luck.




I am a female with a traditionally male name. I also look much younger than my actual age (mid-20s and still getting carded for rated R movies & asked if my mom is waiting outside in the car...) Any advice on how to respond to "OH, I was expecting a male!" or "Can I see your real ID, please" ?? My personal favorite was when a professor called roll in college, I said "here," and he said "Are you sure?"

As frustrating as it is, often the most efficient response is to let it go without registering your frustration with anything beyond a facial expression (the knowing/weary smile, say). Comebacks take time.

When you have the time or the need to say more--i.e., when someone is pressing the issue--how bout this:

"I'm a girl named Richard. Who would claim to be that, who was not?" (Borrowed from one of the great scenes in "The Untouchables.")



Hi Carolyn, Ever since I got engaged, it's been a relentless flurry of activity. Everything seems to be happening at once. We moved cities, are planning a (small) wedding, my fiance changed jobs, have numerous family problems, have our own health problems, etc. I keep waiting for things to calm down. I feel like we could manage stress better and we both have different reactions to all these events. What can we do to calm down?

The big one is for each of you to accept the other's response to stress as a fixed and legitimate part of the other person. That can wipe away so much stress.

And if the response to stress is so bad that it can't be treated as legitimate (rage, silence, substance abuse ...), then you're going to have to clear the decks as much as possible so you can deal with that, because that's a problem with the fundamentals of the relationship. Essentially, you're going to have to put the wedding planning on hold while you figure out whether you can improve  the health of the relationship.

If the medical problems are significant, then I advise you to stall the wedding regardless, even if you're just a talk and a hug away from accepting each other's differences on the stress issue. The wedding is the one thing on your list that's relatively easy to shelve, and, meanwhile, most if not all of the other problems will ease with time. You will get used to your new city, he will get used to his new job, and the health problems ... well, I have no idea, but chances are that even if they don't go away, there's a learning curve you'll eventually master.

The guy should RUN from this controlling woman as soon as possible. She is trying to assert control over the way he spends his free time with his friends. It's already spreading, which is a classic danger sign. First, it was no strip clubs. Second, it was no places where waitresses are "scantily clad." Next it's going to be a request that he find new friends. Who should be forced to live like this? She needs counseling, stat. "Gift of Fear," anyone?

I agree this is one possible trajectory. However, there are so many un- and under-examined "You must never go to these places!!!" attitudes that I think it's a worthwhile first step for her (for them) to do the thinking about their attitudes. If she rejects nuance and insists on an emotional restraining order that keeps him a minimum of 300 feet from bodaciosity of any kind, then I'm with you.

I have a female name, but I got carded sometimes for liquor well into my 30s. Only occasionally did I manage a comeback. One young clerk at the liquor store said, "You should be flattered!" I asked him why. He had no answer. A couple of years later, a guy who was trying to chat me up at a bar, when I mentioned being in the first entering class with women at our mutual college. He said, "You couldn't possibly be that old!" I pulled out my driver's license and said, "Do you think I'm lying or that I don't know how old I am?" But in most cases, it really isn't worth it. Just show them the ID. And realize that it isn't personal. If someone doesn't run across women with that particular "male" name often, of course it's going to jolt them briefly, and not everyone will be able to handle that jolt gracefully. Just because you get this a lot, don't forget it's the first time for them.

A nice argument for not arguing, thanks.

You might also want to factor in whether your boyfriend goes to strip clubs and other trashy places because he finds them appealing, or because they're the places where he has always socialized with his friends. Not to say he gets an automatic free pass because it's what all of his friends are doing, but I think we all have friends with whom we indulge in behaviors that we have otherwise outgrown, and that's ok sometimes. I, for one, will sometimes go to bars that my husband thinks of as "frat boy meat markets" with friends from my single life, just because that's what we've always done. It doesn't mean I really want to spend time in loud, sweaty bars, just that I want to spend time with the people I'm there with.

And a nice argument for examining one's motives, thanks.

Hi Carolyn! Quick question here-- when the boyfriend's family books a vacation and surprises you by paying your way, what is the proper way to thank them?? We are indebted students and so offering to pay for dinner/drinks on vacation will likely be waved off. Should I send a gift basket? Reimburse? Make a scrapbook of the vacation? Write a nice thank you note? I'm just not sure how much is too much, or too little!

Go on the trip, be a great guest--don't get up hours before or after them, rally for group outings, clean up after yourself, find ways to amuse yourself when others are taking down time, show an interest in their lives (but be attentive for signs they don't want to talk), don't be picky about anything that's truly optional--and send a nice thank-you note after the trip is over. If you get to know them in a way that would inform a small and thoughtful gift, then sending them one would be appropriate too, though only the note  is necessary. 

He thinks it's a fun thing to do with the guys, and without him exactly saying, I'm sure he enjoys looking at, and getting attention from barely dressed women. For me, it just feels disrespectful, and the fact that they are real people that he's interacting with in a sexual way is nauseating. We just think totally different about it.

If he enjoys looking at and getting attention from barely dressed women, and if on his own he sees nothing disrespectful about that, then that's who he is. Keeping him home won't change his character or moral composition.

So, I urge you to ask yourself what you accomplish in getting him to stay home just because that's what you want him to do. 

Carolyn, A good friend of mine is about to embark on an expensive trip to see a man, an old friend she has not seen in ten years, for whom she seems to have romantic feelings. He is a colleague of mine and just told me in an email that he has a girlfriend. Now I'm in a strange positive. Should I mind my own business or tell my friend not to take that trip? She has never come clean about her romantic interest in her old friend so maybe I'd be overstepping. Thanks--Worried in Maryland

This is strange--I am smack on the fence about this, to the point where I'm about to type something and then instead the argument against it comes to mind.

For example: Don't say anything, because she has never confided in you about any romantic interest, and "warning" her would be presumptuous.

Then: But it's an expensive trip and she might be embarrassing herself, so what harm would there be in making casual mention of his gilfriend?

Then: But who knows how serious he is with this girlfriend? For all you know she's cheating on him and mere days or weeks away from breaking up with him.

And: What if this trip turned out to be just what both your colleague and your good friend needed at this point in their lives, even if it doesn't go exactly as either of them envisioned it?

So I guess I've typed my way to a "butt out" answer, especially since your friend is going to visit, not to war, and she is an adult who presumably can handle herself. But thanks for the exercise.


Hi Carolyn, what makes a relationship emotional infidelity versus just a really close friendship with someone of the opposite sex? I know my husband would never cheat in the physical sense, but he doesn't seem to acknowledge that there's other behavior that crosses an inappropriate line...

The difference between emotional infidelity and  a really close friendship is what it takes away from you and the value you place on it. If the time your husband spends with his close friend is time you want to share with him (within reason; marriage does not = Siamese twinning), and if he shares things with his friend that he's unable or unwilling to share with you, and this sharing comes at your expense, then you have grounds to speak up, and a loving and attentive mate will listen. There's more than one way to address the problem, so the key thing is validating the concern and being willing to bend.

The wording has to be so careful here, because here's an example of something harmless: Let's say your spouse has a hobby that doesn't interest you, and pursues it (and talks about it at length) with a good friend, and you are actually happy for the X hours of alone time this spousal hobby-nobbing allows you, and when your spouse returns you're happy to see each other, then, yay for all involved. 

CH, how did you know that the LW was the mother and not the father? Thanks! -Kim from Pittsburgh

The name on the email. (Unless he's a man named Maureen,* since it's that kind of day.)

*Name changed to something in the ballpark.


I am extremely close to my two sisters - we are close in age and very similar backgrounds (married, kids, long term careers). My brother is younger by 6 years and called me and emailed to yell that we don't include him in our calls (we often speak during our morning commute) or when we plan a trip. We are friendly enough at holiday events or when I run into him at my parents' house (he lives at home) but he never initiates contact himself, doesn't visit his nieces and nephew (despite working in the town we live in). It never bothered me because I don't expect him to structure his life around a friendship with me that doesn't exist but I can see he is hurt by the fact I am good friends with my sisters. What can I do to restore the family peace when I frankly don't really want to be friends with my brother, I just want to be his sister?

How about: "You're right, we don't include you. I never meant to hurt you; I honestly didn't know you were that interested in staying in closer touch with me. So how about we meet each other halfway: I will include you more, and you include yourself more?" This will be especially effective if you can extend an invitation to him on the spot. "Niece and Nephew have X this weekend; why don't you come with us?"

It's part admission of fault, part bluff-calling, and part bridge-building. You say you "don't really want to be friends with my brother," but you only will if he makes his half of the effort, and that effort might be enough for you to change your mind about him.

I used to be in this situation, and I always tried to bring along some "extras" for everyone to use on the trip-- crossword puzzles, goodies to snack on, homemade breads to grab for a quick breakfast, music that would please a group, playing cards, etc. Shows you're thinking of the whole group, not just "oh, a free trip for me-- yay!" Then again, I am no longer with this person, so maybe the family hated this... dunno.

I love the idea ... but the last line, that's lerve. (Movie reference, which time may have rendered obscure even though it was anything but at one point. Anyone?)

Wait a minute: OP doesn't want her guy ogling half-dressed women is somehow "Gift of Fear" territory? This is the Hax equivalent of Weingarten's rule that the first person to resort to a Hitler analogy loses the argument. Sheesh. How about this for the non-de Becker female response: "I find a business that builds its 'brand' around ogling women offensive and degrading; it perpetuates stereotypes that women only matter if they're 'hot,' and that men are all horn dogs. And it bothers me that someone I care deeply about is so 'into' that kind of pandering."

It was too soon to go there, as I said, but the poster had a point with the escalation--and who doesn't think it's credible that disapproval of his friends is next?

In my experience, the early signs that a woman is controlling are more readily dismissed than the early signs that a man is controlling. Part of the problem, I think, is that many of the female signals fall into some stereotypes that people brush off or, worse, justify. 


I think most straight men enjoy spending time around "barely dressed women." I don't recall anything on the retail shelves that changes this. "Excuse me, do you have mace called Barely Dressed Women Begone? Yes ma'am, right next to Vixen Begone. Either one should work."

Ar ar. Per this, there are two types of men: Hugh Hefner, and people who can't get away with being Hugh Hefner because their wives have henpecked them into submission. If you believe that, you're probably also having a sandwich on Wonder bread.

We all have preferences and priorities, and there's a word for those who see a 1 to 1 correlation between these two: Single. Nothing wrong with that.

Annie Hall. I lerve you

Luff that. 

A friend and I frequent a local restaurant in part because the owner is a dreamboat. We are both married and in good relationships. Neither of is interested in any kind of relationship or encounter with him, but we love the three minutes we spend with him, saying hello, every time we go. He is just adorable. And we have not told our husbands, because really, what would be the point. Grant it, he is not stripping or scantily clad, but what is the difference really. Or are we both devoid of character?

Happy to post this as an interesting thinking point, though I hope you're not suggesting that I said the strip-club-loving guy is devoid of character. I was values-neutral on that.

My ex-boyfriend's parents took us on a 5-star vacation and didn't let me pay for anything. I took photos the whole time I was there (scenery, funny photos, the hotel room designs, etc.) and then surprised them with a thoughtfully assembled photo album. (Including one spread where each photo was of one of us on our BlackBerry...sigh). They loved it. His mom started crying. I think it's still one of the best gifts I ever gave, and it cost me $15.


Hi Carolyn. LTR ended badly several years ago. He was an alcoholic who had successfully hidden his addiction for a very long time, until he was no longer able to. The lies and manipulations that came from that - numerous and destructive. I got professional help, did alot of hard (and painful) work, and thought I'd grown from this and moved on. Recently a relative of his, whom I stayed friends with, passed away and I find myself back where I was years ago. Angry, hurt, wanting amends and apologies that I never received. How to move past?

Be a little easier on yourself, please. Moving on doesn't mean you'll never feel bad about something again.  While relapses aren't inevitable, they are normal, and we're subject to them with just about everything a human being can kick, bad feelings included.

If you have access to the same counselor who helped you out of the fog last time, consider going for a "touch up"--an appointment or two to remind you where you found peace the first time. Even if one of  you has moved away, s/he might agree to phone consultations.


Am I obligated to spend face time with one of my boyfriend's friends who hates my guts? She hasn't said anything to me directly, but she has gone on tirades about me to my boyfriend for not good reason. I hate keeping up the pretense that I think she's an okay person.

What does your boyfriend say on the subject? Seems odd that he'd pass along the contents of her tirades and expect you to greet her with smiles. 

I'm really partial to Teddy myself!

Mine would be Dogandabeer.

Another movie line. Can't help myself today.

Why the hate Carolyn? I am a perfectly good bread, excellent in a grilled cheese or PB&J, and did I mention sliced? Remember that everything wants to be the best thing since sliced bread. Wonderbread

You're right. I'm just bitter because my mother refused to buy it for me. I was the kid with a whole wheat PBJ (in wax paper), making goo-goo  eyes at my friends' white bread and Bugles in fold-over plastic baggies.

I think I need a moment.

Hi Carolyn, thanks for taking my question. In brief: my husband doesn't handle frustration well. He gets really snippy, slams things, speaks to me sharply, stomps around, etc. I told him I don't think it's fair that he takes his bad moods out on me. He told me that I take everything too personally -- that since he's not technically angry at *me*, I shouldn't care about him being angry in general. But I don't care why he's angry, it's still me who has to deal with the snapping and slamming doors every time he can't open a sticky window or accidentally shrinks a shirt in the wash. Is it reasonable to ask him to find a better way to deal with his feelings when he's upset? And short of leaving the room, how can I respond when he does this?

It is reasonable, yes, though you're going to have to explain it very specifically: "I realize you're not angry at me, and I don't take it personally. However, a home where someone is slamming doors, stomping and saying mean things is not a pleasant home to be in--not for me, and I can't imagine it is for you, either."

Then you say you love him and you want to be his partner in this, and you'd like to look into some anger management seminars, classes or whatever option makes sense and is most appealing. 

Then you stay as calm as you can in holding this line, even knowing there's absolutely nothing forcing him to to do anything other than the way he has always done it. You can be perfectly right and perfectly articulate and still come away empty.

Because of that, I strongly advise that you figure out what you are and aren't willing to do if his behavior doesn't change. Are there small things you're willing to do, like grab your coat and take a walk during his hissy fits? Are there bigger things, like going to a seminar or therapist without him? Connect the dots all the way to whether you want to stay married to someone with a short fuse and an unrepentant attitude, because, while that might seem like overreacting, it's the best way for you to take in the whole scope of your marriage, and see where this problem fits in. Figuring out whether it's a nuisance or a dealbreaker is the first step in figuring out what -you- can do to bring peace to your day-to-day life.  


Carolyn, after receiving an email from my mother earlier this week criticizing both the thank you note I sent her & my step-father as well as the Christmas card my beau and I sent out, I truly feel we need a Holiday PTSD Hootenanny!

Hoot stories are like kimchi--you put them in a pot, and bury them to ferment. Yours will be just right for early December.

The person whose LTR with an alcoholic ended badly could try Al-Anon. It's for people affected by another's drinking-- even if it was in the past.

yes, of course, thanks.

Field of Dreams, great movie (don't tell my husband or I'll be watching it all weekend)

I could do the same. It got unfairly tagged as sappy, and though some of it is, more of it is brilliant.

Just spent weekend with son and daughter-in-law. Son behaved horribly towards wife to the point that I had to get between them and, concerned for safety of all, I told him to leave. He had to do so to de-fuse and the situation had to be brought under control. DIL, however, lit into me for "placating" son, not seeing the "real" him, creating a monster, and started all over again in the morning. I saw a completly different side of her as she verbally attacked me. This is the side son has only recently shared with me. Please hear me: he was over the top angry and wrong. Made it clear to him. Made hime leave. But she also was berating him, over and over, went to bed then got up an hour later to scream at him out of the blue...I could see the emotionally destructive dance. They are in counseling now. But there is a 4 mo. old baby involved. How do I handle, offer help but also create appropriate space for self and them?

Wow. Poor kid. Poor everybody.

There's one thing you can do immediately, and that is to urge your son to supplement the (i assume) couples' counseling with his own individual counseling--and if you can, offer to pay for it. Solo therapy is in his best interests regardless, whether she turns out to be an emotional abuser or he does or both. In the event one of these is true, their being in counseling together will limit how effective the counseling can be.

If you live near enough to them (doesn't sound as if that's the case, given the all-weekend visit), then you can offer to babysit on a regular basis, something that's on the calendar every week. Alleviating some of the caregiving pressure could help them deal with other pressures a little better.


I should also add that this is the ONLY friend he has like this, and the only friend he takes this from-- he's distanced himself from more recent friends who have treated him less bad than this. Also, I'm sure he doesn't have some secret attraction to her, because he is not a subtle man. So, ???

So ... you didn't answer my question. How does your BF ask/want you to deal with this friend?

I am your husband (except in our case I'm the wife). It really isn't personal--it's not even about the sticky window. It's when I don't feel in control of my life and I'm beating myself up and son of a bleep now I can't even open a bleeping window. In my mind, my "short fuse" is actually a long fuse that found a safe place to blow up. It's something I'm always working on; and since I'm aware I do it it's something I try to apologize for. The incidents are getting less and less frequent. Here's what my husband does, and why he's awesome: He doesn't dignify these fits; he neither coddles me nor dishes it back. He simply says he loves me and declines to interact with me further. When I apologize, he accepts it fully and without a grudge. Say all that stuff that Carolyn said. If you're willing to be patient with him, and if he's willing to work on it (and if he is loving toward you in other ways at other times), it's definitely surmountable.

This is why you are not the wife version of the husband:  I'm aware I do it, it's something I try to apologize for. 

What your husband does is a perfect follow-up to the line-drawing statement I advised, I agree--but you're meeting him halfway by trying. If the OP's husband remains unwilling to work on it, then the OP has difficult decisions to make.

It's pretty weird, actually. He complains to me about all the crazy stuff she's done to him over the years-- breaking into tirades for no good reason, breaking into a tirade because we couldn't see her in the evening after we offered her the whole afternoon to hang out and she went shopping instead, breaking into a tirade when he asked her to slow down when she was driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit with him in the car, asking him to intervene on her behalf in family conflicts that are not his business. He always ends it with "But she's a really good friend." It seems she was there for him when his sister died unexpectedly, even failing a college class to help him, and because of that, she's passed the "trial by fire," will always be there for him, and has his good will for the rest of his life no matter what she does, and this is why she is such a good friend. I have tried gently pointing out that this behavior is way beyond the pale, and I broke off a friendship in similar circumstances because the-- I'm going to call it abuse-- got too much for my mental health, but he can't see this through anything other than the lenses of "she's such a good friend." I mean, he doesn't even have much in common with her any more and doesn't enjoy spending time with her. We have an informal agreement that I'm not going to interfere with his friendship as long as it doesn't directly involve me, but even that leaves me kind of unsettled.

I know it falls under the heading "Crazy Friend," but this story makes so much sense to me. When people give you the gift of themselves at a time when you can't possibly need it more, then the friendship gets pushed into an untouchable place. It just does.

That doesn' t mean you have no recourse; it just means you need to work with a different set of givens. The ones you're using now say that logic prevails, she brings nothing to him any more, and her behavior warrants ending the friendship, history be damned. 

Try this set instead: he has a friendship category just for her, normal rules don't apply and never will, and you can't treat her as you would any other of your boyfriend's friends. The informal agreement is the right idea, but you need to shore it up and buy into it.

Practical applications of these givens can include resigning yourself to her being in his life (maybe like a chronic medical condition?); avoiding her where you can, and being as scarce as you can manage when you cant' avoid her; not taking her tirades any more personally than you'd take her tirade about being asked not to speed; not agreeing to be a passenger in her car; you get the idea. And finally, when you need a reason to smile(or just not scream) when you see her, remind yourself, "She really came through for him." Mantra-fy as needed.

I recently started a new job and also got engaged. I am not sure what to do about inviting (or not) my co-workers. I work in a small office (fewer than 10) and by the time of the wedding, I will have been here more than a year. I am not sure if my co-workers would feel badly about being left out, or if they would be annoyed about forking over money for a gift. My fiance and I are planning a big, casual reception. I am not sure if I feel comfortable mixing work and personal life, though.

Then plan not to, and if you realize a couple of months before your wedding day that your colleagues belong on the guest list, then invite them. You don't have to decide anything now. 

When you get there, though, just be sure to follow the rule of little kid birthday parties: Either invite everyone in the class, well under half of them, or none of them. 

Hi Carolyn, can you please tell me how to change your name on a question or give yourself a name for a comment? I just see the "enter topic" and "enter question" boxes. Do you have to make a login or something? Thank you for these chats, this is the first one I've been to live and it's really interesting.

No, you don't need to log in to ask a question. Just put the topic of your question (such as "Trashy Outlets" or "Crazy Friend") into the "enter topic" field, and your question in the "enter question" box. You can leave your name in your question if you want, but you certainly don't need to.

In a relationship, how important is it to have similar views about gender roles?  My partner and I are compatible on many levels, but don't quite see eye to eye on gender roles. He's more traditional than I am and I wonder/worry how this would translate to raising children, sharing a life together, etc.

Depends on how strong each of your beliefs are.

I suggest you pose a bunch of hypotheticals that occur with many couples. If you're earning a lot more than he does when you have kids, will he be willing to consider putting his career on simmer while taking the lead on child care? What about toys and interests for little kids--will you want to take a gender-neutral approach, and will he have a problem with that? How do you and he feel about cooking and cleaning and car/yard work, and who takes responsibility for chores? 

I could go all day, but I took too long reading through questions before I chose this one--sorry about that. 

But I will end with: life rarely goes as planned, as you probably well know. Dealing with the unexpected is difficult enough for people as it is,a nd being half of a couple adds the other dimension of two points of view, two sets of expectations, two sets of strengths and weaknesses that must be accounted for. And this is true even of you generally share a world view.

People who have different slants can make a happy life of it, but I see great difficulty if one or both of them prioritizes their slant over the needs and general well-being of the couple or family. Short version, can each of you get over yourselves when the other needs you to?


Carolyn, you said: When people give you the gift of themselves at a time when you can't possibly need it more, then the friendship gets pushed into an untouchable place. It just does. OK. And yet, I was troubled by the girlfriend's description that "[crazy friend] was there for him when his sister died unexpectedly, even failing a college class to help him." ??? If someone wrote into you and said, "my friend's sister tragically died unexpectedly. I want to support him during this horrible time, but his grief is absorbing me to the point that I'm failing out of a college course," you wouldn't suggest that their friendship is in an untouchable place. I think you'd say, on the contrary, that their friendship very much needs to be touched, to push it out of a mutually dangerous place. There is something majorly unhealthy going on here, possibly on both their parts.

True, and that's an excellent point. I'm just coming at it as a fait accompli; I can't advise the girl to recognize boundaries, take care of herself, see that her sacrifice has gotten unhealthy--nor can I tell him that his course-failing friend has gone above and beyond above and beyond, into something dangerous.

What I have is a third party observing the outcome several years later, and it's irrational but it's there. I don't know enough about the guy and this friend now to know whether he is a party to the poor health, except as enabler, and even then I don't know how deeply enabling he is--how often he sees her, how much he lets pass without comment, etc. That's a question I'd like to get.

Does your answer to Baltimore change at all if there are young children in the house? Children who don't know that their father is mad at something external to the house, and instead think that Daddy is mad at them?

It's a much longer answer, but the fundamentals are the same: Make it clear the failure to regulate anger creates an unpleasant home, and loved ones (both adults and kids, but especially kids) deserve the angry person's best effort to find healthier outlets for anger. Then patient holding of lines along with big-picture thinking, and counseling for the one who's willing to go. The answer's the same but the stakes are much higher. 

The rules on this never make sense to me...if I went by what you posted above, I'd be cheating on my husband with all my girlfriends, and he with his guy friends. We of course talk about things I don't share with my husband, like maybe venting about him, discussing mother/daughter issues, shoes, etc. Just because I'd prefer to talk to X about Y doesn't make it wrong...or am I reading into this too much?...

Seems to me you missed the part about the excluded person being upset about being excluded. If your husband is complainign to you that you don't share things with him anymore, then it is an issue. Otherwise everything you say fits the "just fine" example I closed with.

Having the new baby is, to me, a red flag. The DIL could be experiencing post partum depression. One of the signs of depression- way down on the list -is anger. Maybe she should be screened for that. Unless she's always been this way, in which case it could be general depression or something more serious like bipolar disorder.

Yes, PPD is a possibility, as is the possibility she went off meds for something else, as is the possibility that she's abusive and the baby cemented her control, freeing her to let loose. An honest talk with the son would likely be enough to get a good idea, since he could speak to the timing. If  it came with the baby, then PPD is likely; if it started when they shacked up/got engaged, escalated at marriage and spiked at Baby, then abuse is the strong candidate; and of course he'd be able to speak to any diagnosed underlying conditions. Thanks.

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and see you here next week, I hope.

Levi - first you have to click Submit Your Question to see the boxes to enter the information in

Yes, that's certainly true. I figured the OP had gotten that far because the question made it into the chat, but it's worth noting for anyone else who hasn't figured it out. Thanks!

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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 She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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