Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Feb 25, 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, Feb. 25 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 more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Good news! Carolyn's 2009 and 2010 chats have been added to her archive. Check out the sidebar on Carolyn's archive page to find even more transcripts from past Hax chats.

Finally, I got my makeover. How do I look?

He's a good man, a pleasant man and he's mine. One notable concern; he's forever looking at his smart phone. When we're watching TV, out to eat, eating at home, getting ready for work, having a drink (sadly could list more) Not intimate times, just times now lacking human interaction. How much tech time is too much. Do I deal with it or just delete him and start a new search? Missing a (hu)man in Minnesota

Dunno. What have you said to him about it so far, and how has he responded?

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I just received an invitation to a surprise anniversary party for his aunt and uncle. The last line of the invitation reads "$25 per person includes gift." Do we (a) politely decline and send a nice card, (b) politely decline and include a note in the card that a donation has been made in their name to our vacation fund, or (c) call the host and ask what the price of admission is if we choose to bring our own gift? Thanks!

I get how irritating this is, and there's absolutely no excuse for charging people for a party. But: If I were you, and if I really liked this aunt and uncle, I would chip in the 25 and go. The surprise means the aunt and uncle themselves are innocent.

If you really feel strongly, you can call the host and express your discomfort with the charge--or just as what the gift is going to be, "because you'd like to decide whether to contribute or bring your own gift."

That's if you like the guests of honor and want to celebrate with them. If you don't like or feel close to them, then just send your polite regrets.




Hey Carolyn, I'm at a loss here, my future MIL visited a few weekends ago and her behavior was appaling. She cut me down at every opportunity, never once complimented me or our brand new home (we JUST moved in two weeks ago this was her first visit), started ragging on my fiance about everything from weight to money and just had her nose in our business all weekend. Her leaving was such a huge weight lifted off of our shoulders but where do we go from here? Her son doesn't really want to deal with her anymore and I'm at a loss. I always try to be nice but now I really don't want to, her words really really hurt me and I just want to stop trying and just start being. She was fine for a few years prior to the engagement but with the wedding only 2 months away she has really started acting out. EVeryone tells me she is just afraid to loose her son but the way she acted seems more like she is just overpossesive and wants to control us all, she wants to control me by making me feel useless and control him by telling him he's not good enough. It's really twisted and I just don't know what to do. I know she'll broach the topic when we see her in a few weeks for my birthday, I just don't know what to do. Thanks!

I'm with "EVeryone" here. That doesn't mean the way your FMIL (heh heh) behaved is okay; far from it. It just means that the timing of the escalation of her bad behavior doesn't appear to be a coincidence. The more concrete your commitment to her son becomes, the freakier she gets. One of the oldest stories out there.

It may come to the point where neither you nor her son has any interest in trying to maintain a relationship with her, especially since you seem to be on the brink of that already. However, now would be a good time for you to shock the hell out of your future husband (FH) and strike a sympathetic note: "The timing of all this suggests your mom is really worried about losing you. Maybe it will calm her down if you call her and just ask if she's okay, because she wasn't herself during this visit." 

It's a longshot, but if it does calm her down, it will have been totally worth it in the short run, as you approach the wedding. And it might outright save the long run, since it's possible that she'll eventually revert to the way she was before you were engaged--that is, if she doesn't get in her own way in the meantime.



Ugh - you look fantastic as always, Carolyn, but I miss the old format badly. Waaah, change is hard!

Aw, shucks. It's a little weird on this end, too--i'm also on a new keyboard, and there's a "page down" where my "delete" used to be, aggghhh--but as long as I don't put myself in the Typo Hall of Fame in the next 2.5 hrs, I think we'll all pull through.

Hi. We live in a terrific, smallish neighborhood. There are a few older families, like ours, with grown kids out of the house; and several newer, younger families with small children. We all get along and enjoy each others company. However, one of the families has a child that is a nightmare. He runs untethered throughout the neighborhood. We have use of a strip of land across from all our houses owned by a local university where we all plant flowers and where my husband displays his sculptures. This child dismantles the art, and recently destroyed many of our plantings including one that was our daughter's, who recently passed away. We've approached the mother several times, politely asking to have "Timmy" leave the art and plantings alone. This week's activity was really over the top. She again denied that "Timmy" had anything to do with it. A day later 2 other neighbors told us they SAW him doing it along with 2 other boys. We sent her a polite email explaining that yes he did do it and could they please take action. His activity of ruining our stuff is annoying, but it's a safety issue since he's running after cars with sticks as well. I doubt she'll do anything about it. All the neighbors are upset. Any ideas?

How old is "Timmy," and has anyone said anything to him directly? Seems to me the adults who witness him destroying property and chasing cars are is an excellent position to put the fear of the Village into the kid.

I see it as a favor to the child to correct him on the spot, and hope you'd do the same for my kid if I weren't there to correct some kind of antisocial/dangerous behavior myself.  

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I have been married for just under a year, and frankly, the "newlywed period" is not necessarily as sweet and easy as I expected it to be. We'd already lived together, so that's not the problem, but I'm just finding myself to be somewhat insecure as we settle in to this relationship. Does that make sense? I guess part of the problem is that every relationship I've ever been in prior to this one has ended (obviously) so I find myself scrutinizing things that could be blips--for example, a couple months without sex and my feelings about that—for evidence that this relationship will either recover or go bad. It's kind of pissing my husband off. He doesn't want to go to counseling because he thinks our problems are not that serious. So maybe it really is just me. I'm IN counseling, but for some reason I really find it difficult to discuss this stuff with my therapist.

Ooh, discuss it with your therapist anyway, starting with the statement: "I have a lot of insecurities about my marriage and I find it really difficult to discuss this stuff with you." If you don't think you can pull it off in person during a session, call before your next session and leave it on a voice mail, even if you have to read it like a script. 

This is obviously just one step toward one avenue to a solution, and not even close to a solution unto itself. But you have the guidance framework in place and so it's really important that you start telling the truth. That's the only way your therapist can help.

And, not coincidentally, your hesitation to speak uncomfortable truths is part of the problem in your marriage, on both sides. The way you describe your husband's reaction, it sounds as if you arent' coming out and saying what's on your mind, and instead are nibbling at the edges. That does tend to tick people off.

And, too, you haven't responded to his "our problems aren't serious enough for counseling" by making any kind of case for it. Such as: "Maybe you're right, and we don't need counseling. But it would ease my mind if you came to one session with me, just to see if it helps." Instead you just turned his "no" into self-doubt. And he's using that "no" (and the anger, to a degree) as an attempt to make this all go away, which of course it won't.  

In other words, what you two need more than anything right now is a clear step toward being in this together, and the no sex + his anger + your jumpiness about the marriage + your reticence to say things out loud in therapy = two people who are dealing separately with the changes in your lives together. It's okay for you to ask openly for  that.

It's also okay -not- to take the issue into therapy. I think you need to consider that your husband doesn't want to talk, he just wants to be--and since he married you, it's okay to assume he just wants to  be -with you.- Your big step toward being in this together can be one where you choose to trust that you're together for good reasons, and choose to let that guide you for a while. It's a decision not to pick apart every little thing that happens (or doesn't happen) between you. Your therapist's office can be the place you  air your anxieties as you work to form a new habits--of not reacting to every blip, and of sharing and even creating warm moments with your husband instead of retreating into your doubts.

Had a baby two years ago and, thanks to bed rest and other health complications, I gained a lot of weight. A LOT of weight. I've been working hard and have now lost more than 30 pounds. Here's the thing: I would have thought my husband would have been jumping for joy, but he has volunteered not a word. He once told me "good job" when I brought up the subject, but that's it. People far less close to me - my son's teachers, the family pediatrician, our vet, the check-out clerks at my grocery store, the guy at the Exxon down the street - comment the minute they see me (unsolicited) and express happiness for me. But not hubby. Even his mom asked, "Why didn't you tell me she's lost so much weight?" when she came to visit. Any ideas on what gives?

He might be deathly afraid of saying the wrong thing, and he has reason to be. As long as he is still loving and supportive in general, try chalking it up to sheer terror and giving him a pass on this one. (And if he's acting weird in other ways, write back and I'll give it another shot.)

Congrats, too--losing 30 pounds, especially while you have a toddler to care for, is hard work.

Thanks for the suggestion, I agree and I suggested that to my husband too. One of the neighbors who had a stick wielded at her (and who has 2 grown boys herself) told him to knock it off. The other neighbor was in the car and freaked out when they were chasing her but agreed to go with us to speak to the mother. I'm going to talk to "Timmy" when I see him, and hope that has more impact.

It'll have maximum if you catch him in the act and speak to  him right away. In situations like the plantings and your daughter, a soft touch might be best: "I have a feeling you don't know what you've just done here. This is a picture of my daughter, who I miss terribly. She planted the garden you tore up yesterday." If you have the touch with kids, you might really wake him up by inviting him--or, with permission from the ... you said mom, right? ... with permission from the mom, "sentencing him" to re-plant the garden with you.

With the car-chasing and stick-weilding, tougher is better. Neighbors even need to stop their cars and tell these kids that next time, they won't bother stopping to tell them to knock it off, and they'll just call the police--or would they prefer an ambulance, since what they're doing is extremely dangerous?

But all of you have to follow through, or ol' Timmy will just learn to ignore adult threats. No doubt that's what has happened at home, if the parent has summoned enough of a clue to say something to him about the neighborhod complaints.

This is a very sad situation, something I hope the neighbors also realize. If you can all scrape together the "love" element of tough love, that's probably the best chance you all have. 


Wow, I think a lot of women can relate to this one! In my case, the bad behavior improved after the wedding. I don't know what it is about weddings, but I swear they bring out the worst in a lot of people. Since you are marrying your future husband and not his mother, and he appears to be on your side with her behavior, I'd be tempted to just wait it out and see if it gets better afterwards. Not that you have to cave to her demands, or even have her stay at the house (another thing that seems to bring out the worst in people).

Certainly worth considering, thanks. Waiting her out also saves them from having to say or decide anything before the have all the facts--namely, whether this is a passing phase or her new MO. The down side is that they would be passing on a chance to get things aired out (and possibly fixed) before the wedding becomes a stress fest. If the couple can keep their cool, though, and not let her freakouts get to them, then waiting makes the most sense.

The question about the "donation" to attend the surprise party sounded familiar. I was invited to my sister-in-law's bachelorette party and it had a similar set-up. We aren't very close (another chat, maybe) and her college friends were arranging it. They had researched the hotel, limo, dinner and a few other costs, and then broke it down per person. There was also a line item about a gift. When I called the hostess to accept, thinking that my going would be a way of improving relations with this relation, I asked about the gift. It was to be for a "lift and contouring". Yep, my "donation" was going towards my sister-in-laws boob job. I declined...

So is her boob job half-finished? I guess you'll find out when these friends dun you for the 10th anniversary party.

Ok that makes me feel a little better. I did suggest that to him (talking to his mom) and he did that prior to her visit when we thought she was being a little wonky/short on the phone. He said their chat went well and things were great with them and then the wknd came and went and it was worse than ever. I should've mentioned that they did talk in my first post. I just hate feeling like I've done something to cause this or in the end it will be 'my fault' that they don't have a relationship even though I can clearly see she is pushing him/us away. I don't say much to him because I dont want to influence his decision or feelings about his mom. She has a habit of making up excuses for her misbehavior right now her excuse for the bad wknd is that she is older than us and can see we are making poor decisions. I think the lack of respect and trust hurts me the most...It's all a learning game! Thanks.

You're welcome. But be careful with the "don't say much" approach. I'm all for discretion, and being judicious in picking your battles with a mate's family. However, that can very easily cross over into stockpiling resentment under the auspices of "staying out of it." You and Groomsie need to make sure you can and do talk freely about his mom and what the best approach is. I don't mean bringing it up all the time and/or forcing him to deal with it when he'd rather just ignore the latest bad-behavior eruption. I mean telling him when you're upset (vs. just annoyed, say), or being honest when you have questions about the way he's handling something.

I also think it's -really- important that you feel empowered not to take her crap. That bit about her being older, and can see you're making poor decisions? That -screamed- for a polite but no-BS response: "I'm sure you do see things you'd do differently, but we're adults and this is our home. The most valuable thing you can give us right now is your support." If she responds badly to that, then she'll know exactly why she's no longer welcome in your home. 

Carolyn and OP, I heartily disagree. It's rough enough buying presents for people you know well sometimes; how much harder is it to buy for people you love but don't know all that well? My husband & I recently celebrated our 50th anniversary. We got a lot of things that were given with love but which we'll NEVER use (including 2 bottles of wine--we don't drink wine!). You can't register for surprise anniversary parties as you can for weddings & babies. I'll bet the planned gift is something very nice that the recipients will appreciate. I'd happily give the money rather than search for a gift and wonder if they REALLY liked it.

If that's the case, then you make it optional--you contact the invited guests individually and make them aware of a  -voluntary- group gift. Or, you put "No gifts, please" on the invitation, which is in itself a faux-pas but at least it's an etiquette violation that isn't a shakedown. Charging for the party is a shakedown, and it's wrong every time.

The two women who have been my closest friends for the past ten years recently announced that they're now dating each other. I'm very happy for them, but I'm also worried I'm going to feel pushed out by the new dynamic. How do I keep my jealousy in check?

Accept that you -will- be pushed out by the new dynamic. There's no way around it: They are a couple and you are the one who goes home at the end of the night. It's a transition that's difficult and sad but also common, since groups of friends so often break apart into couples.

This isn't to say you shouldn't put in extra effort to keep the individual friendships with these women alive and relevant; I think you should. They owe that to you, too, but they might be distracted during the new love stage, so be prepared to be the one who rallies for a while and be slow to take things personally.

I just think that the more you fight or deny being "pushed out," the worse you're going to feel about the new dynamic. 

Carolyn, Please knock some sense into me. I've been very good friends with a guy that i briefly dated in college, someone I've known since high school. We're in our late 20s now and he's been married for years. We've retained our friendship through the years and have even gotten closer as time has gone by. His wife doesn't know how close we are and recently our friendship has turned more intimate. Not in terms of physical cheating, but in terms of the amount we confide in each other and talking about very personal things. I've never felt that we've had anything but a platonic friendship, but I am starting to feel weird about our intimacy, especially now that he's married. What do I do? If i break off the friendship, I lose a great friend that has been in my life since high school. If I don't do anything, I will probably feel increasingly uncomfortable with being so close with someone who is married. I'm at a loss. I don't want to lose my friend, but I'm not comfortable with discussing such close, intimate things with a man who is taken. I don't have feelings for him, but I do believe he married the wrong person. Please help!!

If you haven't said to him, "I'm not comfortable with discussing such close, intimate things with a man who is taken," then you need to, asap. Say that as long as he's married, he needs this energy to go to his marriage--or to dissolving it, if that's what he wants--but this in-between stuff has to go.

It would  be smart to make it clear where you stand on your feelings for him. If your feelings are strictly platonic, then say you're not making this an "it's me or your wife" kind of ultimatum; you're just trying to be a good friend by saying enough is enough. (And if you do want more, then you need to skip the soul-baring conversation and say you're not an objective party here, and you need to step back  decisively.)

After that, you'll need to back your talk by pulling back from the conversations, to the point where you do feel the friendship is appropriate again--less contact, less intensity, more points where you say, "I'm not comfortable talking about this."  

You can't make him deal with his marriage, but you can politely decline to be the place he retreats to when he's coosing not to deal with his marriage.

If it's any comfort to the letter-writer whose husband hadn't commented on her weight loss, here's my experience. My wife has apparently fluctuated in weight by as much as 25 pounds since we married (I think her ideal is around 110). It's a constant worry for her, and at times she feels awful about it. As God is my witness, her weight just doesn't matter to me. I love her just as much and have been just as attracted to her at any of her weights, and frankly I don't notice the difference that much. I wish she could be happier and more at peace with her body, but I guess I don't celebrate each loss because I'm not bothered by each gain. The earlier commenter's husband may feel much the same.

I hope so! Thanks.

Thanks, Carolyn! This is actually a little bit out of the norm. For example, when I straightened my naturally curly hair for the first time a few years ago, he spent days telling me how much better I looked. So a change like this, one would think, would elicit some comment, even just, "Honey, you no longer make a beeping sound when you back up. Well done!" We're both working hard to juggle kids and careers and other commitments, but still, this seems really odd. He's really the only one whose attention matters to me, and I don't know what to make of this.

Thanks for writing back. You didn't say whether he's being his usual attentive self, so I'm going to stick to my answer that if he's being good to you in all the other, usual ways (listening well, sharing domestic workloads, showing attraction, laughing at your jokes, giving you compliments on things unrelated to weight, or however else he normally shows his love), then I think it's okay to leave this one a mystery and just accept that he's not going to comment on your weight.

Carolyn, I keep hearing it is terrible for the hosts to ask for donations to attend a party. I am organizing my best friend's bachelorette party. Can I ask for people to chip in for the hotel on the invitation? I'm a graduate student and can no way afford to pay for the whole thing myself. I'm already flying in for the bachelorette party weekend and really stretching my budget. If I was expected to pay for it all, it wouldn't happen! So are there exceptions to the rule?

No. You either tell the bride you can't afford to do this for her, or you recruit co-hosts who help you share the costs. It is just not okay to plan a more expensive party than you can afford, and then shift the costs to invited guests. This is how wedding celebrations get out of hand. If this friend is mature and marrying a good person for her, then their wedding will be fine and their marriage will be a happy one even if she doesn't go out drinking or whatevering with all her female friends at some hotel. It's about the ability to face reality like an adult.

Carolyn, I'm coming to the realization that my mom wants to be a grandparent at arm's length, sending clothes and stuff in the mail, visiting a few times a year, and tolerating us when we visit her. She doesn't really seem too interested in actually spending time with my son, like down in the trenches (on the floor playing, etc.). It makes me sad because she is retired (and has lots of time on her hands), doesn't live very far away (four-hour drive) and always says she she misses my son so much and can't wait to see him, blah blah, but never puts forth an effort. When we visit her, she seems to worry more about her cat than her grandson. How can I come to terms with this? It really makes me sad, I feel like she is missing out on so much, but maybe she doesn't care?

Or maybe she's not good with little kids. Accept whatever grandmothering she's willing to offer, and leave the door open to her getting more involved as your son grows into his self-control and ability to hold a conversation. Some people just can't deal with the noise and neediness and floor stuff--and the ability to deal arguably drops with age. Cats are a whole lot easier on the nerves.

That might not be the issue here, but it's such a common problem that it's worth considering. 

I've been seeing a guy for about 6 months now -- for the most part, things have been good, with one exception; his drinking. He admittedly has a problem with alcohol. Not the kind where he needs to drink all the time, or has to drink in the morning to fight off the shakes, but he hides alcohol and sneaks drinks when I'm not looking. (Entirely unnecessary since I am fine with drinking in moderation) This leads to him going from seemingly fine, to stumbling around-slurring his speech-F-bomb dropping drunk in the blink of an eye. At first it left me very confused, but after a while I caught on to what was going on. We've since talked about it openly a few times -- he admits it is a problem and I believe him when he says he wants to get better. Obviously this is a huge red flag, and while I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet, I am proceeding cautiously. My question is; what's the best way to help someone like this? I've already called him out on his behavior, and he says he's going to work on it. I don't expect the change to come overnight, but I do expect to see effort towards change. When he slips up, should I call him on it each time? I know he's already punishing himself and he's embarrassed and frustrated by his behavior -- am I making it worse by pointing it out? Or is it worse to pretend I don't notice? I've considered contacting Al-Anon for advice, but I'm concerned that their organization might be a little too religious-based for my tastes. Thanks.

That's a reason not to go to a second meeting, not a reason to avoid the first.

For what it's worth, there are usually different tones to different meetings, so if you want something light on God, then you can ask someone involved locally to see which meeting would best suit you.

But this is all the run-up to the answer, which is, I think you're making it worse by dating him. Until he chooses to invest himself fully into getting well, he won't get well, and your acceptance of him allows him to avoid getting well. By all means, go to the meetings, but please also consider that this guy is not ready to be anyone's partner, not even close.

A close friend of mine got hardcore dumped by her live-in partner in January. She was upset for about a week, and since then, she's proceeding with an Everything is Fine, Thanks for Asking policy. She even started dating someone else. I know everyone processes bad news differently, but I feel totally weird hanging out with her, because the conversation is very light and only occasionally brushes up against the break-up. I'm torn between wanting to ask her how things are going (because she must be so confused and sad inside) and wanting to let her steer the conversation (because it's easier to talk about light things; because she doesn't really owe me any explanation and because I don't want to imply she's doing the break-up 'wrong' or anything). Any advice on how to proceed? She's someone who values strength so while she may be doing A-OK, I suspect it feels good to her to present a strong face to the world, which is a strategy that could backfire in the long term.

Yes, but it's clearly her choice, and if it's an unhealthy  choice for her, then she'll find that out when it backfires. As her friend, feel free to ask her how she's doing occasionally, but don't get the pity eyebrows / \ when you do--just show respect by asking her straight. That will let her know you're someone she can approach if she ever stops being fine--and, by not pressing and by not giving her the eyebrows, you will also let her know you aren't judging her or expecting her to grieve your way.  As you almost say in your question, this way might be better for her -because- it feels good to present a strong face to the world. Sometimes that's all there is, and it doesn't backfire. Give that possibility as much weight as you give the backfiring possibility, and I bet you'll be that much more of a comfort to her, even if no comforting words are said.

Hi there, Getting divorced (ink almost dry), and have reconnected with a 20 yr ago lost love. We've hit it off great, and now after 2 months, all this other stuff is in play, she wants to be neither the rebound or the transitional person. As in, "I have not healed, I have not experimented, I have not explored my well deserved freedom." How do I tell her not a day have gone by in the past 20 yrs that I have not longed for her? She says "go away and tell me when you are ready."

Go away and come back when you're ready. You may feel ready--and in fact be ready--but since she has decided you aren't, there's no point in arguing. It'll just reinforce her impression that you're not ready. 

Even if you go away for a month, come back and say, "This is BS, I'm fine," then you'll be on stronger footing.

Not that I'm recommending  you do this. It actually would be worthwhile, since you're just out of a marriage, for you to live completely on your own and develop your own natural rhythms--just to see what they are. Left to your own devices, what do you watch, listen to, eat for dinner, fill your free time with, consider your ideal bedtime? Mundane little stuff like that. It will help you gauge, in future relationships, how much you have to move the needle in one direction or the other to keep the peace, and that's seriously valuable information. Having a new relationship in the wings--with get-serious-quickly potential--makes it all the more important that you give yourself time to find some single-person equilibrium.

Since what you probably fear most is that she'll meet someone else in the interim: She knows you're there. If she's available for short-notice  sweeping away by someone  else, then that will have been true even if you started dating her immediately. I.e: Don't blame the wait time for anything that goes wrong; if things go wrong, it will be because of something else that you would have run across anyway. 

Dear Carolyn, Do you have any tips on what is and isn't reasonable to ask of hosts when you're visiting (overnight) with babies and toddlers? The last time my husband and I stayed at my in-laws for several days with our very active 18-month-old son it was a disaster: ruined naps, cranky child, non-child-friendly TV on in the middle of the day, poorly baby-proofed environment. The next time around our son will thankfully be 3 – but we'll have his 18-month-old sister in tow. Where is the line between asking someone to make their home child-friendly and being a self-centered momzilla?

Is a hotel an option? They're actually more child-friendly than you might think. You retreat to said hotel for nights and nap times, and you arrive with rested children (which is so key)  for visiting time with family. The family also gets a break from your kiddie parade, which makes the accommodations you have to ask for when you're there ("Can we please not watch the Profanity Channel?") go over a little better, since it's only from 9 am to noon and then 3pm through dinner. If that, since an outing per day to a kid-friendly place would be a real gift to everyone involved.

If a hotel isn't an option, let me know and I'll re-answer. 


Hey Carolyn, I have a good friend of 30 years (we've weathered many storms between each other as well as the regular life stuff). Her father lives in a retirement community and is declining in the nursing home there, which is quite expensive. She has been talking about moving him to a less expensive facility or to her own home, but this is clearly to preserve her inheritance. Mind you, her father has subsidized her entire life; several homes, a divorce settlement, as well as other financial support. I am just appalled that she would move her father out to save what she already has begun calling "her" money. Is there anything I can say that might make her realize how unethical this is? I'm not sure I'd want to continue a friendship with someone who can behave in this way.

Wow. How about, "Have you established that moving him wouldn't involve a decline in the quality of his care?" It's calling her out without calling her out. You can decide how far you want to go when she responds. For e.g., if she says they're all about the same, then you can either express skepticism, or say that maybe moving him will upset him, or say nothing as you weigh the sincerity of her answer and/or calculate whether you want to remain friends with this person. The "my money" angle pretty much says this isn't true, but it's possibly you've got her motives wrong and she has a reason to question the costs of the pricey facility. 

Sorry that one took so long. I hit a stretch of really long questions and needed some time just to read. 

What is enabling? Apparently I've been doing it, and I need a nutshell definition that will help me nip it in the bud. My husband's been out of work for over a year now, during which time we had our first baby and I went back to work full time. His parents are helping us out, so we're better off than most. He's been trying to start his own business, but can't gain any traction in this economy, and the few jobs he's looked for haven't panned out. At home, he's been inconsistent about housework -- SuperHubby for a day or two, then Al Bundy the rest of the week (not mean, just depressed and useless). I've been seeing a therapist to deal with the stress and resentment of carrying so much, and he's seeing one to deal with his depression. Anyway, my therapist thinks one reason he's taking so long to get employed again is that he's been allowed to. She says I've been enabling him. While I understand the concept of enabling, the label gets my back up because I feel like I'm being blamed for his suckiness. I thought I was being a supportive, caring spouse--one like I would want if I were in his shoes--but apparently I should have been putting my foot up his heiney. I’ve done the sympathetic talk, the stern talk, and the breaking-down-in-tears talk, but I don't know how to "make" him do better. I feel helpless and trapped, which is why I'm in therapy. How do I break the cycle? How do I get my hackles down so I can face the label and overcome it?

I think you should ask your therapist what you're doing to "allow" him to stay unemployed; that kind of charge demands specifics.

In the meantime, though, I think you need to say to your husband that as long as he's going to be home, he needs to take over the bulk of the housework, including X, Y and Z--AND you need to stop doing X, Y and Z, no matter how tall the laundry piles get. The most common form of partner enabling is asking someone to share the load fairly, and then, when the partner doesn't do his or her share, caving and doing it for him or her.

The broader definition of enabling is shielding someone from the consequences of his or her own unproductive behavior.  E.g.: The parent is enabling Timmy by not believing reports of Timmy's neighborhood vandalism, and not holding him accountable for it.


I'm completely disagree that the host is required to pay for the hotel arrangements of every guest. A quick google on Emily Post says the following, "Hosts pay for the shower expenses. At bachelor or bachelorette parties, each guest normally pays his or her own tab, and everyone chips in to cover the expenses for the bride or groom since they are the ones being honored."

Oh yeah, sorry, I took it as costs of a party -at- a hotel. Each person staying overnight would pay for her own room, or whatever meals out during the weekend. I was thinking locally.

But I still think that these things need to be reined in and reined in hard. Obviously people who don't want to shell out for them can--and should--just say no, but often that comes with baggage of its own.  Wedding party members feel the weight of expectations, certainly. I wish people would think really hard about what they need most and value most before they ask their grad-student (or, hell, even wildly rich) friends to rally three or more times in the name of one set of vows.

What if staying at a hotel (or even with other family members who have babyproofed) is considered an insult? And, on that same topic, how do we enforce our rules (no tv) when the in-laws stay with us? Saying "we don't watch tv when the kids are awake" is ignored, and the instant we leave the room, the tv is on.

You're just going to have to take a stand: "When we stay at your home, that means asking other adults not to make noise at nap time, keeping the TV off or tuned only to G-rated shows, baby gates on all the stairs, no glassware on tables below hip height. Is everyone really up for that?" If you get resistance, or don't trust them to cooperate with the childproofing, then you make an executive decision and stay at a hotel. Take the flak and just do what you've got to do. The kids will eventually grow and you can go back to staying at the house of glass and F-bombs.

As for the TV watching by guests in your home, just put a password lock on the TV. They can turn it on all they want and they'll just be staring at a prompt. When they ask you for it, say, "Sorry, no TV when the kids are awake." It's a bit draconian, but, remember, you wouldn't have had to  that if they just had respected your house rules to begin with.

Ha. Your response about the bachelorette party hit a nerve with me since my boyfriend and I are being absolutely bankrupted this year by bachelor/bachelorette weekends in Vegas, New Orleans, etc. Not only do we have to pay our own costs for these extravagant weekends that we have no say in planning, but the maid of honor/best man always insists that everyone cover the bride/groom's share as well. We have no vacation days/budget left for the two of us, but when I tried to back out of one because of costs, I got seriously pressured by friends about how much it would mean to the bride if I came. Any advice? These weekends seem to be the norm among people I know -- whenever I've tried to suggest lower-cost or local alternatives, I get no traction. I want to support my friends who are getting married, but this is insane.

Just say no. If it's not the way you want to use your time and money, then withstand the pressure. It's the only way this will ever stop being "the norm."

Thank you, Carolyn. There is, as you said, a LOT that is good about what we have together, and I think that's part of what's making it hard for me to figure out the best way to deal with the problems. The truth is, I think I'd feel a lot better if I could just talk to a friend (and see how "normal" this is) but I'm so embarrassed, and the fact that everyone thinks of us as being a super loved-up couple makes it even harder. I have been somewhat specific with my husband, but he points to all the many wonderful things about our life together and is downright hurt by my insecurity (although he can't exactly explain why the sex has dropped off--however, he has been on and off anti-depressants throughout our time together and is currently "on"). I guess I am just worried about what "people" might think if they knew, including, for some bizarre reason, my therapist, who I've gone to on and off for years and who, therefore, has seen me through many breakups. And then I feel like So. Is this normal? Anonymous people?

First of all, it's the antidepressants. Don't give another thought to the idea that the reduced sex life is a personal reflection on you. 

Second, it's your embarrassment, not the little things wrong with your marriage, that will be your undoing. EVERYbody has stuff. Bad stuff, annoying stuff, ludicrously imperfect stuff, dispiriting stretches of stuff. If anyone who knows you has any expectation that you're part of a "super loved-up" couple, and has anything riding on that image of you, then that person is not your ally in life. Just isn't. 

Please embrace the idea of stuff. Start learning to embrace it by admitting to your shrink your need for others to see you/your relationship as perfect. That is, I repeat, your biggest obstacle--and that's actually good news, because you can knock a significant portion of it down just by blurting out the words in the safety of a confidential session with someone you already know. 

As a person who attends Al-Anon, AA, and ACOA meetings regularly, I can vouch that no decent 12-step meeting forces or proselytizes membership into any sort of religion. The only thing they espouse is a "Higher Power". That can be anything anyone wants - I've heard members refer to "Higher Power" as He/She/It, meditation, yoga, prayer, what have you. The only thing they espouse is having faith in something other than alcohol to cure problems. You can participate as much or as little as you want. Most of the time I just sit in the back of the room, knitting, while listening to other people share their stories. Believe you me, it can be such a relief to know that this insanity is not limited to you, and there are other (anonymous) people out there who share your pain. And you can hear what works for them. If she still feels uncomfortable with this, she should look into session with a therapist who specializes in relationship and addiction issues. Or both.

Useful stuff, thanks.

A poster was complaining that the grandmother only sees the kids a few times a year, only sends presents, clothes etc, and "only" lives a short 4-hour drive away. Jeez, maybe I'm grouchy today, but seriously? A 4-hour drive isn't short for most people and certainly not a retired grandmother. This will sound harsh and feel free to smack me for it (verbally) but if the daughter wants her mom involved more than 3 times a year, maybe she should get in the car and make that "short" drive with the kids and go visit her mom. Both of my grandmothers were uncomfortable driving long distances - maybe her mom is too?

Nope, I'm not smacking--I read too quickly past the 4 hours. Thanks.

Thanks, that does help give a shape to the issue. I have talked to him about doing his share, and I get specific: "Would you please make dinner," or even "Can you please clean up while I give the baby a bath" (so I'm not just bossing him around, even though I've already put in a full day). But when he says he's too tired to make dinner, and I'm exhausted and hungry after a day at work, do I sympathize (because I've been there) and let him order pizza, or just wash down my anger with a bowl of cereal? I guess that's what I need to get specific about with my therapist.

Getting specific is actually just this: You're in charge and treating him as if he's "helping out" vs. actually being a partner in your home. Being a partner means he takes charge of things while he's not otherwise engaged in paid work. "Too tired to make dinner" is fine when he plans, shops for and makes dinner 4 or 5 times a week, and this time he's just whacked.

How much he takes charge of your home depends on the amount of real time and effort he's putting into job-hunting and his business launch. That's stuff you need to factor in, and it will be delicate. 

My recently departed gram, started out as an arm-length, never get on the floor type of grandma. She was never really a baby-person, and was not very good with young kids either. However, my parents made sure we saw her regularly and when I became teenager she finally figured out how to relate to me and me to her. Thankfully, she lived to 95, long enough for us to develop a wonderful relationship and for her to come to the hospital and hold her namesake when she was born 5 years ago. I also had climb on the floor, spend hours cutting out paper dolls grandma, who unfortunately died too soon. Both were very special to me, its just one relationship took longer, and thankfully we had the time.

Thanks for this.

Bye, thanks, have a great weekend and see you here next week. Oh, and be sure to check out the winner of the Nick Galifianakis cartoon caption contest. The unprintable winner of said Nick Galifianakis cartoon caption contest is on Nick's Facebook page. Also check out the Carolyn Hax Facebook page, since, say what you will about this format, it makes links so much easier, even though I probably screwed up at least two of them. (BTW, follow me on Twitter and it will feed you updates to my FB page--details to come on said page. I keep forgetting to mention that ...)


In This Chat
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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: