Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, November 2)

Nov 02, 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, November 2, 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.

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From a constant reader and sometime commenter who's been having frankly the worst week ever (the kind where a parent dies after an illness), I can't tell you how relieved I am that there is a Hax chat today. Can't explain why that's such a relief to me, either, but, I mean it is. Thanks for the work you do, CH. Rah rah.

I'm glad this is a comfortable place for you to hang out, and I'm really sorry about your loss. I imagine the world looks weird and painful to you these days.


(I'm also sorry to be late; arrived at my office without my laptop and had to make a mad dash home to get it.)

I waited a long time to get married because I couldn't imagine spending every day living with someone. My husband was that person. 15 years later, I don't know if that is still true. Every 3-4 months he emotionally/mentally checks out-spending hours each evening by himself, reading or playing video games. When I remind him that he has checked out and needs to get back to 'us', he agrees it is the right thing to do, but the cycle continues. I've tried talking, yelling, threatening (to leave), marriage counseling. This week I've had it. I can't imagine life without him, but can't take this cycle. He wants another chance. Aauuuugghhhhh. Mostly happily married.

How long does his checking-out phase last, and have you ever stepped back to see if the problem will resolve itself if you leave it alone?

All of the things you say you've tried--"talking, yelling, threatening (to leave), marriage counseling"--sound oriented toward getting him to stop doing this. That leaves me wondering whether you've tried to change any part of your behavior. For example, have you tried giving him a little more space in the 3-4 months between his check-outs? Have you tried treating his check-outs as a chance for you to spend some time on yourself or other things you don't get to much as a couple?A chance to recapture a bit of the old you, who couldn't imagine sharing your day-to-day life?

I could be wrong, of course, but what I'm reading into this is your husband's need to retreat into himself for occasionally. If that's true, and if you can find a way to grant him that time in a way that you don't perceive as a personal insult or threat, then accepting this need of his could be better for your marriage than eliminating these phases of his (which you don't appear to be able to do anyway).

Flip side, the more shrill your resposnes get to these check-outs, the more likely it becomes that he stays checked out.


Hi Carolyn, First, I hope you and yours are safe and dry after Hurricane Sandy! I have an issue and would love some input from you and other readers. This year has been rough on my family -- I am sure many others have similar issues that we have been experiencing (massive storm damage to property, illness, dealing with insurance companies, a layoff, the death of a pet, and the total breakdown of one vehicle, more illness). My nuclear family (my husband and two children, one in college, the other a recent grad) is not really in the holiday spirit this year. This is not just a money issue, but more of an emotional energy issue. Both my husband and I are from big families where we spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a lot of time in between visiting and exchanging gifts. In years past it was wonderful, but now even the thought of it is exhausting. My husband and I talked to our kids, and they feel the same way. Would it be so horrible if my nuclear family just spend Christmas relaxing and seeing extended family next year? I have suggested it to some family members and they seemed pretty upset, claiming that holiday traditions are traditions for a reason. I hate the idea or making people upset, especially around the holidays, but I'm just not sure we can manage it this year. Here is my question: has anybody "taken a year off" of traditional holiday celebrations in lieu of quiet, alone time? Regrets? Thoughts?

What your family does with its holiday plans is your business and no one else's. People who enjoy your company and/or enjoy having every holiday turn out as a replica of the last one will be disappointed, of course, but the ones who care about your well-being will also understand and support your need to regroup.

As for the experiences of year-off takers, I'll let the nuterati weigh in with the collective answer, but my experience (with doing this myself and having others close to me try it as well) is that taking a breather is a much bigger deal in theory than in practice.Everyone seems to manage.

But, everyone's circumstances are different--different individual needs, different family expectations, different flavors of Disappointed Family Fallout--so unless you get a good range of experiences to read through, not much of what others experience will be applicable to you. (Since I don't want to bog down the chat with this, anyone who wants to weigh in is welcome to go bog down my Facebook page.)

Last thing, while I'm bogged down on bogging down: Self-awareness is key here. If you're one to look back with relief on times you dropped out to regroup, then that's the way to go; if instead you tend to look back in the times you rallied as your best moments--the times you thought you were peopled out but wound up feeling buoyed by the fellowship of others--then rallying might make more sense. This might not apply here, since you're thinking for a whole family and not just for you, but it's a self-check you might want to throw out to the others before you make any final rulings.

My friend's boyfriend interrupts me repeatedly whenever I'm trying to explain a complicated concept. We're talking once a sentence, if not more. (He does this to her, too.) He interrupts to fill in what he thinks the situation is, and he is frequently wrong. It interrupts my train of thought, and then I have to address whatever wrongheaded idea he had. It's really annoying, and I can't say what I wanted to say. How can I handle this?

You don't "have to address whatever wrongheaded idea he had." That's a choice you make because you don't want him to think he's right.

Therefore, you can also choose instead to ignore his wrongheaded idea, say simply, "I'd like to finish my point, please," and then continue with your point, assuming you haven't been derailed already by then. If just saying that is too distracting, then pause instead, wait till he has said what he so urgently needed to say, then return to making your point as if no one had said anything.

However you choose to handle it, it sounds like you'll feel a lot better if you say to him: "I'd appreciate it if you didn't interrupt me when I'm speaking. I'll extend the same courtesy to you." Assuming you will.

I realize this is an extremely annoying behavior in someone you apparently see often, but, really, he's peripheral enough to warrant non-action as well. As in, wave him off with an "Okay, Tom,"  and change the subject. There are many ways to "win" an argument; knocking down the opponent point-by-point is just one of them, and not even the most effective.


I very confused about your acceptance of the commenters description of reading as emotionally checking out of a relationship. I see emotionally checking out of a relationship as no longer loving a spouse or finding love with another person.

It's about quantity and attitude, not about the thing itself. A person can emotionally check out of a relationship by nurturing the kids, scrapbooking the very relationship that's being neglected, getting in shape, saving the world, playing the banjo, knitting, or knitting a banjo. If you're not listening, caring, making eye contact, paying attention to your partner's needs or valuing the other person's place in your life, then you're emotionally checking out. If you're doing those things, then you can nurture the kids, scrapbook the very relationship that's being appreciated, get in shape, save the world, play the banjo or knit one without taking a risk that your partner will feel neglected.

Unless your partner is insecure, but that's a whole other bowl of nuts.

You didn't flag the video games, I see. Games, social media and "work" are the unholy trinity of partner neglect at the moment, but that doesn't mean they account for all of it, or that all use of these leads to partner neglect. 

I have a pregnant friend (7 months) who is driving me crazy. It seems like with every passing week, she gets more demanding and outright rude. For example, I was at the mall with my mom when she called twice in a row. After exchanging hellos, she immediately asked if I could drive her to a mechanic because her boyfriend's car wasn't running. I told her I was at the mall and would not be able to take her for a couple hours. She demanded to know why it would be so long, which is where I told her I was going to see a movie. Somehow in the few seconds I had told her I was at the mall, she assumed I was at the one by our house and could just drop everything and leave for her. How can I tell her that I don't like the person she is turning into? I think it is just going to get worse after the baby is born... she is going to be one of THOSE moms if you know what I mean.

Do: Address her individual encroachments into your business--"It sounded like you wanted me to drop everything to take you to the mechanic, and, if true, I have a problem with that"--with some wiggle room in case you read her intentions wrong. (For example, in the scene you describe, it could just be that she was being direct and skipping the formalities, vs. trying to steamroll you.)

Don't: Address your global "she is going to be one of THOSE moms" impressions. If the individual encounters with her all add up to someone you don't like any more, then that's the end of the friendship--but labeling her as a type is judgmental, generally self-fulfilling and often messier than it needs to be. 

At a social gathering recently, my friend's mom came to me and asked if "Jane" had ever mentioned being an exchange student in France in high school...because she wasn't and Mom doesn't know why Jane is telling people this. It sort of rang a bell but I wasn't positive she'd told me that, so I didn't say much. I couldn't tell if Mom was mad at Jane, confused, or concerned about Jane's sanity. Jane is not a particularly self-aggrandizing person so my only guess is that this may be a cover story for something she doesn't want to discuss--pregnancy, health problems, had to leave a school, etc. I didn't feel like asking if Mom had shipped her off to reform school or sent her to Aunt Mary's to have a baby. I don't know Mom well enough, and didn't want to open any cans of worms, plus it just wasn't the place. The other possibility is that Mom is misrepresenting the situation for some reason. Now that I know there is this dispute going on...what if anything do I do about it? I'm leaning toward just keeping it on the radar and not much more. Thanks!

If you're ever not sure you're in the middle of something, then you're not, and it's best not to do anything that would change that status. This is between Jane and her mom--so keep leaning that way unless and until something forces you to reconsider.


I've been wanting to write for a while, but I feel like I'm so confused that I don't even know how to phrase the question I want to ask. I've been divorced not quite a year. I've been seeing a guy since just before the divorce was final. At first I thought he was Mr. good enough for now, but even though I didn't think I wanted a relationship, somehow he has grown on me and I think depsite the baggage we both carry around have come to care about each other a lot. He's very different from what I thought I wanted (someone to push me to do more and be the best me I could be...) more the tortoise than the hare, but I've come to realize that to some extent it's good that he's gotten me to slow down a bit, part of me just worries that I'll slow down too much? Also, it's my first relationship after a 20 year marriage and I worry that I'm just rebounding. For the most part we just take things as they come, realizing at our age and having had a marriage and no plans for more children, a lot of things that matter when you are dating in your 20's just don't matter when you are in your late 40's. Yet, as much as I enjoy not needing to label things, I constantly find myself yearning for clarification? We communicate pretty well and with both of us having controlling ex-spuses we are both very respectful of one another. So I don't know what I'm asking except maybe what questions would you ask to evaluate if this is just a comfortable situation that I've fallen into with someone who is good and kind and who I guess I'm finding I have feelings for or could this be something more. Argh, I'm sorry this is so convoluted... it's just hard to articulate just what is bothering me. Admittedly it could just be that I'm afraid to let myself be vulnerable.

It could be that, and it would make sense. It also sounds as if you're struggling with a low sense of self-worth--my evidence being the controlling spouse, the idea that to be "the best me I could be" requires someone pushing you to improve, and the need for "clarification"--i.e., assurance that you are what you think you are.

If that sounds about right, then I have two suggestions: 1. the boilerplate, counseling. Find someone good and start sorting this stuff out. Nothing wrong with having a professional organizer come in to help you file your thoughts. 2. stop trying to sort/file/label your relationships. You enjoy this man's company, so let that be enough right now, even if you have to keep reminding yourself to ignore your impulse to label. As you said, you're at a point in your life where you're not in any hurry to "get" to some point; enjoying someone's company is an excellent end unto itself. If you reach a point where you don't enjoy his company, then that says it's time for a different kind of end.

Think of relationships as having only these two states--enjoy his company, don't enjoy his company--until you sort out the other stuff. The other stuff being, essentially: How do you see yourself?

Carolyn, I am a man and I enjoy these chats because it brings to light some issues that I think women are more intuitive to things than men are. My mother was a stay-at-home mom while my dad worked a traditional 9-to-5 job. Now that I am married with a house and mortgage of my own, my mother has been projecting into our life quite a bit. My wife is a wonderful mother and she is a busy ob/gyn. For many reasons that I support, my wife is working full time. However, my mother has a tendency to point out things like "store bought Halloween costumes are cheating," and "it isn't a homemade dinner if the chicken came precooked from a store," and "it is a real shame that people can't take the time to clean their own home anymore." My wife and I typically nod and smile and say something neutral. But I've noticed that as my children get older and can understand more adult conversation, my wife is getting increasingly upset when my mother says these things. What kind of conversation can I have with my mother that stresses that I appreciate my childhood but that she is being too meddling into my parenting skills now?

Full disclosure, your question made me adrenaline-surge angry. At your mom, not you, of course, and not just because you're a full and eager participant in the 21st century.

Okay. Self-calming techniques employed.

The kind of conversation I suggest is one that avoids making this a personal debate about your wife, at least to start. Instead, make and stick to two key points: 1. that when your mom makes these comments, -you- feel angry because it's -your- choices she's denigrating. Your wife is not acting as a rogue entity; she is an equal partner in decisions about your family, and you're proud of the way you're doing things, the way you and your wife get along, the way you both contribute in what were once gender-limited roles, and the way your kids are turning out.

2. That when your mom compares your family life to the one she created for you, she is comparing apples to oranges. I didn't want to lose too much time to Googling, but the percentage of mothers of kids under 18 who are in the work force appears to be somewhere in the 65-to-70-percent range, and the percentage of dual-income parents is about 60 (if anyone wants to nail down these numbers and cite a source, go for it), which means a clear majority of kids are not in a homemaker-engineered home. And who's to say how many of the remaining homemakers think the advent of the supermarket rotisserie bird should be marked as the new dawn of time.

Anyway. Make sure in this you don't treat your mom as a silly anachronism; you do need to say you appreciated your childhood and what she did for you. You might even want to add that if you and your wife were raising kids under the same conditions, you'd probably make many if not all of the same choices.In fact, you might also want to say that if she were raising kids now, there's a good chance she'd be working, too--or at least she couldn't say for sure that she wouldn't be, because she'd be a product of this age just as she is now a product of hers.

People who snark attack like your mom is doing aren't just disapproving of what they see; they're also defending themselves against what they see. That your wife is a doctor arguably makes her Uber-Intimidating to your mom, or at least easy to reduce to a symbol of the kind of power, economic or otherwise, that your mom never felt she had. 

That's why the ultimate goal of this conversation--even though it starts out with a then vs. now slant--has to be to being it back to the universal. All parents reflect their times. All families do better when different generations support each other. And all rotisserie birds save people time they can then spend with their families not complaning about dried out white meat.

Good luck with it.

Oh--and Martha Stewart works full time as Martha Stewart, and pretty much outearns us all.

I've noticed on a few occasions recently that a colleague has spoken about her husband to me in a negative fashion. One was telling about how the husband gave a hard time about the quality of the brunch she served. Another was about how the husband begged off a family long weekend trip because he had too much work to do--but then suddenly wound up getting great seats at a Ravens game. Finally, this colleague asked me how was my Halloween. I expressed that I had a great time taking the kids around. She then said that her husband said he had actually enjoyed Halloween. She told him that was because he had a beer beforehand, a couple while walking, and then a few with friends at their house. She said she told him that she has a great time every year on Halloween. I guess what I think is a little odd is why I'm being told all this. I understand men overrate the "romantic" interest of women, so I wouldn't think it's a come-on, but shouldn't this discussion be with her husband rather than somebody else's?

I can't say for sure what she wants from you, and your romantic attention (or just attention) is certainly a possibility. It's also possible, though, that she has been living with a problem drinker long enough to feel unsure what "normal" is, and she's looking to you as a touchstone. She could well be talking to others for the same reason.

You have to be careful not to get sucked in, especially since this is a colleague and not a friend, so keep your answers noncommittal and your distance arm's length.

Hi Carolyn. I have a friend who is quitting her job. She doesn't like doing it and says it's having a negative impact on things outside of work. I agree she needs to find something else to do, but I am concerned about the way she is doing it. She has no other employment prospects in sight and she will have no insurance once she quits. I beleive she has savings but not enough to live off of just because she wants to not be doing this job. I thinks she needs to get a firm offer for new employment before quitting the current. Things are too risky to leave on the hope that there will be something better out there. She hasn't asked my opinion, but I'm thinking of telling her she's crazy for doing this. Should I tell her or just mind my business? If it makes a difference, current job is pretty good (in my opinion). Salary, insurance, vacation, etc.

I think you're in an odd position of being too caught up in her situation and also too hands-off.

When she told you she was going to quit, it would have been fine to say, "Big step--you have contingency plans, I hope, in case you don't find something else right away?"--and also fine to realize that while her apparent impulsiveness could be a problem for her, that's different from its being a problem for you. Instead, at the moment, you're the opposite, silent about the whole thing but worried almost as if it's your life she's (possibly) mismanaging.

If you think you can put the proper distance into your perspective on this (proper perspective into your distance?) then, sure, say you're worried that she' s taking the risks lightly. Then mind your own biz.


Make light of it. Turn it into a joke about not talking until you give him the thumbs up or something. Something that won't hurt him too badly but will just point out to him how annoying it is in a friendly and non-threatening manner. Although if I read between the lines it sounds like you simply don't like him. Sounds like you might be judging him harsher than you would someone that you really adore. I tend do be annoyed by just about everything done by someone already on my bad side. Might be worth taking a look at that as well.

Universally applicable, that. Thanks.

You are not "making people upset." They are choosing to be upset because you are thinking of your family and its mental health instead of fulfilling someone else's fantasy. Spend the holidays relaxing with your nuclear family. As for "traditions," every family develops their own. Didn't everyone's parents have to start making holiday choices once they married and reproduced? Feel free to claim the same right.

Ayup. Another good point, thanks.

I'm not your husband, but I find that every three or four months I just need to spend a weekend neglecting my social life and doing nothing but reading and playing video games. It's a recharging thing. I wonder if it might help to have a scheduled "nothing" weekend every few months (or, if you have kids or it's otherwise logistically impossible, each of you gets your own separate nothing weekend).

Next, the development of Nothing Weekend traditions, then the development of Nothing Weekend expectations and the resulting hard feelings when they aren't met, and then the request to skip a Nothing Weekend in order to regroup, which goes so well that the Anti Nothing Weekend is born. I'm in.  

Um, shouldn't he also have a private conversation with his mother to explain that he will not tolerate these little jabs? It's his mother, and she's treating his wife in a horrendous way. And he's tolerating it! When my mother made some jabs at a guy I was dating - wasn't even married to - I pretty much laid out what was acceptable and what wasn't. She knew I would distance myself if she couldn't treat my chosen partner with respect and basic courtesy, especially since he always treated her with nothing but deference.

That comes if talks break down at the great bilateral apples-and-oranges summit. I.e., if you can't fix the source of the jabs then, yes, you try to fix the fact of them.

Also a self-check might be called for: are the son and daughter-in-law sure they're not indirectly disparaging the mother's choices or devaluing the work she did? E.g., comments that imply that an ob-gyn's time is too valuable to spend on housework, or "thank goodness *I* don't have to slave in the kitchen."

There's that, too. (Though it wouldn't be unprecedented if the mother took the mere fact of the different choices as a rejection of hers.) Thanks.

One other point-- you don't say how old your children are, but you do mention that they're beginning to understand your mom's comments about your household and the way it's run. In an age-appropriate (and non-angry) way, it might be smart to explain to your children why your mother says the things she does, how times change, and how every family has to make the right decisions for them. You might even add that in 20 years when your kids have families/homes of their own, the way in which they were raised might look completely outdated and unfamiliar. (No talking robots, for example.) Life is about choices, and the freedom to make the right ones for ourselves and our families.

I love a good teaching moment, thanks. And if a robot who cooks chickens is in the technological offing, then I want mine now--with an "off" switch for the talking, please.

Probably an unusual position to write from, but I was in the friend's position about two years ago. I don't know what field the friend is in but what I did to make ends meet for about a year and a half was a whole lot of temping (several temp firms have specialties and the pay doesn't always suck). My mom and my friends all thought I was nuts for cutting my rope before I had a net. However, it allowed me to go back to school to update my skills and the temping really expanded my network since I ended up at so many places (and kicked butt at them). So long as she's got a contingency plan (and a link to somewhere she can get health coverage on her own if an agency doesn't provide it -- some do), butt out. I know it's a crazy, freefall move but sometimes the monster you don't know is significantly less scary than the monster you do. (And it allowed me to find something I actually love doing, and I am SOOOOOOO much happier than I was at the job I left because I just couldn't take the corporate BS there anymore.)

Not unusual, helpful, thanks. Though if she doesn't have a contingency plan, a friend still has to butt out at some point.

This sounds like a question from one of my friends. Today is my last day at my job and I don't have a job lined up. I would absolutely want my friends to be HONEST with me and tell me what they think as opposed to me wondering about their sincerity. However, I also hope people would realize they haven't been walking in my shoes, feel the pressure/stress I feel, have the physical aches and pains from this job, etc. Yes I know the economy is bad. Yes I know it's a risk. But also is staying in this job. It's BEYOND weird reading this KNOWING this message is written by one of my most favorite people in the whole world.

You don't KNOW, do you? Is this forum so small a world? But tell us if you're right, and good luck.

Freefaller here: I will also mention that while I didn't have a firm job offer lined up, I also don't have pets/kids/someone depending on me for their livelihood, so that if I had ended up eating nothing but toast sandwiches and tuna, it would have been on me and a situation I created *for myself* rather than dragging my pet/spouse/kids through it because I didn't think things through first.

Or /friends. Thanks again. And good luck again.

Thanks for taking my question! I anticipate much more of these comments in the upcoming holiday season and I felt the need to nip it at the bud. I will try to make this a macro conversation with a things-are-different-now-bend. I think you may be correct that my mother is intimidated by my wife's profession, that certainly explains some of the comments. Thanks for the food for thought.

Sure thing. Here's more:

Another man who often reads and enjoys your chats. Just as a data point: in 1959 (the year I was born), over 50% of mothers with school-aged children worked outside the home. That's the fact from the US Census Bureau. So if your writer's mother was a stay-at-home, that's fine, but she wasn't even the majority THEN. My mother worked as a schoolteacher the entire time I was growing up. In our lower-middle class neighborhood, almost all the other mothers also worked. In my high school graduating class, I can only remember one true stay-at-home Mom. My point is that the "stay at home" parent model works for some, but it has never been the only model in the US, and the writer's mother needs to realize that.

Thanks. Of those working women, many were steered into "pink-collar" work that helped keep the idea of a woman's "place" intact, even though the women were paid professionals.

I'm the writer who was the source of your column this week (husband freaks out about simple plans like barbecues and weekend getaways). I told him that I wrote it, hoping it could be the launching pad of a discussion, especially when he saw how many of you and the nuts saw red flags. Instead he said I distorted my original letter (Really, he says, it's not that he's anal retentive, it's that I'm a slob), and said that he just has higher standards then everyone else. So, uh, counseling for me? Is that the next step? (And for the nuts said I should have known what I was getting into when we got married -- either these tendencies were well-hidden in the beginning, or they've worsened over the three years we've been living together)

I'm sorry. Counseling for you is one possible next step, yes, and it sounds like a good one. In case you need reminding, even if he " just has higher standards then everyone else," it's still his responsibility, not yours, to bring any plans up to his standards, especially if you're doing all the work on the basic elements. To do any less than that is pretty presumptuous.

For what it's worth, both of the possibilities you mention--that he hid these tendencies from you or they've worsened since you started living together--are realistic and common. Controlling behavior tends to come fully out in the open only after the relationship is sealed somehow (marriage, child), and the 20s and 30s are when many mental disorders become fully apparent, if there's a health element to this. (I'm assuming your age range.) 

Thanks for taking my question in last week's chat! To answer yours: -Relationship has been rocky in part because of an unexpected career detour that I took about three months after SO and I began dating - a move that SO wholeheartedly supported but that I was/am ambivalent about. I was able to find another job fairly quickly, but leaving grad school suddenly and having to move back in with my parents took a toll on me that SO still doesn't get or think is legitimate, and I'm still not back to "normal" (though have been in therapy for about six months). SO's version of being supportive involved a lot of ultimatums (i.e. "get better RIGHT NOW or I'm leaving you") that he now admits were about the worst possible way to help. His behavior has (somewhat) improved, but his dictatorial attitude early on has shaped our entire dynamic, to the point where I have a REALLY hard time not getting defensive around him. He also makes fairly frequent negative references to my job and my weight (which in fairness I am also unhappy with, but its so much more awful when he points it out). -Friends are mostly from previous career field and most only kept in touch through random Facebook and text messages after I left. I returned to grad school in September and picked up most of my old friendships. Friends remember SO primarily for his resistance to my previous career and therefore were wary of him from the beginning. SO is similarly suspicious of friends because of their connection to previous career, in addition to them dropping off the face of the planet. Why I can't pull the trigger? This is my first long-term relationship, and I'm having an unexpectedly hard time letting go. Plus, his family and their relationship is *so* much better than mine that it's almost harder to let go of them than him.

Thank you for writing in again--I saw your follow-up last week after the chat had ended, so I actually asked Haley to dig it up today so I could answer you.

This: "He also makes fairly frequent negative references to my job and my weight (which in fairness I am also unhappy with, but its so much more awful when he points it out)" is very  concerning.

As is your attachment to his family vs. to him, especially given how acutely you feel the absence of a strong family attachment of your own.

As is his suspicion of your old friends, since without them you'd just have him and his family, which is a controller's dream scenario: Your isolation from anyone who'd have your back.

As is the fact that his "get better RIGHT NOW or I'm leaving you" (yikes!) behavior has only "(somewhat)" improved.

If every red flag here has a solid basis, then you can't pull the trigger because abusers are very good at making that hard to do. They get solicitous of you, they threaten you, they guilt-trip you, they put on a show of doing everything you've begged them to do. It's as foreseeable as winter following fall.

And none of it changes a basic fact: Someone who "makes fairly frequent negative references" to some aspect of your character, body or choices is not a nice person. You are never obligated to stay with anyone, but you are especially free to leave a not-nice person the day you figure out you feel worse for having him in your life.

(original OP response from last week's chat)

It's been rocky for a number of reasons - I had an unwanted career detour about three months after we started dating, combined with a bout of moderate depression. On SO's end, he hated the career I detoured from (and where most of my friends have a shared interest, hence some of the mutual distrust). He also made several "change [insert irritating behavior here] or we're done" statements early on in our r-ship (nearly all of which he backed down from), and an infrequent but problematic inability to control his temper. On the "why no trigger" question - I think a lot of it has to do with the bonding I've done with his family (mine wasn't really stable growing up but has evened out since), combined with the fact that I NEVER expected anyone to fall head-over-heels for me the way he did and worry that I'm killing something that could have been wonderful over a nagging feeling of "this is never going to work out", which could be attributable to the depression. (And yes, I'm in therapy, though not medicated - and even that was after me putting my foot down after a year and telling SO that if he had a problem with it he could take a hike, since I wasn't getting better without it.)

This is last week's (thanks Haley)--and I'm posting it because there are more red flags in here that you left out this week. If I'm reading this correctly, he tried to keep you from getting medical help? And you're staying not because you're head-over-heels for him, but because he is for you? And he has anger-management problems?

This is a seriously controlling person, one who is already verally abusive and is on track to be abusive in other ways.

And there is no "could have been wonderful"--there is only what there is, which, by your description, isn't wonderful at all.

Please read "Domestic Violence: The Facts"; it's a quick handbook (link), and you'll see this guy all over the Warning List pages. ("Gift of Fear," too, after you break up and have time for the Gavin de Becker long-form education in dangerous people.)

Eyebrow-raiser, it sounds less to me like she's interested in you and more like she's living with an alcoholic who treats her badly, denigrating the things she does (the brunch) and neglecting his duties to her (making excuses not to go on the trip and then going to the game.) It sounds like she wants to tell someone what's going on, either to get it off her chest or as a way of asking "How bad is this?" I think you need to avoid getting sucked in, but I also think telling her "That's not normal, and he's not treating you the way normal husbands treat their wives" could be very important. So I think you should do that.

With care to steer her toward a therapist and/or Al-Anon should the leaning get harder.

I'm also leery of the word "normal," but I can see its use here. Thanks.

Those of us who posted these comments were NOT nuts for doing so. We're not mind-readers, and the OP never said to what extent her husband displayed these tendencies during their courtship.


Thanks for writing in. Just to clear this up: "nuts" is a commonly used term for Carolyn Hax fans/chatters.  The commenter wasn't name calling, just referring to the group in general.

I hope that's helpful.  Hax Glossary soon, anyone?

Okay, time to go--and also to apologize for the long gap in the middle of the chat. At the same time The Post is working on the chat software, I'm messing with my Internet access, so the result has been a couple of crashes and delays in recent weeks. I try to stick around longer to make up for these, but I also know the gaps between posts are annoying to those following in real time. I'll do what I can on my end, and I know The Post is actively working on its part of the deal.

Thanks as always for stopping by, have a great (even Nothing) weekend, and I hope to see you here next week.


PLEASE leave him and take precautions as you walk out the door. It may trigger him to become violent in a way you never expected. -Someone who's been in your shoes and is now among the happiest people in the world with a healthy marriage and two fabulous children.

YES to the precautions, thanks, and congrats on your happy new story. (It's not an ending, right?)

For what it's worth, LW, I'm not your friends, I have no dog in this fight. But your post just now made me think one thing - get out. You're worth so much more than someone who regularly insults, belittles, threatens and denigrates you. If he behaves like this now, it will only get worse. And there are other guys out there with great families who aren't controlling abusers.

And this, thanks.

That's HIS problem. If he's acknowledging what he's expecting/needing is *different* from everyone else, then it's HIS problem, and HIS to deal with. He IS different and you're not distorting a freaking thing. He just said so. *His* standards are higher. *He* is the one who is different and an outlier here. Not you. This has to be your answer to his pushing the responsibility for this onto you. By his own words, he IS different from "everyone else". He may not be able to accept or acknowledge this, but you need to.

And this, too. Thanks everybody.

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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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