Hi Carolyn, Your answer to Wednesday's column, though mostly on the money, missed an important point. The boyfriend's behavior is controlling: "And how can I say 'no'ÃÂ without being made to feel guilty or suffer for it every time?" This is it in a nutshell. The behavior may be based on simple immaturity, first romance and all, but it is controlling behavior that is isolating and manipulative. She needs to follow your advice, but she also needs to recognize it as abusive. Partner abuse is a huge problem in high school relationships because kids don't always know what constitutes appropriate behavior in couples.
Not "missed," deliberately omitted--and I'm grateful for the invitation to talk about it here, because I went back and forth on it.
If you look at the answer again, you'll see (I believe) that all the relevant information is there except the word "abuse." I decided to go that route because this is an adolescent relationship, where it's quite possible the guy is acting the way he thinks he's supposed to act--over the top "romantic," etc. The not knowing what constitutes appropriate behavior goes both ways. I didn't want to label the kid without knowing (much) more about what he was doing.
But since you're right that partner abuse is a huge problem between partners of all ages, I made sure that all the structure of self-care and healthy interaction was there--recognizing her needs, recognizing when they're not being respected, having an understanding of what it looks like to stand up for herself, knowing how to respond when someone pushes back against that, etc.
Hi, Carolyn. I do not know how to talk to my husband about a problem. It seems like he takes everything away from me. Example: if I say "I'm cold," he says "it's not cold in here!" If something upsets me, he tells me there is no reason to be upset. I have really tried to control my emotions, but sometimes I wonder, why can't I be upset? Why can't I even have my own feelings? Is there any way to express this, or am I just stuck, being quiet?
"[A]m I just stuck, being quiet?"
Oh my goodness.
Never. You are never "stuck" being quiet. You always always always have a choice, even if ... let's take it to an extreme ... you live under a repressive leader and certain speech is barred under penalty of death. Even then, the choice is no one's but yours to speak or remain quiet--it's simply a choice between living in silence or accepting death as the price for speaking your mind. Heroes throughout history have made the latter choice.
If what you're really asking is whether you can express this without upsetting your husband, getting it thrown back in your face or getting nowhere, then that's between you and your husband. I certainly hope he will respect your absolute, fundamental right to have and express your own feelings, and your (or is it my?) reasonable expectation that your intimate partner will want you to feel loved and validated, but that's not guaranteed--and, given the way he's apparently so dismissive of you (and you're so ready to declare yourself "stuck"), my hopes are not high.
That's not to give you any incentive to quit before you try. I'm just trying to be realistic, that your even asking this question suggests you will not get what you seek merely by asking for it.
Still, here's one way you can make your point: "It's not cold in here -to you.- To me, it is cold." And: "I know how I feel, and I am cold/upset/[etc.]." And you can also use the therapeutic trick, "When you _____, I feel _____." As in, "When you tell me there's no reason to be upset, I feel invalidated."
I included all the yikes-this-doesn't-sound-good buildup because I am not only doubtful these statements alone will help you, but I am also worried about you. I fear you are in a situation where you are going to need outside support to find the strength and strategies you need to start standing up for yourself to someone who reflexively pushes you down. 1-800-799-SAFE is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and while there may be no physical abuse in your relationship, the hotline is not just about violence; the staff can also help you find someone to talk to locally to help you find your voice--and find safety if your husband does not respond well to hearing it. take care.
Carolyn- my boyfriend of 6 years broke up with me so few months ago. I have accepted a job offer and will be moving back to the west coast. My ex has cut off all contact - email, phone & text. Do I leave without saying good bye? I pictured spending the rest of my life with him, so it feels wrong to leave without sending even an email.
Here is the first version of my answer:
"Leave without sending even an email. He has cut off all contact. While I sympathize completely with the odd sensation of saying nothing to someone who figured so prominently in your present and projected future, that's a past state of being. The present one is that you are accountable neither to him nor to that envisioned future. Say nothing, go as the new version of you."
This felt wrong as soon as I hit the key on the last quotation mark, because there's no one motivation behind "cut off all contact." Sometimes it's, "You're dead to me," and sometimes it's, "I will always love you but this is the only way I know how to move on, and we need to move on."
So here's my second draft of an answer:
If he cut off all contact in an abrupt, get-out-of-my-face-I'm-done-with-you kind of way, then embrace the silent sayonara as your way of acknowledging it's really really over. If he's struggling with the breakup too and went silent as a means of self-preservation, then you shoot him an email saying you do respect his request for silence, you're sorry for breaking it, but you're heading west on X date and just wanted to let him know.
I follow a 4-step process for expressing feelings, rather than the 2-step one you suggested: "I feel _____ when you _____ because _____. I wish that you would _____." My daughter and I both learned this tool when she was in Girls on the Run in 5th grade, and I was one of the coaches. I have used it, and heard it from her, countless times, and it really works for us. I think it's better than the 2-step formula because it lets you say what you want: something different than what you have got up to that point. K in Damascus
Excellent point, thank you--will incorporate from now on.
Hi Carolyn, This may be more of a fluff question, but here's a situation I find myself more often that I'd like. I work in a group with this woman, we'll call her "Amy." This will sound horrible, but I'm trying to be brief: Amy is a horrid, mean, bitter woman. Everyone in our group hates her and just has to put up with her. The "problem" is at one time (around 30 years ago or so), Amy was a pretty big name in our field (it's a small field), so it's not uncommon for me to be at an event or something and someone finds out that I "work" with the legendary Amy (I say that with quotes because she - honest to God - hasn't contributed to anything workwise as long as I've been here) and just starts gushing about her, gazing at me with eyes that CLEARLY expect me to reciprocate with something (I'm guessing) along the lines of how wonderful I think she is, too. That's not gonna happen. But what DO I say? I have no intention of carrying out this wonderful image of who she was 30 years ago, but I also have no intention of spelling out all the problems we have with her now. Any middle ground? As of now, I just mutter something and find a way to change the subject.
"She'd be so thrilled to hear this." Smile. [Subject-changing question that you have handy because you prepared it in advance knowing you'll be in this position many more times in your life.]
I recently realized I'm a total perfectionist. Except instead of how I usually think of perfectionists...people who HAVE to get it right and go way above and beyond...I tend to fold and give up because how on earth would I ever be able to do it perfectly?? So having figured out why I tend to let things slide...now what do I do with it? How do I get from here to be able to do someting as simple as cleaning the bathroom even though I won't be able to get every surface completely spotless without it driving me nuts. I'm getting better at pushing myself to do things regardless, but the stress of it all remains.
Since it's affecting both your quality of life and your ability to get basic things done, and since you're aware of the problem but stumped for solutions, I think therapy makes the most sense. While you'll have to clear the perfectionist hurdle in choosing a therapist, I'm less concerned about that than I am about how that hurdle would affect any effort to tackle this without the support of an informed third party.
Best way to find a therapist who's a good fit is to ask a trusted professional in a related field--your doctor, for example--for several names, and then have intake appointments with each one until you find someone you feel comfortabel talking to and who can sketch out a course of treatment that makes sense to you.
How do I train myself to be monogamous? I have met some truly wonderful people, but I get so horribly anxious when the word "exclusive" comes up. I always seem to be on the lookout for The Next Best Thing, or getting myself prepared for the next partner once things start to go on the decline with the current one. I've never cheated, but I can only imagine that's my next step, and I don't want that. (FTR, I have tried poly relationships, and it's not for me. At least not right now. I'm in my 30s and ready to settle down... at least I want to be.)
You don't "train" yourself to be monogamous; it has to be something you want, because of the quality of the person, the quality of the relationship you create together and the benefits monogamy affords vs. the benefits of remaining unattached.
To get you started, I suggest you ask yourself what it is you -don't- want about it, what you're so anxious will happen. Then ask yourself why that argument against monogamy isn't valid. After all, you're saying here that you want to be able to stick with one person, which means the benefits of remaining unattached are no longer compelling enough for you to want to stay that way.
I mean, the natural question for someone in my position to ask you is, "What do you think you'll be missing out on when you're faithful to only one person?" And the answer isn't a mystery: You'd be missing out on the life you have now--which you apparently don't want any more. That you're even asking the question is your argument in favor of monogamy.
(Sung to "The Wonder Ball")
Goes round and round
To pass it quickly
You are bound ...
Hi Carolyn, Looking for your opinion please. I have a close friend who lives in another state, and who has a real knack for interior design and enjoys it, though it's not her job. We have been to each others' houses many times. I recently moved and when we would speak on the phone about my new place, she often asked how I was going to decorate. She knows my style, and would send me decorating magazines, pages she had flagged as ideas, etc. On multiple occasions she offered to come to town to help me with colors and ideas. Last year we set aside some time and she came in for a three-day weekend, and she absolutely helped me pull together an overall theme. I was so thankful, and the entire weekend she was here I paid for everything - breakfasts, lunches, dinners, with no issue. Since then, she has made a few comments every so often about the value of what she provided to me. It has been about six months since she visited, and just this week she mentioned it again. She said once I finish everything, if any of my friends ask, she would be glad to help them too. I said okay, and then she went on to give me the monetary value of what she provided. She said she had calculated the hours and the rate, and essentially she would have charged someone else $X for what she did for me, but that I got "the friend's discount.' I was dumbfounded and didn't really what to say to that. I feel that since it was her offer - multiple times - to come and help me, this wasn't any sort of business transaction; it was a friend helping a friend. Yet since she came to visit, I feel that she either wants me to acknowledge the value - which I did when she mentioned it the other day - or perhaps wants me to offer to pay, which I will not do. So my question to you is, am I off-base in not having offered to pay her for these services?
I wasn't privy to what you discussed before she came, so I'm not going to take any firm position on your distance from any bases. It sounds as if she's the one who failed to articulate her expectations, and who is now smarming her way toward them--but again, I don't know, and it also sounds as if you're not being as direct as you could either.
For example: "You've made a lot of remarks about money and 'the friend's discount,' and I want to make sure there are no hard feelings or misunderstandings between us--did you help me with my house with the expectation of being paid? Or are you saying this so I can help you get paid gigs with my other friends?"
If she says it's the latter, then treat this as a settled matter and don't read anything into future remarks. If she says it's the former, then explain that you took her multiple offers to come help out as an act of friendship, not a business arrangement. Say you wish she had said something upfront, and you apologize if she hinted at it in ways too subtle for your radar.
You say this is a close friend. Close friends not only are able to talk openly, but also need to if they hope to stay close.
If it does come to her saying yes, she expected payment, then you can offer to pay her travel as a form of fence-mending. Even though I don't think you incurred an obligation to pay her (she really needed to speak up beforehand), and I don't think making side comments is any way to conduct business (having apparently failed the speak-upfront test, she really needed to speak up that weekend or shortly after), I do think that it makes sense to pay the way of someone who traveled just to help you. And, offering something might be the most reliable way to put this to rest.
Other suggestions for neutral truthful statements: "Yup, never a dull moment with Amy!", "She keeps us on our toes!", etc.
As transparent as mountain air for anyone not overly Amy-struck, which adds to their charm. Thanks.
I have a question about your column regarding the daughter who was not allowed to express feelings. I'm raising my own now and I'm sometimes having a hard time discerning when to listen and when to move the fainting sofa. I don't want to suppress her but I can't stand the day to day drama of ultimately trivial problems. It probably doesn't help that my family moved to the U.S. to avoid persecution in our old country (my father was a prisoner/slave laborer for many years) and that your waffles are a little burned is actually not that important to me. Any ideas?
I've struggled with the same thing--in part because it can be hard to discern the line between validating and enabling, and in part because there are just some kids who tend to the dramatic, so it can be tempting to see all validation efforts as buying in to the drama. You have to be very careful not to overcorrect. The drama is in them, and it's not your place to fix it; it's just important to find and hold the listen/fainting sofa line.
I've come to a couple of approaches that don't feel perfect but work better than going All This or All That.
1. Name pains and bummers for what they are. It's okay to label the burned waffle a bummer. "Yuck, I'm sorry I burned it--don't like that either"--vs., "I'm so sorry--I can see how hurt you are" when, say, a friend doesn't invite your daughter to her party.
2a. Once named, a bummer can be minimized: "But, hey, it's a waffle--I think you're going to live." Then no further indulgence. Once you're confident you have a household where genuine pain is respected and your child feels safe expressing her feelings, then you can go straight to humor. "Burned waffle?!! Everyone to the fainting couch!!"
2b. Once named, a pain cannot be minimized. A hug is the perfect follow-up to an acknowledgement, as is just listening. ("How to Talk So Kids Will Listen...," Faber/Mazlish is good on this.) Also gently encourage your daughter to steer you both to ways to make things better. "I've got a little time tonight/this afternoon/Saturday--would you like to [a favorite activity of hers here]?"
Look it's actually completely OK not to be monogamous, if you both agree on it. It's a choice made between two consenting adults. Stop trotting out this as some sort of goal that everyone should aspire to.
Who trotted what out of where? This person wants monogamy as a goal, after having tried and ruled out poly-.
Thanks for taking my question! I actually have a therapist and she's awesome. I don't require perfection from anyone else. :) But I have a broken leg and can't drive and so I cancelled my appointment with her. Also is why I can't do ANYTHING to my satisfaction and why the blech is piling up. But I respect your opinion and I'm oddly excited by my discovery of my motivations (or lack of motivation) so I wanted to see how you would approach it, since computer based self-introspection is kind of perfect for my current condition.
Okay, I'll play. As a mental exercise, can you pre-determine what would meet your standard of "good enough," whenever you're about to tackle a chore or project or even social event? And then deliberately quit when you reach that point?
Also--your therapist might Skype. Worth asking, especially since you're riding the crest of a cosmic "Aha!"
It's 3.14 today. My pie is pecan. What's yours?
Imaginary. Which means it will be chess pie, because that would be dorktastic.
Did you find any good comments from the Hax Philes on the easy vs hard SAHm discussion?
Here's the link, if you want to judge for yourself. I always find these conversations interesting.
I did, but that was all the way back on Monday, which means I don't have any of them at my mental fingertips. I shall blame Momnesia, in keeping with the theme.
Thanks for the link, Jess.
Thanks for taking my question. My biggest fear is that once I settle down, I'm going to find someone out there who's better, and then I'll be stuck. I married "safe" once, and found myself miserable almost a decade later. I can't have that happen again.
What are the chances it will, though? I mean the marrying "safe," a mistake I doubt you'll repeat.
You don't have much control over the people you'll meet down the road, but you can pretty reliably preempt falling for them extramaritally by (a) not committing to someone, anyone, until you realize that being with this person is like wearing fuzzy slippers; (b) nurturing that commitment over the years, instead of taking it for granted; (c) not putting yourself in a position of temptation with people who catch your eye, because it's not realistic to think no one will ever catch your eye so you might as well have a plan for when it does; (d) either buying in fully to the idea of monogamy as your preferred way of being, instead of something you cajoled yourself into, or not being monogamous at all. If you're skeptical of it as the right thing for you, or if you go into it unexamined, then you're more likely to give your doubts room to wander.
Sometimes (c) can't be prevented, like when you fall for a colleague with whom you work closely, but in most cases you can nip the bud of an extracurricular interest before you even get a chance to see whether this person would or wouldn't be "better."
Reference in this site to monogamy does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by Carolyn Hax or her agents or affiliates.
Quote from my own therapist when I was dealing with the paralyzing aspects of perfectionism. While it is not universally true, it was helpful for me in getting past the "if I can't do it perfectly, I won't do it all."
That is exactly what I say to myself before I start each chat. Spooky.
I think the key here is not to tell someone how they are feeling. It drives me nuts when I hear people say (usually to their kids, since I run with the preschool set), "oh, that doesn't hurt," or, "it's not that big of a deal." Obviously it is to the person who is upset. You can acknowledge what they are feeling, and let's face it, we all feel things differently, while not encourating the dramatic behavior.
Right, thank you. And when it or something like it slips out, since it probably will, especially when you're tired or tired-of, you can actually go back and say, "I'm sorry I said it's not that big a deal, because it was/is to you."
Something I don't advise enough is going back over an exchange or response you don't feel right about, especially with kids, when our reflexive responses often aren't our best ones and when their impact is at its height.
My husband and I are sorting out our will and we have come to the part where we have to decide what happens to our kids (ages 4 and 1) if we both die. We live close to my husband's family and I know that his brother and wife would fully expect to get the kids (they have a 1-year old, too, and have been very involved). But, my husband and I have decided that we would want our kids to go to my brother and his family, who live in another city, a 10 hour drive away. We think that my brother and his wife would raise them more how we would want them to be raised, especially when it comes to the big decisions. What can we say to the my husband's brother and his wife that won't hurt their feelings. Do we even have to say anything?
Don't say anything. The will is for the possibility that you might both die before your kids reach adulthood, and the silence is for the high improbability that you will both die before your kids reach adulthood. Your decision will hurt them, no magic words can prevent that; not telling means they will get hurt only on a need-to-hurt basis.
Don't be afraid to revisit your decision, either, as your kids get older. Right now, as littles, their moving far away won't be significant compared with losing their parents. However, as they get older, you might decide that your brother's values no longer tip the scale in his favor with the weight of their local roots on the other side.
I have a framed quote on my desk, where I spend 8 hrs a day writing proposals: "The first draft of everything is sh!t" - Ernest Hemingway You can't imagine how much that helps...
Again, applies perfectly to writing answers in a live chat. Uncanny.
How would you resolve the problem of pet ownership when one member of the family is opposed to the idea? My spouse and two children (ages 12 and 14) have been clamoring for a dog for years. Though I can understand the appeal, I do not wish for the responsibility. My spouse travels extensively for work and though my kids are old enough to help care for a pet, I am home during the day and recognize that the primary responsibility will fall to me...the one person who doesn't wish for a dog. None of them have cared for a dog before. I did when growing up and appreciate what level of care is involved. At first there was some light-hearted jokes about me not liking pets, but it's turned kind of ugly where my spouse and the kids rant about how I am the roadblock to their happiness. (i.e. photos of dogs appear on my screen saver, I was once given a leash for Mother's Day.) My spouse seems just as intent as the kids in pursuing this. Logical, level-headed conversations about the subject have failed to end the matter. I don't wish to disappoint my family members and have sidelined my personal dislikes in other areas of daily living, but feel this matter is different. I think when we are dealing with the care of a living creature, we can't be so glib. Any advice? (i.e. we have owned fish, hermit crabs and a turtle in the past. Interest in caring for the previous pets waned over time.) Prefer Being Petless
Time for a private, cut-the-crap conversation with Spousie. "You are putting me in a terrible spot. You are not going to be here with this begged-for dog, I am. And your siding with the kids against me is not right or fair or funny. Does part of me want to give the kids what they want? Yes, of course, and I've felt that way and acted on it plenty of times at my own expense. But I am drawing the line on this dog, and I need you not only to back me up, but also stop hanging me out there as the bad guy. I don't deserve that and you know it."
How does that sound? Besides overdue.
Hi Carolyn, I've been reading you for a while, but only just learned you have 3 kids including identical twins! So I figured you'd have thoughts about my situation. I have an identical twin sister, "Bethany." We are closer than close, much like the creepy twin stereotypes you see in the movies. I also have a sister "Emily," who is 2 years younger but felt a lot more distant growing up. As kids, we always had a dynamic that I'm sure was horribly difficult for her. Bethany and I cliqued up a lot. We ganged up on her, we teased her, we made a big show of excluding her, and then she reported us to our mom, which led to a lot of obligatory inlcusion--a very strained dynamic that always turned fighty again when adult backs were turned. This ended when we hit the age of empathy, and Emily wound up making sister-like friends at school, but I have always felt a lot of regret about this. Bethany is getting married in 6 months and has asked me to be her MOH, which she assumes everyone will understand. While this may make total sense, and while I'd love to do it, I feel awful about the idea of her having two sisters, but only one maid of honor. The worst part is, I have no idea whether Emily would even care, but don't want to make it awkward by asking her. What do you think? Am I making too much of this (after all, it's just a wedding)? if Bethany follows through with her plan and Emily seems okay with it, does that justify me in doing the same for my own wedding someday?
If you were my kids, then I would want you and Bethany to talk about this in the context of a lifetime/childhood of excluding Emily, sometimes cruelly. I would want you two to discuss openly whether the benefits of having each other in this ceremonial role were worth the potential price of stirring up old, hard feelings you both--you all--may or may not have worked hard enough to remedy.
And I'd wonder why, with just three of you, you couldn't have the two sisters stand with you as equals--either co-maids of honor or co-bridesmaids with neither in a leading role. Just in the interest of putting sisterhood above twinhood.
And I'd wonder why you're looking to Bethany's action to justify yours. Either it stands alone as okay, or it doesn't, in context. When the time comes for you to choose, you decide what is okay--but your context won't be exactly Bethany's. You will be deciding (theoretically) after you have served as Bethany's maid of honor. That will make your choice and its impact different.
Finally--"it's just a wedding" is the mantra for people who are on the -receiving- end of someone's wedding decisions. The people making the decisions don't get to be so cavalier--unless they're applying it to themselves as justification for not getting an ice sculpture the size of a Volkswagen.
But how do you train yourself to do this? With kids or anyone? I find myself in this position sometimes and I often say to myself, "Oh it's too late to say anything" or "Why dredge it back up?"
You ask yourself, "If I were on the other side of it, would I want the person to say something to me?" Anytime you "often say to myself," you have a perfect opportunity to recognize what you're doing and consciously choose to do something different.
Yes, this is a good idea! I remember once when I was in middle school, I was running errands with my dad and I had to hop out of the car with a handful of envelopes to mail. I dropped one of the envelopes in the car and he noticed a few hours later and really yelled at me for being careless.(The letter I dropped had a school tuition check in it; there would have been a big late fee and I think technically my sister and I could have lost our places at the school if it was really late.) He apologized for overreacting a few days later and I still remember it 20+ years after that. Usually kids are the ones who screw up, but sometimes the adults are at fault and it made a difference to know he'd admit that.
Yes. Thank you.
... and this is a perfect illustration, Prior Poster, of why to consider a change.
Wrong answer on the will. If the husband's relatives fully expect to be guardians, having that refusal sprung on them at a stressful time will make thing much worse for the husband's relatives and the orphaned children. Also, those relatives may be planning to ask the reader to be guardian to their children soon; what is the reader planning to say? Misleading anyone in such a significant way is unfair and will cause irreparable damage to the relationship. Better to have the conversation now.
I disagree, but I am putting this out there as a counterpoint, thanks.
My son married a lovely woman whom we adore. He has a Ph D and teaches at a very prestigious university. They recently had a baby girl. My DIL was homeschooled and did not go to college - and now they say 'girls do not need to go to college' so they do not want us to set up a college fund My son's mother went to an Ivy and she is furious. Our granddaughter is going to grow up with this ridiculous idea. Is there anything we can say? We live 2,000 miles away and will not be able to see our grandchild(ren) much.
I almost answered this at the beginning of the chat, but my head exploded and I couldn't.
Reassembled, I have two thoughts: 1. What are the chances that mind set will survive an upbringing in a university town? Prestigious at that. 2. At 2,000 miles away, your main concern needs to be forming and maintaining a bond with your granddaughter, which is best served by locking up your sticks whenever you get near a hornet's nest.
If you have (or his mom has) a good relationship with your son, then that gives you (or her) standing to ask him him about it privately--but, again, that could cost you 2. to no avail when 1. + 2. + time might accomplish exactly what you hope.
I've been on both sides of this. I was once that person who minimized my spouse's feelings, which sounded to me like complaints about -- everything-- . It really disturbed me to see him unhappy, and my reflex was to try to make him feel better by minimizing. (I was young and hadn't figured out what being an adult child of an alcoholic meant.) On the other hand, I've also been the one to feel like I had to have my feelings validated on my schedule probably to his annoyance. It was poor and insensitive behavior on both of our parts at different times. I'm happy to say that eventually we did work it out so that we had wonderful communication and understanding, and 22 years together. I am not taking away from the OP's very real problem, just pointing out that sometimes there may be additional dynamics involved.
Actually, my new favorite aphorism is, "_Done_ is better than perfect." That one might work for the poster.
At 3:10! Eerie.
Done--bye, thanks muchly, have a great weekend, hope to see you here next week.
I'm an attorney with experience in estate planning and I think your answer was spot on, and the counterpoint was off-base. The relatives you *should* talk to are those whom you plan to designate, to make sure they're willing to take it on. If the husband's relatives ask the poster and her husband to be their guardian-designates, they can agree (if they agree) without mentioning anything about their own plans--it doesn't have to be reciprocal. And remember that these relatives only find out that they were "misled" if both poster and her husband are dead. Being dead is what really tends to cause irreparable damage to a relationship.
Not just because you agree with me, but because of the last sentence, over which I weep with delight. Thank you.