Carolyn Hax Live: "It's okay to forgive yourself immediately and for good" (August 5)

Aug 05, 2016

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

I am engaged to a wonderful divorced woman, who has a four year old son. When we got together I wasn't sure I even wanted kids, but seeing her with her son has convinced me that I would actually love a child...of my own. Her son is a great kid, but he has a very involved father already. I want to have a say in raising my child, to take them hiking, share my interests with them, share their interests with them. Thing is my fiancee doesn't want another child. She's promised to think about changing her mind after the wedding next year, but I worry that is just begging for trouble. At the minute I'm thinking of breaking off the engagement now, but she argues it isn't fair to give her an ultimatum and not let her have time to make up her mind. And that I might change my mind again, after all. I do love her, and it's going to break my heart if I leave. However, staying doesn't seem like a good idea with the wedding moving closer.

Oh my goodness, "She's promised to think about changing her mind after the wedding next year"? This is horrible.

My horribility standard here is subjective, of course, but does any of us think for a minute she'd put up with this if you said it? "Yeah yeah, a centerpiece of your life and all that, the most profound decision you might ever make in your whole life, but let's settle what I want first and we'll worry about you later."

Okay, so it isn't "fair" of you to expect her to make this decision on short notice. Then postpone the wedding. Give her the time she wants without the absurd set of yeah-maybe, me-first conditions she wants.

All that being said, as long as he actually lives with you half the time, more or less, you can have all the things you mention with your stepson. It'll take time to develop that relationship with him, but having an involved father doesn't mean it wouldn't be a gift to both of you for him to have an involved stepfather.

If you struggle to make sense of and/or talk about these issues, please don't just postpone the wedding, but also use the extra time to work with a family therapist who has a reputation for success with family-blending. 

Hi Carolyn! I've been with my boyfriend for two years. We live together. He is 40 and I am 38. I am growing increasingly impatient with him not proposing. He says we are taking the steps to get there by living together, but for me, I don't understand why we have to wait. After two years, I feel like he should know whether I'm the one and he wants to commit. He comes from a broken home and seems to have many fears and doubts about marriage. Do you have any suggestions to how to handle this waiting period? At this age, is it a bad sign that he doesn't know already and needs more time? Thanks!

2016. It's a fine year. (Well actually it's kind of not but I'm being rhetorical here.)

Waiting for someone to propose to you only passes the "Really, it's tradition!" sniff test when both of you think it's the man's job to propose and both of you think that's awesome. 

In your case, waiting for the man to propose is just the end result of two people who are not, not, not in agreement about what they're doing together and why. 

You want to be married, but he doesn't.

He knows why, but you don't.

He thinks waiting is the answer, but you don't.

He has fears and doubts about marriage, but you don't.

He thinks living together is a valid incremental step toward marriage, but you don't.

You think two years is enough for adults of your ages to figure out whether they are comfortable enough with each other to commit, but he doesn't.

My suggestion for handling this waiting period is to stop the infernal waiting. You don't even know what you're waiting for or why! Not really.

Instead, replace the waiting with talking. Say you have tried to, but don't understand what he's waiting for or why. Ask him to articulate it. Really, really listen.

Whether he articulates it or doesn't, his response will be useful to you if you regard it as such, because, think about it--you're both fortyish and sharing a home and you're asking a fair question. If he doesn't or can't answer you, then what more information do you need about the life you can expect with him?

 

A son I've always loved deeply has grown up to be a bully of his wife and children. His temper is disproportionate to the offense. When he flares up, he gets physical by squeezing or pinching. Having witnessed this, I cannot go back to not seeing it. I can't stop thinking about the grandkids, 7 and 5. After what I witnessed, I almost told my daughter-in-law to pack up and leave him. I have knowledge of one other incident, but didn't see it. I can see no good way to help in this situation without it being labeled interference and rejected. Do you?

What I see is a situation where you have information, a duty, and possibly far more power than you recognize or want to admit. In so many situations like this, too many, families defend their own. For a parent to recognize this poor behavior in a child is unusual enough for you to have at least the possibility of real leverage. 

It's a possibility, though, that needs to be managed with great care and with the proper expertise. Please don't waste any time in calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, to find out exactly what you can (and can't, and shouldn't) do to help your daughter-in-law and grandkids. Do it also to help your son, because abusive behavior like his doesn't come from a place of happiness or good health, nor is it going to bring him to one. 

Hi Carolyn! I've been dating a mamma's boy for two years now and we live together. He spends the night at his mom's once a week to have dinner with her and quality time. They also help each other a lot- so he takes care of her house projects and manages contractors for her, which might mean more sleepovers at mom's. He had a recent minor surgical procedure recently and she took care of him and that was another two nights stay at mom's. I try to be understanding about this, but find it annoying. My parents are also local but I only stay over at their house on Christmas. I'm 38 and would like to start a family of my own with him but I don't see how he can be ready if his sense of "home" revolves around his mom's house. Any suggestions? She's single and they don't have any family in the area, so I want to be kind and understanding, but I also can't relate to staying over at parents' house at this age. Help!

Why did you move in with him, when this pattern was clearly established? Not an accusation, a sincere question. If you're out there, please write back.

Pending more information, my answer is that I suspect you're projecting on him marriagable qualities because you want marriage, not because he actually possesses them. Please force yourself to see him for exactly who he is as told to you by his behavior, and make decisions about him accordingly. 

Since that advice applies to anyone wondering about anyone, given that our brains are basically a single-organ Wishful-Thinking Industrial Complex, I can probably quit there. 

I'm going to be with my parents as they celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They'll be throwing a party, and while they haven't asked me to make a speech, I feel as though I should have something thought out to say. The things is: I do see this milestone as an accomplishment, but I don't actually admire their relationship. So I'm looking for ways to say sincerely congrats, it isn't easy, you guys made it work, without having to say that I wish I had what they have. Any thoughts or suggestions from you or the 'nuts?

You just did: "Congrats, it isn't easy, you guys made it work," and scene. 

Since you probably want to talk for more than 15 seconds, you can also list the good things you've taken away from their 50 years together. Such as:

1. You! haha.

2. An appreciation for the power of committing to someone and something. 

3. An understanding that marriage isn't fixed, it's a living thing that shifts and grows and changes in its own ways--not just as the people in it change. If anything it's the effort people put in that gets the last word.

4. [nutterati thought here.]

Thinking of things to put on this list might have the unintended consequence of tweaking the way you think about your parents, which would make the effort worthwhile even if you don't speak at the party.

BTW, if you think of it as a toast more than a speech, then you can skate on just a sentence or four.

 

Just as a thought experiment, imagine how you'd feel if you discovered you couldn't have kids (infertility), and then also imagine finding out she was incapable of having any more. Not won't, but can't. Would you marry her then, knowing there will never be a child? What would you do if she agreed to have a baby with you and honestly made the attempt, and only then found out it'll never happen? If it's a dealbreaker for you, she needs to know that ASAP. (And if there's a difference between "won't" and "can't," that needs to be parsed.) It sounds very much to me like she's placating you, and even if I were willing to marry someone who'd use tactics to shut me up (probably not, FYI), the resentment I'd feel if the answer was anything but "yes, I'd love to" would breed a marriage-killing level of resentment.

Two excellent points in one, thanks.

I'd be so okay with never hearing that term again. As if it's wrong for mothers and sons to have good relationships. For the most part, minus the staying over after surgery, I read a description of a kind and thoughtful son who helps out his mother. They are close, and there's nothing wrong with that. Would it be better if he ignored her and never had dinner with her?

Eh. I think it still has a place. There are people whose primary loyalties are with their family of origin regardless of their commitments to others, which is not the same as just having a good relationship with same. That there's a name for it saves people like me some typing.

I do agree with you that it's a good thing for parents and their adult children to get along well while maintaining some independence, and it's threatening only to would-be controllers.

Carolyn: I've been in a relationship with a man for the past year and a half. He's a wonderful guy and I love him very much. We live together and he puts up with all my faults and foibles. And yet I've become what I despise - I've become a nag. And I don't know how to stop being so disapproving. My BF works hard, pays his bills (and half our joint bills) and treats me and my dog with love and respect. He has had a history of alcohol use, culminating in a trip to a psychiatric hospital after a binge that ended up with a BAC of almost .4 and suicidal inclinations. He does suffer from depression and anxiety and his alcohol use was interfering with the efficacy of his anti-depressants. He has since stopped drinking (mostly - he has an occasional beer). But now he's moved onto pot. He buys it and tokes several times a day. I hate it. It stinks on him and in our apartment (he indulges in the bathroom at times) and I highly disapprove of it (it's illegal). Plus I think he's replacing one chemical with another. I feel like I fuss at him all the time about the pot. But he's a grown man and he's going to do what he's going to do. Sometimes I feel like I'm behaving like his Mom - disapproving looks and comments. I can't seem to stop doing it. If I'm not sniffing him for pot, I'm constantly on alert for him to start drinking again. Do you have any advice on how to stop trying to micromanage things?

Leave?

You don't need the reason to be "good" (though yours seem stellar to me); you don't need to stop loving him; you don't even need to examine your own place in his dependency (though I suggest you do).

Your disapproval isn't necessarily even something you need to correct. Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that pot is legal where you live and that it's a more effective antidepressant/anti-anxiety than the medication he's taking. You're still fully entitled to dislike the smoke and smell in your home, and the frustration of having a partner who spends the bulk of his waking hours high. 

In other words, you don't have to figure out a position on the principles of the thing; you can make decisions based on the reality you have to live with. Clearly you're unhappy with your relationship and home life right now, and that unhappiness manifests in your nagging and fussing and suspense as you await the next calamity. Leaving is a reasonable response to systemic, not-just-a-bump-in-the-road unhappiness.

If you have really good reasons not to leave--even if it's just that you don't feel you've tried everything yet--then please make some sort of reputable counseling, for you alone, your next move. You don't have to sort all of this out on your own, nor it it a good idea to when you're at the point of confusion and frustration you seem to have reached.

Thanks for taking my question; OP here. I moved in with him because we truly fell in love. At 38, I have dated enough and had enough relationships to know what I want. As soon as we met, I realized that I had never connected with a man like him before. We understand each other, have the same sense of humor, and I can be 100% my weird self with him. He's a wonderful person and we have fun. My main problems with him is the leaning toward mamma's boy status and the fact that he hasn't proposed yet. Truth be told, I'm the Impatient OP too.

Then talk to him. See if he is all in, and see if he defines "all in" the way you do. Voice your concerns about whether you'd be the next beneficiary of the closeness he's able to have with this mom, or the one watching them enjoy it while you stand out in the rain.

You'll need to be able to broach awkward topics anyway if you stay together, and to emerge from the resulting conversations closer vs. defensive and distant, so you might as well find out now whether you and he can pull that off.

I'm the 37 year old daughter of a father who rages and a mother who thinks it isn't so bad. His yelling, foot stomping, fist-slamming-on-tabling etc. became the inner voice that I hear *in my own head*. He is by far the most destructive force in my life even after I have taken specific steps to get an escape path during his rages, which my mother describes as "rare." Once is enough. Once is more than enough. I am in therapy, and I do not live in the family home, but please believe these rages and the willingness of other relatives to stand by and say nothing has had a profound effect on my life. Your grandkids are 7 and 5. Those raging, hurtful, scary incidents could play in their mind as familiar as cartoon reruns. Please use your resources to form a safe shield around those precious, defenseless children. No one did that for me.

Thank  you, and I'm sorry no one stepped in for you.

Hi Carolyn, At what point is it ok to forgive yourself for trying to keep hidden a pregnancy from beloved family? It is early on, and with the threat of miscarriage, my husband and I have decided to keep this news to ourselves. However, I can't help but feel sneaky and deceptive as I conceal this from family members by tossing glasses of wine in the bathroom. I'm worried hard feelings may be there when we are ready to share.

Surface answer: It's okay to forgive yourself immediately and for good. This is your and your husband's news alone and you don't need to tell anyone anything till you're ready.

Next-layer-down answer: What's with all the drama? The rigidness of your news embargo (there's not one family member you'd lean on if you miscarried?), the use of active deception to appear not-pregnant (what did that innocent wine ever do to you!), the jump from otherwise victimless fake-outs to not forgiving yourself ... yikes. It's all so *much.*

Maybe you're just hormonal. But, even if so: Please consider in situations like this, where you're roiling over something, a reliance on the logic of simplicity. Is withholding your news easier than sharing it, given the miscarriage risk and the risk of miffed family*? If so, is your method for withholding easier than other methods available to you for remaining discreet? 

Especially with a baby coming, I urge a realignment of your thinking toward the path of maximized calm.

 

 

* SO not your problem. They have no entitlement to be told till you're ready. If you always feel you have to fake them out and yell "Look over there!" just to buy yourself some privacy, then I suggest taking a closer look at the emotional boundaries (or lack thereof) in your childhood home.

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and, wedding-goers, don't forget to gather up anything gawkworthy for the Wedding Hoot Aug. 26. LINK

Type to you here next week.

Al-Anon. You may leave this person but are at risk to go on to another addict. Al-Anon

Even if it's ultimately not the right place for someone, it's free and has a low barrier to entry and is therefore a useful first step, thanks.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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