Carolyn Hax Live: 'The Dissue'

Jun 22, 2018

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

My husband is a wonderful father and a good husband. But he won’t clean his dishes. I have asked nicely and even walked him through how to do it, but it never takes. He rinses the dish out with water and then puts it in the drying rack covered with food, cooking oil, sauce, whatever. Then I’m eating oatmeal in the morning with a spoon covered in chicken, garlic and rice. I should also say I have a number of food allergies and sensitivities, so eating something I need to avoid, could result in a headache or itchy throat (I doubt incidental food could cause a full blown allergic reaction, luckily). We have two young children so while I often end cleaning all our dishes on the weekend, it’s not feasible that I could do all our dishes all the time. I work full time and our nanny helps during the week, but I still have a lot of dirty dishes to contend with every night and weekend. Do I need to let it go? Am I overreacting to something minor? My husband is very sensitive and I don’t want to upset him again if this is something I should just suck up and do.

Um. Ew?

This is a really strange blind spot, and anyone who is "very sensitive" raises the degree of difficulty of even the most minor problems in a relationship. But I'll try:

You are the dish person. That's just the way it's going to be. Your husband, therefore, to compensate, needs to become the ____ person.

Laundry, maybe? Tidying? Bedtime wrangler? Something that's equivalent in its day-to-dayness. 


Carolyn, I was extremely disappointed in your response to Friday's letter. Neither you nor the letter-writer got to the key question: what does the groom in this wedding & reception really want? We know what the bride's family wants: limited alcohol choices. We know what the groom's family wants: an open bar. We know that the bride supports her family, because she says so. We don't know what the groom wants. We're just told he wants to avoid conflict. Okay, but he can't. So, what does he want? if he really wants an open bar, then that changes the conversation. The attitude that comes across in the letter is that the bride's family is hosting this production. The groom has been cast to play a role - speak his lines on cue; dance when he's supposed to; and otherwise shut up, keep his opinions to himself and look good in a tux. And the bride's family is not going to stand for any insubordination from him. (Can you tell that these same issues arose during my wedding many years ago? As far as my wife's family was concerned, this was their daughter's day and I was not to do or say anything that would mar their vision of it. Play my role, shut up, and obey orders.)

With all due respect, the main point of my answer was exactly this--that the groom either agreed with the choice and needed to stand up to his family, disagreed with the choice and needed to stand up to the bride and her parents, or didn't care either way and needed to get involved for compromise and peacekeeping purposes:

Instead, the groom is a cipher here, and that's what I believe and identified as a bigger problem than bar stuff.

Where we differ, apparently, is in the source of his absence. You see a man smothered by the bride's side, I see a man who is not asserting himself. And I suppose on the result--I see the groom's family as the one pulling his strings hereafter if the groom defaults to being puppet. You may be right that the bride's side is the string-holder, but, remember, the groom's family is the one being pushy about the bar. 

Both, still, point to the same problem. If he doesn't start owning his share of all this, then he is in trouble and therefore the marriage is in trouble. If he is as irrelevant to the proceedings as you say you were, then he should take it up with the bride to be. If she's the problem or part of it, then he should walk. But he didn't write to me.


My husband recently told me he had fallen for another woman. I was stunned, but even more when he said he had informed my daughters of his desires before he spoke to me. Both daughters stood up to him , he and I have come to a fragile understanding that he really does want to stay in the marriage, but I can't get over the breech of him confiding in his own children before me. I recently opened up to the eldest child and , while remaining respectful of their father and cognisant that our marriage will continue, gave her a tiny bit of insight into her father's less than stellar behaviors throughout our marriage. I told her I still loved him, but felt that she needed to understand that his happy-go-lucky approach came at a price... my fear. She seemed content , she and I agreed it was a conversation she needed to hear, and this will end all talk of our marital life. Have I really crossed a huge line?

Without knowing what you actually said, I can't say whether you crossed a line or not. And I can't know whether you will honor your pledge not to put her in the middle again--that is an important component of respecting boundaries.

What interests me more here is why, why you want to stay married to this man. By your own description, if I read you correctly, you live in fear. Whose company is worth that?

In response to your column on Wednesday "Stop telling her what to do", I'd like your input on a dynamic I have with my husband. He asks me "Should I wear the blue or the red shirt?" when he wants to wear the blue shirt. He asks me "Should I put more garlic in the sauce?" when he wants more garlic. But what if I hate that blue shirt or it doesn't match his outfit. What if I don't think the sauce needs more garlic. Basically he asks me questions because - as I've learned over time these questions are code for - he wants validation of the decision he wants to make, NOT because he wants my opinion. Sometimes I can support him - I mean, he can wear whatever shirt he wants. But if I think the sauce is good as-is, do I just suppress my opinion to support his? Do I stop telling him what to do, even when his decisions - such as the sauce - directly impact me?

Seems to me you know what it means now, so you can detach yourself from the outcome you would normally expect (that he wants and weighs your opinion because he hasn't made up his mind yet) and anticipate the outcome you know you're going to get (he does what he wanted to all along because he made up his mind before asking). 

I.e., do whatever you must to embrace it as a lovable quirk, even if it means there's sometimes too much garlic in the sauce.

Silly question: I have a neighbor who I run into a few times a week as we walk our respective dogs, and for the past 6 months she has made a variation of the same joke EVERY SINGLE TIME. It's based on an aspect of my appearance that changed around then, and is not mean or insulting but I'm over it from sheer repetition. I think it started as a legit "wow!" reaction and that I replied in a somewhat joking manner as if I was unaware of the change made it seem like "our schtick" to her. I've tried to change up my responses, from a flat "yep, still there" to a non sequitor reply about a different topic to no response, but she keeps doing it. To flat out say "stop commenting on this aspect of my appearance" seems rude, though I have a feeling this straightforward approach will be your suggestion? She has taken even the hint of criticism poorly in the past and that we are just friendly acquaintances having short chats makes me hesitant to be as direct as I would with a friend. I just really want this 'joke' to die.

"Okay, I'm officially out of responses. Can we start a new joke?" Straightforward but light.

What's stunning here is his total lack of respect for you. As Carolyn said, why do you love someone who has no respect for you?

It's time to talk to a lawyer and find out your options if you do separate from your husband. Your choice to stay with him is just that...a choice. If something happens again he may not give you the leeway to make that decision. Protect yourself and give yourself the respect to make a well informed decision - in either direction.

Hi Carolyn, I wrote in a year and a half ago about my mom who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Unfortunately, she passed away on Monday. I tried to take your advice and I spent as much as time as I could with her last year but it still was not enough. Now on the other side what do I do? I cannot even fathom how I am going to be able to get through the funeral next week much less the rest of my life (40 plus years).

I'm so sorry about your mom.

I hope I didn't give you the impression that spending as much time as you could with your mom could ever be "enough"--to ease the pain, blunt the force of the loss, preempt some of the grief, or whatever else.  I'm not ever sure these things are possible. The reason for devoting your time was simpler than that, to enjoy her companionship while you still could. 

There are ancillary benefits, too, of course. Your presence no doubt was a huge comfort to her at a scary time, and now you also aren't at risk (or at least are at lower risk) of looking back and regretting that you weren't there with her and for her as much as you could have been.

Now, on the terrible other side? You do as you did before: Keep living. The best you can. And I don't mean by being happy all the time or excellent at everything or some other misconception of "best." I mean by living *fully,* not trying to dodge the messier parts of being human. Cry when you need to, as hard as you need to. Don't be afraid of the pain, or the intense love you feel for your mom that makes this loss so painful. Don't be afraid to love (and cry on!)  other people who are still in your life--it might feel awkward sometimes, even scary (since love brings with it the risk of another loss, always), but such love at good times is the stuff worth living for. And is contained in the people worth leaning on.

And keep in mind when you feel afraid of how much you feel: Such intensity can't be sustained. It's okay not to know where all the feelings are going to go. They will settle in their time, so trust that.

If you're feeling dangerously out of control or bleak, then do seek counseling. Grief counseling often has a lower barrier to entry than other forms--there are free or inexpensive groups, for example, that you can find by calling a hospice provider for a referral, meaning you can avoid or postpone having to search for a qualified and compatible therapist who has schedule openings and take insurance and etc. Make one call, find a group, go.


As for the next +/- 40 years, I know more about those than I ever wanted to, becoming a mother only after I no longer had a mother myself.

Here's the thing. I miss her, daily, awfully. But she is also with me in everything I do. What she taught me, what she felt for me, what I felt for her, even what mistakes I know she made, and what awful things I did and said to her as she raised me (or threw up her hands and let the universe take over)--all of it informs who I am and how I interact with the world. Not just as a parent, but in all aspects of my life. You guys don't know how much you know my mom.

I used to be overcome with sadness when my kids were little that they'd never know their grandma, but I don't anymore because it's so obvious to me now how much she is in their lives.

Plus, such intense feelings can't be sustained.

And I was probably crying already with exhaustion from caring for little kids, but that's not important right now. 

You will find your way in this life after your mom. It won't seem like it during these messy early days, but getting through these days is part of it, even if you just stagger through them to the other side. She raised you for this part, too.

Hi Carolyn, I am a week away from finishing a non-degree professional training program and the yearly ritual here is a gathering with food and drink and one of the senior/permanent people standing up to say (presumably nice) things about each of the departing trainees. I've had a rocky year and while I got through the training and accomplished some significant things, my close supervisors and I know it's well short of my potential and we're all kind of disappointed in me. I'm not sure this is totally public knowledge though. So it sounds just excruciating to go to this "graduation" thing and sit through someone trying to publicly praise me for show, while knowing privately neither they nor I really feel that way. Is there a graceful way to get out of going to something like this, and if not, any suggestions to make it less painful?

I dunno. There's a graceful way out of just about everything, so I'm sure you can find a way not to go.

But, I'm not sure that's your best play. If anything, it sounds as if you could use some perspective on your past year. You had a rocky year, okay, you didn't live up to your full potential. Bummer. And now ... onward. Sit through your moment of less effusive praise than you had hoped for, clap for everyone else's turn, have a cookie and go home. 

Then you become praiseworthy for something maybe you hadn't anticipated (and certainly didn't hope for) going in, and that may ultimately serve you better: your ability to show up and hold your head high even though things didn't break your way. 

The best advice I got after my mother died from cancer at age 51 was to chop up time into manageable pieces and focus on getting through the next block of time. It could be a minute. It could be 30 seconds. Just get through it, and tackle the next one. Eventually the blocks of time get longer, and you will figure out how to live without her present.

Yes, thank you, this is excellent.

Also: Streamline. Cut to-do lists down to absolute essentials. The rest will wait. Recovery from grief and from illness can feel the same.

Just wanted a quick shout out as a thank you to the nuts. I was the two-part miscarriage letter writer a bit ago, and I have to say that the commenters, by and large, were extremely supportive. I was writing into a chat at an extremely dark time for me. My husband has (fortunately for me :) ), stepped up quite alot to my in-laws, after my 2nd miscarriage, and I do love him for it, and my mom also really shut down my MIL (in an admittedly not ideal way, but, it worked, so I'm hesitant to condemn her). I have to say, though, the nuts were fantastic in all ways. Supportive, with suggestions of self-care and expressions of support. even those who didn't agree with my love of my mom for really shutting down my MIL. I'm fortunately in a less negative place now (although still not pregnant, just less hormonal and much less self-hating), but I really appreciate all the comments and suggestions.

So nice to hear--thank you on their behalf. I'm glad you're in a better place. 

Thursday's letter about the mom who is afraid she is controlling made me think of my own relationship with my mother. Not that she is controlling - my husband and I do things our own way, and my mom generally only gives advice when asked and does not get offended if I disagree with it. But I do worry that I lean on her too much, and sometimes wonder if I'm being a burden. We talk pretty much every day, and I do like to visit with her once or twice a week. I have two sons who are preschool age and I have a job that allows me to spend summer at home with them, so I get a little stir crazy at times from missing adult interaction. My husband works 60 hour weeks, and my friends are all child free and prefer to see me when I can get a babysitter or my husband can stay home with the kids. I've tried making friends in the neighborhood, but so far haven't had much success - I'm hoping that might change when my oldest starts kindergarten this fall. My mom and I enjoy our time together, and the kids love her very much - but am I too dependent? How does one make that determination? Where do you draw the line?

If you're fine and she's fine, then it's fine. 

So, ask her if she's okay with the amount of calls and visits.

That is, if you're worried she wouldn't say so or pull back a bit if you were crowding her. Otherwise I say enjoy the close relationship. Your kids sound lucky, too.

Dear Carolyn: I am a nurse, my boyfriend is a teacher. A lot of his family are teachers, too. My boyfriend and I get along great, he is really patient with my schedule and I am completely understanding that he gets extra time off in summers and holidays because he works such long hours during the school year. The problem is his family. They are constantly doubtful that I have to work on holidays and weekends. They claim my nights/days alternate schedule is “too confusing” to understand. If I can’t attend something because of work they suggest that we form a union or that I call in sick. I’ve tried patiently explaining that healthcare is a 24/7 job, I’ve tried walking them through my schedule, I’ve tried explaining that none of this is personal at all. I do not expect them to change anything based on me at all, I never keep my boyfriend from attending solo. I just can’t always attend things myself. The 4th of July this year is particularly touchy because it’s a big holiday for them and I recently transferred to a floor that is very busy on this holiday. I am the newest hire on an already busy floor, I am working the whole week. They are taking this very personally, one aunt going as far as texting me that “they” can’t legally do that. Actually, they can, and they do and I have no real issue with this because it’s just the way my job is. I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall and it comes up every time I can’t make it to something. How can I get through to them?

Apparently the inability for people to get through to them is their signature dish. I suggest you stop trying. 

Don't reply to anguished-aunt texts; don't give tutorials on health-care shift work; don't perform an interpretive dance in hopes that it will convey the nuances of your schedule in a way words can't seem to. Just be where you can and say "Sorry to miss it" where you can't.

They sound exhausting. Hope it's not something that creeps into your life with your BF.

Hi Carolyn - I was the chatter who wrote to you several months ago about how my toddler preferred my husband. I'm happy to let you know that he's now roughly equally into both of us, which is fantastic. I'm sure this is obvious to everyone not in the thick of it, but toddler preferences can change so quickly; he now also eats vegetables he wouldn't touch a few months ago! All this to say, if my letter resonated with any other parents, hang in there. It can be so incredibly painful when your kid (who you love more than anything) sobs when it's your turn to help him get ready for bed, etc. Just keep loving your kid (and don't give into the temptation to just let the preferred parent handle the parenting). Also, remember that toddlers change so, so, so quickly, and that every phase seems to be fleeting.

Thanks so much for checking back in.

Phases can be just as brutal (more so? discuss) with older kids, so any time you can find any conceivable way not to take a kid's preference/behavior/mood/choice/attitude personally, then I say seize it. Both hands.

Which reminds me ... I jumped right to the next thing after last week's chat and forgot to post the Philes shout-out for suggestions to get through, or help people get through, some difficult years with teenagers. Here it is: LINK

Hey, Annoying Debbie Upper, are you out there? May I post your two submissions? I would have answered it--good question--and I thought you had an interesting answer, too. Lemme know. Just include a factoid from your post so I know it's you. Thanks.

Good morning, Due to childhood trauma, I completely missed out on how to do friendship. Now that I've recently begun the "retirement chapter" of my life, I'm concerned about tending the friendships I made while working. Especially since we will no longer have the built in conversations and lunches we enjoyed on our breaks. I want to do this right, because I'd like to keep these women in my life. Thanks for listening! ~CherryCityGal

If it makes you feel better, even people who had positive and/or uneventful childhoods can struggle with making and keeping friends, especially during transition points in their lives.

Do you and these friends share another interest, like a hobby or sport or cause or performing art? If not, then can you think of one to introduce to which at least some of them will be receptive? This way you'd have something to put on your schedule regularly that would give you a natural conversation topic, thereby allowing you to clear two of the highest hurdles from not having a workplace in common.

You might also find some useful ideas in "Conversationally Speaking" by Alan Garner--the co-author of the oft-cited "Lifeskills for Adult Children." It's similar in being basically an A-B-C book on dealing with people, written for the purpose of filling in the stuff you might have missed during childhood (that it seems, rightly or wrongly, that everyone else already knows). 

Thank you, Mr./Ms. Nurse, for being there for the rest of us. My elderly father was in the hospital over Christmas and New Year's last year. We were grateful for the care he received around the clock, knowing full well that his nurses, doctors and aides were all missing holiday time with family.

Seconded, and thanks for speaking up.

You guys were unusually animated by the dish issue. Hereafter, The Dissue. Mostly incredulity and odes to appliances, so I didn't post them, I'm just awed by the quantity and passion.

But you really outdid yourselves in response to the mom's death. Here are a few:

Winston Churchill famously said "when you're going through hell, keep going." It's the only way to the other side. I lost my mother to cancer when in my 30s. It was fully two years before I could think, let alone talk, about her without crying, it was like I had lost part of myself. Now, having lived a third of my life without her here, the grief is less immediate. It's still here, but it's no longer all encompassing or as extreme. Experiencing things that remind me of her do make missing her more apparent, but also give me joy in the memories of her. You have my sincere condolences, and I have every confidence that you have the strength to survive this.

I lost my mom 5 years ago yesterday. Also of cancer. In that year from diagnosis I spent every moment I could with her. I was still faced with a wall of grief when she passed. It got worse, then it started to get better. And I gave myself permission to grieve as long as I needed to. I feel her with me every day. One day it will be easier. Not the same, but easier. My condolences for your loss.

This times a billion. The best advice I got when my father died unexpectedly was "grief has a physical effect, your body is trying to protect you. Get as much rest as you possibly can."

Hi, My mom was in the same situation: diagnosed with stage IV cancer 1 1/2 years ago and she passed away 3 months ago. I also chose to move in and help out. It was the best decision I ever made. I’m crying as I write this but I wanted to second what Carolyn said. You carry your mom with you every day.

I'm so sorry about your loss. I've been where you are. I'm an only child, a late-in-life baby born to an emotionally distant father and a doting mother who loved me with all her heart. I was the most important thing in her life, and we were extremely close. I lost my father in 2005, which was difficult. But then I lost my mother in 2009, after a long, terrible illness, and I completely fell apart. I fortunately had loved ones to help me through the loss (as I hope you do), but there were days that seemed impossible. I can tell you, though, that it really does get better. I'll never be "over" her death. I'll never quite fill that hole in my life. But with the 10th anniversary of her death looming, I know I am healing, and I know I will continue to do so. Please grieve, and please take time, and please take care of yourself. I promise it will get better, and you'll get better, but it won't happen overnight. Holding you in my heart and sending light your way.

That's it for today. Thank you everyone, thanks Teddy (who was honored this week by the publisher in part for his hard work and responsiveness on the comments, yay Teddy), and have a great weekend. I'll be back here next week but off July 6, in case you'd like to plan your Dissues accordingly.

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 New England with her husband and their three boys.
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