Carolyn Hax: If your mother spews hatred, be honest with her

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 10, 2012

Dear Carolyn: I have been dating a wonderful, kind, generous and caring man for almost seven years. For whatever reason, my mother harbors resentment for my partner, and has said she wishes he’d suffer a heart attack and die, among other less-than-friendly sentiments. We see my mother only a handful of times per year, and my partner is cordial to her but relieved when it is time to go.

A few months ago, my mother called me and asked why my partner refused to accept her friend request on Facebook. I deferred and told her she’d have to ask him, figuring she’d drop the subject. Big mistake. The next time we saw her, she demanded that my partner friend her!

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Would my partner and I be better served fighting this battle, or saving our strength for possibly larger future conflicts (marriage, children, etc.)? — Where Should We Stand Firm?

“Mom, when you wish people dead you can’t expect them to friend you on Facebook.” The sooner you start telling your mom the truth when she crosses lines, the better your outlook gets for “(marriage, children, etc.).”


* * *

Dear Carolyn: My older brother has always been outspoken and often interrupts others in group settings. He likes to be the storyteller and center of attention. In the past, this has gotten me quite angry and I would try to show him how domineering he was. I have failed to plant the seeds of empathy, and accepted him as he is. That is family.

However, I get along well with his wife. She is much more tactful than he is and I consider him a very lucky man! At a family event a year ago, she confessed after a drink that she knew the first years of marriage could be tough, but she didn’t expect it to be that bad.

Recently, I had lunch with her, and asked if things were going better. She implied yes, but vented that he still ignorantly instructs her on, for example, things she could do while he goes off on a run.

I encouraged her to stand up for herself while acknowledging that my own subtle and non-subtle suggestions had not borne fruit.

I’m worried he’ll lose a wonderful influence on his life without knowing how it happened. Is there anything I can say to my brother on being less domineering in his marriage, or am I just sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong? — Nosy Little Brother

You know the answers: No: there’s no magic combination of words that will rewrite your brother into someone likable, and yes, you’re sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.

You also know you’re sweet on his wife, yes?

That in itself is not a problem; it happens, it’s natural, and she probably is as special as you imply. But it will be a problem, huge, if you succumb to the temptation to put on your Relationship Man cape and get involved in their marriage. Don’t do it. Walk away from the light.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: A few weeks ago my mom offered to pay for the hotel at Disney next spring so long as we paid for our transportation. Since that was within our budget, we started making plans.

In discussing the trip recently, my mom said she expected us to split the expense of the hotel.

My husband and I are budget-conscious, and we’re already planning to visit my mom and stepdad this fall. To solve our budget problem we’re probably going to drive 14 hours instead of flying so we can help pay for the hotel room. However, this won’t solve the other problem of my mom going back on our original plan without an explanation.

I’d like to ask, but don’t want to sound ungrateful, yet I don’t want to get resentful about being coerced into an extra vacation with the false promise of a free stay. I think I should just back out entirely . . . but then I’d seem spiteful. — Meannie Mouse

It would be spiteful to back out of the trip with a thinly veiled swipe at your mom for reneging.

It would not be spiteful to say, “We’ve added up the costs of travel and hotel, and the only way we can afford Disney is to drive. That sounds dreadful, so we’re going to say no. Thanks anyway.”

Even when it’s your mom and even with an aura of baiting, switching and wounded feelings, this is still about your vacation budget and your prerogative.

Should she harrumph at your change of heart, don’t be afraid to state the fact that your original “yes” was based on her offer to cover the whole hotel; just be sure also to say that you understand she has budget considerations, too, and that maybe if everyone starts saving now, you can go in 2014.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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