Carolyn Hax: A loved one’s mental health; rancor in the home

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 11, 2013

Hi, Carolyn:

How do you tell someone you love that you think they might have a psychiatric issue that needs to be addressed, i.e., crippling anxiety?

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

My boyfriend keeps saying he doesn’t want to get married until he’s ready to have kids because he’s stressed out all the time. However, he won’t do anything to alleviate the stress except to suggest moving across the country, where he’s never lived, because the nice weather will make all of his problems go away.

I think it’s horse-pucky. His mom also has an anxiety disorder, which makes me think that’s what’s going on with him.

Wants to Move Forward


It will be a big deal later — possibly starting tomorrow — but his anxiety is not the problem here.

The problem is that you have a “move forward” agenda with your boyfriend and you haven’t yet learned to speak the truth to him.

“Your mother has an anxiety disorder. You’re telling me you’re too stressed out for marriage and kids, then doing some dance about weather. Isn’t it time to connect the dots and get screened for anxiety yourself?”

If expressing honest concern is enough to derail your relationship, then, wow, wouldn’t that be a good thing to know before you relocate or reproduce?

“Psychiatric issue” (wrongly) has a bogeyman aura about it, but in fact a long and typical life is, for everyone, a series of challenges both from within and without. To keep them from dominating the course of your life, you have to be able to square yourself and deal with them — and that’s true whether they’re your challenges or your partner’s, clinical or within a normal range, easy to talk about or approachable only after deep breathing, solvable or the end of the relationship.

As is, you don’t like your life with your boyfriend. The part of your brain that’s willing to admit this has to be the one doing the talking. You love him, so you’re going to worry that using this voice will be mean, but it’s not. Suppressing it is.

Dear Carolyn:

My daughter, 10, and my husband fight. Oh do they fight. About homework, behavior, hair, you name it. Daddy is correct 95 percent of the time, but his communication style just sets her off.

I have been unsuccessful in mediating, in getting him to adjust his style or in getting her to stop reacting. My involvement seems at best unhelpful and often makes things worse. I am at the point of either leaving the house or at least putting ear buds in because it is intolerable. Help?

Parent

How can he be “right” about her hair? It’s hers.

This fighting means Father is ruling himself out as a supportive presence in Daughter’s life just as she needs one most — far more than she needs to be “right” about her homework.

And, this exit-or-ear-buds reaction means you’re overmatched.

There’s no shame in that — but it does mean you need to call in reinforcements. I don’t count in this case because your family needs a teacher who can reach your 95-percent-wrong husband as you can’t, and be there weekly as you all learn, from scratch, to talk to one another. Start with the school counselor (or, absent one, your pediatrician) and admit this one has you stumped.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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