Carolyn Hax: An uneasy cohabitation; feeling left out of wedding plans

Carolyn Hax
Columnist October 13, 2011

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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 husband’s 26-year-old daughter just finished grad school in another city and cannot find a job. She’s going to be moving in with us to work part-time and get her act together. This will be the first time she and I have ever lived under the same roof.

Of course, my husband’s children are always welcome in his/our home, but this particular daughter and I have never gotten along very well. She blames me for the end of her parents’ marriage, and our personalities just happen to clash. Am I allowed to make her being nice to me into a condition for her living here? After all, it is my house, too.

Boomerang stepdaughter


Sure, but you can’t spell it out that way. And you also can’t do it without your husband’s backing. You and he need to talk about it, agree that you and the daughter don’t need to be friends but you do need to be civil and treat each other with respect. Then he needs to agree that he will gently draw the line any time he witnesses poor treatment, and ask her to move out if she refuses to behave respectfully.

You, too, will have to do your part. First, you need to grant your husband license to tell you when you’re doing something to aggravate the situation. He has it regardless, but articulating that is an important goodwill gesture.

You also need to be skeptical of your own defenses, and ask yourself — every time — whether the daughter actually did something cruel or thoughtless, or whether you were just predisposed to perceive it that way.

And you need to prepare yourself to let some small things go and focus on the goal: of having everyone treat it as everyone’s home. Know that there’s room in that goal for all of you to have the occasional bad day and say the occasional wrong thing.

Re: Boomerang:

Keep in mind the stepdaughter probably isn’t thrilled with the idea of moving in with her father’s wife, either . . .

Anonymous

A good mantra: “We’re all in this reluctantly, and we’re all in this together.” This is a chance for them to see the good in each other, too, which they’ll be more likely to find if they’re looking for it.

Hi, Carolyn:

I’m being left out of the planning of my own wedding. My future wife has a lot of very strong opinions and is also being backed (financially and otherwise) by her mom. I don’t have very strong opinions about weddings generally or this one in particular, but I feel like I should be concerned that I’ve been consulted about almost nothing this whole time.

Blessing or a curse?

“I don’t have strong feelings about wedding plans, but I’ve realized I do feel strongly about being included in decisions that affect both of us.”

Please, please take very seriously any response from her that doesn’t feel right to you. Don’t make the very common mistake of saying, well, I don’t care about the wedding anyway and she does. Pretty soon the issue will be something you do care about; make sure you aren’t yoked to someone who doesn’t care what you want.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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