Carolyn Hax: On speaking up, or not speaking at all


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 3

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

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

On speaking up to friends in abusive relationships:

Years ago, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that I couldn’t see for myself. I was recently divorced, my head was spinning and I was feeling like a horrible failure.

I’ll never forget when a close friend asked me, “Do you realize you always make excuses for her behavior?” Suddenly my mental fog lifted. He was absolutely right and I’d never looked at it that way. It was a moment that changed my life and led to me ending the abusive relationship.

Years later, I told my friend how helpful his “mirror” perspective had been and his reaction was, “I said that to you? I’m so sorry!” I laughed and told him to never, ever apologize and never hold back. We can sometimes get caught in very dark places without knowing it. I’m forever grateful he risked our friendship to show me the way out.

M.

On holding the parental tongue:

I’ve had two young adult daughters, 19 and 21, choose paths I wasn’t happy with (both became pregnant after dating for six months or less). They knew how I felt about the topic. One blew up at me and lost her natural mind (a tirade of nasty/hurtful insults hurled at me) when I expressed my disappointment, so we no longer speak.

If you raised them, they know how you feel about their choices before you even say it. It won’t change the outcome and definitely won’t enhance the relationship. Share your feelings with a close friend and leave it alone. If things work out for them, hooray! If not, they’ll figure it out. So zip it.

S.

On breaking free from a parent who wants grown children to stay in the nest:

For years, my mother urged my younger sister to stay with her and my father “to protect her.” In truth, she wanted to keep my sister home as a buffer because their marriage was so very unhappy.

She made my sister, self-conscious and timid by nature, the referee. My mother told my sister, for years and years, that “men only want one thing” and “it’s a dangerous world with bad people.” She warned my sister that she might have immoral roommates who drank and used drugs and slept with men if she moved out. My sister needed a push from the nest and my mother instead encouraged her fear of everything.

My sister did not date, she never married and she now has no close female friends, as my mother disapproved of everyone. It’s too late for my sister; she’s 61 and is still living at home with my 86-year-old semi-invalid mother. Young people under this kind of pressure need to grab their own lives while they still can.

P.

On the burden of being the “bad guy”:

I ended a relationship in a cowardly and abrupt fashion. My reasons were valid but my behavior was not. I felt bad for years.

I finally e-mailed my (perfectly sweet but quite young) ex and apologized. His response spoke volumes about grace. He said, “You taught me that I was worth loving, and I’d never known that before.”

We are important in each other’s lives in ways we don’t even comprehend.

C.

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

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