Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
Columnist

Relationship ultimatum; learning to apologize

Dear Carolyn:

For the past two years, I have been seeing a man I care about very much. We’ve had a tumultuous, on/off relationship due to some mistakes I made early on that he couldn’t or wouldn’t forgive.

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. She is the author of “Tell Me About It” (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon.

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Now he says he is ready to give the relationship another shot, with this caveat: I cannot EVER spend time with my best friend. He has met her only once but never liked her due to a bad first impression and because I told him she participated in some illegal activities.

While I don’t agree with some of her choices, she has been a wonderful friend for my entire life and has cleaned up her act for the most part. I feel he is asking too much and has no right to demand this of me.

Is this an “okay” thing to ask of your partner? Or should I consider this a red flag of a controlling person?

Trouble in Tennessee

These are your words, so say them: “You have no right to demand this of me.” Controlling people exploit those who hesitate to stand up to them. (Homework assignment: “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.)

Maybe this “best friend” is your drug dealer, to use one extreme example, and he’s right to set such a strict precondition — or, on the other extreme, your friend just did basic, stupid, youthful stuff. Either way, it serves both you and your boyfriend better for you to be clear about where you stand.

He has a right to dump you for refusing him, of course.

But I suspect he won’t. Those two “on/off” years, his reluctance to “forgive” your “mistakes” and this best-friend ban suggest he’s getting exactly what he wants here: a sense of control by giving and withholding affection to reward or punish you as he sees fit.

Since the drug-dealer scenario sounds like a stretch, I think you have to break up with him, decisively. It’s not that you’re above improvement — who is — or that your friend’s mistakes weren’t serious. It’s that he thinks it’s his place to fix you. How is that not controlling?

Dear Carolyn:

What is the right way to apologize to a significant other? I favor apologies that offer an explanation and leave room for discussion: “I’m sorry I got mad at you for not taking the trash out, but I don’t like having to remind you each time.” He says he wants apologies to come with no strings attached. What’s the best way?

I’m Sorry, but . . .

The only “right” way to apologize to anyone is sincerely.

“Sorry, but . . . ” exposes insincerity. Sig-O has you there.

You have a point, too, though, if he’s using your poor behavior to get away with his.

Apologizing sans asterisk for anything you genuinely regret will cure both of these responsibility dodges — “I’m sorry I lost my temper,” period, close-quote. So will swearing off appeasement apologies and admitting when you’re not sorry: “Actually, I’m not sorry I got angry, because I’m outraged at being the default housekeeper.”

Always separate any unfinished business from your apology — even if you make it the next thing you say: “I’m sorry I wigged out. Obviously this trash thing is pushing my buttons. I’d like your help in coming up with a solution.”

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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