Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
Columnist

Carolyn Hax: To get honesty, invite honesty

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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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(Nick Galifianakis)

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I’m a newlywed, and sometimes I get unnerved [by problems in other marriages]. Is it stupid to ask how not to end up in a bad situation? I love my husband very much, and I would really like him to tell me if something is wrong, rather than be miserable for years. I would like to think I could pick up on his unhappiness if it ever happened, but I wonder if that is possible.

Grass Is Greener

That depends on how good he is at concealing feelings and how good you are at spotting them — and how good both of you are at not rationalizing away any problems, especially while they’re still small.

What you can control right away, though, is your own response to honesty about unpleasant things. If you respond to any challenge — by spouse, friend, family, colleague, loyal family pet — by pouting, grilling for more information, going silent, counter-accusing, looking to shift blame, getting defensive, etc., then certainly you can’t expect a spouse to come to you with something so fraught as, “I have a crush on someone at work, and I’m telling you to explain why I’ve been so distracted and short with you. I’m sorry.”

And I’m not just talking about your response to such potentially life-altering challenges as marriage fatigue; I’m talking about when a friend doesn’t call you back right away, or when you misread a comment as an insult when it was intended to be neutral, or when your spouse is crabby and you freak out instead of giving a little leeway.

The easier you make it for people to be honest with you, the more honesty you will receive. Be flexible, be nonjudgmental, be slow to draw conclusions. It’s an attitude worth cultivating from the moment you meet someone, but if you haven’t established that precedent yet, there’s nothing saying you can’t start now.

Dear Carolyn:

My husband has this infatuation with a woman we both know. She is pretty and available, and I can understand why he’s drawn to her. I don’t believe he would cheat on me, and I don’t even think he knows how aware I am of the way he responds to her (staring, paying extra attention when she talks, going out of his way to include her in things, other “crushing” behaviors).

What should I do about this? How do I keep my sanity without blowing this out of proportion?

Not Exactly Jealous, but . . .

Deal with it head-on — and with humor. Apparently he’s giving you plenty of opportunities to note his behavior, so when the next juicy one comes up, say, “I see how you look at Crushious . . . no, don’t bother denying it . . . just keep it in bounds, please. I like our marriage. And you, if you must know.” Being open about it will allow you to stay close, perhaps ironically — and maintaining the intimacy of your marriage is your most potent defense against outside temptations.

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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