Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 26, 2007; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Other mail can be directed to Carolyn at


Carolyn Hax: Hi, everybody. I got this just now and I wanted to get it out right away, since a lot of you have been asking:


"I am sending this early as I will not be able to attend Friday's chat. I really don't have a question either, I just wanted to send an update and a thank-you. I am the pregnant woman who wrote in two weeks ago after my husband pushed me down the stairs and then disappeared.

"The update is that my husband was located that afternoon after someone found him and called 911 to bring him to a local emergency room. He has been alternately lucid and combative and we spent the better part of last week with him going through a myriad of medical tests. For the sake of brevity, I'll just say the diagnosis is a frontal lobe brain tumor, which explains the personality changes. He started chemotherapy yesterday in an attempt to shrink the tumor before radiation. His moods are very labile but the diagnosis (knowing it isn't really HIM) makes it easier to swallow and we'll take this one day at a time."

I've asked her to keep in touch if she feels up to it. Thank you to all who wrote in with advice and concerns. I'll post anything else I hear.


Article about ALS: Carolyn, for the people asking for info on ALS: the November issue of Scientific American showed up in my mailbox on Friday; there's a feature article on ALS. It's not a personal account of what it's like to have it, but a pretty good description of what it is and what it does to the body, as well a lot of detail on the current status of research.

It's probably more technical that what some are interested in reading, but Sci Am is a popular science mag, not a scientific trade journal so the articles are written for a layman; not too too heavy on the technical jargon.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the tip. If anyone missed the (brief) personal account I wrote, it's at the end of last week's transcript.

I'm also glad you brought it up so I can thank everyone who came to the walk. We had a great time on a beautiful day, and were inspired to go all out next year. Shoot, I should have gotten the team picture ready for posting ... maybe if I have a second later we can send out a link.

It's also not too late for this year. I'll be selling T-shirts for as long as you'll buy them--email me at it might take a while for me to re-stock some sizes. And the links are still good for donating directly to the ALS Association. I'll get the link in a second ...


Cincinnati, Ohio: Hey, Carolyn. I've written to you a few times regarding a boyfriend whose words and actions left me feeling, well, sick to my stomach. Guy had an answer for everything, but none of it made my gut feel any better.

Turns out the old belly was right all along. The guy's wife (?!) called me this weekend. My "boyfriend" was a pathological liar who stole my diary, faked his father's death for sympathy and then pretended not to know me when his wife discovered an e-mail. She had no clue. This poor woman (who's mother to his four-year-old) is crushed.

I'm the lucky one. I'm free.

I guess I just want to repeat what I've heard a lot of people say here: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Mine were screaming, but it took more than two years for me to finally open my ears.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Actually, she's lucky, too--she found out.


Kansas City, Kan.: Would your answer to "Spoiled Daughter?" have changed if the bills in question being paid were college bills? My parents pay my (very high) tuition; the whole higher education system is set up such that parents are expected to contribute to the cost. I could have gotten a scholarship to a state school, but I really wanted the opportunities that this more expensive school would give me, and my parents were willing to pay for it. Who has what obligations to whom in this situation?

Carolyn Hax: It wouldn't have been the same, though I think I've said out loud a few times that paying for a child's education, while generous, doesn't constitute permission to tell that child what to do. If memory serves, I think this last came up in a question about parents who were going to stop paying a daughter's tuition upon learning she was on birth-control pills. I mean really.

Schooling is part of a kid's upbringing. Different parents draw different lines, and cover high school but not college, college but not grad school, college and grad school but not if they're private, or both regardless of cost. These are all legitimate deals people can make with their kids, and as long as there's no arbitrariness to it or spite, there can be good and bad in each arrangement.

The whole point of paying for a grown or nearly-grown child's education, though, in my opinion, is to underwrite his or her best launch into independence. If the kids grades are a mess, I can see setting a limit to how long the parents will pay the tab, but that's about it. Quibbling over tats and other social behavior doesn't serve that cause at all.


Carolyn Hax: I'm still here. Just got caught up reading some long Qs. Stay tuned.


Northern California: My friend has a husband who is verbally abusive in a Jeckyll-and-Hyde sort of way (possibly bipolar, but he's against any kind of mental health anything). She has been pondering leaving him, but is currently unemployed, so that had to be taken care of first.

Then he developed a sudden bad medical problem, which required weeks of hospitalization and now 3-6 months of him being home on bedrest, needing in-home care all day. (So much for job-hunting.) Naturally, that's made his personality even more charming and laid back with regards to how he treats everyone around him- not. He's not too concerned with "faking nice" around non-family members when they're over and the Hyde mood strikes, either.

I know she has to make the decision to leave him, and god knows given the medical thing she's trapped with him right now. But what can I, as a supportive friend, do for her?

Carolyn Hax: Offer to do any legwork that her schedule doesn't permit--working on her resume, helping with a mailing, even finding her a divorce attorney (obviously how you present all this will depend on how close you are and how out in the open her plans are). You can--erp--even cover for her, or arrange a teams of friends to cover, or pool money to get a visiting nurse in to cover, so she get out for interviews or even just for air. Moral support is nice, but it sounds like what she really needs is progress.


After that beginning: which included ALS, brain tumor and pathological liar (faking father's death?!!), I'm hoping some of the next questions are about pink poodles or reindeer poop or frou-frou bridesmaid's dresses.

Carolyn Hax: Good point. I'll keep an eye out for some.


San Diego, Calif.: OMG, I think I dated this man as well. Only he faked his father's and brother's deaths with me, as well as telling me he walked in on his wife and her lover. Trust your instincts.

Carolyn Hax: Poodle status--pink?


Anywhere USA: Hi Carolyn. Could you please post the phone number and Web site information for assistance for people who are the victims of domestic violence? I've seen you post something like this before, and I can't find the old posts. My brother is in a relationship right now that I think could be characterized as abusive (as in, his wife is verbally, emotionally, and possibly physically abusing him). He is depressed and low on funds, and I thought this would be a good place to have him start. We, his family, are supportive, but I think advice and support from a third party right now would be best. Thank you so much.

Carolyn Hax:1-800-799-SAFE.

Please write to let me know if you're/he is satisfied with the attention he gets from the hotline staff.

Also, if you write to me at that address, I might be able to help you with literature for your brother.


Right Person = Overlooking A Lot of Flaws?: A married friend of mine used a line the other day that I've been thinking of ever since -- "If you're with the right person, you're willing to overlook and forgive quite a bit."

Do you agree with this?

I'm in a 3-year relationship with a guy who's GREAT for me, but I sometimes find myself getting MORE annoyed at little things at this stage than in the first two years. We're both human and have flaws and I love him with those flaws, but it doesn't mean that I won't bring something up if it annoys me. Is the change of perspective something that comes AFTER you've made the decision to marry someone? I could just still be in the quesitoning stage making sure I'm making the right decision.

Wondered if you and the peanuts agreed or disagreed with my friend's statement.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to float a specific theory on this that has been rattling around in my head, and maybe you can all beat it into refinement in that special way you have.

I think you overlook and forgive, ungrudgingly, the little things that come as a natural byproduct of something you really like about someone--and you get hung up on the byproducts of things you don't like.

Let's take ... 20 extra pounds, for example. If those pounds are there because your mate (in your approving opinion) loves life, fun and rich desserts, then you're going to see them as something between just fine and charming. If those pounds are there because your mate (in your disapproving opinion) is lazy, compulsive and/or and inclined to make excuses, then every pound is going to get on your nerves.

I'll go so far as to say the affection for the same "flaw" increases in the former state, and the loathing of it increases in the latter.

I guess the question for you is, would you love him better without the flaws, or do you see them as a necessary part of the whole?


Scared and Not Because of Halloween: My husband had a farily serious health scare this summer. An underlying condition was active and lead to bloodwork which lead to lots of tests, uncertainty and waiting. All was determined to be mediocre with not enough certainty for diagnosis but not enough good results to give the all clear. Now every 90 days he gets more bloodwork. And I am blown away by my anxiety. We did really well this summer, made good decisions, jacked up all the insurances we could, loved each other well, made every attempt not to let the stress spill over to the kids etc. But now the blood is taken and I feel like a loon. Could not sleep last night, missed the turn to preschool, have had 3 diet cokes and no food today. Will this get better or will I have 3 nutty days every 3 months for the rest of our lives or until he is diagnosed?

Carolyn Hax: Sorry you're freaking out. Believe it or not, you will get used to this, too, just as you got used to the situation this summer. We're just wired to do that. By the third or fourth or whateverth blood-drawing, you will incorporate it into your brain's template of normal life. And if the situation changes, you will freak out again, but that new version too will get burned into the template, and so on. It's true of life, death, and everything in between. It's how we go on. There are mental-health professionals standing by, as always, to help if for any reason the process gets hung up on something or delayed, but the essence of it is still the same. People just need time to process new visions (or, scariest, no visions) of their futures.


Washington, D.C.: Fluffy comment to lighten things up - spent last weekend with the boyfriend's parents - they were here to visit, so spent most hours of the weekend with them - They now think that I eat constantly - I have a HUGE sweet tooth that I control unless I am out, so I had dessert at both lunch and dinner (and the only one to have it at dinner!) - I thought they were going to fall out of their chairs! Now I am bit unconscious to see them at Xmas!

Oh well - I grew up where people fought for the big corner piece of cake with all the frosting!

Carolyn Hax: How did they convey this impression to you? This is just morbid curiosity, by the way.


Somewhere USA: Hi Carolyn,

I have a dilemma and was hoping you could help. I am getting married in January, and I don't know what to do about my biological father. A little history: My parents divorced when I was six mostly because my father was and still is an alcoholic and drug addict. My father never paid any child support, never visited or called or contacted me other than a birthday card every year. His parents have always been good to me and have kept in touch with me. My mom remarried when I was ten, and my step father has raised me as his own child.

I am conflicted about how to handle the situation with my biological father. On one hand, it would hurt my grandparents (his parents) very much if I excluded him. I think that my father has misled them about the type of the relationship that we have. I also feel sorry for my father. I feel like inviting him would be a small gesture on my part that might mean a lot to him.

On the other hand, I'm afraid it might hurt my stepfather if I invite my biological father, and it might make things awkward for everyone else there. My stepfather says he will support whatever decision I make, but I still don't want him to feel uncomfortable or put out.

Any insight or advice you have on this situation would be greatly appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: It sounds as if your stepfather has given you his blessing to invite your dad. I can see why that would make you even less inclined to do anything that might hurt him, but you also have your grandparents to consider, your father, your other guests, and you have yourself (not to be discounted, please). It's still not an easy decision, but regard your stepfather's generosity as freedom to take him off the scale when you weigh the advantages of either side. It's really a tremendous gift he gave.

It's also just a wedding. While some people can't and will never see it that way, some people do, and so it is fair to keep in mind who's in which camp when you're making up your mind whom you need to please/not crush.


New England: Go Sox! (is it wrong I hope the Rockies will rally for an interesting series?)

I'm a single woman -- oh the horror-- who is happy being single but wouldn't mind dating someone at this time. It's been a few years since I had anyone in my life in any sort of romantic way. By choice in part, I just never met anyone who made me want to put myself out there.

My friends keep getting on me to "date", as in meet a stranger (via person or.. ack, internet) exchange numbers, go to dinner and get to know them personally as I get to know them romantically.

For me, and maybe I am unique in this (?), this seems like putting the cart WAY before the horse. I'm of the school of live my life, have fun and hope someone will cross my path that I'll get to know and THEN develop romantic feelings for.

I can't kiss someone I don't know, I can't be romantic just for the feeling with a total stranger. It seems like a complete farce to me, like someone's just standing in until lightning strikes.

My friends keep saying I have it backwards and that it's not going to happen my way because guys don't want to date their friends.

I can't do internet dating and I get absolute fear at the prospect of a date with a stranger. I'd rather know them in SOME way, through a club or friends, before I dive into some sort of evening. I'd rather be by myself watching bad tv.

I haven't been kissed in a few years though, so maybe I have it totally backwards? I appreciate your opinion in this.

Carolyn Hax:"Guys don't want to date their friends"? If I'm going to see any merit to what your friends are saying, I'll have to look past that whopper, and I'm not sure I can.

Men fall for their friends all the bleeping time. Women do, too. And sometimes they all stay friends and nothing more comes of it. You probably have your own experiences telling you what you can expect from your own circumstances, since you say it's been a few years, and not that you've never had dates. Keep doing what feels right.

This isn't to say you can't find a different way to go about things that feel right. If you're happy, then don't change anything, obviously--but if you;re happy, then your friends are not only wrong but really obnoxious for holding you to their standards instead of their own ...

So look at your approach to dating with as clear a perspective as you've looked at your likes and dislikes. Are you making the best of what you like about yourself, both in physical appearance and in places you choose to appear? That's where I'd do any tweaking, if you think you need it. Forcing yourself to behave as your friends think you should doesn't look like a winner to me.


Seattle: Well, if she's really unconscious to see those inlaws, then she won't notice or care what they think of her eating habits....

Carolyn Hax: Heh heh.


Eating in front of BF's Parents: My in-laws all have body-image issues so my MIL and SIL are stick thin (size 0-2, depending on the store), spend hours at the gym, eat nothing but fruits, vegtables and (a little bit of) seafood. My husband has recently lost close to 90 pounds and is starting to fall into the same patterns, although he's not as insane with the food. When we visited them this summer, I think I ate more than them combined at each meal! Yeah, I could stand to lose some poundage but I'm not about to become food-scared because of it. Besides, they kept taking us to buffets and I figured SOMEONE had to eat their money's worth!

Carolyn Hax: This is a great video right now in my head. Thanks!


Father of the bride: Don't invite him. He's still an alcoholic and drug addict. Who knows what kind of drama will ensue if he shows up and proceeds to get drunk or drugged up. Do yourself a favor and give yourself a pass on this. Yes, some say it's just a wedding, but it's a very important day that shouldn't be ruined by someone who can't keep his alcohol/drugs under control.

And Carolyn, the "it's just a wedding" comment really grates on me. I'm far from a bridezilla , but I wouldn't want some drunk ruining a dinner party at my house - that's just a dinner party - much less a wedding.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting points, to which I have two semi-counter-points. (Counter-semi-points?)

I agree the ongoing alcoholism and drug addiction are cause alone to exclude him from the wedding. Not because he'll ruin it, though--because the family is entitled to choose not to enable him. If he wants to be part of his family's events, then he can get into rehab.

Second semi-counter-semi-point: I thought I qualified my just-a-wedding comment clearly in the statement that followed it: that some will agree, some will never agree. I was just saying it's okay for her to sort out the people she chooses to please and not please based on where they stand on that issue.

For example, as a just-a-wedding subscriber, I can have my wishes set aside in favor of the wishes of someone who is really emotionally invested in the idea of ceremony.

Now that we're here, two refinements on this refinement: 1. It should not be used as justification for whining or rewarding whining. It's about taking into account who genuinely cares more and who's feelings are more deeply invested. 2. It can change from wedding to wedding, since someone who's not one for ceremony can find him/herself deeply invested in particular people, and therefore their events.

Thank you for shopping Advice Mart.


Downtown, Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn!

I've been going out with a (seemingly) great guy for about 2 months now. Honestly, I like him better and better as I get to know him. After three years of bad dates/relationships and long single periods, I've gotten to quite like single life. This guy seems like a nice addition to my life, rather than some one trying to take over my life. So yay for me!

We were talking recently and he said that he thinks he's better in a couple. I didn't question him on it because our relationship is still new. Now, of course, I'm wondering what that means. Does he like me, or like being in a relationship? I've always missed red flags in relationships before, so do you tips on what I should be aware of in these early stages of the romance?

Carolyn Hax: Hi! To me, the biggest red flag is a feeling that you can't ask a follow-up question. "I found myself turning over in my mind something you said a while ago. You said you think you're better in a couple--may I ask what you mean?"


Wedding Dilemma: With the stepfather's blessing to invite the biological father, it seems that the chances of the bride later regretting a decision to exclude her biological father from her wedding (even though he probably doesn't deserve an invite) are much greater than the chances that she will look back on the occasion and be glad that he wasn't there. I'm not implying that she should hold out false hope of a grand reconciliation with her biological father and nothing in her post indicates that she is doing that, but as we get older, sometimes we care less about the wrongs that people have committed and are just glad for whatever happy times that we shared with them, even if there weren't very many. I speak from experience because I had a troubled relationship with my (much older than my mother) father for most of my childhood and my teens. Now that he is in his 80's and in poor health, I sometimes wish that he had been a bigger part of my life during the years that I did not want him around. Not trying to guilt trip the bride into inviting her father, just wanted to add something else to the list of things to consider.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the alternate view. While I agree this shouldn't be about guilt, I do think it's productive to try, at least, to imagine how you'll look back on your decisions after the fact. It could be she doesn't see herself regretting the father's exclusion, which would be fine--the important exercise here is the effort to anticipate her feelings. It can end up throwing unexpected light on how she already feels.


Did I do the right thing?: My wife came from a very typical situation: mother left father when she was young due to what we know as vaguely abusive-slash-irresponsible behavior of the father. Since then, father has been absent and unsupportive but semi in her life. We visited her mom recently, during a really challenging time for the mom emotionally, and during a conversation I had with her, the mother revealed to me that she had actually left the father because he had hit her. This took me by surprise because my wife had never told me this. On the way home, I told her, because I really didn't think it was appropriate for me to keep it to myself. She was kind of mystified, and we talked briefly, but it wasn't a really deep conversation. Did I do the right thing? What now?


Carolyn Hax: Wait a little, give her time to process it, then don't be afraid to raise the subject again if she doesn't do so herself. I would suggest also calling the same number I posted above--1-800-799-SAFE--and putting your question to the counselors there, because you can fill in the details you haven't given here, such as what exactly your MIL said, and how exactly your wife responded.

The possibilities including, of course, that your wife knew and didn't tell you; was also abused and didn't tell you; didn't know and is feeling confused/betrayed; suspected all along and isn't as phased as even she might have thought, etc.


Drunks at weddings:...are not limited to fathers with alcohol problems. Groomsmen? Bridesmaids? Have you been to a wedding?

Speaking of which, I was worried and forewarned my own alcoholic father to pull it together for my big day. He was in fact on his best behavior. However, little did I know that my mother and her six sisters (not big drinkers) started drinking mimosas at the bridal brunch and didn't let up until the reception. I have priceless photos of my aunts dancing and lipsynching Motown songs on stage (!) with my husband's family just looking on.

Carolyn Hax: A most welcome blow to the idea that life can be crammed into Scarlett O'Hara's corset.

Or, to the Auntie Patrol, Harlett Scohara's horset.


Seattle, Wash.: Carolyn,

Doesn't it sound like New England has some social phobias about dating? It's great to want to meet someone special through some venue in which you are comfortable, but she says she is "scared" to date someone she doesn't already know well, and she badmouths dating to such an extent it sounds like she's trying to blame our social structure rather than ask if maybe she has some issues to work out. I wonder if counseling or some sort of anti-anxiety tactics are something to consider.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe. But while the "absolute fear" at the prospect of a date with a stranger would point that way, the description of blind dates as farce makes it sound like more of a defensible position than a lamentable fear.

I actually meant to elaborate on this point but lost it in the rush when I realized how long I'd taken to post that answer. By proposing she make the best of what she has, I wanted to specifically include that she be sure she's making a choice -toward- a way of meeting people that she believes in, vs. a fleeing something that scares her. It can be very reasonable for someone to decide that blind dating just isn't for him/her. So if that's the case, then making the best of who she is would involve thinking of ways she can meet people that circumvent the strangers-at-dinner scene. Which brings us back to the proximity issue of the past couple of weeks, doesn't it?

If it is a fear, then making the best of things means facing and getting to the root of the fear.


Re: Drunks: To compare normal people getting drunk at a wedding and acting silly to an alcoholic or drug abuser is just ridiculous. They are not the same thing.

Carolyn Hax: It was in the context of "ruining" a wedding--meaning, behaving to expectations. The point that expectations need to go out the window was, I thought, well-taken.

I still think the issue of the alcoholic is one of enabling, not scene-making.


Chicago, Ill.: Hello. I'm writing today because I have a friend who has been slowly (over the past 18 months or so) increasing her exercise and decreasing her food consumption. She eats, but very little, nothing unneccessary, and exercises several hours a day. Each time I see her she's smaller than the time before, to the point where I am now very worried about her and feel I should say something. I'm not sure what to do or how to talk to her about this. We aren't the best of friends, but I am one of very few female companions she has in town, and I do care for her. Since we've never really discussed anything too personal, I feel awkward at best approaching this topic. Thanks for any insight.

Carolyn Hax: Read, read, read. The more you know the better you'll feel about the way you handle this. Start at the site of the National Eating Disorders Association ( and let your mouse do the walking. Good catch, by the way, on the new behavior.

In addition to informing yourself, though, also please be as sure as you can that there is something amiss, and she isn't just, for example, training for triathlons or marathons and eating in small portions throughout the day. I doubt someone who is legitimately training or trying to get healthy would become defensive at a friend's genuine concern, but, then again, if that concern is phrased in a grating kind of way (as, unfortunately, concern often is), it could be met with dukes up even from someone who has nothing to defend.


Raleigh, N.C.: My best friend -- my best friend! -- quizzed me a bit yesterday on how I can afford to travel as much as I do. I don't know why she asked me that. She knows I work very hard (two jobs) and scrimp and save in order to afford my trips while keeping my debts clear (I owe nothing except for my mortgage and student loans). She also knows I have a medical condition with a not-very-rosy prognosis and want to see and experience as much of the world as I can while I'm able. I feel kind of angry, as if she's questioning my handling of money. Now I feel unsure of whether I can talk openly with her about _anything_ having to do with money or travel. We're best friends!! What's going on?

Carolyn Hax: Tell her how you're feeling. Get it out there.


Re: Wedding Dilemma: I think everyone is missing the point. She doesn't see her biological father, she gets a card on her birthday. There really isn't a relationship. It doesn't even sound like she has one with her grandparents-his parents-since she only refers to their "staying in touch" which hardly sounds like weekend picnics and Christmas dinner. Staying in touch doesn't even sound like they see each other face to face. She's basing her decision less on how her father will feel than on how his parents will feel about his exclusion, and it doesn't sound like they're close enough to her to merit that kind of reaction. She is giving too much weight to the feelings of people she apparently seldom sees, and too little to the only person she's known as a real father since she was a little girl. I say, don't invite the biological dad.

Carolyn Hax: I say, it's a great point for her to throw on the scale with everything else, but it's still her decision. Tx.


A Fluff Question: I'm trying to sell my car, and I stink at it. Whenver a prospect calls, I stammer, emphasize the wrong points, and don't know when to move in to close the deal. I'm starting to flop sweat every friggin' time the phone rings. Any advice from you or peanut-land would be appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: Write down all the points and leave a copy close to your phone. Or, switch to email for the initial information and save the call for those who are truly interested and who only need a last detail or two.


Not drinking but not pregnant: I'm just starting a cycle of in vitro and thus not drinking at all. I usually enjoy a glass of wine or a beer when I'm being social, so how do I respond when friends and acquaintances remark that I'm not drinking? I've tried casually saying that I'm on a low-carb diet, but some people aren't buying it and get these sly little smiles like they suspect I'm pregnant, when I am definitely, painfully not. Is there an easy way to deflect these kinds of questions without getting into the very personal details?

Carolyn Hax: Another for the list of questions not to ask/remarks not to make.

When people do anyway, claim "medication." If that doesn't slam the door on follow-up questions, then, "Um, that's awfully personal," will take care of it. Plus, your looking uncomfortable will be appropriate. Good luck.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn:

How can I get my husband to "fight" better? We've been married for a few years, have a 2 year old, and generally are in a good place. When I recently told him that I needed him to make more of an effort to be home more, work less overtime, he sulked all day. Later that same evening, we discussed it more, and he turned it back on me. Our discussion went from my need for him to be more accessible, to my trying to live more "in the moment". This is how all of our arguments end up, a very predictable pattern. But! My issue about him being around more never got fully resolved. Any advice on how I can steer him back to the topic at hand without screaming?

Carolyn Hax: Honestly, this sounds as if it shouldn't have been a fight at all. Shouldn't is a terrible word, though, one that distinctly undermines everything you and your husband need to establish between you. I'd start with trust--you need to trust him to have good reasons for making the choices he's making, even if he ultimately needs to make different ones, and he needs to trust that requests from you aren't criticisms and criticisms aren't attacks.



Carolyn Hax: It may be that all you need for both of you to get to that point is some attention to what you're saying to each other, not just with your, "I need you around more," but with your daily conversation. Have you, for example, acknowledged/appreciated how hard he has been working, with all the overtime? Talked about what he feels is his responsibility is, now that you have a child? Has he ever tried to understand what your days are like--and if he hasn't, have you gotten so frustrated that you're angry a lot of the time he's around, and complaining about what you do, whether he asks to hear it or not?

I'm throwing a lot of stuff out, a lot of which might not apply, but the general point is that if you both feel you aren't being heard or understood, and if you're both defaulting to the only response you know how to have (screaming for you, withdrawing for him), then the result would look a lot like you're describing.


Carolyn Hax: (more)

Soooo ... to get at this, try approaching him sympathetically. Example: "I do realize how hard you're working." "I think we're both feeling worn out." "When I asked you to be home more, did I step on you somehow that I didn't realize? Because I would like to know."

As always, too, it's important to keep your fingers un-pointed, and discuss things in terms of your feelings. "I feel overwhelmed" is less likely to trigger defenses than, "You're never home."

With some people, no amount of dukes-down rephrasing will get around the problem. In that case, a good, reputable counselor is the wisest next stop, alone if you have to.


Unwanted advances...: How should I deal with unwanted advances from a married acquaintance? Distance myself and ignore his attempts at contact or confront him and let him know his actions are unwanted and completely inappropriate? His behavior is unpredictable so I hesitate at confrontation.

Carolyn Hax: Go about your business. If and when he makes an inappropriate advance, say, "I'm not interested and please don't approach me again." Don't let him scare you.


Boston, Mass.: She's done it again. I just heard that my sister-in-Law is pregnant and planning to announce the news at my baby shower this weekend. (My first baby, her second.) She announced her first at my wedding brunch. She said she waited a day so as not to deflect the spotlight. I know I don't have the market cornered on being preggers, but come on! Any suggestions on how to gracefully handle her announcement, while subtly letting her know that she could have chosen a better venue?

Carolyn Hax: Ugh. Anything that sounds even subtly like a meow will make you look like you can't handle sharing attention. Ahem. Congratulate her and let it go.


Gut instinct: Carolyn,

Last week you asked the woman who wrote in about an emotional affair what she was seeing. Any response?

I don't mean to be an alarmist, but in my experience I've never heard of anybody suspecting an emotional affair that wasn't there. The "gut" is usually right.

Carolyn Hax: I didn't see one, but I'll look again and we can take it up next week if there's anything there.

Oh, which reminds me--the person dreading the proposal. Still out there?

Eek, time! I have to go. Thanks everyone and type to you Friday.


Re unwanted advances: Don't let him scare you, BUT if his behavior is in fact scary, don't be alone with him either.

Carolyn Hax: Important corollary, thanks.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company