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Carolyn Hax Live: How to Handle Mother's Day After Losing Mom, What to Say to Slobby Step-Mom, How to Get a Lazy Spouse to Pull His Weight, and Much More

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn Hax was online Thursday, May 7 taking 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.

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody, and thanks for stopping by on a Thursday. You'll be happy to know that by doing this, you're freeing me up to go to my 25th high school reunion this weekend. In other words, so glad to have you here to bear witness to my aging process.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn!

I've recently succumbed to the Facebook craze and have been somewhat successful in connecting with a few old friends I haven't seen in ages. Problem: One particular "found friend" is male and seems to have only "enthusiastic" women added as friends. I don't see anything wrong with this, for him, except I don't want to be among what's beginning to look like a virtual harem. He hasn't said anything disrespectful to me, it's just the appearance of my name and face showing up there with the "others"! The only way I'm aware of to change this is to "unfriend" him, meaning it would appear as if I'm dropping the connection if I don't offer up an explanation prior, and I really would like to stay in touch. How can I tell him, "I'm glad we connected again and would like to stay in touch but I would prefer NOT to show up on your "friends list" as it looks as if you are running an e-brothel."?

Signed,

Really Not a Party Pooper

Carolyn Hax: Going on Facebook does require careful thought, especially when you make your privacy selections, but what you're giving it here is too much thought. If anyone is scrutinizing your friend's friend list in order to draw conclusions about you, then I'd say that person is thinking too much, too.

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Kansas City, Mo.: Hi Carolyn, love your work! So, I'm having a neighbor problem. In my city, free trash pick up is limited to two bags, beyond that you have to buy tags for $1. My husband and I are big on recycling and rarely have more than one bag. Yesterday I went home over lunch before the trash was picked up and SOMEONE had added a bag to my front yard! I asked around and three different neighbors that are retired and home all day implicated another neighbor, and said she has been adding her extra trash to mine every week! The implicated neighbor is a problem for the whole street, often having loud parties that probably create all the additional trash. I know I should let it go and not care as it doesn't cost me anything, but it's annoying to me. But I don't want to war with this person as I'll still be stuck living across the street from them. Other than splitting my small amount of trash into two bags to fulfill my limit (but trash bags are expensive!) any other ideas? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: 1. Thanks.

2. Ignore the trash thing. If this really is a problematic neighbor, then there's a good chance you'll eventually have a significant disagreement to resolve. When that happens you'll regret having established an antagonistic relationship over something that hurt you only in principle.

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Falls Church: Hi, Carolyn. Going over some of your old transcripts and ran across Nick's chat from last year. He's hysterical. When can we expect another chat session with him?

Cheers,

Zuzu

Carolyn Hax: Nick! Good of you to join us. I'll check with my producer ...

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Carolyn Hax: Michele? Can we fit a relationship cartoonist on the schedule?

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Chicago: I cheated. I'm moving out. I'm not over either the GF or the "other women" (2). Where do I go from here?

Honestly, I want to marry all three. I don't know how to not have feelings for them. What are the next steps?

Carolyn Hax: Have feelings for them. Just don't act on them unless and until you have a principled way to do it. If that doesn't present itself, live without them -- also in a principled way, of course -- until some kind of solution presents itself. That can include narrowing down your interests to one woman, or finding women who are open to open relationships, or seeing many and committing to none, etc. ("Etc." representing the limits of my imagination, not the limits of your possibilities.)

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washingtonpost.com: That can definitely be arranged! - Michele

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Bait and Switchville?: Hi Carolyn,

I've been married a little over a year, together for 8 years. Late 20s/early 30s. Husband has recently decided that he doesn't want kids now and maybe not ever. This was the one qualm I had about marrying him, that he was a little twitchy about the idea of spawn.

During our engagement, when I expressed my concern, he told me that he wasn't as afraid of the idea of kids as I thought he was. At the time, he was saying that he had fears but that he'd deal with them. They've gotten worse. His dad was totally uninvolved with him as a kid, and Mom let him get away with it. He's the same way as a grandparent.

My problem is that I'm ready, like yesterday. We're stable and successful and all the other barriers seem to have melted away. Except his fear. My expectations of parenthood were explicit.

So, what do I do? I feel like I was duped into believing that he would come around. It seems unlikely now. We talk about it (a lot) but it's not going anywhere and we're both feeling pretty defensive, hurt and angry. Ethically, I would never engineer an "accident" but I'm starting to feel like it might be my only hope. I love him and don't want to leave, but this is a deal-breaker for me. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: An "accident" is never your only hope -- and it's always a betrayal. You are not entitled to choose parenthood for someone else. It's not just bad for him, but bad for you, too, not to mention cruel to the child, who doesn't get any say in being used as your pawn.

To be fair, if we classified your idea as two wrongs in search of a right, yours would be the second of the two wrongs. Your husband pulled a horrible bait-and-switch on you. I think the first thing you have to do is figure out whether you can forgive him for that. Even if he eventually warmed to the idea of children, it might defeat the purpose of saving your marriage and coming to agreement on children if the marriage itself has a broken foundation.

Forgiveness likely will come from understanding his reasoning, and whether he lied to you or lied to himself when he said he'd deal with his fears. And, as it happens, that understanding is the natural starting point for exploring whether your husband is set against kids or not.

Some people who have declared they don't want kids are very clear in their reasoning and firm in their belief, and often they see it as disrespectful to have partners keep lobbying them to change their mind.

There are others, though, who have doubts, not convictions, and who might be open to the idea of kids if they had a better understanding of parenthood -- not just what it entails in a general and practical sense, but also specifically how to avoid repeating mistakes their parents made with them.

Your ability to read your husband and his hesitation, and to be sympathetic to it, and to figure out the most realistic and respectful approach to it, will not only help you figure out whether there's any chance of his changing his mind, but also might make him more inclined to try.

In what might be the longest preamble to "get some good marriage counseling," I'm simply arguing that you come at this not as a lobbyist for your cause of having kids, but as a person who's willing to set anger aside and try to think clearly for the four interests represented here: yours, his, the marriage's and the potential child's. If your husband will agree to do same, I think that'll be your best chance of finding an outcome you won't regret.

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Take Two: An ex who hurt me very badly has suddenly reappeared in my life, wanting to reconnect while taking things very slowly. I care about this person deeply, but find myself closed off, mostly because I don't trust that it's not going to turn out exactly the same the second time. How do I move forward?

Carolyn Hax: First ask yourself whether you even want to. Just because the person asked doesn't mean you have to agree to it, and just because it may sound tempting doesn't mean it's the right decision for you. Figure out what you'd be in it for, and don't be afraid to ask outright whether that's even possible.

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Hahaha!: The juxtaposition of Michele's response and Chicago guy's question made me laugh. Michele can arrange 1) chat appearances by relationship cartoonists, and 2) open, polyamorous relationships for Chicago guy. Go Michele!

washingtonpost.com: What can I say? I'm all-powerful. Also, oops! - Michele

Carolyn Hax: Indeed, this brings whole new possibilities to the chat.

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Hostile territory: My father's wife is not my favorite person, to put it mildly. She is insecure and passive-aggressive, radiating hostility the minute she walks in the door. She has no energy and spends a lot of her time sitting around, making hostile comments. She's also quite a slob: she's always doing things like spilling sugar all over the counter and not cleaning it up, or picking up a photo album with disgustingly greasy hands and thumbing through the pages, sliming each one. I feel like my father has altered his own behaviors and habits to accommodate her. I know, he's a grown-up, but it still bothers me that my visits with my father are always in her company and on her terms.

At any rate, the two of them visited recently, and I spent the whole visit trying hard to bite my tongue and get through it. Apparently I didn't bite hard enough, though, because I just got in the mail a letter that says, "Our relationship has gotten 'prickly.' I am sorry that this has happened. I want us to be friends."

Okay, points to her for communicating something in a more straightforward way than usual. But how do I answer such a letter? My impulse is to write back with a list of all the ways that she drives me crazy, to illustrate that being "friends" is not realistic, but I do recognize that this would not be very helpful.

Carolyn Hax: If you squint really hard, can you see any good in her? Or at least something with which you can sympathize?

The slob angle can often get in the way of taking a gentle view of someone -- you have a physical-recoil response that you then subconsciously justify by locking in on other unpleasant traits. That's the process you can, and I think should, consciously interrupt. You say she's insecure, passive and negative, and all three of those suggest someone who's afraid of you and trying to protect herself. It's possible that if you make the counterintuitive effort of trying to make her feel more welcome, she might soften in a way that actually makes you feel more welcoming toward her.

It's also possible some of your anger at her is really anger at your dad for making his company available only on his terms, meaning, with his wife along for the ride. He chose her and he chooses to include her in his relationship with you, so it's not fair to lay it all on her.

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Washington, D.C.: Lost my Dad last year to cancer. We were somewhat distant (just calling once a week and seeing each other over holidays), so I have managed to go on pretty normally since the funeral. Which got me thinking, is it okay for me to "check out" from my family if I have been mostly distant from them emotionally the last few years (still live with the wife and kids, but just can't connect emotionally anymore?). Meaning, basically they would cry for a few days, and then get back to their video games, so can I do this selfishly for me, when I am sure they would all be fine (tons of life insurance and past the 2 year non-contestability period)?

Carolyn Hax: If you're suggesting what I think you're suggesting, they wouldn't just "get back to their video games." They'd be devastated, they'd feel guilty, and they'd struggle just to feel normal, possibly for the rest of their lives. Trusting people would take a conscious effort where for others it would be second nature. What you envision is not real, which is a classic problem with depression -- the illness distorts your emotional vision.

Please get help, get a lot of it, and get it now. If you're not sure where, look here.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Carolyn,

My husband constantly undermines my efforts to train our dog. The dog spends most of the day with me and responds very well to the consistent commands and discipline that I give him, but my husband indulges the bad habits nearly every day. Worse, he ignores me when I explicitly ask him not to do something that counters the dog's training.

My husband is really only begging for the dog's attention, but this is so incredibly frustrating and disrespectful to my simple wishes that I've lost my patience. We've had fights over this but he still won't stop. What can I do?

Carolyn Hax: Take him to a good dog trainer. Yes, your husband, though he'll probably need to bring the dog, to keep people from looking at him funny.

You know how important it is for the dog to have consistency from his alpha-people, but apparently your husband doesn't, and he's not going to listen to it coming from you. Which suggests other issues, but, who knows, maybe the dog training will turn into human training, which it so often does.

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Chantilly, Va.: And anyone considering the possible "solution" above should first read Roxanne Roberts' 1996 article about the suicide of her father. If you never knew before what effect a suicide has on those who remain, you will when you've finished reading it.

washingtonpost.com: The Legacy (The Washington Post, May 19, 1996)

Carolyn Hax: It is an astonishing, unflinching piece of writing, and I recommend it to everyone who hasn't read it. I can't believe she wrote it 13 years ago; my images from it are still vivid.

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More from hostile territory: Thanks for taking my question. I will think about all that you said, especially the part about perhaps having some anger towards my father. But in the meantime, how do you recommend I answer the letter from his wife? "I don't want things to be so difficult, either -- maybe you could stop sucking all the air out of the room?" Really, I need someone to give me something graceful to say -- I can't seem to come up with anything.

Carolyn Hax: I was implying it with my answer -- that you need to think in welcoming terms -- but I didn't offer phrasing because, in this case, it could sound so phony. You don't want it to be of the, "Oh, no, we're just fine!" variety, because you both know things aren't just fine. Instead, you want to be honest enough to admit that your relationship does need work, but not so honest that you provide a list of what it would take for you to find her bearable.

The best written response might be, "I'm sorry I didn't make you feel welcome; maybe we can have lunch to discuss?"

And then, in person, order from the "I feel" catalogue of difficult concepts. For example, to address her negativity, "I feel jumpy/anxious/defensive/whatever when you come over, as if I keep doing something wrong." If she asks what you mean, cite an example or two of criticisms she has made, especially those she has expressed more than once.

If thinking about it has you realizing she doesn't specifically criticize you, then that's something to move over to the "ways I can look at her sympathetically" column.

Really, the whole point in your getting along is that you both love your dad. It's a good cause, and worth summoning the nerve to take on.

And then when they go home, you put on good music and wipe down the place.

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For Hostile Territory: I was flipping back and forth between this chat and the financial chat (sorry Carolyn) and one piece of advice seems to apply to the difficult stepmother. For every negative, try to find a positive. It's what Carolyn said too. I can give you one in this situation, if you'd like. My grandfather remarried five years after my grandmother died. She never made an effort to be a part of his family, and it's a big one with 10 kids. Fast forward 20 years, and she still closets herself in her room when anyone comes over and has no interest in us at all. So one positive in your father's wife's column is that she's making an effort.

Carolyn Hax: I could argue the one positive in your situation is that your step-grandmother shuts herself in her room when you come over.

And don't worry, flip away. I'm comfortable with open chat relationships.

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Mother's day: Lost my mom after a terrible battle with cancer four years ago. We were really close.

Any advice for making Mother's Day more bearable? I haven't had much success in years past where I have taken the course of trying to avoid restaurants and other Mother's Day related venues over the weekend.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Don't hide from it. The depth of your misery represents the depth of your love, and that makes you a lucky child to have had such a mom. If the day stands out on your calendar and in your consciousness no matter what you do, then just be conscious of it and grieve and celebrate. What else is there.

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Undisclosed location: My problem is that I do not currently have problems. Last year I was miserable, I was mistreated by a horrible potential boyfriend, my friends were either not good people, or unsympathetic to the fact I was having a really hard time, and I just was very lost and depressed. My life has done a current 180, but, I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm trying to be more optimistic, thinking that the bad times from last year couldn't last forever, but it's really hard? Any words of wisdom for me?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe not wisdom, but words of fact: You were down, and now you're up. You'll be down again, and up again, to varying degrees for the rest of your life.

Instead of dwelling on the bad things that have happened or will happen, greet your thoughts of bad things -- those are inevitable -- by consciously reminding yourself that you're fully capable of dealing with whatever it is, if and when it happens. If it helps you to prepare for some of those, then start doing that (could be anything from saving money to nurturing the friendships that helped you), but otherwise it's a matter of making peace with the idea of intermittent pain.

That said, if it rises to the level of anxiety (how handy that I already had the NIMH site open...), then please consider more than an internal pep talk.

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Somewhere, USA: This question is for Carolyn, but if any of the chatters have any advice, I would really welcome it. I have been married for six months and it is just not as fun and interesting as I thought it would be. I still love my hubby and I know that he loves me, but there is a part of me that's so not excited about spending the rest of my years like this. What would you recommend? We don't have "problems" per se, but are trying to save for a house and figure out housework -- pretty much I do it all until I ask him to help out. I guess I am sounding resentful and maybe I am slightly towards him, but I guess I'm also resentful to myself. Any suggestions on how I can find joy in doing the smaller more simpler things in life? Thanks so much!

Carolyn Hax: Agh, you do not ask him to "help out." It's his home, too, and it's his responsibility as much as it is yours.

1. Take a close look at what he does, to make sure you're not discounting what he does.

2. If the imbalance is clear, point it out. Tell him it's not okay with you.

3. Ask him to suggest ways to make yours an egalitarian household. He's the one who (pending the results of step 1) needs to change his behavior, and so it stands to reason there's a better chance he'll change if it's his plan that he follows.

4. If he balks, ask him if it's a messy house he's comfortable with, or if it's the idea of your doing all the work. If he chooses the messy house, then you're going to need to work on a level of mess (or clean) that you both can live with. Easy fixes are that he does his own laundry, to leave you time to direct your effort to the things you care about more than he does, like the sinkful of dishes.

5. And finally, if none of this quite does it, punt: Set a budget and have someone come clean, even if it's just a couple of rooms. This is really just a Band-Aid, but if you fix the bigger ailments, then there's nothing wrong with a quick fix on the rest.

If you find you're still not feeling the "fun and interesting" once you've cut off that source of resentment, then please write back. It's too hard to tell whether it's all the same resentment/drudgery problem, or a similar but separate new-marriage ailment.

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Silver Spring, Md.: My boyfriend of three years broke up with me three weeks ago because he "felt that we were going in different directions, he thought that I needed not to get jealous when he hung out with his friend, who's a girl, and that he wanted me to be more vocal on how I feel about certain things." But then he continued how he wants me in his life and how he still loves me and wants me to be his friend. He doesn't want things to be awkward and wants us to continue hanging out. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Whatever you want. He has a bunch of ideas for ways you can be better for him, but that doesn't mean you aren't fine the way you are, or that you can't internalize some of his suggestions and apply them to your next phase of life for your own reasons, or that he isn't projecting his own crap onto you. You don't owe him a thing.

So, strip away everything else that's going on until you get to what you owe yourself, and do that. If you're not sure yet, no big deal, it's okay to take time to think.

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Virginia: Hi, Carolyn! I am so glad you are doing your chat a day early, because I am not having a good week! Here's the scenario:

I'm newly divorced, having split with my ex-husband just over a year ago. He told me this week that he is considering dating one of my closest friends (call her "Anne") who (and this is the important part) is a huge part of my 5 year old daughter's life -- practically an aunt to her. They've been spending a lot more time together (with my daughter), and he said they discussed dating a few weeks ago, and he hopes she will go out with him this weekend.

Setting aside the fact that I feel like I would be losing a very close friend (on whose shoulders I cried when we split, who helped me move out, etc., etc.), I am really concerned about my daughter. If they don't work out (and he doesn't have a great track record, I was wife number 2), she would lose out on someone who she adores -- as long as she could talk, it was always "My Daddy," "My Mommy," and "My Anne."

I want both of them to be happy, but I feel like he's being selfish (really, there are hundreds of thousands of other single women in this area!) and not thinking about our daughter, let alone my own feelings. I'm internally screaming at him while externally saying, "Be careful, don't tell our daughter yet," etc.

Am I out of line for thinking this is a bad idea? Any suggestions on how to handle it? Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: Yours is an extreme case, but it is fairly common that when you're struggling the most to do something the right way -- raise your child, do your job, manage your home, etc. -- that's when people do something that makes you want to say, "A little help here, please!" I mean, for your ex and your best friend to throw you a new parenting challenge juuust as you're trying to get a 5-year-old through her parents' divorce. Wow.

But as with any of these situations, you're still stuck with 1. your actions 2. your reaction to others' actions 3. your ability to articulate what you want while respecting the boundaries set out by 1. and 2.

From your question, it sounds as if you haven't talked to Anne about this. You are entitled to say to her that, while you aren't in a position tell two adults what to do with their feelings, you are in a position, as your daughter's mom (let's call her Boo, a la Monsters Inc.), to ask Anne to make her choices with Boo's needs in mind.

One reason to have this conversation without rancor is that your ex and Anne might well get together and stay together -- who knows, right? -- and that would give your Boo three adults who all love her and who are willing to work together to raise her. It would also give Anne a chance to serve as your best friend even as she dates your ex, which is an opportunity from which both you and Anne benefit. Complicated dances are easier if there are instructions, right?

Finally, don't let all this stuff and drama distract you from your main job, which is to provide steady, loving care to Boo. You can't control the external crap but you can give your child a model for how to weather external crap, which is one of the most valuable gifts you can give.

Not to be mistaken for being perfect and/or unemotional, BTW. You can have and show feelings during a tough time. The important thing is that you not succumb to them.

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Newlywed Housekeeper Again: Thanks for taking my question, but now I have a follow-up. Regarding #3 on your steps, do you have any suggestions of asking/conversing without sounding like a nag? E.g., Bob do you realize that you take no initiative in doing chores? Yes. Would you mind cooking dinner twice a week or cleaning the bathroom? Sure. Two weeks later none of the above has happened. What is my next response?

Carolyn Hax: Please tell him exactly how this makes you feel, be it angry or frustrated or resentful or depressed or betrayed or whatever honestly and accurately captures your state of mind.

A nag is someone who asks for small things over and over and over while receiving nothing. You are not a nag, because you are asking for something big -- respect -- and "no" is not an answer you will stand for. Say that if you want, and, this is important, if you're ready to back it up.

The backing-it-up process includes anything that will demonstrate that elves are not producing dinner and cleaning the house and clothing, you are. And that his accepting this state of affairs is tantamount to his accepting you as his maid. You are not his maid, so don't act like one.

Your No. 3 so far has been to ask him to cook twice a week and clean a bathroom occasionally. Please note the way I phrased my No. 3: "How would you suggest we make this an egalitarian household?" He has to come up with it. "I don't know" gets an "I am really upset about this. Surely you can do better." Assigning chores to him just makes you chief housekeeper, not much of an improvement.

Ultimately this all hinges on his ability to put himself in your place, both in spirit and in chores. If he won't do that, then it's officially a Much Bigger Problem, one to take to a pro. (Counselor, not housekeeper.)

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East Coast: My kid brother, 25, has lived at home since he graduated from college last year. He's studying for a professional exam that he's taken several times and failed. He's always been a little off, lonely and angry, concocting elaborate reasons to blame all his problems on Mom/Dad/girls who lead him on/the U.S. government, but now he's scaring my mom enough that she's telling me about it. She found a gun in his room, and he's said things that make her worry he will hurt Dad ("he was only joking"--ha, ha, ha).

She doesn't know what to do, and I don't either. I love my brother, but I'm not sure I could forgive him if he hurt Dad or Mom. Where does a family turn in a situation like this?

Carolyn Hax: Police. Don't mess around. Call them (in your parents' jurisdiction) and tell them the whole situation, and find out what your options are.

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I Could Be Somewhere.: I am not the first poster who complained about marriage resentment, but I can identify with her. My problem is that I didn't know how much TV my husband watches when he isn't at work. He will watch pretty much any sporting event and at the few times those aren't on, any rerun sitcom will suffice. I respect that everyone is due their down time, but this is so annoying to me. I am thinking of getting pregnant, with his blessing of course, just so that we will have a child and he won't be able to zone out in front of the TV. Thoughts regarding more healthy solutions?

Carolyn Hax: 1. Realizing he will zone out in front of the TV with the baby/toddler/child/tween/teenager/etc.;

and

2. Telling him exactly how discouraged you are by being married to a television set.

Those are two steps toward a healthy solution.

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non-nag: Don't think of it as nagging, think of it as setting expectations. E.g. not "Would you mind cooking twice a week?", but "We've talked about you cooking twice a week... how about you be responsible for Tuesdays and Thursdays?"

I'm not saying this is a man/woman thing, this is a responsible party/person who has been allowed to be less responsible thing. Set the expectation, remind once or twice if necessary, and let there be consequences if the person doesn't hold up his/her end. If you both have to eat Triscuits for dinner on Tuesday because he forgot, them's the breaks.

Carolyn Hax: That's a start, and a very effective one, thanks. The problem with these things, though, is that it affects the responsible person's quality of life, so that has to be built in to the approach.

For e.g., you don't want a Triscuit dinner, but the other person is fine with it. Then you, say, stop on your way home Tuesdays and Thursdays to pick up something you do want -- perfectly reasonable -- but boy do you feel petty buying just for one. Has to be done, arguably, but then you feel angry that this is what your "marriage" has come to, getting takeout for one because the other person can't be bothered to make your household a home.

And Triscuit person can say, "I was fine with Triscuits for dinner my whole life, and now I have to cook meals just because that's my spouse's idea of a marriage?

It's really wrenching, if even one of them lacks the impulse to meet the other halfway.

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D.C.: Caps fan married to a Pens fan, and seven months pregnant. Seriously wondering what I have gotten myself into. Not sure I can bring a child into such a divided household.

Carolyn Hax: You have the home ice -- you have momentum.

I mean with the child-influencing. I don't dare predict series outcomes.

Good luck.

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Where does a family turn in a situation like this?: I don't disagree with Carolyn's suggestion about calling the police, but maybe they should also call their state's mental health agency and get some suggestions.

My friend is in a similar situation, and sadly, in Virginia they were told they couldn't do anything until the person attempted to hurt someone. Both by the police and by mental health services. But her family is getting their own counseling so they can learn to deal with the paranoia.

Carolyn Hax: These are all good and important avenues to explore, thanks, but the immediate issue is the gun in the house. If it's not licensed, they've at least got something they can do.

It's also important to get plugged into any updates on legislation, because this is an area of the law that is getting a lot of scrutiny lately.

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East Coast: Carolyn, I'm really surprised by your answer to this. Police? My little brother suffers from mental illness and the police were our LAST resort. Doctors and hospitals came first and the police were called to escort him to the hospital. He's on medication, recovered and has done great ever since! My advice to the poster is not to drown in anxiety as I did, but to take the situation very seriously. Call a doctor, explain the situation, make an appointment, ask him to go and get ready for a long, uphill struggle that will be difficult, but can end well if you arm yourself with resources, information and options and reeducate yourself regarding mental illness stigma. The police (in my experience) have very little to no information/training on mental health issues.

Carolyn Hax: There is a gun. I had no responsible alternative.

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Non nag: My mom told me this after I got married and it works.

Make an even numbered list of chores (I make a list of rooms or zones, usually end up with 8). Have the more reluctant person pick half. They are responsible for that half. (It's good for weekend chores, not so much everyday stuff.)

Carolyn Hax: It actually works for everyday stuff, too -- the person who would respond to a lack of clean dishes by switching to paper plates might be more than happy to stop at the grocery store whenever needed. The part about getting the slacker to choose his or her roles is key. Thanks.

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Falls Church, Va.: "Telling him exactly how discouraged you are by being married to a television set."

Wait, my wife and I are in a longstanding three-way relationship with the TV. Frankly, it's more of an open relationship; we'll hook up with any TV that happens to be there wherever we are. Are we a couple of sluts?

Carolyn Hax: You're all consenting adults and/or electronics, nothing to apologize for here.

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College Friends and Loss: I considered two girls my best friends in college. I was closer with one girl and my other friend was closer to her, too. Fast forward six years and she is engaged to be married. My one friend is in the bridal party and I am simply a guest. I feel awful thinking of myself when it's really about her happy day, but I feel hurt. I don't want to bring any of my negative feelings to her wedding so what can I tell myself to do? I am truly happy for her, I am also unhappy for myself. Selfish, I know.

Carolyn Hax: No no no. You can feel hurt without feeling selfish -- just because it's wedding related doesn't mean there's this special no-feelings-but-joy zone around the situation.

I'm sorry you aren't your best friend's best friend. It's a really hard thing to take, both in theory and in practice. Intellectualizing it can help somewhat; no doubt if you think through each person's role here, you'll see some things to help explain why those two got closer while you and the bride didn't.

That won't reverse the loss, obviously, but it might help you both to establish a new footing for your relationships with both girls (not unlike wishing your ex and his new GF the best), and to start looking ahead to forming some new friendships. You're what, 27? It's a little harder at that age to make new friends than it may have been in college, but you're also not who you were in college any more. The people you find now will be better for you at this stage of life, if you're patient in seeking them out.

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Brother with a gun: Call 911 and explain the situation as involving someone who is mentally unstable. Ask them to send paramedics, not police. Once in the ER, the psychiatric staff makes the decision if he should be hospitalized and monitored. Please don't wait to make an appointment with a doctor.

Carolyn Hax: These are all excellent suggestions, but please know that when it comes to technical advice (as in, call this number, vs., these are the three things you need to think about before you make your decision), I make a point of making the gateway suggestion, not a comprehensive suggestion.

A serious situation like this is a good occasion to explain this approach. When I don't have enough information to know whether we're dealing with a 911 or a make-an-appointment-please, I point people to the authority they can reach immediately and who can at least help make assess what the situation calls for. A point person, or clearinghouse, or whatever you want to call it.

In this case, the police make a natural gateway, since they can (and routinely, as part of their jobs, do) deal with the gun angle, the threats angle, the instability, the paramedic angle, the 911 vs. a stop-by.

Another e.g.: I made a similar "gateway" call when the mom wrote in about not bonding to her 8-month-old baby. Depending on the situation, it could have been about the baby's health or her health, it could have been a marriage in trouble, it could have been a 911 or a let's-have-a-weekly-appointment situation. So I steered her to the gateway: Her OB. They are trained to assess all of these things -- all the details I can't possibly see -- and connect the person in distress to the specific kind of help they need.

I hope this helps explain the basis of such answers.

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Professional Association: Do you and your fellow advice columnists (Dear Prudence, Amy Dickinson, Cary Tennis, Dan Savage) ever get together and swap professional hints?

Carolyn Hax: No. Though maybe they ALL GET TOGETHER AND DON'T INVITE ME. Wah.

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Re: Hockey couple: No body-checking while seven months pregnant!

Carolyn Hax: Have to end this one on a light note, somehow.

Thanks all, and type to you next Friday as usual.

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Bacon pants: Bacon pants bacon pants bacon pants.

Just felt the need to lighten things up a little. It's spring, yo!

Carolyn Hax: Well then: Bacon shorts bacon shorts bacon shorts.

Or, for my fellow sagging reunioneers: Bacon Bermudas Bacon Bermudas Bacon Bermudas. (Though, of course, I speak only for myself.)

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, and if you're still there, person who sent me the, ah, "snotlocker" post? Thank you. That's all.

And no, I can't post it, so please don't ask.

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In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. 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.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com. Have more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group or in her daily advice column: Carolyn's Recent Columns.

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


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