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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Thursday, December 17, 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.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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Editor's Note: Carolyn's next chat will be Wednesday, Dec. 23, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody, and thanks for stopping by a day early.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm off to a roaring start--just started and then bailed on the first question I picked up. Ahem.

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Alexandria, Va.: My wife and I are originally from the Philly area and this is our first Christmas as a married couple. Our plan is to do Christmas Eve and morning at one parents house and the rest of Christmas day and night at another, so we get to see both on the holiday. Since we're newly married we don't have the experience others do, does this work or have others found that it is too hectic? If it matters, we don't have any children yet.

Carolyn Hax: When you have the experience others do, you'll probably wind up convinced that no one solution works for everybody. Some people do great with the whirlwind family tour, some don't. Some families make it easy on the people with multiple ties they'd like to honor, some don't. You and your wife have made your best guess for this year, so don't worry about it. Just see how it goes.

That "seeing how it goes" will only work, though, if you make sure you're honest with each other about the experience, and you really listen to each other when, say, one of you expresses how stressful it was. As long as you're not secretly acting as spokespeople for your own family over the other's, or for your own needs over your spouse's, you'll figure it out just fine.

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Fluffy Question: Hi, Carolyn! I hope you can help me with this quandary. It's not as serious as some of the ones you get, but it's important to me. I'm getting married soon, and am very excited about it, as are my friends and family. I have celiac disease, so we're having an entirely gluten-free reception, except for beer. Gluten-free beer is too expensive (and not that great) so we're having regular beer and wine for our guests. The problem is this: Many of my very-excited family members and friends are likely to have a couple of beers, get sappy, and kiss me on the mouth. Little mouth-pecks are common in my culture and not a problem, except that if they do that, I will get "glutened" and be very ill the next day. Our wedding is pretty informal, which might help this quandary: Is there a way to let people know, in a funny-but-no-really kind of way, that they can NOT kiss me on the mouth if they've had a beer? I feel so awkward because I'm not really a center of attention person, but both having celiac disease at a meal setting and being a bride put someone right in the center of things, and I don't want to call "negative" attention to myself and ask people to curb their behavior, but I have to! Help!

Carolyn Hax: Don't serve beer. I am its biggest fan, and if I can go a day without it, so can your guests.

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Crazyville: Please help. I am driving myself and my partner crazy by constantly criticizing him, harping on little things, being oversensitive and having my feelings hurt and sulking. He is great and I feel like I am driving him away with my constant dissatisfaction (mostly with him) over really trivial things. How can I snap out of this? I dislike myself when I'm doing it and am constantly apologizing and resolving to do better. Yet I end up repeating this behavior. If I were with me, I would dump myself. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Need context. Have you always been this way with him, or is this new? If always, have you been this way in past relationships? Friendships? Are you this way with your family?

And if it's new, when did it start? Did anything change around that time that might have triggered this attack of the nags? Mention anything that changed, even if it doesn't seem relevant. Thanks.

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D.C.: For the newlyweds on Christmas - just be careful. Far too often families expect you to do the same thing every year. Be prepared to make it clear that you are not setting in concrete that you will visit both every year on the actual holiday, you are simply doing that this year.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I wouldn't go on the offensive with that. it could really get things off on the wrong foot--kind of like buying someone dinner on a first date and saying, "Don't get used to this, Honey."

Go with mind and heart open, and approach next year whenever and however it makes sense to approach next year. That sets a precedent of its own.

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Chicago: How do you unfriend people you work with? I don't mean in the Facebook sense, but how do you back away from a friendship with co-workers and settle into just being co-workers? I've tried to just back out of it, not initiating things, which works for a couple of weeks, but then I get dragged back into what looks like friendship until there is some conversation in which I am reminded again why I don't like these people (generally, it's some offhanded comment about my single state that implies I am less of a person because I do not have a wedding ring). They are not bad people, but these conversations make me feel awful, conspicuous in my single state, and I've never had that happen before these people--and I have plenty of single, partnered and married friends. Is there any way back to acquaintanceship that won't make my office an uncomfortable place to work?

Carolyn Hax: Because these are colleagues--and therefore not "friends" in the traditional sense, where it's just about the companionship--I would suggest you continue with your approach of not initiating, and leave it at that. Then, when the time comes that you can't gracefully and professionally decline an invitation, you go knowing that it's going to mean taking one to the gut for being single.

It stinks, I don't normally advise self-immolation like this, and I could easily devote this answer to a deconstruction of their status as "not bad people." But sometimes the best approach to an -office- friendship is to embrace the sticks-and-stones approach and call it the cost of doing business. Again, as long as you pair it with your do-not-initiate approach, which will keep them all at least somewhat at arm's length.

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Crazyville again:: Thanks for taking the question. I am not this way with family and friends, but I was in a significant past relationship. This new relationship is almost two years old, and this behavior is recent, triggered after we moved in together six months ago. The nagging is about a month old, and coincides, I guess, with me wondering if we are compatible. This is the most loving, caring person I know, but we seem to move at different speed with wanting to do things and needing time together, with others, and alone. It's a clash of introversion vs extroverted personalities. But the fundamentals - trust, love, great communication - are all there.

Carolyn Hax: Well, the speed at which you do things is a fundamental, too, and I can't think of anything more fundamental than your personalities.

I'm glad you wrote back, because you've cleared up a lot. I think you need to look hard at "great communication," though. It looks to me as if you have major questions knocking around in your head, and the stress from that is something you're expressing in the form of snips and nags. That's not communicating well.

I'm not suggesting you necessarily blurt out, "I'm having huge doubts, and because of that I'm jumpy, and because of that you're getting on my nerves." It might come to that, and it wouldn't be the worst thing if it does; you just don't want to break out the conversational bazooka until you know what you're aiming at.

So the first thing I'd suggest is figuring out what, technically, isn't working. What does he want/believe/do that you don't want/believe/do, and what is the smallest possible change that could reconcile your two diverging needs (to your satisfaction, at least)? If you can establish that each other's needs are valid, then you can often get to the next step of finding a basic way to accommodate each of them. That's a much more practical, productive conversation than nagging or breaking out the doubts-bazooka.

I it turns out that one of you isn't treating the other's needs as valid and/or won't budge on a compromise, then you need to see that as the problem, a big one that probably can't be solved, vs. the our-needs-differ problem, which often (but not always) can be solved.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn,

I got my MA about a year ago and have been working part time at a very prestigious organization in my field since then. However, I've always been very, very shy and I feel like my personality is holding me back from transitioning to full time here. (My boss has said as much to me, so it's not in my head.)

I'm not sure where to go from here. I'm 28, so my third grade teacher was wrong and I'm not going to grow out of it. Sometimes I feel like my very personality- the stuff that makes me the person that I am- is also the thing that's condemning me to a lifetime of poverty and frustration. This is particularly annoying because for the most part I like myself- I just don't like the person I am at work or surrounded by people I don't know.

I know that this might sound a bit dramatic and I know that the economy is terrible and it's fortunate that I am even working part time, but I thought that things would start making sense when I got to my late 20s and I am just as underemployed and broke and single as ever.

I was on Paxil years ago (when I was about 21), and I am tempted to just go to my doctor and say that I want to go back on it but I'm not sure if stumbling through job interviews and struggling to make small talk with co-workers are legitimate reasons to mess with one's brain chemistry.

Carolyn Hax: Stumbling and struggling aren't necessarily reasons to mess with your brain chemistry, but they're great reasons to get a serious assessment of your personality and its possible tie to brain chemistry. Don't just go to your internist for a prescription; find a good mental-health specialist--asking your doc is a good place to start--and explain everything you said here, including that you like yourself but don't like the way you are with people you don't know. You may decide against medication, but you still want a therapist who either can prescribe meds or who has a professional partner who can (it's pretty standard), just so you have all options available for consideration.

A lot of people have the same problem you describe, and they don't all solve it in the same way. Some do go the pharmaceutical route, while others go for talk therapy, or training in public speaking, or changing to a career more suited to introversion, and I'm sure there are countless more.

Since you've reached a point of futility and frustration, it sounds like time to get a professional partner in figuring out an answer that works for you.

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Intro, VERT: The best advice I received about marriage/cohabitation was to always have at least one more bedroom than the number of people living in the space. That way one of you can always retire to "my room" when you need time alone.

Carolyn Hax: Your adviser apparently hasn't been in certain urban real estate markets lately. So let's adjust for reality and say there should be at least as many rooms as people, not counting bathrooms and walk-in closets.

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Re: Crazyville: Been there, and it stinks. My mom was (and still is) very critical of my dad, and growing up with it couldn't have helped me. Even though I can see it, it's still hard to shake, but I've talked with my husband about it. He knows I'm aware of it, and trying to do something about it, and that helps with his patience. And when you catch yourself doing it, say so - "I'm sorry, I think that was overly critical/xyz for me to day." And then try to do better. Sometimes just putting it out there helps both parties.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I agree--it's also a crucial part of "great communication." Even if it's just, "I'm being a complete jerk and will probably stay that way until I make my deadline/my mom is out of the hospital/I get over this cold"--when both of you know none of those things is an excuse for being a jerk. Just admitting there's no excuse can get the perspective/acceptance/forgiveness machinery going.

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Wanting to throat punch SIL: It's been a pretty crappy year in general for my husband and me, one of the main crappy things being three consecutive miscarriages (all this year), which now have us going to embarrassing doctors and doing embarrassing things. My SIL (husband's sis) just had a baby in January. Great, wonderful, we're so happy to have a cute little niece. However, SIL also has some rather, um, particular views on the whole child-carrying/birthing process, thanks to her easy-shmeasy, problem-free pregnancy and delivery. Essentially, she thinks that there's no reason to ever see a doctor for anything related to pregnancy and babies, and that women should just pray, eat healthy and trust their bodies and all will work out. It's a really condescending high-and-mighty attitude that's hard to explain. She knows about one of our losses, but not all three, and she likes to talk about pregnancy and childbirth. A lot. As does her husband (who now also fancies himself an expert). So this subject will come up a lot, and I need some help quelling my inner desire to throat punch them when they go on and on about how nothing can go wrong in pregnancy that can't be fixed with faith and extra broccoli, women who see doctors are only causing themselves more problems, etc etc. I know it's unfair to expect them to know about something they don't know about, but their general opinions toward this subject make me want to scream.

Carolyn Hax: Wait a minute--there's nothing unfair about expecting them to have a clue that their one experience doesn't apply categorically to the experience of every other person on earth. We expect toddlers to be that egocentric, not adults.

Next time they start blathering on, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, as calmly as you can manage, that it's wonderful they had such a great childbirth experience--but that people who have lost a child or wife in childbirth might find their views offensive, since they're suggesting it was the victims' fault.

Not that you'll get anywhere with it, necessarily. But it will be a clear and concise precursor to your saying, next time, "I'd prefer we talk about something else. How about those Caps."

I can see why you're just staying quiet through their blather, and maybe your husband prefers it that way (something for you and he to talk about before you do anything else). But what they're saying is offensive, no different from other categories of offense where people don't think twice about speaking up.

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Columbus: Carolyn, how do you when to just accept a break up or press for more answers? My girlfriend very suddenly and abruptly ended things without much explanation. While we had our issues, I don't feel that things were perfect, they were not that bad either...

Carolyn Hax: "Without much explanation" means there was some explanation. It's very hard to tell, without knowing what she said, whether she stinted on the explanation, or whether you just didn't hear what you wanted to hear. In the latter case, it's not unusual for people to keep hounding their exes till they hear what they want--which is always unfair and always futile.

So I'm loath to say something that might be used (if not by you, than by someone else in Etherland) as justification to start hounding an ex for more information.

That's all a long way of asking, what exactly did she tell you?

If you won't or can't write back, I'll just say now that in most cases (99.99) it's best just to accept the breakup. In that .01 percent of cases, you still need to accept the breakup, but you are entitled to ask, "just for my own peace of mind, after which I promise never to bother you again, was there something I could have done differently, so I know not to hurt someone else in the same way?"

Would still like to hear what she said, to improve on the generic answer.

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Annoying co-workers: I agree with Carolyn's advice about not initiating, but there's another question: is the sole reason you don't like these people that they make remarks about your being single? If so, seems like it'd be worth a try to make a reply like, "Actually, I'm very happy with my life, even though it's different from yours."

If they're just generally annoying, though, keep stonewalling.

Carolyn Hax: I second the idea of letting them know they've hit a propriety wall, but only if such notice is phrased as carefully and nonconfrontationally as your version is.

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Richmond, Va.: My sister passed away a few years ago, leaving behind two children and her husband. They were married for a long time and he is a part of our family. He remarried in 2006 to a single mother of one. We support his decision, attended the wedding and have accepted her as a sister in law. Our family and mutual friends have noted that the new bride does not treat the children equally. A recent example occurred while we were visiting them. My 14-year-old niece developed severe stomache cramps which reduced her to tears. Her father, her brother, my wife and I offered solace, took her to bed and offered care, while the new mother stayed in her chair and watched T.V. Is there anything I can do to help the situation? Should I bring it up to the husband? Should I talk to the children and see how they feel? Should I ask the children questions when they sometimes make fleeting references to a disconnect with their new mom? Or should I leave it them and stay out of it?

Carolyn Hax: I would suggest showing all the kids equivalent attention (equal is almost its own insult) when you're around, so they get the message that their stepmother is just one person and not representative of a great big unfair world.

I would suggest, when they make their fleeting disconnect references, asking the kids how they feel about it, since being heard and validated is a powerful counterweight to invalidation in other areas;

And I would suggest being careful not to take snapshots of your time with this family as the absolute truth of their home life. I look at the example you cite and think, your niece had four people tending to her; maybe the stepmother felt awkward joining in just to join in, and opted to let the girl's dad take care of it? Not to be an apologist for her, just that these situations arent' always what they seem on the surface.

The fact that there are other family and friends who are worried about this can also help the family, in subtle ways, see each other more as a single unit. What you can do as an individual (model equivalent treatment) will be much more powerful if you all do it. Center your involvement with this family around the three children combined, and bring the stepmother into that center.

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re: Crazyville: I'm dating someone who vacations there occasionally, and I wholeheartedly agree with the poster who talked about apologizing on the spot. I know she nitpicks when she's stressed, and she knows I know, all I want is her to acknowledge it when she does it, without my having to approach her about how my feelings were hurt (which is something we've spoken about, for the record). That, and as someone who has broken bad patterns this way, the reptition of prompt acknowledgement got to the point where I could anticipate having to acknowledge my behavior afterward, as I was actually doing it, until finally I was catching myself before I did it. Repitition is the best way to break patterns like this.

Carolyn Hax: Clapclapclapclapclapclapclap ...

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Family Trips: Carolyn, I'm at a loss on how to balance my needs and my husband's in this situation. My MIL's house is a disaster. It is dirty, uncomfortable, and in disrepair. There are several things that are borderline disgusting. His mom doesn't seem to care or mind. I have explained my discomfort there to my husband, and I've articulated (as kindly as I could), that I think the state of the house indicates depression. However, understandably so, my husband gets defensive and, while he does hear me out and try to think of solutions, he is hurt. How should we handle this? I feel grossed out when I walk in the house, but I don't want my husband to be self-conscious every time we go visit or feel like I am judging his family (which, admittedly, I'm doing, even though I'm trying not to). And I'm panicked at the thought of when we have children, as I will NOT want them to crawl around or eat there. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: You are judging the cleanliness of his mother's home, not judging the mother (hello, you're worried she's depressed, not calling her a pig)--and you are certainly not judging him. So his getting defensive is not "understandably so," it's self-indulgently so, at the possible expense of his mother.

I'm hampered by reality here (quel drag) in that I can't just grab your husband's shoulders and tell him to grow the heck up, set his emotions aside and deal with the facts at hand. Mom's house = gross. Wife = grossed out. These are facts that a grown person needs to process as facts without succumbing to emotion.

Reality doesn't create the same problem for you, but it does give you a similar one: If your husband refuses to be objective, there's only so much you can do. You can, however, make a case for his seeing it objectively. You can say, "I am not judging your mother, and I'm certainly not judging you. I am merely stating fact, that your mom is living in conditions that could become a problem--not just for me, but for her, and for you, too. I am not complaining about her housekeeping, I am worried about her health--and I believe that you, as her son, and I as your partner, might be the ones who need to help her."

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for taking my question. How long should one wait for a commitment? I've been dating "Bill" exclusively for at least a year and a half now. I don't have any significant qualms with him and don't think he has any with me. I love and respect Bill quite a lot, and we seem to share the same life goals and have several common interests. However, I don't want to wake up 5 years from now and ask, is he going to commit? He was married briefly a few years ago and she stomped on his heart from all accounts. He's wonderful and I don't want anyone else, but I'm not comfortable with a Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell relationship in perpetuity. We do not live together nor have children, if that helps answer the question. How long should I stick around waiting?

Fish or Cut Bait

Carolyn Hax: Have you talked about your beliefs when it comes to marriage? This could be unfair of me to say, but your question creates an image of two people who are close to each other physically, but not so close emotionally that you really know what's going on in there.

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Home for the holidays: I can't believe I have to ask this question.

I'm spending some time at my parents' home before Christmas and I'm worried about my mother. She's having some health issues but is trying to take care of that, seeing doctors and trying to figure out what's wrong. But in the meantime, she's in bed most of the time and really not taking good care of herself at a basic level. Like not taking a shower for weeks at a time. I know it's because she's fatigued, but she has a history of not taking good care of herself. I'm thrilled just that she's following up with doctors.

But if I try to talk to her about this, she gets so upset, defensive, and the whole mother-daughter dynamic comes into play. We're very close, but if I bring up that this worries me, she interprets it as me judging her. She's not walking around smelling awful or anything, but just the thought of it is upsetting. I really don't know how to approach getting my mother to bathe. Please help.

Carolyn Hax: Don't. Just, don't. She's getting help, and so your job is to love her, and care for her as well as you can and in ways that won't make the problem worse. Listen, cook good food, provide clean clothes, maybe buy her a pretty nightgown or pajama set to inspire her. And, again, listen.

If she weren't seeing doctors--i.e., actively trying to get well--then this would be a completely different answer.

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Forgiveness machine: My partner sometimes becomes a self-acknowledged complete jerk when his work gets stressful - he becomes irritable, impatient, and a generally annoying person to be around. He knows it, and apologizes, and I've learned to give him space during these times...to take the dog for a walk in the short term, or to plan a full weekend for myself when he is under a deadline. But the way you describe this makes me wonder: Where is the line between forgiving jerk-ish behavior and forgiving abuse? Anything physical would be obvious, of course, but barring that, is it the intent (or the lack of intent) behind it? Or what?

Carolyn Hax: While it's a valid question, I think it can lead you down a path of justification/non-justification that ends at a brick wall.

The question I would suggest is, "Is this what I want?" Do you want a partner who unravels under stress? When you make it about abuse, then you're almost letting that make your decision for you: if it's abuse, you leave, and if it's not, you stay. But behavior that doesn't fit the abuse definition can still be something you just don't want to be around, blow your weekends on, or accommodate anymore.

If on the other hand you see his moods as a small con in a world of pros, if being calm through his freak streaks is a labor of love, if you're relieved that this flaw of his gives your flaws a little more breathing room, then, so be it. You dont' owe anyone anything here except an honest assessment of what you want.

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Fish or Cut Bait: "Bill" knows I am apprehensive about marriage because I almost married the wrong guy several years ago and called it off. My ex-fiance was pushing that we get married and I had reluctantly said yes. (My family was relieved after I called it off. The ex was kind of controlling.)

"Bill" knows that I believe it's important to marry the right person and I don't want to rush marriage if it's not right. His ex cheated on him, so he is having a hard time trusting that it won't happen again (regardless of who the girl is). He doesn't open up emotionally easily, but he has to me before. We've talked about having kids (or not). I don't like bringing up the M-word. I do not want to pressure him, but it's not like I'm going to be there forever without some sort of commitment.

Carolyn Hax: Even if you both want a commitment, it will be one that lives mostly near the surface as long as both of you keep holding up your past s/he-done-me-wrongs like they're some kind of protective shield.

Bill is not your ex-fiance. You are not Bill's cheating ex.

Until you can trust yourselves enough to handle being wrong again--be it wrong in the same way or in a whole new one--you're going to continue on as two people sharing space but not a whole lot else. I don't mean to be harsh. There's just no intimacy between you that I can see, where you live in a state of emotional openness with each other. You may eventually get there, but you're not there yet, and so I would make that your goal, to get to that state. Marriage is just not the right goal for you now. That's for when you trust each other implicitly--and, as I said, for when you trust yourselves a whole lot more.

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RE: Columbus... : What are the rules when there is -no- explanation?

Carolyn Hax: No explanation is pretty cold stuff. For someone to cut you off without so much as a crumb of information, and for you to be surprised by that, then one of a few things has happened:

1. You totally missed that you were dating someone with major maturity and communication issues, and so you may have a few of your own that need your attention;

2. You, upon reflection, realized you should have seen this coming and were in a state of acute, chronic wishful thinking making about the other person/the relationship;

3. You were blinkered by someone very manipulative, and it could have happened to anybody;

4. You were abusive and the other person fled for safety.

If I missed one, jump in.

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Family Trips cont.: Hi Carolyn. While you did give me the benefit of the doubt in assuming that I'm not judging my MIL on the basis of the house, I'd be a liar not to admit that in my small moments, of which I have many, I also judge her. I think the house is gross and my disgust leads me to making judgments about her as a person and as a mother. This is wrong, and I know it, and it prevents me from continuing to bring up the subject with my husband. She also does not take care of herself, which contributes to my negative thinking. - This is how she raised my husband, so I do think a lot of this comes from fear that my husband thinks the state of the house is normal and will fall into the same patterns. He doesn't currently, but I'm on hyperdrive watching to see if he will, and then critical as a result. Blah.

Carolyn Hax: Hm, this is a whole other story then. Are you not actually worried that the mother is depressed, then? Or has the house gotten even worse, and you are in fact worried about her mental/emotional state?

I do hope to hear back from you, but I'm about to sign off, so I'll also say this: If you are judging her as a mother, then you need to remember you married the outcome of her mothering. So, unless it's a clear case of his being a phoenix rising from the dust bunnies of her home, you need to be mindful of the good she has done.

Acknowledging that, as well as acknowledging to your husband that you do judge her mother on some things, and saying (possibly) that you're worried on top of that about a possible decline in her health, will give him at least a better environment for dropping his defenses. Just knowing where you're coming from, even of he dislikes it or disagrees, will make it easier for him to take facts as facts.

Finally: You're getting on his case because he -might- be gross someday? That is so not fair. You need to acknowledge that you've been unfairly critical and apologize to him for that.

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MIL's housekeeping: It's so hard for us to know, though, what the letter writer's standards are. Does "borderline disgusting" mean that dishes sometimes sit for a day before getting washed? Because many of us live that way without necessarily being depressed -- just busy, or a little lazy.

Carolyn Hax: I know, there's that, too.

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Just wondering: Did you hear from last week's poster, who was planning to have an abortion that day, but who had recently reconciled with her boyfriend?

Carolyn Hax: No, unfortunately. Nor have I heard from "Somewhere in the East" (if you're reading this, the request to contact me still stands, and I will keep what you tell me confidential. tellme@washpost.com).

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No Explanations: 5) You were told already, on multiple occasions, and just didn't listen!

Carolyn Hax: I guess some people really can be this obtuse/willful, but it seems to me that when you break up with someone like this, you say, "I have tried several times to explain that ____ and ____, and it doesn't seem to get through, so I am leaving. Goodbye." And then the other person can't call it NO explanation, right? I mean, for that to be true, it woulf have to be, 5. You're delusional.

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Family Trips: I am both worried about the depression and just generally dislike feeling grossed out about my MIL's house. They are equal forces here. I guess my main question is how to get past it? Because half of my thoughts are unfairly critical, I shouldn't have them, and certainly shouldn't act on them or voice them. But generally, if I don't voice things, they fester. And staying for long periods of time in a place where I"m not comfortable plus not voicing my thoughts equals quite a lot of festering.

Carolyn Hax: I get it. First I'd say to sort out what is concern for her, and what is just your being skeeved. That way you aren't contradicting yourself.

Then, you talk to your husband about it all. Admit where you've been unfair, say where you're concerned, and just generally say you'd like to come to some sort of understanding so this doesn't keep coming up. Remind him (and yourself?) that you love the man she raised, and so where it isn't about her health, it's just about floors and countertops.

You do need to back off on the carping, but he also needs to realize that asking you to stay with his mom for "long periods of time" as asking too much. Talk about finding a happy, or at least mutually peace-making, medium where you stay no fewer than X days and no longer than Y days. Hard numbers like that allow you both to relax and accept instead of bracing to re-fight the battle with every new visit.

In other words, voice it once and voice it completely and don't finish the conversation until you're both okay with the outcome, so you aren't continually forcing each other to keep voicing/suppressing/defending.

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Carolyn Hax: So much for finishing early.

The next two Fridays are holidays, so I'm going to have another special time next week, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 10-12, and there won't be a chat between Xmas and New Year's. Hope to see you all Wednesday, and thanks again for stopping by on a Thursday.

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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.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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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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