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Carolyn Hax: ‘Unkind’ husband hammers on about his troubled adult stepson

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband of 16 years frequently says unkind things to me about my son, 25, who according to my husband “has a lot of issues.” My son moved back home during covid, which was not what anyone wanted, but I thought we made the best of it.

These comments are hurtful to me, and I have asked him to please stop, go to therapy with me, look at the situation from a different viewpoint and more. We have tried therapy, but he’s not that invested in it and he’s not willing to try it again.

I can work collaboratively with my son to solve problems and we do, but it’s not a straight line. If it were easy, we’d be there now.

My husband and I have gone to programs at NAMI, which provides much help, but my husband’s memory is long for what upsets him and short for solutions and a problem-solving approach. He is a bootstraps kind of guy.

— At Cross-Purposes

At Cross-Purposes: You say “long for what upsets him and short for solutions” — so, he’s an entitled, grudge-holding passenger content to let you do all the driving when it comes to a stepson/son with mental health struggles, under the guise of rugged virtue?

Tell me otherwise and I’ll come up with an answer for you. But if I’m right, then the issue seems to be the effect your choice of stepfather had on your son in his formative years.

Meantime, I hope your son is not still living in this hostile environment while he tries to work on his mental health, but I am not hopeful. I weep for his tween and teenage years.

Readers’ thoughts:

· Single parents: If you want to maintain a good relationship with your kids moving forward, please do not marry or move in with a person until you are sure they like (a whole lot) and respect your kid(s). It can feel like such a betrayal to the kids (yes, even adult) and can irreparably damage the bond you have with your child.

· My kid is very mentally ill; as in, he’s an adult and we still don’t know if he’ll ever be able to live on his own. If someone in his life was relentlessly critical — no matter how difficult things can be — I’d yeet them into the sun. My kid’s traumatized enough without having mistreatment in his own orbit.

The husband or the kid at home might need a permanent change of scenery no matter how good the marriage otherwise is.

Dear Carolyn: Am I being too nitpicky and insensitive by asking my boyfriend to please close his mouth when he burps, or say excuse me if he can’t do the former?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Why is this even an issue? He burps loudly, you ask him please not to, he says, oop, sorry, sure thing. That there’s a break somewhere in this incredibly low-stakes chain says there’s a bigger issue than belching. Rudeness, inflexibility, incompatibility, defiance, loss of perspective?

Re: Belching: He yells at me saying I am treating him like a little kid and I am too insensitive and I need to learn to let [stuff] go.

— Anonymous again

Anonymous again: You do! Specifically, him. (I’m going with boorishness now.)