Don’t miss the next live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, hosts a weekly live chat at washingtonpost.com on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She discusses her recent columns and answers any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Join or read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here.
Q. My wife over the past few years has become a major slob. Clothes everywhere, not caring if the house is dirty, dishes lying around and half-finished projects. I do all of the cleaning and picking up, and I am resentful that she creates the mess and then decides to run out with friends. When I try to talk to her about it, I am the one who is “controlling” and she is an “adult” and can do what she wants. So now I only do my laundry and bite my tongue while trying to keep our house presentable as her piles of stuff keep growing. How can we have a more productive conversation about this? Fifteen years together and I am looking at apartments.
It’s of course true that she is an adult and can do what she wants. Including poisoning her marriage. Now, sloppiness that is a change from the norm is often indicative of depression or anxiety. So might it be useful to frame this as a different conversation altogether? Not “Put your godforsaken cottage-cheese-encrusted bowl in the darn sink for once” but “What’s really going on here? You don’t seem to care about the things you used to.” The latter is especially appropriate given that she is lashing out at you (or so it appears). Right now, you’re not communicating effectively with each other, no matter where she throws her socks. So, does she want to work on improving the situation? And is she willing to consider couples counseling, to keep you from considering your own place?
I lent an ear, but did I hear right?
Q. I have for years been a sounding board for my friend “Kathy” and her horrible work environment. Over the past few months, I have gotten to know her co-worker “Sarah,” who has made it clear that Kathy is pretty biased, that the situation is not as she makes it out to be, and that the supposedly toxic-for-years boss is not really toxic at all. I’m frustrated that I was so sympathetic for so long, but I don’t want to betray Sarah by telling Kathy what she’s said about her.
Well, we don’t know whether Sarah is the biased yin to Kathy’s biased yang. It’s likely that neither has a completely objective lens (who does?), so let’s redefine your role here. You are neither the Judge Mathis of workplace grievances nor the fixer of Kathy’s problems; your role as a friend is to listen and offer support. And part of that support can be as a gentle devil’s advocate — which was your right regardless of Sarah. So, the next time Kathy brings up something that sounds potentially distorted, you need not be armed with evidence from Sarah in order to offer an alternative viewpoint. Just do it. “Might there be an alternative explanation for that?” “It seems this has been a problem for a long time — are there new ways of approaching it that we should be thinking about?”