Q. My partner (together since 1998) is not able to retain personal things that I’ve shared with her (including general things like finances, just about everything) and keep them to herself. She shares this information with people she’s only known for a little while (like colleagues at a new job). I find this to be very destructive to us, and she is nonresponsive to me when I tell her how to correct the behavior or keep her mouth shut. I find it to be really aggressive behavior on her part.
It’s funny you use the word “aggressive,” because I was feeling super warm and simpatico with you until you started to sound like a drill sergeant. You won’t get far in convincing her of anything if you don’t at least attempt to adopt an empathetic tone. She’s prone to sharing these things for a reason: Do you have any idea what it is, and have you even asked? Is she trying to connect? Does she have no filter? Is she an impulsive blurter-outer? Does she, deep down, not share your opinion about what should be kept private and why? Might your standards be too strict about what should be taboo with co-workers? You’ll need to do more listening than commanding as you better identify the problem. Only then can you work together toward a plan for you each to respect the other’s needs.
Sorry, but I can’t be your friend
Q. A potential friend told me about a recent conversation where her father exploded with violence and threw furniture across the room and and hit her mother. She insists that what he did “wasn’t so bad” and she “can handle it.” Nope. She’s started texting little things about her day and wants to get together again and is clearly trying to build a friendship. I’d be friends with her if she had a realistic view of her family’s behavior and drew safe boundaries around it. I know most people would just be “too busy” to get together, but that’s cruel and cowardly. Should I be honest and say, “I’m sorry, but making excuses for your father’s behavior is a deal-breaker for me”? Or do you have a better script?
I agree that she deserves the truth. Ghosting people is rarely justifiable from a do-unto-others standpoint, and being honest could plant the seed that she and her mother are in an objectively dangerous situation that shouldn’t be condoned by anyone. So, use your discomfort to help her. There are no magic words, but try to make it less about whether her behavior measures up to some yardstick (so I’d ditch the “deal-breaker” part, which — though it makes sense — could put her on the defensive about not being ‘good enough’ to earn your companionship). Instead, focus on your concern about the situation. “I understand your stance about your family, and how hard the situation must be. But the fact that you are accepting the status quo makes me worried for you, and honestly, I would take on so much stress about the situation that I don’t think I can be the kind of friend that you would want.”