Dear Carolyn: My daughter is having a baby. She and her husband live in Europe. She has not spoken to her father (my husband) for four years.

When she decided to remarry and move there permanently, her father disapproved of her choice. They became angry at each other. She broke off contact with us. Her husband threatened that we would never see her again unless we apologized.

I kept calling and talking to her for a year before she took me back. My husband remains estranged. I pressured one, then the other, to make up. It only made them angry at me. I almost got a divorce. I ended up alone in therapy for a while.

I know: I got stuck in the middle. But I took responsibility, I showed remorse, I forgave. I now have a good relationship with each of them.

The baby is coming, and I want to visit. My husband gets upset whenever I bring up the subject. What are the right words for me to say to him before I buy myself a plane ticket?

— What to Say

What to Say: There are no “right words” for this.

There is only stating your intentions. That you plan to meet your grandchild, when, for how long, and when you'll buy tickets.

You are neither asking his permission nor dropping a fait accompli. You’re providing a chance to respond before you act.

Now to overstep the bounds of your question, if I may: I’ve talked a lot about controlling people here. The most useful insight I have, though, is emotional and from my own experience. When I notice myself tensing up and scripting my words in an effort not to touch off emotional consequences with someone, that’s my aha moment that I’m involved with someone controlling. The people I trust, who are honest, who have sound emotional regulation, who accept me as I am instead of trying to change me, are the ones who don’t erupt at things I say, even the stupid or inflammatory things. (We all have our moments.)

They will respond, sure, but not react with anger or outrage or other big punitive emotions, the kind that force us to think twice about saying something ever again that the person doesn’t want to hear. Or if they do react with anger (since we all have our moments), they recover quickly and apologize for the outburst and refocus on the substance of our differences. They don’t punish, silence, or go cold on me. (Four years?)

Healthy people also don’t wield “disapproval” over fellow adults. Express concerns about a choice? Sure. Or feel hurt by or get confused by. But disapproval is another instrument of control, of asserting that you know better than others what’s good or good for them, and expect compliance.

So: If hints of control issues appeared in neon, your letter would be Times Square. Your husband especially lit up the page, but you, your daughter and son-in-law also did to some degree, maybe reflecting learned behaviors or defense mechanisms.

You worked effectively with a therapist, good stuff; controllers often suck loved ones into peacemaking roles. Now consider a follow-up to explore larger control issues in the family dynamics — and to find your words as a hedge against losing yourself.