— Missing Affection
Missing Affection: Okay, so you need something different.
It’s still wise to start small, and non-disruptive, to find out whether that’s enough.
When you learn it isn’t, then you try a bigger next step, to see if that works. Therapy, say. Or open arrangement, or separation agreement. With each step you calculate how much disruption you’re ready to assume responsibility for in seeking what you need.
So you’ve started with your “goal of not dumping care for my spouse on the kids.” What other options do you have for that care, besides the kids? Can you hire it out? Can your kids contribute some without having to bear it all? Do you have to remain married to be the primary caregiver? Those are just examples of questions to ask in exploring what is possible.
That’s what “emptiness and resentment” tell us to do: Figure out what other choices we’ve got. And recognize it’s time to get some official help.
Dear Carolyn: My in-laws are lovely, helpful people who do LOADS of wonderful things for us. But — of course there’s a “but” — they have a massive problem with boundaries. Things in our home have been altered without asking, some permanently, for example. When my husband or I bring up a grievance, they become defensive and suggest we don’t appreciate any of the things they do. My husband agrees this is an issue, but stalls at a solution. What can we do?
In-Law: Hold your ground when they get defensive. “We appreciate X and Y. We do not appreciate it when you make changes to our home without asking first.” That’s a boundary, and crossing it means any resulting hard feelings are not your fault, they’re the crossers’ fault for crossing the boundary.
They can howl all they want about how ungrateful you are; you will know you said thank you for X and Y and objected only to Z, no matter how much they twist it to serve their own emotional ends.
That is the solution: believing this is true and letting the rest of the consequences follow from there, without trying to prevent them by backing down.
Say no to whatever you need to say no to, and ride out the emotional storm. As unpleasantries go — and it will be unpleasant — it's still better than letting people walk all over you emotionally and wreck your house and blame you for it.
Unless you actually do see their intrusiveness as the lesser evil than their defensiveness — we all make our deals, and you get to decide which trade-off to choose.
Re: In-Laws: Sometimes, it can be useful to agree. “You’re right, we don’t appreciate it. Better stop altering our home!”
Anonymous: This brings me joy. Thank you.