Advice columnist

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband recently said he thinks I'm annoying and arrogant. For example, when I meet someone new or we are out with his friends, I try to connect by sharing information on the subject matter we're discussing. My husband interprets that as trying to show off how smart I am. I told him that's not my intention, but he insists it is. What I thought was regular back-and-forth, he says the other person finds annoying and would never tell me that.

He went on to say my storytelling is erratic and leaves out details, and he knows our friends find me annoying because of it.

But when I was trying to tell him something about work later on, he called this an example of me leaving out context and details . . . except I had told him that stuff. I don't think he was listening.

Anyway, I've dialed my conversations with him way back at home, and I try to keep my thoughts to myself. I don't know what to do about socializing with his friends and family. I'd really rather bow out, but my husband wants me to get better, not give up.

Except every time I open my mouth now, I have to stop myself and calculate everything. I try to keep my responses to one-word answers even when asked about something.


(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

The most frustrating thing is being around people who claim to like me and ask me about my life but find me annoying behind my back. It's so fake.

Another double date is coming up. Do I have a right to get out of it? I'm crying as I type this.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Oh no! Wait — who says your husband is right? Who says he speaks for your friends?

You say “people who claim to like me . . . find me annoying behind my back” as if it’s a fact that everyone, or even anyone, finds you annoying. It sounds like your husband is gaslighting you.

You’re certainly responding in a textbook way: doubting yourself, clamming up, taking his word as gospel. That’s what gaslighting is about: A gaslighter undermines/criticizes/ridicules you until you doubt yourself so completely, you depend on your gaslighter as your one source of truth. You’ve described that exactly. He’s telling you your intentions!

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, he’s genuinely trying to help. Why are you taking his one opinion as the entire truth? Why isn’t the cruelty of his criticism disqualifying?

I urge you to do the following, soon:

1. Counseling — SOLO, because abuse and gaslighting can corrupt the counseling process. If therapy isn’t accessible (ask your primary care doctor), then, hotline — 800-799-SAFE.

2. Tell your people — siblings, friends pre-husband — what’s going on, and ask their perspective.

3. Stand up to your husband. “Sure — we can all improve. I should ask more questions. But telling me I’m ‘annoying and arrogant’ is just mean. I wouldn’t treat you that way. And I am not your student.”

Skip 3 if you must, but not 1 or 2. Outside perspectives are your lifeline, no exaggeration. Don’t let shame shut you down.

From readers:

●That you are reflecting on this suggests you are not at all the arrogant one.

●Please, please, please get an attorney. This is gaslighting. Protect yourself.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.