The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Dealing with a volatile mom; walking in husband’s shadow


Dear Carolyn:

My wife and I split up for a couple of reasons — including that she’s likely bipolar but refuses treatment.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Slowly over the years of working together to raise our children, we seem to have developed a friendly relationship. I love being with her when she is on the up side; when she is down, I stay clear.

Now my older, college-age child is seeing how her mother really is, and I see them getting into the same strange arguments my wife and I used to get into. It’s starting to affect how she feels about her mother.

I’ve tried to talk to my ex about this. Now my daughter has told her she needs help, and it’s almost as if my ex does not hear what we are telling her.

How do you get someone to get help who does not believe she needs it?

I love my daughter and hate to see her not want to visit home because “the crazy b---- is there,” and I would like to see my ex not quite so crazy. Any ideas?


Did you make peace with your ex-wife by getting her to get help despite her not believing she needed it?

No. You accepted the reality of her erratic moods and obstinacy, and you found ways to work with and around them.

So it makes absolutely no sense to tackle your daughter’s “same strange arguments” from the make-Mom-not-quite-so-crazy angle. The more sensible (i.e., far higher-percentage) approach is to show your daughter the path you walked.

Explain to her that her mom is not only volatile (obviously), but also unwilling to take any steps to be otherwise. Then say you’ve created a warm and working relationship with her mom by recognizing her mom’s limits — and your own — and that path is there for her, too, if she wants it.

Dear Carolyn:

My husband has always been a fast walker, always in a hurry. When we are out in public, he is usually about 10 feet in front of me and I can’t keep up. There is nothing physically wrong with me. I am petite, and my legs are shorter.

I saw another couple in the same situation recently and it really got to me how subservient and weak she looked as she scurried to keep up. We have been married a long time. I don’t guess anything is going to change after all this time, but I feel uncared for and unloved when he goes off and leaves me trailing behind. Talking (arguing) has done no good. Any advice?

Left behind

Interesting that you got to look in on your own circumstances as a third party; not everyone gets that opportunity, or recognizes it for what it is.

So I wonder — what would you advise this other woman to do, if you had the chance? That’s your answer. In fact, don’t look at mine till you have yours.

Here’s what I’d say. Stop scurrying after him. Go at your pace, just as he has chosen to go at his. He won’t slow down, and you feel demeaned by the expectation that you’ll speed up — so what other option is left?

That is, besides dealing with the larger issue of your marriage to a callous and disrespectful husband.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.