Hey Carolyn: As an introvert, I really need downtime outside of socializing or I feel tired (and crazy). When we visit my retired in-laws, we spend the entire weekend in the same room with them, except to sleep. Breakfast together, then move to the living room, then to lunch, then back to the living room. I find this overwhelming and exhausting, even though I genuinely do like my in-laws.
When I suggest doing something on my own – a grocery run, hopping on the bus to get coffee – my suggestion that I would spend an hour outside the family bubble is met with shock, and I think they are hurt.
We visit for at least one long weekend a month, which is above my gritting-teeth threshold. Help?
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Where is your spouse in this? That’s the person who needs to advocate for you: “It’s not you, Mom and Dad – she just needs alone time, even when it’s only the two of us.” Said while you’re out getting coffee and retaining your marbles.
Even without his support, just do your grocery-store run and let the huffy chips fall where they may. Bring back a latte for your in-laws as an offering, or their favorite food.
Talk to your husband about this, too, please, even if you plan just to do what you need regardless. His asking you to go so far outside your comfort zone on such a frequent and regular basis will eventually weigh down your marriage, if it hasn’t begun to already. As running out of the room screaming AAAAAAAHHH GET ME OUT OF THIS INFERNAL, AIRLESS BOX OF A WEEKEND has a way of doing.
Dear Carolyn: You’re always urging advice seekers not to try to change others, but instead to change what they can about their own expectations. So, when do people accept differences and when do they decide they aren’t compatible?
I think it’s perfectly fine for people in a relationship – and I include friendships and familial bonds in this – to make an effort to find compatibility in the face of even steep disagreements, before they write the relationship off as hopeless. That effort just has to be respectful of the line between what is and isn’t your business, and remain on your side of that line.
So, you can certainly tell a companion that X noise bothers you, and you can ask this person not to make that noise when you’re in the room – assuming it’s voluntary – but you can’t tie someone to a chair to make them stop making that noise. To use a drastic example.
I think it’s also important to recognize how significant these differences are – how much of your free time is at stake, how intense your negative feelings are, how many or your core values are challenged, how big a sacrifice you’re asking of someone else, how much of your time together do you spend feeling annoyed by one thing or the other, no matter how small. Etc.
The key, of course, is self-awareness. Persuading yourself that you really can be fine with something, when ultimately you can’t, is the tap root of so much regret. (See above.)
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