Carolyn Hax: Advice

Respect has always been an issue

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I grew up with a father and sister who were pretty controlling. They insisted they wanted to hear your opinion just so they could argue and pick it apart. Eventually the decision would be whatever they wanted in the first place.

I created a rule for myself: I’d give three suggestions and after my third “no,” I’d give up. It saved me a lot of headaches and adjusted my expectations … until I got married.

Five years in, I can think of two occasions where my husband took a suggestion I made. Just tonight, he asked me what I wanted for dinner. After shooting down three suggestions, I asked him what he wanted, and he repeated that he didn’t like making all of the decisions all of the time. Replace dinner with vacation or movie or place to live, and it’s the same conversation.

I have no issue with letting him make all the decisions because I don’t have the energy to fight, and it’ll make him happy. I stopped caring a long time ago. How do I respond when I know darn well he doesn’t care what I think? On a related note, WHY DO PEOPLE ACT THIS WAY!?

No Seriously … Just Tell Me What You Want

On a related-to-the-related note, WHY DID YOU MARRY SOMEONE WHO ACTS THIS WAY? That’s the only version that really matters to you.

You’ve developed a good strategy for disengaging from the domineering people handed to you at birth, but then you also went out and married a domineering person. That says you’ve internalized your pleaser role, which in turn says it’s time to do more profound work to preserve, protect and advocate for yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up for this; I’m not sure anyone has ever slain all their childhood dragons with one tidy “aha” moment or three-suggestion trick. It’s not only a long process, but it’s also nonlinear. As you change, the way you manage your frailties and blind spots – and other people’s – has to change.

I urge you to give counseling a try. Just you – NOT with your husband. (Couple’s counseling with controlling people just opens up another front for their control.) Ask your regular doctor for names and talk to each till you find a good fit.

One place to start digging: When “he repeated that he didn’t like making all of the decisions,” you didn’t respond, “If you’d let me make one, you wouldn’t have to”; you’ve conditioned yourself to quit outwardly. Inwardly, though, you still ache to be heard, thus your question to me. And that means the part of you that you’ve buried (or never fully developed), that would not give a pass to such a ridiculous complaint, needs a safe place to find her voice. Please at least grant yourself that.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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