Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Can you give tips for how to check yourself when you start bean-counting, either in a marriage or family relationship? What do I need to say to myself when those thoughts start creeping in, like, “I always take care of everything, I just want some praise and recognition or for you to do more for me”?
Say to yourself: “What can I do to change this unhealthy dynamic?” Then make those changes — such as, not taking care of everything just because you’ve told yourself it’s just easier that way. Or saying “no” to things you don’t want to do, and not collapsing under the weight of the ensuing complaints. Or knowing your blind spots and anticipating others’. Or saying out loud what you want instead of hoping or expecting people will just know.
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Waiting for other people to play the role you want them to play is resentment on a stick.
Dear Carolyn: I got married last month, and have acquired several in-laws (mother and sisters, and brothers’ wives) who are all extremely easy to offend. For example, they act funny about the order in which I greet them when I walk into the room, and one of them was hurt when, in response to her cat dying, I sent a pet sympathy card instead of a general sympathy one.
I have found myself in the wrong many times already, without agreeing that I belong there, and now that we are married they are more willing to bring it to my attention than they were before.
What are best practices here? I frequently have no idea why they’re offended and then don’t agree with their offense once I find out why, and I think it would be impossible to predict all these offenses because they’re so specific and so unreasonable. Do I make some kind of blanket statement? Ask my husband to make a list of all their nutty expectations? Or just proceed with abandon and let the chips fall where they may?
Proceed with loving abandon, let those chips fall, and, please, share your stories with us when we swap stories of weddings and holidays gone sideways.
About all of it: Warmth is tough to argue with, and might even throw them off balance; being yourself kindly is your only play here, since their expectations are on their side of a proper boundary, not yours; and if fur-flight over a pet-condolence card is just the beginning, I don’t want to miss the end.
Re: Pet sympathy card! The fact that you even sent a pet sympathy card makes you a better, more caring person than most! I honestly would never have thought to do such a thing. They are lucky I am not their relative!
I am offended that you … um. I don’t know. But I’ll think of something.
I suspect, by the way, that you are the lucky one not to be their relative, but I should probably keep that thought to myself.
Email Carolyn at email@example.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.