Hi, Carolyn: My boyfriend and I are in our late 20s, living together, three hours away from our respective parents. We both grew up generally well, no huge battle wounds from childhood. We are both very lucky.
His parents are great. They raised three boys, all happy and healthy and leading their own lives. Dad holds strong family values but has a really hard time even considering anyone else’s point of view, especially his kid’s. I see how upset this makes my boyfriend, and am running out of ways to say, “I get it, he either doesn’t want to or can’t.” It’s making for tense phone calls and what I anticipate to be a rough holiday season.
Is there a way to ask for someone else’s tolerance of your opinion and thoughts?
Sad and Frustrated
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
There’s always a way to ask.
But asking doesn’t make it so, as you know, unless the askee bends to your will. And it sounds as if this dad’s image of himself is of the person to whom all others bend. It’s a fight his ego needs him to win.
That doesn’t make it hopeless – just difficult.
There are a few ways to go. One is for your boyfriend to be blunt but kind: “Dad, this is a frustrating conversation. When you stick to your argument like this, I feel like you don’t respect what I have to say.”
When that fails, there’s the tactic of co-opting his dad’s ego for his own cause. “Dad, remember you did a great job raising me – to have my own strong opinions, like you.” (Boyish grin.)
When that fails, your boyfriend can, with time and emotional hard work, see that it’s his father’s problem that he’s too insecure to accept that anyone knows something he doesn’t. Understanding it’s not your boyfriend’s problem besides being a conversational nuisance will free him to ignore it. “Oh-kay, Dad. (Change subject.)” Granted, this will feel like he’s distancing himself from Dad, but it’s actually the father’s need to be right all the time that widens the distance between them.
Actually, I recommend this last tactic regardless. When we go into an exchange with someone expecting it to go the way we want it to, we open ourselves to a subway map of possible routes to disappointment and frustration. When instead we go in with a completely open mind or, where that’s not possible, with the expectation that the people we’re talking to will conduct themselves exactly as history tells us they will, it’s an almost visceral feeling of relief. The big unclench. Even when it still doesn’t break our way.
So at least try to convey these ideas to your boyfriend next time he’s upset.
And apply them yourself: Understand that your boyfriend might be as stuck as his father is, at least on this issue and at least for now. If so, then quit trying to enlighten or reassure him, and instead just reflect his feelings back on him. “It’s upsetting for you, I know.” It’s not your rift to mend.
If and when he appears receptive to new ideas, then assume he already has one and ask: “Have you thought about what you’ll do next?” He’ll like the answer better when he thinks his way there for himself.
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.