Adapted from a recent online discussion.
HI, CAROLYN: My spouse and his parents seem to have a huge rift when it comes to communication — meaning, what someone should be told versus what they ask. My husband gets upset because his parents don’t share something with him and their response is usually, “Well, you should have asked.” And it’s not always clear he would know when or what to ask.
We seem to be coming into this issue with the passing of a family member while we were on vacation. None of the details and funeral arrangements have been communicated to us, so I’ve asked, but I know my husband is fuming that they have not let him know details such as date, time and place.
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Is there a way to bridge this? They have a long history of different emotional and communication styles, and they’re not going to go to therapy. My husband doesn’t seem to want to accept them as they are. I often either feel caught in the middle, or like I am supposed to try to communicate or explain the other’s behavior.
Asking Versus Telling
DEAR ASKING: No. You are not “caught” in the middle, and no, you are not supposed to help him communicate or to explain one party to the other.
These are kind things to offer when people have generally functional relationships that misfire every once in a while. But when you have a pattern of dysfunction like the one you describe here, stepping in to help merely helps to perpetuate the problem.
Worse than that, it actually widens the scope of the problem to include you, too.
There must be a special law of physics for dysfunction, since there’s no limit to how far it can stretch to hold everyone who wants in.
So here’s what I suggest. When your husband fumes about his parents’ failure to communicate X or Y, then you say, “They’re just doing what they always do. Expecting otherwise seems like a good way to drive yourself nuts.”
Or variations: “In other words, they’re just being themselves. Would it help if we just expected that and had a Plan B ready?”; “Of course they didn’t tell you anything — they’re your parents”; “Maybe if we put $100 in a vacation account every time they don’t share something, we can start to look forward to these incidents as bringing us one step closer to a cruise.”
Actually, that doesn’t have to be facetious. Why not make a savings plan of it? It’s lemonade out of lemons, or … wow, I can’t think of a cocktail with lemon. Making lemons into lemon twists, I guess.
RE: LEMONS: Tom Collins: 1 1/2 ounces of gin, 1/2 ounce of fresh lemon juice, 3 ounces of club soda stir, drink over ice, repeat.
DEAR HELPFUL: There you go — making a Tom Collins out of lemons. Nice touch on the “repeat.” But no simple syrup?
Though I haven’t heard anybody order one since I was in my … 20s? Maybe I’ll go with limoncello.
RE: ASKING VERSUS TELLING: When we found out that my mom had been married for years to her long-term boyfriend, we asked her why they hadn’t told us. Her response: “Well, you never asked.” Top that.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: I hope I never get the chance to, thanks.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.