Dear Carolyn: My father-in-law is as self-centered as they come (possibly a narcissist?). My husband still expects that his encounters will be different – that his father will help when it’s requested, show interest or support in our family and needs, or express pride in Husband’s accomplishments that don’t impact him.
All I see is Husband constantly being set up for hurt, which is the only thing my father-in-law consistently delivers. There’s no tactful way to point this out, so do I just continue to sit back and watch it happen?
Not the Optimist
Give tact a chance. (But what are the chances that’s all I’m saying?)
(1) “It breaks my heart to watch you get hurt every time you deal with your father.” You’re speaking for yourself, which guards you against overreaching, and you also aren’t attacking him; on the contrary, you’re showing him that you have his back.
(2) “I see your trying and trying to get his help or support or approval, and his never giving it. Would you say that’s a fair description of what’s happening?” Posing it as a question allows him to come to his own conclusion. If he demonstrates here that he’s nowhere near admitting this, then you can drop it and hope you planted a seed.
If he’s still receptive, then:
(3) “Of course you want these things from him – he’s your dad.” Validation is powerful.
(4) “I’m wondering, though, if he has ever been supportive that way.” Again – he might not be ready to admit this, but it’s another seed planted regardless.
If he does admit his father has never been a giver, then:
(5) “It’s OK to stop hoping he'll become a different person, and accept who he is. It’s okay to be easier on yourself.” You’re not asking him to quit hoping for a better dad, you’re saying you'll support him if he decides to on his own.
Obviously these are my words where using your own will have more power, but I spelled it out to show you can disagree with him utterly on the way he handles his father while remaining staunchly and lovingly at his side. It’s not tact so much as compassion – which, toward someone you love, is a much easier target to hit. Good luck.
Hi Carolyn: I’m turning 35 today with no husband, boyfriend or children. I have heavy student debt, live in a small apartment and work for a nonprofit.
While I’m pretty happy, I don’t measure up by most people’s checklists – and sometimes feel like a stunted human being. Any good response to those people who kindly (or not so kindly) give me the “You’re 35!?!”
How about (BEG ITAL)your(END ITAL) checklist? That’s the only relevant one, assuming you even believe in them.
The best response will be the one that flows from your appreciation of the life you’ve built for yourself – which, for the record and aside from the debt, sounds lovely. Uncomplicated, purposeful, yours.
But if you need a response in the meantime, as you work toward full gratitude for what you’ve received and created, you might like the results you get from absurdity. “I know! And last year I was 34.” Watching people figure out where to go with that might even make you glad they asked.
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.