Fi­ancee’s anger over a per­ceived slight of­fers a clue to her fu­ture be­hav­ior

The Washington Post Sunday - - DIVERSIONS -

Dear Carolyn: I’ve known for a while that my par­ents are not my fi­ancee’s fa­vorite peo­ple, and didn’t to­tally un­der­stand why un­til my fi­ancee re­cently re­vealed she’s still sim­mer­ing over a com­ment my dad made over a year ago that my mom ea­gerly “me-too”-ed.

It was a dumb and petty com­ment about some­one else’s ap­pear­ance that my fi­ancee took as a sub­tle ref­er­ence to her.

My par­ents don’t have that sub­tlety. If they wanted to cri­tique my fi­ancee then they would, and they haven’t.

My fi­ancee is now say­ing, “Hey, that’s just the way your folks are, it’s ob­vi­ous what they must think of me, and that’s fine. I’ll just in­ter­act with them less.”

My par­ents are none the wiser about her sim­mer­ing anger. But it’s man­i­fest­ing it­self as her want­ing to have them less in­volved in our lives, which is not what I want.

Any­thing I can do to nudge this to­ward a hap­pier fu­ture, or do I butt out and let things run a nat­u­ral course? Anony­mous Anony­mous: Here’s the “nat­u­ral course” of some­one who takes an in­no­cent if dumb re­mark about some­one else, es­ca­lates it into imag­ined per­sonal slight, uses the man­u­fac­tured of­fense to stoke a long-run­ning se­cret fury and then cites that fury in a barely veiled threat to stand be­tween the source of the re­mark and his grown child: to poi­son count­less other re­la­tion­ships with her petty and poorly man­aged anger.

So I vote no on the run-itscourse thing. No no no. Your fi­ancee’s ac­tions over the past year and a half have spelled out for you the fol­low­ing: She has very thin skin. She does not speak up when she is up­set.

She piles up se­cret re­sent­ment.

She does not face this re­sent­ment like an adult, in­stead strik­ing the disin­gen­u­ous tone of an ado­les­cent.

She thinks it’s okay to stand be­tween you and your par­ents be­cause she is up­set — without giv­ing them or you any chance to ex­plain your­selves or make amends.

Please, please see how un­healthy this is. Your fi­ancee is show­ing signs of pro­found im­ma­tu­rity, in­se­cu­rity and poor self-es­teem, which are the un­holy trin­ity be­hind so many abu­sive and con­trol­ling re­la­tion­ships.

Al­ready she is sev­eral pages into the “Iso­late From Family” chap­ter of the abuser’s playbook; you ad­mit plainly that you want to keep see­ing your par­ents, but you’re just as plainly will­ing to “butt out,” as in, not re­sist her plan to keep you away.

This isn’t just about your par­ents, ei­ther. If she thinks it’s okay to use re­act-re­sent-re­ject tac­tics on your par­ents, she’ll do it with whomever she per­ceives as a threat — your buddy from col­lege, your neigh­bor, the cou­ples you hang out with and even­tu­ally? You. Or worse, your some­day kids.

When you stand up to her on this, ex­pect her to threaten to break the en­gage­ment. Let her. Such threats present a false choice be­tween stand­ing up for what you think is right — keep­ing an open mind till your par­ents can ex­plain them­selves, say — and be­ing with her. It’s a false choice be­cause to a healthy cou­ple, in­tegrity it­self is not an ex­is­ten­tial threat.

So trust this, and chal­lenge her. Full dis­clo­sure, I don’t see emo­tional well­ness in her fu­ture any­time soon, and there­fore not in yours if you stay with her. Think about it: us­ing a year-anda-half-long silent grudge on a per­ceived slight to dis­tance you from your par­ents. Wow. And she doesn’t even see yet how un­well she is.

But you don’t, ei­ther. As­sum­ing you’re not ready to leave, at least stand up for what’s right. “You’ve made my par­ents pay for months without al­low­ing them to de­fend them­selves. I won’t ac­cept that.” Hold firm. It’s not sid­ing against her or sid­ing with your par­ents — it’s tak­ing ma­tu­rity’s side. Find out for your­self whether she’s able to join you there. Hi, Carolyn: I won­der about the gen­eral prin­ci­ple of us­ing an­other per­son as a rea­son to ad­dress or change things in your life — es­pe­cially things you can’t seem to change for your­self. In some sce­nar­ios, I can see this as won­der­ful: A par­ent stops drink­ing for his kids, a spouse mod­i­fies bad eat­ing habits for their spouse, a par­ent (in your col­umn) faced a fear of so­cial in­ter­ac­tions for her kid.

I see that “I lost weight for you” or “I tried [what­ever] for you” might be un­healthy in some sit­u­a­tions.

There are changes I would dearly love to make. How­ever, I don’t feel like I alone am de­serv­ing of these pos­i­tive gains — but it’s a no-brainer for me to ef­fect change for some­one else.

So, without cor­ner­ing you into giv­ing a re­duc­tive, bi­nary an­swer, can I ask your thoughts? C. C.: I think you’re con­flat­ing a change made for some­one else’s ben­e­fit with a change made for some­one else’s ap­proval.

The lat­ter puts your suc­cess in some­one else’s hands, and is there­fore un­healthy, but the for­mer is about see­ing some­one else as a rea­son to be­come the per­son you want to be. That suc­cess is mea­sured only by you. Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@wash­post.com. Get her col­umn de­liv­ered to your in­box each morn­ing at wapo.st/hax­post.

Join the dis­cus­sion live at noon Fri­days at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ con­ver­sa­tions.

Carolyn Hax

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