Q. My wife and I have been married for a long time. We are in our 60s.
Several times now when “Millie” has felt slighted by a friend, I have mentioned a mitigating reason that the alleged offensive act was not so bad as it might have seemed. Millie has gone into a rage and charged me with “not supporting” her. She has said I am telling her that she is not entitled to her feelings.
I think that I am supporting her by suggesting that she doesn’t have to feel so offended. Also, she is punishing me for having an opinion.
Millie seems to believe that rage is a proportionate response to my stating something that is not quite what she wants to hear. She claims that I could state my objection a different way without “judging” her. I don’t know how that is possible because any disagreement is a judgment on the other person’s point of view.
Millie also says that I regularly disagree with her, seemingly for the sake of being contrary, “even though I don’t realize it.” By my mind she is becoming intolerant of my having my own views on things.
I love Millie and generally have enjoyed living together, but I can’t abide with living in fear of saying anything besides “yes, dear.”
How can we find some middle ground?
A. Some of what you describe could broadly be categorized as differences in communication styles typical for males and females. The “Mars/Venus” stereotype seems to fit your example.
Using this stereotype, a woman wants to share her feelings and mainly be “heard.” She is seeking supportive commiseration: “That sounds so frustrating.” “I’m sorry that happened.” Men hear about a personal scenario and tend to problem-solve first, and commiserate later.
Your wife perceives your problem-solving as you negating her feelings, even though that is not your intention.
You telling “Millie” that she “doesn’t have to feel so offended” is really you telling her how she “should” feel — and nobody gets to tell another person how to feel.
You should not have to universally agree with your wife. You should not be “punished for having an opinion,” but why do you have an opinion about a personal dynamic between Millie and her friend? Why do you have an opinion about her feelings?
Family members are great at noticing patterns. (I will never forget the day my sister pointed out a pattern concerning the way I typically responded to a frustration — it was a game-changer for me.) Because you notice a pattern, you should mention it: Stick with describing her behavior, not her feelings.
You two should talk about the way you communicate, and you should both make changes, in order to shift your dynamic. A couples counselor could definitely help.
Q. I have a friend who very recently exited a toxic relationship. Recently, she told me that she’s “talking” with the same person.
I’m not sure this is healthy for her, but I don’t know how to approach the topic. Is it even my place to question her? I don’t know what to do.
A. As a friend, you can truthfully reflect back some of the things you witnessed during her relationship: “This person wasn’t nice to you. You didn’t seem to feel good about yourself. I worried about you when you were together.”
Regardless of how she responds or reacts, I hope you will hang in there with her. If she falls into this relationship again, she will need your friendship.
Q. “Upset” wrote to you about her parents’ risky choices during the pandemic. They lived 3,000 miles away and seemed to be going out and meeting with friends, and she was extremely worried about them.
I stayed away from my parents for the first three months of COVID-19, and so did my sister. My sister left our parents’ essential needs at their front door and then phoned them to let them know. Finally, my dad phoned me and said: “Come on over. Your mother and I would rather die of COVID-19 than of loneliness.”
At ages 91 and 87, I believe they have earned their right to choose. What do you think?
A. I completely agree with you — and them. There are ways to mitigate the risk,
to them and to you, and I hope you will all choose to be together, while maintaining your togetherness as safely as possible.
Amy Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.