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ASK AMY

Cottage deep clean uncovers relationship mess


Q. I have been with my partner for six years. We are both 30. We live together and own a small cottage together outside of the city.

His parents are very kind people, but they don’t seem to want to allow my partner to grow up and be independent.

The most recent, and so far most aggravating aspect of this is that his parents were supposed to stay at our cottage over a long weekend. Instead of relaxing and enjoying themselves as they promised, they secretly went just to do a deep clean, started little projects around the house, and fixed up minor things, which we were preparing to do ourselves.

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I felt guilty for the work they did, in addition to feeling like our place wasn’t sufficiently clean for them.

This may seem like a dream to others, but to me it is just another way which I feel my partner (who is the youngest of three) has shirked his responsibilities and failed to grow up!

I am the oldest of three, and I’ve always fixed things on my own.

Currently, we have a leaking faucet. Our own plumber said that we could do this on our own pretty easily. I would like us to work together to fix it, but he just wants to call up his parents to have them come and take care of it.

How can I approach this situation (and future projects) without sounding selfish and ungrateful for their kind efforts to help?

I’ve grown up faster than my partner has.

INDEPENDENT

A. For many people, doing little jobs around a cottage is as restful and relaxed as they can handle.

However, while some people might interpret family members “deep cleaning” their home as a welcome gift, you don’t like it (I wouldn’t, either).

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You seem to see this as an indictment of your partner and his parents; I see this as a boundary issue which you, as an independent person and homeowner, can address.

You could say to them, “Wow, you really did a deep clean when you stayed at the house. I honestly wish you hadn’t. Also, I know it might be frustrating for you to see these little things around the house that need to be fixed, but we want to fix them on our own.”

If you believe that fixing a leaky faucet on your own is a sign of adulthood, then fix it. There are plenty of YouTube videos available to demonstrate basic home repair (or you could ask your guy’s mom to show you). It is a one-person job, so get started.

In many families, “acts of service” are how family members express their love. Letting these people be useful at things they are obviously good at might be a kindness to them. But you get to set the boundaries.


Q. I’m sure you are getting a lot of mail about attending weddings in the time of COVID.

Here’s my dilemma: My niece is getting married in May 2021 in another state. My husband and I are not sure that it will be safe for us to travel across the country to attend her wedding. My sister-in-law keeps talking about it as if it is a given that we’ll be there. What should we tell her?

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WORRIED ABOUT WEDDING

A. You should tell your sister-in-law that you are crossing your fingers that you will be able to travel safely to this wedding, but that so far, you just don’t know.

Ask her to be frank with you about the deadline for making your decision, and promise to let her know before that date.

The pandemic has forced most families to recalibrate their plans. One thing I hope we have all learned is that each person needs to be responsible for their own safety, comfort, and health, regardless of the pressure they may feel to override their own judgment for the sake of appearances.


Q. “Heartbroken” relayed his pain when his long-time partner stayed with him through his battle with cancer but left him after he recovered.

For years, I ran a support network for brain tumor patients at a medical center in Cleveland and was amazed at how many couples broke up when one was diagnosed.

Your answer was correct, compassionate, and wise. Heartbroken will do better with someone else, but will not understand that until later.

SUPPORTIVE

A. True understanding most often appears in the rearview mirror.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.