His future feelings are his to manage

Dear Carolyn:

Do you think maybe the boyfriend in your column from earlier this month (http://bit.ly/OtherImprovement) genuinely does care about her and just wants to see her have healthy relationships with her family, possibly for her own good?

My husband is not close with either of his parents. They had him in high school, split when he was 2, and both started new families, kind of leaving him behind. His mother is a habitual liar and manipulator, and his father cares more about his affluent lifestyle. I get it — there is not a strong emotional attachment there, nor does my husband desire one.

I grew up with a tight-knit family. To prove a point, my parents weren’t perfect, either. My father is a functioning alcoholic, and my mother is a passive-aggressive woman who sets unrealistic expectations.

I maintain a relationship with my parents because I realize one day, they will no longer be here. Even though they screwed up a lot throughout my childhood, they did the best they could for me.

My point is, I pressure my husband to “attempt” to have a relationship with them by saying, “Hey, maybe you should call your mom and see how she’s doing,” to no avail.

I do NOT do this because of a “Well, if I can have a healthy relationship with my parents then you should too” mentality — I do it because I love him and I want what is best for him. When they’re gone, I don’t want him to regret not trying harder.

Just because I want what is best for him doesn’t mean I know what is best for him, but it comes solely from a good place, which is a point I think you overlooked.

— Frustrated Optimist

You’re saying your optimism trumps his agency in deciding what he will and won’t regret, no matter how you frost it.

You are in fact deciding for him that a relationship with his parents is best for him, because that’s the standard by which you live.

Have you considered that when his parents are gone, his biggest regret will be that he didn’t ask you to drop the parent subject already, once and for all, 20 years ago?

This isn’t just about relationships with one’s parents. It’s more about the extent to which you can know another person’s mind and heart.

Everything in your letter is about knowing your own, and you’re acting on that as if it’s the same as knowing his. It’s not. Nothing in your account says he’s worried about his choice; your pressure emerges from your fear of regrets.

Discussing your concerns is a loving gesture, yes, once — renewable after several years, maybe — but his future feelings remain his to manage throughout.

Your ongoing pressure is unfair to him in principle, but also makes no practical sense when it’s so easy to step out of your certainty and let him take over. “I pester you about calling your parents because I’d want that if I were you. But I should have asked years ago — does it bother you? Would you rather I give it a rest?” If he says he appreciates the reminders, nag with impunity — and, even better, permission.

As “good places” go, humility and respect are about as good as they get.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group


Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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