Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior

Special to The Washington Post

Q: My husband has little patience for our toddler’s questions. Typical toddler stuff, lots of “whys,” and questions without answers. I know they can get annoying after a while —I spend even more time with our son than he does — but I also think it is good that he asks them and I don’t want him to feel shut down. My husband treats them as a nuisance, gives the briefest explanations that are rarely helpful and seems actively irritated. He is a good dad overall but I don’t think he is handling this stage well. He doesn’t seem receptive to doing anything differently, though.

A: So if he’s not receptive, does he say why? Too much effort? Doesn’t see the value in it? Can’t control his irritated impulses in the moment? My guess is he either doesn’t see how he is coming across, or doesn’t understand why it’s a problem. Yes, endless toddler questions can veer a little too close to the seventh circle of hell, and no, no parent has to handle them perfectly patiently all the time. At some point, they do need to be cut off. But there should generally be a way of cutting them off that is nonetheless helpful and respectful, and doesn’t turn natural curiosity and the desire to learn into high crimes. Talk to your husband further, saying that it’s something important to you that you want to think through with him. You can arm yourself with podcasts, articles or even a parenting class about specific techniques for how to manage this better — and the more you both can identify where his resistance is coming from, the better you can target it.

Q: My cousin has been my best friend since childhood. We are very close in age and have more similar personalities than my sister and I do. I am getting married and want to choose my cousin as my maid of honor, but I am getting pushback from my parents and friends that it should be my sister. I don’t think my sister would mind — she’ll be a bridesmaid and she chose her college bestie as her maid of honor — but I also don’t think she would tell me if she were hurt. My mother says it is in poor taste to overlook a sister for a cousin.

A: There are plenty of opportunities for poor taste at weddings, but choosing a longtime best friend and family member as your maid of honor — and doing it in a way that is respectful and loving to everybody else — is not one of them. Your mother may have specific beliefs or worries about appearances, but she’s not the bride. (And where was the kerfuffle when Sis didn’t choose you for her own wedding?) This stuff can be tricky, sure, but in the end it’s pretty straightforward. Find a private, non-ambush way to tell your sister that she’ll be a bridesmaid and that Cousin will be the maid of honor, and that you look so forward to having them both there on your big day.

Q: Where should a partner fall on the priority list if it is a committed, serious relationship? Apparently my partner and I have differences here. She is first to me. I feel like I am No. 4 to her — behind job, school, family and friends. Maybe even behind hobbies. Before I initiate a conversation about this, I could use feedback about what is realistic for me to aim for.

A: But (last I checked!), I am not in this relationship. So, my own notions (“Of course you should each be No. 1 to each other!” “And you should serve blue cheese-filled olives with every meal!”) are personal ones that shouldn’t necessarily dictate what is right for your own relationship. But what I can say is that there should be a match that feels right. If you are No. 4+, then that needs to be OK with you. And if there is too big a discrepancy between your ranking of her and her ranking of you, and it goes on too long, there is bound to be resentment, since reciprocity is pretty important to feeling content within a coupling.

So, figure out for yourself the exact ways you feel less-than in her eyes. Time spent? Emotional energy? Amount of nurturing? Enthusiasm? Passion? And clarify how it affects you. Then think about what you could see yourself settling for and being OK with —versus not. Finally, open yourself up to being vulnerable in conversation about it — not accusing or character-assassinating, but really allowing yourself to be honest and specific about what you feel you need. Ultimately, that’s what a good matching process entails: being able to understand each other’s needs, and assess realistically whether you each are able to meet them.

Q: My mother-in-law acts like she is trying to replace my own mother, who passed away two years ago. She occasionally makes comments about how she is Mom to me and my husband both now, and how she is honored to carry on my mom’s legacy. I know she means well but it rubs me the wrong way. We’ve never really clicked and although my mother wasn’t perfect, she was the only mom I’ll ever have. I’m not looking for another.

A: Ouch — I am sorry. The first step, as I see it, is Spouse as Mediator. As both her son and your husband, he can tackle the nuances of this particularly well, in a sensitive, private conversation. He should let her know that of course she is very special to you, and that you appreciate that her heart is in the right place. But she needs to understand that it really stings a grieving child to reduce a mom’s absence to a box that can be checked off by someone else. She may have good intentions, but she is bumbling enough in her follow-through that she is probably unaware of the damage she is doing — so have him tell her. If that fails, you’ll need a gentle but firm response in the moment: “Well, my mom will always be my mother, but I’m glad I have you as a mother-in-law.”

Andrea Bonior, a Washington, D.C.-area clinical psychologist, writes a weekly relationships advice column in The Washington Post’s Express daily tabloid and is author of “The Friendship Fix.”


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