Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior
Special to The Washington Post

Q: My mother is in her 70s and thinks that the world should stop for her birthday. Her demands have gotten more and more ridiculous the past few years, with her guilt-tripping me and my sister if we don’t come to town for the actual day itself (we live a four-hour plane flight from her). It does not matter that we have jobs and lives and, in my sister’s case, a pregnancy. But my sister says we should just indulge her because she won’t be around forever. But this makes me look bad if I say no. (It wouldn’t be the first time I was the “bad” daughter.) Please give me a reality check here.

A: I could talk about boundary-setting, owning your “no” and taking care of yourself and your own needs even if someone else chooses to view you in a negative way for it. And I’ve certainly seen the Birthdays Gone Wild trend get crazy at times. But I can’t shake the nagging feeling like I’m not sure what’s actually unreasonable here. Yes, demanding your plane-flight-necessitating presence on a certain weekday is potentially selfish or domineering, but I don’t hear you saying your mom is that way in general. And we’re talking about once a year. I feel like I’m betraying you here, but a part of me is with your sister. Could it be worth exploring this as a one-off every year, with certain other visits sacrificed or adjusted since your mom prioritizes this one?

Q: I feel like my wife wants me to be someone I’m not. She compares me to her friends’ husbands, in a subtle way but constantly. She is prone to insecurity about our finances, our house and our vacations, and I feel that it has gotten worse through the years now that we have a child. Her constant dissatisfaction makes me not want to have another child, because I feel there will be even more for her to be unhappy about. I have tried to get her to see a therapist but she says there is no time, and once again complains about how we don’t have enough money for it.

A: It’s quite possible that your wife is suffering from depression or anxiety (or both); her negativity and upset flashes that potential in big neon lights. And it could have a hormonal/postpartum contribution as well, though you don’t say how old your child is. But even if she doesn’t want to address these issues for herself, she has to understand that they are affecting your marriage and likely your child. So your goal should be to convey that to her in a way that is empathetic and supportive — not that she is being a bad parent or wife, but rather that she deserves to feel better. Make it clear that the time and financial commitment of therapy is worth it to you. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to start with a couples therapist to help her see the significance of this. And it would show that you are willing to walk the walk as well.

Q. I have pretty much decided to break up with my boyfriend. We have been planning a big trip for many months — it is tied to a friend’s wedding — and I want to wait until after the trip to do it. Not just because I still want to take the trip, but also because I don’t want to spend the wedding weekend having to rehash to everyone that we are broken up, and explain why we are not together. I know it sounds bad, but is it really that bad?

A: I don’t want to overgeneralize, but when people write in to an advice column wanting to know if something’s “really that bad,” it is sometimes a Hail Mary, looking for an out when they already know the answer. Sorry. But could you really justify pretending to have feelings you don’t, and stringing along a partner — all because it will save you a few sentences of explanation while eating spring rolls at a cocktail hour? Why would chitchat with these acquaintances be a higher priority than authenticity, consideration and the emotional well-being of your partner? Now, it’d be different if you were just looking to procrastinate on a difficult “Where are we?” conversation until after you were done with an upcoming, highly public trip together. But you have “pretty much decided” to break up. Would living a lie really be the right choice?

Q. My father recently passed away after having a lot of health problems for many years. I am sad, but apparently not sad enough, according to my sister. She seems to think I am being insensitive by trying to keep going with my life, still making work goals and taking vacations and pretty much just living. My sister has always been prone to being overly dramatic, but this is a league of its own — it is like I am not allowed to have a conversation if I don’t break down in tears. This is driving a wedge between us and it is like I’m not a good enough daughter anymore. It’s made this grief process even worse.

A: I am sorry. Everyone has to grieve in their own way — but when that way involves telling others they’re doing it wrong, then it is reasonable to object. Let’s give your sister the benefit of the doubt and assume she has no desire to hurt you through disapproval or manipulation. Perhaps the intensity of her own emotions is overwhelming to her, and she feels threatened that your reaction is not the same, and feels that that somehow makes her own reaction wrong. So she lobs the accusation back at you. You could start there — with validating her feelings and explaining that the courtesy of doing so should be a two-way street. Like: “Sarah, I understand that you are going through a lot of sadness now. I am too, but we may process that in different ways, and I want that to be OK. How can we be more accepting of each other’s process here, so that we can both feel supported? I don’t want our relationship to get hurt over this.”

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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