Dear LetterBalm: My wife and my daughter have never gotten along. It began when she was a teenager (she’s now in her thirties) and has simmered for years. They just rub each other the wrong way. In fairness, my daughter is on her own with a good career. But she sees red when my wife comes out with overly critical zingers about her friends, her job, her apartment, her hair and clothes, just about anything. I try to placate both of them, but neither listens to me. I can’t stand it anymore. Any help?
– Family Referee
You need to have separate, serious discussions with each of them. Suggest family counseling to help them relate to each other more effectively. Tell your daughter and your wife that their difficult relationship means you must spent time individually with them – a less than desirable family dynamic. Ms. L.B. says don’t hold back: Tell each of them you’re disappointed with the situation and you are bowing out as family umpire:
Candace, you’re a grown woman out on your own. You may not believe this, but your mother is as proud of you as I am and she loves you as I do. She tends to be nitpicky, and it’s up to you to learn how to handle her. I think you and your mom would benefit from family counseling to get to the root of your mutual difficulties and learn to deal with each other better. I’ll spend time with you without your mom – this is far from a good solution, and I’m disappointed in both of you. But I refuse to get in the middle anymore. And, I won’t tell tales about you to your mom and vice versa. It’s up to you.
Honey, you need to develop a better relationship with Candace. She loves you and looks up to you, but your constant criticism beats her down and she overreacts. She’s on her own and you need to respect that. I think you and she should consider family counseling to learn how to deal with each other. I’m disappointed in both of you because it means that I have to spend time with each of you individually – we can’t even get together as a family. I’m not going to get in the middle anymore, and I refuse to tell tales about you to Candace and vice versa. It’s up to you. Are you willing to try?
Dear LetterBalm: My new boyfriend is wonderful in every way except one. He persists in chauvinistic attitudes that come out in exaggerated politeness and courtesy. He insists on opening all doors, pulling out a seat for me every time, letting me always go first, walking on the outside when we’re together on the street, taking all the grocery bags – you get the idea. I don’t mind common courtesy. In fact, it’s quite nice. But he makes a fetish out of all this and gets annoyed when I want to do things for myself. We’ve had arguments in public about this.
–Not a Delicate Flower
Your “wonderful in every way except one” boyfriend may have other failings that will come to light as the months go by. Male chauvinism has been out of favor for decades. Smart men and woman, as you say, let common courtesy dictate their interactions – whoever gets to the door first opens it, grocery bags are carried most conveniently, seats are pulled out by either party depending on space and timing. Chauvinism is excessive, and Ms. L.B. believes your man may well exhibit old-fashioned attitudes about what women “should” do in life and their “proper” roles. He may have pre-conceived notions derived from his family background or traditional sources. You need to be alert to these controlling behaviors that may come to light. Meanwhile, take him aside privately and see if this helps:
Arthur, I appreciate that you act like a gentlemen towards me. But sometimes you cross the line into excessive politeness that doesn’t help. I appreciate your care and concern, but when you act like a chauvinist you make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t like it that we’ve had words in public about your actions and my embarrassment. This is the twenty-first century – I’m a capable woman on her own. I don’t want to be treated like a fragile flower. I hope you can understand this. What are your thoughts?
Dear LetterBalm: Since grammar school, my two friends and I have been very close. Even though we went to different colleges, we stayed together. The three of us returned to our hometown to live and work. My friends recently had a colossal battle over a serious matter and they aren’t speaking to each other. It’s so bad that I don’t think the rift will ever heal. I don’t see them being friends again. I’m caught in the middle. Each one wants me to take his side and hang out with him exclusively. I don’t want to lose either friend. What can I say to keep them as friends?
–In the Middle
We’ve all been there – we often can’t control people we love going out of our lives. You and a girlfriend break up, and you miss her parents more; a close relative marries and relocates out of town for good; a boss-mentor moves cross-country to take another job. Ms. L.B. gently advises you to acknowledge that your Three Musketeers probably are no more. You need to understand the friendship dynamic has fundamentally changed because you’ll have to hang out with each friend separately. There are two obvious suggestions post-breakup: Don’t take sides, and don’t avoid being honest with them because you want to spare their feelings. Tell this to each:
Don’t expect me to choose between you two. Both of you are my friends. I’ll try my best to share my time fairly with each of you because I care about you equally. I’m telling you now that I won’t take sides, I won’t listen to criticism and I won’t avoid being honest with you because I want to spare your feelings. This is a painful and bad situation for all of us – twenty years of friendship gone – and I don’t see it getting better. It’s really up to you two as to where it goes from here.