Dear Amy: My wife and I have a strained relationship with my parents, who live out of state.
They stay with us and our two young children about twice a year.
Some of their visits have been rocky (two years ago they visited us while having active cases of Covid, and didn’t tell us in advance that they were ill).
My mother and I went through therapy to work on our relationship, and now I set boundaries and ask that these boundaries be respected.
We offered to host my parents for five days on their most recent visit, as any more time with them would be hard on us.
After the visit, which went well, my mom asked why they were allowed to stay for only five days. She said they would have liked to stay longer.
How should I respond?
— Boundary-building Bob
Dear Bob: I appreciate your question, because your experience highlights a typical trajectory with a chronic boundary-bouncer.
You identified this problem and took it to a therapist (a great choice!), and your mother joined you there (a great choice on her part).
You two worked things out, and you put your therapy into practice. You presented your boundary with clarity, and this resulted in a good visit with your folks.
And then your mother experienced a bit of a backslide, resorting to familiar behaviors as a way to bounce over your boundary. Her weapons of choice are subtle manipulations, perhaps also throwing in a bit of sadness in order to press her case.
This is her way to get her needs met, and because it has worked in the past, she has reason to believe it will work now.
She has opened the door for a refresher course in abiding with reasonable boundaries.
You could say, “Your visit went really well for all of us, and I’m crediting our therapy for helping both of us to create and respect boundaries. Thank you for that, Mom.”
I have not suggested diving into an extended conversation about her wants or needs, because, like a good door-to-door salesperson, once she gets her foot in the door, she will wedge it open.
This is your house, your family, and your life. I hope you will continue to take good care of yourself and your family by respectfully maintaining your boundaries. Ultimately this will result in a better relationship with your folks, building more positive experiences, which may lead to expanded boundaries.
Dear Amy: Many years ago, my college roommate did something that hurt my feelings very much. Instead of saying something to him I, in turn, did something to hurt him as well (although he was never aware it was me).
We were both young and foolish but I admit I caused him a far greater hurt.
These were not physical, financial or social hurts, but emotional.
Time passed and we went our separate ways.
Years later we discovered that we had both retired and settled in the same city. A deep and loving friendship materialized over time as we rekindled old memories and friends.
I agonized over if and how I should confess to what I’d done.
I never knew how to bring it up, and also feared it might damage our friendship. I also worried that it would hurt him again knowing that I was the person who hurt him.
A few months ago, he passed away after a long illness. It pains me that I never cleaned the slate between us.
It haunts me daily. It appears I have taken on the pain I once caused him so long ago.
How can I move past this, now that he is no longer here to forgive me?
— Guilt Ridden
Dear Ridden: Your assumption that you need to confess in order to be forgiven might be selling your friend short. You could honor this good man’s life by remembering him as someone who would have quickly granted you forgiveness for that long-ago episode.
Your rumination and focus on your own behavior detracts from honoring this long friendship.
A therapist could help you to work this through.
Dear Amy: Regarding “Not Laughing Anymore,” there are lots of things that will derail a marriage, (dishonesty, anger issues, cheating), but contempt would seem to be an absolute killer.
If one partner holds the other in contempt, I don’t know how one could recover from that.
— Faithful Reader
Dear Reader: I believe recovery is possible, but only if the behavior changes, sincere apologies are proffered, and forgiveness is extended.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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