#467: How do I help my partner communicate better with his family?

Dear Cap’n,

I don’t know how best to help my DH. This message follows us having a long, slightly drunk but happy and loving chat about his life.

DH’s family history is complicated. His upbringing includes some things which, when we talk about them, he agrees were “probably abuse”, but explains that he’s somewhat normalised what happened to him, and tends to say it totally matter-of-factly, as though this were just how things are. His feelings – or lack of – are complicated by guilt. DH was born a sickly child, with complex medical needs that put a lot of strain on the family. His parents divorced partly due to the stress of it all. He did not cope well with his deformities or medical needs and his childhood was a mixture of being a bullying victim, being a bully, having serious anger issues and acting out. I’m sometimes amazed by the wonderful, loving, mentally balanced person he’s become without therapy or help.

DH doesn’t seem to know what sort of relationship he wants with his parents. He is amicable with them, visits his mother about once a month, enjoys talking to his father… but he won’t initiate contact, and he gets anxious if, for example, his mum tries to ask him to visit on short notice. At the same time, he’s just naturally bad at maintaining relationships and has asked me to help him keep in better contact with his gran and siblings. He’s never confronted either parent and even apologised to his father recently for being a “difficult child”.

At the same time, the abuse has only come out over a long time in small parts. and by the time I started to get the picture, we’d been together years and had started to build closer relationships with his parents. His mum in particular, who is always very kind and concerned and helpful, and I don’t know how to feel about her, or the FIL, or any of it. To be fair, DH doesn’t isn’t certain how he feels. He’s given me permission to ask his big sis for more info on their childhood, because his memory can cause him problems. She lives abroad though, and I’d feel weird asking by email.

Because of his relationship and memory difficulties, it’s my job to help him maintain contact with loved ones. But I don’t know how to do this where his parents are concerned. I don’t want to pressure him to get closer than he feels comfortable, but I also don’t want to be the woman that drives him from his family into hers, as his father’s second wife has started doing with him.

I’d love some advice please!

This statement: “Because of his relationship and memory difficulties, it’s my job to help him maintain contact with loved ones.” from your letter set off my Yikes-o-meter. Yikes!

Here is my advice:

Do not volunteer to be the carrier for his communication and relationship with his family, or to sort out these memories. Do not email his sister. It is only “your job” if you choose it, and you get to choose to not make it your job.

You can be a sounding board.

You can be a listening ear.

You should not be an ambassador or a manager. And you don’t have to feel any particular thing. HE doesn’t have to feel any particular thing.

Even in much less extreme situations (history of abuse, memory problems, disability) men sometimes expect that women will do the emotional work of the relationship, up to and including remembering everyone in HIS family’s birthday and buying presents/sending cards/keeping in touch. I think this sets a bad precedent, where his messed up family issues are now something that are the present stuff of your relationship. I’m sure he feels great after this chat you guys had; he just transferred all responsibility for sorting out his messy past over to you and now you’re writing me for advice on how to do it when really HE could write in for advice (not necessarily here, but somewhere) on how to do it.

This is HIS family.

This is HIS history.

This is HIS thing to solve.

I think it is admirable that you want to help your husband, and admirable that he wants to get back in touch with people and start sorting things out. And I think there is no one perfect way that he has to feel about a history of abuse. It is possible for people to have very dysfunctional relationships as children that grow into much more mellow relationships as people age, get power and autonomy, and create a series of positive interactions to build on.

But it is on HIM to contact his sister, sort out his memories, and deal with them (with the help of a professional, if necessary), and keep in better touch with his gran and his siblings. “Terrible at maintaining relationships” isn’t an actual condition, it’s a series of choices that have turned into a habit.

The best way to get in touch with people you haven’t talked to in a while is to send a greeting. People love getting mail that isn’t bills, so maybe write a postcard. “Dear _____, I hope you are well. I read/saw/ate/experienced this thing recently that made me think of you and remember the time that we _________. (Wife) and I are doing well, here is a thing that is new with me. Have a happy (upcoming holiday, season of the year), Love, Husband.” Keep it light, and remember, if communication has really lapsed, the other people don’t know what to say or how to begin either, and will be grateful for you breaking the ice. Make the effort, say something brief and kind, and then keep sending responses when they respond back. It is honestly that simple: If you want to, you will do it. If you don’t want to, then don’t do it, but don’t expect your partner to magically make it happen for you. Either admit that you don’t want to do it and make peace with that, or work on the “I want to want to, I just haven’t figured it out yet” stuff with a therapist.

You can help by dropping stuff in the mail, or picking up postcards, or hunting down addresses, or even helping him come up with things to say, but you shouldn’t manage the entire process.

The problem of making an adult relationship with imperfect relatives is not unique to this guy, it’s something we all have to figure out for ourselves.

My advice is that your mantra becomes “I am always here to listen, and I will support any decision you make, but I am not comfortable (emailing your sister, sorting out your past, taking the lead on how you interact with your family).”

I’m sure the community will have alternate perspectives to my initial “AW HELL NAW” reaction, I hope it will be helpful.

129 thoughts on “#467: How do I help my partner communicate better with his family?

  1. “DH doesn’t seem to know what sort of relationship he wants with his parents.”

    How on earth are you supposed to figure this out for him? Only he can do that.

  2. I think it’s possible that more stuff will come out over time. Now an adult his mind can get a fresh look at things he previously thought was normal and healthy. Or it’ll never happen, only time will tell. It makes me sad to hear that he apologised for being a difficult child. You and I can see that he shouldn’t have to do that! But he isn’t there yet.

    Should he start wanting to deal with his feelings and realise that he was abused, point him to therapy. It sounds like he’d benefit from having a neutral sounding board. As much as you love him and want to help, you have your own feelings about his family and therefore are not neutral. That doesn’t mean you can’t be there for him in other ways, like making him a sandwich of love.

  3. I had the same reaction – sucked my teeth and thought that “difficulty with relationships” should go into the DSM – and then everyone ever will have a mental illness.

    I don’t want to trivialize the fact that the social stuff *is* harder for some than others, at all, but I wanted to second the cringing.

    1. Fact: Social stuff is harder for some people than others.
      Also Fact: Just because something is difficult for you does not mean you get to abdicate all responsibility for that thing to someone else. You either work harder at that (and apparently this man can, given that he and his spouse seem to have a working relationship), or you don’t, and you remain not good at doing that thing.

  4. Hi Cap’n!

    I wanted to thank you for replying so quickly (wow!). Just wanted to clarify – we’ve had an amicable, ongoing relationship with all DH’s family the entire time we’ve been together, and see the MIL about once a month and FIL less often only because he lives far away.

    But thank you so much for the advice. I do want to help, but I understand where you’re coming from that I don’t HAVE to shoulder this responsibility. I would like to, though. I just can’t work out how best to balance the complex issues with my utter confusion about how I should feel about his parents.

    1. So when YOU work out how YOU feel about his parents that will dictate the relationship that HE has with them? I honestly think it should be his feelings that dictate this and if he doesn’t know what those feelings are then let him explore them until he decides. You don’t mention if there are any problems happening currently with them.

      Perhaps we are misunderstanding. How much does he want you to control his relationship with his parents? Does he want you to pick the dates you meet up or decide what he talks to them about? How far does this go?

    2. I think if you wish to take up this task, it will be better to look at it from a business perspective than a relationship one. You are now his social Agent.

      As his agent, it is up to you to decide with him what tasks you are being ‘paid’ to do. You are his coordinator, and his proxy, but you are not him. What he does during the business(social) meeting you set up is entirely on him. His relationship with his family is his own, you just schedule the play dates.

      So sit down, make a list, and stick to it.

      An example would be
      * “I will screen e-mails for you, read them, type up a reply, and give it to you to ‘sign’ and send.”
      * “I will coordinate one meeting per month with your mother for lunch/movies/dinner/sitting in the park/skydiving.”
      *I will keep a calendar with important dates/holidays and a stack of appropriate cards, remind you to sign them, and send them”

      *”I will NOT meet with your mother/father and act as therapist to discuss how she/he royally f-ed you up.”
      *”I will NOT make excuses for you/lie for you.”
      *”I will NOT tell you what to say/how to feel.”

      He’s an adult. People with Problems get enough infantilizing from friends/family, don’t add to it.

      1. You know what, while the advice on how to conceive of this is sound, even that very specific list has my feminist hackles up. LADIES DO NOT HAVE TO SEND ALL THE BIRTHDAY CARDS, PEOPLE. Maybe DON’T be the social agent.

        1. I know, but I was giving them respect for wanting to do it and how to set boundaries for it. It feels like they asked “What’s the best brand of hair dye?” and got told “You’re giving in to social pressure that you need to change yourself to be worthwhile!”

          They certainly don’t have to send the cards, or dye their hair, and there are pros and cons for each, but if they still decide to go ahead and do it? That’s their choice.

          1. I know, I know, no good way to unpack all the compromises, and it’s better to acknowledge it as a job and give it a structure.

            Still, being a personal assistant/social secretary is SOMEBODY’S ACTUAL PAID JOB, not something you automatically sign up for and should be expected to carry out because: heterosexual love.

          2. Automatically, no, of course not. But I’m pretty sure somebody who refused to do anything for a partner that that partner could possibly pay a third party to do instead would end up with no partners at all.

        2. OMG, this so much. I have basically decided that I am not going to manage all the events for both sides of the family. I know my parents’ birthdays, and grandparents’, and siblings. If my husband cannot or will not buy and send gifts/cards for his family, I will not feel guilty about it. If they choose to stop sending stuff to us, that’s a consequence of him not keeping track of his things, not of me failing in my womanly duties. I do tend to be the gift police around Christmas, but it falls in the category of “have you bought stuff yet” and not “what do I still need to do”.

        3. Preach, Cap’n, preach. Also, and not that this is the main issue here, but if I found out an email/letter I got from my brother was actually written by his partner that would not make me feel good *at all*.

      2. “I will keep a calendar with important dates/holidays and a stack of appropriate cards, remind you to sign them, and send them”
        He’s an adult. People with Problems get enough infantilizing from friends/family, don’t add to it.

        I don’t see how this isn’t infantilizing behavior. He’s an adult, he can buy a greeting card. Or use a service (JackCards is offline right now, but there’s ModernPaperGoods.com and many others, you get the idea).

        1. It’s not if it’s a negotiated and agreed-on action.

          If I ask my guy to go to the store with a grocery list and he brings home groceries for me, is that infantilizing me?

          If he wants her to do X task, and she wants to do X task, and they’re both happy with the situation, then does it really matter if X is Woman’s Work, or Man’s Work, or Gender Neutral?

          To me, the negotiating and agreeing and consent is the most important part.

          1. I was following up on your point about people shouldn’t infantilize people with problems; I said it sounded infantilizing to me to have one person do all of the adult things like keep the calendar, buy the cards, remind him to sign them, send them, etc. and I was trying to be helpful by pointing out that there are services this adult person could use to be responsible for family communication, and keep it from being the partner’s job.

            I didn’t say anything about it being Gendered Work of any kind – just that there were options other than having the partner do it.

        2. He is an adult, but he has memory problems, which might be related to his disabilities. In such a case, I don’t think it’s infantilizing for his partner to remind him when to send cards or even buy the cards for him.

          It would be wrong to expect *all* women to do that for their male partners. But in this particular case, it might just be part of the give-and-take of the relationship.

          1. Yup – the memory problems change the dynamic here. It’s not just about gender in this case.

      3. I wanted to add to mine, that making sure you have a ‘payment’ plan in place is important.

        Here’s my own agent work. We’re artists and attend shows. We came up with a list of all the work that needs doing, and which tasks we like and which we don’t, and what works well from an functional standpoint.

        I’m the paperwork coordinator. I talk to the hotel, fill out applications, e-mail, and do all the booking. He’s the physical organizer, it’s his job that all the Stuff gets packed and gets there, the displays are built/repaired, and everything is easily sorted and organized. And they’re both tasks that just don’t work well with us both trying to do them. I’d end up running around tearing the place apart looking for the banner, when he packed it days ago, and he’d be frantically calling overflow hotels when I booked the main one as soon as the dates were announced.

        It doesn’t have to be a rigid 50/50 bean counting, because that’s counterproductive, but make sure your needs are being met because doing 99/1 all day every day with no end in sight will run you down.

        Oh, and one thing that helped me a great deal. Make sure you have a clear idea of “Can’t” and “Don’t want to.” Because “I don’t want to” is negotiable and just as valid for both of you. Sometimes people need a nudge to be reminded that, hey, nobody really wants to, but it has to be done.

        Finally, because it’s important, saying it twice. His relationship with his parents is his. It’s his emotions, and their emotions, and as a partner you can do a lot for another person, but you can’t feel their emotions for them! If he gets angry at them, he gets angry at them, if he forgives them he forgives them, and trying to manipulate the situation, even with the best of intentions, is unlikely to be good in the long run.

    3. I don’t think you need to feel any “correct” way about his parents.

      Your feelings might be “They seem so nice, I find x story hard to reconcile with the adult relationship that exists.”

      They might be “Knowing what I know makes me feel kind of sick when I’m around them.”

      Or any infinite variation and combination in between. Ambivalence: It’s a thing.

      Your husband may not be the correct audience for you to process your feelings about his parents with, since he is still processing and determining what his feelings are. What is important is a) believing him when he tells you stuff b) keeping his confidences and c) following his lead on what you should do, namely when and if you socialize with them. Would he prefer not to have them visit this year? Would he prefer to keep contact minimal? Would he prefer to keep contact the same and process feelings/memories privately? You can support him in any decision he wants to make.

      This is a process, not a project that has a completion date of “Adult Relationship With Parents: Solved Like A Rubik’s Cube! Now I can move on to weightier matters.”

      You seem pretty proud and astonished that he’s become who he is without therapy. But everything about your letter says “It’s therapy time for husband now.”

      1. Oh god thank you so much for this. Reminder to self: There is no end game scenario here. No finish line.

    4. “I do want to help, but I understand where you’re coming from that I don’t HAVE to shoulder this responsibility. I would like to, though.”

      It’s certainly a point in your partner’s favor that he hasn’t explicitly asked for your help, but regardless I strongly recommend you resist the urge to actively help manage his relationship with his family. It’s not good for you, him, or the health of your relationship.

      My relationship shares a lot of similarities with yours. My partner is “bad at” the various logistical aspects of relationship management. He forgets. When we first got really serious (living together and sharing finances) he was in school full time and working part time. He never asked me to take over the various things he is “bad at” and I sincerely believed I was fine with managing our household. I was the organized one, the responsible one, the lucky one because I had grown up in a different socioeconomic class and was already done with college and in the workforce.

      Except a couple of years later, when he was out of school and had the same workload as I did, I was still responsible for all of that logistical stuff. In fact, he had gotten worse at it, and he had (unconsciously) come to expect me to take care of it. We ended up in a dynamic Emily Nagoski refers to as underfunctioning and over functioning (http://www.thedirtynormal.com/2012/07/02/am-i-helping-am-i-helping/)
      The whole thing has snowballed into a shitshow where I feel unappreciated and taken advantage of, and he feels incompetent and constantly criticized. We’re in couples therapy now, and I anticipate a lot of work if (and that’s a big if) we can salvage this.

      1. Yes, this! One thing I wish I’d learned early in life is to not take on “jobs” in a relationship that I didn’t want to have forever. Once your partner comes to expect you to do something it becomes extra hard if you decide you don’t want to do that anymore. Particularly when other people see you in this role and expect it too, and your partner totally lets those skills slide.

        Perhaps one way to deal with this is to say, “I want to help you with this, and I’m willing to do X, Y and Z, but I’d like to revisit that in a year [or whatever length of time] and see if we’re both still happy with it or if we need to change the responsibilities.”

        1. Yes, this!

          I use the term ‘precedent setting’ to refer to this kind of thing – basically any thing that I do or that I let someone else do without comment is, functionally, a set precedent – they and I can both assume that that’s how things are going to go down in that situation in the future, too, so I need to not let that happen with things that cross boundaries or are otherwise obnoxious. A fairly simple comment can stop something from becoming a precedent – even just ‘okay, just this once I’ll let you get away with that, but don’t think it’s going to happen again’ – but once a precedent is set it takes a lot more work to stop that pattern from playing out.

        2. I’ve just spent the last twenty minutes on a ladder scraping flaking paint from a ceiling.

          Thank you for that.

          (I dislike ladders, but I am no longer – as experimentation has proven – phobic about them. My partner has been the person doing this job because a) me & ladders, b) high ceiling, b) partner probably put the paint there in the first place (dear readers: never, ever, ever use ‘one coat paint’, please. Your future self will thank you.)

          So while we are both happy for partner to do the bulk of this job – particularly in the middle of the room/anything involving the top rung of the ladder, a place Where I Shall Not Venture – that’s not justification enough for me to do none of it at all. Shaking & crying at the thought of doing job = reason for someone else to do the job. Don’t wanna: not reason enough.

    5. It’s admirable that you want to help your husband with his social obligations. However, it sounds like his anxiety is what has led to you deciding to take on this task. As someone who has anxiety, I really do not recommend this approach. You will become a crutch for him instead of addressing the real issue. This is so much more than being bad at keeping touch. There is a whole psychological dance that goes on in his head. You cannot navigate a relationship with his parents for him. He needs to decide what tone to set with them. Therapy can help with this. He needs a neutral professional that can help him navigate his feelings towards his family and how he wants to proceed. What you are suggesting will basically put yourself in between him and his family. Every decline of attendance will become “your fault”. You risk him resenting you if you set the tone for a closer relationship than he is comfortable with or being put in the position of always having to set the boundaries. You cannot live his experiences for him, reconcile his feelings from his childhood, or manage his anxiety. I know it seems like handing social correspondence or managing his family is helping him but it’s actually crippling to him. He will remain trapped in these ambiguous feelings and become less able to handle social situations or crisis because he has put that burden on you. It’s not fair to him OR you. Best case scenario he becomes completely dependent on you in this area. Worst case scenario he will end up resenting you and possibly damage the relationship. Encourage him to seek counseling.

      1. This is excellent advice. “Bad at keeping in touch” might apply in a perfectly healthy family situation (is there such a thing?) but in this case it sounds like a euphemism for “maybe not wanting a close relationship but feeling guilty if he doesn’t.” He really needs to sort through those feelings for himself, preferably with someone trained in this kind of thing.

    6. LW,

      I also wanted to mention that you are allowed to have a relationship with these people separate from your husbands’. If you are very invested, for example, in maintaining contact with his sister or grandmother because you enjoy their recipe advice/ hilarious gab sessions, you should feel free to go for it! And if right now you are having some trouble around seeing his parents regularly, it is fine for him to maintain closer contact while you maintain some distance. In my family, my mother is good friends with my dad’s sister and often hangs out with her without my dad. Conversely, my dad doesn’t like to spend much time with one of my mom’s sisters, and she’ll sometimes see that sister without my dad. But both parents are okay with that.

      Based on what you wrote about how your husband, it sounds like he is fighting a war in his head between setting boundaries that will work for him and being the “good son.” And if he’s anything like me, he’s experiencing some serious anxiety around that. He needs to work through that anxiety on his own/ with a mental health professional rather than with you, or he’ll be tied up in a dance of obligation that will now include you as well as his own feelings of guilt and whatever burdens his parents are putting on him. It is kinder for him if you give him the space to figure it out on his own.

      TLDR: The fastest way for your husband to normalize relationships with his parents is to figure it out himself, and you don’t necessarily need to be a 100% united front that sees them equal amounts.

      1. I agree with this except for having too-cordial relationships with people who have hurt him, if he and they have not worked things through, where your having that relationship seems like you’re saying what they did to him was no big deal, or makes him feel like the odd one out and everyone else is chums in denying his reality.

        No, spouses don’t generally get to veto each other’s friends, but when it comes to his family, his needs should take priority over your wants because this stuff is so much more vital and visceral to him.

        1. Yes, when I first met my longtime BF he wanted to meet my family. I’d just tried to break contact the first time but did it for his sake. I didn’t want to seem like the weird girl without family. It was a big clusterfuck emotionally. They acted fine towards him which made him question some of the things I’d said and gave me a big ball of needles in my stomach. Eventually I cut off contact for reeelz not caring about my BF’s opinion and since then he’s unfortunately had several occassions to see the real side of things. That has given him his own anger at their behaviour to deal with. We deal differently with family encounters. I escape asap. He want’s to stay and confront them. He can do that while I’m in therapy or venting to some of my police friends.

          1. Yep, when dealing with a sig other’s family, it’s best to trust their experience happened as they say it did. There are so many underlying nuances in family dynamics an outsider will not pick them up. My grandmother was a mean abusive drunk but she was just a peach to strangers. At the memorial service all these strangers and acquiantences went on and on about how lovely she was. I had nothing positive to say about her. She abandoned her children for weeks at a time, neglected them, beat them, made their adult lives hell. A less offensive example, shortly after my grandparents divorced my grandmother sent a bunch of drunken sailors to the house that her children were living in alone(my grandfather worked off shore and my mom and sister were 14 and 16 at the time) and had them STEAL her kid’s air conditioner. Drunken grown men showing up in the middle of the night, in August, in Florida. Even though I wasn’t present for the worst of it in her early years the legacy she left still lingers.

  5. I had the same reaction, especially since Mr. LW doesn’t know what kind of relationship he wants – so how is LW supposed to contact his family, deal with them, etc. in the way that is best for her husband? She won’t know whether her actions are helpful or not until AFTER she does it, and now the emotional responsibility for “that interaction hurt my emotional state” has been offloaded onto her.

    I doubt Mr. LW is doing this on purpose, but it’s still unfair and selfish.

    1. DINGDINGDING. You don’t want to be caught between your partner and his parents. That is the last thing you want.

  6. I’ve tried exactly twice to be the point person for my husband with his extremely difficult parents. Both times were periods of major crisis for both of us, and I still think our reasons for trying that approach were good ones. That said, I’d never do it again, and neither ended at all well.

    This may not be the case for the LW, but sometimes family will not understand the reasons someone else is trying to help. It’s very difficult to have to say to someone, “Oh, yes, your child doesn’t like it when you do X” because most parents are attached to the idea that they know something about their offspring’s needs (and correspondingly will need some time to adjust to the fact that they have knowledge gaps due to having an adult child). In my experience, that whole adjustment process is even harder for everyone when the potential hurt feelings can be accompanied by a “why is this outsider telling me this/why didn’t he tell me himself?”

    The approach I take now is, “it sounds like you want a script/some help managing this upcoming interaction. Think about what you want out of it and come up with a draft version, I’ll ‘proof’ it, and then we’ll see where we are.” I’m much more comfortable as the editor/sounding board than the actual generator of content. It has not made the difficult family relationships any better, but my marriage is way better, which is the most important thing.

    1. Acting as editor of letters and helping with drafts sounds like a really useful thing. It is also a thing a good therapist (and I agree with everyone saying a therapist is in order) would be able to do. LW, maybe something practical you could do would be to buy cards, envelopes and stamps, find the relevant addresses and put them together? That way, you get to satisfy your desire to help your husband communicate with his family without actually managing the content of the interaction. That’s something I feel strongly is better left to your husband and a mental health professional (who can help him work out what he wants to do far better than you, with your investments in the situation, are able to do).

    2. “It’s very difficult to have to say to someone, “Oh, yes, your child doesn’t like it when you do X” ”

      Yup. This is why I just *won’t* be saying that, even though it might need to be said. Spouse’s family issue are his to deal with (and fortunately we both get that, about our respective families).

      1. Frankly, given the relationship with my parents (and family as an absolute whole), I wouldn’t want my hypothetical partner to feel as if he has aaaaaaany pressure or obligation from me to have a relationship with his family.

  7. I thought your advice was spot-on. The LW’s basic premise – that she has to be the water carrier for his interpersonal relationships because REASONS – really makes me cringe. I did, once during a very finite period of time in which I was hospitalized, ask my boyfriend to run interference between my mother and me, and he did, and it was very helpful, but that’s very different from saying “Okay, YOU manage it, using your psychic powers to divine what I want/need from my family.” I have relationship and memory issues too – boy, do I ever have the World’s Worst Memory – but it’s not appropriate for me to make my significant other my designated social secretary. I’d like to see my boyfriend have closer contact with his family because I like them, and remember to do things like send his sister a danged wedding gift, but if it’s important to him he’ll do it. It’s not my job to do it.

    1. Right? If you have a terrible memory, this is why god gave us cell phone alarms. Setting up a biweekly alert to call your mom or something is not exactly hard, undoable work.

      1. I didn’t have a cell phone for months last year and currently have a very inexpensive prepaid phone…not having a cell phone alarm/alert has easily been one of the worst parts about it.

    2. Yeah. My mom recently had a stroke *while she was having brain surgery* and the aftermath was not pretty. My large, loving family is also very interfering and were not helping any. She asked me to please handle them for her (especially her father who had very vehement opinions on her medical care) so I did – but me managing the family for her for a week was a VERY VERY different situation than someone saying “This stresses me out, so here, you do it indefinitely, and not only will you please do it for me, but I’m not even going to tell you what I want you to achieve.”

      I have no doubt that the LW wants to help her DH with issues that are causing anxiety and confusion and take some of the pressure of dealing with things off of him. That is a lovely and supportive thing to want to do for your partner! But unfortunately, he’s the only one who can untangle how he feels and achieve the relationships he wants. What the LW *can* do is give him that safe space to do that untanging by talking when he wants to, accepting when he doesn’t, and supporting and validating whatever he *does* feel. And if he gets to a point where he knows what he wants to do with his family, by respecting and supporting that, whether it’s “be chill about it and be friendly” or “never see them again” or whatever. Specifics like “can I use you as an excuse to not visit spur of the moment?” would be much easier on both of you than “figure out how I feel and what I should do about it and then do those things for me.”

      1. Oh, man – I hope she’s recovering well. I was having trouble articulating it, but I guess my perspective is that when you’re in a relationship it should be a partnership, and sometimes that means telling your partner “I can’t do X, I need help with X,” because partnerships are about both members of the team using their strengths and capabilities together. So, when I go to dinner with my parents and my significant other I sometimes have to say, hey, I may need your help deflecting my mom or changing the subject when she says X or Y, but that’s a really specific need and it’s something he can do without having to try to read my mind or manage my relationship with her. I think the LW probably has the tendency to swoop in and Fix All The Things, which I guess is admirable, but robs her husband of the chance to learn how to navigate his relationship with his parents in a way that’s healthy and works for him.

        1. I want to zoom in on the key point of what you’re saying: there’s a big difference between “I need help with X” and “Do X for me.” Let’s focus on ways for LW to help Mr. LW in an empowering, capacity-building sort of way.

        2. I think we’re trying to say roughly the same things. 🙂 I get the same Fix All The Things vibe from the LW, but that isn’t really feasible, especially when one of those things is “I haven’t figured out how I feel.” That’s why I think that actual concrete requests (“When my mom does X, can you please step in with Y?” or “I’m not sure how I feel about Z, can we discuss it?”) are much more reasonable all around. It’s still giving support and help and love, while letting the partner having the issue figure how to deal with the issue himself.

          (My original response was bouncing off the idea of the difference between “I’m in charge of handling his relationships because of reasons,” and “While something big is going down, I’ve asked/been asked to handle relationships.”)

          (Also thanks, my mom is indeed doing pretty darned well, all things considered.)

  8. It is often hard to find the line between helping someone, and doing it for them. The problem with doing it for them is that they will miss out on all the great learning and growth that comes along with the stress and anxiety of actually doing things.

    Of course he doesn’t want to, or feel capable of initiating this contact with his family. Hell, I’m close to my family and I have been procrastinating on contacting them for about a week now. Maintaining and managing relationships is work even if you don’t have tons of baggage. So I’m sure the idea of someone else doing that work is great.

    But that wont be him having any kind of relationship with his family, that will be you, having that relationship.

    If your husband decides its too much work to try to maintain relationships with his family, and ends up being closer to your family, that’s his choice and his decision. It’s not that you are a controlling wife pulling him away, it’s that you’re proactively engaged with your family and he is making the choice not to be.

  9. Oh boy, LW, do I ever know how you feel. Boundaries! You need them! (And so did/do I.)

    Probably since the beginning of my relationship with my husband, I’ve had pretty awful boundaries. I’ve taken on so many things that weren’t my job, that weren’t even negotiated to be my job, because he “wasn’t capable” of doing them. Finances, job hunting, resume and cover letter writing, making sure he had spending money at all times (finances part 2!), making sure his life goals happen… Let me tell you now, this road leads to Resentmentville, and its suburb St. Desperate Counselling.

    It’s so important to draw a clear line between what is doing your part for the relationship and what is managing someone else’s life. You cannot manage two lives! It is exhausting, and you almost never get a break because the other person has no consequences for not doing this tough work themselves. I spent so much time insulating my husband from consequences, protecting him from running out of money, not getting an interview, not getting something done on time and so much more. All it did for him was train him not to bother taking care of his life, because I would. (Increasingly resentfully.)

    Now, I put down firm boundaries about what I will and won’t do. Instead of, “We need to go to the passport office! I’ll fill out your form!” I say, “I’m going to the passport office Monday, let me know if you want to tag along.” If his form isn’t complete, he has to bus there at some point and figure it out. Guess what? The form was done on time. Turns out he’s completely capable of running his own life, I just had to get out of the way. And suddenly, I had room for my own happiness.

    I know it’s hard to say things like this, or “Wow, it sounds like you miss your gran/sister/etc. What are you going to do about that?” But it is absolutely possible to set boundaries and still be a kind and loving partner. In fact, it is vitally necessary. Don’t become me and take on his life, only to end up feeling like your husband is a limb you have to sever to save yourself. That’s not love. Love is what I have now, when I can breathe again. This stuff creeps up on you so slowly! And it always sounds so reasonable at first. But you have a chance to take a different path now, a more loving path. I hope you will.

    1. Going to save a few bits of what you’ve said, print them out and pin them to my diary, I think. Thank you 🙂

    2. Ah, yes, Resentmentville. I built a lovely little cottage there over the last few years of my relationship, although my partner still believes we live in StrongRelationshipThatNeedsATuneUpBurg. Thus leading to MuddieMae standing at the fork in the road between staying and leaving.

      1. It gets really awkward when they don’t realize you’ve already moved out, doesn’t it? My partner and I are both (thankfully) starting to work on remodeling our old place back in StrongRelationshipThatNeedsATuneUpBurg after I figured out that key parts of the foundation weren’t as solid as we’d thought and scooted off to the place I’d been slowly building on the border of Resentmentville and LifeWillGoOnEitherWayTown.

        Best of luck to you, whichever path you take.

    3. I suddenly realise exactly why my relationship with my ex fell apart. Wow. Thanks.
      I found myself doing everything for my ex – to the point where if I didn’t put food in front of him I wouldn’t eat. My entire life became making sure he got what he needed until I just couldn’t take it any more and went to stay at a friend’s house until my essays were done. When I came back, he broke up with me. Which turned out to be the best thing for both of us but at the time was couched as “You are abusive because you left me to fend for myself for two weeks so now I’m leaving you and all our friends hate you”.

    4. This is the jewel of the Internet today. I too learned these lessons the hardest way possible, but you put them into much more eloquent words than I could have.

    5. Yes, this – I have been there and done this in a failed relationship. I still heave issues with it.

      I think the key thing is that feeling of “If I don’t do this for him/her it won’t happen!”, because that’s the message right there. You need to give them the space and respect to look after themselves and fulfil their own obligations, or the space to prove that they really won’t do those things, which is important information. And I think fear of finding out that they really will drop all the balls drives some of the helping, because then we would have to decide if we’re really happy being in the relationship under those terms. Doing it all for someone feels like motion in the right direction, but it isn’t. If someone is constantly in a state of almost-being-fixed we don’t have to accept that they’re broken and that’s how it is. And it keeps them broken. And destroys their self esteem. So it’s lose-lose in every direction. 😦

      My new rule for helping is to only do so while the other person is actively engaged in the project, whatever it is, and actively welcoming of the help. If helping feels like dragging an inert lump something has gone wrong and it’s time to step back.

  10. There is nothing pathological about ambivalence, especially towards parents whose “nurturing” has been a decidedly mixed bag. There is something in most of us that craves parents’ love, affirmation and a “normal” relationship with our parents. So it is only natural that when things go well with his parents, he’d bask in it like a cat in a sunny window — while not trusting them for beans, and feeling enormous anxiety about their visits.

    He doesn’t need to stabilize his relationship by either dredging up every bad memory he has, reveling in the pain, and deciding once and for all to hate his folks. NOR by issuing blanket forgiveness for every rotten thing they’ve done and flinging the doors to his heart wide open.

    Also, while I totally understand your desire to understand what he went through, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of what happened to be loyal to him. All you need to know is that awful, psyche-damaging things happened to him. And that no matter how lovely his mother seems now, he has a right to not be over the abuse. Sure, she might be someone who you think you’d like, if you had met her in some other context. But the only reason she is in your life is because she’s his mother. So be friendly, but follow your husband’s lead, and don’t take her side against him, ever, or pressure him to be “reasonable” or kinder to her. Your relationship with her is secondary to his, and should rank way below yours with your husband.

    1. “So be friendly, but follow your husband’s lead, and don’t take her side against him, ever, or pressure him to be ‘reasonable’ or kinder to her.” This.

      A scenario that might fit: My parents were verbally/emotionally abusive and neglectful when I was growing up. In my case, both of my parents have worked very hard and gone through a lot of therapy in an attempt to change their patterns of behavior, and both of them have also worked pretty hard to form relationships with me as an adult. Yay for them; I’m grateful, and proud of them, and am working to forgive them.

      My husband has been with me for most of my adult life and has been a huge support as I’ve tried to figure these relationships out. What he’s done that’s been completely awesome is to a) have his own relationships with my parents, based on the people they are now, in the present, without recourse to the shit they pulled in the past, and b) at the same time make it very clear to me, every time we interact with my parents, that *I* am his priority and that he is on *my* team, all the time, period.

      I am still pretty damaged by the things my parents did. I still have the occasional freak-out session before visits. I’m still reacting to, and dealing with, things that happened twenty years ago; and sometimes those reactions don’t really square with the people my parents have tried to become. I don’t think it’s at all surprising that the LW has a hard time reconciling the people her in-laws seem to be now with the terrible ways they failed their son in the past. I think the Captain is spot-on to say, woah there, back off, it’s not your job to manage your spouse’s relationships. But it’s been very helpful to me to see my parents reflected through the fresh lens of my husband’s relationships with them–whether he’s saying, “Yeah, your dad was pretty passive-aggressive about X yesterday,” or, “Actually, that thing your mom said didn’t bother me. What was it that bothered you?” *Cue listening*

  11. As someone who was once subjected to a tirade because my boyfriend at the time forgot to get his mother a Mothering Sunday gift, I second the Captain’s AW HELL NO. There are always reasons why people get lazy about relationships. I do it myself. But it does seem that men disproportionately get a free pass on it because caring about others is women’s work. Your DH’s disabilities or history of troubled family stuff complicate things a bit, but they are still his issues to sort out. I hope you can find a way of being supportive without shouldering that responsibility.

    1. Same here, I don’t even care how it gets done, it’s not the LWs thing to do. “AW HELL NAW” is exactly right.

  12. LW, I’m not entirely convinced that your DH needs to communicate better with his family. Even if he does, it’s not your job to be facilitator of the airing and healing of past hurts. I understand the urge to fix things, oh boy howdy do I, BUT he’s got to be the one to approach it on his own terms. Your job in this is to be the person who deals with situations as they are now and if you chose it, to also hold people accountable for the way they are behaving presently if past patterns leak into today. A story:

    My spouse has a father who was, for the majority of his childhood, a tyrant. A drunken tyrant. Knowing this isn’t easy for me, nor is having a relationship with his dad easy for Spouse. For a number of years his decision was to simply have nothing to do with his dad at all– no phone calls, no letters, nada. After a while that changed, we moved near to his dad, and they started to try to get to know each other again, but it became clear rather quickly that his dad hadn’t really changed at all in his perception of or approach toward Spouse. It came to a head one visit when FIL became drunk and “jokingly” called Spouse a “faggot” in the middle of a party. I was furious. Spouse was so used to his dad mouthing off like that, that he didn’t even notice. I called it out. Not then, later. I pointed out the dynamic at play, I told Spouse that I was not going to stay silent if it happened again, that I loved him and couldn’t abide FIL calling the love of my life homophobic slurs in front of me and the kids, that if he wanted to take such abuse on his own that was up to him but I wasn’t going to stand for it when it happened in front of me. Spouse was defensive: he didn’t mean it, he’s just like that, I provoked him, he was just joking. I was insistent: our kids don’t know it was a joke, how do you plan to explain to them why it’s okay for FIL to call you slurs? I saw the hurt on your face, is his right to be an ass in public greater than your right to be treated with respect by your own father? Is this what you want our kids to think is normal? Then I dropped it. Really and truly dropped it. I did not call Spouse’s siblings to get more dirt on FIL, I did not talk to FIL about his behavior, which was really fucking hard!

    You know what happened? Spouse took some time to process the whole situation (a couple weeks in fact) and he got angry for the first time in a decade. Not with me, the messenger, but with his dad; not as a hurt and powerless child, but as a commanding and powerful adult. At the same time, he wanted to give his dad a chance to change and to see him as that adult, he needed to deal with it on his own terms. He accepted an invitation to go golfing with FIL. He spoke to FIL. He was so nervous! It was quite literally the first time he had ever confronted his dad about anything. I don’t have the specific details of what he said, I do know it had something to do with shaming FIL for behaving the way he did in front of his grandkids, but what I do know for sure is that it worked. It would not have worked coming from me. It would not have worked if FIL wasn’t ready to hear it and willing to change. Shored up by his success, Spouse slowly started to address other dysfunctional patterns between him and his dad. He is a gentle person and I know it was really hard for him, but it was something that *he* realized *he* needed to do if they were ever going to have any sort of two sided relationship. Eventually we moved away again and now when FIL sees us, he is someone with more reserved and gracious behavior. My job *if I choose to accept it* is to notice shitty things which hurt our family and say so. To set boundaries of the sorts of behavior I will and will not tolerate around my person, my children, in my home. To shore up my spouse and remind him what a lovely and capable person he is when things between him and his family get him down. My job isn’t to make things right with Spouse and his family– I can’t. That is up to them. Nor can he make things right between me and mine, but that is another story for another time.

    All you can do from where you are standing is address problematic situations as they arise in the present. Knowledge of the past is helpful in keeping perspective on current events but people are also more than their pasts, they are who they are today, they are who they are trying to be tomorrow. Supporting your partner in knowing who he is now, in hearing the truth about himself, that is important. That is what may give him the courage to address past hurts as he needs to in order to heal and move forward on his own terms. His own. I wasn’t thoroughly satisfied with the way Spouse addressed the situation with his dad, I’d have handled it differently, but he handled it the way he needed to in order to get the results he was looking for. Their relationship, their terms.

    It’s so hard to love someone and see them hurting, to hear them gaslight themselves, to speak untruths about themselves. I think though that saying those sorts of things out loud and hearing how they sound outside of one’s head is part of the healing process as much as anything. If someone you love is stuck, supporting them and speaking the truth you know about them might help them get unstuck, but if they are not ready to confront a thing then pushing them to do so can backfire extraordinarily. Regardless, you can’t have his relationship with his family for him, that is something he has to do for himself. You can be his sounding board, you can be someone in his life who both sees and speaks to the best of him, you can be the one he comes to when he’s down and needs building up again. That’s it.

  13. LW, you sound like a lovely and caring person. You want what’s best for your husband, and are willing to work to make it happen. Good for you! These instincts come from a good place. But what’s best for him is learning to manage his own relationships, not you managing them for him. It’s tough, especially when there is stuff (physical or otherwise) that he legitimately can’t handle on his own and does need help with. Figuring out what’s helpful and what’s not is going to be a lifelong process, I’m afraid. As it is for all of us.

    I say this while being very well aware that I often put my husband in your shoes. I’m an introvert, he’s an extrovert, so he should handle all the social arrangements because he’s good at it, right? This is a good reminder that I need to step up my own game.

  14. I get the impression this is less about you helping him keep in touch with his family and more about you dealing with your knowledge of his abuse and other aspects of his childhood. I went through something similar with my partner who kinda echoes what you’ve said about the bullying and acting out your husband went through. I was also amazed at what a wonderful person my partner turned out to be. What took me some time to realise is that he had already dealt with and processed most of that stuff either consciously or subconsciously so despite my desire to swoop in and make it all better he really didn’t need much help from me.

    What you can do is support him in the choices he makes when dealing with his parents. If he’s stressed because his mum wants him to visit on short notice you can remind him that you don’t need to go and even offer to turn her down for him.

    You can’t and shouldn’t try to maintain his relationships for him but you can develop your own relationships with his family. If you get on well with his mum you can call her yourself to talk to her, although you should talk to your husband about what sort and how much contact he is comfortable with. On the other hand, if you find yourself less willing to spend time on his family and he neglects the relationships as well then you are not driving him away from them, even if you two end up spending much more time with your family as a result.

  15. You mention specifically what a “wonderful, loving, mentally balanced person he’s become without therapy or help.” Perhaps therapy would be a good idea now? To help him figure out what sort of relationship he wants with his parents, maybe, and how to get there? Or what the obstacles are in HIM talking to his sister (and other siblings and grandmother) and instead downloading that onto you?

    But let’s be clear: talking to his siblings about his childhood (and possible childhood abuse!) is not your job. Helping him keep in touch with his family is not your job. Providing emotional support to him while he does these things? That falls under your responsibilities. 🙂

    1. Excellent point – and I’d also like to point out that LW isn’t a trained therapist and has her own agenda, so it’s quite possible that her attempts to talk to his siblings may be really traumatic and triggering for them. As someone who also experienced “sort-of” abuse while growing up, I can tell you the last thing I’d want to do is discuss it with anyone other than my therapist, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be blindsided by my sibling’s spouse calling me and demanding details or my interpretation of what happened. It’s inconsiderate at best, damaging at worst.

      1. This. This forever. This x eleventy.

        You don’t get to delve just because you are curious or it ‘might help’ in some undefinable way.

        And it would be one thing for a sibling to broach the subject, but something else for their partner to do it ‘on their behalf’ for Reasons.

  16. My initial reaction to the title is a simple, “Don’t.” You can provide moral support, you can be there for him and reassure him that whatever decision he makes (therapy, yes or no, confrontation, divestment, what have you) you will love and support him. However, if you try to conduct his family relationships for him, you risk falling into a relationship dynamic that’s worse for both of you.

    Not all kinds of help and support are created equal. Some of them may seem kind and loving on the surface but, in the long term, they shift your relationship away from spouses and into something totally different. This is the vibe that I’m getting from your letter. “Peacemaker” is not in the spousal job description.

  17. OK, this: “At the same time, he’s just naturally bad at maintaining relationships and has asked me to help him keep in better contact with his gran and siblings.”

    And this: “He’s given me permission to ask his big sis for more info on their childhood, because his memory can cause him problems.”

    confuse me. The first one makes it clear that he wanted your help there, though as has already been pointed out any number of things like calendars, calendar/reminder apps, and phone alarms are sufficient for reminding him to make a phone call or buy a gift. But why is he even giving permission for the latter? It’s just not clear from the LW’s letter whether they were asked to take on managing the relationship with the parents too or if they decided that’s a situation they need to fix. It just struck me as odd that the letter states his specific request in regards to his gran and siblings but is all about handling his parents.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that in addition to this not being a thing you have to or should do, you don’t have to worry about doing something for someone when it hasn’t been requested. It being implied (in this case by the gran/siblings request) doesn’t matter. If it’s something you don’t want to do then don’t worry about it until someone asks you to. Then you can say ‘No’ (or negotiate or whatever) but they have to give you an opportunity to say no to something before they can expect you to do it.

    If he actually did make a specific request for this then ignore it but I figured I’d mention it in case I’m not just reading into things here.

    1. “or if they decided that’s a situation they need to fix. ”

      This was poorly worded. What I’m trying to say is that it sounds like he implied that this was something he wanted her to deal with and maybe that’s part of why she didn’t feel like she could tell him she doesn’t want to; it’s weird to say no to a request that hasn’t technically been made. I didn’t mean to sound like I think the OP was being a busybody or just inventing the problem or something.

  18. I know others have pointed out before that LW shouldn’t feel like she _needs_ to take charge of her husband’s relationships, but I’d put it far more strongly than that.

    You CAN’T improve someone else’s relationships for them. It’s just not possible. You can change your own relationship with his family, but that will be you having a closer relationship with them, not him.

    Parents try it sometimes with children, and it really doesn’t work very well even with small children. With adults not only is it an impossible task, but having someone in between almost always tends to actually push people apart and keep them from having a real relationship.

    1. And think of it from the other person’s side. How would you like it if you got gifts from someone regularly, got a “Happy birthday” phone call on time every year, received the occasional email updating you on their life…and then you found out that someone else bought and sent the gift, someone else reminded them to call you, and someone else wrote the email and asked them to approve and sign it? I’d feel super hurt. To me, receiving a gift or a call is a sign that someone was thinking about me, remembering me. NOT a sign that their spouse (or mother, or secretary, etc.) remembers!

      1. THIS! I feel weird even getting my boo to type a text for me if I’m driving, and won’t even do it unless it’s an urgent, pretty matter-of-fact “OK, see you at six” kind of thing, because if I’m writing to someone to say “Yeah I’d love to see you, been too long” *I* want to write that because that’s *my* love to express. Let’s say this all together: Emotional Labour Is Not Women’s Work, it’s not something you can outsource

  19. The other thought I had is that this is your husband, not your child. If he was five, this might be appropriate and healthy. I’d say if he was twelve, EVEN if you were his mother, it would be a bit unhealthy.

    I think playing this kind of a role – which is the role of a parent, not of a partner – will only damage the relationship between you two, no matter how well-intentioned it feels initially.

    1. I just want to second this. I have a lot of similar issues to OP’s husband (abusive parents, terrible memory in so many ways, social anxiety and depression, and a confused, somewhat Vulcantastic approach to emotion). Only I’m single. (And a woman, so a lot of the dudes I almost dated would immediately just hand me their emotional baggage and expect me to deal with it, rather than expecting me to have feelings of my own to deal with. But that is a story for another letter.)

      But if, several years ago, before I got a therapist, I had a boyfriend who offered to manage my social life like this, I would have said YES OMG PLZ, BEST THING EVER, I AM SO LUCKY I FOUND YOU, and would have relied upon him completely and utterly, and continued to not be able to make plans for myself or negotiate relationships with my parents myself. And eventually I would have felt horribly trapped and dependent upon the relationship, which is not really conducive to happiness.

    2. I want to third this.

      And I want to point out that for some people (e.g., me myself and I) taking on this type of responsibility is a way to assert control and dominance in a relationship, and foster dependence. I certainly am not saying that this is LW’s situation, but when I find myself wanting to jump in and take over tasks like social engagements in a romantic relationship, that is a warning sign that I need to check myself.

  20. I want to thank everyone for their responses so far, it’s been really helpful! (I am especially grateful for the little kick up the rear that I shouldn’t feel like I HAVE to be the organised one here!).

    The problem with trying to explain something in 450 words is it’s all too easy to reword stuff intending to make it more concise, only to end up being kind of vague and not helpful. To clarify:

    DH has not said he expects me to do this, but has repeatedly expressed desire to keep in better contact with his family, and has asked me to help him do this. This is an ongoing conversation we’re having, which will include giving me concrete tasks that a- are reasonable to ask for and b- work within his limits such as deciding on a this-is-how-often-we’ll-call-mum and me being the one to remind him, which he can then choose to do or not do depending on how he feels.

    DH has a younger sister he adores who still lives at home. DH really wants to be there for her, and we’re both making as much effort as we can to let her know she’s our family, she’s loved and she can come to us with anything she needs.

    DH gave me permission to speak to his older sister about the stuff in his memory not to sort out how I feel or give me more information, but because his issues with the “sort-of” abuse are that he honestly doesn’t trust his own memories, because they are so spotty and fuzzy, and he both wants but is nervous about getting a clearer picture of things. I think I will tell him that this is something beyond what I can do for him, and encourage him to contact his sister himself IF he still wants that.

    I want to sort out how I feel about his family, but NOT with any plan to use my feelings as a basis for how relationships are handled – that’s a separate thing that’s just about me internally figuring my shit out so I can help him without influencing his decisions or presenting a bias. I don’t want to make him feel like he should have a closer relationship if that’s not what he wants, and I also don’t want to inadvertently drive him away from his family, but I also can’t and won’t normalise what he went through.

    1. For ex:

      DH is worried about normalising what he’s been through.

      Sometimes DH will present an anecdote or memory of his childhood as though it’s something quirky, or unusual, but which fits every definition of abuse – and pretty bad abuse at that.

      If I go along with his framing of the anecdote as normalised, I’m helping him normalise it which he doesn’t want to do. But if I point out that what he described is Not Okay (and to be clear he knows that it’s not okay enough to be horrified if, for example, we frame it in terms of would-you-do-that-to-the-pet-dog), I’m afraid I’ll influence him to rethink his relationships with his family.

      1. What if you said “That sounds pretty not okay to me” and then let him have whatever reaction he has? Even messy ones? Even family-breaking ones?

        Like, maybe there will be consequences for his current family relationships. Easy to say “so what” when it’s not my family, but I live a similar reality to your husband, where I am trying to reconcile past memories and present behaviors and decide “who are these people, even?” “can I trust them?” “how does this play out now and in the future?” “Is forgiving/moving on/agreeing to leave the past in the past and try to focus on making a more pleasant present constitute forgiveness? Or giving up on the idea of justice?”

        That’s how life is sometimes. Messy.

        Acknowledging your feelings about what he said is not you influencing him. It’s a process.

        He should go to therapy.

        1. Thank you again, Cap’n. I felt like even asking something like that was over the line, but you’re right.

          1. Thirded, fourthed, one-millionthed that he needs to go to therapy. I was having exactly the memory problems that you describe him as having, and sometimes (I’m not saying in this case it does and I’m not trying to Internet-diagnose) the brain sort of scabs over things that were difficult, and in my case, having clinical depression meant my memory was legitimately shot anyway. There were just big chunks of my childhood that I didn’t remember at all and a lot that I still don’t.

            My brain tries to “go away” when I experience unpleasant things and I think sometimes it just doesn’t let me record the memory, or it feels fuzzy and far-away, or like something I saw on television happening to someone else.
            Therapy has been immensely helpful just because describing it to someone and having them go “that doesn’t sound okay to me!” was kind of a revelation to me. It sounds like you are being amazing and awesome, but at the same time, I would caution you that you aren’t and can’t be his therapist, for a number of reasons.

            I know it can be really difficult to persuade someone to go to therapy (it took a lot to get me there) but I will say that it’s been one of the most helpful things in trying to manage my depression and it has also helped my relationship with my family.

          2. Maybe therapy isn’t the answer, maybe it’s a journal or talking things over with a priest or a friend or painting large murals on a wall, but wherever the husband goes to work through those emotions, it shouldn’t be treating his wife as a therapist/emotional mentor.

        2. I can’t reply to Kellis Amberlee’s comment, for some reason, and I’m not surprised to see that snarky tone from her/him or the willful missing of the point of my comment, but no, I’m not saying the LW should persuade her husband to go to therapy, although I can see how my comment could be interpreted that way. Like going to AA or finally visiting the doctor, going to therapy is one of those things that people have to make the decision to do for themselves. I was greatly helped by a concerned friend who took the time to research therapists in my area, called a few of them, and then sent me their information and gently nudged me to call them. Was it persuading me? In some ways, but it was still my choice to go.

          Taking the step to make the appointment was something I had to do, though, and it took getting to a really difficult place to acknowledge that things had gotten so bad that I couldn’t continue to soldier through anymore.

          If I were the LW, I’d bring up the idea of therapy, maybe (maybe!) offer to Google a few options and send them to my partner, and leave it at that.

          1. I’m not surprised to see that snarky tone from her/him or the willful missing of the point of my comment

            Seems to me you kind of lose the moral high ground on tone when you slur someone like this.

      2. I don’t think I understand what you mean by “afraid [to] influence him to rethink his relationships with his family”? It’s not like there’s a binary state of “relationship with family” and “no relationship with family.” Also, I mean, it shouldn’t be your job to sit there every time he talks about them and worry about the larger implications of everything you say and do in reply.

        In summary — despite how well-balanced and wonderful DH is, it is past time for him to speak to a disinterested, professional third party to get clarity on his family history and to get some coping mechanisms once he figures out how he feels.

      3. /Shouldn’t/ realizing he was abused growing up make your husband rethink his relationship with his family? As some other people have said, rethinking doesn’t necessarily equal ‘ruin’ or ‘end’, but the idea of not dealing with these issues just to preserve a pleasant facade sets off major alarm bells for me. Particularly if he still has a sibling living at home/if there are other kids in the family who might not be safe. I don’t think pushing him to think seriously about his feelings and memories (ideally with a therapist) is a bad thing at all, as long as you don’t push him to react in a specific way.

        I’m in a similar situation with my partner and her family, and it’s horrible to watch the strain she deals with to maintain this fiction for them that everything is okay. It’s her choice and I support her in handling the relationship however she wants, but it makes having a safe space where her experiences are treated as valid super important.

        Abusive people often end up undermining their victim’s memories of what happened with benign retellings and interpretations. Nobody wants to think that they were the bad guy and nobody wants to think their own parents were bad guys either. This makes it really easy for the past to get rewritten – but that has a terrible effect on the victim. You certainly shouldn’t be stuck consulting his sister about his past abuse, but also he doesn’t need her to ratify his experiences. Maybe she wasn’t treated the same way, maybe she didn’t see his abuse, but none of that would mean it didn’t happen. He doesn’t need permission to take his memories seriously.

      4. Good response from the Captain. I just want to add that if you guys are planning to have kids at some point, it’s doubly important that you don’t let him normalize these things. If (for example) he thinks that screaming at your children, and then storming out of the house is normal parenting behavior, well, it’s not going to be good for either your hypothetical future children or your relationship. If you’re not planning to have kids, disregard :).

      5. I am noticing this thing going on: that you feel like you and he are making emotional decisions for the both of you. Like, either both of you treat it as normalized, or both of you think it’s wrong and weird. Both of you reconnect with his family, or neither of you do.

        You are allowed to feel two different things! You can feel something, and he can feel something different, and that’s okay.

        In point of fact, I’d actually be more worried if you didn’t have separate feelings about these things. It’s not actually a good thing to be so emotionally attuned to someone else that you’re drowning your own feelings out. Then it’s called “enmeshment”, when you’re so tangled up together you can’t keep track of your own needs and limits.

      6. I think you should just have your reaction and let him see it, without worrying about normalizing it or how it might affect him or his relationships or your relationships or or or. I mean, sooner or later you’re not saying what you feel because it’ll put the dog off his kibble. That’s a lot of pressure on every.single.interaction!

        Instead you can just hear him, compassionately, and react naturally. If something sounds horrible, say “Wow that sounds horrible!” and if something sounds just a little off, say “That sounds a little off” and then you have a conversation about why it sounds off. “Well, because I’m used to the visiting aliens being blue instead of purple, and it’s just so odd that yours were purple!” If he tells you a thing that seems totally normal to him and it makes you so mad that anyone hurt him like that, just show it, without trying to control how your anger might affect his relationship with Aunt Edna who wasn’t even the person who hurt him.

        This can be an exchange, too, where you talk about your childhood — and you can share your own painful memories! Even if you weren’t abused, you’ve got painful moments in your past, and you can share them and he can empathize and you can grow closer together.

        Lower the stakes, lower the complexity, just be there in the conversation, be honest, and let whatever changes happen come. You can’t control that stuff so you might as well just stop trying.

    2. Agreed that you can’t go to his sister and ask about her memories. I’m imagining that this is terribly painful and confusing and personal to her, too. She may be comfortable hashing it out with her own brother, who also went through it, but having you ask her questions about it would likely be very uncomfortable if not downright offensive to her.

    3. I am the one with a Difficult Family in my relationship, and I feel weird giving any input here because we sort of arrived at this accidentally (and I’m sure the issues are different, every unhappy family etc.), but this is what works for us:
      Because of the very candid conversations we have had about our childhoods, in which she has been really good about saying “You know, I don’t think that’s cool. Do you?” I know that my partner is on my side– she has made it very clear that she doesn’t think that I am exaggerating or that I deserved it or that it wasn’t so bad– any of the things my jerkbrain likes to tell me. This means that when we are with my family, and they say or do something awful or even just slightly awful, I no longer feel a horrible, crushing shame as if it reflects on me; rather, I have an ally. If she says anything to me about it later, it will be along the lines of “I can’t believe you have to deal with this.” The degree to which this has helped me untangle my family stuff cannot be overstated.
      However, my partner is also kind and friendly to my family, and– and this is maybe the most useful thing– happy to step in with an anecdote or question directed at someone else when meals with family turn into interrogate-KL sessions.
      And in terms of making plans, that is on me. We have a regular visit, which I am sometimes not up to, and she is happy to be an excuse for why we can’t visit on those occasions, but it is a decision that I have to make. YMMV, of course, but as someone who has sometimes had trouble standing on her own (at least partly as a result of said family stuff) and therefore really needs to not be infantilized, this is what works for me.

  21. Hi Cap’n! I just wrote a long comment reply to the thread (thanks everyone for the responses, you’ve been amazing!) And I can’t tell whether the spam system ate it or if my computer hiccuped and failed to post. Would be grateful if you could take a look. 🙂

  22. I do think AW HELL NAW doesn’t always have to be the answer. But I feel any helping should be about technical stuff. So, for example, my partner very much expects me to keep up social relations, including with his family. We went into it all, and it turns out there are technical problems which makes some forms of social contact more difficult – dyslexia, fear of phone conversations, and memory problems. So I am happy to do the things which set off heebiejeebies in his mind to do with the dyslexia, phone and memory stuff.

    This means planning contacts in advance, buying cards, writing them from us and getting him to sign, writing envelopes, writing emails from both of us for him to check, and sometimes sending the odd Facebook message. When I think he should do the writing (a letter to his mother, for example), I suggest things he can say and sit with him while he does it. Sometimes I encourage him to call people and suggest what he could open the conversation with. And so on.

    If a relationship has got difficult and I know the person, I’ll send a greeting from ‘both of us’ which says friendly things. It’s clear it’s from me, but it keeps the communication lines open. But if he wanted to ask somebody something difficult, I wouldn’t do that for him. Helping to set up a way for him to talk to someone in a way he feels comfortable with is the most I would feel able to do.

    If DH doesn’t know what he wants from his family relationships, that has to be decided first, perhaps with help from the LW or a professional. Then the LW could assist on the technical side to a reasonable extent – but the goals have to be decided by him. Stuff about his feelings and questions has to be expressed by him; or left unsaid. I don’t think being a mouthpiece for someone else with their family is appropriate, no matter how much the person may want it.

    1. Fear of phone conversations is a pretty broad definition of technical problems. I too used to be afraid of phone conversations. Like, getting up my nerve to call and order a pizza was a major ordeal. But starting when I was a teenager, my parents saw that as something I had to get over if I was ever going to function as an adult and they really pushed me on it. If that’s a technical problem that requires one partner to step in and take over a task, then suddenly every man who claims he “just doesn’t see dirt” the way women do has an out on ever cleaning anything.

      If your relationship is working for you, great, but you’re advocating doing a whole lot more relationship maintenance work than I’m comfortable seeing advocated for gender politics reasons, and I wanted to register that.

      1. No, not advocating – just sharing what happens in my relationship in case it’s useful to anyone. And you’re right, one has to learn to get over these things. My partner has managed to get better, sometimes because help with something difficult has meant he doesn’t feel such a crushing sense of failure, so he can tackle it on his own the next time. As we’ve got to know each other it’s become easier to gauge what kind of help is most sensible at different times. I should also have mentioned that he does plenty of heavy social lifting for me, too, so it doesn’t feel like I’m the one running our lives.

      2. My mom did the same thing for me! There were a variety of things I was terrible at as a teenager, and I would just so frustrated and just go, “I suck at this! I suck at this SO HARD!” And my mother would say, “You don’t suck, honey, you just need practice.” And then I had to work on whatever thing it was: not all day, every day, but enough that eventually (like, YEARS later eventually) I can do those things and it’s a source of pride, not embarrassment or fear, and that’s a good feeling.

        1. Yup. It’s still a source of fear for me and I’m in my mid 30s. And, yes, it’s a source of pride when I make myself do it. Because it fucking terrifies me but it’s part of being a functioning adult and I don’t want it to be something that defines my life.

      3. Fear of calling strangers is a real thing, closely linked with social anxiety. It’s treated with therapy and meds for the social anxiety as well as relaxation techniques. It’s not something to just go “Oh, buck up!” about.

        Learning it as a skill when you’re a child closely watched with backup sounds like it’s great, speaking from your comments and the following. Not knocking it down.

  23. Anecdote: My past partner had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with his parents. In the course of our relationship, he started working through his feelings and told me things about his childhood, and I came to the conclusion that his parents were pretty abusive. And I felt angry, and I wanted him to recognise that the things they had done were not okay. However, he worked through his own feelings and came to the conclusion that he wanted to build stronger relationships with his parents. This turned out to be really hard for me, as by that point I’d come to feel that this was exactly the opposite of what he needed or they deserved. This caused a LOT of conflict between us, and was instrumental in breaking us up.

    So, my point here is that you should be really wary of getting deeply involved in working out feelings about family, or doing the legwork in that. You’re emotionally involved anyway, so you’re not in a great position to help him work through his feelings, and deciding how you ‘should’ feel about his parents might be quite counterproductive if it turns out not to mesh with how he wants to handle the relationship. I still think my ex’s parents were pretty shitty, but in fact I needed to be a lot more respectful of his desire to build a relationship with them. (I never told him not to, but whoa, in retrospect I realise I could have been a whole lot more subtle about my feels.)

    It’s so frustrating, because you want to help your partner! But I think the only way to handle in-laws is have your feelings about them based on your own interactions with them, and then to respect your partners’ feelings. (And if those two don’t mesh, then you have to resist the tempation to tell your partner all about your feels *g*.)

    1. And looking up, I see a whole conversation I missed about whether it’s okay to tell him that some anecdotes sound not okay. And i agree with everyone else it totally is! But where I crossed the line was in not respecting my partners’ feelings and decisions once he’d worked through his thoughts. So, you need to be able to make it clear that these are your feelings and that there’s no obligatory way for him to feel.

  24. “I’m sure the community will have alternate perspectives to my initial “AW HELL NAW” reaction, I hope it will be helpful.”

    I agree with you. It is not the letter-writer’s problem to contend with. This is his family and his issues, and he needs to be the one sorting them out with them. She can be there to stand by him and support him, but it’s up to him to take action in working on his relationship with his family.

  25. People love getting mail that isn’t bills

    I would like to one-millionth this: even just a “thought of you recently and hope you’re well” brightens my day immensely.

  26. This is just really valuable to me right now. Dealing with some issues around my partner needing to make some necessary life changes, and feeling like the only way these changes are going to happen is if I “facilitate” them. (Concrete example: revise his resume for him, hand it to him to sign off on.) Like LW’s husband, his self-organizing and executive skills issues have legitimate Reasons, but also years of bad habits, underlying them.

    I really, really try not to fall into what I think of as “het traps” – accepting behavior from him or dynamics in our relationship I wouldn’t tolerate from a woman, because Heteronormative Relationship Culture, especially those around infantalizing men and expecting women to do emotional and logistical heavy lifting – but I am definitely feeling the edge of that particular pit right now.

    Best wishes to LW, and thanks to all the The Captain and all the commenters.

    1. Yes, same here. This has been an interesting read for me. Like Beth’s husband, mine needs to make some big changes and it’s hard for me to know how to help, how much to help, and whether my husband will accept help. (Long story)

      Added to that, I am in somewhat of a similar position to the LW when it comes to my husband’s family. In my case, there is no history of abuse or the related issues. But I am often heralded by my husband’s family as a person who “changed” him, made him happier, got him back in touch with them. These things are somewhat true, and are meant as praise, but it feels more like pressure to hear them. I am also expected, by my husband’s family, to help my husband stay in touch with them. To some extent, I want to do this, for Reasons. Again, it’s a big responsibility, especially since, in my case, my husband does NOT want me to be an ambassador to his family. He doesn’t mind if I have relationships with them, he just doesn’t necessarily expect or want me to speak on his behalf. Except sometimes he does.

      I hadn’t given much thought to my role as a woman when it comes to helping my husband with his communication issues. I am a better communicator than he is, so I’ve naturally adopted that role, just as it’s natural for him to do the grocery shopping and cooking. We play to our strengths. There have been some times when the proscribed gender roles have been slammed in my face, though. Most recently, I told his mom that my husband went to an informal party at our neighbors’ house without me. I was thinking, “Hey, isn’t it great that your introverted son is socializing! The burden of that doesn’t have to be exclusively on me!” My MIL scolded me for not going with him, saying that we should always go places together to present a united front. I am cutting her some slack on that because her husband recently died, but it was still annoying.

      Anyway, thanks to all for an interesting and helpful read.

    2. As a person who works for a small company that just hired, then rapidly had to fire, a guy who we found out his wife had written and then sent out his resumes for him, can I say: DON’T DO THIS. He wasn’t fired because his wife sent us his resume. He was fired because he didn’t do any damn work. Clients refused to deal with him. Good resume, useless employee.

      If your guy is not ready to take responsibility for his job search, then it’s unlikely he’s ready to take responsibility for a job. I feel for our guy’s wife, what with the baby she had just had and all – but now he’s unemployed again AND he has a firing on his resume to explain.

      1. Yep. I know this. I do. It’s just miserable to watch him in a job that is stifling, stressful yet unchallenging, getting more and more burned out, and less willing to believe that any other position would be any different, as well-suited job postings at fantastic institutions sail on by. I can repeat “this sucks, it’s hard work, but it will be better on the other side” all I want, but he needs to make the choice himself.


  27. Here’s a tangent: how can you tell if your memory is fuzzy about your childhood?

    I’ve been in therapy for almost a year now, and periodically I’ll have a question about my childhood pop up and I won’t know how to answer it. Example: I tend to be very defensive and guarded, and my therapist said that often family being critical and unsupportive leads to some of these defense mechanisms. And while I was able to think of a couple of examples, and I didn’t feel he was off-base, neither could I remember a long-term habit of support or non-support from my parents.

    I remember my teachers, my friends, my activities, my family well enough I guess, but I can’t tell if I’m missing information or if I’m just not using the right mental search terms? Or if I didn’t file memories at all?

    1. I don’t know that there is One Way to Tell, but I personally have the following abuse/memory issues (which, WARNING, may be triggering to people who were abused, because it contains quotes from the script all abusers seem to work off of):
      * Lots of childhood memories that go like this: My mother threatens to hit me, I am sent to my room, my mother opens the door, [BIG GAP FULL OF NOTHING], pain, my mother leaves the room, I cry myself to sleep.
      * When confronting my mother about these things or bringing up related issues, she changes her story and I start to doubt myself. (“Oh, my father used to threaten me with X, isn’t it horrible? I would never say anything like that!” “You act like we BEAT you or something!” “You’re a spoiled brat, and if I hadn’t slapped you around like I did, you would have been much worse.”) I think gaslighting has done a number on my confidence in my memories, and possibly also on my memories, since human memory can be very subjective.
      * I have lots of memories of fights where I “forgot” something I was never actually told.
      * Inability to memorize certain kinds of facts, and shaming throughout childhood because that meant I was just lazy. (My therapist suggests this one may be related to undiagnosed ADHD, and isn’t necessarily a result of abuse, but I include it for completeness’ sake.)
      * Happy or sad, my childhood memories are mostly about school and spending time away from home, and when I do have non-argument-y memories of being home, they are usually about time spent alone. (I think this is probably just because I preferred spending time alone and my parents both worked, neither of which is dysfunctional, but I feel like my near-total lack of memories about spending time with my parents is… odd.)

      1. That makes me wonder about the very conspicuous gaps in Husband’s memories from childhood. Especially since now, if we have a huge, knock-down drag-out fight, and we exchange nasties in the heat of the moment, literally five minutes later he won’t remember a thing. I think there’s a lot he’s blocked out, and I’ve long suspected his parents were at the very least highly dysfunctional, if not outright abusive. I have made it clear for years now that I will not manage his relationships with family, because honestly, not my circus, not my monkey, and I don’t want that monkey, either. I will not get in the middle, and I won’t let someone else put me there, either.

        I will, however, be extremely supportive of what HE wants to do with his relationships – and count on him to be extremely supportive of what I want to do with MY relationships. He doesn’t push me to be in contact with his parents, who loathe me and believe me, the feeling is quite mutual, and I don’t push him to contact them or to cut them off. That doesn’t mean we don’t discuss it, it just means that no one person has veto power over another’s relationships. And that is how it should be, because why should either of us have the power to tell the other who they can and cannot speak to?

        1. There’s definitely a reason that a lot of really effective marriage counsellors actually get couples to wear heart monitors during sessions, and if heart rates go up past a certain point, everyone has to stop talking and do deep breathing exercises to calm back down. If you get too upset, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, or your brain says OKBYE and dissociates.

    2. It is really hard to know sometimes, partly because everyone’s childhood memories are a bit blurry; before around, eh, ten? memories come in clumps, all awkwardly packed together and disorganized, like the tape recorder was only on during certain times. It’s usually only in late childhood that people get a real linear narrative of their lives. So for example, I can remember making friends with a girl when I was seven, but I don’t remember if she moved away or what; she just dropped out of my life later. That’s not because that memory is in my brain somewhere and I’m repressing it: it just didn’t survive into long-term memory.

      This is why there’s still concern over therapists implanting “false memories”. Trying to piece memories together can produce bad data sometimes. Sometimes when trying to remember your childhood, you get vague scraps and intuitions and collect it with outside knowledge to form a memory–“I remember eating ice cream, and not being tall enough to look inside the cart, so I must have been young, so that must have been the summer I visited my aunt when I was six.” And sometimes, no, that was the time an ice cream truck stopped outside your house when you were five.

      Which is all just to give the proviso: this is an inexact science with a margin of error. Furthermore, some people do recover memories that are genuinely upsetting, so it’s a good idea to take it slow and make sure you feel comfortable and physically safe.

      But these are “search terms” you may want to look into more or discuss with your therapist:

      -Start closer to now. Ask, “When lately have I seen incidents of this pattern? What about five years ago? Ten years ago?”
      -Use solid anchors. If you count back to your childhood, do you remember who your teachers were in each year? What pets did you have, when? When did you begin a hobby or sport? Then you can begin exploring memories along those axes, and see if anything comes up. (This is like trying to find something by looking in your peripheral vision.)
      -See if your therapist knows anything about this. Some people only remember if they’re really relaxed, or using a less cerebral kind of thinking (I use “focusing”, which is a special technique) or in a hypnotic trance. These can be really powerful, but also require someone pretty trained to help or teach you.

      1. I would second this. Memory can be very strange so you’ll want to be careful about making assumptions. I have no memories of my father from the year my family (including him) moved to a different state. I know he was around and I have plenty of other strong memories from that time but my dad might as well have fallen off the face of the earth for all I can actually remember. From the context of our relationship now and other memories from both before and after that I’m reasonably sure there is nothing sinister about the gaps I have.

        If you have other reasons to believe there is something else behind the fuzziness of your memories then I’d suggest following staranise’s advice and bringing it up with your therapist.

    3. The memory thing is really, really tricky, and the other responses raised really good points. This may seem silly, but I think one of the reasons I have such fuzzy memories from childhood is that I had terrible eyesight (I remember a lot of things as just washes of color) and am extremely introverted, so I spend a lot of time in my own head, instead of being outwardly engaged. But I do have a lot of very strong emotions attached to certain memories, even ones that don’t seem, on the face of them, to be negative.

      1. Ha, I think I have the exact same issues! I didn’t get glasses until I was 25, but it’s probable I needed glasses for a long time before that. All of my memories look like someone smeared oil on the camera lens.

      2. Thanks for all the replies! You’ve given me things to think about, most of which lines up with what I understand about memory.

        I’m also near-sighted and introverted. I spent a lot of my childhood reading and checking out mentally when bored. I suspect that it might be part of my fuzziness.

        I think when my therapist asks me to think of interactions with my parents, I try to jump to early childhood, which is of course when memories are the fuzziest. However, I’ve not lived in the same state as my parents for over ten years, and spent much of my high school life out and about, so it’s hard to think of memories at times.

        I think it would be a good memory exercise to go through and recall what I can of my childhood based on school and friends and whatever I can woolgather out of my mental periphery vision.

        Thank you all again.

  28. Don’t. Please. For your own sanity. I can say this so certainly, because my ex stuck me into some difficult spots. And he managed this by appealing to my sincere desire to help. He wanted my help communicating with his ex about their child, “because you write so much better than me.” This was true. It was not, however, okay for him to abdicate all responsibility for that communication, and the results thereof to me, which he then did. Things that were not my fault magically “became” my fault… After a year or so, it got to such a stage that I would get physically nauseous when reading her emails. After a little more time being caught in the middle, I’d sometimes have such visible nervous shakes at physical interactions with her that she would make snarky comments about it. And when I’d finally had enough, my ex was not gracious about what I was and was not willing to do.

    Also, no one can sort out other people’s relationships. This was another thing I learned from my ex and stepson. The ex had plenty of ideas about how stepson and I “should” be, but I had the sense to avoid the hell out of that one, and sort out my own relationship with stepson independently. And then – wouldn’t you know it! – I tried to tell him how his relationship with his son should be and what he should care about! /HEADDESK He handled it well for a long time, but we had some very unpleasant discussions eventually.

    For me, it boiled down to setting boundaries, and sticking to them no matter how unpleasant he got about it. And it did get unpleasant. But faster than expected, he learned I was serious, and it got better. I stopped reading her emails, and writing replies. My compromise was that I’d edit what he wrote. I also scaled back on family-activity-planning; instead of me doing ninety percent, it became much more fifty-fifty. I kept up with being the person who took photos and then made sure they actually got onto the wall occasionally, as it was something I enjoyed.

    It’s very understandable, normal, and kind that you wish to support your partner! I’m not advising against that. I am advising you start considering what realistic expectations are. Please get a therapist – if nothing else, this person can be a sounding board. And they may be able to provide valuable insight as you try to assist your disabled partner. Caregiving for another person is crazy-stressful, no matter how happy you are to do it. (Again, been on both ends of that situation, giving and receiving care.) Make it clear that your responsibilities are subject to change, and that that is an on-going conversation. And most of all, good luck!

  29. I would like to add something to the discussion on can’t or won’t and making someone do things for themselves. Since I’m a Lesbian, gender is less of issue for me in this area than it may be for other posters.
    I was born with a neurological syndrome that has never been given a label or or specific diagnosis. There are some autism-like problems, motor skills being less than normal, being academically bright but having problems doing other things, et c, et c. Because of this, there are things that are so difficult for me that I will not be able do them without being damaged by extreme stress, or exhaustion that stops me from doing things I really need to do, or not being able to do them successfully no matter how hard I work at it.
    These things are often not what other people expect, and sometimes people don’t believe that I truly can’t do them. For example, I can carry on a conversation pretty well and express myself well, but I can’t listen to someone talk and do anything else at the same time, and interacting with people is very difficult and stressful for me. I’ve found that I can’t talk to a bureaucrat for very long without getting so stressed and tired I can’t remember my manners, no matter what I do, and the bureaucrat yells at me and hangs up because I’m not being nice enough. I’ve been told “You just resent having to be civil.” No, I’m trying hard to be civil, I want to be civil,I can’t deliver what’s being asked of me.
    There are some things that are beyond my abilities and making me do them myself and refusing to help me is not going to make me able to do them. What happens is, the things don’t get done and and everybody ends up miserable or angry. What does work is my doing as much as I can and the other person doing the parts I can’t, such as I write down what information I need and be present in case more is needed, and the other person does the actual talking to the bureaucrat. Sometimes, either somebody else does it,or it never gets done no matter how much I want it done or how hard I work at doing it.
    Sometimes making someone do it themselves is the best thing for them, sometimes it does more harm than good, and it’s very difficult to tell which is best for another person. Sometimes, you have take their word for it and accept that ” I can’t” is the truth.

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