Posted by fxckfeelings on December 10, 2015
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Having an Asshole™ parent is never easy—just as our reader from earlier this week, along with countless other readers/comedians/former Presidents over the years—but you can make it easier if you refuse to accept all the blame foisted upon you by their loving Asshole™ arms. Here are five ways to define your responsibility for the happiness of an Asshole™ parent, and, in doing so, quietly declare your independence.
1. Exact Expectations
Ask yourself what kind and how much support, contact and company you would expect from your own adult daughter, assuming you will remain blessedly free of Asshole™ genes by that stage. Give particular thought to what you would expect if you were sick, in trouble, or just trying to keep in touch.
2. Put Her In Perspective
During the above process, ask yourself whether, assuming you’re well, not in crisis, and not an Asshole™, you’d feel entitled to impose all your needs on your adult kids. In all likelihood, you would consider it your job to prioritize their needs ahead of your own and to hope they would do the same with their children.
3. Push Perspective Further
Ask yourself whether, like your mother, you’d consider yourself entitled to tell your kids anything you felt like saying, or to unload your disappointment with your friends or other relatives, or whether whining is ever good for anyone. If you’re answers are all “no”s, then tell yourself “no” when you want to feel guilty for not giving her an ear when she wants to do any of the above.
4. Assess to What End
If you still think you owe it to your mother to be her ever-patient audience, then ask yourself how much happiness it actually gives her, and for how long, for you to be her punching bag/emotional support, and whether that happiness is worth the cost to you in terms of loss of energy, privacy, sanity, etc.
5. Put it in Writing
If your values tell you that your mother’s expectations of you are unreasonable and her approach is harmful, and/or making her happy is not worth the cost, prepare a brief statement that you can stick to, no matter how powerful her combined Asshole™/parenting powers. In it, assert that, though you really like to make her happy, you have different views about the amount of sharing that is good for a relationship, and that prevents you from complying with her requests. Now you’ve defined your responsibility to her, but more importantly, you’ve defined it for yourself, so no matter what she thinks, you know what’s right.
Posted by fxckfeelings on December 8, 2015
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We may not have written the book on Assholes™, but, as authors of a thoroughly informative chapter on the subject, we know a lot about the uncanny ability Asshole™s have to make others, their children especially, feel responsible for their unhappiness. So if you’re the unfortunate spawn of an Asshole™ (who’s also unfortunate enough to not own a copy of our book) who wants to have a life of your own, define for yourself what it means to be a good son or daughter and live up to your own expectations, not your parent’s. As long as you can bear the pain of Asshole™ guilt-slinging, you can ultimately be proud of your own decisions, and, hopefully, another family member can give you our book as a stocking stuffer.
My mother is a real piece of work. My previous therapist is of the opinion that she most likely has borderline personality disorder and is a covert narcissist, but of course that cannot be verified because she won’t enter a therapist’s office long enough to be diagnosed. In the past year, I have finally opened my eyes to the emotional abuse of my childhood and the unhealthy enmeshment of my adulthood. I am determined to break free of her controlling and needy behavior. I’ve accepted the fact that she will not change, so I have been setting boundaries such as no longer allowing her to gossip to me about other family members, not visiting as often, and reducing phone calls to once a week. But in her eyes, this is Bad Daughter behavior and it cannot be tolerated; when she questions these boundaries, any reply from me other than total submission and groveling is met with rages for my “snippy” tone and how I think I’m better than everyone. She sends me 10 page letters about how she can’t believe a daughter would treat her this way and then lists all of the ways the numerous people in her life continue to disappoint her. When I don’t respond to those, she enlists my sister and brother to do her bidding and guilt me back into submission. She has said to me numerous times that she is entitled to say anything she wants to me and I’m obligated to take it because she is my mother. I want to live my life free to make my own choices about how I choose to spend my time, without being called to account for my comings and goings. I want freedom and peace! My goal is to effectively learn to say to myself “f*ck Mom’s feelings” and just go on with my life. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by fxckfeelings on December 1, 2015
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Regardless of whether a marriage is happy or not, it takes work to maintain your own priorities and point of view. In a happy marriage, pleasing your partner may interfere with your agenda as an individual. In a less happy marriage, feelings of failure may deprive you of energy and confidence, but it’s all the more important for you to remember who you are and what you value. As long as you do, an unhappy marriage need never prevent you from being successful as a person.
I have a chronic illness that may or may not go away. For now I am disabled to the point that I cannot take care of myself and I have to depend on my husband. We have been married for over 20 years, the first decades of which were spent raising two children who now live away from home. It seems the children were and are all we had in common, because as soon as child #2 left home, all hell broke loose and it’s been pretty bad since then. I know he will never change and become the person I want him to be, and why should he? He should be with someone who appreciates him just as he is, but I am the one stuck with him and I need to have a better attitude towards living with him because I have no choice. He still drives me crazy, even if It’s a little better since I figured out he cannot change. I am as kind and nice as I can be and I don’t think he really knows that I am staying with him because I have to. My goal is to find a better attitude for myself to make this unavoidable situation less unbearable.
WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by fxckfeelings on November 19, 2015
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Sometimes, when you add up everything good about your spouse and subtract the stuff that drives you nuts, the marital math shows you that they’re not equal to (e)X, i.e., that they’re worth keeping around, despite their less attractive behavior. If, like our reader from earlier this week, you’re trying to stay together despite some behavior you can’t stand, here are five ways to positively address the issue without going positively nuts.
1. Be Calm and Clarify
With as much clinical distance as possible, identify a grouch-related behavior that is simple, easily defined, and well worth reducing. Possible examples include a raised voice (that can be heard clearly in the next room, or next town), swearing, or personal criticism that is more cruel than part of a constructive conversation.
2. Frank but Fair
Before beginning the discussion, announce your intentions by first describing your pleasure in your spouse’s company when he’s being nice/not doing that one jerky thing. Assert your belief that it hurts your relationship for you to hang out and engage in conversation when he’s not being his normal, nice self. Then define the behavior you don’t like without sounding critical or arguing about whether or not it’s bad; slinging insults is objectively bad, no matter who’s slinging them.
3. Brace Yourself
Even if your spouse agrees with your goals, he or she may complain that your new rules are destroying his spontaneity and causing him to second-guess himself and feel perpetually self-conscious. Don’t argue, but express confidence in your observations and the long-term benefits of change. Show no guilt and offer no explanation when you implement your plan, just support and assurance that this transition period will soon pass.
4. Extend the Experiment
Whether you try withdrawing in response to negative behaviors or lavishing praise on ones that are positive or both, refine your methods as you observe how they work. Don’t expect to get your husband to see what he’s doing wrong or agree to change. Remember, your goal is to protect yourself, even if you can’t reduce his inappropriate behavior.
5. Embrace an Exit Strategy
If you’ve done your best to alert your spouse to his bad habits and he still can’t reign them in, then your next best strategy is to avoid being in the presence of that behavior altogether. Put together an escape plan that will protect you from having to listen to further grouchiness while also discouraging it. For example, you can leave the room, put in ear plugs, or go for a walk. Because if s/he can’t keep bad behavior under wraps, you can always keep up good methods for getting around it or, if you really can’t take it, getting a good lawyer to get out of the marriage entirely.
Posted by fxckfeelings on October 29, 2015
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If, like our reader from earlier this week, you’re frustrated with your inability to help a child in a bad living situation, you can feel as trapped and tortured as you imagine the child does. There are things you can do to help, but if you’re driven by passion, not patience and care, you might end up doing more harm than good.
Here are five steps you can take that have a good chance of getting a child to safety and keeping you out of the crosshairs.
1) Align With The Authorities
Never protect a child from neglect or abuse before first notifying a state child protective agency. It’s not just the law, it’s also your best protection against taking too much responsibility while also having no authority. If you’re working with the people who can actually make a difference, then you won’t feel like it’s all up to you.
2) Take Stock, Then Take Action
Assess your own needs and other priorities before over-committing resources, factoring in state benefits and possible legal fees. If you’re really upset, you may feel like your only choice is going after the problem with everything you’ve got, but if you’ve got limited time and resources, barreling ahead means sabotaging your own efforts.
3) Give Up The Guilt
After taking every reasonable measure, don’t let your fear of possible neglect blackmail you into assuming full responsibility if you don’t really have the time, energy and health. After sharing your concerns with the state, offer to contribute whatever caregiving you can and no more. Learn to be satisfied with your best compromise, not the best, period.
4) Avoid Exploitation
If you feel your care is being misused by a child or her parent, define standards for good behavior and enforce incentives that need to be met before you give your time. Good behavior, for those whom you shelter, includes doing work (school work, chores, a job), avoiding self-destructive behavior (drugs, bad friendships, self-harm), and not being mean. Then reward those behaviors with incentives include money, car access, and, of course, praise.
5) Advocate for Yourself
Once you’ve set limits you believe are fair and taken actions you believe are smart, don’t second-guess yourself or your choices, or appear wishy-washy. If you gain the authority of custody, use your authority fairly without getting bogged down in self-doubt or explanation. Most importantly, keep reminding yourself that you are an outsider trying to do the right thing without being sucked into chaos.
Posted by fxckfeelings on October 21, 2015
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While it feels good to let someone “know how you really feel,” especially when that person is making you feel really bad, the long-term effect on your relationships can be really awful. Earlier this week, we explained to a reader why venting is dangerous, so here are five things to consider before letting loose and doing permanent damage.
- Think Beyond The Catharsis
Don’t ask yourself whether your statement will make you feel better, introduce more honesty into the world, or punish those who deserve it. All of those outcomes, while glorious, are fleeting, while the resentment, bitterness, and anger that follow can last a lifetime.
- “Nobody’s Ever Died From Bottling Up Feelings…
…but plenty of people have died from unbottling them,” is another saying we use even more frequently than the fart metaphor. Don’t think for a moment that suppressing your feelings will harm your health or fill your life with pointless frustration; venting your feelings, on the other hand, is a good way to get punched, evicted, and generally put in harm’s way.
- Review The Record
Remember what happened the last time you shared your feelings (or the last few times), and, frustrating as it may be, admit that you can’t find a single reason why things won’t happen the same way this time. Or find the non-military circumstances under which berating someone could possibly be a positive motivator, period.
- Get A Second Opinion
Before addressing an issue with someone, try to persuade a neutral party that the issue is important, something might be gained from talking about it, and there’s something constructive you can do about it. If you can’t convince them, then it’s probably best to keep the issue to yourself. If you can, prepare a statement that begins with respect and optimism, describes the mutual benefits that could be achieved with change, and encourages the other party to do what he thinks best.
- Spell It Out, Don’t Shame It Up
If your husband’s sexual unresponsiveness would force you to take actions he might not like—finding intimacy outside of your marriage, seeking a sperm donor, etc.—then spell it out to him as a necessity that you want to avoid, but, if necessary, are determined to pursue. Make it clear that you’re not telling him this as a threat, punishment, or expression of anger or disrespect; you’re not venting your feelings, you’re explaining the facts, and it’s the difference between doing damage and seeking a constructive compromise.
Posted by fxckfeelings on September 18, 2015
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As shown by our post earlier this week, “Empty Mess: Distant Daughter,” being rejected by your adult kids can make you feel like a failed parent. If you do the recommend assessment of your own parenting and fulfill your own guidelines, however, you can continue to act like a good parent no matter how badly you’re treated. You just have to do the following:
- Assess Your Parental Job Performance
Ask yourself whether you’ve done a reasonable job as parent—not perfect, just reasonable, because doing your best, not the best, is any good parents’ goal. You can’t control whether your kids like you, just whether you do the job as best you can.
- Put On A Positive Face
When your kid finally graces you with his or her company, don’t share anger or hurt. Keep it friendly while showing interest and confidence in your own role. If you know you’ve done your best to parent him or her, then you have nothing to be angry about or ashamed of.
- Don’t Appear Naggy or Overeager.
It’s hard to be around somebody cloying, whether they’re a parent or not, so keep the pressure off. And if they want to burden you with guilt, blame, or undeserved demands or obligations, stop the conversation as quickly as possible.
- Accept Distance
If you can’t keep your cool around your kid during the few visits they do allow, use media that allow you to edit out anger, hurt and over-eagerness, such as text and email. Just make sure not to overdo it.
- Don’t Ask Why
Instead of obsessing about went wrong with your relationship with your child, remind yourself that many things you don’t control can damage that relationship, no matter how good a parent you are, and that it takes a super-parent to remain positive and firm in the face of heartbreak. You may not always be close, but you will always be there for your child as his or her parent.
Posted by fxckfeelings on September 15, 2015
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Every parent knows that one day their kid will grow up and make a life of their own, but if your child grows up and seems to make a life that excludes you entirely, it can make you feel rejected, insulted, and helpless. No matter how independent your child becomes, however, you never stop being a parent. While that should never stop you from protecting yourself, it also obliges you to spell out a positive direction and push your child forward with whatever limited powers you possess. So don’t let hurt feelings cause you to forget your parenting values or powers; as long as you keep those feelings from controlling your actions, you can do a good job as a parent even if your kid does a bad job appreciating it.
I’m not sure what my expectations should be regarding my relationship with my twenty-something daughter. Since she left for a college out of state, I feel as though she simply puts up with me, and never seeks out my company or is concerned or curious about my life. She was always respectful to me when she was growing up, but last year she actually rolled her eyes at for the first time ever, in response to something I said. That has been her general response to me since she graduated from college, and it really hurts. I haven’t spoken to her in two months. She recently came to town to attend her grandmother’s (my ex’s mother’s) 85th birthday and never made an effort to see me. I have been living my life and missing her terribly, but I feel that maybe because she’s a perfectionist, and her career is experiencing fits and starts, she doesn’t want me to see her in this mode. My goal is to figure out how to keep from losing both of my kids entirely.
Reacting to your kids as if they’re your friends is dangerous because uncontrollable forces can interfere with friendship without ever changing the fact that you’re their mother. There’s a huge difference between losing touch with someone you used to run with versus someone you used to raise.
We all want to wind up as friends with our kids once they’re grown up, if possible, but if that doesn’t seem possible, chastising and nagging them in the manner of a parent isn’t going to help. So rather than dwelling on the normal but negative feelings of hurt and disappointment with kids who don’t try to get along with you, focus on the one thing you always control— trying to offer the best parenting possible.
Good parenting for a dismissive, self-centered daughter includes teaching her that you expect reasonably good behavior if she wants something in return, like periodic efforts to keep in touch. You’re not a Giving Tree; she shouldn’t treat her mother that way, and if she treated her friends that way, her only companion would be a tree stump.
Before anger gets you focused on what she’s doing wrong, ask yourself whether you did a good job—not perfect, but good enough—as a parent. Use the same rating system you would use to judge the parenting ability of a friend or hired nanny, ignoring irrational voices of doubt, second-guessing, and regret. If you fall seriously short, particularly in attending to her needs, prepare to apologize.
At that point, having done what you can to square your own conduct with your ideals, give thought to your daughter’s job description and her major shortcomings.
Without necessarily sharing it with her, write a brief, positive description of the change your daughter should make in order to do her job and keep up her side of the parent-child relationship. Make sure to praise her assets and describe change as an important improvement, not a crime that requires atonement, and don’t make it personal. By articulating your thoughts, even if it’s just for your own eyes, you’ve created a manifesto to guide your attitude.
If your daughter rejects you or wants to punish you, try not to blame or apologize. Let her know you’re proud of your parenting and believe that, if she accepts you and behaves reasonably, you can have a good relationship.
When she does get in touch, don’t talk about sadness or sound like a victim; if you do, you may inadvertently reward their urge to punish you. Instead, convey hope that things will improve and optimism about your future relationship. In the meantime, stay patient, positive, and steadfast, i.e., be a good friend to yourself.
“My lack of a decent relationship with my kids makes me feel like I failed as a parent, but I have good reason to believe it has more to do with them than me. I will continue to look for what is good and healthy in them and stand by my belief that, if they’re willing to behave decently, we can develop a positive relationship.”
Posted by fxckfeelings on September 13, 2015
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Earlier this week, we gave a reader advice about how to decide what to do about his broken marriage. Given the disconnect between the way you feel about a marriage and its true potential for benefit or harm in your life, it’s not an easy choice, so here’s a list of questions that will help you find its true value, regardless of your current feelings.
- Can I keep putting up with [habit that makes you nuts]?
Ask yourself whether there’s something specific about your partner you can’t tolerate—from the way he never replaces an empty roll of toilet paper to the way she never replenishes your shared bank account after spending too much money on booze—and whether it’s ever likely to change. Remember, people don’t change unless they decide they want to, for their own reasons, and, even then, trying hard is no guarantee. If it isn’t likely to change, consider whether it’s something you can put up with or not.
- Can s/he keep putting up with my [habit that makes your partner nuts]?
Ask yourself whether there’s something about you that your partner can’t stand—again, anything from just leaving your dishes in the sink to leaving for days on end without warning—and whether it’s in your power to change. If it is, decide whether you’re willing to change if changing might make the marriage work.
- Can I stop overreacting?
Ask yourself whether, under pressure from marital conflict, you’ve done things you think are wrong, passive-aggressive, or generally petty and destructive to your union. If so, consider whether you can clean up your act. Otherwise, you won’t know whether your bad behavior is responsible for ruining your marriage.
- Can I figure out the point of marriage in general?
Ask yourself, in a business-like way, what your goals are for a marriage, like companionship, acceptance, support during hard times, strengthened family ties, lower taxes, etc. Then rate your marriage according to these goals, and assess how your ability to reach those goals will be better/worse if your marriage ends, i.e., he might be a good companion and listener, but he’s not around when I really need him, so it might be better to find someone more reliable who’s less chatty and talk to a cat.
- Can I see through my rage?
Ask yourself whether your perspective is tainted by anger; a good partner may be infuriating, but also worth sticking it out with, while a bad partner may just make you sad. Instead, pay attention to your rating system, based on all the objective assessments above, which will tell you whether your marriage is good for your life, or whether you should start a new life as a single person.
Posted by fxckfeelings on September 8, 2015
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Deciding whether to continue a marriage and how you feel about your marriage are two very different things; you may feel miserable in a marriage that has the potential to make you happy in the long run, or you may feel ambivalent enough about your union that you tough it out, even though doing so may be the wrong choice looking forward. Making the decision is hard, but if you can be honest about your priorities, you can make the best choice for you, your marriage, and your future.
After too many years of passive aggressiveness by both myself and my wife of several years, we finally admitted that we do not love each other anymore. Despite that, she agreed to give it a go again, though she will not attend counseling where she thinks all her mistakes will be highlighted. She wants to begin “dating” each other again. I’m going along with this but will also be seeing a psychologist to sort out the anger I have for the wasted time. The thing is, even with all of this counseling, I don’t see myself falling back in love with her. I think separating and eventually dissolving the marriage would make me much happier; as a healthy man in my 60s, I feel I have a lot of great years left and want to spend them with someone I can really love. My older kids would probably accept the separation, so…f*ck happiness? Yield to the stupor of reality? My goal is to figure out what the f*ck is going on.
When we have to make important decisions for ourselves that also affect someone we care about, we tend to make the mistake of allowing them an equal or more important voice in our thought process. It’s a little like the old notion of having a devil and an angel on each shoulder, except in this case, you have the other person voicing their needs on one shoulder and you’re sitting cowering down by the elbow, hoping to eventually get a word in edgewise.
Considering the feelings of someone you’re strongly connected to as if they were your own is a natural habit to get into, but if you want to do the right thing by both of you, it’s a habit that must be broken. It might sound selfish at first, but when you think about it, it’s the smarter approach.
That’s because, if you over-regard someone else’s feelings when making decisions, you may well make the decision they want and then blame them for it. That’s not fair, of course, because it’s your decision to make. It’s not fair to either one of you in the long run.
So re-edit your description of your problem; you feel you don’t love your wife and have a negative, angry chemistry that doesn’t change, even when you’re not arguing. Given her age and lack of interest in treatment, you can’t expect her to change. You haven’t presented any reason of your own for staying married to her. Instead, you’ve presented her wishes as if they’re as important as your own, even though they’re completely contradictory.
Give more thought to your own reasons for staying together. Review your incomes and retirement opportunities, and consider the possible shared pleasures and interests of spending retirement time together. Ask yourself whether you enjoy your time together with your kids. Do your own arithmetic so you don’t demean your own judgment by substituting hers for yours.
As long as you make your own decision, you won’t be a marriage victim; you’ll either stay because you think you’re better off as partners through the next stage of your lives, or you’ll leave because there are too many advantages to moving on.
No matter what you decide, it should be your choice based more heavily on your priorities, not shoulder commentary, so it’s a choice you can respect.
“I feel torn by my wife’s desires versus my own, but I can discover my own mind even if I’ve been married forever. I will not disregard my marriage, but I will protect my right to a better life if I determine that this marriage is fundamentally harmful to my well-being.”