No (Grand)Child Left Behind / Not All Friendships are Forever
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’m a grandchild widow. Or at least I feel like one. My partner of 19 years puts the needs (and wants!) of her grandchildren before everything else. If we have dinner plans, and one of them needs a babysitter, everything is off. The more she gives, the more they want! And somehow she doesn’t seem to see it. What can I do or say to bring her to her senses?
Dr. Hurd replies,
Take the positive route over the negative one. By that I mean talking about how you’d like to have more time together for just the two of you. Maybe a date night; time set aside for just you two where nothing short of a real emergency can change the plans. Encourage her to be open with the relatives about this, so they can plan around your date night.
Suggesting a positive alternative seems better than saying you resent her for spending so much time with her grandchildren. If she gets a little defensive, hold your ground without getting defensive yourself. Remind her of the truth: You’re asking for more time with her. It’s a compliment! (And a win-win.)
Respect her desire to get to know her grandchildren, and tell her that your desire to have alone time with her matters just as much to you. Does it matter to her? If not, don’t get defensive; but suggest that that’s something she might wish to explore, because it seems contradictory. You’re either in a relationship or you’re not. Some people don’t do all these things for their grandchildren, and it’s their legitimate choice.
Your comment “…bring her to her senses” worries me a little. You make it sound like she’s irrational. If you sound that way to me, you’ll probably come across that way to her. Not good! Before you suggest the date night, think about her point-of-view. Go into the conversation wanting to understand. Otherwise, you’ll come across as not respecting her needs as much as yours, and that’s a recipe for conflict.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
We recently bought a nice house here in Rehoboth, and we occasionally welcome our friends to stay with us. Two of them stayed with us a few weeks ago and they were incredibly rude. They made no attempt to thank us for our hospitality, they complained about the temperature in the house, they forced us to join them for an expensive dinner (after we told them we didn’t want to go), then made us split the check. I’m pretty much over them for good, but my partner is going the “but they’re our friends!” route. I sincerely fear for their safety if we invite them back—I might kill them. An exaggeration, perhaps —but not much.
Dr. Hurd replies,
I’m a big advocate of the idea that we create the psychological environment around us. In other words, for your friends to act in such an inconsiderate way there must have been something you and your partner did—or didn’t do—that led them to be comfortable acting so insensitively.
No, you’re not responsible for their actions, and no, I’m not excusing them, and no, you would probably never act that way yourself. But if you treat their behaviors without comment or consequence, then you’re clearly sending the message to them that what they’re doing is reasonable and acceptable.
The issue now is that your partner considers them friends, and you no longer do. Since you love him, start out by giving him the benefit of the doubt. Say, “I’ve been thinking about these people. I honestly don’t know what I get out of being with them. My life isn’t improved by having spent time with them. I know you don’t feel that way. What do you get out of their company that I’m missing?” Encourage him to explore his feelings about this.
In the end, it’s all about compromise. Make suggestions. How about if you simply don’t invite them into your home next year, but propose a dinner with them in the town where they live? Or how about cutting the stay to only one night? When he insists, “But they’re our friends,” explain to him that you no longer consider them friends. While you’ll still spend time with them on his behalf, it’s asking too much to have them as guests.
I know you want to be done with them, but you feel helpless to the point of rage because outrageously rude people have invaded your space. If you weren’t in a long-term commitment with this person you love, you’d have the option to write them off. But you love him, and facts are facts, so let’s work with them.
You’re not going to be a doormat on his behalf. Make sure he understands just how much it bothers you. Ask him if it’s really that important to have them as guests. You can perhaps compromise and keep them as friends, but does it follow that you have to change their sheets and clean their toilets when they’re so rude and ungrateful? That’s surely beyond compromise.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office may be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.