Caught in the communication chasm between husband and his parents

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

My spouse and his parents seem to have a huge rift when it comes to communication — meaning, what someone should be told versus what they ask. My husband gets upset because his parents don’t share something with him and their response is usually, “Well, you should have asked.” And it’s not always clear he would know when or what to ask.

We seem to be coming into this issue with the passing of a family member while we were on vacation.

None of the details and funeral arrangements have been communicated to us, so I’ve asked, but I know my husband is fuming that they have not let him know details such as date, time and place.

Is there a way to bridge this? They have a long history of different emotional and communication styles, and they’re not going to go to therapy. My husband doesn’t seem to want to accept them as they are. I often either feel caught in the middle, or like I am supposed to try to communicate or explain the other’s behavior.

— Asking Versus Telling

No. You are not “caught” in the middle, and no, you are not supposed to help him communicate or to explain one party to the other.

These are kind things to offer when people have generally functional relationships that misfire every once in a while. But when you have a pattern of dysfunction like the one you describe here, stepping in to help merely helps to perpetuate the problem.

Worse than that, it actually widens the scope of the problem to include you, too.

There must be a special law of physics for dysfunction, since there’s no limit to how far it can stretch to hold everyone who wants in.

So here’s what I suggest. When your husband fumes about his parents’ failure to communicate X or Y, then you say, “They’re just doing what they always do. Expecting otherwise seems like a good way to drive yourself nuts.”

Or variations: “In other words, they’re just being themselves. Would it help if we just expected that and had a Plan B ready?”; “Of course they didn’t tell you anything — they’re your parents”; “Maybe if we put $100 in a vacation account every time they don’t share something, we can start to look forward to these incidents as bringing us one step closer to a cruise.”

Actually, that doesn’t have to be facetious. Why not make a savings plan of it? It’s lemonade out of lemons, or … wow, I can’t think of a cocktail with lemon. Making lemons into lemon twists, I guess.

Re: Lemons:

Tom Collins: 1½ ounces of gin, ½ ounce of fresh lemon juice, 3 ounces of club soda, stir, drink over ice, repeat.

— Helpful

There you go — making a Tom Collins out of lemons. Nice touch on the “repeat.” But no simple syrup?

Though I haven’t heard anybody order one since I was in my … 20s? Maybe I’ll go with limoncello.

Re: Asking Versus Telling:

When we found out that my mom had been married for years to her long-term boyfriend, we asked her why they hadn’t told us. Her response: “Well, you never asked.” Top that.

— Anonymous

I hope I never get the chance to, thanks.

© 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Talk to us

More in Life

Darlene Love, Steven Van Zandt and Paul Shaffer  performed in concert at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park on Sept. 12, 2015.
Pandemic’s not stopping Christmas Queen Darlene Love

The singer best known for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” will perform her annual holiday concert online this year.

roses
A gardener’s to-do list for winterizing the yard — Part 2

Try to accomplish most of these chores, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get them all done.

Caleb Sanders and Ashley Dougherty help decorate for the Trees of Christmas event at the Everett Bible Baptist Church. (Maria Lara)
Church keeps Christmas tradition alive with drive-thru event

Everett Bible Baptist Church hosts Trees of Christmas, with music, narration and special treats for the family.

Mexican sedum is an excellent groundcover plant, forming a dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Sedum kimnachii aka Mexican sedum

An excellent groundcover plant, this variety forms a flat, dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves.

Make holidays brighter with energy saving tips and gifts

Snohomish County PUD shares five smart ways to find joy in the season that use less electricity.

John Spadam owner, at Spada Farmhouse Brewery in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Spada ready to show off new bar and restaurant in Snohomish

During the pandemic, the Spada family has been busy renovating an old building on First Street.

Precept Wine, the largest privately-owned wine company in Washington, recruited Seattle native Sarah Cabot to take over its pinot noir production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2014. (Precept Wine)
Six examples of award-winning pinot noir in the Northwest

The Willamette Valley of Oregon has a reputation for the red wine, but there are other success stories in the area.

To deposit a coin in the Bonzo bank, you had to push his tummy. His tongue would come out of his mouth to deposit the coin inside. Many similar banks were made picturing other comic characters. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Mechanical bank of the first famous Bonzo sells for $1,800

The dog decorating the front of the tin bank was a comic cartoon star from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Design elements of the M235i Gran Coupe include angled headlights, four-eyed halo daytime running lights, and BMW’s traditional kidney grille. (Manufacturer photo)
BMW’s compact 2 Series Gran Coupe is all new to the 2020 lineup

A turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and 8-speed automatic transmission are standard on both versions.

Most Read