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Tell Me About It | Carolyn Hax

Do some work and put pejorative comments in perspective

Work to understand where these people are coming from

Q: I'm 32, have been happily married for six-plus years, and was surprised and upset to recently discover that a fair number of my family and friends don't much care for my husband. At a family gathering, at which he was not present, someone made the offhand comment "It's not as if he's terribly ambitious." Others jumped in with other criticisms — nothing about the way he treats me (very well, nor does he drink, play around or have other major flaws), just that I "could have done so much better" and the infuriating (to me) comment, "Oh well, as long as you're happy." I said "I AM happy, and PLEASE, you're talking about my husband!"

Their reaction was, gosh, we're not saying anything you don't already know! In fact, I disagree with much of their criticism, and said so, but not extensively and we moved on to other topics.

So now I'm wondering where I go from here. I've pretty much decided not to mention it to my husband, but I'm going to feel funny being around people who I know hold these negative views. We live a couple of hours away so we don't see them all the time, but we do see them on a fairly regular basis.

Ohio

A: I'm sorry, that's no fun. I'm sure, though, that while these comments seemed out-of-the-blue at the time, there's a benefit to letting time and context do their jobs. What do you know about the people who made these judgments? Do they have a history that would explain such a superficial set of opinions?

What may seem like the end of your good times with a group of people often is just the end of your delusional times with a group of people. Especially when it's a long-standing relationship, like with family, childhood friends, even colleagues, it's common to form your opinion of your crowd and then not revisit it a whole lot. They just are who they are; there's a lot of comfort in that.

But imagine if your initial impression was off in any way — which it usually is, if you think about it. A long relationship would mean, by definition, that you were a child going into it, or a rookie, or just less well traveled than you are now. In that case, you'd likely still be carrying around this misguided opinion of everyone. And that usually comes out when you get blindsided by their true selves.

So, if you don't want to lose your connection to these people completely, but can't imagine maintaining it on the same terms now, then revisit your impressions of everyone who chimed in on your husband's shortcomings. Spend some time getting familiar with their shortcomings.

Not to use them against everyone, of course, but instead to put their comments in perspective. It will sharpen any decision you make at this point, be it to change your expectations, your stand on behalf of your husband, your visiting habits or all three. You may find, too, that you still can summon warm feelings for this crowd — just with more nuance to them.

Advice

Do some work and put pejorative comments in perspective 06/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 11:58am]

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