Hi, Carolyn: After being a self-described pushover and the person who gets dumped on in her family, my sister has started therapy and is finally making a noticeable effort to stand up for herself when asked to do things that inconvenience her. I’m really proud of her!
However, I notice she often says she “can’t (visit a relative, spend money on our nephew’s fundraiser, etc.)” rather than, “I don’t want to,” or “I’m not interested in doing that.” I have encouraged her to be honest and tell me when she WON’T do something I ask, rather than hiding behind the implication that she wants to but can’t, but I’m not sure that’s working. I find it very passive-aggressive and not a meaningful improvement over what she was doing before.
Should I just butt out, or can I somehow help her become more assertive?
– Won’t vs. Can’t
Good for her for working against her old habits to form better ones.
Now you need to do the same.
You’re used to having say in her choices. Especially given her efforts to reclaim that say from everyone else, it’s only sporting to recognize the boundary between your business and hers in all of your dealings with her.
So if she says she can’t do something, then she can’t – even if the longer version of “can’t” is simply, “I can’t say yes to this without risking a return to my old doormatty ways.”
Poor health, no sex
Dear Carolyn: For years my husband has not exercised on a regular basis. He now has high cholesterol and we have no sex life. He’s constantly glued to his cellphone and only works, day and evenings.
He’s a good father to our kids but seems to have no clue when it comes to himself, his health and the importance of exercise.
I’ve given him articles, tried to set an example by walking places, going to the gym three to four times a week, but he never budges. Any advice? Should I contact his doctor?
Prioritizing work and phone over spouse and health is not something a doctor can fix.
While his high cholesterol is unfortunate, that is apparently just one side effect of his choices. (How can he be a good dad, I wonder, with his attention always phoneward?)
Please talk to him – not about fitness, but about his center of gravity, which has moved away from his family and the outdoors and his own body. Note his absence, and ask for his presence again.
Screens have addictive power, obviously, plus the pull of immediate needs has always been fierce. The demands of work can find us everywhere via smartphone, and seem like needs when they’re not.
Add to this the simple human preferences for feeling needed and for finding the easiest path, and a person can get a dose of validation with every quiver of the phone – then segue to mindless scrolling. It’s tough for the living, breathing, complicated human beings in his life to compete with this.
But they must. They – you – must speak up and say, “I’m here, I miss you, I need you to come back to us,” however you can both agree to get it done.
Nightly phones-off periods are a good start. Perfect for a walk, a bike, a joint trip to the gym.