Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Heavy Sighs: My husband is the best, except for a few small things. One thing he does that drives me crazy is that, whenever I ask him to do something for me, he responds with a heavy sigh or roll of the eyes as if he is extremely put-out, before he agrees to do it. I swear I am not being unreasonable in my requests, although I have needed more help than usual lately since I've been sick a lot with my pregnancy. He tells me that I should just ignore it, because he does generally do the favor for me, and he doesn't always mind as much as he looks like he minds. He acts like the reaction is practically involuntary. But I can't help the fact that it gets to me sometimes—I wish he would just do these things without making me feel like a nag all the time. Worse, it makes me feel like he's my teenage son or something. But I don't want to police his facial expressions either. Any advice?
A: It's such a little thing—an exhalation of breath, a circular orbit of the eyes. But everyone understands why sighing and eye-rolling is so maddening that it provokes thoughts of reaching for the frying pan. What your husband is doing isn't OK, and it can't be ignored. When your baby arrives, interacting with your little one will reinforce your husband's understanding of what social creatures we are and how even the slightest change in facial expression conveys so much. But for now tell your husband that it's a real problem that if you make a reasonable request he acts ticked off. Try this: Ask him permission to do to him what he does to you so that he can experience just how annoying it is. A few sighs and eye-rolls in response to, "Hon, could you pick up my shirts at the dry cleaner?" might be very instructive for him. If that doesn't work, then call him out on his behavior. When you ask him to change a light bulb in the ceiling and you get his usual response, without rancor say, "This appears to be an imposition. The problem is that it's hard for me to balance on a chair right now. Please tell me if I'm being too demanding or setting you off. Because when you roll your eyes or sigh, it makes me really want to back away from you."
Dear Prudence Live in New York: Surprise Pregnancy
Q. Affair Discovered: I've been having an affair for a month with my best friend's husband. My husband figured out something was going on almost immediately, but instead of confronting me, he let it go on. Finally, when he said something two days ago, we ended up having a big confrontation. He says he loves me, forgives me, and wants our marriage to be fixed. When the affair started, my lover and I agreed we would never leave our spouses because we both have kids. My husband wants to keep it all secret (as do we of course) because he doesn't want my lover's wife to be hurt. My husband doesn't realize that I am still communicating with my lover, but I just can't let it go. We both are in love but know that we can't financially or emotionally afford to divorce. He doesn't want to let me go, but he says he can't leave his wife. Are we crazy to keep hanging on and hope that we can continue our secret relationship?
A: Your beautiful love story has so moved me that I find it hard not to hope you two crazy kids get what you deserve. Of course, what you deserve is to each be kicked to the curb, but that will cause endless anguish and emotional and financial devastation to your two families. It could be once your best friend (BFF!) figures out what's going on, she will not be so understanding as your husband, and all the unpleasant consequences you are trying to avoid will come raining down on you. You and your lover have both betrayed everyone in your lives. Stop it now and try to salvage your marriages.
Q. Crazy Mother-in-Law to Be: My fiancé is amazing—he's kind, smart, funny, responsible. His mother, however, is not. She has undiagnosed psychiatric issues (she refuses to see anyone) and has gotten worse in recent years since she retired. She's managed to push everyone in her life away, except for her husband and sometimes her son and daughter. For the first year and a half we were together she left me alone for the most part, but lately she's started saying terrible things about me to my fiancé—e.g., she knew I didn't like her because I kiss the side of her head rather than her face when I hug her, and that my family and I (culturally Jewish, but agnostic) ram religion down her throat. He stands up for me completely, and honestly he gets it from her way worse than I, but how do I spend time with her without feeling totally awkward? I know she has serious issues, but I have a hard time being in the same room with her without wanting to run away. We want to have kids in a couple of years, which I know will bring her around even more.
A: Limits, limits, limits. First of all your fiancé should have a serious discussion with both his parents in which he says he is concerned about his mother's increasing isolation and evident unhappiness and that he thinks a professional could help her. I'm assuming this will induce from Mom something along the lines of, "You think I'm crazy? This comes from that girlfriend of yours, doesn't it? Well, here's some news, she's the crazy one!" I'll also guess that Dad will do his enabling shtick to get her to calm down. But this conversation will at least have laid the groundwork for the second set of steps, which is to explain that there are certain types of behavior you both will no longer put up with. Your fiancé should say to his mother that she had made some groundless and hurtful accusations to him and to you, and neither of you want to hear it anymore. He should explain if she starts down that road you both will end the phone conversation or the visit. Then do it! When Mom starts on her cuckoo-talk, you both should have a signal that you give each other, then you get up—even if it's in the middle of a meal—and say, "Sorry, this is the kind of unpleasantness we were talking about. We'll see you another time." You cannot change his mother, but you can change how you interact with her. And if she realizes she's not going to get away with it, she might even start reining it in.