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Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Good afternoon, everyone. Let’s chat.
Q. Messages: My sister had an unstable relationship with her health. She developed obsessions with diets, cleanses, and New Age nonsense. She damaged herself to the point of hospitalization and still refused actual scientific treatments in favor of “nature.” Her ex left her because of this and was given full custody by the courts because my sister refused to vaccinate her 4-year-old and instead put her on a “diet.” My sister died. Before that, she recorded several video messages for her child. I have watched a few, but they are mostly obsessive rambling about her persecution complex and fixations. There are a few lovely comments, like her talking about her favorite poem.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to burden my sister’s child with this legacy, but the idea of editing these videos into something placeable makes me queasy. Her ex barely lets my family interact anymore. My parents know about the videos but not what they hold. What do I owe the dead and what do I owe the living? I could make several nice edited videos where my sister comes across as loving and not deranged. What should I do?
A: I’m so sorry that you’re trying to navigate all of this as you also deal with your own complicated grief. I wonder if you have a trustworthy, closed-mouth friend you can ask to help you with the editing, or at least with going through the raw footage and marking the moments that are most relevant or least distressing for compilation? I can understand why you might not want to show these videos to just anyone, but it might be easier than having to sit through all of it yourself.
You also have the option of sitting on this for a while—maybe it will be easier to try to compile something in a year or two when this wound isn’t so fresh. I don’t think it’s a matter of time-sensitivity or urgency that you get these videos to your niece right now. Give yourself time, and ease up on yourself if you can.
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Q. Adult temper tantrums? I have been dating my boyfriend for about two years. We recently moved in together. I suppose I am noticing it more now that we live together, but he has this odd behavior of throwing temper tantrums when things don’t go his way. His anger is never directed at a person other than himself, but sometimes he’ll berate an object. He will say things like “I am so stupid, why am I so stupid” and refer to himself in the third person. He stomps his feet, slams doors, and yells. It’s like a toddler’s behavior, done by a grown man. I cannot reason with him. The things he is upset about are things every normal human deals with and are certainly not worth getting so upset about.
I have tried walking away and ignoring him, just leaving him alone to throw the tantrum, but his behavior is starting to cause me stress. He also has had tantrums in public (in a home improvement store) and in front of family and friends with young children. It’s embarrassing. I do not know how to stop this, so I told him that going forward every time he does it I am going to record him and make him rewatch the incident. He does not think it’s “that bad,” so I am hopeful that this will show him that it really is this bad. This man is in his 30s! Has anyone else dealt with this?
A: I think a number of people have had to deal with adults who throw fits when they don’t get their way—but I don’t think a lot of people have been able to solve that problem by filming the tantrum thrower, showing them the video, and then arriving at a consensus. Say this sentence out loud to yourself, and ask yourself honestly if it feels reasonable and healthy: “My boyfriend doesn’t believe me when I tell him his outbursts frighten and embarrass me. Now I regularly record him so that we can review his tantrums together.” I don’t think your boyfriend is suffering from a lack of information about his own behavior. Nor do I think he’s going to respond to these videos with patience, open-mindedness, or gratitude. If you’ve reached a point where your only hope of getting your partner to listen to you is by filming him, it’s time to admit that there has been a total breakdown of trust and respect in your relationship. If an adult man is having a meltdown in a home improvement store over a petty irritation and someone standing nearby says, “Don’t worry, I’m filming this and plan to show it to him later,” I don’t think most passersby would be reassured.
I don’t say this to make light of your frustration and desperation. It’s clear that you feel totally overwhelmed by your boyfriend’s rage and impulsivity, and I’m so sorry that you’ve suffered from his temper for so long. But your belief that he’ll finally admit what he’s doing is reckless, unnecessary, frightening, and inappropriate if only you can provide enough objective evidence is wishful thinking. You say his anger is never directed at anyone else—but he yells, slams doors, and distresses you whenever he does it. His behavior is unpredictable, intimidating, and threatening.
Wouldn’t it be easier to say to yourself, “I deserve a partner who knows how to express anger safely and sanely”? Wouldn’t it be easier to break up with him than to expand your role as his partner into being his videographer, therapist, and babysitter? He’s displayed no interest in changing his behavior or seeing a therapist over it. There’s no substitute for willingness when it comes to making real changes. You can’t stop these fits, and I don’t think you should try—I think you should look for a partner who doesn’t throw them in the first place.
Q. Castle: My husband built an elaborate castle fort for his children when they were young. (They are currently teenagers living abroad with their mother.) We live on three acres with fences designed to keep livestock in. You can see the fort from the bend in the road but have to trespass across a closed field and our backyard fence. My husband and I both work in town. Our area has gone through a huge development, with new houses popping up everywhere. Since the pandemic, we have come home and found strangers using our backyard as a private park. I had a stranger argue with me that she gets to trespass with her children because there are no public parks nearby. My husband had one lady threaten to call the sheriff on him and she backed off only after my husband told her he would do it himself. We put up “No Trespassing” signs and got cameras and a dog. It hasn’t worked. My husband came home on a half day to find our dog in the front yard. The surveillance video showed a woman opening the gate, petting our dog, and bringing her sons into play.
We are at a loss. It feels like our only choices are calling the sheriff and pressing charges or destroying the fort. We can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on a new fence because of these horrible, hateful people. This kills my husband because the fort was a huge labor of love for him and we still enjoy having friends and family bring their children over to play. I can’t understand this mindset. I wouldn’t go up to someone’s garden and rip up their roses or use their grill. What do we do here?
A: I think the most important thing you can do is consult a lawyer and ask specific questions about “attractive nuisance laws” in your state—you may have very little liability when it comes to trespassers, especially if you’ve put up signs and cameras, or you may have more. You may have more options than you think. It’s truly frustrating that so many of your neighbors keep hopping over your fence, ignoring your signs, and becoming aggressive when you ask them to leave. If anyone else has a better suggestion, please feel free to chime in—but I think at a certain point, the fort becomes more of a millstone than anything else, and it’s time to take it down.
Q. Cutting financial support to Mom: My mother and I have lived together since my parents divorced. I am the only child (there’s three of us) who is willing to host her and pay her rent. She received a decent settlement from the divorce and could have bought a house (or made a decent down payment) but has always been terrible with her finances. I’ve now learned she’s sending money to a man she met online and claims they’re in love (she says she loves him when they talk on the phone), but she is always hiding her conversations with him and will quickly hang up if I walk into the room. I think she knows what she’s doing is wrong and that she’s been conned, but she’s given this man all her settlement and has declared bankruptcy. I’m tired of supporting her, especially since my siblings refuse to help (they make more than me). How do I tell my mother she needs to stop sending this man money, that she needs to start taking care of herself, and that I want to start my own life and not have her living with me?
A: By focusing on the third point—starting your own life and living independently—and by refusing to take responsibility for the first two. You don’t need her permission to live independently, just adequate notice before your move-out date so she has time to make other arrangements (or fail to make other arrangements, as the case may be). You can tell her: “I think you should stop giving this man money—if he really loved you, he would not be asking you for so much money that you bankrupt yourself. I can’t tell you what to do with your own money, but I hope you’ll at least consult a lawyer or a financial planner and try to get practical advice.” Then leave it alone. If she wants to squander her money on a bad boyfriend, you can (and should!) try to persuade her otherwise, but you can’t wrest away control of her bank account and tell her what to do.
You’re never going to convince your mother to stop asking you to bail her out. You just have to decide to stop. Then you have to figure out how you’ll maintain an inner reserve of strength when she tries to change your mind. That work can take a long time to complete, but it’s very much worth doing. Look for a new apartment, focus on your own savings account, get used to cutting conversations about money short, and be clear with your mother about what she can and can’t expect from you. If you wait for the day that your mother says “You’re right, I’m going to stop asking you to support me” of her own volition, or because you’ve finally argued in terms so clear and persuasive she comes around to your point of view, I’m afraid that day will never come.
Q. Bye bi: I am a bisexual woman currently married to a heterosexual man. Prior to meeting him I seriously dated men and had some casual encounters with women. At the beginning of our relationship I told him about my experience with men and women, but my sexuality is not something that I had ever been comfortable talking about. This June I have been coming out to my close family and friends and have started to openly use the word bisexual to describe myself. This has been a really joyful experience for me. It’s nice to be honest about who I am with those I care about. But there’s a catch: My husband doesn’t actually believe I am bi and says my previous experience with women “doesn’t count,” that that was nothing more than a phase, and that he knows I am definitely straight.
I made it clear that what he said was extremely disrespectful, but he’s not backing down. I’m not asking him to open our marriage. I just want him to believe me and—it shouldn’t be too much to ask—find this to be an interesting part of who I am. Unfortunately he is unwilling, and I am exhausted. I am torn between wanting to sweep this under the rug and wanting to end our eight-year relationship—there must be some middle ground! It sounds ridiculous to write, but do you have any tips for how to navigate these kinds of conversations? How can I make my husband believe that I am bisexual?
A: I think it’s critical to reframe this question as: “Given that I cannot make my husband believe anything he has already closed his mind against, how can I seek out support and community regardless of his stance?” If your husband is determined to discount and ignore your bisexuality, it won’t help to bring him “evidence” or attempt to persuade him by sharing further personal disclosures. You’ll only feel more tired, more exposed, more vulnerable, and more pushed-aside, and he won’t respond to these moments of vulnerability and attempts at intimacy with respect, patience, or open-mindedness. What kind of people do you want to be around right now? Who do you want to discuss your bisexuality with? Do you have friends who are out? Are there any support groups for bi women with unsupportive straight partners in your area? Can you keep having conversations about your sexuality with the friends who have already shown themselves to be receptive?
I don’t say this because I think it’s going to be a long-term, sustainable solution to have a bisexual community that exists largely outside your marriage. But I do think it will make it clear that you don’t have to settle for this kind of treatment from your partner, and he’ll realize he can either catch up with the rest of the group or eventually get left behind.
Q. Re: Castle: How about putting up a fence around the fort itself? That has to be less expensive than putting one around the entire yard.
A: I suppose that is an option! There have been a number of letters to this effect, mentioning that “10-foot outdoor dog pens are typically much cheaper than full yard fencing,” that “another option is to make it unattractive to use, putting long heavy chains across slides and swings, and setting up motion-activated sprinklers,” and “going to the neighbors and really hammering home the point that they can’t do this, reminding the kids that it’s wrong.” That just all sounds really dispiriting and like committing to life under siege in a way that I can’t imagine fosters personal satisfaction or peacefulness.
Q. Re: Adult temper tantrums? For the woman whose boyfriend throws tantrums, I would get out now. I was with someone who behaved in the exact way you’re describing. Like your boyfriend, his tantrums were never “directed at me”—until they were. Someone who is willing to behave this way is eventually going to reach a point where he doesn’t feel he has to restrain himself from unloading on his partner. You don’t have to wait for it to get to that point. His behavior is embarrassing and inappropriate, it’s a strain to live with, and he doesn’t see the big deal—you can take all that as reason enough to leave.
A: I think that’s dead-on. The tantrums are a show of force designed to intimidate and cow other people into calming him down and giving him what he wants. This is sufficient reason to walk away.
Q. Re: Castle: Your answer is totally off base. The poster did not ask about her risks of liability to strangers, which would raise the attractive nuisance issue. She asked how to politely keep trespassers off her property. Since she has posted and put up cameras, the advice should have been to consult with the local sheriff.
A: I cannot advise someone to call the police to protect a backyard fort when we know how often calling the police results in the death of citizens.
Q. My wife is pregnant by another man: A little after my wife and I reconciled from our separation, we discovered she was pregnant. Although we were having marital problems, we were going through marriage therapy and I genuinely wanted to give it another try. I was, of course, over the moon about becoming a father. Things were starting to look up, until I discovered an ultrasound scan report which showed my wife was further along in the pregnancy than she told me. After a bitter, heated argument she confessed she conceived the baby with someone else while we were separated. She said she thought she was acting for the best because she knew I would be happy about the pregnancy. (One of the many reasons why we initially separated was because I wanted to start a family and she didn’t.) To cut the long story short, I decided to get a divorce. Since I moved out, my wife has been spreading malicious rumors that I abandoned her and “our baby.” She’s been hospitalized due to complications in her pregnancy and I got a lot of hate mails/calls from her family and friends for not showing up. I don’t want to get caught up in a dirty fight so I have been ignoring these. But I’m getting increasingly angry that she is smearing my reputation through lies. Should I clear my name, even if it means airing our dirty laundry in public? Read what Prudie had to say.
Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.
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