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Give boyfriend's mom the benefit of the doubt

Published August 21, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • From what my daughter's boyfriend has told me of his childhood, his mom sounds cold, unloving, even borderline abusive. He's quick to reassure me that she's changed since then. But I can't unhear what I've heard. I know the default is to be cordial when I meet her and give her the benefit of the doubt, but how do I handle it if she puts him down in my presence?

Uncharted Territory

Dear Uncharted Territory • First, how to handle what you've heard, and second, how to handle what you witness. For the former I recommend, yes, the benefit of the doubt, but you can't half-heart it, or else you'll take the slightest of her transgressions as license to believe the worst.

Page through your memories of raising your daughter, and fix on a couple of your lowest moments. Times you yelled, times you acted selfishly, times you said something mean. Now imagine your daughter spinning these tales for a therapist. Yikes.

You may know these were deeply regretted exceptions, typical and human, but you also need to know that, if phrased just-so to someone who wasn't there and doesn't know you, these could paint a scary picture of you. Of anyone.

Dear Carolyn • Often when my girlfriend calls me or I call her while she is with family or friends, she will announce that she has put me on speaker phone, at which point I am expected to converse with whoever happens to be in the room. I find it annoying, and I've expressed this to my girlfriend. She in turn finds it annoying that I am not more enthusiastic about speaking with her friends. Which of us is on the right side of etiquette, in your opinion?

D.

Dear D. • You're trying to have a say in what you do, even if your methods might be problematic. She, meanwhile, is trying to have a say in what you think and feel, which is a boundary violation. It's also bad for a relationship. Usually the best way to handle behavior as boorish as hers is not to put up it anymore.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.