January 30, 2009 in Features

Carolyn Hax: Examine own biases

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn:You’ve said in the past that bean-counting is wrong, and I see your point. But what do you do if you get the sneaking suspicion you’re the only one making the effort in the relationship? Of course your response will be to say “Then talk about it.” I don’t see how you can have that conversation without bean-counting. – Anonymous

But, um, that’s not my response. Not initially, at least.

If you have that sneaking suspicion, then you have some thinking to do. First, run your suspicion through a rigorous reality check. Are you overreacting? It’s so easy to dismiss what others bring to the relationship because it’s not what you expect/think you want/think you need/bring to it yourself. Challenging your biases not only strengthens your standing to ask for something, but also can open your eyes to varieties of good in people that you may not have noticed before.

Then, if you still feel there’s something to talk about, you need to ask yourself what you want out of this potential conversation.

The most important determination is whether you have a fixable problem – say, that you’ve been unclear in articulating your needs – or a take-it-or-leave-it problem – for example, that it’s just not in this person’s nature to give the kind of attention you value.

The nature of the problem has to guide your expectations, and realistic expectations are the key to not becoming the person who says “S/he’s great, I just wish … .”

When you have at least working knowledge of your own mind, then you can navigate your mate’s – “I’ve noticed I do most of our planning these days. Any reason for that?” That’s not bean-counting, that’s posing a legitimate question, the answer to which will come to you in words, deeds, time.

Dear Carolyn: I have been carpooling to work, 45 minutes each way, with two women. I get along well with one, “Eliza,” but “Mindy” has become intolerable; she’s an unsafe driver because she constantly takes her eyes off the road, and treats carpool as her personal therapy session for every pseudo-crisis. Eliza and I spoke to her delicately about how her behavior annoyed us, and this has led Mindy to tell people at work what horrible people we are. Is there a way to confront Mindy without bruising her ego to the point that she complains to our co-workers? – Road-Raged Carpooler

You needn’t be “delicate” about reckless driving, so you and Eliza have a right, and arguably an obligation, to demote Mindy to permanent passenger duty.

Maybe she’ll do you the consequent favor of taking her pseudo-crises to another carpool, but even if she doesn’t, I wouldn’t bother confronting her on those; safety’s the thing. Let Mindy rant, and trust that her attempts at professional revenge serve only to make her look small.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.


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