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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Carolyn Hax: Pushover trying to be more assertive

Washington Post

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 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 tell me when she won’t do something I ask, rather than hiding behind the implication that she wants to but can’t. I find it passive-aggressive and not an 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.

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.”

Dear Carolyn: For years my husband has not exercised. He now has high cholesterol and we have no sex life. He’s glued to his cellphone and only works.

He’s a good father but seems to have no clue when it comes to himself.

I’ve given him articles, tried to set an example by walking places, going to the gym, but he never budges. Should I contact his doctor? – S.

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.

Please talk to him – not about fitness, but about his center of gravity, which has moved away from his family, the outdoors and his own body. Note his absence, and ask for his presence again.

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