Tired of being the bad cop

Dear Carolyn:

What the heck do you do when you and your partner have agreed to eat more healthfully, but then your partner regularly suggests impulse buys that undermine that decision?

I don’t want to be the person having a fit in the store because my partner’s going down the ice cream aisle again, but if we’ve agreed in advance (many times) to not buy stuff that tempts us both, how do you deal with that frustration in the moment?

— Anonymous

“In the moment” is possibly the worst place to deal with frustration, offering the lowest chance you’ll stay calm and say what you mean.

So stay calm and say what you mean when you’re not actually in the ice cream aisle, but together and in a good mood and with no place you need to be.

Then say it frustrates you when he suggests impulse buys; having an unreliable partner is harder than going it alone. Admit you’re unsure how to respond, too, because you don’t want to be the person who has fits over ice cream. Ask how he’d handle it if he were in your position.

Compare what each of you means by eating “more healthfully” and what actually helps you accomplish that, because, just for example, some people might do better in the long run by allowing a little ice cream in their lives than banishing it completely.

Through these details, work your way to perhaps the hardest thing about having an agreement that only one of you truly upholds: The one keeping the bargain becomes the de facto agent of “no.”

People who love and care about each other want to say yes; it’s a form of pleasure, and an important part of seeing ourselves as generous, fun, lovable. But when a partner takes it upon him- or herself to be all yes all the time, then it takes that pleasure away from you: All you can do is either agree to the yes, which is never as good a feeling, or say no, which just feels crabby and bad.

Effectively, people who believe in balance or understand the important benefits of delayed gratification, as with a decision to eat more mindfully or save money or finish homework before going out to play, wind up saying “no” constantly in this situation, which puts them in charge of all raining on all parades.

It’s not just in couples, either; a visit from a grandparent with a spoil-the-kids attitude can be the all-fun sayer of yes and leave the parents with days of corrective no-saying. Or, when someone asks and re-asks for something despite hearing “no” the first time, that puts the ask-ee in the position of being the black cloud over and over again. This phenomenon often divides parents, when one holds children to rules and the other one is routinely permissive. Don’t we all get a turn to be the fun one?

Being forced into the bad-cop role is wearing on a person, and on the bond with the good cop as resentment accrues.

If your partner doesn’t recognize this, and instead dismisses it as your just having a fit about ice cream, then this is about his (im)maturity, not the mint chocolate chip.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.


Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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