Dear Maria,

I have found myself in a situation in which someone says something either rude or insulting to me. The problem is when I defend my feelings and they respond by saying they were just kidding, now I look like the jerk.  What’s the best way to handle this?


I Don’t Get It

Dear Don’t,

Passive aggressive, no? I hate when people do this, though I’ve been guilty of it, too. Humor becomes a weapon when used to mask true feelings or grievances. Rarely does it communicate these issues effectively, and often leaves the target confused and hurt, as you are. It’s a childish way of handling things. You, however, have responded like a grown-up, rather than starting an “I know you are, but what am I?” PeeWee Herman-esque exchange.

Pee WeeIt’s not clear to me what role this person holds in your life. If it’s someone you see on occasion, ignore them and their hurtful remarks. “Consider the source” a wise teacher once counseled me. If you’re in an important relationship with them, such as a spouse or close friend, try a one-on-one approach. Instead of confronting them in the moment, ask them to meet for coffee, or write them a letter, and explain your perspective. If they minimize your feelings, what does that say about their relationship with you? Finally, if it’s a boss or coworker who is treating you this way, write down three examples of this behavior and request a meeting. Bring your notes to the meeting, and ask your colleague for a change in behavior in the future. It’s important you have a record of having addressed this issue directly with him or her. If your boss or colleague does not comply, take your concerns to HR if you wish. In all situations, keep your emotions out of it as best you can and critique the behavior, not the person. When you know you’re going to see this person, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself, and remember: what they say or do is really a reflection on how they see themselves. You’re taking good care of yourself. Keep going, even if it means removing this Don Rickles from your life.


Dear Maria,
My husband and I have been together for five years, and he is a good man. As of late, his stressful job has changed the quality of our life together. He is committed to staying at his position to acquire his pension, and yet the man I love is systematically being emotionally destroyed by his supervisors. He is a team player and well-liked by his equals. His stress level is so high that he shakes in the evening, and dreads returning in the morning. I have suggested counseling to no avail, I have distanced myself from his pain, but find myself getting angry that he will not pursue help from anyone. I have tried physical exercise, planning fun things together, but he has to do the Inner Work, and refuses. Got any ideas?


Worried Wife

Dear Worried,

Your husband is not alone in the pressure he feels at work. It’s my understanding that employees in this age bracket are likely to get laid off. There’s lots of anxiety for someone who’d just like to get through to his pension, and put his showing-up-at-the-office-years behind him. What you’ve described, however, is a concern regarding his physical health. His stress level has to be managed in a way that minimizes the collateral damage to himself and his loved ones. Is he open to seeing a doctor? (Sometimes spouses are more receptive to advice from an outside party.) Also, a tactic that helped my husband during a stressful job was writing out his frustrations before he came home. Perhaps your husband can take a personal journal or tablet with him every day, and take a few minutes before he leaves work (or stop on the way home) to unload his thoughts? The intention is to clear his head, leave the stress where it came from, and keep him from dumping this junk on you.

FB_IMG_1441149738677I’ve heard it said that our actions give us a payoff of some kind. For your husband to continue this behavior, despite there being healthier ways to manage the situation, suggests that he finds some satisfaction in staying stuck. Perhaps he believes that this is “just the way it is,” and there’s no changing the situation? Maybe he saw his dad stuck in a similar way and thinks this is what men do when they’re close to retirement? Maybe he’s “in” with his co-workers for braving the supervisors’ tyranny, and doesn’t want to abandon them, or appear weak if he left?

We could go on and on speculating about his mindset and not land on an answer. You are a loving wife to try to alleviate his pain, but frustrated that he won’t get help. Perhaps you’ve done all you can for now. You only have power over how you respond to him, and to take care of yourself in the midst of his pain. The best response to his complaining may be to acknowledge his feelings and not try to solve or fix things. A simple, “Oh, that must have been hard on you,” or “I bet you had a long day,” might be enough. Let him know he’s heard without giving him something to argue against. Create “gripe-free zones” in your home that are off limits to work-related conversation. First and most importantly: your bedroom. Don’t lie in the muck before you go to sleep. Do you really want his awful bosses in bed with you? And, how about some time limits? For example: We’ll talk about work over dinner, but after the dishes are done, no more! Gently enforce these boundaries when the work drama threatens to plow over them.

Lift your thoughts to the qualities that made you fall in love with this good man, and hold that intention for him. At bedtime, each of you say three things you appreciate about the other. In time, hopefully, the clouds will lift and the situation will shift. You want to be there to celebrate with him when they do!


Dear Maria,

I think my co-worker may have a drinking problem. She brags at lunchtime about the partying she does over the weekends. She showed up drunk to a company event, and though she wasn’t falling down or anything, she was slurring her words and fell asleep during a guest presentation. It’s a small company we work for, and there’s no official HR department. She’s been here longer than any of us, including her boss. We used to get along, but now she won’t answer emails I send and doesn’t get me the info I need to do my job. I can’t figure out if she’s upset with me, or if the drinking is becoming a problem, or a combination of the two. I don’t want to go to her boss because I’ll be labeled a snitch and everyone will figure out I was the one who complained. Any suggestions?


Is it 5 O’Clock Yet?

Dear 5 O’Clock,

It’s one thing to party on the weekend, and quite another to show up drunk at work. I suspect you’re not the only one who sees this behavior, but they are reluctant, like you, to speak up. I know a little bit about dealing with alcoholics (and I welcome my readers to add their comments), and one thing I have experienced is that the rules always change. With alcoholics, you never know from one day to the next if you’re in their good graces or not. And if you do fall out of their favor, they won’t tell you in a constructive way. They’ll either passive-aggressively shut you out, or during one of these storied parties they’ll find a way to get in a few good digs or a full-blown rant against you if you’re around and they’re drinking enough.

Job-for-coffeeI suggest you separate the two issues: 1) the stalled communication; and, 2) the drinking during work hours. First, ask for a private meeting with your co-worker. Calmly offer concrete examples of communications that are going unanswered. Ask if you need to clear the air about anything. (Leave your suspicions about her drinking out of it.) Hopefully, she will be receptive, you will have a constructive conversation, and you’ll see improvement in the future. If she shuts you down, and her behavior doesn’t change, then the next step is to talk to your boss. Again, focus on the work-related concerns and see if steps are taken to help improve communication between you two. It’s important that your boss knows that you first addressed the situation directly with your co-worker.

Addressing the drinking is a different issue entirely. Interventions may not go well for the intervenor. Alcoholics function in systems that tacitly allow the drinking to go on. Those around the alcoholic accept increasingly alarming behaviors as normal. Then, a car accident, or a job loss, or a serious injury occurs. Everyone wonders, “How could this have happened?”, when the truth is they DID see it coming in the progressively sloppy actions of the alcoholic. It takes immense courage to be the one who calls out the inappropriate behavior of the alcoholic, because the intervention includes the entire system of people the alcoholic interacts with. The size of the company and the absence of an HR department give you little protection should you air these concerns to your supervisor. Have there been enough instances of suspicious behavior during work hours to merit waving a red flag at management? Are you willing to risk possibly being ostracized by your coworkers and seen as the “bad guy”? Or, are there others who’d be willing to stand with you? Do you want to engage in the drama that will surely follow a public airing of these concerns? Shining a light on your co-worker’s behavior may be the right thing to do, especially if she’s a danger to others or herself. As with most principled stands, however, there’s a price to be paid. Only you can decide if the trade-off is worth it to you.

As you mull over these questions, I recommend taking the high road and initiating the conversation described, above. Be your professional best through the process, and watch how people react: your co-worker, your boss, etc. These observations will give you valuable information about the organization, and if this is an environment you can (and want) to work in. Dust off your resume in the meantime and be open to new opportunities that come along. Her stone-walling is affecting your performance, and you can’t let that impact your professional development. Good luck!

Dear Readers,

Maria and her muse are on vacation this week, so we revisited some questions for this week’s column. Look for a new batch of musings and advice next Thursday!

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.