Hax: Messy houseguest is a recurring issue

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • Updated: July 31, 2014 - 1:36 PM

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are expecting a visit from my brother “Allen” soon. He is on again with his on-again/off-again (mostly off) girlfriend “Mable.” I consider Mable one of my close friends, but I openly admit she is a total slob. My husband has said that if Allen brings Mable when he visits, she is not welcome in our home. My husband likes Mable, too, but he doesn’t want our house taken over by Mable’s mess.

I am very nonconfrontational, and am already dreading telling my brother the news. Any suggestions?

Carolyn says: Someone once saved me by noting that “writer’s block” really just means you don’t know yet what you’re trying to say.

What you appear to be suffering here isn’t so much a fear of confrontation, but instead “confrontation block”: It’s hard to deliver a difficult message when you don’t even know where you stand.

Do you want Mable to stay with you? Are you OK with her mess, or at least willing to assume responsibility for keeping it out of your husband’s path? Do you find your husband’s edict extreme?

It is “our home,” not just his, so you have equal say in how you handle guests. You have every right to say you’re not comfortable barring the door to Mable because she’s a close friend and because you believe that outweighs her mess.

You don’t get to overrule your husband here, of course, any more than your husband gets to turn Mable away unilaterally. The decision is one you make together — after talking honestly about what matters to each of you and what each of you is willing to do to serve those priorities. “What matters” can include your own comfort, each other’s comfort, Mable’s feelings, Allen’s feelings, your marriage, your sibling bond, your sense of boundaries, your sense of what constitutes a good host.

When you identify what you stand for, actually standing for it becomes much less scary to do.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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