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Hard to come up with a succinct title for this question, but a few sentences should clarify:

My partner and I are hosting a relative of my partner for a 2 week visit. There's a reoccurring issue which is escalating. We'll ask the relative if they want to do something we expect they'd enjoy - sometimes activities they specifically voiced interest in - and the relative declines the activity based on reasons why we wouldn't want to do it or why they don't want to put us through the trouble. That's what I mean by offloading their indecision on us under the guise of caring about our preference. If they actually listened to our preference, they wouldn't put the fault or reasons on us for why not to do various activities.

For example, let's say this relative expressed interest in going out to dinner as we plan for the day. We'll agree, but then when it's time to go out to dinner and we discuss where to go or get ready to go, this relative will implore us to stay home - "Oh, you both seem tired, wouldn't you rather stay home?" or "There's no need for us to go out and spend money, we can just stay home and cook, you two don't need to go out of your way for me." We'll patiently confirm we want to go out, and that the issues this relative raises are nonissues for us. We'll ask if they'd prefer to stay in and we can be flexible, but their response is always about us and never about them (e.g. "Oh, I'm fine to go out or to stay in, but we should stay in because you two ___________").

As noted, this has escalated. It occurs in minor events throughout the day, and it can be difficult to carry on in our usual routines or do the activities this relative expressed interest in doing. There is always an excuse about us and avoiding their own preference. We tried patiently accepting this behavior as an indicator of their preference, but then they contradict themselves by noting boredom or suggesting activities (which they'd later resist).

My partner tried to address this to their relative sincerely, pointing out that this behavior is rejecting positive experiences as if it were our fault or preference, but in reality those are often nonissues and it's as if this relative is 'putting words in our mouth' so to speak. They tried to be kind, but had lost their patience with this reoccurring behavior. As has happened when confronting this relative about anything that may be a fault or weakness of theirs, they became very dramatic and portrayed themselves as the victim of my partner's meanness. (They're not an easy personality to work with but are a relative we care about nonetheless.) This has created an uncomfortable situation and maybe an early end to this visit (on the relative's request, not ours - we'd prefer an amicable remainder to their planned stay and enjoying activities together which we all looked forward to). So whether for now or future encounters, I wonder: How to deal with person offloading their indecision on their host under guise of caring for assumptions of the host's preference?


Edit following up on initial answers: Thanks for the replies all. We already tried what was suggested often, which is basically 'calling the bluff' and either not going out if they resist doing so, or go out anyway and invite them along. It mostly works...they'll come enjoy dinner with us, but in the end of the night still follow up with the "I'm only looking out for you" stuff. E.g. if they said "no need to go out, you both are probably tired" then after a satisfying dinner if we yawn they'd say "What did I tell you? You're both so tired, we shouldn't have gone out." That further strains our patience.

After my partner confronted their relative about this behavior, then tried to make peace by going to do the activity with or without the relative but calmly inviting them first. That contributed to this relative dramatically feeling like the victim and wanting to go home (which is an expensive change of flight schedule in this case). So to conclude...seems most agree 'calling their bluff' is the way to go for this type of behavior, but in this situation, there are other issues (overdramatic, feeling like the victim, rash decisions) at play.

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    Did it ever happen that you, for example, booked a table at a restaurant, or some other commitment, and they still refused to go later? – Anne Daunted Nov 21 '17 at 16:08
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    While that's an interesting approach @AytAyt I suspect it would further their anxiety about being a burden on us. That anxiety appears to be at the root of their overdramatic reaction to an honest conversation about this behavior. The backstory to that anxiety is beyond the scope of this question. Nonetheless thanks for the guidance. – cr0 Nov 21 '17 at 21:22
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    Why does it have to be a problem? Them: "Oh, I'm fine to go out or to stay in, but we should stay in because you two ___________". You: "Okay then, we're going out, you're staying in." – user403 Nov 22 '17 at 0:49
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    I like to laugh when someone is trying to play me. Cons are scared to con someone who takes their games lightheartedly. An example would be, "Oh, but you look so tired", "Hahaha, if you're not tired then you're not doing it right" or "Hahaha, when has that ever stopped me?" I also assume that if someone makes the excuse about me then the implicit answer is "Yes, I'd like to do that" – Acumen Simulator Nov 22 '17 at 14:20
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    This kind of thing drives me bonkers - although I have to admit I'm guilty of it too. – Strawberry Nov 22 '17 at 16:46
58

My grandmother acts like this, too. It has happened enough that my parents generally gave up trying to discuss it, and simply make a decision, thereby calling her bluff.

For example:

A: Do you want to go to this restaurant for dinner?
B: Oh, I would, but it's far away, I'm sure you probably would rather stay home.
A: It's fine, I've been looking forward to trying it out! I'll go start the car!

Hooray, action! Now they can either admit they didn't want to go, or accept that it really is something you wanted.

The opposite can work as well.

A: Are you interested in seeing a movie this afternoon?
B: It sounds nice but movies are so expensive, there's no need to go spend all that.
A: It's no big deal, really.
B: No no I don't want to impose.
A: Alright, we'll stay in then.

And then refuse to entertain passive-aggressive comments. For example, if they talk about how much time they've been spending at the house, remind them that they said they were fine with staying in. Would they like to go out now? No? Okay then.

It might seem a little harsh, but it sounds like you've already tried the nice route, and they're bent on playing the martyr. There's nothing bad about assuming they're being honest! Hopefully, it will get them to realize they should say what they mean. And if they don't... well, you can still go on with your life instead of continuing to play their games.


Response to edit:

E.g. if they said "no need to go out, you both are probably tired" then after a satisfying dinner if we yawn they'd say "What did I tell you? You're both so tired, we shouldn't have gone out." That further strains our patience.

So they're still fishing... don't give them any ammunition to say you did something you didn't want to do. Even if you are tired because of going out, emphasize that you chose to do it, and you accept responsibility for the consequences. You could even reply with something like

Worth it!

with a big smile on your face :)

Also, make sure you have enough alone time with your partner to decompress during these visits. When you're up against a stubbornly dramatic person, "grin and bear it" can be the best way to avoid drama, but don't neglect your own emotional needs in the meantime.

  • This is the best wording of the strategy most answers suggested. We tried it, as described in my edit to the question. I think this is the way to go, just having other problems too in our particular case. Thanks – cr0 Nov 21 '17 at 17:12
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    @cr0 I added a bit to address your edit, I hope that helps too :) – Em C Nov 21 '17 at 19:15
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    Another reply a part from "Worth it!" (and what I usually go with) is "its too late for regrets". Basically once the decision is taken I don't let the other make remarks on regrets that we could have gotten. – everyone Nov 22 '17 at 13:43
17

I have never had to deal with people getting back on their decision, but I have had to deal with the indecision of my brothers when we visited Disneyland.

When asked 'What ride shall we go on next?' they gave absolutely no suggestions. When I picked one, they suddenly had better ideas, or just bashed the ride I picked without suggesting another one.

My solution was a bit childish, and not very tactical, but worked perfectly:

I picked a ride. When they started the arguing again, I just told them: Well, whatever. I'm going on this ride. You can come, or not.

They got mad, I got irritated. But in the end, I went on the ride and they went to do something else in the meantime. When we met up again, I apologized for being a bit childish and they realized their behavior wasn't really making the trip fun either. We ended up completing the original plan of doing every ride, without much trouble.


Taking the same approach for dealing with the relative might just work here as well.

Just point out that you agreed on going out to dinner that morning. Then, when they come up with the nonsensical excuses, make a stand. You're going out to eat. The relative can stay at home if they want to, or they can come along.

If they see you going on a trip anyways, they don't have to feel bad. So, they won't feel they have to be 'polite' and give you a chance to stay at home.

Even better, organize a trip that's not prompted by the relative saying 'I would like to eat out' or 'I'm bored'. If they see you planning the trips only in reaction to that, it will probably increase their guilt and the feeling that 'you're only doing it for them'. It will help them realize that not only are you going on trips anyways, you're also organizing them anyways.

  • My solution was a bit childish, and not very tactical (...) -> Do you mean not very tactful ? Because it was tactical, and it worked ! – Evargalo Jun 4 at 13:48
9

I actually dealt with this sort of thing just last night with my date. She tends to have really good and specific tastes and I couldn't really care less most of the time, so in an effort to make her happy I try to yield and let her pick something.

Problems arise when she wants me to pick a restaurant, for instance. She wants me to be happy and doesn't always want to take the lead with these minor decisions... The problem is I tend to pick the wrong thing. Which leads to a negotiation about something I don't really care much about.

The reason I do this is because I'm easy going when it comes to those things and I realize that others often aren't.

Things can get much much worse when both parties are the easy going sort. Tends to lead to a lot of long aimless drives...

Anywho. The solution that usually works for me is to just pick something that seems to fit, or just pick something randomly. When it's a 6 vs half dozen I just say:

6 sounds really good, haven't had 6 in a while.

If they then suggest half dozen I just go with it:

Alright, half dozen it is.

People usually want to be accommodating, sometimes people will go a little overboard with that instinct and land in the "I don't want to be a bother" camp. When you get the sense that it's not indecision, but rather not wanting to be a burden, you can assure them that they're not and demonstrate your interest or desire to do the things they're interested in.

I get the "don't want to be a bother" thing quite a bit when relatives visit me in Sunny Florida... They're on vacation and want to do the usual touristy things like going to the beach, theme parks, and so on. That's what people who don't live here want to do here, and being local I don't really do them unless I'm entertaining.

There can be the misguided assumption that I'd rather not do the touristy stuff because I do them "all the time" because they're so readily available. This is usually solved by something like:

Oh the beach? I haven't been in ages. That sounds like fun.

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    " She wants me to be happy and doesn't always want to take the lead with these minor decisions... The problem is I tend to pick the wrong thing" Don't know if this is what you actually mean or not, but if you're asked to decide something, there's no wrong answer. She asked you to pick to make you happy - not for you to pick to make her happy. If she complains about your decision the reply is simply "but you asked me to pick a place, and this is where I want to go" – UKMonkey Nov 22 '17 at 15:22
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    @UKMonkey relationships are largely about compromise and patience hehe – apaul Nov 22 '17 at 15:23
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    >>"If your'e asked to decide something, there's no wrong answer" You're new to this, aren't you? ;-) – mcalex Nov 23 '17 at 3:05
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Other answers have covered strategies of just dealing with it practically, but the annoying thing about this kind of situation is that they are firmly planting themselves on the moral high ground and tell you how you're feeling, not leaving room for your actual feelings.

Depending on your relationship with the person, it might be worth trying the (admittedly more uncomfortable) approach of

When you do x I feel (manipulated, belittled, controlled, annoyed, etc.) and I would like you to stop.

Ideally, this gives them the benefit of the doubt of them meaning well. They may not even realize what they're doing it or how it affects you. Likely thinking they are actually helping you. If they're not being purposefully manipulative (which is a bigger problem) it should allow for more honesty about this kind of thing in the future, or at least give a starting point for dealing with it together rather than unilaterally trying to fix the problem rather than just avoid it.

As a short cut, in my experience someone saying something like "I won't be offended if you don't/do want to do x, and I would rather you didn't assume our feeling when making your decision" usually short-circuits the passive-aggressive co-dependentness I'm all to familiar with in the midwest. 🙂

4

This can be difficult and annoying. I know, because I'm like your relative sometimes. I suggest two strategies, one long-term and one short-term.

  • In the short run, be extremely explicit about your need to know what your relative wants. Ask directly and with emphasis: "You told me what I want, but I know that already. What do you want?" You can also express how you feel about your relative not helping: "I feel really frustrated with this answer. Maybe you just want to be polite, but this is not at all what I need."
  • In the long run, try not to consider your relative's presumed wishes. You may decide, for example, "it doesn't seem to make a difference to you, so we will just do X," and say so. This may seem impolite and somewhat passive-aggressive, but so is your relative. More importantly, it is impossible to consider someone's preference if they don't make their preference known. And you can only ask for what's possible. At some point, your relative will feel overlooked and begin to be more explicit about what they want. They may have to get used to this first, become irritated or even angry. But that's part of the learning process.
2

I tend to use one of two approaches when working with people who act like this, because from my perspective people who do this are often fishing for attention. They are trying to get me to openly express that their desires take precedence over my own. I don't like this, it's not a healthy coping strategy for them, and I generally choose to short circuit it when it happens as follows:

Assert my desire, move forward

They are essentially re-opening the conversation as to what we should do as a group. In this instance, I'll go ahead and let them know what my desire is, and give them an opportunity to express their desire.

I appreciate your concern. I would like to go, and I'd like to go with you. However I'm not going to twist your arm. I'll miss you if you choose to stay home, but I understand you are feeling unsure about going. Is there anything I can do to reassure you?

Call them out on their disrespect

By doing this they are putting words in my mouth, or thoughts and feelings in my head and body. This is inappropriate behavior for them, and depending on the situation it's appropriate for me to assert that I'm a responsible adult and capable of determining my own emotions and physical state, and they should not take it upon themselves to do so. I might do this if the first tactic results in them continuing to assume my feelings or physical state.

I appreciate your concern for my well-being, and I know this comes from a place of love, but I hope you understand that because we are so close I will always tell you if I need to change our plans, or if I'm not feeling well enough to have fun with you. You don't need to feel responsible to figure out if I'm too tired to participate, I'll let you know for sure.

2

While I agree mostly with the accepted answer, I wanted to note certain things which were too long for a comment, so I have to submit this as an answer.

Disclaimer. I am not a medic/psychologist and this is solely my non-professional opinion based on my experience and on what I have read about the subject.

In similar situations it has been very helpful to me to interpret them in terms of mind games, as proposed by transactional analysis -- a reasonably poopular psychoanalytic theory initially developed by Eric Berne in the 1950ies, and since then advanced some.

For our purposes, transactional analysis says that a lot of the behaviour you see around you every day can best be understood as different kinds of "games". A game is a pattern of behaviour usually involving two or perhaps three people. There is a series of interactions, followed by an emotional payoff.

Because there is so little opportunity for intimacy in daily life, and because some forms of intimacy (especially if intense) are psychologically impossible for most people, the bulk of the time in serious social life is taken up with playing games. Hence games are both necessary and desirable, and the only problem at issue is whether the games played by an individual offer the best yield for him. In this connection it should be remembered that the essential feature of a game is its culmination, or payoff. The principal function of the preliminary moves is to set up the situation for this payoff, but they are always designed to harvest the maximum permissible satisfaction at each step as a secondary product. //"Games People Play: The psychology of human relationships", E.Berne, New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.

Transactional analysis lists a number of games, such as "Alcoholic", "I'm Only Trying To Help You", etc., describing the difference between what is said aloud and what kinds of transactions are going on in reality.

Thus, in your case, it would appear that your relative is engaged in a kind of "Why Don't You -- Yes But" game, where you are offering various solutions, which are discarded, until you run out of options.

It appears also that there is a twist here that your relative essentially tries to control your behavior: either you don't go to the activity because of him/her or, if you go, she/he can shift into victim mode and demand pacification with a threat of early leaving.

In the first case the relative has succesfully controlled your movement, in the second (s)he has controlled your behaviour, so it's a win/win for the relative in terms of transactional analysis.

Assuming this is correct, the anthitesis for "Why Don't You -- Yes But" would in general be to offer no counterarguments, but to say some things to the effect of "That is a bit of a problem. What are you going to do about it?"

However, it seems that this cancellation of the relative's game throws him/her into victim mode, as it might be that for the person playing the game, it is too valuable and he deeply resents it being cancelled on him:

Beyond their social function in structuring time satisfactorily, some games are urgently necessary for the maintenance of health in certain individuals. These people's psychic stability is so precarious, and their positions are so tenuously maintained, that to deprive them of their games may plunge them into irreversible despair and even psychosis. Such people will fight very hard against any antithetical moves. // ibid.

So, while it would be possible to effectively not participate in what your relative does, the risk is that s/he will feel bad about it and maybe indeed leave early.

Note that it is generally not worth exposing the person's game, unless they are already prepared to admit they are playing them. Otherwise it will most probably result in their denial of any such "silliness" and giving them a feeling of alienation towards you ("how could they think I am thinking of anything but their welfare! Really!").

  • Interesting reading... but do you actually have an answer as to how to solve the problem? – AndyT Nov 22 '17 at 11:22
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    @AndyT the answer is mentioned there [in the offer no counterarguments section ] but apparently is too vague. I will reword it a bit later. – Gnudiff Nov 22 '17 at 14:07
1

It sounds as though your patience is wearing thin with this dear but trying relative.

My experience tells me that sometimes you have to change your attitude instead of trying to change the person who has such stubborn qualities. My suggestion is that instead of trying to reassure them, tease them by expressing exaggerated agreement with whatever they're saying so they can tell that you're not taking it or them too seriously. The two of you can both participate in this fun.

For example:

Relative: What did I tell you? You're both so tired, we shouldn't have gone out.

You: You know, you're right, I feel like I might fall down onto the floor at any moment.

Your partner: Me too, I'm so tired I might even have to skip work tomorrow.

Relative: Oh dear, I knew it.

[big smiles from the two of you]

At this point the relative might give up, in which case you just change the subject and move onto the next thing after a pause. Otherwise, if she/he continues:

Relative: [whatever she/he says next in the same worried vein]

You: Who's idea was this, anyway, going out to eat? It would have been much better to stay home and cook. Cooking is so much more energizing than going out.

Relative: It was my idea I'm afraid.

Your partner: Relative, how could you be so thoughtless? [gesturing toward you] She looks like she's about to faint.

You: No, no, I'm fine really, I might just need to lie down for a few hours.

Each time, wait and see how the relative responds. Have a smile lurking, but stay poised and ready to continue as long as Dear Relative has the stamina for more.

Whatever you do, once you start the teasing don't switch back to reassurances. You have to step out of that rut and refuse to play by turning it into a game. They insist on worrying and feeling bad, in spite of all your well-intentioned efforts to make them feel better? Fine, since you insist, let us help you worry some more [always with friendly and relaxed humor, not mean]. You might try practicing this ahead of time with your mate. If all goes well you might get a tiny smile or chuckle from your relative the first time you try it. Since you are taking the worries so seriously, not to be outdone, and encouraging even more worry, at some point your relative should reach their worry limit and give some sign of backing down.

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