DEAR AMY: For years my husband has been controlling which television programs we watch and which radio stations we listen to. When I choose a radio station, he tells me the music is garbage and will tune it to his station. Until now, I've never felt it was worth arguing over.
Yesterday he was out of the house, and I was listening to a station that my daughters and I enjoy. When my husband came home, my daughter expressed her concern that the station was "not one of daddy's." She didn't want to be confronted by him and went upstairs.
Sure enough he came in, realized that it was not one of his stations, said the music was garbage and turned off the radio, despite my objections.
He does the same thing with the television. His inflexibility and dominating behavior are obvious to me in other situations that are more important to me (such as the extreme lack of organization in the house and his unwillingness to look for a job).
He is a stay-at-home dad. This was great while the kids were little, but due to instability in my own professional position, this is now causing concern. — Unable to Change Course
DEAR UNABLE: You have wrapped many complaints about your husband into one bundle. From your account he is intimidating and domineering — so intimidating that he has trained your daughter that he literally owns the airwaves.
Imagine the impact of his behavior on your girls' impression of how men do/should behave.
This is not about a clash of media taste — though I believe that whoever occupies a room first (or is making dinner) gets to choose the playlist (truly tasteless or degrading music and commentary are not for public consumption and — like the Supreme Court — the adults declare that we know where the line is when we hear it).
I agree that he needs to change in many ways for you to have a happier, peaceful, orderly household. You should try to mediate some of these issues in couples counseling. Failing that, if you are unwilling to leave the marriage, you should pursue counseling to learn why (and how) you stay.
DEAR AMY: In a four-day visit, our middle-aged daughter (from out-of-state) flew off the handle over minor matters. This daughter is a control freak who orchestrates the lives of her three young-adult daughters and husband. They all operate and apparently thrive on her instant and constant advice.
At our house, she seemed delighted when she was able to humiliate and make cruel and inaccurate statements to us, her elderly parents. It was truly scary to observe her acting calm and loving one minute and then becoming emboldened and excited to tell a humiliating 40-year-old story that criticized her mother. When her fury was over and her mother left weeping she said, "You know I love you..." It's almost as if she enjoys creating conflict.
After spending time with her, we're left exhausted and devastated. What should we be doing? — Sad Parents
DEAR SAD: Your daughter might have a rage or personality disorder. Any number of things could be going on. She sounds almost too volatile to confront safely, but her problems do not have to become your problem.
When someone is unpredictable, frightening and creates chaos, the most logical thing to do is to avoid being trapped with that person. Limit visits to very short encounters when you have a ready escape hatch; when you've had enough, you can say, "This visit isn't going well, so we're going to have to call it a day."
DEAR AMY: More on the issue of treating "step" children as "real" children.
My sister-in-law was not the best stepparent, but I admired her when her parents sent gifts to only her two birth children. She boxed them back up with a letter stating, "I have four children. If you wish to give gifts to any, you must include them all. If you can't include them all, don't send any." Her parents got the picture.
Children are easy to love; they don't need to be related. — An Admiring Fan
DEAR FAN: Your sister-in-law's spunk is inspiring.
(Send questions via e-mail to askamytribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.)