Dear Amy: My partner and I have been fighting nonstop. He wants me to step out of my comfort zone. I have tried.

I let my best friend stay over for a weekend, despite the overwhelming anxiety that something might happen between them while she was with us. Now, he keeps making passing remarks that if she stays over again and something happens, it wouldn't be anyone's fault. He also thinks that it would definitely get me out of my comfort zone.

There is one problem: I would never agree to something like that. I feel like he is using the comfort zone thing as a gateway.

Am I being paranoid? Any advice would be appreciated.

Amy says: You should stay in your comfort zone, and very definitely and defiantly push your partner out of it.

You cleverly describe his "comfort zone" admonitions as a "gateway" — presumably toward him getting what he wants, but there is a more common term for what he is doing. It is called "gaslighting." Taken from the wonderful old movie "Gaslight," the term refers to when someone uses their power and influence to weaponize another's insecurity, and then use it against them.

Your guy is being fairly transparent about what he wants, and instead of dealing with your refusal, he is trying to convince you that you and your need to stay in your comfort zone are the problem. Furthermore, he is insinuating that you are at fault for the fact that he is a manipulative jerk, that your refusal is "anxiety" and that your suspicions mean that you are "paranoid."

You are not paranoid. He really is out to get you.

Divorce side effects

Dear Amy: I have two grown children that won't talk to me.

I'm not sure what happened in our relationship. Their father and I split up when my daughter was a teenager and my son was young. The divorce was terrible on them and me.

I have never dated and worked hard to support the three of us and keep us afloat, while their dad went about his life. I made a lot of mistakes that I freely own, but did a good job, too (or so I thought).

So why now that my son is thriving in college and my daughter is married and has a house of her own do they want nothing to do with me? I'm hurt and alone.

Ann says: It is ironic that sometimes in tough divorces, the children take their pain out on the parent who does the most with (and for) them. In your case, if their father "went about his life" and didn't see his children that often, the parent they had the most negative experiences with is the parent who raised them because their father wasn't there.

You admit to having made a lot of mistakes. "Owning" your mistakes does not erase them for your children. Depending on the nature of these mistakes, they may be looking for more from you.

If one of the mistakes you made was to basically bury your own life and live mainly through them, that would create a dynamic where they essentially flee the intensity and emotional responsibility you've placed upon them.

Many parents report being completely in the dark about why children choose estrangement, but parents' own lack of insight and empathy, along with their ability to sustain that sort of denial, might actually be a factor in the estrangement.

You would benefit from reading "Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them," by Karl Pillemer (2020, Avery).

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