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Posted on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 5 a.m.

People assume 'doctor' wife makes more money

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

My wife is a doctor, and I am a freelance writer. People frequently say things like, "Must be nice to have a wife who can support you." I make quite a bit more money than my wife -- I'm pretty successful in my field, and my wife works for a nonprofit clinic -- but people assume she's supporting us both.

So, do I correct people's assumptions? I've tried a couple of retorts like, "It's nice being married to my wife for non-financial reasons" or, sarcastically, "Yep, the only reason I stay with her is for the money," but I'm wondering if I should just let people assume.

-- Should I let it go?

I think it's hard to let ignorant assumptions go unchallenged, especially those steeped in bias and served with a side of smug -- but I also think there's no victory to be had, moral or factual, in rewarding butters-in.

That means neither of the two most tempting responses, correcting people or looking wounded, serves you well.

A better choice is either true let-it-go acceptance, or an answer you can smile through that implies "What an obnoxious thing to say to a person."

For example, there's the versatile "Wow." Or the bewildered query: "Huh. Why do you say that?" It shifts the burden back to the intruder, and only the hostile and the obtuse will treat it as a legitimate question. (And when they do: "That was a rhetorical question," then change the subject.)

Another example is an alternate truth. Instead of, "Actually, I make more than she does" -- which you're itching to say but can't, for so many reasons -- you can say just as truthfully, "Yes, it's nice for both of us that we can support each other."

Translation: Nice try.

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Dear Carolyn:

My parents are very kind, loving people who believe it's rude to speak up for themselves. If relatives come through town and want to stay a night or two in their home, my parents allow them to, and cook all the meals for their guests as well.

One relative makes rude comments to my mother about her decor or the food, which makes Mom cry.

This year, I'll be in town when the rude relative is visiting. I, however, do believe in telling people when they've said something I think is offensive, and am afraid of embarrassing my parents when I speak up for them.

Is there a polite way of telling someone their comments are hurtful without causing bad feelings or mortifying my parents?

-- In Defense of Kind Parents

"When I speak up for them"? In other words, is there a way to make this about you that appears gallant?

This relative sounds awful, I do sympathize, and I don't think you mean to be selfish. Yet your impulse "in defense of" your parents is just that. You know what your mother wants, don't like it, and are looking for loopholes.

There aren't any. But just as it's your parents' right to take this relative's abuse (and the resulting tears), it's your right to stand up to it. Just expect and accept the consequences, and be honest with yourself about what you're doing: It's not speaking up for your parents, since they're adults and can speak for themselves. It's speaking up for you.

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