The answer is, you are wrong.
July 1, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Relative constantly contradicts me on all matters large and small. Help me not lose my mind!

A close relative we see about once a year (a good-hearted soul) contradicts me constantly. If I say blue, she says, "Oh, no: azure." Today we were talking about how the trip from the U.S. to Europe goes over the North Pole. "Does it? Because on my screen [on the plane] it looks---" "Oh no," she interrupted, "it DOES go over the Pole." It doesn't matter what the topic is, from something I wore/ate as a teenager to the measurement of the curvature of the earth, she has to correct me, brusquely, rudely, and most often, in front of other people. I made the mistake of saying cream in my coffee and she contradicted me and said, "Oh, no, it's MILK." (Maybe I am sloppy: I think if it is not a matter of life and death, it is not always necessary to correct someone every single time they make a comment--and especially not in front of people. I suppose don't feel a need to embarrass someone/make them feel bad over something trival.) These are only a couple of examples, lame ones at that. I really try and put them behind me. Truly, I no longer want to hang out with/get into a conversation with her, because I know she will, within just a few minutes, make me so VERY VERY WRONG. She loves to volley with words.

Clearly I can't change her, but what can I do to not grit my teeth every time this happens? (every day) She was somewhat apologetic when I got fed up and I mentioned it but her memory is short.

She (being a good-hearted soul) wants to take me out for my birthday. I'd rather spend it by myself at this point. I'm not in the mood to do verbal battle.
posted by Prairie to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Wait until she does it again. Then say "What the hell is it with you contradicting me every time I open my mouth? Stop it!"

When she does it again, just say "stop!"

Eventually she'll figure it out. You can change her behaviour towards you by letting her know clearly that her behaviour is going to result in you getting increasingly irritated with her until the relationship death penalty is on the table.
posted by fatbird at 3:01 PM on July 1, 2011 [11 favorites]

I would tell her I don't want to go out for my birthday, and I would tell her why. Tell her honestly and with affection. Then the ball's on her side of the court.
posted by Tarumba at 3:03 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

this is a beautiful opportunity to practice not giving a shit. try it. it will feel strange at first, and then, gradually, more and more wonderful. a good way to get your foot in the door with not giving a shit is to pretend that what's she's doing isn't rudeness, but is in fact just an oblique way of her telling you that she's hanging on your every word, and that she cares deeply about everything you say. and you know what, that might actually be true. we never really know what other people's intentions are.
posted by facetious at 3:03 PM on July 1, 2011 [15 favorites]

You are experiencing verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is a two way street. You can learn techniques to short circuit and avoid a verbal abuser.

You Can't Say That To Me by Elgin is a pretty well known book for living with and dealing with a verbal abuser.
posted by Flood at 3:07 PM on July 1, 2011

Miguel de Icaza calls this sort of needless correction a "well-actually," because the correction so often starts with "well, actually…" His suggested solution:
When someone interrupts a discussion with a well-actually you can hear someone say:
"Did you just well-actually me?"
Which is basically a way of saying "That has nothing to do with the topic, but thanks for derailing us" without having to go into the explanation and getting lost on the tangent.
posted by grouse at 3:07 PM on July 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's your birthday. Spend it however you please. If this doesn't include this person then don't include her.

You said you see her once a year. Tell her maybe next year.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:09 PM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

grouse: She doesn't use any of the padding you describe. She goes right into the correction. Thanks for the link!
posted by Prairie at 3:10 PM on July 1, 2011

I think you need to learn, or invent, some of those Southern* words/expressions that sound complimentary but are in fact put-downs. Like when a Southern girl admires another's ugly shoes by cooing, "Aren't they interesting." So if she says the trip goes over the Pole, smile and say "That's a...creative way to look at it." If she says it's milk not cream, say, "Goodness, you just don't miss a thing!" If she's just dim, this will perplex her, and if she's correcting you because she likes to "debate", it leaves her nothing to fight about. Plus it might be entertaining for you.

And as for your birthday, just say no. Tell her you're busy. You shouldn't have to spend your birthday with someone you don't like.

*Of course it's not only Southerners who do this. Took me forever to figure out that when a "friend" from California said I looked healthy, she meant fat.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:25 PM on July 1, 2011 [25 favorites]

Does she correct anyone else? If so, how do they cope?

Otherwise, I agree with Tarumba - take this time to tell her how she makes you feel.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:32 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

She loves to volley with words.

So don't play ball.

She says: "Oh no, it's MILK."
You say: "You know that thing I asked you not to do, where you correct little things I say? You're doing it again."

She says: "They definitely fly over the north pole. I know because..."
You say: "Hang on--doing it again."

She says: "No, that's wrong..."
You say: "Yep--doing it again."

Just, every time she corrects you, you say, "You're doing it again," and change the subject or leave. Not, "No, I think I was right"--it doesn't matter who's right.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:37 PM on July 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

I had a friend who did this, and went out of his way to prove me wrong at every turn. You will notive I say had a friend.

If it was someone I could not avoid, or didn't see often enough for it to really bother me, I would probablt laugh it off and do what my mom does when people contradict her, she says "don't confuse me with the facts" and drops it, people who keep correcting you after you have shown you are not interested in a debate just look petty.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:51 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You see this person once a year. You don't think you can get through lunch? Most people have to spend more than an hour per year with people they find unpleasant. This might be a good chance for you to practice. Maybe make the conversation less about you, and what you say, and focus on hearing her stories.

Your other option is to realize you're an adult and you can spend your time how you please.

What isn't an option, realistically, is to change people out of behavior they have spent their entire lives practicing, because it bothers you.
posted by danny the boy at 3:54 PM on July 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

By "good-hearted soul," do you mean something along the lines of, "Her heart's in the right place"? Combine that with the fact that she actually is right and you are wrong (I'm assuming, based on, e.g., her assertion that the flight went over the north pole), and, well, try to remind yourself that (1) she doesn't mean harm and (2) this is just how she's wired. She's anal about details or something. Try to forgive her, or maybe feel sorry for her.

Then suck it up and go to a birthday meal.

On second thought, why does this bother you so much? I get stuff wrong and get corrected on it, and it doesn't particularly bother me. It might not be all about her; there might be an internal thought process or some other issue you can change about yourself.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:33 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perfect in the mirror a mostly-amused, slightly-confused huge grin, coupled with rotating your palms slightly upwards to indicate "what the heck?"

The next time she quibbles, deliver the response you've practiced and, with a huge this-is-hilarious grin, say something like, "Ha ha, okay, fine, it's milk." If your grin is huge enough and your tone affectionate enough, and if you meet her eyes during them to convey "I still love you, weirdo", then you can even throw in a mild eye-roll while still remaining within social propriety.

Your ultimate goal is to make this a running joke: Aunt Ida nitpicks every little detail. Once you get this off the ground, others will run with it. And her quibbles will become an occasion for you to score a Social Point and her to be the Butt Of The Joke -- all while keeping things good-natured.
posted by foursentences at 4:35 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to see someone who did this. Mostly I ignored or dismissed it. (Would have done so with blue / azure.) Sometimes I corrected the correction. (Would have done so with flying over the pole.) And sometimes it led to really contentious pointless arguments that drove me crazy. (Cream versus milk. "Yeah, but when people cay cream in the context of coffee it can mean milk." "But cream is a specific thing." "Sure, but words can have varied meanings." "Are you saying I don't know how to speak English?")

Flights to Europe from North America do not go over the pole.
posted by Nothing at 4:37 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

So is she correcting actual slips on your part or contradicting you seemingly just to do it?

I think really you just have to pick your battles and not engage. Why would you want to spend your birthday with someone like this?
posted by canine epigram at 4:41 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everytime she does this, I would laugh and say, "really?"
posted by Leezie at 4:53 PM on July 1, 2011

Are you able to not argue with her? When she corrects you, can you just ignore it or say "OK" and move on, or change the topic and maybe ask her something about herself? Really you don't have to spend your birthday with anyone you don't want to, but as this is a close relative you only see about once a year, let her take you out.

If she starts trying to "educate" you about things like this, it's fine to say, "I know you're trying to be helpful, but I feel like you correct me all the time, and it really gets me down." Even if she has bad short-term memory, maybe it'll at least get you through the meal, and maybe it will stick in her head eventually.
posted by wondermouse at 5:04 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

My own dear son, who is eight years old and has Asperger's syndrome, does this. If an adult asks him "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" he will give that person a withering look and say, "There IS no Santa." If someone is describing how the earth takes a year to go in a big circle around the sun, he will interrupt to say "It's an ellipse, not a circle." I spend a large amount of my time saying things like, "When people ask you what do you want Santa to bring, what they mean is, what gift would you like for the holidays." and "You shouldn't correct every little thing people say even when you're right, because they find it annoying."

But here's my point: I have to do this because I'm his mom and I'm hoping to help him make it to adulthood without annoying everyone in sight. And I have to deal with it every day. Relative you see once a year? Be thankful that it's not your job to make her less annoying, and mentally roll your eyes when it happens, and vent to a good friend afterwards. Make other plans for your birthday.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:05 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's your birthday and you deserve to spend it as you wish, so if you'd still like to accept her offer, try to make it another day. It could be a self-esteem issue or a desperate attempt at small talk. A friend started doing this and I just stop talking when they do this and refuse to argue or debate. Some of us compare notes about the "corrections" after the fact and while that may not be the nicest thing, it does help lessen the irritation.
posted by soelo at 5:15 PM on July 1, 2011

I once knew someone who had to be right about everything, and my solution was pretty much a) be Zen about it when it doesn't matter and b) arrange things so that it very rarely matters.

That meant avoiding trips or joint projects with him, since that's when the behavior graduated from kind-of-annoying to super-annoying. I also left minor decisions (where to get dinner, when to meet, blah blah etc) up to him. Whenever he started with the nuh-uh nuh-uh one-upsmanship, I'd immediately disengage and let him win, no matter how false or ridiculous his argument was: "Oh, yeah, maybe you're right." "Oh, I guess so." "Sure, why not?" Then I'd change the subject. All he wanted was to Be Rightâ„¢, so my "agreement" almost always nipped the conflict in the bud, allowing us to go on talking about something else.

My bottom line at the time was: it's annoying behavior, but it's easy enough to ignore, and he's a good friend otherwise -- why make it worse by playing into it? It's not like I'm any less correct because I said "right, good point" to a friend... and if this is going on in public, I guarantee no one will ever think less of you for going "uh huh, thanks" and moving on.
posted by vorfeed at 5:16 PM on July 1, 2011

Forget about this "good hearted soul" bit. She's not good-hearted; she drives you up the wall!
Egad, people like this bring out the stiletto in me. I won't advise you to let the zen wash over you, because I can't.
With my know-it-all acquaintances, I put my hand up like a barrier, and, speaking as if to a dog, I say. "EH EH EH! No disagreements! " You'd better believe it's off-putting, but some people need to be put off!
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:38 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who for reasons I can't entirely understand feels the need to do something similar. It's like she can't stop herself. I used to get defensive and upset. Now, when she does it, I just smile and her and quirk an eyebrow, and hopefully she gets the hint and says "Oh, right, I just did that."

If not I just smile and say "Huh. Maybe you're right." Or "Interesting. So what did you do over the weekend?"

In general, if I really want to make people squirm, I look them in the eye, smile, and say nothing. Assuming they have some degree of self-awareness, this works really well. They slowly run out of steam and then the conversation changes direction.
posted by bunderful at 8:23 PM on July 1, 2011

She says: "Oh no, it's MILK."
You say: "You know that thing I asked you not to do, where you correct little things I say? You're doing it again."

She says: "They definitely fly over the north pole. I know because..."
You say: "Hang on--doing it again."

She says: "No, that's wrong..."
You say: "Yep--doing it again."

Just, every time she corrects you, you say, "You're doing it again," and change the subject or leave.

posted by Meg_Murry at 6:37 PM on July 1

Relevant: ding training
posted by magstheaxe at 8:52 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do this. I have no idea where I picked up the habit, but if I let my guard down I start interrupting people and correcting them on trivial things. It's an awful habit and makes me look contradictory (when I'm not trying to be) and annoying. I would have appreciated it if someone had told me this point blank AGES ago instead of letting me continue on that path, only throwing out some passive aggressive or vague comments that I never quite internalized til a couple years ago.

Please continue to tell her, even if her memory is short. If she's goodhearted and you still have to be around her on occasion, she'll eventually internalize it as you verbally point it out to her. (vary up the descriptions - contradictory, focusing on trivial topics, verbal sparring, needling, know-it-all, annoying, rude, irritating, etc.).

But if she drives you crazy, then don't hang out with her if you don't want to. If you have to see her for family functions on occasion, correct her behavior then, but there's no reason to spend your birthday with her if you aren't going to enjoy it.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 9:14 PM on July 1, 2011

I wish people wouldn't say, "oh, no, she CAN'T be good-hearted if she corrects you all the time!"

what does that even mean? She could have Asperger's. Or, she could be like many people (myself included, occasionally) who are correcting not to be rude or embarrass but because we just are interested in getting the information exactly right. Or we have picked up the habit from parents.

Maybe you could talk to her about it. She probably doesn't know she's doing it and embarrassing you. I don't understand why some people seem to think anyone with a fault or annoying quirk needs to be "dumped" as a friend; chances are you are doing something to unknowingly annoy others. (this is not directed at the OP but at some of the comments.)

Just say something to her like, "It bothers me when you correct me on trivial things. Do you think you could not do that so much?"
posted by bearette at 9:57 PM on July 1, 2011

I brought this "flying" incident up right away (as soon as we were in private, about 5 minutes later) and she said, "But YOU corrected me. I started talking about the plane and YOU corrected me. You started it." And then she laughed because she know how that sounded.

It is true I 'corrected' her. What I said was, "I seem to remember--" which to me is miles from, "OH NO. Oh no. That's not right." But perhaps the distinction is lost?

She apologizes for being in "teacher mode" but she always forgets. I just could no longer stand it and so posted.
posted by Prairie at 6:05 AM on July 2, 2011

posted by Prairie at 6:07 AM on July 2, 2011

By the way, this is not verbal abuse. This is having a relative.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:26 AM on July 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

So does it bother you that she corrects you, or is it really the way she does it?
posted by grouse at 7:44 AM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could turn the tables a bit by asking her questions - lots of them. Keep her talking about herself and her life and experiences, and just keep feeding the questions ('Oh really, how interesting? You did that? When? What was it like?). Et cetera. This is not a long term solution but will get you through a lunch.
posted by lulu68 at 8:13 AM on July 2, 2011

I have someone in my life who is like that. If I go with "That azalea is ugly." and they try to pull the "No, that's a rhododendron" I normally respond with "Yeah, I don't care."
Just keep trying that. She'll catch on eventually.
posted by shesaysgo at 8:17 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

bunderful: " ... I just smile and say "Huh. Maybe you're right." .... "

I call this strategy 'The Vinny' because I learned it from an old buddy of mine, great guy, really wise, named Vinny -- he would stop, smile, look at the person, say "Ya know, ya might be right." and then move on from there.

It is very, very effective.

It stops the game immediately.

The person no longer has anything to push against; it's over. And you've not taken anything away from them but you've not given up anything of your own, either. It's judo, really, except it doesn't even leave the other person laying flat using the energy behind their thrust, more like that it leaves the game she's playing laying flat, and then you and the other person can move on.

It's not easy for me to stay disengaged, to not enter into the fray, and with someone like your relative, who is *constantly* at it, well, I think I'd have to go with the very first response in this thread, by fatbird:
fatbird: "Wait until she does it again. Then say "What the hell is it with you contradicting me every time I open my mouth? Stop it!"

When she does it again, just say "stop!"

And then, if a combination of those two does not work, well, it's time to remove her from your life, because she'll have proven that she is not at all good-hearted and/or good-natured but is rather a big fat jerk with whom you need not waste your time.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:10 PM on July 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Update: We went to dinner, but it was the whole family. I resolved not to say too much. Sure enough, when I mentioned that the Sudanese restaurant had gone out of business, she said, "It's a Middle Eastern restaurant." THEN she corrected her correction. "...It could be Sudanese." To me this is absolutely astounding. She was listening. So my friends, I say there is hope, people do change, I won't have to stop talking.
posted by Prairie at 9:29 AM on July 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

« Older Please help me navigate West Virginia quickly so I...   |   Attack of the killer house kitties Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.