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posted: 6/4/2013 11:37 AM

Talk to sisters openly, honestly about fiance slight

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Q. It really bothers me that whenever I talk to my sisters who live in other cities, they never ask about my fiance. Obviously, they do not approve of our relationship.

I find this rude and improper and an underhanded way of showing their disapproval, and in the process insulting me.

If I say anything directly and THEN they change their behavior, it would be meaningless since it is forced, and if I don't say anything, this embarrassing behavior will continue. What is the best way to handle this?

Miffed

A. By not being so quick to dismiss the value of asking for better treatment.

Per your calculations, people who behave badly either have to figure out their own errors and intuit just what amends will be to your liking or take up permanent residency on your bad side. How punitive.

If you were to say, "When you talk to me without even mentioning my fiance, I feel really hurt. What's going on?" you would actually be talking to your sisters instead of assigning them opinions and actions in your mind. The full story is never as tidy as the one that starts with "Obviously ... ," but it usually ends better.

That's because it gives the main characters a chance to make things right, be it to catch themselves in any subconscious choices they've made or explain any conscious ones, including to express any reservations they might have about your relationship.

If you speak plainly to them, and they respond with the truth and/or an effort to ask about your fiance more often, then that will tell you they care about your feelings. If that's "meaningless" to you, then this isn't all on them.

Q. A close friend just had a major, milestone birthday. She has five adult children who all live within 25 miles. Not one of them did anything special for her on her birthday. One called and one texted. She was very hurt that her children ignored this particular birthday. She always has special dinners for them on their birthdays. I don't think they realize how hurt she was. She won't tell them. As a close family friend, should I?

W.

A. Assuming you're close enough to at least one of these kids to give a quick call, this requires such low-key intervention that it's hard to see why you wouldn't do it. "Hey, your mom is sad that the kids generally forgot her birthday, and I thought you'd want to know ... I'm acting on my own here, by the way, your mom didn't want to say anything."

I'd sure want to know if I hurt a parent with my (in)actions, and it sounds as if you'd want to know. You also seem to understand the family well enough to make a good guess at whether this would go over well or backfire, right?

If your close friend was normally casual about birthdays but has cared more lately, maybe in response to loneliness or emotional distance from her kids or twilight nostalgia, then that's all the more reason to speak up.

Milestones can look different to people at different stages of life, and when someone's perspective evolves, often the people who've been closest the longest are the last to notice the change.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2013 The Washington Post

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