Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been married for three years, and I have known his family for five years. I used to get along well with them; I would take them to lunch, run errands for them, and visit them frequently. They would do the same for me. A few years ago we had a falling-out when the parents threw me to the wolves. I won't go into the details, but it caused great tension between my husband and me. I completely lost trust in my in-laws. My in-laws never apologized, but I have forgiven them. Because I don't trust them, and because there is still tension in my marriage, which they caused, I am uncomfortable. Now at family get-togethers, my mother-in-law ("Glenda") insists on saying, "I love you." She forces me into hugs. I have always been a private person, and these were not easy things for me to respond to before, but now it's nearly impossible. I'm often met with glares, but would like to know how to politely and graciously react. -- Unsure
DEAR UNSURE: You deserve credit for wanting to know how to politely react to something which makes you so uncomfortable. Granted, some people definitely use terms of endearment and close hugs aggressively -- or passive aggressively -- but you must at least imagine that it is possible that your mother-in-law genuinely wants to make amends with you.
You say you have forgiven these people, but you haven't. If you had, you would be able to cope with their behavior and not blame them for behaving affectionately now. Generally, I believe the best way for you to respond to an unwanted or uncomfortable "I love you" is to say, "Glenda, how nice. Thank you." This is a cordial, gracious, noncommittal statement that might demonstrate the polite distance you would like for her to adopt.
DEAR AMY: My fiance and I have been together for two years. We have never been married before and are close to age 40. We have always had difficulties in communication, mostly a "Mars and Venus" thing. We recently decided to separate and work on our "issues" apart from each other. He moved into his best friend's house. This best friend is someone whom I have never been invited to meet. Now it seems that I have been replaced by this mystery man. My guy says he loves me and wants to make things work, but it seems like all of his time is spent with the best friend, which leaves little time for self-reflection or improvement. I love my fiance very much and want to make things work, but it doesn't feel like a two-way street. How should I proceed? -- Easily Replaced
DEAR REPLACED: You cannot tie your fiance to the railroad track of self-reflection and personal improvement. You cannot make the relationship work all on your own.
You also don't get to decide how he handles this separation. He seems to have created an entirely separate life from you, and -- simply put -- if he wanted you to be part of it, he would fold you into it.
You should proceed directly into your own life. Dive in. Get busy. Control the things you can control, and learn to surrender your desire to control him. If he wants to share his life with you, he will find you and offer it up. If this happens, the planets will align -- regardless of your Mars/Venus differences.
DEAR AMY: "Rest Easy" was wondering about putting her former and current husbands' last names on her headstone. I wanted to tell her what my mother did: She had us put her maiden name at the top of the stone and then "Wife of" and both husbands' names and the years they were married below her name. It turned out very well. She was buried next to her first husband (our father) and the back of the stone listed her children's names (she didn't have children with her second husband). -- Missing Her
DEAR MISSING HER: I'm impressed that your mother thoughtfully worked all of this out in advance of her death. This made things easier for you.