Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: What are the best ways to fix family arguments? Everyone in my family fights, yells, and says hurtful things. People in my family want to banish other family members and they stop talking to them. Every single day is a battlefield where people get stressed and tired of the drama. I worry that this is tearing the family apart. My family members need one another but they act like they are too busy to help one another. What would be the most helpful way to keep this family whole?

The Teen

DEAR TEEN: Unfortunately, some families seem to function in a state of nearly constant high drama. It is as if discord is the norm for the family, and peaceful times are mainly a result of people not speaking to one another.

But, as you know, silence and peace are not the same thing.

If your family wages a daily battle, it could affect your ability to interact with people outside the family calmly and peacefully.

It is important for you to keep in mind that realistically you will not be able to heal your family. You are a teenager and your family has probably interacted this way for many years — perhaps generations. There are likely underlying causes to your family’s dynamic, whether it is illness, childhood trauma or substance abuse.

The best thing for you to do is to try to protect yourself from the emotional and self-esteem fallout from witnessing (and/or partaking) in family combat. Do not let this define you. Please — as you look around you — tell yourself, “This is not me.” If you have siblings, you can help one another to cope.

Don’t try to solve your parents’ problems. Don’t try to mediate between them, even if they want you to take sides.

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If you find your own anger becomes a problem, outside outlets — like music, sports, art, drama, or just playing and having fun — can be important tools to help you manage.

Retreat (with other siblings) when family members erupt. Breathe deeply and put on soothing music — this will help your own brain to relax. Write down what is happening and how you feel (writing about it can help you to notice patterns and gain insight).

Counseling would help all of you; you should seek advice from a school counselor or a teacher.

DEAR AMY: I am a survivor of domestic violence. I am 66 years old. My first husband died. The second man I was married to for 25 years was violent. I left him and bought a place of my own. I am starting over again. I am confused and hurt that my adult children still check on my ex-husband. They say he is sick. They feel sorry for him. Where is their loyalty to me? This second husband is not their father. Am I missing something? They tell me not to call him and not to answer the phone if he calls me, and yet they check on him and visit him. Amy, these are my and my deceased husband’s children! What am I missing here?

Confused Mom

DEAR CONFUSED MOM: You don’t say how old your children were when you married your second husband, but you should consider the possibility that this connection between them exists because he is the only father they feel they know. He is flawed and violent. And he is all they have.

Your children checking on your ex does not mean they are disloyal to you. It means that you raised them to be decent, kind people who might actually be quite conflicted about this abusive father of theirs.

You win in life by being a successful survivor. He has been left behind and is visited occasionally by people who feel sorry for him. Discourage your children from discussing him to you, but be aware that they have the right to maintain whatever relationships they choose.

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DEAR AMY: I was appalled at the snarky tone you assumed when you answered the question from “Curious Guy,” who wondered why women don’t shave the hair on their arms. I thought it was a real question, respectfully asked. He deserved better than your sarcasm.

Loyal Reader

DEAR READER: Many hundreds of people agree with you. I took umbrage to the inferred suggestion that the hair on women’s arms was somehow so unsightly that it needed to be removed. But now, to answer “Curious Guy’s” question respectfully, I will simply say, “I don’t know why women don’t shave their arms. But I’m glad we don’t.”