DEAR AMY: My sister-in-law can be a warm, loving person, but she frequently comes across as controlling and hypercritical. Every time I host a dinner party or invite her to spend a weekend at our vacation home, she tells me how to improve my cooking, rearrange the furniture, manage my health issues, etc. She thinks she's dispensing valuable insights, but her comments are often tactless and insulting. I have tried to ignore or downplay her critiques, but if I don't respond with sufficient enthusiasm, she becomes confrontational ("I'm sensing resistance...") and demands an explanation. The worst part is that she makes snarky remarks about our 18-year-old. Her response to his prom photo was: "No smile, looking dire as usual." He has chosen not to have a relationship with her. My husband (her brother) alternates between shutting her out and engaging in intense verbal battles that accomplish nothing. Subtlety doesn't work, but neither does direct confrontation. How can I get her to stop with the constant criticism and snarkiness, which is pushing all of us away?
Ready to Blow
DEAR READY: Your sister-in-law seems to feel that her insights are golden, and given what I perceive as her arrogance regarding her own behavior, it's unlikely that you will get her to stop.
I'm not sure why you would invite someone to spend an entire weekend with you when that person isn't — at the very least —a gracious guest.
I suggest that you evaluate and possibly accept the comments that might be, in fact, valuable insights — and verbally reject those that are passive swipes, demeaning or flat-out mean.
Honestly, "I'm sensing resistance..." doesn't sound confrontational (to me). One response to that might be: "Yep, I'm definitely resisting."
At some point, you should try to communicate honestly about your own experience being in a relationship with her: "I see you as a warm and loving person, but I find many of your suggestions, unsolicited advice and criticisms hard to take. It's just ... too much for me. I hope you can accept this feedback."
You'll see if she can absorb a gentle, respectful critique of her own behavior. She might turn this back onto you — as evidence of a character flaw.
And yes, her behavior will affect your desire to spend time with her, as it should.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I (second marriage for both of us) were married for a handful of years before he passed away from a terminal illness. His family, including his grown daughters and his brother, has completely shut me out since his death. His daughters hosted a fundraiser in his honor, and didn't even tell me about it. They all gathered last month to spread his ashes, and did not include me. One of his daughters is getting married next month and I was not invited to any of the showers or the rehearsal dinner. I was invited to the wedding but now it seems awkward to attend. I'm going to go, but I'll feel really left out. Should I continue to attempt a relationship with his family? It seems they clearly want nothing to do with me.
DEAR LEFT OUT: This exclusion is so hurtful, especially after (I assume) you loved and likely physically cared for your husband through his illness and death.
Reading between the lines, I'm assuming that this rude and unkind behavior reflects a loyalty toward your late husband's first wife.
I don't normally advise this, but no, I don't think you should go to this wedding. I think you should get together with some old friends on this particular day and do something that you enjoy doing, surrounded by people who are nice to you.
The family will interpret your choice not to attend the wedding as your goodbye to them, and you should tell yourself: Good riddance.
DEAR AMY: "Sad Mom" felt rebuked because her youngest son didn't call on her birthday or Mother's Day. I see this as a possible cry for help. I would advise her to find the time and money, if possible, to visit him and see how he is doing. This happened with my college-age son, and when I got to his school 700 miles away, he was obviously clinically depressed. With therapy and meds, he has done great ever since. Depression can masquerade as other things.
Dad Who's Been There
DEAR DAD: Any pulling back or withdrawal can be a sign of mental health struggles. Thank you for sharing your story.