DEAR AMY: My wife and I socialize often with my wife's brother, "Brad," and his girlfriend, "Shelley." Shelley tends to hijack conversations, steering them toward herself and/or her kids. Lately, I've noticed that Brad does the same thing. In one instance my wife began to talk about a current news event, and he jumped in after a couple of sentences and tried to wrestle the narrative from his sister. I told him to please let my wife finish her thought and tell it her way, and then we could hear his thoughts. He took exception to this, and engaged his sister in his ire. Last night we were with Shelley (Brad wasn't there) and at one point Shelley mentioned that I "don't like for her to talk." She said she was intentionally quiet for the first couple of hours of the visit because of this. I explained calmly that I never asked anyone not to talk, only that I want her to be respectful of boundaries when others talk. She got upset, and abruptly left. I don't want any friction, and I need to talk to her about this. How do you suggest I approach this?
DEAR INTERRUPTED: Ideally, you would have offered this correction using "I" statements that reflect your own personal reaction to her behavior, rather than tell her directly what you "want" her to do differently. Telling someone directly how to behave is bound to make them defensive. And when they're busy being defensive, they don't listen to the point you're trying to make, because they are distracted by planning their mental, emotional, or physical escape.
Here's an example of how you might express your frustration: "Shelley, I don't mean to silence you. That's a terrible feeling. But I get very frustrated when I'm engaged in listening to someone and then that person is interrupted. Then that person is being silenced, and I feel this throws conversations off track. I hope you can understand my reaction. I'm trying hard to enjoy what everyone has to say."
DEAR AMY: I have recently gone through a separation that I did not desire. I suffer from bipolar disorder, and have ignored it and dealt with it on my own terms. I found the person that I thought I could spend the rest of my life with, but things ended up becoming very rough with my downfalls. I went through a hard stretch of episodes, in which she was very caring, understanding and helpful. I ultimately sought out the help I needed, and regained the confidence and desire to make the positive change. Shortly after getting help, I kept having episodes, and she ended up being overwhelmed and wanted to separate. A month later, I have gotten to a point that I am more stable, but she doesn't want to even talk to me. I don't know how I can keep her in my life (romantically or as friends), and it breaks my heart. I think about her every hour of every day. She won't answer when I call, or respond when I text. Yet when we see each other it is like nothing ever happened. What can I do to make this relationship possible?
Searching for Sunshine
DEAR SEARCHING: The answer to your relationship issue might seem counterintuitive, because it is for you to continue with your treatment and to basically concentrate on and commit to yourself and to your mental health and stability. You are a month in (good for you!), but if you alter your focus away from ruminating on this relationship and on to you, personally, the changes you make will help you to accept and cope with the reality of your separation. Your coping skills will make you less anxious and less emotionally dependent.
Every time you contact her and don't get a response, you basically risk triggering a little crash. You softly backing away may prompt her to relax.
I hope you are receiving ongoing talk therapy. Therapeutic support through your treatment will help you to adjust to your new reality.
DEAR AMY: A reader recently chastised you regarding an issue with an aggressive dog. The reader notified you that putting a yellow scarf on an aggressive dog's collar indicates that the dog is aggressive. Um, not necessarily. The only surefire and appropriate way to approach ANY dog is to ask the dog's human if the dog is safe.
DEAR LOVER: This yellow scarf technique could also be a red herring, if you know what I mean.