DEAR AMY: My fiancee and I have been arguing about a party her mother hosts annually just after the holidays. This gathering is called "The Letter Reading Party." Guests bring their favorite letters/holiday cards from "friends" who update "friends" with what's new in their lives. Topics range from children to siblings, parents, family pet, work, etc. A roomful of people laugh hysterically at other people's letters -- the font size, stationery choice and, most significantly, contents of the letter. I find this entire party repulsive. I admire and respect many of the people in the room who double over in laughter. My future mother-in-law insists it's a great reason to get together. However, I think I know how the authors would feel if they knew their personal lives were being trivialized and mocked so openly by one of their "friends." Should I continue my crusade to stop this irreverent party on the heels of the feel-good holiday season?
Irreverent and Irritated
DEAR IRREVERENT: Branding this mockfest "irreverent" is too kind by half. Let's call it what it is: a pitiable amusement gleaned only at others' expense. Mean.
If comedy is sometimes described as "a man in trouble," this is social cruelty, dressed up as post-holiday gaiety.
No question, some holiday letters are excruciating, superficial and braggy news feeds chronicling unexamined lives. Parodies of these letters abound. They are sometimes shared and laughed over privately.
What these people are doing is so much worse than the petty crime of sending out a poorly written or boastful holiday newsletter. Based on your reaction I assume you have shared your point of view with your fiancee -- and perhaps her parents. If not, you should simply tell them, "This doesn't feel right to me. I wouldn't want to be made fun of and don't feel comfortable participating." But do not continue your crusade to get these people to behave the way you want.
Simply decline this invitation in future years. Consider your absence a necessity -- if you are really going to enter this family as an in-law, you should protect these future family members from further encouraging your poor opinion of them.
DEAR AMY: When we are in the midst of a discussion, my husband often brings up incidents in which he perceives that I was at fault. He will bring up these episodes months, years -- even decades -- after the events occurred. I could use your advice on how to let him know in a tactful manner that dredging up the distant past is not only unhelpful but downright annoying when trying to resolve a current issue.
DEAR STUMPED: All couples fight, but unless you fight "fair," you are destined (doomed, really) to rehash every previous tiff until your arguments turn into a giant tiffball of unresolved issues.
This is unkind. It is also unproductive. To move forward, you and your husband need to talk, listen, acknowledge, cooperate and, yes, apologize and move on.
The next time he dredges up an issue from the past, say, "This issue has come up many times. Dredging up this old problem makes me realize it isn't settled. Can we agree to try to resolve some of this stuff so we can put it in the past?" After you talk, listen. Listen until he is done speaking. Try to empathize with him (even if you don't). Use "I" and "we" statements -- not "you" accusations. Aim for cooperation when you can't compromise.
Read, "The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer," by married therapists Les and Leslie Parrott (2013, Worthy Publishing).
DEAR AMY: "Tired of Waiting" wrote a sad letter detailing her desire to marry someone who isolated her and kept secrets from her (including his salary). You wrote: "This man is telling you exactly who he is. Believe him." I wish I had read this 10 years ago, but I somehow survived and am happily married now. I hope the reader takes your advice.
DEAR JULIE: This is a timeless truism cribbed from the great Maya Angelou.