• Carolyn Hax - eggshells and insecure

    From a425couple@21:1/5 to All on Sat Oct 14 20:01:43 2023
    Adapted from an online discussion.

    Dear Carolyn: My brother’s wife is not a bad person, but she’s really insecure and sensitive to the point that it’s really hard to be myself
    around her. My husband and parents feel the same way.

    Some examples: I once referred to a “waitress.” I got text messages for hours that night telling me I was horribly sexist for not using the term “server” instead. (I’m a woman, if that matters.) I apologized profusely for the sake of keeping the peace, but the texts didn’t stop. I ended up muting my phone. Another time, she got upset that my brother didn’t
    like some song on the radio that she liked. More recently, on a family
    vacation with our kids, I teased my brother in passing with a childhood nickname. He laughed, and we moved on. But she was upset because she
    thought I was making fun of him and because my brother didn’t agree, and
    she stormed out of the condo we were renting and wandered around by herself.

    I never know what’s going to set her off and ruin the night. And it
    happens frequently enough that my parents, husband and I are always
    nervous about saying something she will find offensive.

    I’m sort of over walking on eggshells around her, but if I upset her, my parents will be mad at me for not making an effort. My brother and I
    used to be very close but have drifted apart lately because we can’t
    really talk about anything substantive. He usually brings her
    everywhere. Do I have any options other than just avoiding her or
    staying silent when I’m near her?

    — Family

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    Family: It must feel impossible to be yourself around her, but that’s
    exactly who you need to be. Not the one who wants to say aaaaaaagh
    whenever this happens, but the self who isn’t reacting.

    For example, when you get the “server” text, don’t apologize “profusely for the sake of keeping the peace.” That’s not being true to yourself. Instead, ignore the text, or reply, “Oh, right, thanks!” or hit the
    magic conversation-ending thumbs-up. Then no further engagement. When
    she’s upset about a song or nickname or whatever, try a non-sarcastic “Thanks for letting us know,” and change the subject. When she storms
    out, let her, and resume your vacation. When she flips, you gently put
    the lid back on.

    Refusing to tiptoe around her is an appropriate course of action
    regardless. It’s also the best way to salvage your relationship with
    your brother. Go back to talking about substantive and important things
    with him, as you kindly, warmly, firmly hold to your nonreactive
    responses to
    her eruptions. This is for his sake as much as yours; you say she’s
    “not a bad person,” but her behavior is disturbing and manipulative.
    (Just look at how many knots she got you to tie yourself into.)

    He “didn’t agree” with her on the nickname, which is promising, but it’s
    possible in other ways — out of your sight — that he also adjusts and
    edits and suppresses himself. The “brings her everywhere” hints at her control issues.

    So commit to this course of action: Hold to your baseline self under her pressure, and keep communication lines to your brother open.
    Reader suggestion:

    · It sounds as if the sister-in-law is having serious mental health
    issues. This doesn’t change the need for boundaries, but knowing that
    might add some specific understanding of what is going on with her and
    how to most effectively hold those boundaries, and allow for compassion
    to balance the annoyance. The National Alliance on Mental Illness
    (nami.org) might help.

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