Dear Carolyn: My fiance’s sister and I have a strained relationship. I see her only at Thanksgiving, Christmas and occasional family events. She does not acknowledge me upon entering a room, her home or my home. She heads straight to one of her family members without a word even when I acknowledge her. As the event progresses, she may engage me in a conversation, but only about her job, her vacation, her husband, etc. Never a question about me.
I believe this stems from her jealousy of my son and his accomplishments, as her son had the same opportunities, but did not put in the same effort as mine did.
I am not sure how to handle this and every time I see her she infuriates me.
— Tired of Listening
Tired of Listening: So your best explanation is your own awesomeness, basically.
It’s rare that my sympathies change so abruptly over the course of a short letter. Paragraph 1, I’m feeling your pain; seven words into Paragraph 2 I’m on Team Sister and Googling “whiplash symptoms.”
To each his own, of course, but if I had to pick one common denominator to human likability, I’d choose this: humility, manifest as willingness to look inward for fault when something goes awry.
The alternative is to be the finger-pointer, the one who finds someone or something else to blame for her misfortune, thereby asserting by implication her own purity or righteousness. Those are the off-putting ways of a know-it-all.
This is not to say your fiance’s sister is blameless; her ignoring you is bush-league stuff. She doesn’t have to like you, but civility demands that she at least throw a hi-how-are-you your way. This lapse could hint at other failings as well (though mere awkwardness seems possible, too).
But you can’t fix what she does. You can only fix what you do, and for that you have to be open to the possibility that some of your choices are flawed enough to need fixing. Which means admitting fault.
You give yourself a great place to start in your letter: Admit you are smug about your son and his accomplishments.
Then, admit your smugness could have at least some part in alienating your fiance’s sister.
Then use this insight to approach her from now on not as a rude familial appendage, but as your equal in the struggle to be understood and appreciated.
That’s a fine place to start any do-over regardless: shared humanity.
Specifically, make the effort to see her, to see how you might legitimately annoy her — instead of focusing only on how she annoys you — and to see how you can be the one to disarm.
I’m not offering this as some miracle path to friendship. You might just not like each other, and for good reasons.
But your marrying her brother means she’s not going away, so doing the hard work to soften your opinion of her will be worthwhile no matter how it plays out; compassion mends what contempt tears apart.
Plus, this is not the last difficult relationship you will ever have to navigate. If you can go into these situations from now on with full awareness that sometimes you are the “bad guy,” then you’ll have taken the most important step toward not becoming just that.
Write to Carolyn Hax at email@example.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost....Read more