Snub­bing could be grounded in su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plex

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST/TELEVISION - CAROLYN HAX Chat on­line with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Fri­day at wash­ing­ton­post.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Wash­ing­ton Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071; or email tellme@wash­post.com

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 DEAR READER: 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 knowit-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-howare-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: 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.

Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group/NICK GALIFIANAKIS

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