Dear Amy: My sister-in-law can be a warm, loving person, but she frequently comes across as controlling and
hypercritical. Every time I host a dinner party or invite her to spend a weekend at our vacation home, she tells me how to improve my cooking, rearrange the furniture, manage my health issues, etc.
She thinks she’s dispensing valuable insights, but her comments are often tactless and insulting.
I have tried to ignore or downplay her critiques, but if I don’t respond with sufficient enthusiasm, she becomes confrontational (“I’m sensing resistance ...”) and demands an explanation.
The worst part is that she makes snarky remarks about our 18-year-old.
Her response to his prom photo was: “No smile, looking dire as usual.”
He has chosen not to have a relationship with her.
My husband (her brother) alternates between shutting her out and engaging in intense verbal battles that accomplish nothing.
Subtlety doesn’t work, but neither does direct confrontation.
How can I get her to stop with the constant criticism and snarkiness, which is pushing all of us away? — Ready to Blow
Dear Ready: Your sister-in-law seems to feel that her insights are golden, and given what I perceive as her arrogance regarding her own behavior, it’s unlikely that you will get her to stop.
I’m not sure why you would invite someone to spend an entire weekend with you when that person isn’t — at the very least —
a gracious guest.
I suggest that you evaluate and possibly accept the comments that might be, in fact, valuable insights — and verbally reject those which are passive swipes, demeaning or flat-out mean.
Honestly, “I’m sensing resistance...” doesn’t sound confrontational (to me). One response to that might be: “Yep, I’m definitely resisting.”
At some point, you should try to communicate honestly about your own experience being in a relationship with her: “I see you as a warm and loving person, but I find many of your suggestions, unsolicited advice and criticisms hard to take. It’s just ... too much for me. I hope you can accept this feedback.”
You’ll see if she can absorb a gentle, respectful critique of her own behavior. She might turn this back onto you — as evidence of a character flaw.
And yes, her behavior will affect your desire to spend time with her, as it should.
Dear Amy: “Sad Mom” felt rebuked because her youngest son didn’t call on her birthday or Mother’s Day.
I see this as a possible cry for help. I would advise her to find the time and money, if possible, to visit him and see how he is doing. This happened with my college-age son, and when I got to his school 700 miles away, he was obviously clinically depressed. With therapy and meds, he has done great ever since.
Depression can masquerade as other things. — Dad Who’s Been There
Dear Dad: Any pulling back or withdrawal can be a sign of mental health struggles. Thank you for sharing your story.