Special to The Washington Post

Q: My sister is a total braggart about her kid. It drives me up the wall. We have daughters of similar ages and she constantly brags about everything her daughter achieves socially, academically, athletically. I accept that her daughter is probably a better student than mine and is very talented in sports. But shouldn’t she know that it is insensitive to constantly bring this up in front of me – and worse yet, my daughter? It makes me not want to be around her at all.

A: You need two basic tools here: Strategies in the moment that help defuse the brag-o-mania, and a sensitive, private conversation that generalizes the issue. First, the strategies: Don’t take it out on your niece by ignoring or escalating, but after a brief acknowledgment, move on. “That’s wonderful, Jenny. So, do you think it’ll snow again?” The larger conversation should lessen the need for those strategies. Tell her privately that you love her and her daughter dearly, and that’s why you owe it to her to let her know that she’s coming across in a way that can be hurtful. Convey that you want to hear about your niece, whom she has every right to be proud of, but that you hope she can take into consideration the feelings of her audience.

Q: My wife feels that I don’t care about her because I don’t ask questions. I feel that if something is important to her she would tell me. The questions don’t even occur to me, so why would I ask? We were having problems and she was going to a baby shower, which upset her because she wants a family. She was mad because I didn’t think to call her. At no point during the past week did she say that the baby shower was upsetting to her. She expected me to put that together, but I didn’t. I don’t know how to change when it doesn’t even occur to me that I have done something wrong.

A: Here’s the thing: The problem of these questions not occurring to you is now occurring to you. (Is that meta enough?) So you can now make an effort to think about what questions should cross your mind by asking yourself how she might feel about something — or just asking her directly. It is Marital Conflict 101: One person doesn’t realize they are doing something (or failing to do something) that bothers the other. So they take note, reasonably adjust their behavior, and get feedback in the process.

It is not up to you to be a mind reader, but she has already given you the data you need to start. Try open-ended questions like “How has your day been?” “What has been on your mind?” “How are you feeling these days?” “What is going on in your world this week?” (Not all at once, of course.) And yes, you can even give yourself credit: “I know I struggle with this, so I am trying to make more of an effort. What would you like me to be asking about?”

Andrea Bonior, a Washington, D.C.-area clinical psychologist, writes a weekly relationships advice column in The Washington Post’s Express daily tabloid and is author of “The Friendship Fix.”

Andrea Bonior


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