Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Friends issue invitations, then won't take no for an answer
Q: After issuing a very polite "No thank you" to several events, I'm noticing some pushback from the planners. At least two demanded what my reasons were for declining, and then went on to speculate that said reasons weren't good enough. I have always thought my reasons for saying no are just that, my own. While I don't feel I owe an explanation every time I decline, I do value these invitations. When is it okay to feel okay about saying no?
Carolyn: Always, unless you've already said yes and you're backing out for a better offer or other selfish reasons; or you're aware that someone is counting on you and you're weaseling; or you're saying no because you're afraid to go and you're in a well-worn groove of not challenging yourself.
Otherwise, the only reason to feel bad about getting pushback is that you have boundary-challenged friends. "I have other commitments" is more than you owe anyone who is pressing you for reasons, but there's no reason to be a purist; offer it as your reason, then don't budge from there.
Re: Saying 'no':
Anonymous: I think a bit of context can help here, too. When I was going through a rather hard time, I started saying no to everything, including family weddings, because I simply did not want to deal. A few people did push back, because they saw a pattern that I did not. It made me angry at the time, but now I am glad they did so. It helped push me toward some much-needed therapy. If you're always saying "no," I think a good friend will gently nudge to figure out why.
Carolyn: Good point. I do think it's important, though, for gentle nudgers to make it clear they're worried about you, vs. worried about what your absence says about them.
Sister-in-law needs example on getting along with her mother
Q: My mother-in-law and I get along really well. (I know, such a problem.) In fact, we get along considerably better than she does with her own daughter. I know it's probably just because the two of them have had longer to snipe at each other and don't have as much in common as we do. I'm thankful for our good relationship, but I know my sister-in-law resents it. She is jealous. Should I take a step back so the two of them can reconnect, or is this none of my business?
Carolyn: It verges on none of your business, and it does sound like a problem of history between them, yet a third party like you can help soften things between them — or at least not aggravate the problem — without actually meddling.
How? Just be inclusive. Work on your relationship with your sister-in-law when it's just the two of you alone, and when her mom is around. If it does start to feel like meddling — like you're matchmaking — then step back and set an example for each of them on how to get along with the other.
That is, assuming your sister-in-law wants to be included more. If she rebuffs you, just continue to be kind to her. Define yours as a do-no-harm role in this clan.