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Tell Me About It | by Carolyn Hax

Do you and your sister a favor: Just say 'No'

Send sister a message by turning down her requests

Q: My sister expects a lot of favors (from me and everyone else). The last time I let her know that I was annoyed at her lack of gratitude, we didn't speak for weeks. Once again, I'm doing favors for her that I resent. Is there any way to tell her politely that I have too much on my plate to continually do things for her, and maintain our relationship?


A: Depends. If you want a relationship at any cost to your sanity, dignity and spare time, then keep doing what you're doing.

But if you want a relationship in which you decide how much of your own time, if any, that you allocate to her demands, then start saying "no" to favors you don't want to do.

Don't explain, apologize or cite limited plate capacity. Just "No, I won't take your car to get inspected." Why? "Because it's your car and it's my afternoon."

Her not-speaking trick is her way of controlling you. Given the price she charges for her companionship, withholding it seems like more of a reward than a punishment to me, but that's family for you; even stark black-and-white reads as gray.

Either way, her game only works if you agree to play. So, don't. And when she stops speaking to you as expected, don't scramble to restore her good opinion of you. Instead, merely continue to reach out to her as you would if she weren't in a snit. Make your usual Sunday call, or call about a recipe, or invite her for dinner, or whatever constitutes normal.

If she screens your calls, so be it. From now on, you are communicating with her on grownup terms, and grownups do not get upset when other people won't drop everything for them.

Grownups also don't prostrate themselves when anyone throws a tantrum. Instead they shrug, they say "You know where to find me," and then they get on with their lives. Try it. It's tough at first, but also liberating, right out of the gate.

Interruptions are off-putting, but are they intolerable?

Q: My wife has the habit of interrupting me when I'm talking. Sometimes I'm talking to her and sometimes to someone else, but it happens pretty frequently. Often her interruption has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. I've told her I think it's rude but she disagrees and continues to do it. Now when it happens I just stop talking, but this only makes her mock me for "pouting." Is one of us right?


A: The way you tell it, you're right, and she's a monster.

If she's not (otherwise?) a monster, then try imagining this story from her perspective, to see if she'd have a point. Or — given that she refuses to stop — if you can find some other way to shrug off her rudeness. Recurring arguments leave three choices: (1) stasis, (2) escalation, (3a) acceptance and staying and (3b) acceptance and leaving.

If she is a monster, then you need to figure out why interruptions are your sole complaint about being married to a monster. The only way to deal with a problem is to see it for what it is, in its entirety.

And, of course, to know who you are, too. That's the line you have to hold.


Do you and your sister a favor: Just say 'No'

06/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:55pm]
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