Q: I am single with no kids but have dogs. Sometimes I think my brother thinks his life is more important than mine because he has children. When the subject of my newly adopted dog came up, he rolled his eyes and abruptly left the room. In the past when I have brought up my dogs, he has commented, "They are just dogs." I am so hurt - we spend endless hours talking about his kids, yet he makes me feel as if what is going on in my life is not important. What should I do or say when this happens?
Childless With Pets
A: Next time, tell yourself that two adults are still competing for attention, probably as fiercely as they did as children. That would explain your brother's need to talk endlessly about his kids (sorry, nothing's that gripping), and your need for his validation of dog-rearing.
Of course, there are huge differences. You're not belittling him - you just want inclusion, while he apparently needs to win. He's also wrong. Your dogs certainly matter.
But whether he grasps that is irrelevant. On your own, you can choose, consciously, to override your childhood circuitry. You can decide your brother's opinion has no bearing on your satisfaction with life. Wanting a sibling's approval is natural, but don't mistake that for needing it.
You made your choices for your reasons - and in those choices, in those reasons, is where your fulfillment (or emptiness) lies.
So when he says they're "just dogs," simply say, "They matter to me," and then finish what you meant to say.
Are his memory lapses insults or signs of her insecurity?
Q: My fiance superimposes me into memories of his and his ex's relationship. For instance, we'll go out to eat and he'll say, "Oh, we came to this restaurant with (another couple) before." After a few minutes, he'll remember that it wasn't me that he was with. This doesn't happen often, but it makes me feel bad. I don't get how a guy who has a better memory than I do can be so forgetful in this one respect.
A: If it doesn't happen often, then how is he "so forgetful"? He remembers a place from a prior date . . . which he imagines he went on with you. Common, understandable, and possibly flattering.
But I'm not going to waste my space cheerleading. Instead, I'll waste it urging you to consider the context. What else has he done to suggest he's dismissive of you? What else have you done to suggest you're quick to take offense?
When small complaints really get to you, they should be treated as evidence of a bigger problem. Unfortunately, that bigger problem tends to be one of two things: your mistreatment by someone else - or your oversensitivity to perceived mistreatment.
Even more unfortunately, this person who may have a perception problem is the one deciding whether she has a perception problem: You. That's why context matters so much. If everything else points to your fiance as a good man who's good for you, then find a way to laugh at yourself. "No, I'm the other girlfriend." If everything else points to a problem, then please do face it as one.