Carolyn Hax: No need to play host for hostile sister


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 20

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

A relative is hosting a surprise event. My sister lives out of state but is going to drive here for the party. When she comes to visit, she always stays with me.

I go absolutely nuts. She’s extremely opinionated, domineering, over-my-shoulder oppressive. My husband and the rest of my family tell me to just deal with it. I have tried, but nothing has worked. A few years ago I confronted her, and she got so angry she cut me off for four blissful months. Then she forgave me. Rats.

She has not asked yet to stay with me, but I see the telltale signs, innocent e-mails asking how I’m doing. After I got sideswiped into hosting her last time, I vowed not to answer her e-mails, which so far I’m holding to. She is capable of doing an end run via another sister.

I’m asking for your permission to close the hotel doors.

Driven Totally Bonkers

Your home, your call, no matter what I think.

Ideally you’ll say it straight out — “We are oil and water — not a good idea” — but you can also ignore any disingenuous communications, or invite an out-of-town friend to make your guest room unavailable, or trump up another dodge.

Clearly you need a longer-term solution, though. WHY does this sister inflame you so? Even with the most obnoxious people, we still control the access we give people to our sensitivities. This will be your dilemma in perpetuity unless you identify your buttons and cut the wires that feed them.

Re: Sister:

1. Tell Sis that, as an extra-special present, you have made reservations for her at Hotel X, which you hear is fantastic. 2. Invite some nice friends to stay with you during that time, so you don’t have the space. 3. Buy a nice rollaway bed and give it to another sister. 4. Stand up for yourself and say, “Sorry, but I can’t host you here.” And don’t cave into pressure to explain.

Not answering calls and e-mails is silly and leaves you open to reasonable criticism. Good luck.

Anonymous

Remember, the e-mails aren’t direct requests, they’re part of an apparent pattern of manipulation. If so, ignoring isn’t the noblest defense, but it’s a valid one.

Carolyn:

Can you elaborate on what you mean by controlling “the access you give [someone] to our sensitivities”? I don’t “give” people like this access to my sensitivities, they just know exactly what they are and how to use them to hurt me. Even if I put on a show like it doesn’t hurt, it still hurts.

Anonymous 2

I’ll use my experience in reading hostile mail for 16 years, and also in some volatile, now-ex friendships. Both used to upset me deeply, and now the same things barely register. Nothing about the other parties changed, the abuse still comes. What has changed is inside me: I value their (or anyone’s) opinions less; I am more accepting of, less embarrassed by and therefore less defensive about my own shortcomings; and I learned more constructive ways to handle my hard feelings. Combine the three and I am just not as, for a lack of a better word, hurtable as I used to be.

That’s what I mean.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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