Q. My mother and sister-in-law are in the middle of a big conflict. Apparently my mother was critical of my SIL with some parenting stuff (this I can believe) and my SIL got nasty and revoked an invite for my nephew’s birthday party. Both of them (who I have good relationships with) are contacting me separately to complain about the other. I live across the country and don’t want to be involved, but I feel like they’ll be angry at me if I stay out of it, which feels even worse than choosing a side! Oh, and in case you are wondering, my brother (married to my SIL) is no help at all in fixing this.
Let’s be clear: If they choose to fault you for not jumping into some secondhand-story melee from across the country, then that is on them, not on you.
If you’ve enjoyed good relationships with them up until now, then you have the foundation to start with a respectful but firm conversation about how you are choosing to stay out of it. That is not to say you can’t be helpful; indeed, you should be encouraging them to hone their own respectful-communication skills, to take a breath and start fresh, to be open to a genuine but calm discussion about this. And you can share with your mother that sometimes she can be critical, and encourage her to take your sister-in-law’s perspective, and share with your sister-in-law that grandchildren’s birthday parties probably shouldn’t be used as ammunition. So, tell them you are taking sides. You’re taking the side of civility, problem-solving and empathy.
Oh, and the side of telling that brother of yours that being “no help at all” when it comes to his mother and his wife being miserable with each other is simply not an option.
Q. I have a hard time not holding grudges. Several people have told me that I carry things for a long time and that I have a hard time “letting go.” My boyfriend says it is exhausting. I really don’t want to be like this, but I also feel like when someone hurts me, they need to really make it right or I won’t get over it. So part of me doesn’t think this is my fault. But I do want to work on it.
Wanting to work on it is what matters here, and that’s impressive. It’s understandable that you can’t necessarily see how the grudges that you hold — which clearly feel like valid reactions to you on some level, or you wouldn’t be holding them — may be dysfunctional after all. It’s likely that this is a pattern that stems from some sort of deficit that goes back quite a while: feeling unduly blamed, or like you don’t get what you deserve, or that people don’t meet your standards. Or maybe you have some long-standing slights that have bruised you in ways that haven’t quite healed. Grudges can also stem from the negative mindset that often accompanies anxiety or depression. A good therapist can help you figure it out.
Send your questions for Baggage Check to Dr. Andrea Bonior at firstname.lastname@example.org. She may answer them in an upcoming column in Express or in a live chat on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com.