Dear Carolyn: Every so often, my mom calls me to complain about something my stepdad has done, and I don't know how to handle it. She married him about five years ago, once my youngest sibling was out of the house, and all of us kids objected silently because he is such an obvious jerk and treats her like a servant. I also expressed concerns at the time but did not press it much, she's an adult.

But now I don't know how I'm supposed to handle her complaining about a jerk acting like a jerk.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: You handle it the way you chose to from the start, by recognizing she is an adult who can manage her own life.

Fortunately, you can do this in a more active, supportive — and pointed — way than just listening while she complains.

It’s also easy to adopt, since it consists entirely of responding to her complaints with sympathy plus a question:

“Hmm, that doesn’t sound good — how do you feel about it?”

“He said that, really? What are you going to do?”

“Huh, I can see why you’re upset. Any idea how you’ll deal with this if it happens again?”

If things escalate: “Oh, no. Are you okay with this?”

And, with care, since the tone needs to be loving, not shaming: “Why do you put up with this?”

It is hard to watch someone make choices you wouldn’t make in their position, when they clearly aren’t happy with the results themselves. It’s hard to resist the impulse to grab the reins. A carefully posed, leading question is one way to help someone that leaves the reins in the right person’s hands. Think of it as turning on a light above the passageway out.

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I just returned from a short trip with close friends. The husbands grew up together. A couple of days after the trip, the husband sent a video of pictures from the trip that included the couple and my husband, but not me. I was pretty surprised, sad and hurt. I thought we all had a great time. My husband says I'm being too sensitive. Am I?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I am very sensitive to accusations that people are being too sensitive.

It is such an . . . insensitive response to someone whose feelings are hurt.

This is true even if he’s right that you’re overreacting, which he might be.

There are only two possibilities here, that the couple left you out by accident or on purpose. That’s it. And if it was an accident — if you just defied the odds and were never in front of the camera at the right time, or if none of the photos you were in came out well, or if you were in some but they just oopsed it and left you out — then it’s reasonable both to feel disappointed about the video and to feel comfortable choosing not to read anything sinister into your omission.

But that’s for you to decide, not your husband, because they’re your feelings. And that’s why “You’re being too sensitive” is such a crappy response to someone’s pain. Plus, bystanders can judge facts only — and he doesn’t have a complete set of the ones governing the video fail, so his putting it all on you is automatically unfounded. And mean.

A decent response, meanwhile, is readily available, always: “Yeah, wow, I’m sorry that happened.”

Rocket science, this is not.

Then, in this case: “I have to think it was an accident, because I can’t see why they’d do that on purpose.” Exact same message as his, delivered without negating you.

Then, with or without your prior authorization: He tells his friend thanks for the video, but is there any reason you aren’t in it? Because it’s not the Stanley Cup — they can make another one.

The value of his running this by you first is that it could render speaking up unnecessary. Sometimes it’s just the thoughtlessness that counts, and therefore validation — thoughtfulness — from your “person” is all the remedy you need.

You may have noticed this advice is entirely focused on your husband, which is not typically how I work; you wrote to me, he didn’t. Plus, the original problem is one between the couple, who made the video, and you, whom they omitted. Your husband’s technically not even involved.

But he is the one who, when you complained of a relatively minor slight, piled on with a significant one — to be fair, one that’s all too common, since it’s practically a societal default to declare somebody “too” something and think that’s the end of it.

So he’s the one I advise you to approach, spelling out what you need and why a brushoff isn’t it. “Hey. This sucked. Your acknowledging that would help.” That one gesture from him, I’m guessing, would buffer any disappointment in whatever happens from here. If he denies you even that, please calmly ask him why.

Write to Carolyn Hax at Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at