No need to compete with off-putting relative

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I wrote in a few weeks ago about my stepmother-in-law, who claps at me when she wants the baby. I'm working on using your advice but wanted to ask a follow-up question about some strategies for spending a weekend in a small home with someone you want to (sorry) chuck out a window.

In addition to the clapping, she has so far told the baby, "Don't you look at that mama, she's just for food," and come over and pulled on my 5-year-old, whom I was consoling after an injury, saying, "He needs Grandma right now." I just don't know how to last three more days with her.

Any suggestions? My husband is little help. For some reason, he is frantic to maintain some false sense of harmony. Help?!

Answer: Your stepmother-in-law is a sad person who craves love but undermines herself terribly in the way she attempts to seize it. And of course she has to seize it, because she's too off-putting in her manner for people to want to give her love freely. Clap-on, clap-off, the vicious cycle.

I realize you are probably beyond sympathy at this point, and that's fine - but maybe you can use this frame of reference as a way to realize you don't need to compete with her, much less win, in a battle for your family's affections.

Win the clap battle, again, by handing her the baby when she asks but never when she claps.

But, otherwise, manage her mannerisms as a nuisance, not a threat. "Yes, take the baby, the baby's food source would love a hot bath."

Question: A longtime friend separated from a 10-year marriage that included verbal abuse, gaslighting, and some physical abuse. It was never a happy relationship.

I have provided emotional and some financial support as my friend has made a new solo life - and suggested counseling, which has not happened. Now friend is suggesting the ex has changed (doubtful) and wants to give him another chance.

I can't support this choice but am not sure how to make it work in the real world. "I support you but never mention your ex to me again"? What are my best options?

Answer: Friend: "Ex has changed and wants to give things another chance."

You: "Even if he has changed, you're not required to take him back. In fact, if he wants to reconcile without considering whether that would be healthy for you after a decade of his mistreatment, he hasn't really changed - he's still all about what he wants."

Not that it'll prompt the magic almighty "aha," but it'll at least reframe the issue for her.

It'll be harder if she runs back to him, but it comes down to choosing one of two very basic options: Stay friends (for her benefit and yours) knowing it means you can't distance yourself from him completely, or distance yourself from him completely knowing you can't remain her friend. Your prerogative, no guilt. Which one works for you?

tellme@washpost.com.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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