Hax: Listening is often the best advice

The Washington PostJune 11, 2013 

Carolyn: After a death in the family, my younger cousin (early 30s) decided to put her house on the market and move closer to family and friends. She was going to break up with her live-in boyfriend (whom she was largely supporting and who can barely keep a job), but then he proposed. She deliberated for a few weeks and decided to accept, even though family and friends tried to talk her out of it.

I'm being asked to talk some sense into her, and as much as I wish I could, it seems pointless. I keep hoping she'll wake up and realize this is not for her, but it doesn't seem to be happening. What can I tell the well-meaning loved ones who insist that I'm not doing enough, besides, "Sorry"?

SISTER, SISTER

You could point out that if they all had a better grasp of boundaries then maybe she'd be in a better position to make healthy emotional choices, but that would just be mean-spirited.

So please deflect the insistent loved ones with, "She's a grown woman, and she hasn't asked me what I think." As many times as needed.

If she is in touch - or if you have a close enough relationship to call her to talk about this - then I do think there's something you can do to help her. Not change her mind, just help. You can say, "I understand you've been hearing a lot from the family about your engagement. How are you holding up?"

If she wants to toss ideas around with someone who won't judge her or try to live her life for her, that's her invitation. If she doesn't, then dropping the subject will be your token of respect for the fact that it's not your business until she makes it so. Seems she could use either of these right now.

You sound unsure of what you'd say if she did take you up on your invitation to talk, but that's actually the easiest part: Just listen. When she asks you what you think, you start by giving her your version of what she has said, such as, "If I understand you, you're saying you had doubts but the proposal changed your mind." That kind of distillation starts her down the only path that isn't "pointless" - the one where she talks any needed sense into herself.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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