DEAR AMY: More than 30 years ago my fundamentalist parents did everything they could to prevent my wife and me from marrying (we were atheists).
My brothers either kept neutral or sided with my parents. My wife would have nothing to do with them after we were married.
My parents are now gone. My brothers have since tried to be nice to my wife, but she resists. I visit my brothers' families by myself.
I understand her position, but I feel she should at least try to be part of the family because they have been more welcoming. I feel she should let bygones be bygones. This is the only bone of contention between my wife and me. — Want Peace
DEAR PEACE: One of the biggest challenges in family relationships is to grasp (and then truly accept) this reality: You cannot have people's relationships for them.
Sometimes you can influence or mediate between people to broker a sort of peace, but essentially (and unfortunately) the relationship is really controlled and maintained by the opposing parties.
What this means is that your wife can choose not to accept various olive branches extended her way. She can choose not to forgive people who were once cruel to her. She can passively stay in a state of sadness or anger without trying to change.
It may be that your wife simply does not care. Not seeing them is one less unpleasant item on her list.
You can continue to try to encourage your family, and your wife, to come together. You can encourage each party to try harder (for instance, have your family members actually acknowledge what they did and ask for forgiveness? That would be a start).
But here's what you can actually accomplish: very little, besides acceptance.
You need to manage your own anxiety over this. You cannot force her to see people, and she cannot force you to stay away.
DEAR AMY: For the past few years I have been going through what I describe as my "medical mystery tour": The doctors all agree that there is something wrong, but they haven't yet discovered exactly what is causing my medical problems.
One of the symptoms I am experiencing is that I cannot keep on weight. While I have always been on the small and scrappy side, I am currently quite skeletal.
My dilemma is that when people ask about my health and I mention this, I am almost always greeted with some form of "Gee, I wish I had that problem."
I understand that they mean no harm. I don't want to embarrass anyone, so I usually quip something lighthearted and move on to another subject.
This whole thing — my illness and the pressure of trying to get better — is getting exhausting. Can you suggest a way to respond that will put people on notice that I am sick and scared, and even a little insulted? — Scary Thin
DEAR SCARY: You should realize that people tend to have an extremely complicated way of responding to another's illness. Either they launch into a story about something that happened to them or their sister-in-law's cousin, or they try to joke, dismiss or diminish the reality of what is happening to you. These quips are really expressions of fear. It might help you to realize this.
You can respond very simply and effectively by saying, "No, you really don't want this problem. I assure you."
DEAR AMY: "Helpless" reported that fellow diners were gossiping very loudly and using specific names and situations.
This happened to my husband and me. Our backs were to the obnoxious couple, so with a wink to my honey, I loudly detailed "news" of a disgusting ingrown toenail my elderly uncle had.
The loud gossipers didn't even slow down, so my clever beau interrupted me with an urgently hushed, "Quiet! They're talking about Colleen and Rex! I wanna hear more ..."
And with that, the idiots clammed up! — Worked For Us
DEAR WORKED: I did this one time too. I told a guy next to me (yelling into his cellphone about specifics about a high-profile government issue) that I had written everything down but just want to check the spelling.
Sadly, I don't think he altered his behavior long term, but it sure felt good.
(Send questions via e-mail to askamytribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.)