Everybody’s trash-talking

Joey Garcia

Family gatherings are ruined, and it’s entirely the fault of my cousin. She hijacks every conversation to complain about her husband. We warned her about this man while they were dating, and she married him anyway. It’s bad enough that she complains about him to us in a voice loud enough for him to hear, but she also complains in front of their three kids. I am sick of it, but if I speak out, I’ll say something that will make her hate me forever. What should I do?

Close your eyes and invite your mind to drift back to your cousin’s wedding day. You were sitting among the honored guests, or maybe you were standing and serving as a bridesmaid. Your presence at the wedding signified your responsibility to protect the hearts of the two people whose lives were being unified. Many people prefer to think of a wedding as a couple’s once-in-a-lifetime fete, but it’s also a spiritual commitment for every person attending. Yes, that means you must clear the emotional obstacles within that prevent you from speaking compassionately to your cousin.

When our advice is solicited but neglected, our egos take it personally. That’s unfortunate. Advice is only an opinion. In life, everyone is entitled to proceed, fail, stop or succeed at her or his own pace. Failure builds character, eventually. Without failure, most people never learn how to manage their emotions, belongings, finances, creativity or potential. So don’t be angry at your cousin for ignoring warnings about her husband. Don’t say, “I told you so!” because that’s just annoying. After all, she didn’t break the law; she just chose her own advice instead of yours.

Here’s a starting point for transformation: Find a time in your own life when you failed to take advice that might have saved you some heartache. Connecting with your own experience is humbling. It can inspire the compassion necessary for a loving conversation with your cousin. Is that conversation necessary? Absolutely. Her children deserve to witness a healthy relationship between their parents. It helps to remember this: Marriage is not the culmination of a loving relationship. It’s a living workshop in which two people gradually discover how to love and be loved. Most of us need help to grow in love, and not just from a partner.

If your cousin is trash-talking her husband because she needs to process her feelings and fears, that’s understandable. Listen to her without interrupting. Then, offer guidance in the form of questions that direct her toward self-reflection. You can also suggest that she see a psychologist, with or without her husband. If she gripes about her man to intimidate him, that’s a serious matter, and you must intervene. Otherwise, your nieces and nephews are being schooled in the basics of bullying, and that’s dangerous for everyone.

My problem involves a friend who seriously limits the time we spend together. When we hang out, it’s great, but not often enough for me. She doesn’t want to talk on the phone, ever. I know she has an intense career and is an introvert, but I would love to get closer and hang out more. I don’t want to bring this up when we’re having fun, because I don’t want to be a buzzkill. What can I say to change things?

Not a word. Adjust your expectations instead. You have a good friend who cherishes her time alone. Yet, when she does socialize, you top her list of people to hang with. Can you let that be enough? If so, that’s love. It’s sweeter than trying to force her to give you more than she can comfortably give.

Meditation of the week
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within,” wrote psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Discover how to lighten your heart during a free presentation based on my book, When Your Heart Breaks, It's Opening to Love: Healing and Finding Love After an Affair, Heartbreak or Divorce, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, at the Avid Reader at Tower (1600 Broadway).

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