Below are some of the exchanges from the relationships advice column, Baggage Check, published weekly in The Washington Post's Express:
Q: My girlfriend suffers from anxiety problems and has been on medication for them for a while. I understand this but I also think she is selective in how she uses it to get out of certain things she doesn't want to do. For instance, despite us being together for three years, she has yet to go to any of my family's holidays. This Thanksgiving, I really expected she would finally go, but it was "too much for her" a week before. She is fine doing things that she wants to do, but her anxiety gets her out of almost everything else. I don't want to be insensitive, but she gets to call the shots more and more without regard to what I want.
A: But that's the nature of anxiety: It feels bad and makes you not want to do things. I get it, though, that there's a murky area between "Holidays with your family make me feel anxious enough to not want to do them" and "I'd rather not do holidays with your family, so I'm hereby anxious."
Accusing her of manipulation won't go far; try instead for better clarity about joint goals and priorities. If it's important to you that she do Y, and she's willing, then agree to work together on it. So in that case, overcoming the anxiety and pushing through the last-minute desire to bail becomes part of the goal all along, rather than an unexpected kink that wrecks plans (therapy can help too). But this will only work if you prioritize together - and perhaps get to the bottom of what she's truly motivated to work toward, and what she isn't.
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Q: My husband comes from a close family. Mine is not close due to years of envy, resentment and drama, only seeing each other twice a year, and when we get together, the tension makes for awkwardness. My husband thinks our two kids should have a better relationship with the other kids in the family, with play dates as often as possible. I'm in a place of peace because I have limited my interaction with the family. But I feel guilty because I want my kids to know their cousins and make memories together.
A: No two families are alike, so the standard set by your in-laws doesn't matter. What's important is what you want and what's best for your kids. You can start bite-sized, with small amounts of time spent together that go heavy on the child interaction, finding interesting activities the kids can do together that allow the adults to become small-talking bystanders ("What a fun water slide!").
The older the kids get, the more possible it is to have them together with only one set of parents, if trust is there. Could you take all the children on a day trip? Have a sleepover? The relationships can also be nourished in between visits - from heavily spell-checked postcards sent by toddlers to regular Skype calls or emails that two tween cousins can enjoy. In the meantime, practice deep breaths, focusing on the little ones and changing the subject.
Bonior, a Washington-area clinical psychologist, writes a weekly relationships advice column in The Washington Post's Express daily tabloid and is author of "The Friendship Fix." For more information, see www.drandreabonior.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @drandreabonior.
Special to The Washington Post
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