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Is sister smug for voicing appreciation of her husband?

Carolyn Hax
| Saturday, December 15, 2018 1:33 a.m
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Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My sister has the good fortune to be married to a man who not only earns most of the money — and quite a bit of it — but also sees to the management of the household in both big and small ways. For example, he chooses their investments, and he also takes her car in when it needs to be serviced. They are happy, and I consider her very lucky.

How do I tell her she comes off as smug when she says things like, “I don’t know how I’d make it without James” — implying that those of us who have to play an active role in managing our own lives, partnered or not, are unfortunate suckers?

— Va.

I think this is just hitting a sore spot of yours, no? Because when I hear, “I don’t know how I’d make it without James,” I think, “That’s pretty sad,” because autonomy is my drug of choice.

I speak only for myself, obviously. But even one dissenting vote says it’s not true that your sister “comes off as smug.” Instead, she sounds smug to you. That’s all you can say for certain. And that means it’s worth asking yourself why you hear it that way — versus finding it sad or loving or wistful or whatever else — before you start grilling her on why she does this or what she really means by it.

If you do decide to say something, then phrase it so it’s clear you’re talking about your impressions only: “When you say things like ‘I don’t know how I’d make it without James,’ I feel like a sucker for having to play an active role in managing my own life. Am I reading you wrong?” Better to invite her just to speak for herself versus put her on the defensive.

Re: James:

When I hear, “I don’t know how I’d make it without James,” I hear her expressing her appreciation for what James does. Does appreciating one’s good fortune out loud make one smug? To me smug would be taking it for granted.

— Anonymous

Re: James:

I’ve been a single parent forever, work full time, run the household, service the car, cut the grass — the whole shebang. It can be exhausting, but all I hear in the sister’s comment about James is someone acknowledging how lucky they are to have someone who helps with or handles those tasks and perhaps acknowledging how much her sister possibly has on her plate. It doesn’t seem smug to me. It seems like you have to work pretty hard to turn that into, “You’re a sucker.” But, siblings.

— Single Parent

Amen. Thanks.

Re: Va.:

You might want to ask your sister if she is prepared to do things if something happens to James. I did everything around the house. Then I had a stroke. Husband didn’t even know the bank account number. One year later, we both can manage things if/when something happens.

— We Both Can Manage

Practical and useful, thanks. Hope you’re doing OK.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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