Ask Amy: My husband gets me back for my mistakes, and then says I deserve it

Dear Amy: Sometimes when my husband and I fight, it’s because I’ve been clumsy and done or said something impolite.

Amy Dickinson 

He responds in kind, and then insists on an apology, which I give. But when I ask him to apologize for his unkind reaction to my behavior, he says, “You started it, so I don’t need to apologize.”

That is how all of our fights end: with him getting an apology and me getting nothing. Do you agree that the person who “started it” should never receive any apology?

One-sided

Dear One-sided: None of what you two do would be considered “fighting fair.” This seems more like score-settling than mature adults offering sincere apologies and receiving forgiveness.

If you two were in kindergarten and you deliberately hit your husband with a ball, and then he picked it up and hit you right back, a teacher would ask you both to apologize to one another, because you’ve both done something you shouldn’t have done that has hurt the other.

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To me, the basic geometry of your interactions seems imbalanced. But apologies, forgiveness and reconciliation are not points on a protractor.

You two should not only settle scores, but actually attempt to reconcile and rebalance. And this man who values apologies so much should learn how to offer one.

Dear Amy: My younger sister is 54. She has been divorced three times and has a teenage daughter.

Both of our parents are deceased. My sister currently has a nice boyfriend she has lived with for a few years.

The issue is that she cannot seem to keep a job for longer than a year. She has been terminated from at least six jobs (that I can count) in the last 10 years.

Although she blames others for these terminations, it is obvious that she is the problem.

I want to discuss this with her without her getting defensive.

I am recently comfortably retired and always feel somewhat guilty about her financial problems. I’ve had people tell me not to worry about her, because she always lands on her feet.

One therapist told me: “Not my monkey, not my circus,” which helped for a few years — but every time she loses another job my heart sinks.

Any suggestions on how to help her realize that she is the common denominator when it comes to losing these good jobs and to figure out what she is doing wrong?

Worried Older Sister

Dear Worried: My inexpert observation is that often within a family system, the people who might benefit the most from therapy are the least likely to seek it, while those around them seek professional help for how to manage the challenges of the troubled relationship.

I would not use the terminology your therapist used, but I do agree with the thinking behind it.

It is natural for you to want to take care of your younger sister. You probably absorbed this very basic lesson in childhood. This is both the joy and the burden of your birth order.

However, your sister is not asking to be taken care of. She is not asking to be “fixed.” And you not only want to try to fix her, but you’d also like to control her reaction to your efforts.

She likely believes that if the rest of the world would only line up and play fair with her, then she would receive the credit and stability she believes she deserves.

However, if she currently enjoys a stable and positive home life, then she is a success along the most important metric by which human beings can be measured. Her partner is a nice guy who presumably loves her, her daughter is growing, and she has a caring older sister who is in her life. She is likely crafty and resourceful in that she lands on her feet after every failure. All good!

If your sister ever asks you for your perspective, you should offer it.

Until that day, you should relax into your big sister role and accept your flawed but scrappy younger sister, just as she is.

Dear Amy: “Snacked” wrote to you about her husband’s refusal to offer their grandchildren healthy snacks. I loved this line: “Kids … can happily eat broccoli trees dipped in yogurt — until Mr. Oreo comes to town.”

But don’t you think parents take this “healthy snacking” thing a little too far?

Wondering

Dear Wondering: Anything can be taken too far. But, overall, I think the “healthy snacking” trend is an extremely positive step.

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You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.