Amy: Argumentative aunt causing problems in close relationship

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • January 14, 2013 - 4:14 PM

Dear Amy: I don't have any siblings, and our family is very small, so even though my aunt (married to my dad's brother) is 16 years older than me, we have been very close.

We have children who are the same age, but we are drastically different in most ways -- she dropped out of high school, I have two master's degrees; she is a Republican, I am very liberal; I work outside the home, she doesn't -- and we both have strong opinions.

When we disagree, she will stop talking to me for months at a time. If she does talk about what happened, it is through yelling and being obstinate. Several times I have decided that I am done with her, but eventually we get along again, and our families spend time together several times a year.

At the last two functions at our home, she has tried to start arguments with me in front of other people. I think this is rude and inappropriate, and I honestly wonder if there is something wrong with her.

I cannot invite my own mother to family functions because she thinks she is being entertaining by cutting me down in front of others, and I feel my aunt is quickly making her way into this category as well. What would you do?

Amy says: You can control this to some extent by anticipating that this woman will attempt to bait you. If someone throws an argument and no one shows up, though, the perpetrator is left more or less stewing in her own juice.

Something might be wrong with this aunt. She might have an illness, become argumentative when she drinks, or might have simply decided that she doesn't like the cut of your jib.

You are already excluding your mother from family functions, but I suggest you explore ways to cope with your aunt's behavior -- a combination of ignoring and deflection might work -- or you could mentally (or physically) leave the room.

Offended by etiquette

Dear Amy: I am married and took my husband's last name. My pet peeve is that I don't want to be addressed as "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith."

I know that many people (especially the older generation) feel this is proper etiquette. I feel that not including my first name is disrespectful and takes away my identity.

I understand it is not intended to be disrespectful (by most people), so how can I respectfully relay my feelings?

Amy says: It's not that people "feel" this manner of address is "proper etiquette," it is proper etiquette to be formally addressed (on paper) as "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith."

Do you care about formal etiquette in this particular context? Me neither. But all the same you must know that this formal politeness is intended as the very opposite of disrespect, and so you do not have permission to take offense.

If this occurs in an in-person introduction, you can interject to say, "Oh please, call me 'Tracy.'"

You can address your own mail as "Tracy Smith" to remind people that you do have a first name and ask people to include your first name in their address books.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at

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