Dear Ann Cannon • I have had a wonderful, close relationship with my aunt for my entire life. She has always been a great confidante and has helped me surmount some very difficult experiences in life. I have been lucky enough to have a truly honest relationship with her in which we are both confident in the unconditional love we have for one another.
At the beginning of this year, I had a very serious and devastating personal crisis, which I struggled for months to work through. When I spoke with my aunt about my situation, she made comments and asked questions that deeply and seriously questioned my very standards and character — traits I genuinely believed she had watched me work hard to improve (I thought) successfully. The things she said were hurtful and called into question the very foundation of our connection. When I tried to clarify what she was asking, she doubled down and said I couldn’t blame her for thinking what she did. I felt completely blindsided, having no idea she harbored such negative views of me.
The hurt and betrayal I feel from this encounter continue to linger. I have tried to focus on all the good we have shared to get past this, but the cut was so deep and let me know she views at least parts of me through a lens I never even fathomed could exist. I obviously have some contemplation and processing to work through, but I don’t agree with her view that she was justified in her questioning of me, and I am sincerely struggling to reach forgiveness (something that usually comes easily to me). What can I do to take the first steps toward healing this very important, lifelong relationship I have cherished so dearly?
— Nonplussed and Perplexed
Dear Nonplussed • Oh, I’m so sorry.
It’s never easy when something crucial in a cherished relationship shifts. In fact, this kind of change can feel downright traumatic — and the more important the relationship has been to you, the more traumatic that change is bound to feel.
So. What can you do? What first step can you take? I frankly applaud your desire to forgive your aunt for hurting you, even if she hasn’t asked for your forgiveness or doesn’t feel like she needs it. Wanting to forgive her is your way of saying that you’d like to feel understood and that you hope the relationship will be OK again, right? And guess what. It probably will be. Eventually. Life is long that way. In my experience, people who have truly, truly cared about one another often find a way to reconnect at some level, even if the new relationship looks different than the old one.
OK. Please remember that I’m NOT a therapist. But it seems to me that for now you ought to think about giving yourself the time and space you need to grieve over what you’ve lost. A body blow to an important relationship can feel like a tiny death. I’d stay in touch with your aunt — at least superficially — but I wouldn’t push for another heart-to-heart about her hurtful response. Not yet, anyway. At this point, my guess is that she would “double down” on her observations once again, whereas a little bit of time and some distance may give you and her both a fresh perspective on what transpired. Then, when you feel ready to move on — and I think you will — you can decide what to do next.
Wishing you all the luck in the world.
Dear Tribune Readers • Meanwhile, this past week I received some alternative suggestions from some of you for Annoyed Aunt — the woman who’s appalled that her nieces and nephew won’t put their phones away while she’s treating them to dinner.
They include this: “How about, ‘Please put your conversation on speaker phone so we can all participate.’”
And this: “I have a solution for Annoyed Aunt. First one to touch their device pays for dinner. Simple!”
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