Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Boorish Neighbor Lacks Boundaries

DEAR HARRIETTE: My in-laws are extremely judgmental. I get nervous sometimes because they will say anything, including talking about people when they are in the room. We had a family dinner recently, and many people were there. One of my cousins is extremely overweight. You guessed it. My mother-in-law lit into her when she went to get some dessert.

I know it would be smart for my cousin to skip dessert, but it was not my mother-in-law's place to reprimand her. She felt differently. When I tried to change the subject, she went in on her even more, harping about how she is killing herself. Whether her words are true or not, they were grossly inappropriate at this meal in front of a bunch of people. How can I get her to stop? Or should I just stop inviting her places? -- NEED A MUZZLE

DEAR NEED A MUZZLE: It is hard to change behavior, especially in a mature adult. But what you can do is decide what you are willing to accept or not. Talk to your spouse about the behavior of their parents and ask for support. Whatever you do will require a united front from both of you. You may want to talk to your in-laws together and let them know how hurtful your mother-in-law's comments were to your cousin.

But more effective may be to talk to them and let them know that if they cannot curb their disrespectful comments, you will have to curb their visits. You will probably need to limit the occasions that you get together with them to times when there are few people present and when you are willing to speak up and ask them to stop when they cross the line.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)