Annie's Mailbox for Feb. 8, 2011: How do we make guest feel welcome?

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Dear Annie: Every year, we invite our extended family for the holidays. Last year, we had our nephew, "John," and his wife, "Jane." John is a terrific, lovable, normal 30-something. Jane, on the other hand, is not nearly as normal. For example, John removes his coat after arriving, but Jane keeps hers on for the entire visit. John participates in the conversation, while Jane shies away from talking.

Dinner, however, is the strangest part. We have never seen Jane eat a single bite. She doesn't even pretend to eat. She simply places her napkin on her plate.

At first, we thought she was a germaphobe, except we have been guests in their home for meals and Jane does not join the guests at the table. I once found her alone in the kitchen with a plate of food. When I asked her to come into the dining room, she replied, "The dog likes my company."

Do you think she has some fear of eating in front of other people? How can we make her more comfortable in our home? Is this something we should be concerned about?

— Worried Relative

Dear Worried: Jane seems to be suffering from a not-uncommon social anxiety disorder, which is a fear of being judged by others or embarrassed in front of them. It likely stems from an incident in her childhood. If she is willing to examine her fears, she may be able to overcome them. Some people have found success with behavior modification, hypnotherapy, counseling and/or medication. If you are close to your nephew, suggest that Jane discuss it with her doctor. John also can get more information through the National Institute of Mental Health at 1-866-615-NIMH (1-866-615-6464). Beyond that, please don't make an issue of this. She intends no offense.

Dear Annie: I have been married for 25 years. When my husband and I go somewhere and have to walk from the car, he always walks in front of me. I feel like his servant. I have told him I hate it and to stop, but he continues.

What is up with this disrespect? How should I handle this?

— Following in His Footsteps

Dear Following: Most men have longer strides than women. In order for your husband to walk by your side, he needs to slow down to a pace that apparently does not feel natural to him. Still, it's rude and inconsiderate not to make the effort. The next time you get out of the car, ask the King of England to assist you, grab his arm, and don't let go until you reach your destination.

Dear Annie: This is in response to "Midlife Marriage," who said the spark has left her marriage.

I have been happily married for almost 20 years. I, too, miss the passion of our youth, but at the same time, I have found comfort in the stability of our years together. Early in our marriage, we had trouble, and I didn't know if we'd make it. A friend advised me to focus on what I loved about him — not what he could do for me, but the qualities he possessed that caused me to fall in love with him. Remembering that has kept me satisfied all these years.

We're raising several children, so time alone is rare. However, we flirt regularly and make time to talk, cuddle and be together. It's easy to get caught up in the kids, career and other outside activities, and neglect the marriage. But the kids will grow up and leave, the career will end, and hobbies change. Your spouse will still be with you.

It starts with me. I have to make our marriage a priority. I'd advise "Midlife" to surprise her husband and put her best foot forward, just like she did in the beginning. It takes time and effort, but it will be worth it in the end.

— Satisfied Wife

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