Q. My sister has had it rough. I got As in school; she dropped out. I have a great job; she's a struggling single mom. I just got engaged, but it feels like rubbing salt in a wound to tell her. How do I share my joy, knowing it will only make her feel worse?
--Nancy R., Arlington, Massachusetts
A. How do you know your joy will make her feel worse? Can you read your sister's mind? (If so, please come over right away and read a few minds, starting with my husband's.) No one knows how your sister will respond, including her. You may have a habit of trying to protect her from feeling worse, and maybe you think she can't handle the truth -- and this dynamic might reflect a familial pattern. When my older sister and I get together, we often assume our childhood roles: She's dependable; I'm goofy. She's neat; I'm a slob. Notice if you communicate with each other in ways that remind you of your childhood, from the nicknames you use, to the tone of voice, to the assumptions you have about what will or won't take place.
Ask yourself, what's happened when you've shared good news with your sister in the past? Separate the facts from your interpretations (it's trickier than it sounds). For instance, "It's 68 degrees" is a fact; "Your house is too cold" is my mother's interpretation. Interpretations aren't necessarily wrong; it's the way our brains work. The problem arises when we confuse our facts with our stories. By teasing out what you know about your past exchanges from what you're projecting, you'll see more clearly how your sister has reacted.
Since keeping your future husband a secret isn't an option ("That guy in his underwear at the kitchen table? Never seen him before."), you need to tell her. Speak from the belief that she wants the best for you. Avoid the slightest hint of superiority or judgment. Tell her how you feel if she does pull away or compare herself to you. Allow her the dignity of hearing about your good fortune, and allow yourself the dignity of sharing your good news.
Author, creative catalyst, and coach Jennifer Louden leads retreats around the United States. She has written six books about creating a life you love, including her newest, "The Life Organizer." You can learn more at lifeorganizerbook.com. If you have questions about life issues such as finding balance, managing time, or handling difficult personal relationships, email them to email@example.com.
© 2014 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. All rights reserved.