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Ask Amy: Estrangement extends through generations

Dear Amy: My boyfriend of 10 years (with a few breaks) does not have a close relationship with his parents and really no relationship at all with his two siblings.

Little things have happened through the years that have upset people, and no one ever communicates or makes up with each other.

He also doesn’t have good relationships with his young adult daughters. They seem to have chosen their mom over him.

I know it hurts him, but he doesn’t feel he can do much about it. He does try to reach out, with little response from them.

I have gotten really frustrated with how everyone acts and the horrible communication and how badly they treat him, so I completely stay out of it.

I say nothing to any of them because I barely know them, anyway.

Is that the right thing to do?

The fact that he doesn’t have a caring family hurts me, too.

— Sad Woman in AZ

Dear Sad: You have chosen to be with someone who does not have a track record of healthy relationships with others. It sounds as if his family system is dysfunctional, and while this could be the reason for his behavior, he doesn’t seem motivated to try to do things differently.

After 10 years with him, you might have had opportunities to affect this dynamic to some degree, but you don’t seem eager to exert yourself, either.

The non-communicative conflict style followed by low or no-contact is something he learned at home. Estrangement is extremely common, and yes — it does run in families, oftentimes through generations.

I suggest that he concentrate on trying to repair the relationship with his children. You can be helpful here by working on developing a braver and more functional communication style, by supporting his efforts, and by encouraging him to keep trying, with an open and loving attitude.

If these daughters have aligned with their mother, they might have been lied to and their own spirits and relationships poisoned.

He should patiently try to rewrite the faulty narrative with the hopes of creating a new story line with this generation.

I appreciate the work of Cornell University researcher Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., whose book, “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them” (Avery, 2022) offers scholarship illustrating this common phenomenon, as well as compassionate and practical advice for how to attempt reconciliation.

Dear Amy: My fiancé and I are getting married this summer. My fiancé “William” is in his mid-30s. He has one brother, “Sam,” who is 25.

William has asked five friends to be groomsmen at the wedding — some are from childhood and some from college. He really wanted to have men with him who have been extremely important in his life.

He did not ask Sam to be in the wedding because he is significantly younger.

William and Sam have a good relationship and frankly, he didn’t think Sam would be bothered at all not to be asked.

Sam did not take it well. He has more or less stopped communicating with William and when William asked him why, Sam told him that his feelings are very hurt and that he doesn’t even want to attend the wedding now.

We’re not sure what to do at this point. We both think he is overreacting, but we don’t want to hurt his feelings.

Your thoughts?

— Engaged and Worried

Dear Engaged: Your fiancé has one brother. He chose a handful of men to be groomsmen who have been “extremely important in his life.”

If he’d wanted to take a shortcut to make his brother feel like chopped liver — mission accomplished!

“Sam” might not be the primary male connection in “William’s” life (due to the 10-year age difference), but I guarantee that the elder brother is the primary male connection for the younger brother.

This exclusion hurts. You didn’t think it would bother Sam, but it does. He’s been honest about how hurt he is, and I think that your fiancé should apologize and offer him a place in the wedding.

This is not bending to emotional blackmail, but responding to his brother’s honesty.

Dear Amy: Responding to the issue of spouses taking solo trips, as a happy introvert husband who is married to an extrovert who loves to travel much more than I do, I’m always happy to have her go off adventuring.

I love the time to myself — and I love it when she comes home.

Takes all kinds, right?

— Keep on Truckin’

Dear Truckin’: All kinds, indeed. It’s all about balance.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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