Laura was bothered by a comment her sister-in-law, Rosemary, made at a family gathering two weeks ago. “Wow, you’ve really lost weight. Well, I don’t know if I can associate with you any more,” she said, with an edge in her voice. Laura knew that Rosemary was probably a little jealous, as her sister-in-law had struggled with her own weight for many years.
Laura was due to have dinner at Rosemary’s house a few days later. She was certain that Rosemary would push dessert on her, as she had many times in the past. If Laura politely declined the dessert, she predicted that Rosemary would challenge her: “Why can’t you eat like a normal person!!” Laura had a series of unhelpful thoughts that got in the way of her coming up with a solution. She thought: “I can’t displease my sister-in-law.” “It would be terrible if I crossed her.” “I’m not entitled to stick up for myself.”
We discussed several options. Laura was tempted to eat the dessert, just to keep the peace, even though she preferred to have her favorite dessert later at home. But she recognized that she was entitled to stick up for herself and that if she didn’t, Rosemary would continue to try to control her.
Laura felt uncomfortable about being outright assertive. She wasn’t quite ready to say something such as, “Rosemary, please respect my wishes.” She feared her sister-in-law, who regularly lashed out at people who disagreed with her, would become upset and embarrass Laura. She decided that she would say, “My doctor wants me to eat in a certain way.” Then Laura would immediately change the subject by asking Rosemary a question about her children. If Rosemary then said, “Come on, a little piece of cake won’t hurt you,” Laura was prepared to say, “No thanks. I’m afraid I have to follow doctors’ orders. But let’s talk about something else. How is your mother?”
The encounter went well. As predicted, Rosemary tried twice to get Laura to eat dessert. Laura stood her ground, though. She’s prepared to have a repeat of the experience the next couple of times she eats with Rosemary but she thinks three times will be the charm: her sister-in-law will get the message and stop pushing food on her.