Polite responses to nosy friends/family on personal matters?
July 25, 2009 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Any effective but non-offending responses for people who, in the name of being helpful and concerned, I feel are starting to become a bit too close for comfort when it comes to personal problems?

Having marriage problems is hard enough, and although I am usually a very introverted person, I took someone's (now questionable) advice to "try opening up" to friends or family and not "carry the burden alone." As a result I shared some things that involved the signs of possible infidelity on my husband's part with a couple of friends in my town, and two of my sisters-in-law. At the time the sympathy, when I needed it, felt very comforting, but, big mistake.

As my husband and I continue to try and work things out, and go through a lot of hard issues, I have grown to sometimes feel cornered by the persistent questions from these friends/family members and have had the vague sense (sometimes, actually, the very keen sense) that they are just looking for the latest juicy details.

Nope, things are not 100% fine at my house, but I no longer think it's a good idea to "share" some of these things anymore. Just looking for some effective things in between "fine, thanks" or "I don't want to talk about it" or "none of your business" to the schadenfreude crew.
posted by KWittman to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Oh, you don't want to hear about that!" Warm smile. Quick change of subject.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:50 AM on July 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

"Thanks, I appreciate your concern; we're working through it and it's getting better, but if you don't mind, I would prefer not to discuss it anymore, and I would appreciate it if you wouldn't ask about it in the future."

If the same person asks again, repeat, dropping "we're working through it and it's getting better".

If a third time or more, start dropping the polite phrases, probably starting with "if you don't mind", eventually whittling down to a blunt "Don't ask about it in the future" (in the unlikely event that the person keeps persisting after so many rebuffs).
posted by Flunkie at 8:52 AM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can use any of those last few examples you used in the last paragraph.

BUT, dude...people are drama-seeking. You opening up to them about possible infidelity means they will forever want to hear details. Its not their right, and you are not obligated to tell them. But you did give them a taste for this...and they will expect it.

I'm sure if you open up to them about some boring-ass details A LOT...and how you "talked and talked"...and we discussed this boring thing and that boring thing...they will get bored.

As long as they still think its "juicy" you will get more questions. So bore them to death.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:52 AM on July 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

"Soo....How's are things with Jeff?"
"Fine. Say, where did you get that pretty blouse?"
"At the store."
"Are you still mad at him?"
"Jane! Let's change the subject."
"Oh? Why's that?"
"I don't think that's a nice topic of conversation."
"My goodness! Is everything alright? Did something happen?"
"Jane, I'm not having this conversation."
"I'm just trying to -"
"Please, I appreciate your concern. But that's enough."
"Well, as your friend, I'm just wondering how you're doing is all. Is he still cheating on you?"
"Excuse me, I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave now. Good day."
posted by water bear at 9:19 AM on July 25, 2009

I think that water bear's passive-aggressive route of unilaterally changing the subject is likely to just draw the person in further, as the sample dialog itself indicates. Just be firm, direct, and polite.
posted by Flunkie at 9:24 AM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

On the off-chance that they are just expressing continued concern about something you shared with them (instead of digging for more salacious details), you might say something that gives them this benefit of the doubt, like:

"I appreciate that you listened to me when I shared that with you. But now, I've changed my mind, and feel like it's best for me to keep these details private so my husband and I can work things out together without worrying everyone else. So, thank you for your continued concern, but I'd rather not talk about it anymore."
posted by Houstonian at 9:39 AM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, sharing with friends is understandable. But, if you think your husband is cheating, sharing that with his sisters is not a good idea. I'd assume that everything you say is going directly back to your husband (they are his sisters, after all). So, some damage may already be done, but it's smart to stop now, regardless of which way your marriage goes. However, if it's done in a snarky manner, it may only make things worse in your marriage as it goes back around to your husband.
posted by Houstonian at 9:46 AM on July 25, 2009

Try this.

"I know this sounds really silly but would you mind holding off a bit before talking about this with me? We're working with a therapist/doing this workbook/reworking our relationship and we've been advised not to talk about stuff outside the particular process we're using. I am so grateful for your help and I promise that if there's anything else you can do you'll be the first person I will ask."

It's a disregard of your friendship with the others to brush them off or use a hyperformal refusal. A refusal that takes their perspectives into account is both more respectful and more effective. They helped you, respect that help and their personhood when you draw your boundary.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:55 AM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

"As it turns out, sharing this has made things more complicated. I'm trying to get some perspective, and finding that it's better if I/we just work it though w/ the therapist. You know, at the time, I really needed your support. It's been a big help. thanks again. Want some more coffee? Did Chris' softball game get rained out?"
posted by theora55 at 10:00 AM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Houstonian, "sister-in-law" doesn't necessarily mean the husband's sisters; it could also refer to the spouses of the OP's siblings.

I totally understand the "keen sense that they are just looking for the latest juicy details." The thing is, you can't go there in any way that won't be completely explosive. Much more effective to kill them with kindness.

What's worked for me in the past is to acknowledge that you are grateful for their willingness to listen and then mention that you just don't want to discuss it. "I really appreciate that you were there for me when I needed some comfort; I just am not in a place to discuss things right now. It's nice to know I have your support."

If you need to, you can lay it on a little thicker "You've been such a good friend to me, I really appreciate your understanding that I'd just rather not discuss it." Deliver this with a warm smile and it should silence all but the most Nosy Parkers.
posted by ambrosia at 10:04 AM on July 25, 2009

"I really appreciate your concern, but this conversation is kind of making me uncomfortable. Let's talk about something else, okay?"

"I don't really feel comfortable discussing that anymore, so let's focus on happier subjects for now."

"As much as I value your advice and support, I just don't want to talk about it. To be honest, I'm so sick of thinking about it I could scream and could really use some distractions. How's [their job, spouse, child, etc.]?"

You can set boundaries firmly and gently without being strident or confrontational. Phrase it with an "It's not you, it's me" tone and they'll probably be happy to comply. The Nosy Parkers might push, but you can always cool your voice a little and be more firm (but still polite). Just because they want to talk about it doesn't mean you have to indulge them.

If someone is clearly just looking to pick at your wounds, there's nothing wrong with being brusque. "Look, I said I don't want to discuss it right now. Why are you asking me this?" Most people will embarrassedly drop the subject if you ask them to justify their prurient interest in your woes.
posted by balls at 10:57 AM on July 25, 2009

In general, the most diplomatic and effective method of stopping behaviour you dislike is to "blame" yourself for the initial mistake and ask the other party to join you in corrected behaviour. It just so happens that you ARE indeed to blame, this time, so it requires no "polite lies"...just humility and tact on your part.

E.g. in this situation I would say something like "I'm sorry...though I really appreciated your concern and support before, I realize now that I was being indiscreet by talking about what happened between [husband's name] and I. I think he would be upset if he knew what we were discussing."

If they persist, just keep repeating "I'm sorry, but I'm not comfortable talking about this anymore. Thank you though for your concern."
posted by randomstriker at 11:25 AM on July 25, 2009

Vague acknowledgments of concern. Deliver with appropriate head-tilt, sigh, acknowledgement head-bob, or the like.

Response #1: "We're okay, we're working on it. No news to share! Thanks."
Response #2: "I'm just in my own head right now about it, you know? Thanks for understanding."
Response #3: "No, really, changing subject, okay?"
posted by desuetude at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2009

How about being proactive about it? If you bring people into the fact that "others" are pressing you for too many details, that's somewhat of a juicy detail in itself, and those folks you confide in with this new, need-for-quiet development will feel in the loop enough to leave you alone on pressing for details.
posted by xingcat at 12:24 PM on July 25, 2009

"For the sake of our marriage, I decided it was best to keep our progress between ourselves."
posted by thisperon at 2:56 PM on July 25, 2009

Say that things are great in a way that implies you're having really kinky sex or something.
posted by kathrineg at 3:30 PM on July 25, 2009

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