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Originally published April 22, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Page modified April 22, 2013 at 8:45 AM

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Helping in sensitive situations involving your friend

Columnist Carolyn Hax steps in on a conversation on how to approach a friend who is struggling with a sensitive topic; later she gives advice on how to start talking to family who cut ties again.

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Take your pregnant friend to participate with you in some activity that keeps her hands... MORE

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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: A dear friend of mine is pregnant, which is fantastic news. She also smokes. She has cut way down since she got pregnant, which is great.

She is incredibly sensitive about it. When people ask her about smoking, it makes her extremely anxious and actually seems to make her want to smoke more. She KNOWS she needs to quit, so continually telling her that will not work. What can I do that will encourage her to stop smoking, but not put her on the defensive?

— Friend

DEAR FRIEND: She needs to stop smoking, yes. She also knows she needs to stop smoking, has cut back on her smoking, presumably has a doctor or midwife to guide her ongoing effort to stop smoking, and gets so rattled when people bring up her smoking that she possibly smokes more.

So, what’s your role here? None, unless backing off counts.

Re: Friend:

Unless you’re talking about telling her how proud you are of her progress, acknowledging how hard it is to get over an addiction, and offering help when she gets the urge by going out for a walk with her or offering other distractions?

— Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: Those work for me, thanks, but only if they work for the smoker. Trying them must include careful attention to how they go over — specifically, to whether she sees these efforts as patronizing, as veiled pressure or as triggers for wanting a smoke.

Re: Friend:

Do some research on smoking-cessation programs geared toward pregnant women and share the results with your friend.

— Anonymous 2

DEAR ANONYMOUS 2: Ack, no, please don’t. Smoking is bad for a fetus, but it doesn’t render an adult woman incompetent. She can look into programs herself. First rule of help, don’t provide any that people haven’t requested and/or they can easily tend to themselves.

DEAR CAROLYN: I have a relative who I think is a narcissist. Every family gathering, she makes rude remarks about other family members, their lifestyles, etc. She brags about her financial status (we know the truth) and engages in one-upsmanship constantly. She shows little compassion for her mother-in-law, who is ailing. She never owns up to her behavior, and when the gatherings are over, always lets everybody know how she was mistreated. She has been caught in lies so many times, but nobody has confronted her directly.

After an incident a year ago, I chose to cease communicating with her other than an occasional polite Facebook posting. Yet she has gone to great lengths to avoid family gatherings since then.

This hurts my husband deeply because he has not seen his brother. She has made it known that she is purposely avoiding these gatherings, as if to punish us. How do we deal with this?

— Toxic

DEAR TOXIC: Unless this “incident” involved your setting her hair on fire and blaming her for it, you are not responsible for the brothers’ estrangement. The brother is capable of ignoring his wife’s blockade to contact your husband (right? this is your sister-in-law?) and therefore is choosing not to.

That said, this story has enough red-flaggage to suggest the brother might be caught in an abusive marriage, and so your husband should work hard to keep the lines open and his attitude supportive.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living

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