For this month’s look-back at “Dear Therapist” columns, I’ve decided to turn not to a specific theme, but to a handful of columns that have been reader favorites over the years.
Rereading them, I understand why. Though the topics they cover are disparate—among them the loneliness of singledom, the shame brought on by abuse, the difficulties of extended family—each does something that I think of as typical Lori: providing readers (and the letter writers themselves) with a whole new framework for thinking about a problem.
One letter, to a woman who has a troubled relationship with her sister-in-law, stands out to me as paradigmatic. “Unfortunately, I can’t stand her,” the letter writer says. “Everything about her rubs me the wrong way. She sees the world in black and white, while I see infinite shades of gray.” How should she build a relationship with someone she so detests?
Lori replies by (gently) blowing apart the entire question. “When people have very strong reactions to others, I wonder how much of that vehemence is a direct response to the qualities of the person who triggers it, and how much is about something else.” She continues, “Take where you write that you ‘see the world in infinite shades of gray’ whereas your sister-in-law operates only in ‘absolutes.’ If you step back a bit, you might see something different: that you, too, can get stuck in absolutes.”
Other reader-favorite columns share this quality. People ask their question, and Lori gives them an answer, but it isn’t always an answer to the question they thought they had. In some cases, Lori helps readers see the situation from another person’s point of view; in others, she gives them the language they need—“ambiguous grief” or “help-rejecting complainers”—to name a situation, and understand why they are struggling so much. The result is not just greater clarity, but a way forward.
I like to think Atlantic readers have impeccable taste, and that shows in the columns below; they are a really special set. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.
Listening to my friends talk about their relationship problems is getting really tough.
I want to have a good relationship with her, but I feel overwhelmed by her negativity.
I’ve forgiven her, but I can’t forgive him.
Her behavior toward me crossed the line, and my wife doesn’t take my concerns seriously when I express my discomfort.
She wants to have a casual relationship with me while staying with him and I’m afraid to leave her.
I’ve wanted to address this with her for a while now, but I’m afraid she’ll scold me.
Everything about her rubs me the wrong way.
As he and his ex are nearing the end of their divorce process, I’m not sure how much I can actually trust him.
His parents give a lot of financial support to his twin brother and sister-in-law, and I wish they’d do the same for us.
Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.