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My cousin asks me things that I don't want to share, yet I share details with her because I don't know a polite way to tell her that I don't want to share.

From time to time, she asks me about my salary and how much I am saving. I don't like to share my salary and savings details, yet I tell her when she asks and regret later.

Once in a while, she would ask me about other family members and I happen to share some details, though I don't want to gossip like this.

A few weeks ago, she asked me what gift I gave to my niece. I had no problem sharing this, so, I shared this. But then she asked how much that gift cost me. Even though I didn't want to share the price, I divulged it because I didn't want to offend her by saying that the information she was seeking was private to me.

I would like to add that invariably she would start the conversations warmly and revolving around me only, so, I would feel like I was in a safe place and then she would ask something private. At that point, I won't know how to back off.

Also, I call her only on festivals to wish and not otherwise. But she calls pretty often. Lately, I have stopped picking up her calls because I realised I was behaving differently around her than I expected of myself. But then she would text me to call her. And I feel obliged. Once she kept calling at 11pm and when I gave in out of worry, I found out she just needed my netflix password (again, a private info)!

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    Can you explain why "That's private, I don't want to share that" isn't polite enough for you? – Erik Sep 30 at 20:40
  • @Erik, thanks for your incisive comment. It's making me think a lot. But I gotta go now. I'll reply later. – aarbee Sep 30 at 21:56
  • I have the same issue as this, except my problem is I respond before thinking, like an automatic reaction. If I think about it, It's easy to politely tell someone no. – dustytrash Oct 1 at 1:21
  • How old is she ? An adult or adolescent ? Older or younger than you ? It may change the dynamic between you 2. Asserting your boundaries may also be different according to her age. – Fanie Void Oct 2 at 15:35
  • @Erik: 1. 'That's private' gives the impression that that information is too important for me to share. While that is true but it's only in the sense of maintaining my boundaries and my cousin doesn't have the concept of boundaries. So, I dread the subsequent questions: why is it private, what is so important about it, do you not trust me, etc... 2. 'I don't want to share it' sounds as if I am ending the conversation. But I am okay talking about other stuff. – aarbee Oct 3 at 14:27
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People like this, in my experience, like to pick away and have little to no sense of boundaries. They want what they want, and other people are there to provide it for them.

I've seen other people teach boundaries by being firm yet polite. You don't need to be hostile to her, but you do need to establish what you are willing to talk about and end a conversation is she won't accept that.

For instance, the birthday present. "Yes, I got her a pocket frannistan for her birthday." "Oh? What did it cost?" "That doesn't really matter, does it? It's a gift that I wanted to get for her and I don't want to talk about how much I spent on a gift."

At this point, if sister presses, you have one thing to remember: it's YOUR phone. You control how long you are on it. If she starts demanding, then the solution I've seen is to say, "Well, I have to go. I'll talk to you soon!" and hang up. Maybe she'll call back. If she wants to talk, great. If she wants to demand info on the price, then hang up again and turn your phone off for a little bit or block her number for a day. You are under no obligation, no matter what kind of guilt people lay on you, to continue a conversation on anything less than your terms.

Again, there's no need to be rude. But be polite and consistent. "Oh, I really don't like to talk about that; sorry! How is the family doing?" "My salary and savings are where I want them to be; thanks for asking! What's new with you?" "I'm sorry, I've got my limit of users on my Netflix account. How's the weather there?" And if she presses... see above. Eventually she'll understand that every time she presses on something you don't want to talk about, you hang up and you don't answer your phone for a while. This establishes boundaries and expectations for when those are exceeded.

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  • Thanks. Not sure if I can implement this. Will try it next time and see if I could do it and how it went. – aarbee Oct 3 at 14:38
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    @aarbee Please let us know where you struggled with the implementation. Was it something you struggled to do? Did it cause friction? Were there other issues? We're here to help in this forum and refinements to this method are always welcome. – baldPrussian Oct 4 at 1:07
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A couple of points to make:

Firstly, this seems to be an issue of assertiveness. You're not sticking up for your boundaries - you're not comfortable saying no, even though you have every good reason to. Your privacy is important and you have every right to protect it. I really recommend reading "The Art of Everyday Assertiveness" by Patrick King, if this is something you struggle with. I do, too, and sometimes it helps to remember that you have basic rights, and you are the only person who can stick up for yourself. Nobody else can do it for you.

Secondly, this seems like it may be a case of an Asker vs. Guesser situation. To paraphrase: an "asker" is someone who feels comfortable making direct requests or asking anything of other people. A "guesser" on the other hand, may not feel comfortable asking for things directly - they may only ask for something if they feel sure that the answer will be yes.

Askers will generally ask anything and not feel ashamed or embarrassed if they are told "No" - summed up in the phrase "You don't ask, you don't get." - and may feel no anxiety whatsoever from having direct requests made of them.

Guessers, on the other hand, may feel awkward or uncomfortable whenever anyone makes a direct request of them. They may expect you to just know that you wouldn't feel comfortable lending them your car for the weekend - how can they even think of just asking you like that? Because they wouldn't ask other people directly, they don't like to be asked themselves - they want people to use their empathy and understanding to avoid putting them in situations where confrontation or staking boundaries is necessary.

You might be more of a "Guesser", and your cousin's sister (your cousin still, no?) more of an "Asker", perhaps, who doesn't feel ashamed to ask what - to you - are personal or sensitive questions.

Thirdly, I wonder if there is a cultural issue here. Are you comfortable disclosing what country you're from?

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  • Thanks. In general, I do not have an issue with assertiveness. To a question, I can easily reply Yes or No as per my convenience. And even at non-interrogative statements, I am able to maintain my boundaries at times. But with this cousin, things are a bit different. She eases her way into the conversation. She doesn't make it interrogative or intrusive. She asks as if she is concerned or bothered about me. It's only later do I realize how I have been manipulated into telling her what she wanted to know. It has happened many times and I am not able to prevent it. – aarbee Oct 3 at 14:33
  • BTW, I have removed the word sister from the post. – aarbee Oct 3 at 14:34
  • I guess I am not a guesser (at least not any more.) – aarbee Oct 3 at 14:36
  • We are in India. – aarbee Oct 3 at 14:37

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