Question:

My sis is planning on getting married. She and her fiance broke up last year over an affair but have gotten back together. She loves the guy but doesn't "necessarily expect it to last forever," "doesn't completely trust him," and "realizes people don't change." When I asked if she thought he was worthy of her, she bluntly said no.

She was out of our lives for 10 years - I was a bossy older sis and take a lot of blame - and we so don't want that happening again. We have told her we'll support her, whatever her decision. Her fiance hasn't told his parents and doesn't plan on inviting them. She is acting flippant about the wedding. Help us here, I think the right decision is to support her, seal our lips, and go forward. Am I wrong?

Answer: I do think you've made the right decision, but it may be based on the wrong conclusion.

It's not hard to argue that the bride's yeah-whatever cynicism isn't a belief system, but instead a system of defenses. Your "sis" sounds deeply afraid. I don't just mean afraid of being cheated on again. I mean afraid of being humiliated, dreading her family's tsk-tsk disapproval, scared of living out her days as the lone black sheep in the pasture.

Some people manifest this fear by perpetually soliciting others' good opinions of them. Others manifest it by beating you to every bad opinion.

She'll see right through your grudging "support." What she wants, presumably, is what just about anyone wants: for you to see her as a sister like any other. Not the little sister, not the messed-up sister, just, sister.

You may never see her that way completely, especially if her marriage is as ill-advised as it sounds. It is up to her to grow up. But you can train your eyes on her, versus her acting out du jour, since she's the fixed quantity throughout.

And you can see her in a light that's a lot more respectful of who she is.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.