Monday, November 27, 2006

Dismaying Story #87: Sisters Who Need Each Other

Dear Andrew,

I recently sent a letter to my siblings and received a troubling response from my sister. I don't know how to respond to her. Here is the letter I sent:


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What I am going to share with you is in no way intended to be a negative reflection on anyone. I do not intend to hurt your feelings or upset you. If I do, please forgive me and talk to me about it.

I was married to a violent alcoholic. For a number of years we dealt with it by avoidance. The girls and I would go to our rooms at the end of the day before he came in the house to stay out of the way. There were times that we simply had to leave. If you think about it you may remember a time that we showed up at your place unannounced without a real reason.

That worked for a while. Then he would seek out whichever one of us was his target. Remember in 1996 when I tripped over a cat and fell down the steps breaking my tailbone and dislocating a hip? That was a lie; I was protecting one of my girls and got knocked down the stairs. Remember in 1989 when I walked into a cupboard door and got three stitches just below my right eye? Another lie. There were a lot of little lies that I told and in my mind I was saving face and protecting you.

We joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses because that was the only religion that he would allow and I desperately needed God in my life. Their meetings also gave us a safe place to go three nights a week.

I was never allowed to vote my own mind, not allowed to listen to music of my choice, or watch movies of my choice. They might have "given me ideas." I wasn’t allowed to have phone calls when he was home; not allowed to have friends or family over if he was home. While he had all these great things he never shared with the girls and me. He paid the mortgage; I paid for everything else related to the house and the girls. We rarely had money for extras while he had all kinds of toys-after all, he worked hard to earn it, and we didn’t.

When he moved out, he lived with the woman he was having an affair with at the time. When the affair ended, I forgave him and we moved on.

When we moved to a new city I thought "Oh a fresh start, everything will finally be okay." I discovered after we got here that the move was based on lies. His new assignment was to the country where another woman was. He is still seeing her to this day. He was spending three weeks there and one week with us. All this after the promises of moving to a new city so he would travel less and we could be a family again. The only saving grace was that the travel meant we were subjected to less violence.

That was the final straw. I was alone in a big city without family or friends. As you know, I can truly forgive anyone for most anything. However, I could not forgive my husband anymore. Between the adultery, the violence, and living in constant fear I had to do something. So, I got a job and filed for divorce.

It hasn’t been easy. The girls have suffered tremendously. It hurts me when someone says "he always was good to me" or "he never did anything to me" or "that’s all between you two." Those may all be true statements but I am your family and your loyalty should be to me not to the person who terrorized the girls and me. It really hurts.

Please forgive my selfishness in getting this off my chest. I do not want sympathy, just understanding. Perhaps forgiveness is also necessary since I have kept so much from you and perpetuated the lies for so long. Maybe I even need your forgiveness for telling you this when you did not want to hear it.

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After sending that letter, I received the following response from my sister:

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Many years ago you misunderstood something I said and have thought me a liar ever since. The only memory I have of my father is one and a half years of molestation that ended with him forcing me to have sex with him. I know you don't believe me and it kills me to watch you have a relationship with him. I'm not lying. I have several psychiatrists that will tell you I'm telling the truth. How can you and I get past this? Don't get mad at me, please. Let's finally talk about it.

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Andrew, how do I respond to her? I can't give up a relationship with dad when I really don't believe her. What do I do? How can we talk about it when I know she wants me to discontinue a relationship with him and I'm not willing to do that?

Signed, Disbeliever


Dear Disbeliever,

First of all, I am sorry to hear of all the pain you and your children have endured at the hands of your ex-husband. I'm sure it took a great deal of courage to finally break away.

I can assure you that your girls need a great deal of help, and will for some time to come. They need to learn that the dynamic they witnessed between you and your husband is not normal and is unacceptable. Their father has done a thorough job of showing them how unimportant they are. Talk with them about this. Explain why you put up with it and why there is no need for them to do the same. Do your best to convince them they are truly special and worthy of love, so they are not tempted to settle for whatever guy will show them some attention. If they don't learn that lesson, they are at great risk for accepting abusive and controlling men into their own lives.

As for your sister, you should give serious consideration to what she says, and talk with her about your father. Let me explain why.

First let's assume you are correct, that she has fabricated this story about your father. Why would she do that? Perhaps it is a plea for attention, or she may have some other unrelated grudge against him and this is her way of getting back at him. If so, then you must realize she is paying a hefty price for her subterfuge. She loses out on having a relationship with her father and must deal with a good deal of embarrassment and negative feedback from others, including you. This is a huge disincentive to tell such an untruth.

While children do occasionally tell such lies about their parents, the vast majority of people who reveal their long-held "dirty secret" are doing so because they can't hold the crippling emotional pain inside any longer. They are tired of living like a victim and need closure so they can begin the healing process.

Have you talked with your father about this? I suspect not -- your letter makes it clear that you tend to avoid initiating confrontation at all cost. You spent your entire adult life sweeping your own secrets under the carpet. Assuming you did talk to him, though, what would he say? If the allegations were false, he would deny them. If your sister is telling the truth, he would still deny what she has to say. He would express outrage and sadness that she would feel compelled to tell "such lies." In other words, his response would likely be the same regardless of the truth.

Can we point to some reasons why you would find it difficult to accept what she says? First, you have been through an incredible amount of conflict and trauma during the years of your marriage and in the difficult period following the divorce. I'm sure you feel you have endured just about all you can take for this lifetime and several more to come. You have a very real need to have supportive people around who can prop you up, make you feel accepted and loved. Your father likely fills such a role for you right now, and it would be devastating for you to have to give that up.

Secondly, you have shown almost (not quite, but almost) an infinite capacity to forgive and explain away bad behavior on your ex-husband's part. How likely is it that you would have the same tendency when faced with evidence of bad behavior by your father? I suspect the likelihood is high.

Clearly I have no way of knowing the truth of this situation. Based on the factors I mentioned, though, I believe the chances are very high that your sister is telling the truth.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. In your letter you say how much it hurts when your family expresses any kind of support for your ex-husband, and that was before you told them your story. What if, after you informed them about the abuse, they now chose to invite him into their homes and have a direct, loving relationship with him? How hard would that be on you? Well, that is what is happening with you, your sister and your father. She has told you about the abuse she suffered, and in spite of that must watch you have a direct, loving relationship with him. If you let yourself assume for a moment that she is telling the truth, can you imagine how painful that is for her? Yet despite that pain she is reaching out to you in a loving manner.

Even if you can't get past the idea that she is lying, what level of pain would prompt her to maintain that kind of story for this many years? She would have to be hurting tremendously to do that, and she would really need some help from her sister.

Either way, I urge you to open your mind, your heart, and your arms and go talk with your sister. Each of you needs support from the other, big time.

All the best,
Andrew

Is there a relationship issue you have been afraid to talk about? Send me an email and I'll do my best to help. The identity of email respondents always remains confidential.

10 comments:

  1. Andrew,
    Excellent response!

    I hope that she will read your response and read it again to get the wisdom out of it that she seeks.

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  2. Thanks for stopping by Andrew, and for your comments.

    Re: your post: good advice Andrew. It has been my experience that children seldom lie about ugly things, they are more inclined to fabricate stories about having loving father's and mothers - little girls all want to live the fairy princess kind of life - it is very difficult to admit that a parent is anything less than perfect.

    Disbeliever's sister pleads: "Don't get mad at me please. Let's talk." - this simple request speaks volumns. Disbeliever needs to suspend her own frame of reference for a while, and open the lines of communication with her sister, and as you say, keep an open mind - AND HEART! one day her dad is going to die, and she will then only have her sister - and all that wasted time - left

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  3. Anonymous2:24 PM

    Andrew, thanks for posting this. I have come to the same conclusion regarding my sister and dad. However, what do I do? How do I choose between the two? Do I have to promote the conversation between them? I don't want to be in the middle. I can't give up my sister and I can't abandon my dad who is virtually alone now as well as in poor health.

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  4. Your response has great wisdom...
    Thank you for this blog.I am sure I will visit often..

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  5. I think that she should consult her sisters doctors(who are familiar with the case) and find out if they think a talk between her sister and father is a good idea. also, if they feel it is a good idea, maybe it should be done in their presence.. Easier to not get blamed by either party that way.
    more like a family counceling session.

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  6. Anonymous11:45 AM

    sigh...i liked what you had to say andrew...however, this woman needs to talk to someone -- a therpist who deals in abuse, child abuse...

    because

    speaking from experience...she most likely was also abused by her father...and is blocking it out..

    because as we can see, her ability to fogive anything -- is just a symptom of her treatment by her father when she was young. also, for anyone to stay in an abuse relationship for that length of time, she grew up not valuing herself...ie: child abuse

    just my thoughts...take care

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  7. Anonymous1:01 PM

    A friend of mine has a comparable situation to this one. She was one of three siblings. He younger sister has a poor relationship with the family, and bounces back and forth between declaring herself bi-sexual and lesbian. My friend, her sister, is in a good bit of denial. She has a wonderful relationship with her parents, but has relayed stories of their childhood that very clearly points to her father sexually molesting her younger sister. He often uses words like "slut" and "whore" only when speaking to the younger daughter, though not with my friend, the older one. My friend very pleasantly blinds herself to this reality, chalking it up poor family relations, and her sister just being "in the wrong crowd".

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  8. As a person who was molested by a few close family members I can say that it's not something we just say to get attention when it happens. I spent a decade trying to forget the years of molestation but finally had to tell my mother who was shocked and didn't really do anything. After all it had been ten years.

    If this lady (the sister) is lying, I don't know why you'd want to be friends with her anyhow! That is a horrible thing to lie about... I understand blood is thicker than water and blah blah blah, but sometimes there is poison in that blood. An important lesson that I had to learn for myself.

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  9. You know what, regardless of what has happened between these sisters, there should be forgiveness. We don't ask for what we get in life, but we do need to deal with it and get over differences that set us apart.

    what I get from these letters is that both of them need a big hug from one another. Whether the father molested them, or her, is not the point. These sisters do not seem really embattled in anything except lack of emotional communication.

    I suggest they lay down their arms and help each other through each's difficulties. From disaster there is growth, from growth their is knowledge and from knowledge there is hope!

    And that's all we can expect in our lives...the hope that things will work out as they often do!

    JB

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  10. Families choose to think the story is a lie because it doesn't break apart the family unit. Both of my brothers are close and they both abused me sexually growing up. Both think they are much better than me and take every moment to point out a fault. One finally was hit with so much guilt and apologized. The other recently didn't invite to his wedding because of things I write on MY blogs, a Catholic joke I made in front of his girlfriend and my need to be too honest. I went off and said I was sorry that I couldn't please him but his standards were way too high because since sexual abuse was ok for him, I should have guessed a joke would bother him. Long story short - he said I could come to the wedding but not the reception. After many scriptures and a promise he would pray for me.

    Like your writer, I unfortunatly want to be believed and support from those who are so unwillingly to give or believe.

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