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