My sister’s husband left her for another woman. My sister refuses to get a divorce because she believes that her husband will return. When he left, he moved in with his girlfriend. He offers no consistent financial support for their three children (two teens and one in college), but—this is the weird part—he still offers emotional support. He and my sister talk regularly by phone. He tells her everything about his relationship with this other woman, and she counsels him! She says that she loves him, regardless. This situation is unhealthy for my sister, but I don’t know how to help. She is somewhat overweight, and I think it affects her self-esteem. What should I do?
Keep a list of psychotherapists by the telephone? That way, if she’s in denial, you’re prepared to help when reality breaks in. Or, if her life continues to dominate your thoughts, you can seek support. After all, even though your sister’s choices are unconventional, you did not say that her life is in chaos. He does not offer financial support, but that does not seem to affect family finances. He does not live in the home, but that does not seem to affect family life. His behavior is selfish and irresponsible, but she accepts it without complaint. So far, the only concerns are yours. You are worried about the unorthodox arrangement this pair has created. The astonishing fact about a marriage is that people outside it cannot comprehend what really occurs inside it. Even married couples have difficulty understanding the alchemical container they are immersed within.
If your sister is drowning in denial, lob a life preserver; she won’t reach for it. Float by in a raft; she won’t climb in, nor will she wear her life vest. You see, she doesn’t know that she is drowning. In her mind, she is saving her marriage by morphing from wife with full privileges to confidante with none. Your task, then, is to share your concerns in a loving way while admitting that you may not understand the situation as well as she does. After that, take care to use your relationship with her to make your points. For example, if you address the issue of mutuality in relationships, don’t talk about her marriage. Explain how her interpersonal gifts have positively affected you and your life. Gradually these seeds will take root, and she will desire a new life for herself. By the way, if you’re worried about her weight, schedule these conversations during long walks.
I am a 35-year-old man living in a resort area that attracts a lot of retirees and college students. There are few single people my age. Most of my friends are in their 20s, and, although I like hanging out with them and partying, there’s a life-experience chasm that I can’t get around. Suggestions?
Yes, pay close attention to your dissatisfaction. Your current life is big fun, but, like a diet heavy in carbs, it leaves you hungry. Most people respond to that by consuming more (food, sex, drugs, fads, fashion or 20-somethings) to get another temporary hit of what they believe is happiness. Because you’re waking up, you can take another path. Rather than seeking friends in a certain age group, look for opportunities to understand life. Research courses at extension programs of local universities; classes offered by religious organizations; or workshops offered by psychologists, spiritual teachers, poets, artists and dancers. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and respond to the call for a life that is deep and rich with meaning.