I dislike my sister-in-law’s abusive boyfriend but my wife and I put up with him like everyone else in the family. He was arrested a year ago after beating my sister-in-law but he was released without jail time. After they got back together, my mother in-law said I should befriend the guy and be his role model. She also said that she sometimes feels like smacking her daughter around, too. I was appalled, and still ignored him during holiday gatherings. I will never let him inside my house, or near my kids. Is it bad to not like someone? Shouldn’t I have standards?
Religions and spiritual teachers say we should love one another, even if we never like each other very much. Both like and love require a deep commitment to honesty. So, although love is the big attraction in religion and relationships, honesty is the real path to love. Let’s start there.
Your mother-in-law’s comment helps to illuminate why your sister-in-law accepts abuse—she’s been trained to believe she deserves it. That’s heartbreaking. And, yes, you can be a role model, but don’t expect your presence to radically change this man’s behavior. Call the police if you witness physical abuse and alert your sister-in-law’s physician about her violent partner. Encourage your sister-in-law and her partner to seek psychological counseling. Be clear that you will pursue legal action if necessary. In this way you are a standard-bearer for the kind of love that challenges others to be their best.
I think I overshare. I’ve been second-guessing myself about it since a close friend betrayed my trust by letting mutual friends know things that I asked her to keep private. I would like to feel free to be myself regardless of people’s reactions or gossip. But I also feel like becoming a hermit so no one can be mean to me, and so I don’t feel self-conscious about what people know or don’t know about me. Please help!
Hermits may reside away from other people, but their separation-by-choice doesn’t protect them from unkindness. Often a hermit’s own thoughts will layer self-criticism into her or his daily activities. So what outsiders imagine as a peaceful existence is actually fraught with mental and emotional turmoil.
A possible safe harbor for you is psychotherapy or spiritual direction. In these professional relationships, confidentiality is respected as an essential ingredient that facilitates healing. But in our other relationships, no such protection is guaranteed. Yes, we want our closest friends to protect our secrets, but at times that’s asking too much. Some secrets are overwhelming. The person who holds our secret may find it a burden. Suddenly they’re caught in a web of worry. Or confidants betray us because they lack the skills or right words to assist. In order to release stress, that person tells our secret to others, hoping gain their insight or advice.
I don’t advocate betraying secrets, but I understand that most of us feel better when someone shoulders a burden with us. That doesn’t eliminate the terrible feelings of betrayal that result from discovering, as you did, that someone has revealed our secrets without permission. But rather than swinging between hiding from the world and not giving a whit about what others think, stand in the paradox. Telling a secret to a friend is exposing that secret; so telling a secret is always risky. We betray ourselves by believing our secret is still secret. This doesn’t mean we should never reveal ourselves to others. It does mean that if secrets are clothed by shame or embarrassment, and we bare those secrets, we are moving toward healing those difficult feelings. That’s something to be grateful for.