Dear Captain Awkward,
My brother died suddenly in an accident in May. He was my only full sibling. The only sibling I grew up with and lived with. I also have 3 older half siblings from my father’s first marriage- we’re not super close, we see each other at holidays and text quarterly updates. After the funeral, I had to plan my wedding happening just 8 weeks after my brother’s death. The trouble starts when I am texting with T (the oldest half sister) and say that I am having a hard time because my mother is emotionally unavailable due to her grief. T has a tense relationship with my mother and uses this moment to tell me how unreasonably angry my mother was acting when she last saw her. I am LIVID and stop responding. T says “sorry, it just made her sad.” I lose a day of wedding planning to being angry and trying to figure out how to respond. I give up and send no reply.
In the following weeks, T sends a message explaining her behaviour and then tells me that I am acting unacceptably. I tell her that I need some time and space. My other sister K is sent to get some answers and I tell her to mind her own business. T gives me 10 days and then tells me I’m being abusive and I’m just mad because her siblings are alive and mine is dead, that everyone was at her wedding and my brother won’t be at mine. She doesn’t want to come to my wedding because she’s not sure if I even love her anymore. I tell her that needing space was about me not her. At this time she also makes a plea to my parents to get them to make me talk with her- they say she should just leave me alone. My father sobs and begs T to attend the wedding.
At the wedding, T shows up late and leaves early. I generally avoid them and have a fine time. After the wedding she blocks me and my parents on facebook and gets her husband and mother to do the same. I text T that I am available to talk now, but understand if she needs space. No response. I text K and say apologize for being snappy and telling her to mind her own business. She blasts back demanding I take responsibility for everything – for making my “wedding into a battle ground”, shattering all of the relationships, and “single handedly tearing our grieving family apart”. I’m at a loss. Am I selfish? Are they? How much of this is my fault? Should I just cut my losses? Help?
-One wedding and a funeral
(Preferred pronouns she-her)
Dear One Wedding,
I am so very sorry for the loss of your brother, how awful! There would never be a good time for something like that to happen, but to have that grief overshadowing such a happy, huge life event seems like a special sort of hell. I am mentally hugging you and petting your hair right now, unless of course you don’t like that sort of thing. And making you tea (or coffee, or hot chocolate, or something cold, if you’d prefer). And piling good-and-not-too-stressful books by your bed.
What you 100% did not need and do not need is to be the dumping ground for all of T’s complicated feelings about family during an already stressful time for you. I guarantee that you did not “make your wedding into a battleground” and you are not “singlehandedly tearing our grieving family apart” or “being abusive.” I think you were right to tell K. to stay out of it and you didn’t do anything wrong by asking for a little space. This all sounds like some grade A, level 1 projection on T’s part, and I don’t think talking more to either T. or K. about any of it more right now is going to fix things. What would actually fix things is T. saying “I’m so sorry I made everything about me, I’ve been acting like an ass.” I don’t think that apology is coming any time soon. In the meantime, you’ve tried to mend fences where you could, and now it’s time to give yourself permission to let this all drop. A victory here, given the looming winter holidays, might be “Did not get into emotionally difficult conversations with T. about family stuff. Managed to exchange brief pleasantries over pie and chill with the rest of the family = +100 Points To Gryffindor/Me.”
One script for when T. eventually wants to talk it all out (but only focus on what you did “wrong” and not apologize) could be:
a) Have the FIGHT, already. “Here’s what this all looks like from my perspective: [Brother] died, and then when I tried to talk to you about some stuff with Mom you used it to grind an axe you have with her, and then you acted like coming to my wedding was suddenly a gigantic chore and made a big hassle for me and our parents about it and made me feel like a jerk for needing a little space to grieve. Then you sent K. to get in the middle of it, which was NOT cool. And then you’ve been saying this stuff about how I’m ‘tearing our family apart,’ which is just…incorrect? I do not want to fight with you anymore, but some of the stuff you’ve said has really hurt my feelings.”
She’ll react how she reacts. Maybe it will clear the air for you to get this all out there and not just be on the receiving end of it. Being the “bigger person” all the time can be vastly overrated.
b) Refuse to have the fight. “T., it was a really messed up time, and I don’t actually want to talk about it anymore. Let’s let bygones be bygones and try to enjoy each other’s company without going into all that. I’m really glad to see you, and I really don’t want to fight.”
It’s not the same as “I forgive you for acting like an asshole when my brother died and being a big weirdo about my wedding” but “Sister, why won’t you tallllk to me, you’re tearing our family apaaaaart” isn’t the same as “I apologize for acting like an asshole when your brother died and being a jerk about coming to your wedding.” Letting the argument die might help the relationship thaw, with some time and some new, positive interactions to chase the old, negative interactions out.
You seem like a “this specific thing is bugging me” sort of arguer and T. comes across as a “This specific thing is reminding me about how you ALWAYS are a BAD PERSON who is WRONG and I am telling EVERYONE” sort of fighter. Those two styles are not real compatible, so I really wish you luck in finding a way to talk about this that gets you what you need, which sounds like a respite from being T.’s personal scapegoat for everything wrong in your family.
One more suggestion going forward:
It sounds like T. + texting + You do not mix very well, especially around emotional topics, and that is some information you can use in the future.
Let me explain: Some people really prefer the distance & time delay of text conversations, and I get why, and in many circumstances doing things by email or letter can be really valuable for that reason. However, I find that texting, email, chat, etc.* can also be terrible ways to have contentious back-and-forth conversations with certain people about emotional stuff. There’s something about it that sucks me in so easily, the addictive chime of the incoming message, the “Oh yeah, howbout THIS?” retort, the fact that I type 100+ words/minute and can answer so quickly only to realize later that I was putting things in writing that would be passing, forgettable comments in a verbal fight except I’ve now written them in stone, to be read and re-read and dissected. Text message fights: All the savoring pleasures of grudge-holding with the immediate gratification of being right!
Even when removed from the realm of the petty or the emotionally searing, different mediums foster different kinds of interactions, for instance, the Person-You-Like-At-Parties-And-Dislike-On-Facebook or that colleague who is super affable and reasonable in person, but then you email him a request and discover that in writing he is The Amazing Bureaucrat Man, Who Only Says No, but if you run the exact same request by him in person, he’s like “Sure, let’s do it?” so you learn to always ask in person first and then follow up in email only once the request has been verbally granted. (Do other people have this colleague? No? Just me?)
I generally want to like people and have positive interactions with them, and sometimes little things like “I will walk the 10 feet to that person’s desk and talk about it instead of answering this email that annoyingly CC’d our boss in kind” or “Let’s go to bed angry – I gotta sleep and so do you! – I trust we’ll figure this all out in the morning and I love you” and “I can tell this student is really upset and writing me these emails is stressing them out more, I’m gonna give them my cell # so we can talk for a minute” can make a big difference in how a conflict resolves itself.
Anyway, to bring it back to you, dear Letter Writer, you might be able to use this knowledge to help in de-escalating situations with T. and/or K. in the future. For one example, you might want to limit how much you use texts to communicate with them, especially now when things are messy. If you do text with them, you might make a personal rule to keep things light and reserve deeper topics are for a phone call or an in-person chat. As soon as something gets emotionally heavy, or you feel like they aren’t hearing you, or are escalating a conflict, it’s time to take a break from the conversation and move it to another venue. You can be explicit about it: “Hey, Sister, I feel like there is more we both want to say here than I can comfortably text – when’s a good time to call you?” or “Whoa, can’t chat right now, call me later?” You can also wait a while before responding to the text. It’s been a very hard & valuable lesson in my life that, just because someone used a fairly immediate mode of communication, it doesn’t mean I have to reply right now or engage with everything they said.”I got your message and I’m thinking about it” is a reasonable response that can de-escalate situations by giving everyone some breathing room and taking things out of the heat of the moment.
Obviously this doesn’t solve your whole problem, since T’s overall behavior and not Text Messaging is the culprit here, but in a situation where you can’t control very much this might give you one vector that you can control even if it’s just reminding yourself:”T’s being T. again, I don’t have to respond right this second.”
Wishing you the best in your new marriage, in resolving these family conflicts (or at least de-escalating them so they aren’t all coming at YOU), and sending you condolences on the loss of your brother. I hope you are being very kind to yourself and that your spouse & friends are being very kind to you. ❤
*See also: Internet comments, Tweets, other social media
180 thoughts on “#896: “One wedding, one funeral, and a crapton of sibling conflict.””
“then tells me I’m being abusive and I’m just mad because her siblings are alive and mine is dead, that everyone was at her wedding and my brother won’t be at mine”
That falls HEAVILY into the category of “the worst things one person can say to another human being.” Like, there is just NO excuse. That is disgusting and ugly and awful, and honestly…I’d kind of just be ready to be DONE with someone who said something that cruel and hateful.
I am so so sorry you’ve had to deal with this. With all of this. It sounds awful.
Right, how do you even answer that, except for “I am really mad about that, actually? I wanted all my siblings to be at my wedding, and I’m angry at death and the unfairness of it all? And I’m also mad that you made a giant THING out of coming to my wedding at a time when I did not need any extra stress or bullshit? Being mad doesn’t mean I’m being ‘abusive’ to you or doing literally anything at all to you or at you, so, there’s an open front door that could use shutting.”
I think my reply would be more along the lines of “How DARE you use my brother’s death as a weapon against me.”
Right?! This person throws out some of the meanest things you could possibly say to a person and then turns around and calls LW the abusive one?! I THINK NOT. I’d dump that sibling like toxic waste. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat. So sorry for your loss and all this drama, LW. 😦
Sometimes, people who abuse tend to like to project on to their victims and gaslight them into thinking THEY are the abuser. It is fucked up and shitty, but all the more reason to be 100% accountable for and conscious of yourself to combat those niggling “hm what if they are correct and I am The Worst Person” feelings. If you know the truth, the accusation holds no weight. If they tell other people, the truth will eventually shine through (after all, if you aren’t abusing anyone and the person accusing you of such is being a shithead, eventually they will out themselves as a shit head while you continue to be a cool and chill person who is not abusing anyone, and people will see this).
God just… what a shitty sibling. I cannot get over what a shitty sibling they are being, and I am so, so glad it sounds like LW’s mother and stepfather seem to have LW’s back in all this. IMO LW did nothing wrong, even if they were cruel and mean in asking for space, THEIR ONLY FULL BROTHER HAD LITERALLY JUST DIED. T and K should be cutting her some slack, not dogpiling on her for… reasons????
What a cluster. I am so sorry, LW. I hope you are healing up alright and have a solid Team You. ❤
I think T is projecting bad family dynamics onto LW. There’s massive disfunction in this family way beyond this incident.
The grief brought it out, but isn’t the cause.
When people conflate legitimate anger with abuse in a family dynamic such as this, there’s usually a lot of tangential b.s. that has went on.
It isn’t about LW and T, it’s about the family dynamic and the father’s relationship with his 1st set of kids v. that with his 2nd.
This doesn’t excuse T’s actions, but it does explain why she was so mean and so wrong.
LW may not have ever been able to see this before because the youngest siblings in blended families often don’t. Particularly if they were the “do over” set of kids by that type of dad.
That’s an awful lot of conjecture given that we know nothing about the situation beyond LW’s account of it. It’s a possible explanation for T’s behaviour, perhaps even a likely one, but not the only possibility. Pondering the why of the situation can only really lead to a lot of churning questions with slippery answers, and doesn’t actually help LW in any way. Being able to say “T was bad to LW because maybe abuse” might make the disconnected reader feel more at peace with the situation, but I doubt it makes LW feel any better about it.”
I feel like this line sums up so many of my conflicts with people over the years:
“Being mad doesn’t mean I’m being ‘abusive’ to you or doing literally anything at all to you or at you, so, there’s an open front door that could use shutting.”
YES x1000. When I read what T. said to LW I gasped in horror. I mean, that is LOW. I personally would never speak to T. (or someone who made that comment to me) ever again unless they seriously grovelled. LW, you have this Internet Stranger’s permission to ignore T. for the rest of your lives. I’m so sorry for your loss and that some of your family members decided to make this terrible time worse for you instead of being someone that you could lean on.
RIIIIIGHT???? I have found that often people like T. will play the victim card and call their victim the bully/abuser and there’s just no convincing them that they are in fact the bully/one doing the awful things.
LW, I am so sorry you’ve had to deal with all that. Jedi hugs and best wishes for a long and happy marriage.
Not only did T say that to LW, but she also blocked LW and her own father(!) on Facebook. LW, this random internet stranger thinks that T is giving you permission to ignore her for the rest of your life. You are not obligated to pretend you “love” her, invite her to anything you are hosting, or otherwise interact with her beyond the social civilities granted to anyone else.
Nope! You can, with a completely clear conscience, if you want, cut T out of your life.
Exactly. This is a pattern of unrepentant behavior that T is doing her best to escalate. Sometimes I can tell myself, “This other person thinks their actions are right, can I find a way to think with their data and see if it has anything for me?” But with T insisting they don’t know how to human? The trapdoor of Karma can’t open fast enough.
This is my sister in a nutshell. T’s behavior is exactly what my sis has made an art of. LW, I have to ask– is T kind of an attention hog, the one who always has to be in the spotlight and have everything be about her?
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if she was, because been there, done that. Heaven forbid someone take the spotlight off of her, which is definitely a possibility here. First, all the attention goes to brother’s death and funeral, and just as people are beginning to move forward a bit, the attention focuses on you & your wedding. The whole thing started because the attention was focused on your mother, and then you “failed” to assuage T’s feelings of victimization.
I can’t tell you how painfully familiar this is.
Look at it this way: your brother dies, your mother lost a child, and now you’re trying to arrange a major event with little support…… And T is upset how *she’s* being treated????? At the very least, T has demonstrated an impressive degree of self-centeredness.
LW, not only do I give you permission to cut off contact with T, I recommend it, because with people that self-centered and oblivious to the feelings of others are often incapable of seeing any resolution to a problem that can’t be summed up as everyone else bites the bullet, ignores the crappy behavior of the individual in question, and instead placates them just for a temporary cease-fire.
Ugh ugh ugh. I cut off contact with my sister for the same reason. It took me many years to realize she was a grade-A gaslighting, inconsiderate, self-centered bully. I’ve gotten a lot of crap for it too. “But she’s you’re only family!” “But don’t you want a relationship with her of some sort?” “She’s your *sister*!!!!
Um, no, she isn’t. She’s someone who has made my life hell since day one and never once treated me with the slightest consideration or respect. The fact we share genetic heritage pales compared to her treatment of me.
I, too, am agog that someone actually said such a thing. Just when you think you’ve heard the worst thing ever, someone raises the bar for Most Terrible Human Being Ever another few inches and it still gets hurdled again.
“tells me I’m being abusive and I’m just mad because her siblings are alive and mine is dead”
I came here to say EXACTLY the same thing. That is so cruel, so incredibly hurtful, and .. just … awful, AWFUL, to say to someone. There is no reason anyone should say something like this to anyone other than to cut them to the quick.
LW, I am so sorry you had to hear that bulls**t. It is ok to be sad, and grieving, adn angry at death, and need space, and also at the same time be moving forward in a new part of your life. Congratulations and best wishes on your recent wedding, and many blessings to you.
When I read that, my eyes just boggled. It’s not even grossly unkind. What an evil thing to say.
It was way over the line, certainly.
It also might be an insight into what she’s NOT saying (if you still care enough to want one).
By my reckoning, her dad split up with her mum and married a new lady, and had two children with her new stepmother (with whom she has an uneasy relationship). So she knew these half-siblings from birth and may have felt a profound connection, or envious resentment, or (because feelings are confusing fuckers) both.
LW draws a very clear distinction between her “real” brother (not her words) and her half-siblings.
I’m not at all certain, but depending on the age gaps, I wonder if T might feel heartbroken at the loss of the brother and doesn’t know how to say how deep her pain is and that she wishes LW saw her as a proper sister… but us terrified of being rejected for that
And so instead says something genuinely appalling 😕
“LW draws a very clear distinction between her “real” brother (not her words) and her half-siblings.”
Yes she does. I wonder why. I’m surprised CA didn’t pick up on that more. It’s important to the development of this story and how LW is viewing the facts.
When I read this, I thought, there’s some deep, deep family trauma going back to the breakup of the 1/2 sibling’s parents. It also sounds like LW’s mother is no peach.
THIS DOES NOT EXCUSE T’S BEHAVIOR.
However, if she wants a relationship with T, then LW needs to really reflect on how life has been for T. Again, that doesn’t excuse what T did. It just frames the action.
When a sibling does something horrible – even this horrible – and it’s coming from a place of un-acknowledged trauma or loss – it’s different than when it’s just coming from a jerk.
Also, LW needs to know that what ever issues she has with her mother, her mother is 1000xs worse with T on those issues. So T probably saw this as an opportunity to bond AND an opportunity for LW to see that T suffered X, Y, and Z. It didn’t work.
IF, and it’s an IF, T has legitimate gripes about LW’s mother and their mutual father – then that has to be explored as well as LWs gripes about T’s behavior and her loss.
I ALWAYS wonder with these letters that if the other party were writing in, what would they say. Would T say, I was trying to bond with my sister and explain to her that her mother had done these same things to me and she flipped out…Would that be accurate from her POV?
I also wonder if T was the subject of some emotional abuse or gaslighting by the mutual father, LW’s mother, her own mother….maybe she’s projecting that abuse onto LW.
TL;DR: it sounds like there are profound family disfunctions here. T was a jerk, but may have had some reason she became so. If this isn’t explored and blame is placed on either LW or T, it will lead to a short-term truce with no long term fix.
I agree that from the letter I can’t tell what’s going on. I don’t mean it to cast doubt on the LW though – I don’t think any letter could capture the context and details needed to understand what’s going on.
But, if T is right, and the LW is being horrible to them, then LW would be doing a kindness to T&K to cut them out of her life. And if T is wrong, and T is being horrible to LW, then LW would be doing a kindness to herself to cut T out of her life. And, if both are being horrible to each other, then its kindness all around to stop interacting.
LW – if you at all want to remove these people from your life, when they have made it so very easy for you to do so, then please do!
I think we know why; he was the one she grew up with and shared a home with; it doesn’t sound as though she lived with her half-siblings, and they are (significantly?) older. I don’t know that we can say anything at all about LW’s mother; she’s emotionally unavailable right now because her child died very recently. That’s something that fucks people up, and ‘I don’t have a lot of emotional resources for wedding planning because I’m grieving’ is not the same thing as being a terrible person in general.
Also, I don’t know where this is coming from:
Also, LW needs to know that what ever issues she has with her mother, her mother is 1000xs worse with T on those issues. So T probably saw this as an opportunity to bond AND an opportunity for LW to see that T suffered X, Y, and Z..
I don’t see how this is anywhere in the letter at all. T may very well have seen it as an opportunity to bond over how much she doesn’t like LW’s mother, for reasons fair or not, but LW clearly saw it as an attack on someone she loves who was grieving.
Situations like this do not bring out the best in anybody, but T is an adult and is responsible for her own behavior. If she’s lashing out at LW because of some unresolved issues with LW’s mother, that’s sad, but it’s also not LW’s problem to solve. LW is responsible for her own relationships; if the relationship between T and her stepmother needs mending, that’s between the two of them.
“It also sounds like LW’s mother is no peach.”
Where are you getting that from? What the LW describes – “emotionally unavailable” and being (to T’s mind) “unreasonably angry” – sound like bog-standard behavior for a woman who’s recently lost a child. And she and T have a tense relationship, which could be for literally hundreds of reasons. It’s an enormous unsupported leap from there to your supposition that all of the parents in this family have abused T and there’s deep, deep family trauma.
LW grew up and lived with her brother. Her half-siblings are somewhat older and not close–didn’t live together, saw each other at holidays, etc.
LW’s issue with her mother, that she expressed to T, was her mother not being emotionally available after just losing her son.
I really don’t see where there’s a basis for “her mother is 1000xs worse with T on those issues” or “is no peach” — especially since the relationship with T seems to be a distant one anyway (the situation doesn’t look like one where the LW’s mother was in much of an emotional-support role for T). And this woman has just had a child die, so extrapolating anything from her behaviour under those circumstances seems inadvisable.
Is it possible that T has felt on the outside from her father’s younger family, which would be exacerbated when that family experiences loss? Yes. But it’s not on those closest to that loss to make her feel better about it, especially not if her reaction to that loss it to use it as a way to hurt them. Nor is the loss of LW’s brother an appropriate opportunity for T to exploit in trying to get the LW to bond with her against LW’s mother.
“By my reckoning, her dad split up with her mum and married a new lady, and had two children with her new stepmother (with whom she has an uneasy relationship). So she knew these half-siblings from birth and may have felt a profound connection, or envious resentment, or (because feelings are confusing fuckers) both.”
I grew up with this dynamic. I was 7-10 years older than both of my half-siblings, and their mother went to great pains to make sure I didn’t feel welcome in their home. (There were no pictures of me in their house, and nothing of mine stayed there when I wasn’t visiting–no clothes, no toys, nothing. Also, my mother’s name was never spoken in their house. She was always “Your mom” or “Anon’s mom” even when dad & stepmom were talking to each other in my hearing.) I both adored and resented my half siblings when they were little. When I was older, we didn’t really have much in common other than my father. We haven’t stayed in contact since my father’s death.
But even if we had, I cannot imagine–CANNOT EVEN FUCKING IMAGINE saying shit like T said if my half-sister’s brother had died. Hell, I can’t even imagine saying the dig about LW’s mom. (Change the subject or say something like, “Sorry you’re going through that, but I’m not comfortable being the person you vent to about your mom.”)
There may be (probably are) all kinds of other things swirling around this incident. But JFC, you do not treat people like this in the midst of major grief happening before a major life event that requires months of planning. I can’t think of any reason that would excuse this behavior from T. None.
My family has 4 siblings with 1 mutual father and 2 mothers, plus the 2 siblings of mom #2’s second husband (my stepdad). I’m my father’s kid #3 and my mom’s kid #1. I love my older siblings, but they are significantly older than lil bro and me, only ever lived with my parents part-time even before they went off to uni (and thus were mostly in an entirely different country, back in the days before texting or cheap long-distance or email) — so they just weren’t part of my day-to-day existence in the same way as lil bro. My mom and my big sister have a great relationship; I honestly think it was age and distance, not bad step-parenting, that accounts for this in our case. But I’m perhaps the wrong sibling to be opining on that.
That said … my late father went to ENORMOUS pains to keep his various current and ex spouses from ever comparing notes, and talked a lot of questionably accurate shit about them to each other. (Literally, wives 2, 3 and 4 met one another in person for the first time at my father’s memorial service, organized by wife 4. It was … a fascinating day for everyone. Nobody knows what all happened to wife 1.) He also played his kids off against one another (divide and conquer!) and did a lot of the kind of invidious sibling comparison (“when V was your age, she could already multiply 3-digit numbers in her head!”) that’s designed to make kids compete for the parent’s approval. It backfired on him to a considerable extent, in that we could all see him doing it, but still. Speaking of wedding shit, this is a thing my father literally, actually said to me over email, maybe 3 weeks before my wedding: “I haven’t decided yet because I still don’t know if your sister is coming.” (He had a 1-hour flight; she had a 5-hour flight, a spouse who requires a wheelchair, and a 3-year-old.) She was, and he did, but: OMG.
Anyway: like you, I cannot in any way, ANY WAY AT ALL, envision ANY of my siblings, full, half, or step, saying ANYTHING like this to each other under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Like, ever. EVER.
It’s horrific for so many reasons but one is that T puts a finger on what is a profoudly painful fact that ought to provoke compassion and love and caring in the people who love you and instead doesn’t think it even warrants patience with what T thinks is something that needs dealing with. Like it’s such a radical failure to be humane it’s mindblowing.
Honestly I don’t know if I’d be able to keep myself from offering some screen grabs if anyone wanted to accuse me of being the abusive one when I was getting that sort of toxic abuse myself.
this would be my approach as well.
I actually read that first an entirely different way than most people here seem to have. I actually thought the sister was trying to give the LW an out, kind of like ‘I think you’re being a jerk but I get that you’re going through something terrible so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and if you just admit that you’re acting badly out of grief, and apologize, I will blame your bad action on your grief and forgive you for it’.
It’s still pretty messy and ill-judged and is still pushing all the ‘bad behaviour’ onto LW and making herself an innocent victim, but it’s far less intentionally cruel read that way than others are reading it as.
The LW knows her sister best and can probably judge best what was intended, but I thought I’d offer this alternate reading.
Apologize for what, though? An out for what? T said some shit to LW about LW’s mother, LW stopped responding to texts for a while. T went ballistic.
For hurting her feelings, for responding to what may have seemed like innocently trying to sympathise with LWs conflict with her mom by not speaking to her for days. For whatever it is that the sister felt so hurt by.
I’m not sure how much it matters if a bunch of strangers on the internet think the sister is ‘obviously’ being crazy and unreasonable here. It presumably didn’t feel that way to her?
This, holy shit. That’s got to be a close contender for the cruelest thing T could possibly have said. And calling LW abusive for being upset about it? So gross.
LW, you have done nothing wrong here, you absolutely do not owe anyone any apologies and never did, and you’d be perfectly justified in never speaking to T again over this, if that’s the route you want to go.
I actually read that first an entirely different way than most people here seem to have. I actually thought the sister was trying to give the LW an out, kind of like ‘I think you’re being a jerk but I get that you’re going through something terrible so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and if you just admit that you’re acting badly out of grief, and apologize, I will blame your bad action on your grief and forgive you for it’.
It’s still pretty messy and ill-judged amd the hurt os the same and it’s still pushing all the ‘bad behaviour’ onto LW and making herself an innocent victim, but it’s far less intentionally cruel read that way than others are reading it as.
The LW knows her sister best and can probably judge best what was intended, but I thought I’d offer this alternate reading.
That’s the pot calling the silverware black. It defies any and all sense of reason.
It sounds like T and K both have some issues of their own. I agree with Captain’s perception that they’re using LW as the scapegoat for those issues, which is not cool.
In LW’s shoes, if November and December holidays are normally spent with the half-siblings, I’d bow out. LW could right away make a “rule” that she and spouse will alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hannukah with spouse’s family each year. (I did that – it immediately took a lot of pressure off and neither family has a “right” to feel upset when we’re not there) That’ll get you out of one. For the other you could give a breezy “Oh well, you know how newlyweds are – we’re still lost in our own little world right now). That’ll get you out of the other one. I can just see the holidays turning into a landmine of guilt and fight-starting, all while some or all of you may still be dealing with your grief and the first major holidays without your brother. Avoid that if you can! I’m sorry for your loss, LW!
While bowing out can be a great idea, beware that it can also lead to more issues, depending on your family dynamic.
I thought bowing out of the first Xmas after a big sibling conflict by going on a trip would give the family some breathing room, but instead it started the tradition where my family celebrates holidays without my SO and I. My parents make efforts to invite us to a ‘second’ celebration for most big holidays and birthdays, and sometimes some of my siblings will show up too, but we haven’t been invited to the ‘real’ celebration that includes the rest of the family in 10 years.
In this case, that outcome sounds like a feature, not a bug.
I’m so sorry, Xiba.
Alternatively, two people who lost their son may want their other child to be with them at what can be a very difficult time.
The concept of incompatible arguers is an important one – I no longer have any relationship at all with my only sibling (more complicated than it seems because he lives with my parents) because of this.
I am not a yeller and am very much “let’s have the argument about what the argument actually is about.” He’s a screamer, doesn’t hesitate to use personal, painful stuff completely unrelated to the argument to hit below the belt, and turns every argument into a referendum about every single time he’s ever been wronged in the History of Ever.
Case in point, the last and final argument we had – the last time I really spoke to him – I was upset that he hadn’t contacted me to let me know he wouldn’t be able to take a dog that we were taking care of for a walk, and because I thought he was going to I hadn’t, so this poor dog was stuck in the house for longer than she should have been. He turned this conversation, which was really me just saying, hey, the next time you can’t make it please call or text so Dog still gets walks, into a referendum on how crazy (?) I am because I take antidepressants, because clearly my depression is somehow related to him not walking Dog (okay then).
I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that this was no longer a person I could ever interact with again, because the only way to interact with him was to always walk on eggshells, and I’m just not willing to do that for anyone.
Honestly, T. sounds like someone who is a good candidate for cutting communication with and dialing back the relationship to “we smile at each other from across the room at family gatherings twice a year.” It sounds like, from the involvement of your father and half-sister and everyone, that T. likes to set herself up as the center of a maelstrom of family drama in which everyone has to fling themselves at her feet and grovel for forgiveness any time she feels ‘wronged.’
I’m personally going to cast a vote for cutting your losses, LW. Having had to do that with my sibling, I can say that my life is much more peaceful and drama-free. He recently texted me fishing for a way to start an argument about a book I had left there, and I just didn’t engage. It felt great, because I know the Conversation of the Book would have turned into Let Me Tell You All The Ways I Hate You and Am Miserable and It’s Your Fault.
I don’t need that. You don’t need it. I’m very sorry about your brother and I wish you and your family peace and healing, with or without T. and her histrionics.
Ooh, yeah, I call this the krav maga style of arguing. There are no rules; there is no honor. Disable your opponent as quickly and mercilessly as possible. It sucks.
Yes. Great analogy. Having someone you love see you and treat you as an enemy is super hurtful. My ex and my sister are like this. Once the other person views you as The Enemy, all bets are off. It’s so incredibly toxic and unless you are game for heaps of verbal/emotional/physical abuse OR prepared to sacrifice any of your needs that could lead to a conflict – your relationship with that person will not last long.
One of the best things I ever did to support my (25 years and counting) marriage was notice this dynamic in my parents’ marriage. Every time they argued, it became a knock-down drag out that aired every grievance either one had had since literally the day the married (and sometimes before). It made for horrible, nasty, vicious arguments, and after every argument, even if the original complaint had been resolved satisfactorily, the marriage got a little worse – a little more hostile, a little less forgiving, until they were just two people keeping a household together who didn’t even like each other very much.
And I decided on the spot that I would never, ever argue with someone like that. Even if I disliked them. The great irony is that they’ve been married for 60 years, and my mother hates my father’s guts (and Dad is none to certain about Mom’s) – and they’re both healthy and in great physical shape, looking good to still be kicking in another 10-20 years. And my marriage is fantastic – except for the part where my husband has terminal cancer, and my parents will probably outlive him.
I guess I’m gonna second that vote. Much as I’d like to come up with a more happy-families solution, with some people I just don’t think there is a way.
I’ve had countless sleepless nights trying to figure out what I could possibly do to get through to my sister, what I could say that she would actually listen to, what it would take for her to grasp that my feelings matter and that her behaviour has been hurtful. It kind of came as a relief when I was finally able to accept that THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO. It’s not as if I hadn’t tried in the past; it’s just I was, with the best of intentions, wasting my time. Eventually, when someone persists in behaving the way T. or my sister does, you realise it’s on them.
It’s not a happy revelation, but given that I never signed up for this kind of aggression, the best I can do under circumstances I didn’t pick is just disengage. It’s been 7 years now and if she ever wants to talk to me like I’m an actual human who deserves respect, then sure, but I’ve stopped holding my breath. Good luck with your disentanglement, LW, whether it’s short-term or long-term. Surround yourself with people who care about you; and I’m sorry for your loss.
Yeah, there’s incompatible arguing styles, and then there’s being a total jerk.
I’ve learned to work around, or limit some relationships with, people who just have really different conflict styles than I do–if I get really mad at a loved one, generally my preference is to issue a kind-of-huffy ‘I love you but I need to talk about this LATER, after a long walk/seeing a friend/taking an angry nap/when I call you tomorrow’ and then try again after we’ve both had a chance to chill out a little. This isn’t great with people who get super anxious at unresolved conflict, because instead of a cool-down it’s SO MANY MORE HOURS of conflict. I get that, but it doesn’t work as well for me.
See also: preferring to clear the air vs agreeing to let stuff go, talking in person vs over a text form, focusing on feelings vs actions, etc. All valid strategies that sometimes don’t mesh, but can usually be bridged if you care about each other and take the time to talk about how you each communicate.
Your brother, though, sounds like a jerk, and so does T.
Yeah, this. My spouse and I have incompatible arguing styles, but we work it out. That’s different than verbally abusing someone every time you get mad at them.
“I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that this was no longer a person I could ever interact with again, because the only way to interact with him was to always walk on eggshells, and I’m just not willing to do that for anyone.”
OMG THIS. I’ve had friends in the past that involve a lot of just “being cool” around some person who has the capacity to turn the whole situation on its head (such as suddenly screaming her head off during a moving party, or throwing a tantrum about the toppings on a pizza and storming out). I finally decided that I didn’t need to spend time with a person whose presence made my shoulders live up by my earlobes, and ever since I’ve made that decision life has gotten so much easier.
I’m so sorry that this happened with your brother and that he’s so unhappy and combative. Good job taking care of you and your mental health! *jedi hugs*
Thank you for the jedi hugs, Anxiety Rage Cat (I’m Commander Banana, but my annoying WordPress account makes me log in and then posts subsequent comments under a different name).
I also ended a relationship (a short one, no grief there) over a similar thing, because we had some deep incompatibilities over how to argue. Any time I tried bringing up something that made me upset, they responded by gathering their things and huffily storming out of my house. I can’t and I won’t be in a relationship where my guard is always up or I’m afraid to ever mention anything is wrong because they’ll respond like an angry toddler.
My brother’s issues are a whole tangled ball o’ problems, mostly stemming from severe bipolar disorder that he chooses not to try to manage and instead smears all over everyone else around him. I also have a mental illness but it’s my responsibility to manage, not others’. We’ve never been close, even as children, and frankly he’s not a great loss to me, but I really can’t emphasize enough how light and freeing it felt to just let that person go like a balloon into the wind.
I hope he’s able to get a handle on it at some point, I wish him the best, but I’m not invested in him or his life or having a relationship with him. I wouldn’t go plunging my hands into a beehive repeatedly and hoping not to get stung; so I’m not going to throw good effort after bad in the hopes that he’ll change. I feel bad for him, but it’s not my responsibility. There’s no magical combination of words I can string together to make him treat me like a human being.
My sister started the accepted family tale that I’m crazy because I’ve been to much-needed therapy and have taken antidepressants. Of course, HER therapy and antidepressants were to combat post-partum depression, which she’s been saying for EIGHTEEN YEARS. Yep, the baby is now an adult, but Sister’s depression couldn’t possibly be in the same category as mine, since hers is a recognized medical condition and I’m just crazy.
Gee, why did I excise such a fabulous person from my life eleven years ago? It remains a mystery…
I love my sister, but every conversation turned in to a minefield of hidden aggression and payback for ancient childhood traumas. Simple questions were interpreted as attacks, innocuous statements–“oh I haven’t read that book”–became a judgment on her for reading the book. It was exhausting. I told her I was tired of being her emotional punching bag and went n/c for about a month. Recently I sent her a birthday card, and we’ve attained a tenuous, but fond, e-mail relationship.
I can’t imagine wanting to maintain a relationship with T after what she said. Take care of yourself–I’m sure you are still grieving. Wishing you the best.
I found the term “incompatible arguing styles” to be perplexing. To me, incompatible arguing styles is, for example, when Person X is upset they prefer to discuss and resolve it immediately and Person Y prefers to spend some time processing their thoughts/feelings before discussing. Both are acceptable ways of dealing with conflict, but these people will probably have challenges resolving conflict.
I’m really at a loss as to how T’s style of “This specific thing is reminding me about how you ALWAYS are a BAD PERSON who is WRONG and I am telling EVERYONE” is ever acceptable. Is there ever a time where this behavior has a desirable outcome and doesn’t, at best, alienate and hurt the other person, and at worst (if there are two unhealthy arguers) escalate to verbal/physical violence.
I think calling it “incompatible” implies that both are acceptable but maybe don’t mesh, and I do not think T’s behavior is acceptable in any situation.
I don’t know if this is exactly that, but I’ve noticed that for some people arguments are much less about ideas or thoughts exchanged, and much more about feelings expressed (and heard or not heard). And it isn’t always worse… in fact sometimes I envy people who can have a big dramatic emotion-conversation. Sometimes the intense feelings ARE the real conversation, and focusing on the precise words or ideas expressed can almost be off-topic.
It’s not really my own tendency, but there are healthy things in it. Discussing everything calmly isn’t ALWAYS the healthiest or most honest.
“You seem like a “this specific thing is bugging me” sort of arguer and T. comes across as a “This specific thing is reminding me about how you ALWAYS are a BAD PERSON who is WRONG and I am telling EVERYONE” sort of fighter. Those two styles are not real compatible, so I really wish you luck in finding a way to talk about this that gets you what you need, which sounds like a respite from being T.’s personal scapegoat for everything wrong in your family.”
Captain, could you clarify this part for me? It sounds like you’re suggesting that there are a nonzero number of people who are “compatible” with “style” #2, when what it really sounds like is that #2 is “being really bad at conflict resolution and maybe kind of an asshole.” I can’t think of anyone who would regard this as a healthy way to argue, even if they acknowledge that they do this all the time.
I confess to a value judgment or three in my description, but also two “you ALWAYS do this” people can have surprisingly okay conflict resolution – the fight really does lance the boil of underlying badness because the subtext of the conflict becomes text. If you are the other kind of arguer, think of their wild leaps as permission to say “So, what’s this really about?”
#2 is how my whole family fights. Mom, Dad, Sister and I. We rage and scream at each other and everything you’ve ever done is on the table. But it works for us. We actually solve most of our problems and get along pretty well. I wouldn’t characterize our family as toxic – for us. That style Does. Not. Work. for my husband or any of his family. It was actually a huge turning point in our early relationship where I found I either needed to change how I had arguments with him or leave him. I can fight like that with my parents, but I cannot fight like that with him.
Weirdly my partner is that style of arguer when it comes to things I say about him. So if I say “hey this thing you just said really upset me.” It’s not about him phrasing something poorly it’s HOW COULD YOU BELIEVE THAT I WOULD BE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO SAYS THAT.
He’s actually still good at conflict resolution, but you have to get around his desire to interpret every negative statement as a value judgement on his humanity. But he grew up with a family who just told him how stupid and useless and lazy he was constantly. So I think when I say “hey it would be better if you could do these things’ he hears “GOD YOU ARE SO FUCKING LAAZY WHY DON”T YOU DO THE THINGS.”
Anyway, thank you for helping me clarify this difference…. Is what I was getting to.
oof. my mother is the same. “but i’m not that kind of person!” well, clearly you are the kind of person who says it, whatever it was you actually meant. and i am the kind of person who is hurt by hearing it, regardless of your underlying intentions, so if you are the kind of person who would like not to hurt me, all i’m asking is that you please not say it that way again?!
but i’m not that kind of person
My husband and I went through some of that kind of drama with his parents, who, two weeks before our wedding, told him not to marry me because I was a gold-digging Catholic whore who wouldn’t get a job. (The “whore” was implied, but the rest were actual words.) They also said they were boycotting the wedding, which would have been fine with me as I did not want them there in the first place.
There was a week of drama and intense phone calls and Primo pleading with them until he finally convinced them to come.
He later told me that they never meant it, which made me ask, “What kind of parent says that sort of thing as a joke?”
LW, T has been so, so unkind to you. You do not deserve it. I would never judge you for walking away from her forever. Who needs that kind of hatefulness in life?
I do think people misspeak sometimes, and say things poorly. I know I have. And I think the few times that has come up for us it has been a matter of how things were phrased, and once he stopped taking it personally he saw my side. It’s just frustrating that his first impulse is always that I’m attacking him, instead of an individual circumstance.
But in order for that conversation to work you have to be willing to see that you might have made a mistake. And that making a mistake isn’t a referendum on your entire self worth.
My father on the other hand is often mean to me, and when I get upset it is because I can’t take a joke, not that he said something thoughtless that he didn’t really mean. (Which we all do sometimes which would be fine.)
…I need this cross-stitched on a pillow somewhere.
That’s my partner, too! (Maybe long-lost twins?) He wishes I could just remember that he doesn’t choose his words as carefully as I do, and thus always interpret things he says in the not-terrible way he probably means them, because I know he’s not a terrible person. And, of course, I wish he would remember that I take things very literally, and thus always think a bit more before he speaks and not say things that sound terrible.
Yo, that’s a terrible excuse. Everybody has to think before they speak or risk upsetting another person. That’s how communication works, just fundamentally. You don’t get to say, “You know I’m bad at not insulting you, so if you get sad when I insult you, it’s on you.” If your partner upsets you by saying something upsetting, the onus is on them to learn why you were upset, because shouldn’t their goal be to not upset you?
That makes me so mad. I spent years in a relationship with someone who would poke at what they knew was a sensitive spot for me, and then say exasperatedly, “Oh, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN,” when I got sad. The whole time I was chalking it up to a difference in communication styles, until one day I realized two things: (1) that I’m not being unreasonable for getting sad about something that makes me sad, I’m just a human, and (2) that somebody who cared about me would think about what they said to me.
+++ to all of this.
A cousin of that is, “but I’m not *trying* to be mean to you/I have good intentions and would never harm you,” which I hate with the burning passion of a million suns, because it’s implying that I am wrong to be hurt/upset/offended because of the offender’s lack of bad intent, and then time is wasted convincing them that I don’t think they’re a terrible person. You know, instead of both of us working out the communication issue and mutually coming up with a solution.
That answer makes me feel like they care more about themselves than they do others, especially because it seems like they want to use it as a shield from *considering the impact of their words and actions on other people.* It is shitty and manipulative, and I have learned the hard way that taking it at face value leads to a lot of swallowed hurt.
I have a friend who has a weird issue with a couple of different words. They make her uncomfortable. They are perfectly normal words! They aren’t even ones that people usually have issues with. They are fairly common words, even.
I like this friend, and I don’t want her to be made to feel uncomfortable if I can easily help it. So I avoid using those words as much as I can. When I slip up, I feel bad, and I apologize, and she knows I don’t mean to make her uncomfortable *because of all the effort I go to avoid it* so she forgives me those few slip-ups. Then we move on. I don’t need to use these words more than I need to be kind to my friend.
There are several parts that make this interaction work. 1) She acknowledges that avoiding saying these words that make her uncomfortable is a thing that she is asking me for, not a thing that I was just supposed to guess. 2) I am making a clear effort to avoid using any word that makes things not-good for her. 3) When I slip up I am genuinely remorseful. 4) When I apologize she forgives me and doesn’t bring it up again. Without any one of these parts someone would end up resentful.
It sounds kind of like you’re missing part 2 here, because you’re already giving his perspective a lot of weight and from what you’ve written here he doesn’t seem to be willing to make an effort to avoid hurting you, he just wants you to assume he’s apologized already and get to forgiving him automatically.
I was in a relationship where I was in Bex’s partner’s position, and it was really hard! I tend to think out loud and edit as I go, so with my partner-before-that, who had the same communications style, discussions went like this:
A: “…and, I don’t know, it upset that you weren’t thinking about my bargel-wargels, so -”
B: “Wait, you think I wasn’t thinking about your bargels-wargels? I totally was! You know I care about your bargel-wargels!”
A: “oh god, I didn’t mean it like that! I mean, I know you do – I just meant that in the moment it felt like you didn’t, which would be OK! But I got irritated because…”
We’d both ramble and we’d go back to things and edit, and we’d give each other the unpolished versions of our thoughts, mean thoughts and uncharitable interpretations included, and we’d trust each other to see those things as part of the working-out process and that we were on the way to working out a version where everyone was ok.
My next partner was much more introverted, and did all her thinking and working out in her head, and would sit in silence for ten minutes, and then give me a precisely worked-out paragraph with every word in the right place. And she expected the same from me. So the same conversation with her would go,
A: “… which kinda felt like you didn’t care about my bargel-wargles – no, I don’t mean that you didn’t care, exactly, I know you do, more that it felt like you didn’t, which would be OK, but -”
B, ten minutes or possibly three months later: “I can’t believe you think I don’t care about your bargel-wargels. That is probably one of the most hurtful things you’ve said to me. I feel that I have done everything to demonstrate my concern about you bargel-wargels, and I honestly don’t know what else I could do.”
A: “I said that? Wait – yes, I did say something like that, but didn’t I also immediately say that that wasn’t what I meant?”
It was SO HARD. Eventually I started trying to do the “stay silent for ten minutes, don’t speak unless you’re willing to stand by every word and nuance”, but that’s incredibly unnatural and exhausting for me, and I also ended up resorting to a lot of passive-aggressive behaviour because I felt really stifled. To me, the first style feels like, “we are on the same team trying to figure out a problem” and the second style feels like, “we are combatants and any weakness will be pounced upon”.
Anyway, we were mega incompatible and broke up in 2003, which was definitely the best thing for everyone.
I’m glad you and your partner have made it work, but to me that’s… a defense mechanism people use so you can’t criticise them (because their sadness is so out of proportion to the criticism) and you end up soothing them for half an hour when actually you were the one who was hurt by something in the first place?
As someone who has a few “you ALWAYS do this” people in the family, and had to work out of that style when I moved out: I think sometimes that style of arguing isn’t 100% driven by attaching the label that makes the other person Wrong.
In retrospect, I think sometimes it’s fear (“oh please reassure me you aren’t this kind of person and it’s just a sporadic behaviour and this isn’t you”) or frustration (“we had this argument before, why didn’t you hear and care how important this was to me last time?”) and sometimes it’s…not well-communicated systems awareness: arguments as recurring patterns (“you ALWAYS do this” = “we are having Standard Argument #3”) versus disconnected events.
That’s just the genotypes of three “you ALWAYS do this”-phenotype people I know. At least for me, it’s…well. Complicated, that one.
Yeah, I am this kind of person. I don’t verbally abuse my spouse, which is a distinction, I think, but I’m also not necessarily willing to pretend that we haven’t had the same argument about the same thing three times in a row, or that I’m not upset about it.
Exactly. There are arguments that happen when I would probably ignore the minor annoyance if it wasn’t the same fucking minor annoyance multiple times. (Especially if it is in that nebulous realm of “am I bothered by this, is this a sign Spouse’s mental health is going bad, or am I bothered by this because it is a known signal that Spouse’s mental health is going bad?” – and unfortunately one of the signs that his mental health is going bad is a whole lot of “IS NOT! You just don’t like my hobbies!” protesting when he’s hiding in first-person shooter games, sigh.)
” “So, what’s this really about?””
That’s the issue here. It isn’t about this incident or the brother. It’s about some underlying issues that have never been in the open. Or at least not between T, K, and LW.
The fight they had isn’t about the brother or the wedding or either being assholes. It’s about the broken marriage and blended family and the perception T has about how LW was treated compared to how she has been treated.
I really, really think LW could use with someone neutral to talk to about the whole scope of family dynamics. Particularly if she’s getting married and having kids. Even if she never wants to see T again, she doesn’t want to repeat the disfunction. And she’s impacted by it, whether she knows it or not.
For what it’s worth, Captain did describe style #2 as “fighter” rather than arguer, which is accurate. These kinds of people don’t argue, they lash out and throw tantrums and make it all about them, and their need to “win” by beating the other person down. My father and sister are like this. The solution is to just walk the hell away. Nothing you do (including being the “bigger person” by dropping whatever shitty thing they just did to you) will ever erase the laundry list of Terrible Things You Did Ten Years Ago You Never Even Knew I Was Mad About that they keep in their back pocket.
I’m on team Cut Your Losses, LW. 😦 To attack you about your brother’s death, in order to sabotage you WEDDING, is just…reprehensible.
Terrible Things You Did Ten Years Ago You Never Even Knew I Was Mad About
I thought my in-laws were the only ones who kept a Vault of All The Bad Things Golddigger Has Ever Done Wrong, Including How She Eats Bacon!
How on earth do you eat bacon the wrong way?? What is this magic Right Way To Partake of Bacon?
The only wrong way to eat bacon is eating turkey bacon, imo 😉 The right way to eat bacon is “any time, for any reason, cramming it into your face by the fistful if possible”.
If I remember correctly, Gold Digger stripped some of the fat from the bacon strips she was served at FIL’s house. The FIL only told his son he was insulted by Gold Digger’s actions a year after the fact.
I know, right? People who don’t eat the fat or rind off of their bacon are awesome, because they can then put it on my plate to be devoured with relish!
… Although I will admit to a bias against maple syrup with bacon, but that’s mostly because my body can’t hack the sugar, anyway 😛
Oh my – sub this for How She Cooks Bacon and this is my family. The debate between fry cooking, microwaving, or baking bacon is ongoing. Whenever one of us is complaining about another one – how they cook bacon is always part of The Reasons You Are Total Idiot Who Can Do Nothing Right and Clearly Don’t Care About Me Because You Won’t Cook the Bacon the Way I Like It!
For the record, I’m a total heathen because I’m pretty ambivalent about bacon and do not care how it’s cooked. Which according to my family, is even worse than having a PASSIONATE belief about How To Cook Bacon – even if it’s different than how they cook it.
Bacon: The Family Ruiner.
“Terrible Things You Did Ten Years Ago You Never Even Knew I Was Mad About”
… because telling you would have meant that we communicated and I would have given up ammunition for the next fight I’m going to start whenever I feel bad and want to feel better by making everything all your fault.
At least, that’s how my mother operates. And people wonder why I don’t speak to her.
Not the Captain, don’t even play her on TV. However!
It seems to me that when I’ve been in fights with #2 sorts, they will have conveniently “forgotten” and then they deny that they ever even said X or Y or even Z. Or they say it was the heat of the moment, and they didn’t mean it and that *I* should forget it. Pffft. Like that’s even possible. Put two #2 sorts in a fight with each other, and while it looks from the outside as if it’s going to be a scorched and salted earth when they are done, they often end up just fine the next day. It’s a totally different mind set. And sometimes, apparently, it seems to actually work for them, which I find mind boggling. The true ass-hats just have the same fight over and over again. I think they enjoy it, it’s cathartic or some such?
I would suggest that you consider if you want someone like T in your life at all. I tend towards the NOPE side of that question, but that just reflects my own experience. Only you know what the interactions cost you.
Just my two cents.
I’m so sorry about your brother. Death is a complete mind fuck.
they will have conveniently “forgotten” and then they deny that they ever even said X
That’s how the spouse’s Big Loud Italian Family is. In a fight, nothing is off the table (including “I disown you! You are dead to me!”) and after a couple of days, life goes on as usual.
I’m from a Tiny Quiet WASP Family, where if one person says, “That noise you’re making is annoying me,” it’s remembered forever as That Giant Fight We Had At Thanksgiving In 1993, and the spouse’s family came as a bit of a shock for me.
Luckily the spouse himself doesn’t fight like that, or I don’t think I would have been able to bear to stay in the relationship.
I have a good friend who is Greek-American, and most of her male cousins married women who are mostly or all Swedish-American, and at holidays at her Greek grandparents’ house, she says the entire house is full of her family yelling and fighting and slamming their hands on furniture and immediately making up–and all the tall blonde spouses, drinking vodka and smiling tightly. Which made me laugh, because half my family are Swedish-American, and smiling tightly and drinking is how we do.
My dad and I are very similar and are Quiet, Calm Discussions About the Issue, With Carefully Chosen Words and A Genuine Attempt At Seeing Your Side, and my mom and brother are SCReAMONSTER!!!!!!!!!!!!eleventy fighters.
(Trust me, I have a lot of very bad qualities, I just…don’t fight like that.)
Amazingly my parents are still married, but it’s just because Dad always gives Mom her way.
I can really only have interesting conversations with one parents, and it’s not the scream monster one.
I think we are the same people, anunfortunateevent!
There was a lot of “Sibling wants the thing from EddieSherbert, EddieSherbert give it to Sibling because I don’t want to deal with his temper tantrum and I know you won’t have one.”
(parents have since apologized for parenting like that. And Sibling mellowed out when he moved out and apologized for sibling-ing like that)
“That Giant Fight We Had At Thanksgiving In 1993”
Oh my goodness, I have to say this made me laugh as my family is that way too. Conflict avoiders at almost any cost (and there are definitely costs). I sometimes envy people who can fight “like Italians.” I actually lived in Italy in high school for a year, and my host family had an Italian father and a Swiss mother from Calvinist stock. The daughter took after the Italian side, the son after the other side…I remember one fight where the daughter threw a glass of water in her brother’s face and his reaction was a rather muted look of anger and a quickly aborted attempt to chase her up the stairs before he gave up the attempt to match her passion.
I literally did not know until I was 18 and went to university that people actually apologised to each other after fights in real life. I honestly thought that was only in soap operas. This was doing better than my Mum, who allegedly did not find out until she was 48 and only then because I told her. HER parents had the worst-of-all-worlds approaches, “Never talk anything out. Never spontaneously let anything go. Never apologise. Never get over anything. Sulk for months or years on end. Sit at the breakfast table staring at each other in glacial silence FOREVER.” At least in our world apologies weren’t necessary because everyone developed selective amnesia the next day anyway.
Now, the very thought of having a fight like the drag out screaming matches I had with my father is palpitations-inducing. That version of me barely exists any more — I can’t imagine fighting like that with my mother, or my brothers. Just sometimes I still get close with my dad –because he’s a troll of the ‘poke daughter’s political beliefs with a stick for days over Christmas/as a decades-long project to see what will happen’ stripe. Why he does this when he invariably hates the results I have no idea.
He used to have what I can only describe as tantrums and I would have tantrums back. It was horrible. Nothing was ever resolved, or meaningfully discussed. And yet it was understood that the next day there was a hard reset and you carried on as if it never happened. And while I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to go back there at least that version of me was completely in touch with and unintimidated by her own anger, which I do sort of miss.
Ooh, your last sentence was arresting. -But do you feel that the energy gets sifted back into just regular life? That happened for me. These days, I use it in my art. But my brother is stiil using the generations-old playbook. A couple years ago when we last communicated, he was very upset and threatened that I’m exposing our parent’s criminal behavior, so he says to me that I’m developmentally stunted and several decades away from where I should be. And rather than be offended or engage with him, I’d immediately thought, “Hmm, I think he’s right. How cool is that? I can totally use that to kerp my art fresh.” So, his big bad email that he deliberately composed to Hurt me, only gave me a genuine smile and resolve. I may even have it made into an oversize print for my office wall.
Every time I get into conflict, I apology-vomit all over the other person, even if I think they’re really wrong, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? After all, if you insist you’re right, it’s only your ego talking, which is bad, because the ego is bad and needs to be kept down at all times. And isn’t being in harmony in the relationship more important than your petty insistence on being right?
Of course, this does not work in actual relationships with actual friends, family, and loved ones. I have been called out more than once for pretending to agree with people when I really didn’t mean it, because my body language always gives me away.
“It seems to me that when I’ve been in fights with #2 sorts, they will have conveniently “forgotten” and then they deny that they ever even said X or Y or even Z.”
When did you meet my mother?
RSVP! Are we siblings?
I had some housemates like that. I’d just moved in and they invited me out to the uni club along with the brother of one of them. So it was me, housemate A and her brother and housemates B and C. The club was raided by the police and so we all had to leave. In the process of this we lost A’s brother due to the confusion. A began arguing with B on the way back to the house about how B had been apparently flirting with her brother and how it was B’s fault that we had lost the brother and how he was probably now dead in a police cell because he would have mouthed off to the police. Then we get home, brother is there. A and brother have huge screaming match, he slaps her, she runs upstairs and tries to make a phone call from the landline which is outside my room (I have gone to bed by this point but come out to see what’s going on). Brother pulls the phone out of the wall and A runs out of the house. Brother goes back downstairs. A comes back 10 minutes later triumphantly stating that she has called the police from a phonebox and brother will be in trouble now. The police come, and I have to say I was very impressed – they calmed everyone down, and brother agreed to sleep in living room and leave as soon as the trains were running in the morning.
So I come down the next morning and nobody says anything about this incident. Nothing. It’s like nothing ever happened. It was so weird to me because in my family someone would have said something even if it was just “hey this kind of thing doesn’t usually happen.”
I know many people who believe that this is not only a healthy way to argue, but it is the BEST way to argue, and all other types of arguing are for [insert slang term for female genitalia here].
Note: I know these people. I do not think they are correct, I do not LIKE them, and I do not spend time with them given the slightest chance to have an elsewhere to be. I just happen to have met some horrible people in my life.
I feel a lot like you. I can THINK some truly unforgivable, vile things, and those things might or might not even be mostly justifiable and correct, but I would NEVER say them. That is not my fighting style. I also don’t do well when arguing with people who lack a similar filter when their emotions are raging. I tend to think that things blurted out by angry, drunk or very ill people are reflective of how they actually feel about you, and if your opinion of me is that low, it’s better that we don’t associate with each other. I’m NOT saying my way is better or worse, as my habit of NOT spitting out everything that needs to be discussed before it festers is not much better, BUT I don’t say horrible things that will eat away at the recipient long after the argument is over.
There sure are a LOT of people who treat bad emotions like rapid onset food poisoning and prefer to purge them all over the place as fast and violently as they can without regard for time, place, or people in the vicinity. I, like you, do not handle my emotions or disagreements the same way. Again, not saying people who do are bad and wrong, I just don’t really grok their style and it meshes poorly, if at all, with my own quieter, more subdued, “let’s find common ground” and “let’s not burn any bridges” and “because I want to be respected, I will show you respect” style. (Raised voices and mean comments make me anxious and upset. Disagreement in and of itself does not.)
Raised voices and mean comments make me anxious and upset. Disagreement in and of itself does not.</i.
This. I come from a Low-Drama family. Seeing my FIL scream at my MIL and reduce her to tears, with a lot of "you fuckers" thrown around, when I never heard my parents scream at each other or at us or use language like that, was a shock.
Oh, god, I could not…….I could not. And I know a lot of couples who fight like that! I just could not do it. I would leave that person. My father NEVER raises his voice and I’ve heard him curse like….once, maybe, and it was a fairly innocuous curse.
Yeahhhhh my family was like your in-laws… and that’s why I made a vow to never be like that or be with someone like that, even as a casual aquaintance, ever again. It’s not a “two different styles” thing. One is violence (even it’s mutual).
I sometimes wonder if I get points on some Great Cosmic Scoreboard for all the truly vile things I have thought but not said.
Hey – are you the same goddessoftransitory who comments over on Jez? If so, nice to see you here!
I think you and the awkwardeers generally might appreciate a post by Abi Sutherland on arguing styles: Truth Shouters and Cutlery Loaders. I think Abi’s “truth shouters” are somewhat analogous to style #2 and she’s sympathetic towards them.
(The Dysfunctional Families threads are basically an online support group from people who come from abusive families and other difficult situations, with really good moderation; the rest of the Making Light blog is mostly about science fiction and politics and stuff with a more combative, Usenet-like discussion style.)
Oof. Based on the comments…I recognize my mother as a Cutlery-Loader, with regular side helpings of Let Me Tell You The History Of All The Things You Did To Ever Wrong Me, and my father as a Sulker. It’s very interesting to hear that there are people like my mom out there whose relationships are just fine with their families! Maybe there’s hope for us after all 😛
I’m not sure what I am myself, since I hate any form of shouting or confrontation and would much rather work out arguments over some form of text medium. (People yelling at me = bad headspace to get anything out of me other than shutting down and crying.)
Tangentially, individ-ewe-al (sweet ewe-sername, btw) I’m pretty sure you did intend to nest your post under mine, but…do I not count as an Awkwardeer? 😦 I’m a regular visitor to this site, and I’m sure as hell not the LW!
I absolutely did mean to nest my post under yours because it was a reply to your comment about argument styles and whether style #2 could ever be healthy. I did not mean to exclude from you counting as an Awkwardeer, though, I’m sorry my phrasing was unclear – I meant, you, Jenesis, might find this interesting, and I’m posting this comment here because I think the linked post might be of general interest to other Awkwardeers in addition to you. I am really sorry for making you feel like you don’t count.
I think you misgrouped the words in their comment. I think you heard “(you and awkwardeers) generally” as if you were not included in the category, where they meant “(You) and (awkwardeers generally)” as in “you but also everyone else in this group”.
Right! Yeah, I really identify with the “arguments are places you can say things that would otherwise never get said” viewpoint. But my partner doesn’t like conflict, so we compromise at “we will say the things, but we will say them without shouting at each other.” This mostly works. I think the one exception was when my partner had (from my perspective) a thing he wouldn’t say that needed to be said. He was basically taking the viewpoint of “you seem to need this so I won’t complain and instead I’ll sort of resent you for it but not badly, I mean, I can deal, I mean, if this is what you need…”
What I needed was for him to come out and complain so that I could tell him that no, I don’t need that, you’ve got it all wrong, and it’s not fair for you to paint me like that without giving me a chance to respond. I pushed him pretty far to make him say it. It was not a pleasant fight. I hope we do not ever need to do that again.
I guess the only real relevance of this to the topic under discussion is that, yeah, differences in conflict styles are a thing. It’s true that some people are more comfortable with personal attacks than others and, perhaps, less likely to take them personally, and those people can sometimes argue with each other without incident.
On the other hand, this is not just a conflict style issue. There’s no avoiding the fact that T seems to have some unresolved feelings about the LW’s mother which she brought up at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way. No “conflict style” can excuse this. The best we can say, charitably, is that she might be dealing with grief of her own. But it’s equally possible that she simply isn’t able to set her existing resentments aside in order to sympathise with another person’s grief. Perhaps she’s coasted along, having nothing but negative feelings for her father’s new wife, and now suddenly that “new” wife is an old woman dealing with tragedy, and sympathy was never in the rulebook for how T deals with this woman, and she can’t adjust. This can be badly dealt with, using any conflict style.
One thing that hasn’t been addressed, though, is that it seems like T and T’s full siblings and mother are all reacting pretty badly to the fact that the LW was hurt by T’s way of talking about the LW’s mother. They’re using the “you were the source of conflict by daring to be hurt by what was said and pulling away as a result” argument. That sucks. The only way I can explain it is that they’re all so used to thinking of themselves as the wronged parties in the divorce that they can’t see that, years later, theirs is not the only hurt and there are times when it’s deeply unkind and wrong to bring it up.
This is very insightful, and offers up the most charitable view of T without excusing her words and actions, or writing off the pain they’ve caused to LW and her parents.
It’s a really good internal script if LW decides to interact with T in the future.
“T has not let go of something that probably happened before I was born. Her anger isn’t about me. There is no reason to respond to it. Gonna go get some pie now.”
Cannot type right now. Shoulders are up so far past my ears that I am listening to my elbows.
It’s in moments like this that I wish I could ‘like’ individual comments. What a perfect image this is.
Socking that mental image away for (probable) future use. It is perfection.
Since it’s unclear to me from your letter, if this isn’t normal behavior for T and K, it is possible they are handling their own grief very badly.
This doesn’t excuse their actions, or make the Captain’s advice less valid, but it may increase the odds of them realizing they were out of line and offering a genuine apology at some point.
I was thinking the same thing. Is this normal for T/K, or a product of the grieving process?
It often helps me to move past a bunch of WTF-drama to think of possible reasons for the person(s)’s behavior. I’m not suggesting that you forgive them for what happened (unless they apologize completely and sincerely), but it’s helped me in the past to say “ahh, so X did messed-up-thing because they were going through hell at work” because it relieves me of the responsibility for the turmoil. T would probably have been having family-meltdown-anxiety even without your wedding; it’s not you who is responsible for T’s reactions, it’s T and their own grief process.
That said, if T doesn’t ever come back around and own up to their behavior, it’s not on you to mend that fence. You did nothing wrong; it was T’s lashing out that caused all the trouble.
I think that this was brought by the grief, but the real root cause is the blended family dynamic and the fairly typical situation where LW’s father was probably a much better father to her than he ever was to the first set of siblings.
That doesn’t mean he was a bad man – just a human one – who didn’t realize he was doing that or did, but didn’t know how to “fix” his relationship with the first set of kids.
This happens a LOT.
That was my takeaway too. My family of origin is similar to the LW’s only in that I’m also a child of a second marriage, but I don’t have any full siblings, just two much older half-siblings, who I just think of as my brother and sister. However, our parent in common is our mother, who as our primary caretaker did a much better of integrating her families together into one (without the “us” versus “them” dynamic the LW mentions) than it sounds like the LW’s dad did. Still, it’s fair to say that my siblings and I have very different views of our blended family, and that our mother was one kind of parent as a young, divorced single mom to them and another kind of parent as an older remarried one to me.
About 10 years ago we went through a bad time in which my grandmother was in hospice care when at the same time my dad was diagnosed with an extremely malignant form of cancer. The Christmas after my grandmother’s death involved a lot of nasty, ugly, horrifying fights, because none of us were really capable of handling grief at that point, and we still thought of grief as something that makes you sad instead of filled with rage, ugliness, or some combination of all those things. My mother and sister, both #2 fighters, said some awful things to each other about each other’s cruelty and selfishness in……being late to Christmas dinner. Which was clearly not what was actually going on. There was more of the same the next summer when my dad died too.
And those were both expected deaths of two relatives who were sick, not an accidental death like the LW’s family is dealing with, on top of a wedding which carries its own baggage of “this is the happiest day of your life!”
All of which is to say that this is a huge clusterfuck for the LW’s family, and it’s ok to take a break from family as needed.
Yeah. I’m the Second Marriage Kid of a father who has been a consistently wonderful father to me, but who was a stricter, less emotionally engaged, less financially able father to his first set of kids. (He was in his very early 20s when they were born, and his mid-40s when I was.) Brothers never had much of an issue with me, but Sister (who was the youngest and the only girl until I was born, and who went through the terrible experience of having a child while still at university and then having her husband commit suicide) had a HUGE amount of resentment towards me, which I didn’t understand for years because… well, I was a kid. I was only older than her daughter by a month. No one felt it was appropriate to discuss it with me – but I sure as hell felt it when Sister would call me spoiled for showing any degree of sensitivity beyond what she herself possessed, or tell me that she (and her kids) had no option but to suck it up and deal with [issue], so why did I think I was so special that when *I* had [issue], someone should drop everything and help me/fix it? As a teenager I almost stopped speaking to her; she said some pretty dreadful things to me while I was going to pieces applying to conservatory, and I didn’t have any contact with her for a year afterwards. (To be fair, I do have anxiety and depressive disorders that can make me sound pretty damn irrational even to my own ears, but I’d not had a diagnosis at that point and couldn’t recognize anything other than that it felt like the world was going to end because I was so criminally inadequate. I also don’t think the appropriate response to someone who, after working very hard, is worried about whether or not they will be allowed access to career training for the thing that gives their life meaning/generally keeps them from flinging themselves off a cliff, is to tell them they’re a spoiled, self-centered brat for “complaining” about “not getting exactly what they want.”)
I’m now in my mid-20s and have a very good relationship with my Sister, but it’s the result of her, me, and my dad all doing a LOT of work on ourselves and the ways in which we relate to each other. My dad (after divorcing my mum) recognized how much damage his behavior had done to his first set of kids, and massively upped his game – he worked very hard over the last ten years to rebuild his relationships with his older kids, spend time with them and their families, make sure they didn’t feel he loved them less simply because I came along when he made more money and had more time, and be more emotionally available and verbally affectionate with all his kids (none of us remember him ever saying “I love you” when we were growing up, but he says it to all of us now). My sister became a psychologist and, I think, learned a lot about her own issues in the process, and has tried very hard to moderate her behavior accordingly; she actually apologized to me for, essentially, holding me responsible for my circumstances and other people’s behavior towards me. And I had to learn how to handle myself more productively in re: brainweasels, especially in company.
Tl;dr it is possible to rebuild a relationship with rotted foundations, but it takes the willingness of all parties to acknowledge that those foundations are not solid, that it’s nobody’s fault but everyone’s responsibility to fix before the structure falls down, dig them up, bring the rot out into the open (where it’s uncomfortable and gross to look at but can at least begin to be scrubbed away), and put in new floorboards together, while recognizing that it’ll be hard labor for a while and nobody’s getting out of it without a few splinters. LW, I’m so sorry you had the extent of this rotten foundation exposed to you in such overwhelmingly cruel fashion, and at such a terrible time. I hope T (& K) can reach a point where they acknowledge the rot for what it is, take responsibility for their part in exacerbating it, and offer to be part of a rebuilding process (maybe even with your dad participating). Though at that point you’d be totally justified in deciding that a long, gross, splintery repair is not in your emotional budget and you’d just as soon let the whole festering health hazard burn because jesus CHRIST I’m joining the chorus of people who can’t believe a real live person actually made that “you’re abusive and also jealous of my non-dead siblings” comment to another real live person.
LW, I’m so sorry for your loss. Nothing excuses the terrible things that T has said and done, but I wondered how much of stems from a longstanding resentment of you, which might explain some of her behaviour and perhaps help you to hurt a little less about it. Whatever the circumstances were, somewhere inside she is still the little girl whose daddy left. And he replaced her with a whole new family and expected her to love them.
LW never went into detail about her whole family’s history, but it’s pretty obvious that T has some hurt feelings around her family. As far as anything the LW did, it did seem weird that she (they?) had asked T especially for mom knowing that there wasn’t a very good relationship between the two, but who knows, maybe they’re closer geographically or she heard that they had spoken recently? Maybe this whole blow out wouldn’t have happened if the LW hadn’t accidentally (emphasis on accidentally) asked the, arguably, wrong person at the wrong time.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20; at the end of this whole situation it was T who decided to burn bridges (maybe for her own good?). It could have been premeditated or it could have been in a fit, but ranting about someone towards the person who is asking about them out of concern isn’t going to win you many browny points, and sticking by those same hurt arguments (no matter how legitimate the emotions) is very much not healthy, to say the least.
LW doesn’t have to be a mediator if she doesn’t want to; and T could take her emotional issues elsewhere (therapist, relative, friend).
Yes, if LW’s mother was unkind or abusive to T, dumping on T about this was the precise wrong thing to do.
That doesn’t excuse T’s awful behavior. But LW does need to understand this if she wants to move forward.
There has to be a clearing of the air on both sides AND they have to agree not to let the parental bull*** hurt them.
This post is dragging up some very strong feelings of recognition in me. I had a T. in my life until about two years ago when I had a 2nd-trimester miscarriage and she took my withdrawal and grief as a personal affront and decided to give me a hurtful referendum of every instance in our 15+ years of friendship that she felt I had slighted and/or wronged her, even if she’d never mentioned them previously in said friendship. She ended it by gaslighting me and telling me “everyone says” negative things about me, and went so over the top that it really came across that she believed I had manufactured a miscarriage just to get attention that she rightly deserved.
I am no longer friends with this person.
I hope that LW realizes that T. has been absolutely out of line, that T. is playing the victim, and that T. was so completely inappropriate in both the timing and the content of her tirade that I would not blame LW one bit if they chose to never speak to T. again. The fact that T. also decided to use language like “abusive” against LW when her behavior was called out is really alarming and manipulative. LW, I am so, so sorry for your loss, I completely understand how blindsided you must feel by all this extra emotional warfare being declared against you, and I hope that you find a way to carry on and do what is best for you while you grieve and heal from your brother’s loss. Congratulations on your marriage, and I wish you well.
OH MY GOD THAT WAS NOT OKAY.
I can see that you know that, I just feel that it needs to be recognised or affirmed or something. The T. you used to know was being awful and NOT AT ALL OKAY. I don’t … even have words. I am just staring at my screen, struck silent by how incredibly awful that was. I am sorry you had to experience that. Also, I am so sorry for your loss. From what I understand, even well-meaning people can be very clueless and hurtful when talking about a miscarriage, and of course there is a lot of pressure in Canadian/American culture (and, I suspect, in many others) to Not Talk About That Sort of Thing. I hope you had, and continue to have, all the support you need from a wonderful Team You.
*jedi hugs if you want them*
ARGH! ARGGGHHHH!!! ARGH NO! Oh my god I’m so, so sorry, that is many many layers of viscous steaming manure. I’m so glad that you’re not friends with this person anymore but ARGH WHAT THE HECK WHY
this is one of those stories where I’m just? How do people do socialising so… incorrectly? Can they just keep it to themselves?
“T gives me 10 days and then tells me I’m being abusive and I’m just mad because her siblings are alive and mine is dead, that everyone was at her wedding and my brother won’t be at mine. She doesn’t want to come to my wedding because she’s not sure if I even love her anymore.”
OH HELL NO!!!!!!!! LW….you are a much bigger person than I am because that would have been the end of any further contact with T at that point and forevermore until the end of time. To accuse you of being upset that her siblings (who are also your siblings!) are still alive while your (shared!) brother isn’t is just one of the shittiest things I’ve ever heard. And then to threaten to not come to your wedding because she was doubtful of your love for her? OMG! I am so angry for you!!!
I am so terribly sorry for the loss of your brother. Death is horrible and I’m sure celebrating a huge life event so soon after his death was a huge and daunting undertaking.
This. I’d have been tempted to remove T’s “doubt”.
LW, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with all of this. Many many jedi hugs to the lose of your brother! Planning your wedding while grieving your brother’s death would be heart-wrenching enough without T piling on a bunch of family drama. The Captain’s advice is great, and all I want to add is that, given all you’ve been through in the last several months, be sure to focus on self-care. Be really gentle and kind with yourself, spend quality time with Husband, get plenty of rest (grief & weddings are both exhausting!), and do something soothing for your heart and mind. I love crafting, so when things are especially shitty I’ll color (there are TONS of coloring books for adults) or knit while watching a comforting TV show or movie. Go for walks, invest in yourself with massages/fancy baths/hair cuts/manicures/insert-favorite-glamorizing-activity-here, give yourself time and space to grieve for both your brother and the relationship you used to have with T.
You’ve been through a lot and handled it really well. Gift yourself with things & activities that you were putting off during the wedding. You deserve all the love and care in the world!
“give yourself time and space to grieve for both your brother and the relationship you used to have with T.”
This was what I came here to say too. LW, you’ve had a double dose of loss. The cultural narrative for siblings is that when anything happens to the family unit, they’ll rally round each other and draw strength from their sibling bond. And at the worst possible time, T and K showed that they aren’t interested in being that kind of siblings. It’s bound to hurt.
Maybe you will be able to have some kind of relationship with them once the grief isn’t so raw. Maybe you won’t; maybe you’ll decide it’s not even worth trying. But however things move forward, there’s going to be a kind of mourning for the bond you thought you had or thought you should have had.
Be kind to yourself. You don’t say whether you have access to any kind of counselling, but if you haven’t already looked into that it might be worth considering. Grief throws up all kinds of messy feelings, and you’re effectively grieving twice over. I hope you manage to work through it all.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
If it matters, I’m for the bygones be bygones option. LW – you’re not getting any kind of satisfying resolution her. Just not gonna happen so I would move it along to reset the relationship to friendly nod over pie territory.
LW, you handle this however you want and however you can – whatever is best for your mental health and happiness. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with so much lousiness at once. You handled things beautifully when you were in a situation a lot of us would have cracked in. T and K should have handled things differently, maybe the rest of your family should have too.
If letting go is going to be best for you and you can do it, DO THAT.
If confronting your half-sister(s) and getting it off your chest is going to be best, DO THAT.
You can literally do no wrong here, because of how far in the wrong T was.
To answer your questions:
1) Are you selfish?… for not allowing yourself to be treated like a doormat? I guess by some definitions, but not by any I’d want to live by. Re:phrase: you have a self, it needs to be respected.
2) Are they? From this angle, a whole lot of their comments would indicate yes. Imagine that instead of you and T, it’s your friend and you in T’s place. Would you scream at your friend for acting like that in a similar situation? Even if you were hurt? Even if you were SUPER hurt? Or would you take a deep breath and say ‘they’re going through a lot, I’ll meet them on the other side?’ I know that’s how I’d treat a friend…
3) How much of this is my fault? … well, you could have avoided the fight by surgically removing your backbone and letting her walk all over you, if that’s what you mean. I tend to think that’s a universally bad strategy, though.
4) Should I just cut my losses? Depends what you mean by ‘losses’. Your relationship with her? Serious question: do you WANT a relationship with someone who treats you like that, ESPECIALLY during a really emotional time? I’d advocate for the Captain’s solution #1, if you can stand having the fight, followed by a brief explanation of the events and your decision following up with them to your parents.
I’m ONLY suggesting an explanation because I personally find it really helpful to get to common people before the People Who Treat Me Like Crap – control the narrative, basically. This is not ‘you being abusive’, this is ‘you putting up boundaries and not letting someone scream at you and call you names, and since that doesn’t seem to be possible, you’ve decided X, Y, and Z’ (which can be anything from ‘never seeing her again’ to ‘a few month break please don’t pass on messages from her). Controlling the narrative means avoiding a guilt trip about how you’re treating her from a third party (I’m thinking of that letter a few weeks ago about someone whose sister visited and set the kitchen on fire and stole money and THEN controlled the narrative and enforced guilt trips… yeah. That.)
I am really sorry for your loss; that must be beyond difficult. And I am sorry for what happened afterwards as well.
I am not sure if this will help, but grief is a terrible thing, and it takes (some/all?) people to a very angry, very difficult place. When there we will very often lash out at the closest person to us, and say the most appalling things. This is not an indicator of dislike but the opposite; it is turning to the person we need and lashing out at them. We have lost one person and we are not sure if we can dare rely on someone else to help in case they die as well, so we end up saying in effect; ‘Help me; Go away!’
There seem to be several layers of ‘Help me! Go away!’ in your letter.
You have rightly identified how you can cope with your own grief in your own way, and you assume that by doing that you are not hurting anyone else, but I suspect that from the other side it has felt like rejection, maybe worse. Over-defending often feels like an attack from the other side; this makes no sense until we experience it, but I am afraid it is as true for individuals as it is for countries being invaded.
So an alternative reading might be that your sister needed you, but said all the wrong things because she was not coping. She may well have been angry with everyone who had not died. With your mother. With you for being the full sibling. For having a wedding, when she just wanted to cry. For having a fine time at the wedding, when she was drowning. With everyone around her. She may be really struggling to cope.
If I think of myself in your situation I think I would resent the half siblings. Part of me would think, he was my full brother, not theirs. I am pretty sure I would push the half siblings away. That is not wrong and it certainly isn’t abuse but it might well hurt the other people. You speak of ‘my brother’, not ‘our brother.’ You call T ‘the sister’ not ‘my sister.’ I would do that too.
In one sense there is no wrong way of coping with grief. In another sense it is almost impossible to grieve without hurting other people who are also grieving because everyone is so very vulnerable. We turn into bone china, and become so fragile we are almost transparent. We feel as if the slightest push will shatter us into pieces. My dad died in January. This is where I am as well.
Eventually it will be time to decide what kind of relationship you want in the future, but for now I agree with those who suggest time and space. Leave the door open; send cards a couple of times a year telling your sister that you are thinking of her, and give it time. And once in a while, remember that your sister loved her brother too.
This is very wise. I am sorry for your loss too.
Thank you. I appreciate that. x
Grief is different for everyone. Not just in that I experience grief differently than you, but also, every person that you grieve for in your life you will greive differently. The process will be different the hard times will be different.
But not everyone is good at understanding that. Some people expect your grief to look like their grief. They expect you to have it under control, or to be able to shrug things off, or the opposite to be completely inconsolable. It’s very hard to deal with these mismatched expectations and timelines.
I think you have to ask yourself what your historical relationship with T was? Is this behavior typical? Or could some of this be part of her own grief, and her own inability to deal with your grief. (It’s hard to see someone else hurting.) It’s possible she also thought she was “helping” you by naming your issues and trying to get you to see past them. (Badly)
If you have gotten along before and she is generally good hearted, you might want to go with the bygones option. But if she has a pattern of dramatic and absurd behavior and making things about her. Well, I think people should hear about it when they have done things that are wrong. (I certainly don’t think it will FIX the problem, but at least they don’t have the “no one ever told me I was creating drama and being a jerk” excuse.)
LW, so, so sorry for the loss of your brother. And very sorry you had to deal with drama from T. et al. that dimmed the brightness and joy of your wedding. The things T. said were pretty damn unforgiveable. And to have K. chime in and double-down on the ugly when you reached out to apologize once the wedding was behind you, also not okay. It sounds like your parents had your back in telling T. to just leave you alone and intervening with T. to attend the big day despite her drama!feelings.
The Captain gives good advice here. It sounds like T. expects to be in a dominant position and to set the agenda, the timetable, and the boundaries of who gets to have needs–where her feelings matter, and yours do not. That isn’t a healthy relationship dynamic between adult siblings. You learned something as a result of the initial text exchange where you confided in T. about your mother. What you learned is that you can’t open yourself emotionally to T. because she won’t listen to you, validate your feelings, or try to meet your needs. It sounds like moving forward, if you have some sort of relationship with T. and K., you should aim for the same outcome as LW #895: polite, distant, and only superficially friendly to the people who have demonstrated they can’t be trusted with your vulnerability and confidences. You’ve done what you could to repair the relationships. Maybe make peace with the fact that the bridges been burned down from the other shore and get on with living your awesome life with husband and grieving the loss of your brother.
Oh hell no. LW, I am so sorry for your losses and happy for your marriage, and so freaking angry at T on your behalf. So much good advice here, from CA and the Awkward Squad.
You are an amazing lovely generous forgiving person, reaching out to T and K, to try to patch things up when the obvious response would have been “fuck you and the horse you rode in on.” *click*
T appears to have a whole subscription of issues about your father’s families, and it’s okay that she does, but if she thinks the “loss” of “her” father trumps your actual loss of your brother, I’d call her too damaged to be around. Her “you’re just jealous” was a thermonuclear toddler tantrum of mind-blowing petty selfishness.
You have every right to pull back and reconsider if you want to have that in your life. If you can work this out and have a good relationship with her, awesome. If it’s annual chitchat over pie, great; if it’s burn every bridge and salt the ashes, go for it.
It’s easy for me to say go no-contact, because I’ve got several siblings, but please don’t keep her in your life just because you miss having a sibling. Even if she were great, she isn’t and never will be your brother: mourn your brother and your sibling relationship, as the relationships with your other sibs, if any, will be on their own merits.
Offering you jedi hugs and wishing you much happiness.
As always, I find the Captain’s advice extremely helpful and compassionate and I hope the OP can find some small comfort in her grief from that and all the positive messages in the comments. Although I’ve been following this site for about a year I haven’t commented before since I didn’t feel I had anything useful to add – this time though I think I behaved in a modified version of T at a certain time and maybe this perspective can add to OP’s decision-making process regarding future behaviour and interactions with T (I have no insight into K’s behaviour and I can’t tell from the letter if this has actually strained OP’s relationship with other family members or it is just K’s lashing out).
My transgression was not against a family member and I didn’t drag anyone else into it, but I said something to a work friend – which I immediately regretted and apologised for, but she left thanking me for my honesty and stopped returning calls and texts; after the 3rd or 4th one she said she needed space so I stopped trying because although I really needed her to accept my apology I accepted that she needed to take care of herself and do what’s best for her, which meant surrounding herself with people who support her and she couldn’t trust me to be one of them. Time passed and we make small talk or have the occasional lunch together now (not planned as a social activity but when we get hungry at the same time in the same place we sit together and exchange pleasantries) but I never initiate anything other than work-talk because I realised that she was right not to trust me to be supportive – I actually don’t trust her judgment regarding the initial, not narrated here, issue and don’t think either of us would benefit from a closer relationship.
So my point in regards to OP’s story is that she should definitely not blame herself for either T or K’s behaviour or other family members’ reaction to it, try to focus on her (OP) needs and understand that maybe this is also what T is doing (taking care of T herself) with cutting OP off. You get to feel how you feel but it isn’t really fait to expect T to listen to you now – while true that T was extremely unkind towards you and I can’t think of anything that would excuse her behaviour (and I really, really, can’t get what K’s problem is), even horrible people get to decide who they interact with and maybe you can view this as a blessing in disguise and permission to stop trying to repair something that you didn’t break in the first place.
“permission to stop trying to repair something that you didn’t break in the first place”
Thinking long and hard about this concept as a self-appointed fixer of unfixable things (people).
LW you had two big major things in your life that always sets families on edge, even when those families have good relations. I am so terribly sorry for your loss and I am so happy for your new marital status. I can only imagine those emotions and feelings and families put together makes a giant blender of crazytimes. CA has given you some good advice (especially the 2 kinds of communication styles!!! super helpful) And I agree that letting some space happen between T and possibly K and you would be best. I loved the advice someone gave about taking this year’s winter holidays off under the guise of “new family traditions!” but also under the “still grieving and don’t feel like holidays” is completely understandable.
My half sister got married 6 months after our father died. Not b’c she wanted to, but b’c her fiance told her this was THE DATE and NO OTHER. And the date was the day after Christmas. So there we were, a band of people who are grieving and sad and who had just dragged ourselves bodily over the holiday line and BOOM a lovely wedding has to be done. It was hard and heartbreaking all at once.
And so here you are, on the other side of the line of a funeral and a wedding and looking at a future with strange family communications and holidays around the corner. Allow yourself the break if you need it. The break from family. The break from “traditions” if you need it. Spend it taking care of you and your new family. And let yourself find the new normal you need before you come out and engage with anyone for awhile.
LW, you’re not selfish. T is being an epic, unbelievable asshole. T’s behavior is so objectively wrong that the wrongness is probably visible from space. That’s where your cognitive dissonance is coming from — the fact that T is treating you that way, and then insisting that you offended them! Right now K’s not looking too good either.
I don’t have anything to add to the Captain’s advice except extreme indignation on your behalf. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for the way your stepsiblings are treating you. I hope you have some time now to grieve and take very good care of yourself. Jedi hugs if you want them.
I walked away from a friendship shortly after my brother’s suicide when the erstwhile friend informed me that I was neglecting my responsibilities to her, and since I didn’t like my brother all that much anyway I ought to be over it.
I firmly believe that people who refuse to take no for an answer are not safe to be around.
Wow. That is some kind of….
An extra dose of stink-eye for people who feel that one ought to be ‘over’ the loss of a family member a couple of months after the death at the latest.
I read a book earlier this year about a woman whose teenage son had died in a car accident. She was telling the story to someone she’d just met, and when he asked how long ago her son had died she said, “3 years ago,” and mentally cringed, since she was totally not with it (I think it had come up because she was crying or something) and WHY was she not over it yet? This was her inner monologue, but instead the stranger said, “Oh, so very recently then. I’m so sorry.” I appreciated the great wisdom of his response. Some things you never get over, and some things take an awfully long time.
Good grief, people can be terrible sometimes. My condolences for your brother.
Dear LW, I also have a difficult (sometimes nonexistent) relationship with my two sisters, who have been/are colossally self-absorbed jerks to me. (One literally didn’t bother to talk to me for a year, but found some new dude to shack up with! That was really considerate. The other one got upset because Major Life Threatening Pregnancy Complication made the birth Not All About Calling Her Right Away.) I mention this only as an ‘I’ve been somewhere in your emotional area’ thing.
If you want to cut this relative out of your life a little, or a lot, or completely, or demote her sixteen trust ranks and be coolly polite, that is all, of course, totally fine. But also, my experience with my sisters was that all these options hurt a lot, and bitterly, and for a very long time, because someone you care about suddenly being a terrible self-absorbed jerk to you hurts. So this internet stranger is also giving you permission to still *want* a good relationship with your sister(s), regardless of what you actually do or even what is actually possible or reasonable.
And many condolences on the death of your brother.
I have nothing to add to what the Captain and Army have said.
I write with two thoughts:
Condolences on the loss of your brother.
May your marriage be full of joy.
My question is how much you even want T and K in your life. Looked at that way, the facebook blocking can be a blessing. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t want anything more to do with them, only to think about how much you want to do with them. I’d guess that a close and supportive relationship is out of the question. Maybe cordial and distant would suit you? I like that better than openly hostile, but it’s up to you. (I’ve had routine and polite with my brother for many years. It suits me just fine.)
I’m so sorry for your loss.
Your sister complaining about your mom was bad, but hey, we all have our moments of self-unawareness. What I don’t understand is how she reacted after you explained the issue. There are rules around death, you know? Even if the grieving person does something out of line (excluding actual abuse), which it doesn’t sound like you did, you don’t choose that moment to turn it into a huge fight.
You are not at fault for this fight. It sounds like you communicated honestly and clearly with T – about struggling with your mother’s grief at a time when you needed support, about wanting space when T upset you, about being available to talk with her when that moment came. You conducted yourself well in an incredibly emotional time, with a lot of stress piled upon you.
LW, my heart hurts for you. I hope in spite of all of this, your wedding will be a happy memory.
That said, everybody’s already covered the fact that “you’re just mad because MY siblings are alive and YOURS is DEAD” is cruel beyond words, so I’ll just point out that “you’re just mad because x” only applies if x = something petty. Like, “You’re just mad because my mailbox is prettier than your mailbox.” or, “You’re just mad because I thought of it first.”
It doesn’t work if it’s a legit reason to be upset. “You’re just mad because I keyed your car.” Like… yeah. Yeah. That’s right. I am.
“You’re just mad because your sibling is dead.”
Well? Yeah, actually. I am upset because of that. I appreciate you noticing that I am desperately heartbroken right now, and could really use some love and understanding from my family, particularly on the eve of my wedding.
It’s just so amazingly invalidating. Whereas some people invalidate by refusing to acknowledge your emotional pain, this statement boldly invalidates BY acknowledging your pain. Why are abusers so extra?
The point is, T’s made it clear what she thinks of you and your emotions; which is to say, they’re but inconvenient obstacles in her cool and exciting life. If it were me, I’d take stock of her and your life and whether they need to be intertwined in any way. If your half-sisters can’t even be nice to you when your brother just died, how are they gonna be nice to you at Passover or whatever?
The ball’s in their court. If they want to grow up, be mindful, and reach the bare minimum of familial decency, they know where to find you. Until then, congratulations and many happy returns for your marriage, and I hope the rest of your life is bright and full of joy.
Firstly, my condolences to you, OP. It sounds like you’ve had terrible things piled onto a terrible time, and that requires rest and recuperation. Be good to yourself, and allow Team You to be good to you.
In my family, the second you raise your voice in an argument You Lose. That’s it. Over. The emphasis is very much on logical and factual points, preferably made in a witty way and a faintly sarcastic tone, and if you’re going to get emotional about it well then we’ll just come back to this later.
The first time I had an argument with a #2 I’d become friends with I was genuinely confused. Yes, I did neglect to do the washing up that one time last month, but that’s nothing to do with what we’re discussing now, your point being…? I learned that actually arguments had over text / email were the better option, because then when she went all “I would NEVER…!” I could go “Yes. Here. The words. On the screen. You.”. And, in a logical / factual / unemotional way it could actually be quite fun to stand there and watch her try to think her way out in the face of physical proof.
I grew up in a No. 2-style household and, even though I had natural inclinations to “let’s talk about this issue specifically” and “logic”, I wasn’t taught or shown how to have a constructive argument. I never saw it in action. (In fact, if I tried to be logical, my mother punished me.) It’s HARD to learn that skill when you come from that sort of a family. And, when I’m under stress, I have to actively remind myself not to revert to old habits.
OT slightly, I guess, but I really hate arguing with people who think that you lose as soon as you get upset. Me being visibly upset doesn’t invalidate my point, and it’s perfectly possible to verbally eviscerate someone in a cool, witty, and logical way, particularly if you’re cool-headed by nature and the other person isn’t.
I guess what you’re describing sounds a lot to me like baiting. It can work if everyone’s on the same page, but if not, it can be very unkind.
I don’t mean I necessarily agree with this method, it’s just the way it is in the family (mostly due to my Father). I found it equally frustrating myself when I was younger – my older brother could bait me to tears, and then just wave a hand dismissively and walk away all “Well now you’re just shouting, so that proves I was right.”. It can be a terrible thing.
The only hangover of this upbringing I have now is that it does still drive me nuts when people go ‘off-topic’. If we’re arguing about the washing-up then let’s argue about the washing-up and we can do that in whatever format you like. But dragging something that happened last year on holiday into an argument about today’s washing-up makes no sense to me. For the OP’s sister to drag something the OP’s mother – someone not even involved in the current dispute – did (or apparently did) into a discussion about mourning is just…. I think most of us agree that’s blindsiding of the worst kind.
Some thoughts for LW:
Set this aside for now and focus on your new marriage. Let your emotional energy be directed at building your new life.
THEN, realize that even if you get past this tiff, there are deeper issues you need to work through in order to have a relationship with the siblings.
When you feel emotionally safe to do so, spend some time asking yourself:
(1) What sort of relationship do you want with T and K?
(2) Have you ever had a real relationship with them? If not, why?
(If it’s just going through the ritual of being siblings, that’s not the same.)
(3) When you were younger did your father try and create a safe space where you could form a sibling bond? Did he just expect it to “magically happen?”
Who has “brokered” your relationship with your 1/2 siblings? Your father? Your mother? Their mother?
HINT: the only person who should have done this is your father. If he left it to others or didn’t do it, then there’s the source of the issue.
My guess is that the dis-functional sibling dynamic has – at it’s root – some poor parenting choices made many years ago.
(4) Do you have ANY really wonderful and warm shared memories from your childhood that they would say are also among their warm and wonderful memories? If not, then you are effectively strangers trying to build a friendship, not siblings trying to build a relationship!
(5) Do you view T and K as “real siblings” or something other? Is that how you want to view them?
(6) OBJECTIVELY: How did your father treat your 1/2 siblings v. you and your brother? Would T and K feel the same way?
(7) Did your mother treat T and K fairly?
(8) How do your mother and T and K’s mother get on?
(9) How do you think T felt when you started talking about your mother to her? What do you think her motivation was?
Hint: we always attribute the best of motivations to ourselves and the worst of motivations to others. That’s human nature. Most people hurt others out of misguided self-protection, not because they are psychopaths.
(10) What do you need from T and K in order to move on? An apology? An understanding from them of what you went through?
(11) What do you think T and K need from you? Want from you?
(12) Most fundamentally: If what they need is not something you can give, or not something you want to give, are you willing to cut them out entirely in order to preserve your sanity?
(13) Are they too damaged from their childhood hurts or other traumas to move on? Are they, quite frankly, too selfish and too big of jerks to do so?
(14) What are their relationships like with other people? Is it just their relationship with you that is difficult or are all their relationships fraught?
Just because they may have legitimate hurts does not mean it’s your place to fix them. Even if your father and mother were abusive to them, it’s not your place to fix them.
Also, if you do not have anyone to talk to about this who is absolutely neutral, then either write this all out in a journal OR find an online support group that will challenge you and not merely be an echo chamber OR, if you are religious, find a pastor or member of your congregation who will listen.
DO NOT DISCUSS THIS WITH YOUR FAMILY OR DUMP THIS ENTIRELY ON YOUR HUSBAND. You can lean on him, but he’s NOT a neutral party in this and should take your side.
– A 1/2 sibling who only met her 1/2 siblings as an adult. I have a great relationship with sister A, but will never have one with the other 1/2 sibs. That’s ok. And not my fault.
I absolutely agree that T said some pretty unforgivable things, taking a bad situation and escalating it, but…
This part of the LW’s letter makes me very uncomfortable: “T has a tense relationship with my mother and uses this moment to tell me how unreasonably angry my mother was acting when she last saw her. I am LIVID and stop responding. T says “sorry, it just made her sad.” I lose a day of wedding planning to being angry and trying to figure out how to respond. I give up and send no reply.”
Why did the LW get “livid”? Why spend a day “being angry”? If T is having some problems with their mother, shouldn’t she be able to at least mention it? I get that the LW is grieving here, but I don’t understand why what she said that deserved the LW spending a whole day being angry. The worst fault here was definitely T’s, but…how to put this?…T isn’t the only one, it seems to me, who got overexcited.
But my condolences on the loss of your brother. So sad, and so awful!
I am not certain but I suspect LW was livid and obsessing all day over T complaining to her about LW’s mother being angry over the death of her son. I am just guessing.
I read it this way too. I suspect that T saw the initial conversation as LW: “Ugh, dealing with [Mom] is frustrating me right now.” T: “Commiseration with shared upsetting story about [Mom] – that is, T likely saw chiming in with a “yeah, she’s been irritating me a lot lately too” as supportive. That doesn’t excuse, in the slightest, what T said later, but I think if LW wants to mend the relationship with T, it’s important to understand how that context may have been viewed very differently by T at the start.
First, remember that “their mother” is not the same person. Their father is. So I can understand if LW took this comment as a personal attack on their not-common parent that she wasn’t equipped to deal with right then. Second, though, LW doesn’t tell us that she expressed this lividness to T. She just didn’t reply. Which seems like a not-unreasonable way to initially respond, if you are afraid that you won’t be able to keep from blowing up when you DO respond.
One Wedding: I am very, very sorry for your loss. It sucks, and I’m glad you have a husband for support.
OT, to CA: no, you are not the only person who works with Amazing Bureaucrat Man who is all “Yeah, let’s do it” in person and Dead Air in writing, because: Amazing Bureaucrat Man is every. single. Director. of Student Financial Aid. EVER.
When I was 22, my dad’s third wife out of nowhere decided to tell me that she didn’t approve of the way my (recently deceased) mother raised me. I was flummoxed. It soured our whole relationship (my family tends toward being rug brusher-underers, so I didn’t address it at the time, which I regret now) and was one of the deciding factors in me cutting off her and my dad for a number of years after her misbehavior around my own wedding a few years later.
LW, I see the divisive wording your half sister used. All of her siblings were at her wedding, so that includes you and your brother, right? Or…not? but you are jealous because all of her siblings are alive and yours is dead. Well, which is it? Are you and your brother her siblings or not? It’s an incredibly hurtful thing to come out to say that she doesn’t think of you as her family.
It would be totally fair if you decide to just be nod-and-move-on cordial to her at family events. If you do decide it’s worth pursuing an actual relationship with her, I’d hash it out instead of letting it fester. Those aren’t words or feelings that are easy to sail around. And if she doesn’t consider you to be family, then is she behaving in the way you’d accept from a friend?
Best wishes for a comfortable resolution, LW.
LW, first, I’m so sorry for your loss. And you did not deserve that bullshit, specially on top of everything else.
Second, someone already adressed your final questions directly. I think that’s a good idea and am going to copy it below.
1- Am I selfish?
For what? Expecting your siblings to behave like adults? Wanting not to be attacked or manipulated while you were grieving and planning a wedding? Being hurt that T and K said horrible things to you and acted in an awful way?
No, LW, you’re not being selfish. Wanting to be treated with respect is not selfish, it’s a basic human right.
2- Are they?
Let’s see: “You are simoultaneously grieving for your brother and planning your wedding but I’m going to make this situation all about me!”. Yup, that’s the definition of selfish. T is being selfish and cruel, K is being selfish and a jerk. You do not need to deal with that. You do not have to be in the line of fire. Permission to get the hell out of those interactions granted.
3- How much of this is my fault?
Not a single fucking thing. T’s and K’s decissions to engage in this hurtful and awful behaviour are their own choices and nothing you could have prevented. You cannot control how other people act. The fact that you are asking this question speaks of how much they have manipulated you into doubting your own feelings and actions. By the way, you were right (and not out of line at all) to ask T for space and to tell K to mind her own business. That was you setting a boundary. You know who takes offense at people setting boundaries? Abusers, stalkers, and all manners of toxic people. You absolutely do not have to apologise for drawing boundaries.
4- Should I cut my losses?
What, exactly, are you losing? The chance to be constantly heckled and put on the spot? The tantrums, the attacks? You say you’re not too close with T and K, so you won’t be losing that. Cut back on contact. Look at that fb blocking like a gift: it’s a drama-free zone. Speak with people who are kind to you and ignore those that are unkind to you, and if your future relationship with T and K is just exchanging pleasantries two times a year… that’s really not too big a loss, especially if you manage to avoid their drama. You definitely do not have to apease them (they are the ones in the wrong), and if you tried to, it would only result in hurt for you (like your apology to K), so ignore or block them and let the tantrums fall where they may, as long as it’s somewhere you don’t have to listen to them.
Surround yourself with people who love you and treat you well. Your spouse. Your close friends. Your pets, if you have any. Other family members you trust, for sharing grief and memories. You do not deserve T’s and K’s behaviour, and you do not have to put up with it. Take care of yourself and let yourself feel loved, you do deserve that ❤
I wanted to add a note regarding being blocked on facebook. I found that it is wise to block people who block you so that they can’t unblock you and take a few more shots at you then block you again while you sit there wounded and gobsmacked.
If you block someone then unblock them, facebook won’t let you block them again for 48 hours, for precisely this reason!
If anyone is still reading this thread I have a legit question. I only just heard recently that the silent treatment is a form of abuse. Even though it absolutely does not excuse T’s awful comments and behavior, could her claim that LW is being abusive stem from the fact that LW stopped texting back/talking to her, and she interpreted that as being ‘the silent treatment’?
I completely agree that what T did was terrible, I’m not defending her. I’m just wondering if anyone can help clarify the line between healthy distance / abusive ‘silent treatment’, because sometimes when I’m angry and I REALLY don’t want to talk, I worry that it’s abusive *not* to, if that makes any sense?
“That just my feelings and I need some space, I’ll text you when I am ready to talk” or “I need some solo time, can we take a break” is 99 times out of 100 times not “the silent treatment” though I am sure an abusive person could make it so.
Nor is “Goodbye forever, do not contact me again.”
In these cases you are telling the other person what is happening & what to expect. The aim is to decrease anxiety – “let it drop for now, there is nothing you can do.”
The abusive silent treatment freezes out people in close proximity. It does not tell people what is happening. It wants victims to rack their brains to figure out what is going on. Does that help?
Yes, I think? The line still seems a little hazy to me. I worry that halting conflict to take a time-out could still be described as ‘freezing out’, and that despite good intentions, obviously this doesn’t always decrease anxiety, and can be really hard for the other person to endure.
I think the line on whether being silent is abusive is drawn based on why you’re being silent.
If you’re being silent because you literally can’t talk (overstimulation causing muteness), obviously that’s a case of you being abusive.
Less obviously, if you’re being silent because it takes you a long time to consider something before you formulate a response, that’s not being abusive, but it may behoove you to say that kind of thing. “I’m trying to think of how to respond to this, please give me a moment.”
If you’re being silent because you really can’t deal with it right now but fully intend to come back to it later and you just need some space, then ghosting on someone might not be ideal, but it’s also not abusive – especially if you follow it up quickly (ie within a few days) once you’re more composed. It would still likely be wise to leave a “I can’t really respond to this right now but I’ll get back to you” sort of message, though.
If you’re being silent because you want to make the other person feel awkward, uncomfortable, or anxious and watch them panic while they try to figure out what they’ve done wrong and how to fix it, that’s a manipulative and abusive behaviour.
I see what you’re getting at, but I also have a very limited interest in intent. I’m much, much more interested in how people treat me than in whatever reason they have for behaving that way that I don’t know because I’m not psychic.
I would say that a big part of the difference between needing space and giving someone the silent treatment is whether you communicate in any way that you need space (could just be a hand gesture or something in the case of overstimulation muteness, it definitely does not need to be an eloquently worded treatise on the usefulness of taking a break during an intense discussion) before, during, or after the silence.
To piggyback on the Captain’s examples downthread, ““Do you want me to make some dinner?” :SILENCE:” looks awfully similar from the outside whether it’s silence because the person can’t do words right now or silence because they want you to know that you are the worst and tie yourself up in knots trying to fix it.
Even if you can’t communicate in the moment, I think communicating before (ideally) or after can do a lot to help. If someone close to me really needed space all of a sudden, it would really help me in the future if they came back later and said “sometimes I need space to process and I don’t always have the words for that in the moment. If I go silent that doesn’t mean I hate you forever, it just means I need some time.”
I definitely agree with you. Communication is always better than not communicating. As one of the “sometimes can’t do words” types, I generally tell people about that when I first meet them, and then when I inevitably pull a silent on someone, I’ll later (as soon as I’m calmer) come back and say “So remember when I said I sometimes can’t words?” And every time it happens, I go to the person afterwards and tell them that I was having a CAN’T BRAIN moment, just so they’re sure.
(Most of the time I can manage “Can’t words right now I’m sorry” even when overstimulated, but not always.)
So yeah, communication around it is key to make sure others understand, but if a person is worried that they might be using abusive behaviour because sometimes they can’t figure out how to make language happen, the intent model can help reassure them that they’re not.
For the ‘can’t deal right now’ there is this card (and many similar products for other situations, you could roll your own) – and if someone showed that to me, I’d probably still feel slightly put out because I want to continue the discussion RIGHT NOW, but it’s a very clear communication of the other person’s needs which trumps my desire to keep talking.
I disagree very strongly that good intentions prevent actions from being abusive. To be fair, if someone is capable of worrying about whether they’re abusive they’re probably not, but my emotionally abusive ex would probably not have described his actions as abusive either. He wanted me to be more conventionally attractive and conventionally “cool” so people would like me more, it’s not his fault I had this weird fixation on being valued for who I was – that’s a lie, it’s totally his fault he was an asshole.
If you try to communicate at any point, you’re very unlikely to be abusive. If you have good intentions, that’s just not relevant. I care about how people treat me, not about whatever is going on the privacy of their own heads that doesn’t affect me because I’m not psychic.
@Friendly Hipposcriff I love those cards and think they’re very clever. I’m lucky enough that I can do words even when I desperately want to go home and have quiet, but I really identify with people who run out of can when they’re overstimulated.
My husband is like you, possibly to an extreme–when he’s really upset about something, he also tends to be confused (figuring out the meaning of a situation and where right & wrong lies is VERY important to him, and he wants to think it through not just go with his gut), and that combination makes him REALLY want to be alone to think. So we used to have these fights because he would clam up completely at the worst time. He’s not a verbal processor & being asked to talk through something he didn’t feel he understood yet made him clam up all the more. Often I couldn’t even get out of him what it was about, or even whether he was mad at me–he wasn’t sure yet! And for a long time at first he didn’t have the self-awareness, when he was in that kind of a tailspin, to get outside his head and look at how he was acting & how it affected me, & gather the emotional control to explain what he needed. To me it felt like being suddenly cut off & not told why–he even avoided eye contact in his need for privacy–and it was extremely emotionally painful to me. It was a pattern for years. It’s not anymore–I’m not entirely sure why, TBH. We did work for years on him learning to say “I love you I just need to be alone & figure this out” and me trying to be less anxious & remember it was always OK in the end (b/c it was), and that did help. Probably having a baby helped more. We just don’t have time for that nonsense anymore! Plus our relationship has really stabilized & our trust is instinctive now, that’s probably got a lot to do with it.
Anyway, I’m telling you this to say this: what my husband used to do was painful, but it was NOT abusive. Although he did handle it poorly in some ways (not saying “I still love you, I just need an hour here”) this wasn’t intentional. I think silence is a special case–I think that it’s not abuse if it’s not done with intent to abuse, punish or control. If you looked at my husband’s whole life in detail you would see that his overall patterns are not abusive but on the contrary very respectful. The silence was an expression of his need for privacy–an unhealthy expression, at least in the context of our relationship, and I think he’s learned to express it in other ways (and may not need to express it as much b/c I’m more aware of it & respect it.)
I think a person who needs silence & privacy should do their best, like the Captain says, to calm other people’s anxieties around it by clear communication–a rough estimate of how long the silence may be (hour/day/forever) and of where the relationship stands (I still love you/you’re still my friend/I wish you the best but goodbye) except in cases where the other is abusive and doesn’t deserve it. But privacy is a right, and a need, and respectful requests for space should be respected. An abusive person ignores people to their face to hurt them, or cuts them off with intent to punish or control rather than because they need to, or claims they need space and then gets in a few verbal or non-verbal jabs during their so-called silence to mess with the other person’s head. A respectful person asks in good faith for their need for space to be respected, and other people need to manage their own feelings around that, even if it’s hard sometimes.
Thank you! In my marriage, I’m the one with the need for time to think and although I’ve tried to express that in a loving manner, my H still feels like he is being abused. But I know that taking the time will let me make a much more thoughtful, less hurtful response to whatever. The accusation of abuse really hurts when I am trying to work things through. I’ve never found (despite much effort) a way to calm his anxiety about my desire to stop interacting during a disagreement and be able to think about it. Sometimes I feel like his determination that the argument has to be resolved RIGHT NOW is actually more abusive than my insistence on time to think. But this gives me some ideas. Thank you!
“Sometimes I feel like his determination that the argument has to be resolved RIGHT NOW is actually more abusive than my insistence on time to think.”
I think you should listen to that feeling. Good luck!
There’s also a difference between “Silent Treatment That Is Abuse” and “I Need A Little Break To Gather My Thoughts”, especially in a marriage is how you treat each other during the break.
“I’m still chewing on that thing you said and I’m not ready to talk about anything real contentious, but here, it’s my turn to cook dinner, and here’s the charger for your phone, and I am still behaving as if we are in a loving/liking relationship” = not the silent treatment.
“Do you want me to make some dinner?” :SILENCE:
“Were you able to get the dry-cleaning?” :ANGRY SILENCE:
“Will it bother you if I watch a little TV?” :ANGRY SILENCE:
IS the fucking silent treatment and that is abusive.
“I insist that you talk about the contentious thing on my schedule until it is resolved in my favor, I will keep you awake and hound you until you do so!” is also not cool.
He has diagnosed anxiety disorder and takes medication for it, but sometimes he will just get so anxious he seems to be unable to let things drop. I do respond to anything that’s not the issue, just not to whatever the current issue is until some set time period (which is negotiable). My normal original statement is something on the lines of: “I’m not comfortable discussing this more right now. I need a break until . Then I respond to anything (including a request to change the time period) that is not the issue in contention and try to be as normal as possible. I have gone to leaving if he continues to hound me, but only after saying I will do so if he continues.
It is not that I want to take things “off the table”, it is that I need time and quiet to think and sometimes to do some research on options.
It is only recently that he learned about the silent treatment and started accusing me of it. I really think what I do is not abusive, but I worry sometimes. But I guess since I’m not actually trying to be silent, just give myself a preset time to consider, I should be OK.
Kittens, it could be that you need to have a talk with H about the difference between the silent treatment and refusing to give him what he wants. He may be saying one when he means the other because he knows perfectly well that demanding your obedience is inappropriate. You are correct that it is a common tactic of abusers to call disobedience abuse.
@ Kittens: assuming your husband is in good faith (should I assume that?), the “abuse” label may be a way of lashing out & trying to tell you how painful he finds the experience. Not a good way, of course. It sounds like you are handling everything very rationally, but if you find it doable, a little emotional reassurance also goes a long way. Combining “Here’s how much alone time I need” with “I still love you very much & I think we can work this out.” I say this because I know how much that means to me at a moment like that in terms of calming my inner anxiety (which is what drives me to “hounding” behavior), and I’m actually a pretty low-anxiety person overall.
I think for some people, to be connected at all is the main thing (sometimes I wish my husband would just go ahead and spill his negative thoughts instead of shutting down–I wouldn’t take them that seriously, I’d be glad he was talking to me! or maybe that’s just what my inner child thinks) and shutting down that connection at a moment of crisis feels like Leaving Me with a capital L. To re-affirm the connection before leaving helps the other person remember and believe that this isn’t a relationship-shattering event. (Because in my head it could be, right? If you’re not telling me what’s going on, it could be something super terrible! Maybe you think I’m cheating! Maybe you’ve been thinking of leaving me for months & are just coming to the point! Yeah it’s BS, but the mind plays tricks, y’know?)
I understand from what my husband says that this can actually be quite difficult to do. But it may be worth it.
But it is inappropriate that your husband is framing it as abuse. I’m not necessarily seeing him as being the abuser instead (but only can be the final judge of that) but as someone who’s playing the victim as a result of some distorted thinking. It sounds like you have strong boundaries and he’s perceiving you as being the person with all the power in the situation & himself as the victim. When people see things that way they become blind to how they themselves hurt others, because in their narrative the victim is too powerless to do harm. What he needs is to see that his hounding and prying is actually hurting you, that being forced to “open up” when you need privacy is, yes, actually very painful. He’s not seeing or believing that right now; total fail at putting himself in the shoes of someone who has different needs from him. Maybe, knowing him well, you know a way to show this to him. I won’t venture to offer advice on that.
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