Now, I know these things don’t seem that bad, but their relationship is broken and my sister seems ready to end it. She has told us that she’s very disappointed in him and she believes she deserves better. My mom, my other sister and I have all tried listening and giving advice, but their situation isn’t changing. They even tried therapy for a few months, and it didn’t really help except to make my sister see she needs to work on being patient and that my brother-in-law needs to do more around the house. I don’t really know how therapy works, but that doesn’t seem like a lot of progress. (I wonder if they need a different counselor). I know people can’t fix a relationship unless they really want to, and I don’t know if the desire is there in my sister.
My other sister and my mother told me that they each had another talk with her this week and they are both very concerned. My sister has started to get panic attacks. I’m afraid she might have depression but wouldn’t her counselor have noticed this? She’s exhausted, overwhelmed by all her responsibilities and ready to leave her husband. At first, we urged her to work it out for the kids’ sake, but now we just want her to be happy and at peace. I know that her husband is a good man and, when they got married, there was love there. I think if they got over some of these issues they could continue on to a happy life. Young children are a lot of work and a strain on a relationship, but, once they are in school, the really exhausting part is over. (It’s still a lot of work but not as bad as at the very beginning).
What can we do to help? I have offered to watch the kids, but she hasn’t asked for me to do so. My other sister and I both have our own families but are willing to do whatever it takes to help her out. We’re just not sure what would be most helpful. Taking over some of the housework? Giving her tough love and telling her that marriage is hard work and it won’t all be roses and sunshine? Supporting her in her maybe decision to divorce? Seriously asking her to see a doctor about her possible depression? I really don’t know. It breaks my heart to watch her family breaking up in slow motion, and I just want to stop it. Please let me know what you would do in my situation and how I can ease some of her pain and anxiety. — Worried About My Sister
Reading your letter it’s clear that you love your sister and are genuinely worried about her and want to help. But you aren’t helping. You’re making things worse. Those panic attacks she’s having? The anxiety? Feeling overwhelmed by her responsibilities? Those things aren’t eased by a pack of female relatives doling out “tough love,” encouraging her to work things out with her husband for the “kids’ sake,” and acting like they know what they’re talking about just because they have families of their own. The truth is, you don’t know what it’s like to be her. You don’t know what’s going on in her mind, her marriage, or her family. And the reason she hasn’t taken you up on your offer to help is because your help isn’t helping.
Please, for the sake of your relationship with your sister, as well as for her emotional well-being, back off. Give her some breathing room. Let her make her own decisions. She’s a grown woman. She’s a wife and a mother. Unless you have reason to believe she’s a risk to herself or her family, you need to let her figure her own shit out. Her solution may not be what you want for her and her family and it may not even be “right,” but it will absolutely be wrong if she starts making decisions based on pressure from her mother and two sisters.
I remember how overwhelmed I felt in my son’s first few months, and, while I sometimes wished I’d had family nearby to help, I can’t imagine how much more anxious I would have been with a mother and two sisters hovering about, feeling like they were judging my inadequacies and talking behind my back about the details of my therapy sessions and how much I’d lost control of my own life. Regardless how well-intentioned you are — and, again, I do think you mean well — to a woman who is feeling overwhelmed, you’re probably just one more measure of her shortcomings.
Back off. Your sister knows you care. She knows you’re available to help if she decides there’s something she could use your help with. But unless she’s reaching out to you or soliciting advice or showing signs that she’s truly unhinged and a risk to children or herself, it’s time for you to mind your own business. And if she does reach out to you, rather than tell her everything she should be doing or letting her know how easy she has it with an adoring husband and a helpful mother, just listen. And maybe share a story or two about a time you felt inadequate as a wife and mother so she at least doesn’t feel so alone in her perceived failures.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.