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“Should I Skip My Family Holiday Party Tomorrow?”

From the forums:

I have a family holiday party tomorrow and I’m not sure if I should go. Long story short, I told my bipolar sister that she was being selfish for wanting to spend all of her time on Christmas Eve and Christmas with her boyfriend of a few months instead of spending some time with my father and me. I even offered to pick her up and drop her off from wherever she was staying.

Her boyfriend (pretty much just as sick as she is and she plays him like a fiddle) left me a voicemail, a Facebook message AND a text talking about how busy they were and that if I had any problems to go to him. He was incredibly nasty and rude and I ended up starting World War Three by telling my sister to let her boyfriend know to mind his expletive business. Then she said to never speak to her again and the boyfriend texted me AGAIN saying that as far as HE is concerned, my sister is done with my BS. He also told me to delete me from his Facebook (I already did after he messaged me) and that that would be the last text from him (I wrote back: “Thank God, because now I don’t have to tell you to never expletive text me again.”).

Christmas came and went; I ended up keeping my sister’s name on my father’s gift (originally, I wasn’t going to because she owes me $50 for it and no longer wants to speak to me) and we exchanged gifts through my father without seeing each other. I also took Wendy’s advice and apologized for letting my desire of us to be together take affect my behavior negatively. (This was through text as I want nothing to do with her at the moment)

I apologized via text and haven’t heard anything and I want NOTHING to do with this loon of a boyfriend of hers. Some backstory: my mother has Munchausens and loves playing the sympathy card, and my sister seems to have inherited some of our mother’s traits, and I think I fueled her need for sympathy.

My new dilemma is that there is a family party tomorrow that I now want NOTHING to do with because my sister and her nut of a boyfriend will be there. I’m afraid that if I don’t go they will trash-talk me to anyone who will listen, and if I do go… well, I’m already riddled with anxiety about the whole ordeal.

Do I make up an excuse and not go so I don’t have to deal with the crazy boyfriend and my bipolar sister? Or do I suck it up and go and risk confrontation? — Riddled With Anxiety

The holidays are overwhelming for most people, even ones who don’t have any family issues (but, who doesn’t have family issues??). It’s easy to get so worked up in the holiday frenzy and lose perspective, which I think is what has happened with you. Presumably, you and your sister live in the same town, so I guess I’m not sure why it was SUCH huge deal that two grown sisters — at least one of whom is in a relationship — don’t spend the holiday together considering they can (again, presumably) get together any other time, and especially since there is a family party planned just a few days later where they (you guys) are planning to see each other.

Sure, I get that you would be disappointed and maybe offended to be blown off for this new boyfriend and his family. But, is it selfish for a 31-year-old woman to spend the holidays with her significant other’s family instead of her own? Eh, I just don’t see it. Now, if your father, whom the two of you always spend Christmas with, is like, incapacitated, or something and requires a lot of care and your sister taking off to spend the holiday elsewhere leaves you with the burden of caring for him solo, then that’s a different story, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. What seems to be the case is that you got your feelings hurt that your sister decided to spend Christmas with someone other than you and your dad. It’s fine to have hurt feelings, but I do think you overreacted.

Is your sister and her boyfriend totally innocent? No. They both sound like thoughtless jerks. The boyfriend, in particular, sounds like a nut job. But he’s whom your sister is with right now and if you want a relationship with her, you have to make an effort to at least be cordial to the guy. If you don’t think you can handle breathing the same air as him, or you’re afraid even the sight of him and you sister together will unleash something inside you you can’t control, skip the party. But if it’s possible that you could make an appearance, put on a happy face, and mingle with some of the other relatives before making an excuse for an early exit, I’d do that. Because the potential of you regretting NOT going to the party is a lot bigger than the potential of you regretting that you DID go.

If you do decide to sit this one out, I wouldn’t spend energy worrying about trash-talking, because who cares? I mean, really. If your sister really started trash-talking you at a family get-together, it reflects most poorly on HER, because that’s just tacky. Plus, she’s the one who’s going to be there with a nut job boyfriend. People will be more intrigued by THAT then the story about how you dropped a couple texts with expletives or whatever.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

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{ 29 comments… add one }

  • Fabelle Fabelle December 27, 2013, 9:15 am

    Yessss Wendy, I really, really love this response.

  • avatar bethany December 27, 2013, 9:44 am

    WWS.

    When my brother got married, I was really upset about the change in our family dynamic. The thought of him not being home for Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever special family things we did really hurt me. I loved my family as is, and didn’t want it to change- So I get how your sister’s decision to spend the day with people other than you can hurt- I really do. But Wendy was right. It’s ok to have hurt feelings, but the way you handled them was a little out of line.

    Go to the family party. You don’t have to talk to your sister or her boyfriend. Who knows if they’ll actually show up anyway? If it gets weird, leave. Simple as that.

    • avatar Sansa - LW December 27, 2013, 12:50 pm

      Thank you for sharing your experience. In my mind I was being blown off and I admit that I overreacted. I wish I came to you guys before I stated that she was being selfish! I also wish I handled it as gracefully as you have.

      • avatar Bethany December 27, 2013, 3:11 pm

        Well, in YOUR defense- I didn’t handle my situation well at all at the time. I refused to talk to my brother for 6 months (wasn’t hard because he lived over 1,000 miles away), and ran my mouth about it to tons of people. I got lucky though, because he married a wonderful woman, and having her as part of the family has just added to the awesomeness. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that as a possibility back then. But you live and learn, I guess.

  • avatar SasLinna December 27, 2013, 10:26 am

    Wendy covered everything here. To me the main issue is reducing the degree to which you’re emotionally affected by your sister’s actions. Try to cultivate a ‘cooler’ attitude towards her actions, so that when she does something you don’t like you can be like “alright, this is shitty, but I don’t have to get angry”. This is often difficult with close relatives, but it really is worth it.

  • CatsMeow CatsMeow December 27, 2013, 11:12 am

    What worries me the most about this is what the LW was saying on the Christmas open thread – that the boyfriend said something along the lines of, “Anything you’ve got to say to your sister can go through ME.” Umm, why? I mean, maybe she was really stressed and upset about the fight and he decided to take matters into his own hands to relieve some of the sister’s worries, but I think he just made it worse and butted in where he shouldn’t have. He also sounds kind of controlling.

    I agree with everything Wendy said, though. LW, if I were you, I’d show up and be cordial. Don’t engage in another fight if they try to start shit. Your sister might need you around if/when their relationship blows up. I very well may be paranoid, but if he’s trying to isolate her, there could be an element of abuse.

    • avatar MMcG December 27, 2013, 11:31 am

      I agree Cats that the bf’s attempts to control all communications with the sister is definitely troubling… and just want to second your suggestion that the LW should attend the party and try to keep the lines of communication open in case there is some isolation or abuse occurring – which would only be made worse given the sister’s bipolar condition. In my experience if one is not taking very good care of themselves, medication, therapy, etc. that depending on the severity of the bipolar diagnoses people can be easily taken advantage of or do things that are hurtful to themselves or others.

      • avatar Sansa - LW December 27, 2013, 12:08 pm

        What troubles me is that the two actually met in a home for out patient group therapy so he has problems of his own, I think they feed off of each other.

        Thank you for the advice :)

        I know this sounds crazy but I’m sort of afraid of being attacked (not physically but verbally) when I go to the party. It’s probably in my mind and I’m sure all will be fine.

        • avatar Bethany December 27, 2013, 3:12 pm

          If either one of them starts with you, simply WALK AWAY. If they verbally attack you, leave. Leave the room, leave the party if you have to. Just because someone wants to yell at you doesn’t mean you have to stand there and take it.

        • avatar Breezy AM December 28, 2013, 7:03 pm

          In my experience it is pretty much forbidden for people to date in those circumstances if they’re still attending any kind of aftercare. :-/

          I don’t find “the communication has to go through ME” bad in and of itself, but in this context I think it’s quite troubling and shows they are both not following their programs correctly. My husband pulled a similar move once with an ex of mine, but it was because he was tired of seeing this guy just verbally berate me and knew I was too worn down to cut him off cold. Ex told husband to fuck off and stay out of it and husband said that’s fine, then don’t talk to her at all. Basically ex proved husband’s point; because see he wasn’t willing to speak so disrespectfully to anyone BUT me. So that’s one instance where I think it’s acceptable to pull such a move. I don’t think your sister’s guy is doing so.

          Especially since inappropriate relationships and sexual acting out are hallmarks of untreated bipolar, I can see why you’re thinking “meh”. Best of luck.

          • avatar Sansa j- LW December 30, 2013, 12:52 pm

            Thank you :) this explains why they probably held off on dating, they are both no longer in the group therapy, which probably explains a LOT about this situation.

  • avatar Ammie December 27, 2013, 11:24 am

    Yep, WWS. This, especially, is always a good rubrick to use:

    “Because the potential of you regretting NOT going to the party is a lot bigger than the potential of you regretting that you DID go.”

    Be cordial if you run into them, but focus on the people you want to see. When you’ve reinforced those social connections and feel satisfied, go home knowing that they didn’t keep you from relationships that you did want to renew and spend time on. If you don’t go, I imagine you’ll probably stew unhappily at home about it, and that’s a way worse outcome.

  • avatar Lucy December 27, 2013, 11:37 am

    There’s plenty of crazy to go around in this letter. LW, it’s not your business where your sister spends her holidays. You are not the boss of her. She makes her choices and you make yours. You don’t have to like her choices, but for you to get in her face and insult her about them is completely unacceptable. So from the get-go, you pretty much started this whole thing.

    You also refer to her offhandedly as bipolar. I can’t tell if you mean that as some kind of casual insult, or an actual diagnosis. If that’s an actual diagnosis, and if there really is a history of mental illness in your family, your sister may feel safer and less anxious spending Christmas elsewhere. That’s her right as an adult and again, you don’t get a vote.

    Her boyfriend sounds like a controlling nut job. But given how you were treating your sister, it’s not hugely surprising to me that she’s dating someone who’s also a controlling bully. People gravitate to the familiar.

    I think you should go to the party, but you have to get yourself in hand and stop trying to run your sister’s life. Any time you have the urge to do so, just leave the room, take a bathroom break, whatever.

    • avatar Sansa - LW December 27, 2013, 12:04 pm

      It’s an actual diagnosis, her full diagnoses (not sure of the plural of diagnosis) are bipolar, schitzo effective disorder, and she also has borderline personality disorder.

      If all of the diagnoses confuses people, we were raised by a mother with munchausen’s and a lot of the traits are inhereted, especially the borderline personality. Not so much the bi polar though. That’s chemical. The behavioral traits are inherited unless you fight like hell to leave them behind. She hasn’t fought the way that I have to leave them.

      As for me controlling her behavior etc. I think it’s just been learned over the years through hospitalization after hospitalization after she removes herself from her medications, and also due to the fact that she lives with my father. She attempted suicide years ago and has been under my fathers roof since then, so I think it’s hard to forget that she’s an adult and can make her own decisions because we were worried about her for so long.

      In my opinion, in a normal relationship, someone calls you selfish, you get into a tiff about it, talk it through and it’s over. With her diagnoses, I have to walk on eggshells all of the time because she literally loses her mind and will hold a grudge for months on end over any misstep.

      I agree that I need to step back, but sometimes I forget that she doesn’t have the correct coping skills and has a need for pity and drama that I can accidentally fuel when I make a mistake myself.

      • avatar Leigh December 29, 2013, 12:15 pm

        “In my opinion, in a normal relationship, someone calls you selfish, you get into a tiff about it, talk it through and it’s over. With her diagnoses, I have to walk on eggshells all of the time because she literally loses her mind and will hold a grudge for months on end over any misstep.”

        In a HEALTHY relationship, people don’t engage in name-calling and personal attacks when other people are doing things they don’t like. And calling your sister “selfish” is doing just that. Calling your sister and saying, “Hey, I’m really disappointed that you won’t be around for Christmas. Is there any wriggle room on that?” -and then accepting her answer!- isn’t “walking on eggshells.” It is being both polite and mature.

        I have a family member who is of the “escalate, let it all hang out, and move on,” mindset. It’s exhausting to be around. And really, she says unkind things because either 1) she believes them, or 2) she knows they hurt and doesn’t care. Whichever it is, why would I choose to be around someone like that? And is it possible your sister is making the same calculation?

  • avatar Sansa - LW December 27, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Wendy,

    Thank you so much for the advice again! I wasn’t expecting to see this :) And thank you to your readers for their awesome advice.

    I think I feel so rotten because I’m realizing that I did over react about her not being around on Christmas, but now things have blown way out of control with the boyfriend involvement and not knowing what frame of mind my sister is under especially because she’s with the boyfriend.

    My fear about the party (I’ve decided to go) is that I will be verbally attacked. I know my sister, I think she’s above that, but I don’t know this guy of hers or his influence on her. I mentioned above that they met in a group therapy house so he has issues of his own.

    I’m more afraid of him than I am of her because of the way he acted when I (now I admit it was out of line) called her selfish.

    Luckily I have a big family and a lot of people will be there so if things don’t go right, I can just play it by ear.

    • avatar Sansa - LW December 27, 2013, 12:22 pm

      Now my sister is not attending the party. I know it’s because of me but I don’t think there’s anything that I can do. I told her I was sorry about my over reaction, granted it was via text, but I’m afraid to call her because she’s always with the boyfriend.

      • avatar starpattern December 27, 2013, 1:26 pm

        Sansa, you sound lovely. I’m so sorry your sister is now not attending the party, but it sounds like you have done everything you can at this point by apologizing for your over reaction. All you can do now is stand by that apology, stay calm, and just disengage from any verbal attacks you might face from the boyfriend should he decide to confront you again. I hope you’re able to enjoy the party despite the tiff with your sister.

        • avatar Sansa - LW December 27, 2013, 1:51 pm

          Thank you starpattern :) I’m hoping he doesn’t try to confront me again, but I plan to just try and breathe and not take it personally and let it go this time if he does.

      • avatar Teri Anne December 27, 2013, 8:57 pm

        Yes you did over-react by calling her selfish, but don’t be too hard on yourself. You have been under enormous pressure for a very long time dealing with both your mother’s and your sister’s severe mental illness.

        You realized your mistake and tried to apologize, which unfortunately did not go very well. That your sister and her boyfriend flew into a rage when you tried to apologize is not your fault, because the normal rules of communication do not apply with a mentally ill person. Apologies and polite, simple requests may be met with rage because the mentally ill person is unable to understand normal social cues. I know this from personal experience, as my husband was mentally ill. He would interpret a simple request as a criticism, and become very angry. Mentally ill people may also speak incoherently because their ability to think logically is impaired, which means that they do not put words in the correct order and their speech lacks normal cause and effect. I also saw this with my husband.

        I want to commend you for how well you are coping with this very difficult situation. You are going to therapy and looking for a support group. Most important of all, I can tell from your correspondence that you have empathy which gives you the ability to have normal relationships and lead a completely normal life in spite of your upbringing. So many people raised under these circumstances lack empathy, and they have a very hard time socially.

    • avatar MMcG December 27, 2013, 1:48 pm

      LW – forgive me if you have already done this, but dealing with these types of serious mental issues can be exhausting, and I don’t blame you for being a little overinvolved given the past history that you’ve now referenced above. If there is a support group, online community, therapy, SOMETHING that you could take part in I would recommend it. Speaking to people who have been dealing with the same things may be very helpful to you and provide needed perspective and advice. Good luck, and enjoy your family party!

      • avatar Sansa - LW December 27, 2013, 1:54 pm

        MMcG, thank you for your advice. I have been in therapy on and off for about 8 years now, I finally found a therapist who is absolutely perfect for me, it just takes time to find the right one.

        I haven’t looked into support groups, but something like that would probably be perfect.

        • CatsMeow CatsMeow December 27, 2013, 4:17 pm

          I’m pretty sure NAMI has support groups for family members and loved ones of people with mental illness. They have chapters all over the place.

    • avatar Teri Anne December 27, 2013, 4:26 pm

      Your fear of being verbally attacked by the nut job boyfriend is very real, and it is very understandable that you want to stay away from him. I had to end contact with my uncle because I was afraid of his verbal attacks. After so many years of dealing with your mentally ill sister and mother, you need to take care of yourself and do what is right for your well-being including possibly skipping the party.

      However, I am also concerned about your sister’s welfare because she is dating a man who sounds abusive. He is starting to isolate her from her family, which is a classic tactic of abusers. Because she will probably eventually need to leave him, you need to maintain communication with her so that she knows you are there for her. If phone calls are too difficult for you right now, you can still text or Facebook chat.

      Your sister is very ill, and it is always so difficult to cope with a mentally ill family member. Maintaining a balance between attending to your own needs and keeping in touch with your severely mentally ill sister will be very challenging. I am glad you have a good therapist, and I hope you also have the support of friends and other family members.

  • avatar MsMisery December 27, 2013, 12:59 pm

    So, sister is a nut, her boyfriend is a nut, and mom is a nut. What’s your excuse? Cuz you aren’t innocent here at all. Anytime I hear “text fight” or “Facebook fight” I just lose some ability to take it seriously. Maybe this is the wave of the future and I’m just a silly Luddite though (I have a friend who regularly adds and deletes her own parents on FB because DRAMAAAAA). Anyway, to answer the point of your letter, you don’t need to spend every single holiday together with all of your family, especially if they have already made plans. That sort of thing happens when people become adults. Gods forbids she marries this guy and you have to REALLY incorporate him into the holidays! So yeah, relax about it. I would not worry about that party either (though, like Wendy, if you were going to see everyone a few days later, why you got all twisted in knots about xmas I don’t understand)…

    • avatar Sansa - LW December 30, 2013, 12:55 pm

      My excuse is that I overreacted and called her selfish instead of putting my dissappointment into better terms to not set her off. Or also maybe not calling my own feelings about Christmas into question.

      It started by her letting me know that my father would be alone on Christmas, which she thought was true, but I planned on spending time with him, she just didn’t know it.

      I thought it was selfish (at the time and I’m still peeved about it) to say “hey, I’m waaaay too busy with my boyfriend but did you know that Daddy is AAAALLLL alone for Christmas?” It just set off my pissed off reaction and I called her selfish. That’s why I was twisted in knots.

  • kaluu kaluu December 27, 2013, 1:36 pm

    What’s done is done, hope you don’t waste too much energy on feeling guilty. If you have a chance to apologize do so and move on. Next time be the bigger person and don’t use profanity (especially seeing that she has serious mental health issues!) but it’s great that you have been able to conquer some of your own hereditary behaviour issues. That’s impressive :)
    Anyways you might even want to apologize to him, if he’s still in the picture after several months, just so things will go more smoothly?! It will be easier to deal with him if he somewhat accepts your apology(even if you have little to actually feel sorry for)

  • avatar acastil5 December 28, 2013, 3:46 pm

    You remind me of my own sister who threw a hissy fit that my parents weren’t going to spend the whole christmas vacation with her, but instead spend a day with me at my place. It was the first time I lived somewhere where my parents could stay with me, and they thought they were doing some good by splitting their time evenly. She lost it. I still resent it to this day and privately I think its best that my parents are older so that by the time I have kids they may already be dead and I won’t have to deal with the yearly drama of where everyone is going to be for Christmas. You bring up your sister’s mental health issues, but I think they are ancillary, a sideshow to what happened here. You started this fight, and everything you described fits the description of three immature individuals, not necessarily mentally ill. Just because your sister has several mental illnesses doesn’t mean she can’t make her own choices, and mistakes like her bf, (as your obviously unbiased description makes him out to be.)

  • Lindsay Lindsay December 30, 2013, 2:16 pm

    I agree with Wendy. Your sister sounds obnoxious, but you also have to be realistic with how you respond to her. Now, most people would not take it well if you called them selfish, for any reason, so it’s not a surprise that SHE freaked out like she did. Assuming you weren’t shocked, then the question is what you were intending on doing by confronting her about it. Honestly, it seems like something to do if you want to rile someone up, not if you had simply wanted her to reconsider her plans.

    I’m not trying to dismiss her behavior, but when dealing with people like that, you need to commit to not making more drama. As much as you may want to piss them off or get your way, if you TRULY don’t want the drama, then you need to act accordingly. As they say, you can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react to it, and that often controls what happens next.

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