Ask Amy: Relative pulls family into the closet

July 6, 2012

DEAR AMY: You recently responded to a question about telling a child the truth about being adopted. You said that, “It’s the truth. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, except, of course, when it becomes this big and powerful secret that the whole family must keep.”

We recently had a gay family member come out to the family, but this person has asked the children (and adults) in the family not to tell their friends.

Is the big, powerful secret worth keeping if it threatens someone’s career?

My family member has forced all of us into the closet, and it’s getting crowded in here! -- Crowded Closet

DEAR CLOSET: You don’t go around disclosing a family member’s heterosexuality to friends, so why should someone’s homosexuality be a topic worthy of disclosure, or secrecy? And yet, a gay person’s life can be significantly affected by this disclosure, and there is no point in denying this reality.

I do think it’s reasonable for the person coming out to say to family members, “Please let me share this with the rest of the world in the way and with the timing I choose.”

And I think it’s also acceptable for family members to respond that they will respect a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy but that it is unreasonable to burden a large group of people with keeping a secret.

Assure your family member of your discretion, offer your ongoing encouragement and support, and urge him or her to carry an authentic self out in the wider world.

DEAR AMY: My husband, “Steve,” is verbally abusive. Early in our 42-year marriage, his hurtful comments and rebukes were painful, but I accepted them, as he was an otherwise wonderful husband and father.

To the rest of the world, he was, and still is, kind and considerate most of the time, but at home he vents his stress and frustration on me as rage. (He is a very aggressive driver, too.) With age, his irritability has increased.

Please don’t suggest anger management or an evaluation for depression. Steve insists I’m the problem. (I have had counseling.)

Now that our children are married adults, I would like a divorce. However, we just learned Steve has inoperable cancer. As I’ve hidden the abuse from family and friends, who continue to adore him, they would resent me for deserting Steve in his time of need if I sought a divorce. It hurts me to see him suffer, but I am growing resentful. -- Long-Suffering Wife

DEAR WIFE: There might be a way to protect yourself without wholesale “deserting” your husband in his time of need.

If your husband is able to stay in the home by himself, you should vigorously explore finding somewhere else to stay (with a friend or family member), while still providing him with assistance when he needs it. Your children should step up to help with your husband’s care.

If you are willing and able to stay elsewhere, this will provide you with an “out” if your husband takes out his rage on you. Tell him, “I will not abandon you, but I won’t take any more abuse either. If you abuse me, I’ll call someone to come here to stay with you, and I’ll have to leave.”

DEAR AMY: Did you fall and hit your head when you were composing your response to “Flabbergasted”? His wife is infatuated with another man, and she wants to go to “the other man’s” high school reunion.

How can you suggest that he “choose to not let this issue control him” and “reclaim some power by attending this event with his wife”?

The only way for him to reclaim some power and self-esteem is to seize the family assets and change the locks. -- M

DEAR M: Flabbergasted said he and his wife had worked hard to recover from her emotional affair.

My intent was for Flabbergasted to call his wife’s bluff. Because she was insisting on attending this event (and because he can’t stop her), he should say, “Okay, good idea. I’ll get my jacket, and let’s go!”

I agree that I didn’t express this well, and I don’t even have a blow to the head to blame.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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