Ask Amy: Sister insists family include abusive ex

October 28, 2013

DEAR AMY: My sister, who is in her 50s, finally separated from her husband of 35-plus years. He was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive to her, both privately and publicly.

Not long after they separated, he had lifesaving surgery, and she was with him all the way. My siblings, our parents and I all visited him in the hospital and rehab. We can all understand her feeling somewhat guilty and responsible. However, since then nothing much else seems to have changed. He’s at her apartment, and she is at his quite frequently.

He has a brother locally he is close with and a sister who lives nearby. My sister expects our family to continue to invite him to all the family gatherings — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc. — just like we did when they lived together.

If we do not invite him, she says she will not attend. He can be charming at times but also rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful to our family. Although we wish him well, most of us would prefer not to see him.

I asked her recently what being separated means to her. She replied that it means she can’t live with him. She talks as though not including him would be ungenerous.

I feel like I’m being held hostage to this relationship. What can we do? -- Frustrated Family

DEAR FRUSTRATED: Your sister is more concerned about her abusive husband’s comfort than yours. That’s something to keep in mind as you move forward.

Now that these two are separated and your sister has a home of her own, you no longer need to treat them as a constant family unit. The generous thing to do is to give him an opportunity to behave well, along with a crystal-clear heads-up about how things are going to go in your home from now on (though you can only speak for yourself, not other family members).

Let’s say you are going to host this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. You contact him separately in advance and say, “Steve, we’ve tolerated years of abuse, disrespect and other nonsense from you. We had to because you were married to my sister. But from now on you should be on your best behavior while at my home. If you behave in any way I find objectionable, I will ask you to leave.”

If he behaves badly, you ask him to leave, and if your sister insists on going with him, you should simply tell her, “Do whatever you want to do. I completely understand.”

DEAR AMY: I’ve been to two weddings recently where the wedding party disappeared in a party bus between the ceremony and the reception.

At first I thought the purpose was to stop at some scenic spots and get some candid photos, but I was mistaken: The purpose was to drink! The guests waited for more than an hour for the wedding party to show up at the reception. In one case, the wedding party showed up completely inebriated. We were served hors d’oeuvres and drinks, but felt like the newlyweds and bridal party were no-shows.

Is this a national trend or is rudeness localized to my area? Is there a polite way to inquire whether there will be a party bus at the wedding before I RSVP? I will definitely want to make other plans if this is the case. -- Abandoned Guest

DEAR ABANDONED: I am aware of this trend. In my mind this is all about immature couples treating their nuptials like they’re taking a trip to Vegas with their buddies, instead of celebrating with family and friends.

There is no polite way to inquire about this in advance, but one way to plan for it would be to pack some playing cards and run your own mini-casino at the reception.

DEAR AMY: Like “Hopeless in the Suburbs,” my sexual addiction was out of control. I sought help from a program called Celebrate Recovery, founded by Pastor Rick Warren. I truly believe working this program saved my life. -- Healing and Happy

DEAR HEALING: There are many programs within faith practices and available through research on the Internet. The first step is to seek help.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

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