NOTE: This archive only contains Carolyn Hax columns through March 2011. Her more recent columns are located here.

Carolyn Hax: Unfaithful sister wants her ex excluded from family functions

Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post
(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dear Carolyn:

My sister, "Becky," came clean a year ago that she had been cheating for nine of the 15 years of her marriage. She and her husband, "Bob," are living separately now, with the two children living with her. She continues to date the man she cheated with, and despises the fact that Bob is doing some dating himself.

My parents have really come to love and adore Bob. He has always gone to great lengths to perform any kind of personal work for them, as they can't get around very much at their age.

The problem is, Becky does not want Bob to come around my parents' house -- especially not on holidays or birthdays -- whether she is there herself or not. She would like to invite the new boyfriend to family functions and have her future ex-husband out of the picture.

My parents insist on inviting Bob to their home for events because they enjoy his company and still consider him family. They would actually prefer that Becky not be there; she has always been a thorn in their side, always causing them some kind of grief. They are bothered by their feelings about their own daughter.

Becky has now put her foot down and said it's either him or her. What should they do?

TQS

No, no -- the problem isn't that Becky wants Bob expunged. The problem is, Becky has an outsize sense of entitlement, which allows her to feel justified in mowing down people who get in her way.

At least, that's how it appears. In situations like this one, I can't skip the disclaimer: When a marriage ends as a result of abuse, and when the victim's family continues to extend a warm welcome to the abuser, the victim has every right to draw a line. Therefore, if Bob treated Becky horribly whilst charming her parents through odd jobs around their home, and if it took Becky nine years of skulking infidelity to find the courage to stand up to Bob the Abuser (not a candidate for a PBS children's show, to my knowledge), then I owe Becky a humble apology for the whole entitlement comment . . .

. . . And for everything else I'm about to say, because I'm trusting the context of your letter enough to give Becky's demand a name: blackmail. If Becky indeed led the charge in destroying her marriage, then her demand to banish Bob is unreasonable and selfish, and there's rarely anything to be gained by caving to unreasonable demands.

Keep welcoming Bob as family, encourage your parents to do the same, and make these intentions clear to Becky. High road all the way.

As part of that conversation, assure Becky you'll do your best to keep her visits from overlapping with Bob's -- not only because throwing her a bone will advance the cause of family peace, but also because stuffing Becky, Becky's lover and Bob into one Thanksgiving dinner would be needlessly provocative, a turkey for the ages.

Otherwise, prop the family doors open to Bob without apology, and let Becky live with the consequences of her own choices. If she tries to use her children as pawns, you'll have proof you sided with the angels -- and you can still see the kiddies through Bob.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.


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