Dear Carolyn: My wife is a wonderfully sensible person and appropriately sensitive. She is the oldest of three sisters and often feels left out. The age and geographical distance make it understandable that her two sisters have a much closer relationship.
Still, they left her out of a big announcement, and my wife is hurt and now doesn't want to have anything to do with them. She hasn't answered their phone calls for weeks, and they are calling me asking if she is okay. I'm not allowed to tell the truth.
Her perceptions are entirely correct, but I have told her this isn't going to produce a good result. I value her family, but I am not the one to suffer the real consequences. I am worried she is making a mistake.
Is there anything I can do but tell her my concerns? And is she right to do this?
— Will Do What's Right for Her
Will Do What's Right for Her: What is "wonderfully sensible" about giving her sisters the silent treatment, and silencing you as well?
It's both needlessly punitive and a power trip.
The issue here isn't the "real consequences" your wife may suffer, or whether she has somehow miscalculated which response will be best for her emotionally, either in the near or long term. You may be right that she will ultimately regret estranging herself from her sisters, but that is a matter of mistreating herself, and therefore a risk she is entitled to take.
The issue is that your wife's silence constitutes mistreatment of others. It's arbitrary and cruel.
Her sisters may well have done something wrong — I'll assume you're right for the sake of argument — but their being wrong doesn't give your wife license to leave them calling, wondering, grasping for answers.
She recognizes that their wanting answers is leverage she has over them, and she's using it to cause them pain. How is torturing them defensible?
And how is it possibly okay for her to insist on your complicity? If you told the sisters the truth, then you would also take away your wife's leverage, so she's controlling you to ensure she can still control her sibs.
Please do not let yourself be a party to emotional abuse.
There's a much simpler issue here, too: Grown-ups use their words. The mature option for your wife is to face her problem directly and speak to her sisters: "I was really hurt when you excluded me from this announcement. I feel left out on a regular basis, but this hurt the most."
Ideally — as in, maturely — she would then let them say their piece and maybe reconcile if warranted, but she can also say, if she so chooses: "I don't like feeling this way and I don't see anything about our relationships changing, so I will not be in touch for a while. Please don't try to contact me."
You obviously don't get to decide what your wife does. However, you can let this "wonderfully sensible" person know, with due compassion and sympathy, that there are more productive — and honorable — ways to handle her hurt feelings, no matter how legitimately she came by them. You can also say you'll answer direct questions minimally but truthfully, and no longer abet her treating others as she would never stand for their treating her.