Sibling disagreements, a father teaching a son how to put up his dukes, and Facebook fights – what do they all have in common? Dear John helps resolve each in a wise, calm matter.
What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].
This is a very, very difficult, sad letter for me to write. My sister and I are close. We’ve had disagreements, as any siblings have, but this is the first time she has me wondering how well I even know this person I’ve known literally my entire life. (I am four years older than she is.)
She and my brother-in-law have two wonderful young children. Up until a couple of months ago I would have said they have a typical marriage — the occasional argument, but nothing out of the ordinary. But she revealed to me that she no longer loves her husband, is unsure if she ever really did, and intends to leave him with the intention of getting a divorce! I am so upset by this. The thing that makes me saddest (and angriest, to be honest) is that there’s no other person involved, there’s no personal problem like drinking or drugs that would at least allow me to say that’s sad but I understand her thinking. There’s nothing like that. Just doesn’t love him, isn’t happy, and doesn’t see any reason to continue investing her emotions and effort into something that’s all over. As if her children have nothing to do with this!
She completely rejects the idea of staying together for the kids’ sake and she says having two happy-but-separate parents is much better for the kids than having two sullen, miserable parents that stay together out of stubbornness.
She is so casual about the whole thing, like the kids will hardly miss a beat! I am so shocked at how much she is minimizing the impact this will have on her children. I am trying my best to talk her out of it, but I don’t think I’m giving her the least bit of pause. What, if any, advice do you have for me? Or her?
Heartbroken Sister And Aunt
Dear Heartbroken Sister And Aunt,
Of course it’s sad when a marriage ends, especially if kids are involved, but you may have no choice but to accept her decision and hope that she’s not making an enormous mistake. You can certainly let your opinion be known, but this is her life and her marriage, and you have to let her live it. Despite how blasé she may appear to you, you don’t know what her marriage is like, nor do you really know how she feels inside. If this is out of character for her, I think you have to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s just trying to maintain a strong outward appearance. I would try to talk to her about it, but just listen to what she says. What does she mean when she says she “isn’t happy”? Is she sure her family life is the source of her unhappiness, or might it be something deeper? Don’t try to change her mind — that may well be why she’s kept you at an emotional arm’s length through such a difficult time. She needs a loving sister, not a judge.
As far as the general question of divorce goes, I do think there is some merit to staying together “for the kids’ sake,” but it is immensely harmful to children to be raised by two people who are openly hostile to each other. Some kids can emerge from such a home less scathed than others, but there’s no doubt it’s a very bad situation. Having said that, I do think parents owe it to their kids to make a serious effort to stay together, even if that means making their own happiness secondary until the kids are grown. If the parents can put on happy faces, even if they don’t really feel it all the time, I think they should. This is very difficult to sustain over many years, though. I think a lot of people get married without realizing that it’s hard work.
What can you do? You can accept whatever she decides, give her the emotional support she’ll need, and continue to be a positive, loving, and steady presence in the lives of her children. How the adults in their lives, including you, react to this will play a large part in determining the impact it has on their emotional well-being. Never bad mouth or undermine either of their parents for any reason. Just let them know you love them and they can always feel free to talk to you about how they’re feeling.
I would appreciate your point of view about something I’m having a hard time understanding: my husband, who is a smart, kind, considerate man, was bullied when he was younger. To the extent my husband has talked to me about it, I get the impression that it was not extreme or the type of thing that would be in the news if it were to happen today, but simply, for lack of a better way to describe it, “average” bullying. It certainly doesn’t seem to have left any lasting emotional scars. At least, I didn’t think so. Now I’m not so sure.
We have a five-year-old son and my husband is fixated on the idea of preventing him from being the victim of the kind of cruelty he was subjected to. Not by teaching him that violence is wrong, mind you, but by teaching him to fight! He is quite eager to enroll our son in karate or boxing lessons, he has told him it’s perfectly acceptable to hit someone back who hits you, he has shared his belief that force is “the only thing a bully truly understands” and on and on. John, we’re talking about a five-year-old! It breaks my heart to think of this sweet, utterly innocent boy absorbing this brutal view of the world.
We have had some quite heated arguments about this — the first childrearing subject we’ve truly disagreed on. Of course I don’t want our son to be bullied, but I don’t see how turning him into a bully is any better, either. I want to raise a son who abhors violence, but I can’t do it with a husband who seems to relish it. This is a serious disagreement. Please help.
Although adults do often become perpetrators of whatever physical or emotional violence was inflicted on them as children, it doesn’t sound to me like your husband wants to turn your son into a bully. It sounds like he wants him to be prepared to fight back should he be a victim of bullying. Those are two very different things.
I think there’s room for the two of you to meet in the middle on this. First, boxing or karate lessons won’t, in and of themselves, turn your son into a bully. In fact, karate classes for children should emphasize avoidance of conflict whenever possible – they are to ensure that children know how to defend themselves if they must. Furthermore, these kinds of classes provide kids with much-needed exercise and build their self-confidence. Paradoxically, it’s easier to decline to fight when you know you could have held your own. So don’t discourage the idea of lessons in one of the martial arts.
As far as your husband goes, he should emphasize to your son that non-violence should always be his first resort. If someone is picking on your son, he should tell him (or her if we’re talking about five-year-olds) to stop. If that doesn’t work, he should tell a teacher or other adult. But as your son gets older, he may well find himself in a situation someday in which neither of these options is viable, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teaching him self-defense.
You and your husband should be able to discuss this calmly, hear and respect each other’s points of view, and reach an arrangement you can both live with. It seems an especially ironic thing to be having “heated arguments” about.
I’m starting to learn the hard way that my girlfriend that I’ve been with for several months likes to bring our arguments over onto Facebook. A couple times now she has really embarrassed me by posting what we were arguing about with kind of a “can someone tell me what’s wrong with this guy” kind of attitude. I let her know how much this bothers me and she said she’d stop but next time she did the exact same thing. It’s hard to break up with her though because I usually like her a lot and I went for a long time without having a girlfriend and I’d hate being without one again. But maybe I should?? Is there a way to get her to see how much this bothers me? Is this worth breaking up over?
Don’t Care What Her Friends Think
You don’t have to get her to see how much this bothers you. She knows — that’s why she does it. If you want to be able to tell yourself you gave this relationship every chance, you can try to talk to her about it one last time and see how far you get, but this is the reddest of flags. Your girlfriend has no idea how to productively or respectfully resolve a conflict. I know there are a lot of great things about being in a relationship, but you know what’s worse than being unattached? This. Personally, I would de-friend her. And not just on Facebook.
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 13, 2011.
This article originally appeared on GoLocalProv
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