Posted by fxckfeelings on June 8, 2015Share This Post
We spend endless amounts of time wishing happiness on our friends and pain on our enemies, if only because their respective happiness and misery gives us pleasure, as well; there’s at least one German word and a few nighttime soap operas that sum up the concept well. Trouble is, of course, that happiness is a deceptive drug and punishment has unintended consequences, so our cathartic needs are a poor guide for what we should actually do. Even if you can’t help but cheer on friends and flip off villains, don’t take any real action until you can carefully consider the limits of what you actually control and how you wish things to turn out. Then you’re much more likely to get a glücklich ending.
I’m worried about my sister’s recent engagement because she hasn’t known the guy that long and she’s been very vulnerable since her divorce from her unfaithful ex-husband. On the other hand, she seems so happy after such a long period of misery, and I think that’s all that really counts. The guy is probably fine, but we just don’t know much about him, and things have moved very quickly. I know that if I ask her to slow things down, she’ll tell me how happy she is, implying that I’m trying to rain on her parade. My goal is to help her be happy.
As we’ve said many times, a good marriage should provide many things—a trustworthy partner to share responsibilities with, the ability to use the carpool lane, someone to always take the blame—but immediate happiness is not one of them.
Marriage is a forever commitment, and happiness is a fleeting emotion; marrying someone because they make you happy makes as much sense as getting hungry and investing everything in a restaurant.
After all, all it takes to give you a dating high is to have the object of your interest show interest in return. And if anyone tries to point out any of said interest object’s flaws, or just the flaws of rushing in, these unpleasant facts go from being important information to unwanted buzz kill.
That’s why what’s not important is your sister’s happiness now, but the potential for her new relationship to be solid and steady in the long run, and that depends on her taking time to examine a due-diligence list of important facts.
She needs to know whether her fiancé has a good record with prior relationships, is good with managing money, and has a good reputation for honesty and reliability. She also needs to go through a stressful situation with him so she can see for herself how well they work together and tolerate one another’s negative feelings, because if his strongest selling point is that he makes her happy, then her unhappiness may render him worthless.
Make it clear you don’t dislike her fiancé or mistrust her judgment. You’re just doing for her what you’d want her to do for you; reminding her to check for red flags and not go forward until she’s really satisfied she has all the information she needs, not just positive emotion, to make a good decision. If she complains that you’re spoiling her happiness, remind her that her ex-husband made her happy, too, until he made her miserable by cheating on her.
That’s why you believe long-term happiness requires good, careful evaluation of character. You’re not judging her fiancé— that’s her job, and you’re urging her to do it properly.
“I don’t want to spoil my sister’s happiness with her new fiancé after the misery her ex-husband put her through, but I know I can give her good advice about the information she needs to gather without implying there’s anything wrong with him or their relationship.”
My stepmother was actually wicked; she was verbally abusive to me and my sister, and even stole from us in high school and lied about us to friends and teachers. After I left home I swore to cut her out of my life as much as humanly possible, and she made no effort to keep in touch with me, either. Now I have a family of my own, and the last thing I want to do is share my big upcoming birthday with her, so I invited my father to join us at a nearby city where my sister lives. He’s trying to guilt my sister and me into inviting his wife, and I just don’t want to. I don’t care if it makes her feel bad or left out—actually, that’d be a bonus—especially because she only wants to be there to make my sister and me miserable since she doesn’t like us and never will. My goal is to see my father by himself (and see the step-monster in hell).
As painful as it was to grow up living with an abusive stepmother, it must have been equally difficult to experience your father’s lack of understanding or protection. It’s natural then for you to want future birthdays and holidays to include him but not her; she deserves punishment and you deserve time with your father that she can’t ruin.
Unfortunately, you can’t change your father’s marital blind-spot and insistence that his wife co-preside at all family events. I assume he knows how you and your sister feel, and that his position has remained steady and isn’t likely to change after further discussion. So forget about your hope of getting him away from her; whether it’s because of pressure from her, or his own take-me-take-my-wife stubbornness, he’s part of a package deal.
If you tell your father how you feel (again), you’ll just get accused of disrespect, childishness, and insensitivity. Instead of wasting your time with that argument, add up the pros and cons of seeing the two together. Ask yourself how important it is for you and the kids to see your father and how much you can mitigate the pain of your stepmother’s presence.
My guess is that occasional interaction with your father is meaningful, in spite of your stepmother’s presence, but that it’s best to avoid close or prolonged contact. If that’s the case, set up your visits so you control the duration and leave early if absolutely necessary. Then, present your plans positively and without reference to past wrongs.
Let him know your goal is to arrange the best compromise that allows you to spend quality time together while making things as easy as possible for his wife. Then, if you’re challenged about why you’re not staying longer or inviting them to stay overnight, don’t apologize or offer a long explanation. You’re the one who has to take your husband’s and kids’ schedules into account, as well as your father’s needs, and this is what works, period.
You may never get much pleasure from seeing your father, and seeing your stepmother may always make you want to throw up. You should still give yourself credit, however, for making the best of a tough situation and preserving positive family ties in spite of your father’s wicked marital decision.
“Family events always leave me feeling like I miss my father and have PTSD when I look at his wife, but I will tolerate a small dose of that pain in order to hold our family together.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname