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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Divorce and the Little Brother

Dear Bro Jo,

So let me give you some background information first.

For my entire life, I have looked up to my oldest sister, "Jessica". She was very athletic, spiritual, and always level-headed and gave the best advice. She was called to serve a mission to South America, but ended up serving in Southern California while waiting for her visa. (She really didn't need much training as she was well-prepared and already spoke Spanish.) Then she served about a year in South America, but came home sick. They tried to release her, but she wanted to serve 18 months of actual service, so they sent her to (location withheld).

After her mission, she got married in the temple and started her education. She and her husband eventually moved to Provo so she could attend BYU. They had two kids, and she has been the sibling I respected the most.

A few months ago, I went over to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner, and I knew something was wrong. My mom eventually pulled me aside and told me Jessica was leaving her husband, "Roger".

From what I had heard, she never could give a direct answer as to why she was leaving him, but both of my parents had to spirit tell them there was another guy. She of course denied it, but she then re-married less than a month after the divorce finalized.

This has been hellish to go through. I love my sister dearly, but I can't support her in this. I love her, and It's tearing me up to think of everything she's done and is doing. It's also killing me to see our family start getting torn apart.

The siblings who are active in the Church are against her choice; the siblings who are not active are apathetic to her choices, and are blaming us and our parents for not being behind her, and "driving her away" in one brothers words. This is been hard to deal with, and I'm not really sure how to forgive her. I love her, but my feelings about her are tainted.

This is also making me scared to get married and have kids. My oldest brother noticed that she is showing a lot of symptoms of postpartum depression, and thinks her judgment is being clouded.

This has been made harder by the fact that my Bishop is my dad, and I don't feel comfortable talking this with him.

How do I forgive my sister, and have a friendship with her again?

How do I move past this fear of marriage fear?

I want to be married, how do I get over the fear?

- Torn Brother

Dear Brother,

Divorce is hard on everyone, not just the couple involved. (It's not all about you, you know.)

Those of us on the outside though need to remember that there's always private personal stuff that we don't know; when a couple isn't working things out together, it's not likely that anyone else knows all the details, either.

And, as in so many things, there are always two sides. Rarely in any argument, and almost never in a divorce, is only one party at fault. 

I don't think it’s your place, right, responsibility or privilege to "forgive" your sister. You clearly don't know the whole story, probably never will, and frankly it doesn't matter. Even if her motivations for her actions are entirely selfish and unholy, then her actions are between her, her kids, her ex-husband, and most importantly, her God.

I know you love and look up to her, I understand that you’re hurt, scared and disappointed, but her actions really have nothing to do with you. 

That said, I think as her brother you have a right to tell her how you feel. The only good way to have those conversations, by the way, is to never use the word "you".

Tell her "I'm having a tough time", "I'm freaked out and worried about making marriage mistakes"; don't say "what you're doing bothers me", say "the situation bothers me".

The difference in the words you choose will keep her from feeling defensive, allow you to express how you feel, and help you both to rebuild the bridge between you.

Good luck.

It will be a difficult conversation.

But when the time is right . . .

Believe it or not, I grew up pretty scared to get married, too. Of the 21 cousins, I'm number 19. All of the 18 that are older than me, 16 got married before I did, and of those 16 marriages, fourteen of them failed. Not a very good family track record by any standards.

But at some point Brother, we've got to realize that the failures of others is not a roadblock to our success; we make our own destiny, if you will.

There are no guarantees in marriage, or in life, but we learn from the mistakes of others as best we can and push forward because we realize that the rewards are worth the risks. There are certain things in life for which nothing can prepare you; you'll have to live through them to understand them. Marriage. Children. And I can now add "your children growing up and moving out" to the list.

Your sister is still your sister. She's still a good person; she's just making some dumb and hurtful decisions right now; but she needs your love, not your judgment. Heck, for all we know, her decisions aren't as dumb as we may think they are. Isn't it very likely that she's feeling hurt, frustrated, and betrayed?

Consider: even the most irrational of behavior makes sense to the person doing it at the time.

If any of the siblings want to meddle or take a side, that’s their problem, regardless of which side they take. Sure, they're entitled to their opinions, and in a family those opinions are going to get expressed. And some of the opinions are going to be wrong.

Some of them are going to be based on the things that make the holders of those opinions comfortable with their own shortcomings.

As difficult as it may be, unless you're talking directly to your sister, the bet thing to do may be to keep quite about all of this. Let some time pass and some healing happen. And show her as much love as you can. 

Remember, we can't argue anyone into repentance.

- Bro Jo

Dear Bro Jo,


I just feel so hurt by the way it has divided my family.

"Roger" is still, and always will be my brother as far as I am concerned; plus, he is still the father of my niece and nephew. I don't want him gone from my life, but "Jessica" is making it so that we have to choose. 

Thanksgiving last year, we had my grandmother, my parents, all of my siblings, all their spouses, and all of my nieces and nephews. It was the happiest Thanksgiving I've ever had. This year, though, there was only my parents, my grandma, and my oldest brother. It felt more like a Sunday dinner than a holiday.

More specifically about my marriage fear, it just begin scared of the fact that no matter what I do, my life could be completely turned upside-down by the choices of my wife.

That scares me.

It had always been in the back of my mind, but now I can't stop thinking about it.

Part of the problem I'm having is that my sister won't talk to me directly. I tried her cell phone, email and Facebook. None of them worked.

- Torn Brother

Dear Brother,

I think the "making you choose" thing is really a matter of attitude and perspective.

Jessica can't "make you" chose between her and Roger; all she can do is utter some unrealistic and selfish ultimatum and then remove herself from your life when she doesn't get her way.

(See the difference?)

Petty, childish and selfish, but then that fits with her current pattern of behavior, doesn't it?

Family dynamics change. Learning to roll with that is part of being a family.

I have some news for you about marriage: your life will be completely turned upside-down by the choices of your wife . . . and your children.

It’s scary.

And often wonderful.

There's not too much you can do about it.

If that freaks you out, let me tell you that I think it’s even scarier to realize that their lives will be changed forever by the decisions YOU make.

We're all connected. 

Jessica is choosing not to talk to you right now because of the decisions she's making. You can't force her to talk to you. It stinks, but then . . . well . . . see the comments above about being selfish.

Give her time. I'm sorry for your pain; I have no idea how to take it away; but I can assure you time will help.

And if you can find a way to be open to her when she's finally ready to talk, that will go a long way toward making things better.

One last thing:  I think this is one of those things that you should be talking to your dad about As Your Dad, not your Bishop.  Either way . . . you should talk to the man.

- Bro Jo


Anonymous said...

This post makes me feel a little better about my own situation - I'm in my late 20s and was Sealed in the Temple to my husband just over 5 months ago, but I feel like I have negative divorced influences all around me - my husband's parents divorces shortly before we met, (holidays on his side are mostly bitter events that have to be shared between two parents who live in the same town, leaving one to be alone half of the day), and my boss (whose house I work at) has been going through a nasty, bitter divorce the last year, and constantly tells me about how no marriage is meant to last, and how nobody is happy in marriage. To add to that, my own father passed away in 2007, and while my parents were in a very happy, loving eternal marriage, I no longer have their example as presently available to look at and learn from - only the memories of them together when I was in High school before I attended BYU-Idaho and Served a mission.

I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my and my husband's future together - if we'll last, if he'll get bored with me, or if I'll somehow pull the plug on the relationship one day... But all you can do is take each day one at a time. There's no use worrying too much about 10 years from now - only to make sure I'm doing the things TODAY that will connect he and I every day, staying close to the Spirit, remembering the reasons we fell in love and decided to get married, and making sure he is happy and comfortable (while he does the same for me).

BananaSplit said...

@ Anonymous, I've had the same worries and wondered if I could get married. Your post gave me a lot of hope and optimism. Thanks :)