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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Free Advice About A Sister Who Chooses Poorly

Kim writes:

Dear Dr. Kulic,

My sister, who I am not very close with, is getting married in September and I am her Maid of Honor. The problem is that her fiance is an alcoholic and this has a terrible effect on their relationship. He has been this way since they met. I don't believe the two of them are right for one another right now. If he cleans himself up, then perhaps they could have a loving future together. As of right now, they fight constantly over everything. How can I get my sister to reevaluate her decision of marrying this man? Please help. I do not want to offend her (as her and I dont have that strong of a relationship to start from), but I dont want to see her regret this in the near future.

Dr. Kulic's Response:

Well Kim, you are in one of the most unfortunate postions a person can be in in terms of family or friends. Many of us have gone through a situation where a friend or loved one seems to choose someone who is probably not that great a match. There can be many reasons why people choose to pair up with someone who might be detrimental to their life or their other relationships, but it is rare when someone is able to intervene and help that person make a meaningful change in their life. You usually have to ask yourself a couple of questions, such as "what is my sister getting out of this relationship, and why does she stay in it?" I recently read an article about research being done by John Farra at Central Michigan University that lists six possible reasons why women in particular choose poorly in relationships, and these are:

1. Low Self-Concept or Self-Esteem
2. The Need to Nurture
3. Excitement
4. The Need to be Nurtured
5. Wanting to Control
6. Chemistry

Now these six apply more specifically to why women choose "bad boys", but could probably apply more generally to why people make their choices in relationships in general. Once people better understand the motivations behind their relationship choices, they can often more readily act in a more healthy manner in the relationship. Of course, the biggest issue here is whether your sister sees her future husband's alcoholism as a problem, or if she even defines it as such. The question I would have more specifically for you is how are you defining the term alcoholic? And is that the only issue in the relationship, or are there others (I'll bet there are).

Now, for the free advice: you know, people typically say in this situation that you shouldn't say anything about it, just keep your motuh shut and let her do what she wants to do, you'll only alienate her in the long run. I don't subscribe to that particular strand of thought, because it simply eliminates your responsibility to voice your opinion about things in the interests of "it's none of my business". If this is your sister and even though you're not close, you still care about her and her future, then make a date with her to sit down and gently ask her about the relationship and share your concerns with her. Yes, she might get upset with you, but you have to think about whether you'll feel better having said something or not. Most likely she will not change her course of action significantly based on your opinion, but at least you will have voiced your concerns in a caring manner and she can do whatever she wants with this information. If this person is really a bad choice for her and enough people to talk with her about it, it's possible at least to get her to look more closely at the relationship before committing "permanently" to it (I put permanent in quotation marks because of the US' 50% divorce rate!). Once you voice your opinion to her, you can also tell her that you will support her choice no matter what she decides to do, but you wanted to be clear that you love her and want her to know you care. Again, be prepared for possible fallout, but at least you tried. Hope that helps, Kim!

-Dr. Kulic

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