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I play the violin, and my boyfriend plays piano. We were supposed to play at my sister’s wedding, but two weeks before the event, I went running in the park, fell, and fractured my arm. I was near my sister’s house at the time and called to ask her to take me to the ER. She was very upset and concerned about how this would affect the wedding. She scolded me for being so careless. I was in a lot of pain and started crying.
Later, when my boyfriend got home, I told him what happened, and he got really angry with my sister. I begged him to let it go. The next day, my sister texted me that I needed to find and pay for another violinist, since her budget was blown and this was my fault. I cried again. When my boyfriend found out, he swore, called my sister, and quit on the spot. I begged him not to, but he told me he wasn’t going to stand by and let her treat me like trash. My sister blew up. We were disinvited from the wedding, although I ended up going with my parents and sitting in the back. They had to use a phone and speaker for the music. I didn’t stay for the reception. When my sister got back from her honeymoon, she sent me an apology text, but she also wants one from my boyfriend for leaving her “high and dry.” My boyfriend refuses. He tells me he will be polite to her face as long as she doesn’t provoke him. I just want this to be over. I know my sister is in the wrong, but can’t my boyfriend just say he is sorry? I feel so stuck.
I’m so sorry about your arm and the way your sister treated you for having an accident. I can appreciate how additionally painful it must feel to be in the middle of an angry boyfriend and an angry sister when all you want is peace. But just because they’re both angry doesn’t mean they’re both equally culpable or stubborn. Your boyfriend is upset because he loves you and saw you driven to tears more than once by your sister’s cruelty and unreasonable expectations. He saw her blame you for an accident that could have happened to anyone, then ask you for money for fracturing your own arm. Your sister is upset because she had to use an aux cord for her wedding. Your boyfriend’s anger is reasonable, protective, and loving. Your sister’s anger is unreasonable, selfish, and ungenerous. It sounds like your sister has a history of acting this way and that you’ve made your peace with it by giving in to her whenever she digs her heels in, because you don’t believe she’ll ever change. But you shouldn’t ask your boyfriend to apologize for standing up for you just because your sister is habitually unreasonable.
I think you should start by refusing to have any more conversations about this over text. Disinviting your own sister from your wedding because she fractured her arm is a capricious, heartless thing to do, and sending an “I’m sorry” text a few weeks after the fact does little to mend the damage she caused. I don’t think this will be “over” if your boyfriend were to apologize to her. It would likely encourage her worst impulses, and she’d continue to abuse and take advantage of you both as much as possible. I wish I could promise you that if you’re honest and compassionate with your sister—if you explain to your sister in person just how much she hurt you, how hard it was to be in both physical pain from an accident you couldn’t possibly have foreseen and then disinvited from her wedding—she’d apologize on the spot and commit to a new way of living. But if any kind of meaningful change is possible on her part, and meaningful reconciliation achievable for the two of you, she needs to be able to acknowledge that it’s wrong to try to punish people for getting hurt in accidents and commit to treating you with basic kindness and respect.
I caught my wife in a lie about where she’d been, and she confessed she was having an affair with our neighbor. It was like drowning: I couldn’t breathe, and everything looked hazy. I went upstairs and started to pack a bag. My wife sobbed and begged me to talk to her. She tried to stop me from leaving and I pushed her away so hard she fell into the side table and broke a lamp. I drove to a motel and then called my neighbor, his wife, my family, and my in-laws. I left messages detailing my wife’s affair and that I was getting a divorce. I then posted the news on my social media feed. Then I called a lawyer.
Six months later, the divorce is final, and it feels like I am finally waking up. My ex fled back to her parents, my neighbor’s wife took their kids and left, and both houses have new people in them now. Almost everyone I have talked to is on my side and comfortably refer to my ex-wife as that “whore” in my presence. I have been told that I did nothing wrong, and I was borderline righteous in my wrath. I don’t know—I look back, and my immediate reaction was to cause as much wreckage as I could to the people who hurt me in the most efficient way possible. I never thought I had that capacity to inflict pain until my wife confessed her adultery to me. I wanted to make sure she could never show her face in town again. Is there something wrong with me?
—Finally Waking Up
I am not interested in the question ”Is there something wrong with me?” It’s designed to make sure you’re off the hook. Instead, ask yourself these questions: Did I have other options when my wife was trying to keep me from leaving the house or when I made those calls and social media posts? Did I respond with force because I needed to break free of her, or did I shove her out of the way because I wanted to hurt her? How would I react if I had to repeat the situation? Was it important to call my in-laws with that news? Do I stand by my decision to ask my friends to refer to my ex-wife as a “whore” in perpetuity? Were my actions over the last six months reasonable, compassionate, possessed of dignity, defensible—would I advise someone else to behave in a similar manner if they asked my advice? I don’t know how exactly your ex was trying to hold you back in the moment of her confession, whether she was simply asking you not to leave or if she used force, if you believed yourself to be in physical danger, if you simply misjudged how hard you had to struggle to break her grip—only you can answer that question. But it is possible that she both did something wrong and that you decided to give in to feelings of vindictiveness, spite, and cruelty, not only the day you learned of her affair but for many days afterward.
It’s worth spending some time with a therapist trying to imagine what healing might look like for you. What do you want for your future aside from hurting your ex-wife? How do you want to react to bad news in the future? How do you want to acknowledge and own your anger and resentment such that you don’t let it surprise and overwhelm you until you nearly black out with rage? I think part of the reason you feel conflicted right now is because you know your friends aren’t really invested in making sure you continue to develop integrity and restraint. You know they want to make sure they think you’re good, your ex is bad, and people who cheat deserve to have their lives ruined. But, as you’ve discovered, following that path hasn’t brought you much peace or self-forgiveness or even self-respect. You could still have gotten your divorce, openly communicated your pain and anger, asked for support, and been honest with your neighbors without committing yourself to total war. You wanted to make sure that your ex-wife could never show her face in your small town again, and it sounds like you got what you wanted. What else do you want for your life? If it’s just to keep punishing your ex-wife until you feel better, I’m afraid you’re going to continue to feel dissatisfied, vaguely guilty, and embittered until you can come up with a better goal.
More Advice From Care and Feeding
My husband and I frequently disagree about treating our daughter’s various childhood ailments. He immediately rushes to our pediatrician for antibiotics and sees nothing wrong with daily over-the-counter allergy medicine as a preventative, even when she’s not symptomatic. I tend toward a wait-and-see approach with minimal medical intervention. While I am not into the essential oil craze of my peers, I prefer healthy foods, saline nose sprays, teas, and other methods of easing common ear/nose/throat symptoms, with a doctor called in only for severe or prolonged symptoms. The kicker is that my husband is the stay-at-home parent and usually makes the medical decisions. I would prefer our daughter not become antibiotic-resistant because of overuse. How can we resolve our different approaches to our child’s health?
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