I’m getting ready to go to a family reunion across the country and I just learned that my 38-year-old sister told my wife that she was sexually molested by our father when she was younger. I haven’t talked to her yet, but my wife told me that she wants to tell me and possibly have me say something to our father about it. This is stressing me out because I have no idea what to believe or how to handle this.
I’m the oldest child, so I feel like there is pressure on me to say something, but my sister isn’t the most trustworthy person in the world so it’s hard to know what to believe.
This is such a mess and I have no idea if I even want to go anymore. What do I do?
First of all, you’ve got to quit playing “telephone” with your wife and sister. Even though your wife is most likely a reliable source of information, you’re getting this information secondhand. It’s not the same as talking to your sister directly.
Second, you have no responsibility to do anything at this point other than simply care about your sister and her pain. Listen to her and give her your full attention, regardless of how trustworthy she is with her stories.
If you hear her story and feel she is telling you the truth about the abuse from your father, it doesn’t mean you have to automatically step in as the superhero and rescue her from danger. She’s not in danger. She’s an adult who doesn’t live with your parents anymore and can protect herself from your father. What she needs now is emotional support to figure out what her next move is.
You stepping in to get in-between her and your father will only complicate things. Feelings of outrage, disbelief, and confusion are all normal reactions when learning about something this painful. However, this is something she has to take care of so she can get both her power and her voice back. If you take that opportunity from her, she will see herself as a helpless victim.
Abuse survivors simply need someone to hear them, believe them, and give them a voice. She has important decisions to make about how to handle her relationship with your father. Does she confront him directly? Does she write him a letter? Does she attend family gatherings? She’ll make better decisions with the loving support of a brother and others who want her to heal.
If you feel caught in the middle between her and your father, then you’ll have to decide how you’ll handle your relationship with him. There are no easy answers for how to handle this, especially if you believe her story. If your father really abused your sister, it might require you to speak with him on your own behalf to find out if he’s safe for your children to be around. This is where working specifically with a counselor or a minister can help you break things down so you can figure out how to proceed.
Depending on how your father responds to your sister, it may permanently change the nature of your relationship with your father. If he did do this, he can either deny it or work on repairing the trust he destroyed in his children. Your job, however, is to love and support your sister and your own family so the effects of that abuse don’t destroy the next generation.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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