Relationship Connection: I betrayed a family in our neighborhood and now they won’t speak to me

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Question

There is a family in my neighborhood we’ve become close to over the past two years. However, because of some mistakes that I made, this family feels that I have caused them considerable pain and suffering and a possible betrayal of their trust. Nothing sexual happened. I just gradually became infatuated with their 27-year-old daughter who looked upon me as being a substitute grandfather.

I have repeatedly asked for their forgiveness, but they won’t speak to me and pretend that I don’t exist, or they just quickly walk away. I have experienced suicidal thoughts over all the harm I have caused and the inappropriateness of some of my behavior.

As a result of these meetings, I was able to give them a letter of apology and again asked for their forgiveness. But their response is the same. I’m in my 70s, married, and my doctor has put me on a heavy medication to fight depression. I continue to carry the burden of guilt for all the pain and suffering I have caused them. Please tell me if it’s even possible to reconcile with them in this situation. I don’t know how to go about it or if we can really be friends again.

Answer

This family is sending a clear signal that they don’t want to have you in their life right now. I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s important for you to give them space and allow them to heal in their own way. Something happened that made them uncomfortable, and it was clearly enough to end the relationship. It’s difficult to accept this reality, but your healing and their healing depends on your ability to see the truth of what happened.

No one can know if you’ll ever have a relationship with them in the future. Please don’t focus on trying to predict what will happen in the future. It will only cause you more angst, anxiety and feelings of powerlessness. Instead, focus on having empathy for what this must be like for them and do everything you can to understand yourself and how you allowed this to happen.

Reconciliation doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be in a relationship with them again. In cases of serious boundary violations, reconciliation means that the truth of what happened dictates the new relationship order. In other words, everything has to match. If you crossed a line and it caused significant damage, then reconciliation means that there needs to be space between the offender and the injured party. It wouldn’t add up any other way.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t move forward with your own life and become a better man. The family will need to work their own healing in their own time and manner, but you can know that your growth doesn’t depend on how they respond. That doesn’t mean you have a right to re-enter a relationship with the family. It simply means you focus on making certain this never happens again.

You feel devastated to the point of taking your life, but that’s not going to help anyone heal. I’m glad you’re opening up about these dark thoughts so you don’t do something devastating. This family needs you to spend your energy and thoughts understanding why you did this so you don’t ever cross these lines again in the future.

Please work closely with a professional therapist and continue cooperating with your physician. Also, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 if you are feeling vulnerable and need immediate support.

See if you can learn why you became enamored with her. Talk with a professional and your wife – if she’s willing – and work to see yourself clearly so this never happens again. Yes, you made a mistake, but you can learn things about yourself that will help you see things more clearly.

This relationship went from you supporting her and her family to you taking something from her in a way that was inappropriate and harmful. Do everything you can to understand when this shift happened and why it happened.

This family is telling you what they need and you have to honor it. You can’t decrease your anxiety by taking anything more from them. They have a right to protect themselves from whatever happened that was inappropriate. Your job now is to allow them to heal and shift your focus to repairing things with your wife and yourself.

It’s difficult to accept what happened. It causes you great anguish and distress. Author Sarah Ban Breathnach described what happens to her when she accepts her circumstances, regardless of how uncomfortable they are:

Over the years I have discovered that much of my struggle to be content despite outside circumstances has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment. But I have also learned that when I surrender to the reality of a particular situation – when I don’t continue to resist, but accept – a softening in my soul occurs. Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release.

You don’t need to write more letters. You don’t need to do anything more for this family. That would only be to help you alleviate your anxiety. They’ve told you what they need from you, which is space. Your willingness to honor this family’s boundaries from a place of accountability will give you peace, as this is true reconciliation.

Stay connected!

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 his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • LunchboxHero October 24, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    “I just gradually became infatuated with their 27-year-old daughter…”

    Dude, take a hint. That is super creepy.

  • Mean Momma October 24, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Creepy old men are the WORST! Take a hint loser.

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