My sister married a guy in the military and they have lived in multiple countries over the past ten years they’ve been married. He’s a great guy and they seem to have a good marriage. There are four of us sisters and we’ve been very close all of our lives. I’m writing for help because it seems like every year she becomes more distant from all of us sisters, more snappy in her responses via text or social media, and more withdrawn when we’re all together. I don’t know if it’s all of the moving she’s done, the fact that her husband is focused on his career and isn’t around much, or if there are problems in her life that she won’t share with us. I’m the only sister who wants to bring this up to her, but the others have discouraged it and say I’m being nosy or overreacting, even though they’ve all noticed it as well. I am worried about her, but I don’t want to make things worse. Any suggestions?
I don’t know what kind of closeness you’ve had with your sisters over the years, but I would hope it could allow for you to bring up what you just described to me. I worry that the three sisters talking about the fourth sister will do more harm to this relationship than you reaching out to her to see how she’s doing.
I can tell you want to be careful and respectful so you don’t make things worse. However, I think you’re underreacting by not bringing up something that has concerned you for years. Your sister may be in distress and could really use the loving support from her team of sisters who really care about her.
You’re right that it could be loneliness, depression, marriage issues, or something else. Your job isn’t to guess and do some type of long-distance diagnosing. Instead, get as close as you can to her to tell her what you see and what concerns you. You may find there is nothing there that is personal or serious. She may be unaware of how she’s coming across. Or, it could be a lifeline to her in a serious time of need.
Also, remember to be open to the fact that she may be withdrawing from your family because she wants to pull away from the family. She may have specific issues with individuals or the group that need to be discussed. Let her know you’re willing and open to hear her concerns, even if they’re about you.
Moving around to new countries and cultures every few years can take its toll on even the most adventurous soul. See if she is willing to share with you what her experiences have been like, focus on asking good questions about her situation, and do your best to be a good listener. This is a time to show her how important she is to you by making a consistent and sincere effort to understand what she needs. Don’t hang back and keep discussing it with your sisters.
I encourage you to do as much talking by phone or webcam as possible. Texting and emails are a horrible way to communicate delicate emotions. You might even plan a trip out to see her for a week and spend time talking heart to heart about your relationship. You’ll accomplish more in that week than you could by spending months and years sending emails and text messages. However you decide to reach out to her, make it clear how important she is to you and stay consistent, even if she doesn’t seem to respond well at first.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.