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This question is about my 18 year-old nephew who just graduated from high school. His mother is my sister and even though our relationship has been full of drama, we’ve managed to still talk and visit throughout the years. In the past few visits we’ve had, however, she has pulled me aside privately to tell me horrible things I had allegedly said to other people about her. She said that her son is now livid with me. My sister told me point blank that if I tried to talk to him, he would be done with me. It would be over. He wouldn’t speak to me again.
My sister has a history of lying and manipulating situations to her benefit. It’s entirely possible that she could be lying that my nephew won’t talk to me again. I feel helpless. I love this boy like he is my own. At our most recent family gathering, my nephew walked in the front door and I had to hold back the tears thinking how awful this boy must think I am. I couldn’t talk. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even look at him. When he got ready to leave I gave him a side hug and told him goodbye and that I loved him.
The next morning my sister pulled me aside and asked what was wrong with me. She wanted to know why I had only given her son a side hug. She said I immediately changed when he got there. I just looked her in the eyes, got close to her, and I raised my voice and told her that my attitude had changed when she told me he was upset at me for something I never said. She responded back, “well if you had a problem with him, you could have pulled him to the side and talked to him!” Can you see why I feel crazy?
My fear is that damage has been done. She manipulates her children just as she manipulates her siblings and our mother. I don’t want to lose my relationship with him. I know that if I contact him he will immediately tell her. I just don’t know what to do to salvage this relationship. I feel like she is controlling both his and my emotions with the things that she has said.
Not only are you worried about your nephew, but I also hear that you’re not sure what to do with your relationship with your sister. You worry that attempting to repair one relationship may jeopardize the other. Let’s talk about how you can respond to both relationships.
There’s nothing wrong with making ongoing efforts to clarify and work out your relationship with your sister. In fact, I recommend continuing a dialogue with her if it can stay respectful and productive. If it becomes contentious and shuts down, then this is where you choose to protect your peace and allow for God to advocate your cause.
Chances are, you won’t get anywhere in a discussion with her, so don’t become trapped trying to convince her of your reality if she’s not willing to accept responsibility for how she’s responded to you.
Thankfully, you can have peace of mind even when you’re dealing with false accusations. Choosing not to fight back with your sister doesn’t mean you’re giving up and giving in. Instead, you’re allowing for a better outcome. As you turn to God and allow Him to be your advocate, you can focus on improving areas you can actually control. Stephen Covey clarified this point when he taught:
It takes two to fight, and if one partner does not fight back, soon the other’s angry surliness spends itself. When my wife didn’t punish me, the Lord did in His matchless way, and I ended up apologizing to my wife. For the Lord is not only our advocate with the Father; He is our advocate with all of our Father’s other children.i
Your sister is driving you crazy and contradicting herself. As a result, you will be tempted to pin her down and make her see your side of things. This is only going to lead to more exhaustion and feelings of powerlessness.
Instead, honor the limits of what you can actually accomplish with your sister and then continue to stay open to your own contributions. This doesn’t necessarily mean you stay engaged with her, but, instead, it means you keep a humble heart and work to see truth. Trust that even if you’re misunderstood, that all things will work out. There is nothing passive about this process. In fact, I believe its much more disciplined and difficult than spinning out in anxiety and drama.
You naturally want to defend and explain yourself to your sister and her son. You’ve been falsely accused and it’s understandable that you want your day in court. An acquaintance of the Prophet Joseph Smith reported on how the Prophet counseled one of the early Saints to respond to false charges. The acquaintance wrote:
I went one day to the Prophet with a sister. She had a charge to make against one of the brethren for scandal. When her complaint had been heard the Prophet asked her if she was quite sure that what the brother had said of her utterly untrue. She was quite sure that it was.
He then told her to think no more about it, for it could not harm her. If untrue it could not live, but the truth will survive. Still she felt that she should have some redress.
Then he offered her his method of dealing with such cases for himself. When an enemy had told a scandalous story about him, which had often been done, before he rendered judgment he paused and let his mind run back to the time and place and setting of the story to see if he had not by some unguarded word or act laid the block on which the story was built. If he found that he had done so, he said that in his heart he then forgave his enemy, and felt thankful that he had received warning of a weakness that he had not know he possessed.
Then he said to the sister that he would have her do the same: search her memory thoroughly and see if she had not herself unconsciously laid the foundation for the scandal that annoyed her.
The sister thought deeply for a few moments and then confessed that she believed she had. Then the Prophet told her that in her heart she could forgive that brother who had risked his own good name and her friendship to give her this clearer view of herself. The sister thanked her advisor and went away in peace.ii
I can understand how this example may be difficult to relate to your situation. I simply want you to recognize that instead of spending your time trying to defend and prove everything to your sister, it’s better to think through the accusation and see if you can find any personal accountability. This takes you from being a victim to an agent where you can do something to grow from this experience. Even if you can’t find any personal responsibility with her accusations, then worry no more about the lie, for it cannot live in the long run.
Now let’s talk about your nephew. If you want a relationship with him, then I encourage you to reach out to him as a loving and involved aunt. Remember that all of this information about his feelings toward you came from your sister, not from your nephew. Allow him to be an adult and speak up if he needs to work something out with you.
If you connect to him and he’s putting you off or responding with some irritation, then approach him with genuine curiosity about his reactions. In truth, you don’t know how he really feels about you. You have no idea until he, not his mother, tells you exactly what he needs from you. If he carries on as normal, then take it face value. There’s no need for your nephew to have a spokesperson.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.com.
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.geoffsteurer.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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
i Covey, Stephen. The Divine Center http://www.quoteboards.org/quotes/by-speaker/?speaker=Stephen%20Covey&page=2&?per_page=
ii Jesse W. Crosby, cited in Helen Mae and Hyrum Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, 162-163. (The W. Jeffrey Marsh article can be located here: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-4-number-3-2003/dealing-personal-injustices-lessons-prophet-joseph-smith)