Life Advice


Health & Spirit

Supporting niece through abusive relationship

Carolyn Hax on

Dear Carolyn:

My accomplished adult niece, 43, has been having an affair with a married man for several years. He is an abusive alcoholic, according to my nephew. Since their mom, my sister, died, I have tried to be as supportive as possible to both of them. The affair is not a secret; she has brought him to family events and supposedly his wife knows.

At one point, she assured me he would get a divorce once his daughter had graduated; that date has long passed. I've only told her I loved her enormously and wanted her to be cherished and to come first in her partner's life. She says she has no interest in marriage. I would like to say more but I do not want to cause a rift; I think my larger role is to keep us all connected. Her father is older, preoccupied and not judgmental. Several of her girlfriends have broken off with her.

This issue came to a head when her brother did not want to invite her lover to his wedding because he had been offensive. My niece said he had stopped drinking and asked that he be included, so the couple relented. Seating was arranged. He was a no-show with no explanation. My nephew asked me not to include his sister in a follow-up family gathering I was hosting so she would not bring him; I drastically reduced the numbers to make it just the bride's parents, but it was awkward to exclude my niece.

Is there anything I can do? These are all adults making choices with consequences, now including a sibling rift.

-- What Would My Sister Do?

Oh, such a loaded signature.

I'm sorry for your loss, and sorry you feel you have to carry the weight for you and your niece and your late sister.

Your sister may well have been just as worried, stymied and dismayed as you are now. That is how almost everyone feels in the role of forced bystander to a catastrophic relationship.

What might help, in its way, is that several realities here serve to shorten your list of options.


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