(Or, How I Learned Not to Meddle With the Affairs of Others)
Someone is incredibly angry with another party, and you are caught in the middle. You may not know the entire picture, but you've seen enough to conclude that the Angry Person is letting his emotions get the best of him, even if he occasionally raises some good points. You have tried reasoning with Angry Person but he just dishes out comeback after comeback. You are exhausted with the drama and it seems like Angry Person has just begun gaining momentum. What do you do when reason fails?
posted by bigasthesky to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My SO's sibling has been having issues with his parents and, more recently, my SO himself (though SO seems oblivious, for the most part). One day I stupidly allowed myself to be swept away from the sidelines as a casual observer when the sibling sent me a text message because he "wanted to know my thoughts" on a specific issue. Without thinking, I enthusiastically said yes because I thought, "Hey, this guy looks like he needs someone to talk to. I've been in this situation before, and I would have loved someone to hear me out and give me advice as well."
Oh, boy. Big mistake.
1. Sibling seems to be caught in an episode of belated teenage angst (he is in his early 20s) provoked by a recent issue but fortified by years of unaired grievances. From what I've seen, a lot of his anger stems from his having a girlfriend whom the family does not entirely accept even though they've been together for (I think) three years. He also finds the parents to be controlling, manipulative, and close-minded (yeah, yeah, bet you haven't seen that before). Honestly, I don't think I've interacted with the family, especially the parents, enough yet to know how much weight I should give his claims. His emotions are genuine, but they also cloud his judgment. This past day he has been sending rant after rant, and frankly, they are getting pettier and pettier. I am finding it increasingly difficult to sympathize with him, and my responses are becoming more and more curt.
I am afraid to simply tell him to cut it because I don't want to alienate him. What if he really needs someone to talk to? I don't want to be the one who pushes him away. At the same time I want him to peel back the veil of emotion and confront reality, but so far it seems like my words are too "soft"; he's either not getting it or just willingly ignoring what I have to say. Which brings me to the question: Is there any point in continuing to talk to him and reason with him anyway?
2. I am also finding it increasingly difficult to defend my SO's parents since we've had limited interaction — I can't really say, "Oh, no. They're good parents because X, Y, and Z," because I'd have to see for myself first. At the same time I know that the sibling's anecdotes and complaints cannot be 100% accurate because he is nothing if not biased at the moment. I am losing my mind trying to think of how to not take sides, or to take sides (depending on who I think is right for the particular instance) without getting caught in the middle, since what I say has a good chance of eventually reaching the parents' ears. So, how do I stay on the safe side in such delicate situations? Is it okay if I just say what I truly believe is right, regardless of whose side it is, or will I have to tone down what I say sometimes, especially knowing that the parents are indeed the opinionated, imposing type?
3. Because the sibling is airing out the family's dirty laundry, I am finding that I am becoming more and more acquainted with their ugly side much faster than I am comfortable with. I don't expect them to be saints, but the sibling's diatribes have painted a very nasty picture of the family — so much so that I am beginning to rethink whether it is a family I would really want to enter into. Seriously, this guy has thrown me for a loop. Here I thought that talking to him might help resolve his issues, but now he is creating new ones for me!
And it's not just the issue of SO's parents. By association, the sibling feels a lot of resentment towards SO too, which he has been airing out to me. He seems to have lost respect for his older brother (my SO) as well. At first I could still tolerate his personal attacks against SO because these were traits that I myself have observed in the past. But today he said something that deeply concerns me — supposedly SO has told his family that I am amenable to X arrangement in the future when, in past conversations, I've only went so far as to say I am okay with Y. (X takes Y a step further/demands more on my part but is not entirely contradictory, so I could see how it is possible that SO said Y but the sibling understood X. But at the back of my mind, I'm also entertaining the idea that maybe SO really said X after all when all we had agreed on was Y.) I have been resisting the temptation to confront SO about this all day because a) his sibling isn't a reliable, objective voice at the moment, and b) somehow it feels like a breach of trust to his sibling if I go around telling my SO every little thing that he supposedly tells me in confidence.
How bad is it to spill the beans on SO's sibling? So far I haven't yet, but refraining from it is becoming increasingly challenging, as I feel the need to discuss some of these issues with SO, especially the ones that concern him. I did tell the sibling that he can talk to me as a friend/older sister and not as his brother's girlfriend, but if I had to choose between the two, should I pledge loyalty to SO or his brother?
TLDR, please read above questions in bold. Looking forward to reading some of the hive mind's wisdom!