My sister's in a bind
August 10, 2010 2:19 PM   Subscribe

My youngest sister has been married less than a year, is ten weeks pregnant, and just left her husband. How do I help her?

She can be somewhat impulsive, working things out by taking action instead of thinking through stuff, and maybe married to keep up with her friends and her twin and now she's pregnant.

She dated this guy for a little over a year before getting married. He has two young boys from a previous marriage.

This happened less than a week ago. She told me 'I'm getting a divorce. It's been a long time coming (!) I've cried every night this week. I've told him he has to be nicer to me.'

Apparently, everything is 'her fault'.

He was in rehab for a month in February because someone at his workplace smelled alcohol on his breath. But now he's drinking one, two beers of an evening. I don't know -- are there levels of addiction?

As I am not married, and have only been in one long term relationship, I don't want to say 'do this' or 'don't do this' -- because she has enough people saying that. She lives in a very small town. News spreads like wildfire -- and now all of our siblings and her friends have told her they didn't like him. My parents, of course, aren't too happy with anyone who treats one of their daughters poorly.

And just last night she told me she's considering taking him back because he said 'if she came back he would never touch a drop of alcohol again'. I said that sounds like textbook manipulation, and that his sobriety is not yours to fix -- and it is not fair for him to hang that over your head. I said to her -- that is not a reason to take someone back. Apparently he has been calling, not knowing 'why she's doing this'.

She is a twin, whose older twin, also her best friend, is successful and in a happy marriage. She has just started dealing with some rather long term sibling rivalry issues. I'm worried about her. I'm the only one in the family, she says, who hasn't told her how crappy he is. Instead I've tried to focus on his actions, not him as a person. (Now, I think they would benefit from some time apart, so that he can get his shit together and THEN see where they are.)

Do I just listen? Offer my non-churchy city slicker advice? Or shut the heck up?

I apologize for rambling; I just want to help her in whatever way I can.
posted by operalass to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to suggest that she check out Al-Anon.
posted by elmay at 2:21 PM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

You don't get sent for rehab for a month if somebody smells alcohol on your breath, and although a beer or two a night isn't exactly healthy, I'm not sure it constitutes full-blown alcoholism.
posted by schmod at 2:28 PM on August 10, 2010

If the amount of drinking is one or two beers a night, that is not in itself a great deal of alcohol. Of course, there could be lots more that you don't know about. In any event, I would not assume that alcohol is the only problem, and that if the husband agrees to stop drinking, all is well. People like to look for simple solutions, but often the problems are actually complex. In this case I would say that if both of them would like to salvage their marriage they should see a marriage counselor. If they do not want to bother doing that, then the marriage is over and they must move on.
posted by grizzled at 2:32 PM on August 10, 2010

My youngest sister has been married less than a year, is ten weeks pregnant, and just left her husband. How do I help her?

Refer her to the nearest Planned Parenthood. I'm dead serious about this. Working all this out before they have a child together is essential.
posted by ripley_ at 2:34 PM on August 10, 2010 [12 favorites]

Please don't tell her to have an abortion. That is a cruel thing to do (and unforgiveable) for someone eagerly anticipating a child. If she wants one, be a good listener and be supportive.

Think you are on the right track re: husband; just urge her to take her time. There is no urgency for her to make any decisions re: her marriage.
posted by zia at 2:39 PM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I second al-anon here. And as someone who is commitedly pro-choice, I'd say that sending her to planned parenthood is only a good idea if you send her there looking for counseling, prenatal care, and help finding a support group. There are many great parents who make a go of it on their own.
It sounds like she has the support of your family, and her friends. Support that you can offer boils down to material stuff- groceries, diapers, maybe the occasional afternoon of babysitting. Do you live in the city? Maybe she could use a week or two away from the gossip and judgment of your small town.
posted by pickypicky at 2:52 PM on August 10, 2010

Best answer: I've told him he has to be nicer to me.

This is a red flag. If she's leaving because he's not "nicer to her," what does this guy do to her? Most domestic abuse starts small and escalates.

So yeah, listen first and foremost. But don't just nod as she talks. Help her focus on behaviors. Help her to process what is acceptable to her and what is not. Get her to Al-anon. Have her insist on AA for him. Those old alcoholics can cut through denial bullshit like a laser.

Help her decide her terms in actual verifiable behavior, not promises. Maybe it's an "I'll stay married to you as long as you go to meetings and have sponsor" thing. And maybe its a different set of behavior for actually moving back in with him.

Also, help her process her alternatives. Help her think through life without him. If she can show him she's made plans and has thought through how to move forward without him, her "bottom line" with her will have more weight.

And find ways help her take care of her baby and evaluate *all* her options there. Adoption is a great alternative if she doesn't have the resources or ability to raise teh child by herself. No need to ruin another life and increase the tragedy if tragedy cannot be averted.
posted by cross_impact at 2:57 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

One or two beers every evening is a pattern. A pattern isn't necessarily an addiction. And, even if it is an addiction, it may not be that unhealthy.

Or, it may be.

Maybe in addition to those one or two beers every evening, he is drinking when he is not around her.

We don't know.

But it seems rather a stretch to conclude that one or two beers every evening indicates alcoholism. That said, it is true that some people are more susceptible to alcoholism than others, and he may eventually become a full blown alcoholic. Again, none of us here can answer that part of your question.
posted by dfriedman at 3:00 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please don't tell her to have an abortion

Also don't tell her not to. It's not OP's place to tell her what to do. If OP wants to help Sister identify and evaluate the options available, that's one of them. That is only one of many.

someone eagerly anticipating a child.

I did not see this stated in the question.

There is no urgency for her to make any decisions re: her marriage.

Like hell there isn't, with two weeks left in the first trimester.
posted by fritley at 3:15 PM on August 10, 2010 [17 favorites]

"'if she came back he would never touch a drop of alcohol again'."

This is classic alcoholic behaviour. And in my experience no alcoholic quits or curbs their drinking for anything but themselves. Accepting him back under these terms gives him a stick for leverage (and an excuse every time he falls off the wagon) for the rest of their relationship. IE: he can threaten to leave every time something isn't going his way and rationalize it with "She drove me to drinking and that means I've got to leave". It would be different if the latest troubles were unique but by her admission the latest troubles are merely the proverbial straw.

And while their are plenty of single parents who do just fine the vast majority of kids born into single parent families are at a disadvantage from day one and many never get over it. Especially when the other parent is an alcoholic having trouble keeping a paycheck coming in. Though if your sister is in Canada at least she and her child will have access to decent healthcare. Your sister should at least be considering abortion. After all she probably would not try to conceive today if given the choice given her relationship situation; an abortion is a way of reverting to what would be best now rather than two months ago.
posted by Mitheral at 3:55 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't see where in your narrative she asks for your help.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:01 PM on August 10, 2010

When I started to read this I was wondering if we were related because one of my younger sister is pregnant and going through a divorce. She is 18.

When my sister came to me to tell me that she was getting a divorce from her husband who was in Iraq, I just listened. she had only been married since September 2009. (Too long of a story as to why they got married and then are now divorcing)
Everyone was telling her that she was "fucking up" her life. The only thing I said to her is that I love her, am here for her, and if this is what she wants to do then I support her in her decision. About a month later she came to me again to tell me she was pregnant (with another guy's baby). Again, everyone was telling her that she was fucking up her life. I just told her again, that I love her, am here for her, and if this is what she wants to do then I support her.

So, that is my advice. Be there for her. Listen to her. Tell her that you love her. She is an adult and has to make decisions for herself and deal with the consequences. Life is a lesson.

Good Luck!
posted by zombiehoohaa at 4:10 PM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. Unfortunately, there is not the remotest possibility that she would ever consider termination, as she and most of my family members are not pro-choice. I cannot even broach that subject.

schmod: He was sent to rehab for a month as he works at a fairly dangerous job, and the only way to not be suspended was to agree to the rehab.

ethnomethodologist: She didn't have to -- she's my sister.
posted by operalass at 4:29 PM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

If she's going to have the baby, the first priority should be the health and well-being of the baby and mother. Has she a doctor? If not, she needs to see one ASAP and start with prenatal care. If she doesn't have a job and is broke, she can get on WIC and food stamps.

Does she need a place to stay? Help with a down-payment on a rental? If she does decide to get a divorce, she'll need a lawyer.

The best thing you can do now is to be a good listener and be supportive of her, and don't tell her what to do aside from making sure she gets good prenatal care and prepares for the arrival of her baby. Be there for her. Listen to her, offer practical help. Try not to badmouth her (ex) husband; he will be the baby's father for life, and if Sister does reconcile with him, past badmouthing of husband might put a wedge between you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:35 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure she has a safe place to stay and find out what is really going on. "He needs to be nicer to me" is all well and good, but what is she really saying? She may be impulsive, but pregnant women don't usually leave their husbands unless there's a reason. Find out what that is before deciding anything further.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:55 PM on August 10, 2010

get her to a lawyer. there are free referral services, women's legal centers, etc. if you memail me with your location, i can hook you up. i'm not saying that she should start any legal action with this guy, but a decent lawyer will tell her what she should be doing now to protect herself and her baby in the future if the situation turns out less than ideal.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:59 PM on August 10, 2010

Best answer: Look, she's young, and while I may be reading a lot into things, she sounds like someone who maybe didn't walk into marriage equipped with the best communication or conflict resolution skills. Learning to ask for what you want in a way that is clear and that your partner can understand and act on is a skill all it's own, and a really really important one in a good long term relationship.

Just as an example, "he needs to be nicer to me" could mean he needs to stop yelling at her, he needs to spend more time at home with her, he needs to make time to go out more with her, he needs to give her a break with this pregnancy, or anything at all. Does she know? Do you know? Does he even know?

The fact is they're newly married, she's pregnant, and barring actual abuse, they are likely to get back together. Practically, the very best thing you can do is urge her to make marriage counselling the condition on which she considers reconciliation, not not drinking. Let the counsellor help them sort out healthy boundaries and help them with their conflict skills. That's not your job, plus God knows having a baby will only make this marriage more stressful and they can probably really use the professional help before it gets here.

Functionally, your job is to be on her side, whatever that looks like in a given moment. Spend a lot of time asking her "What do you want to do?" and going through all the endless permutations of those choices while she works this out in her own mind. Help her keep her (marital) options open by cheerleading for her and telling her she'd be a great single mom if she needs to on Tuesday, and that a two-parent family is optimal when it's a happy home on Wednesday.

Obviously, I'm assuming that you're confident she's not being abused, and that her basic immediate needs for housing, healthcare and legal advice are covered by your local family and resources. If they're not, being a being a good and emotionally supportive sister takes a back seat to helping her meet those urgent practical needs.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:36 PM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

You don't get sent for rehab for a month if somebody smells alcohol on your breath, and although a beer or two a night isn't exactly healthy, I'm not sure it constitutes full-blown alcoholism.

This employment lawyer begs to differ on that. I've seen crap like that all of the time.

therapy for all.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:51 AM on August 11, 2010

Way late to the party:
Even if she has no plans to consider termination, Planned Parenthood or something like it is a good stop. Their goal is not termination, but rather responsible family planning. This includes connecting people like her with good resources to help her be a good parent (pre-parent?) in a difficult time.

Also seconding those who say just tell her you love her and asking if she needs anything. One of my friends from high school married The Guy Everyone Hated and they keep reminding her; has really driven her away from an otherwise really loving family.
posted by whatzit at 11:54 AM on August 15, 2010

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
My brother-in-law eventually followed through on rehab and has been sober for two and a half years. He got a promotion at work and is now an instructor in his field. He and my sister now have a four-year old boy and a one-year old girl (both delightful and adorable), and are presently content and busy in their home near my parents' farm.

Sometimes it works out.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:38 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

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