Keeping relationship with my dad, minus one of his kids?
March 11, 2014 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I think my half-sister has some sort of personality disorder, and I want to limit her involvement in my life going forward. But I still want to have a relationship with our mutual father...

I have a long history with my half-sister (who is 26) of trying to be friends with her, having a good single outing, then having something go wrong shortly after that where she cuts me out of her life. One time, she did not talk to me at all for three years because I forgot a family member's birthday (not hers) and she took up the cause.

The most recent was a lunch we had yesterday where she spent about two hours ranting about an aunt that we never see, intermixed with off-hand questions such as 'so, when you were a kid, do you remember your mom ever trying to poison your mind against Dad or anything like that?'

I was speaking with a family friend who happens to be a therapist (not of that type, and he has never met her, but still) and he said something about how people with 'personality disorders' can be difficult to really work with about stuff like this. I looked it up on Wikipedia and she has many of the hallmark features of borderline personality: a history of self-harming, a pattern of idealizing then devaluing others (me, the aunt, etc), paranoid thoughts when stressed, history of quitting jobs and being unsure of goal and direction etc.

Meanwhile, I am ten years older than she is and recently engaged. My fiance has a small child from a previous marriage, and is wary of exposing the child to her. He also does not want her to be present at the wedding and to create drama. I am fine with limiting my involvement with her, and have done so in the past.

But I do still have a relationship with my father, albeit a fairly minimal one, and I am not sure how to proceed without damaging that. She is a daddy's girl and if he had to choose sides, I have no doubt whatsoever that he would choose her. So how do I go about, for instance, inviting him to the wedding but saying she can't come? Inviting him when the stepson is visiting, but stipulating she can't come? Going on to have a child of my own and a family, and telling him he can be a grandpa but only if she doesn't come?

Therapist chuckled that once we don't invite her to the wedding, she'll probably be mad enough that she won't want to deal with us, and the problem will be solved. But how do I get through that initial conversation with my dad about this? Fwiw he has his own mental health baggage and we are not particularly close; I see him for coffee every two months or so and we talk on the phone occasionally.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does she live with your father? Is there a reason you can't send him an invite and just not invite her?

I have a similar situation with my sibling and my solution was to meet with my parents when my sibling wasn't present.

Stop trying to befriend her and just be coolly polite when you see her. If she shows up when you are there, make an excuse and leave.
posted by winna at 12:25 PM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd invite Dad out to dinner and explain rationally, "Dad, I want to have a relationship with you, and for that reason, I've tried with Rachel, I really, really have. For whatever reason, we don't get along and frankly, with so much going on in my life, I think it's a good idea to minimize contact."

Then talk to him. Don't be bitter or malicious. Let him know, "I'd like to invite you to our wedding, but based on Rachel's behavior in the past, I won't be inviting her. Will that be a problem for you?"

If it is, then say, "I'm sorry you feel that way, We'll miss you."

If it isn't, then great!

You don't have to cater to either of these folks. And if it's a take-it-or-leave-it package of the two of them...leave it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

You absolutely have to explain to your father beforehand that you'll be pulling back from your sister, and why. Because once she figures out--or even just suspects--you're cutting her out, you run the risk (if your armchair diagnosis of personality disorder is correct) of being on the same end of the character assassination attacks you've already witnessed her engaging in or fishing around for. People with personality disorders are brilliant and often convincing liars because they actually believe their own lies, no matter how fantastical and obviously self-serving. Someone very sick will attempt to annihilate you and all your relationships (particularly before a wedding where you'll be the center of the family's attention, even among more distant relatives who don't know you as well)--at worst, expect the possibility of an attempted scorched earth response behind your back. (And as the saying goes, the biggest lies are even easier to believe.) This is how families are routinely strained or destroyed by a single bad egg.

Let him know so that he knows what's happening if a campaign starts.
posted by blue suede stockings at 12:52 PM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Talk to your dad. Try to keep the she's crazy argument tamped down. A lot of drama, you don't have the energy at your age, you are now tied up with parenting and need the mental room for your family, etc.

if papa comes away from the convo thinking you may have time for her later, when she's closer to your married with kids stage, who's to say he's wrong?

Did you ever think maybe she's daddy's girl because he feels the need to keep her on a short leash?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:21 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't understand all of this drama. She doesn't seem to like you, why must you do or say anything to anyone about anything?

Just start living your life the way you want. You are not close to either your dad or your sister. Neither will notice much if your focus is no longer on them.

Move on with what's important to you. Stop interacting with anyone who makes you unhappy, including so called family, because life is too short and you have more options than you think. And if your sister talks smack about you over the years as your relationship grows ever more distant? Well, why would you care?? It's none of your business what she thinks or does or says.

Seek therapy if you have issues about your already distant relationship with your father. That's the natural and healthy thing to do right now.


PS. I don't know of anyone with personality disorder type traits that has not suffered (usually severe) childhood trauma. Your sister is not in control of her (often very unpleasant) emotions, and she has an inner life you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy if you could experience it for yourself.

Keep this in mind as you proceed. It's OK to leave this woman on her own to make her way, but don't add judgement, pain, or drama to her burden as you make your separate ways in the world.

If you talk to your father, your words will get back to her and it will just stir up shit. Don't do that. Just let it be and move forward with you building your own family and future.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:41 PM on March 11, 2014 [18 favorites]

Depending on what dad's like, I'd phrase it simple and crisp, ala:

I'd like to try to make two adjustments if this works for you: I'd like to try to spend a little more time and feel a little closer to you, and I'd like to spend a little less time with half-sister. I have nothing against her, she's a fine person, but I've tried to make it work with her and we just don't seem to get along. But I'd never want that to affect my relationship with you. On contrary, if I can separate out these two strands, I'm thinking you and I might maybe enjoy our time together more, because I'll be less uptight.

I find that stuff like this works best via email, where he can consider (and reconsider) your words at face value without all the nonverbal turbulence and filtering of in-person encounters.

One thing I'm pretty sure of: you will likely not get anywhere (and surely not get the result you're looking for here) by delving into your specific issues and/or amateur diagnosis of half-sister with him. I'd leave that matter simply as a nice, neutral "we don't seem to get along, but I respect her", and focus the conversation squarely to your relationship with him. That's a positive for him.
posted by Quisp Lover at 1:45 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why do you need to create the excuse that she's personality disordered to cut off contact? If she's difficult to deal with say so, that should be enough. I don't understand why would you want to create more drama in an otherwise difficult situation, wouldn't that create the opposite problem (anger, defensiveness, hurt feelings from the sister?)?

And as I'm writing some more, Quisp Lover takes the words right out of my mouth on how I'd approach your father.
posted by redindiaink at 1:53 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

She sounds difficult and unpleasant, but unless you are having a very small wedding, I say you invite her. Exactly what sort of drama are you anticipating from her? Not inviting your half sister to your wedding is creating family drama, not avoiding it. Then, just don't deal with her anymore in day to day life.
The personality disorder thing is irrelevant and none of your business, and, again, creating drama.
posted by Kriesa at 2:17 PM on March 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

What? No. Unless you are actually not speaking to your half-sibling, you have to invite her to your wedding. To not do so is to shun her, and if you think lunches cause drama... Shunning her will also put your father in an impossible position, and yeah he's going to side with the kid who hasn't actually done anything rather than the one who banned her sister from her wedding.

I also don't see why you have to make a concrete declaration of cutting her out of your life. Just stop inviting her to have lunch and politely declining anything that isn't a group family function. Which is what weddings, funerals and grandma's birthday are, which is why you can't not invite her to the wedding.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:28 PM on March 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

we are not particularly close; I see him for coffee every two months or so and we talk on the phone occasionally.

It sounds like he doesn't visit your house now. So why worry about this:

Inviting him when the stepson is visiting, but stipulating she can't come? Going on to have a child of my own and a family, and telling him he can be a grandpa but only if she doesn't come?

Maintaining the relationship with him means you'll just go on having coffee and phone calls with your dad, while stepson and child sit at home with fiance. No problem. Unless what you want with your dad is something more than that. Like, inviting him to your house and he comes over and develops a warm relationship with fiance's child and your future child.

I think focus first on what you want your relationship to be with your dad, and whether that is something that he is capable of or willing to have, for its own sake. If you lump cutting your sister off into that decision, you run the risk of blaming her for the lack of closeness with your dad.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:29 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to maintain a relationship with him, you need to go out of your way to keep him out of the drama. HE shouldn't be the one to explain what's going on to your sister. He shouldn't be caught between the two of you and have to find the words to explain to her, especially if she's difficult. So you need to have a conversation with her explaining your decision, and then you need to immediately cover the issue with him and pay extra attention to the key phrases you use. Repeat them often during this initial conversation, so that he will be able to parrot them back to her. This is simple consideration on your part, this really isn't his problem and you need to make a big effort to protect him from the backlash. Leaving him hanging out there to deal with your sister by himself is one sure way to push him into taking sides, and it's just not a courteous thing to do.
posted by raisingsand at 2:43 PM on March 11, 2014

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