Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
My younger sister just announced that she is pregnant, following a short relationship with a guy she is no longer dating. She lives across the country, while the rest of our family is in the D.C. area. My parents and I were shocked by this turn of events but are starting to get excited about the idea. I know it will be hard for her to raise a baby alone so far away from us, but she has not said she wants to move home yet. I’m getting a lot of questions from our extended family like “What is she thinking?” and “Why aren’t you making her move back?” While I see their point and definitely agree that it could be easier on her if she lived near us, that’s not my decision to make. I don’t know how to respond when people ask me so many questions. I know they wouldn’t dream of being so blunt with her directly. What to do?
-Auntie to Be in D.C.
Congratulations! Not just on your soon-to-be aunt status, but also on your restraint about telling Sister what she “should do” next. It can be hard to keep your mouth shut when you see someone making choices you wouldn’t have made – just look at all those dear extended family members who can’t seem to exercise the same self-control.
You are right, it will be hard for her to raise a baby alone, and she might decide to move close for some extra support and babysitters. But she won’t make that decision any faster if she’s pressured to do so. In fact, your extended family knows this as well, which is why they aren’t pressuring her to move, they’re pressuring you to get her to move. When some of us are faced with a “crisis” (whatever the definition may be) we move into fix-it mode in order to manage our own anxiety about the situation, usually without being asked. It sounds like the extended family is trying to fix it for Sister, hoping that you will be the messenger. That’s a particularly challenging position – you might feel like Sister’s mouthpiece, Grandma’s confidant, and Uncle’s sounding board all at the same time. It’s a narrow space: On one side you are the press secretary, on the other you are at risk of being pulled into the sticky business of family gossip.
If you can tolerate the extended family’s good intentions (there are good intentions under there, I promise) and hold the anxiety, keeping it away from Sister, fantastic. If you can’t, or don’t want to, or notice that the price is too much to bear (hair falling out, nail biting, road rage, the usual signs), set your own limits with those good intentions. For example, “Thanks for your input, but I’m not talking about this anymore,” or the like, is a short, to-the-point way of saying, “Keep me out of this.” Even if she never knows about it, Sister will benefit from your boundaries. And she’s going to need you on her side.
My wife routinely falls asleep in our 5-year-old daughter’s bed. When this happens – about five nights a week – she usually crawls into our bed sometime in the night and we wake up together. It frustrates me that she thinks this is okay. How can I get her to understand that this is not okay behavior?
-Sleeping in a King Bed Alone
Dear Sleeping King,
Well, I don’t have a lot to go on here, but let’s summarize. You want help in getting her to understand that falling asleep in your daughter’s room is not okay. But see, it might actually be okay.
It might be okay if there is a compelling reason for your daughter to need mom in her room at night (e.g., a medical condition). It might be okay if you and Wife are able to have alone time, intimacy, and connection, elsewhere. It might be okay if everything is going well in your relationship already. It might be okay for this behavior to continue if these conditions are met. But from what you’ve said, and more so what you haven’t said, I’m going to surmise that you are unconvinced by her reasons, and that you might be feeling neglected yourself. As one with two small kids at home, I know from personal experience that the blessed time between their bedtime and ours is precious, fleeting and crucial to a happy partnership.
Does she know how you feel? What I mean by “feel” is how you feel, not how you judge her behavior, or what you believe about her decision-making. How you feel might be abandoned, lonely, sad, embarrassed or worried about what this means for your relationship. When we start the conversation by naming how someone’s actions make us feel in this way, it often makes it easier for the other person to really hear our concerns, and not get caught up in defending her behavior. If she knows that you are missing the connected feeling of being next to her when you fall asleep, she might realize that she is missing that as well, and make more of an effort to resume your bedtime routine.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and it should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. We really do want your questions. Send them confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.