A: Over and over my inbox demonstrates that some people just don't want to be helped. Yes, she's reaching out to you as a kind of lifeline. Then she comes up with a load of excuses for why she can't flee from someone who assaults her. I think you should tell her that since she's told you about what's going on, and provided you with evidence of her husband's criminality, you feel compelled to take action. Tell her you wanted to give her a heads up that you're going to look into reporting this abuse. First call this domestic abuse hotline: 800-799-SAFE (www.thehotline.org) and explain to them what's going on. You need to get a reading about how to safely get her out, so you don't want to call the police without getting advice on how to help someone who won't report her abuse. Let's hope your phone call will be the start of making sure you never get the phone call you dread.
Q. Re: For Spoiled: My husband was in a similar situation. One piece of advice for you is to make sure your brother is well taken care of in your parents’ will. I know that sounds odd, but he's been supported his entire life. If you're the only one left in the end, guess who he's going to expect to support him. Fortunately, my husband talked to his parents ahead of time and they had the foresight to ensure that a trust was set up before my husband’s parents passed and it gives his brother some income each month. He still comes to us occasionally and my husband doesn't have too much trouble saying, “You'll have the money in a week or two weeks, you need to figure out how to get by until then.” We may give him food, but we never give him cash!
A: It's one thing if a sibling has some kind of disability which makes it impossible for him to care for himself. It's another if a brother is just a spoiled jerk. In that case, I don't think the letter writer should be pushing to be cut out of the parents' will. Sure, the brother may have been trained that some family member will always bail him out, but once the parents are gone, the letter writer has no obligation to throw money on that sinking ship.
Q. Copycat Sister-in-Law: My brother married a girl he barely knew after a whirlwind courtship. It's been three years and they seem to be adjusting well to married life. But lately I've discovered that Marie likes to buy and wear the same clothes that I do. I recently bought a new winter coat, and she scoured the stores to find the same one, and purchased it in a different color. She's also done the same thing when I bought a new pair of boots. She's much taller and slimmer than I am, so most clothes do look better on her anyway. How do I tell her to not copy my clothing choices?
A: What you do is silently accept that this is flattering commentary. She thinks you have great taste and on two (imagine that, two!) occasions she's bought clothes she's seen first on you. As the Bible has noted, coats can come in many colors. I simply cannot imagine the circumstances under which your life would be impinged by your sister-in-law showing up with the same model in a different shade. Stop dwelling on her "superior" height and build, and just try to build a lovely relationship with a woman who admires your fashion sense.
Q. Re: Domestic Violence: The friend with the husband who beats her doesn't want to leave because she doesn't want to leave her pets. Probably she is afraid that her husband will abuse them after she leaves in retaliation, and probably he will. The poster could ask the hotline if there are steps she can take to protect the pets and/or to take them with her.
A: Yes, that's definitely part of the question. But the abuse has been going on for a decade so there's a lot more to this dynamic than worrying about the pets.
Q. Overshadowing Sister: My husband and I got married at age 19 and have three children. We do not have very much education, but I work part-time and my husband works full-time. We are comfortable and happy with our life. My sister is seven years younger than I am and she went to college, medical school, and is now a resident in a hospital about four hours away. Her schedule is very demanding and, as a result, family gatherings have started to shift around her schedule. She is always gracious and kind to me, and my kids adore their auntie. My sister has to work on Easter Sunday, so my parents suggested going to brunch midway between our hometown and her new location on the Saturday before Easter. I know I should go, but this is an expensive trip (gas, food) for us. I could easily host an affordable Easter brunch at my home on Easter Sunday after church and I'm not sure why our holiday schedule has to change because my sister chose this profession. To add insult to injury, my parents talk about their daughter, the doctor, a lot. My husband and I are debt free except for our mortgage, we dedicate a lot of energy to raising our children, and it seems like none of that matters since my sister was accepted to medical school. How can I explain to my parents and sister that I think it is wonderful she is a doctor, but that was her choice, and I am tired of adjusting my holidays to suit her?
A: I understand your resentment, but your sister is kind and loving to you and your kids. Embrace her as a role model for what's possible in life. That is not a put-down of what you and your husband have accomplished, but her professional choice will open up imaginative possibilities for your children, which will only be a good thing. Since your sister is a resident, "my daughter, the doctor" is still a pretty new concept for your parents. So let most of this roll off you. But when you've had enough you can say, "We're all proud of Katy. Oh, did I tell you that Courtney was chosen to be Cinderella in the school play?" As for Easter, is it possible that your sister could make it to your house for brunch on that Sunday before? Talk to her about that possibility. If not, then gas and food to get to brunch seems like a worthwhile expense in order to have the whole family together—or maybe you can talk to your parents about picking up part of your food tab. Your flexibility about holidays while your sister finishes her arduous studies will pay off in good feelings for years to come.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Time to kiss the dog on the nose for being so patient during the chat.
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