Lake Worth, Fla.: I am not the type to normally keep secrets, but I am faced with a dilemma. I was sexually abused by my older brother when we were both younger. (He was 13, and I was 11.) I went to the authorities, and he was put into a juvenile detention center until he turned 18. We both attended counseling (as well as my parents), and he accepted full responsibility for his actions. Over the years our bond of brother and sister has been rebuilt, and I have forgiven him for what he did. This is something that our family will never forget, but since it has been dealt with and my brother's punishment was served, we don't talk about it.
My brother and I are now both in our late 20s, and I have been in a wonderful and loving relationship with a man for almost three years. We have recently started taking about getting married in the next year or so. My question is, after all this, time do I tell my future husband about what happened, or should I let this family secret remain?
Emily Yoffe: This is the kind of secret that will fester if you don't tell your husband. There must be some strange, awkward pauses when at Thanksgiving there's a discussion of what high school was like, and your brother falls silent. Just because an issue has been "resolved" and isn't talked about anymore does not mean it doesn't leave any traces. I think this is the kind of thing a husband deserves to know. Yes, you can't predict his reactions, but if you explain it with as much emotional fullness as you've indicated here, he should be able to sympathize with you and understand why you've forgiven.
As for forgiveness, I was slammed because in last week's column I questioned why a young woman who had been molested by her unrepentant grandfather should have decided to forgive him. This letter writer gets to the heart of the point I was making. Yes, forgiveness is possible and good but is best with the crucial steps here: Her perpetrator was punished, acknowledged his crimes, and earned her forgiveness.
To Dothan: How I empathize with your plight! When I was the new hire at a place where I long ago worked, one day the guard came around with a football pool sheet and asked if I was interested. Since I wasn't and had been informed during orientation that gambling was against company policy, I very politely said, "No thank you."
What I didn't realize was that in this corporate culture, the newest hire in each department was responsible for handling the department's participation in the pool (i.e., taking the sheet around to each other department member, collecting their bets, etc.) and that one of the pool participants was the very same HR director who had informed us newbies at orientation that gambling was not allowed.
Some days ya can't win fer losin'!
Emily Yoffe: So the HR person responsible for explaining that no gambling was allowed participates in the office pool. At least this HR person did not put together the office orgy.
New York: I see my siblings only once a year or so but am having regular problems with one young nephew, now 8 years old. He gets too physical with my husband, hitting, swearing, biting, etc., on more than one occasion. My husband doesn't feel right disciplining a child not related to him, so I usually do (verbally/time outs, etc.) but the nephew then runs screaming to his mom, who wonders what we did to upset him. I finally sat down to have a heart to heart with her, and she got so upset claiming I was calling her a bad parent! It's really put a damper on our relationship. I just keep hoping he'll have matured next time we visit ... but I now dread seeing that part of the family. Any advice?
Emily Yoffe: It's not overstepping your bounds if you tell any child that he is not allowed to hit you, bite you, or swear at you. It's important not to lose your cool, but someone surely has to let this child know there are some basic rules. Given how out of control he sounds, however, I'm wondering if there are other problems here besides lack of discipline. You need to have a nonaccusatory talk with your sister explaining you are concerned that "Bobby" seems unhappy and out of control, and maybe they need a professional to assess what's bothering him.
re: college roommate and politics: I have to disagree about your advice with regard to the roommate who likes to talk politics. I think the daughter should develop articulate talking points and anticipate responses in an attempt to have a good dialogue. If the roommate is still combative and argumentative, then she should quiet the conversation. If this were an office situation, I would agree with your advice to immediately quiet the conversation. One of the reasons college is such an important and valuable life experience is the dialogue that takes place in dorm rooms, not just classrooms—particularly because you are randomly paired with roommates. I changed a lot in college, for the better, I think, and so did my roommate.
Emily Yoffe: Sure, but rants are not discussions, and when you live with someone, there is no escape. The ranter, too, needs some lessons in how to get along.