Relationships and families are crazy complicated. But when I was young I actually used to believe that only kid bullies and siblings were mean and that people magically all got along once they became adults. Now wouldn’t that be nice. But obviously adults disagree, fight, disappoint, and betray each other all of the time. Putting strangers, acquaintances, and coworkers aside though, why do we hurt the ones we love the most even as “mature” adults?
The first time I heard the expression that we hurt the ones we love the most, I didn’t understand what it meant. But I’ve experienced enough things now to know it’s true. And it sucks! But time can heal all wounds with enough love. Hopefully, we can each become better people and encourage others to do the same through our own actions. I sure have learned over the years that love is many different things. I’m sure you have too. We have all been guilty of hurting people we love and vice versa. No relationship is ever error free.
Getting Over Feeling Taken Advantage Of
There’s a saying that as we grow older we need our siblings more than ever. I can really appreciate having a sister now that my parents are aging and becoming less and less independent. There’s no one else who understands the challenges and particularities of my parents better than her. But as much as we love each other, I sure feel like my sister is taking advantage of me lately.
I didn’t feel this way until a few months ago when she moved cross country to California. Instead of being a 5-hour flight away, now she’s just a 1.5-hour drive away from where I live in San Francisco. We were never inseparable, but we get along well enough, share personal stuff with each other, and have good laughs. So I was excited when I found out she was moving to the Bay area this past spring. Being within driving distance means I now have the opportunity to see her, my brother-in-law, and my nephew a lot more often versus just once a year or so.
Before and after my sister moved, she asked me for a couple favors. I didn’t think much of it at the time because it’s a big ordeal to move that far and was happy to be able to help. But I’ve found myself feeling hurt that the favors haven’t stopped. It seems like the only time she contacts me now is when she needs something. It’s never, “hey do you want to come over for lunch or hang out?” or “what are you up to this weekend?” Instead it’s things like “can you talk to mom about her finances?” or “hey can you babysit for 48 hours straight in next Friday?” or “can you babysit for a week straight days in October?” or “can you dog-sit for 3 days when we’re away in July?” An hour and a half drive to her house isn’t outrageous, but it’s far considering I don’t own a car and have to borrow one or take a bus and a train to get there.
I’ve only seen her twice since she moved, and I basically invited myself the second time. I kept hoping for an invitation to spend time with them on Easter and do an egg hunt with my nephew, but an invitation never came. Deciding I didn’t want to wait another year to have the chance to see them on Easter, I asked if I could come over the night before and she said sure. Is it weird that I had to ask?
Granted, my sister has always helped me when I needed her like calling my doctor when I was sick overseas and sending money to help care for my mom when I asked for help with half. But every time my mom has gotten sick, I’m the one who has flown across the country to take care of her. And I rarely ask my sister for anything. I even email her out of the blue to say hi or share pictures but she doesn’t always respond. I get that she’s busy, we all are. But I dunno. Perhaps I haven’t been that great a sister to her either. It just hurts that she seems to be taking advantage of me.
But since I do believe she loves me I’m keeping an open mind:
- I won’t feel bad saying no to favors sometimes.
- I’ll ask her for help when I need it too to help equalize things.
- I’ll work on being more proactive planning social events with her.
- I’m certainly not a perfect sister either so she isn’t entirely at fault.
- I can try offering to help out on occasion so I feel more in control and can still show support.
I know her first priority is my nephew and not me, so maybe I’m overreacting. But my gut has been telling me that I’m being used. At least she didn’t really ask me for many favors during the years we lived far apart.
Stepping Around Family Feuds
Even though most of us believe that family comes first, so many things can get in the way. People get jealous, greedy, frustrated, etc. There is drama and feuds on all sides of my family. For example, I found out one of my remote relatives stole money multiple times from his blind, ailing grandmother and still denies it to this day even though he was seen doing it. That’s messed up!
And my dad and my aunt got in tons of fights over my grandmother’s estate and settling her affairs, and they still hold grudges against each other. I try to stay out of it, but I’ve been caught in between them on more than one occasion. It hurts me that they don’t get along after being so close for so many years.
Two of my other aunts refuse to talk to each other because of different life philosophies, jealousies, and a lack of sensitivity. And that makes things hard for my mom who gets stuck in the middle when she wants to help both of them. Then my friend and her younger sister stopped talking to each other because the younger sister refused to stop dating a guy who mistreated and harassed my friend. It’s really sad because they used to be inseparable and now they don’t even speak to each other. It isn’t my place to reach out to the younger sister even though we’re friends too because I don’t want to come across as betraying the older sister who I met first. I wish we could all hang out together again, but I don’t know if that time will come. Families are so complicated.
You’d think people would want to stick together with their siblings and relatives to the end and be more respectful and forgiving, but every family I know has at least one feud. Most have a lot! Greed, jealousy, stubbornness, lack of respect, conflicts, and personality differences abound. I’m trying to stay neutral in my own family’s feuds by:
- Listening to both sides before jumping to conclusions.
- Not getting caught in the middle although I’ve had to act as messenger several times.
- Remembering that I can’t solve everyone’s problems.
- Staying patient and having faith that time heals many wounds.
- Knowing that I can’t force anyone to change. They have to want change themselves.
Overcoming Cheating, Lying, And Withholding Truths
It’s really tough when couples go through rough patches or split up, especially those with kids. One of my friends with three kids had no idea her husband secretly cheated on her for over a year, during which time she was pregnant with their third child. It’s hard to say what their fate will be. Another one of my friends got married after an accidental pregnancy and then found out her husband was having an affair with his ex-girlfriend. And yet another couple I know got pregnant and split up soon after their baby was born. Yikes.
Several years ago one of my friends secretly dated two guys at the same time because she couldn’t decide which one she liked better. One of my other friends who is married was approached by a “friend” multiple times even though he knew she was married and not interested in an affair. My parents divorced, remarried, and separated. And one friend of a friend has a deceitful addiction of pursuing multiple guys behind her husband’s back, another is no longer close to her father because he has multiple wives and separate families, and yet another pretends to be single so he can get attention at bars even though he’s married. It’s sad and frustrating that there are so many complications in real life relationships, not just in the movies. There’s even “emotional cheating” now. Even good people convince themselves they deserve to have their cake and eat it too even though they are meanwhile hurting a loved one in the process.
But even with all of these messed up situations, I think there is still hope for a lot of couples. Sometimes things get worse before they can get better. But with enough effort, open-mindedness, and honest communication people can work through their issues, find ways to stay together, grow, and strengthen their relationships. Some suggestions are:
- Trying to fix problems within a relationship instead of fleeing outside for relief and escape.
- To stop assuming one can get away with lying and sneaking around without getting caught. The truth always comes out.
- Avoid putting oneself in situations where lines get easily blurred and crossed.
- Realize that if you play with fire you will eventually get burned.
- Communicate more openly and work together without nagging or overcriticizing.
- Hear people out before jumping to conclusions or pointing fingers.
- Give someone you love a chance to change and speak the truth.
- Recognize that everyone has weaknesses and makes mistakes.
- Learn how to forgive and move forward.
You’re Never Alone
No matter what you’re going through, take comfort that there are other people out there who have gone through the same thing and know exactly how you feel. Sometimes we hurt the one we love because we believe, whether consciously or not, that our wrongdoings are okay because they will forgive us out of love. Other times we don’t know any better or aren’t strong enough to overcome weaknesses or temptations. And sometimes those we love hurt us back. I’ve been hurt by people I love and I’ve also hurt people I love too. Ultimately we all have the potential to heal and become better people if we try.
One memorable relationship book I read in my 20s was Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov. I remember being offended by the title when I first heard about it. But it was actually quite a helpful read and taught me many things in new perspectives. It’s definitely worth a read. Other relationship books I recommend that are highly rated on Amazon are included in the widget below.
Untemplaters, have you learned how to heal after being hurt by someone you love? What types of family feuds and complex relationship issues do you or your friends have? Why do you think we hurt the ones we love the most? Do you have hope that divorce rates, betrayals, and family feuds will someday diminish?
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“Divorce is not uncommon, but what I don’t understand are couples who get married…get divorced…and then get married AGAIN! That is like pouring a bowl of cereal, going to the refrigerator for some milk, noticing that the sell-by date is past and it smells sour…then putting it back and saying ‘maybe that milk will be good tomorrow!'” – Larry Miller
Untemplater, this is one of the most thoughtful and heartfelt posts I’ve seen in a very long time. Great thoughts to share with your readers, and I’m sorry for the experiences that motivated you to write it. This is a subject that has been a primary one for me for quite some time. It doesn’t seem to get better as time goes by. My thought is that the best relationships that last and have value are ‘win-win’. The thing is, contexts change (geographically, socially, economically, demands of job/family/health, etc.) and as long as one participant is still “winning” they may not pay as much attention to the idea of an equitable relationship as they should.
I have recently had some success by having a plain-spoken discussion with some family members who have taken liberties with the respect they show for my feelings, time, and energy. I didn’t confront them or call them out; there would be no benefit to either party, if all I did was made them feel bad or remiss. But I did state what I wanted (needling remarks halted, sarcasm curtailed and acknowledgement that my time has value and there should be some reciprocity in reaching out and willingness to do favors). So far, it has worked out. But it really is up to the other party, all I can do is be plain and the rest is up to them. And when it comes to ‘doing favors’, if I feel a sense of being taken advantage of, I make a point to say “I’m sure you would do the same for me!” and in that way make the point of expected reciprocity.
There is a certain type of person who can ask for favors, or only be in touch when they want something, and otherwise neglect the relationship. This does happen most frequently in professional relationships (i.e. “can you make an introduction” “can you pass along my resume” “would you proofread my report” etc.) and the worst feeling in the world is discovering that any “goodwill” you feel entitled to from all these favors is not returned. If you have a funny feeling about a one-sided relationship, don’t wait until you really need something to discover that the friendship/colleague/networking just exists in your head. And without burning bridges, make a healthy detachment.
As for friendships, unfortunately for me as time goes by they ‘go’ a lot more than they ‘come’. So I do try to attend to the care-and-feeding of the ones that are mutually rewarding. And it is funny, the friends still with me after decades are not the ones I would have expected; they aren’t the brilliant, wildman, superfun nut type-friends, but instead are steady, reliable, and supportive. I apply the ’80/20 Rule’ in a unique way here; if my friend can’t make at least 20% of the effort, then it is time for me to acknowledge that things have changed and accept a healthy detachment. There is no sense in continuing to have my feelings hurt by unreturned communication or thoughtless behavior. Occasionally offense will be given intentionally (not a mistake or oversight), and that is something that can’t be tolerated more than once. The friend is now “changing the deal” and pushing boundaries of respect; it is no longer a ‘win-win’ and in fact my lack of response, or accepting of the insult, then indicates that I accept this change in the relationship where they are now ‘superior’ and no longer ‘equal’. This has happened occasionally, when I reveal a disappointment or embarrassing moment, and the ‘friend’ uses that information to needle or provoke. Sometimes they get a much better job, and make a point that somehow they are ‘better.’ It is a big drag, because I now am faced with the reality that the friendship is no longer what I thought it was, and includes an unhealthy competition. It can go the other way, too, when they express jealousy at an achievement or good news. The intentional offense means the friendship is over for me; they will continue as long as I will put up with their new boundaries. I have found that things never return to the way they were once the disrespect has been shown. Pulling away, and (again) healthy detachment is the only answer that works for me. And it is actually better to be lonely, than unsure where things stand in the company of friends and family.
Here is a great excerpt from Kim Guilfoyle’s book on Advocating for Yourself, which I found really truthful and insightful. Maybe you or a reader will find it of interest.
And here is a book I have found helpful over the years, in having difficult conversations where I am dissatisfied with the status quo and am requesting some kind of action or change in a valued relationship. Lifescripts for Family and Friends, by Erik Kolbell
Thanks so much for your heartfelt comment!! That’s good you were able to talk to some of your family about how you want to be treated. Sometimes people don’t realize how hurtful and disrespectful they are actually being with their words, expressions, and actions. It’d be nice if they were perceptive enough to recognize when they do this, but sometimes we have to find ways to help them realize how it makes us feel or differs from how we want to be treated.
I really like what you said about making a point to say “I’m sure you would do the same for me” in situations when someone is asking favors. I don’t have kids or a pet now, so I can’t ask my sister for the same favors that she’s asking of me, but yeah I should not feel bad turning down something she wouldn’t actually do for me if I did have those things. And also not feel bad asking her for the same type of favors if in the future I have kids and a pet and want some babysitting and petsitting! 🙂
Solid friendships are hard to find so it sucks when any friendship becomes unbalanced and letting it go is the next step. I had a friend who has a very sarcastic sense of humor, which is very different from mine. She would joke about things like me being skinnier than her, which wasn’t a big deal at first, but then became a regular jab. I couldn’t take it anymore and also realized that towards the end of our friendship I was the one doing all the invites to hang out, not her. So I stopped contacting her altogether. One day she randomly reached out to me because she’d seen a picture of me at a networking event. She wanted to meet up because she wanted to get access to the organizer. I didn’t want to be used so I didn’t take my time to meet up with her and I have no regrets!
Bummer about your sister! You should just tell her to drop her son off instead of having to go all the way there. That’s the solution and won’t be so bad.
Hope everything works out for the best!
Thanks Jacob. That is a good idea. Who knows if she would go for that but that sure would be a lot easier for me! I will keep that in mind.
Money Beagle says
Many times the best course of action when there are things going on between two other people is to stay uninvolved. I’ve avoided that advice and ended up losing friends, even though my intentions were honorable and I thought I was ‘saving’ relationships.
yeah it’s tough when one’s intentions are good but it ends up backfiring or making things harder. I’ve definitely tried my best to stay out of my dad’s family feuds and he’s done a fair job at keeping me out of it as well thankfully.