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Tell Me About It: Aunt seeks way to help troubled niece

By Carolyn Hax, Washington Post
Published: November 2, 2017

Aunt seeks way to help troubled niece

Q: My accomplished adult niece, 43, has been having an affair with a married man for several years. He is an abusive alcoholic, according to my nephew. Since their mom, my sister, died, I have tried to be as supportive as possible to both of them. The affair is not a secret; she has brought him to family events and supposedly his wife knows.

I’ve only told her I loved her enormously and wanted her to be cherished and to come first in her partner’s life. I would like to say more but I do not want to cause a rift. Her father is older, preoccupied and not judgmental. Several of her girlfriends have broken off with her.

This issue came to a head when her brother did not want to invite her lover to his wedding because he had been offensive. My niece said he had stopped drinking and asked that he be included, so the couple relented. He was a no-show with no explanation. My nephew asked me not to include his sister in a follow-up family gathering I was hosting so she would not bring him; I drastically reduced the numbers to make it just the bride’s parents, but it was awkward to exclude my niece.

Is there anything I can do?

What Would My Sister Do?

A: To know what your sister would do is impossible, so you can only do what you think is best. Give yourself that permission.

Your niece’s poor judgment is costing her dearly without your having to attach a single consequence of your own. She has been friend-dumped, family-estranged, publicly humiliated, strung along.

So here’s your choice: peer intervention, or punt?

I recommend the peer intervention recommended to me most by survivors of abusive relationships: Tell your niece simply that you love her and that, when she’s ready, she can call you and you’ll be there. Day or night.

It conveys two essential things: Yes, this is an emergency, and yes, you’re safe with me.