Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Aunt wants niece to know truth about her parents' divorce
Albuquerque auntie: My sister's husband was having not one but two affairs, and when my sister found out, she asked him to leave and he left. I never would have expected her to be able to do something so tough, and was proud of her.
She has decided not to tell her 25-year-old daughter the reason for the split because she doesn't want her to hate her father. I am close to my niece, and when I last spoke to her it was clear she blames her mom.
I'm writing to ask your permission, so to speak, to tell my niece the truth. I do not want her to hate her dad, but it seems royally unfair that she should blame her mom, the victim.
Carolyn: Even though you'd be doing it to protect your sister, it still seems like betraying a confidence. I do think it's appropriate to say to your niece, "Any time a couple splits, the responsibility is shared. I also happen to know, though, that your mom is not primarily to blame. I suggest you reserve judgment for when you have more information about what happened."
Anonymous: Re: Betrayal: Hmmm ... I think even that is likely to be a betrayal of what the aunt promised her sister. I think the aunt needs to tell her sister that her decision not to tell her daughter is backfiring. Tell her that she at least needs to tell her daughter what you said. Then leave it to the mother to handle. It is the mother's life and it really isn't the aunt's business.
Carolyn: Thanks for the opposing view.
Still, I think the aunt can say the first and last lines of what I suggested without tipping anyone's hand: "Any time a couple splits, the responsibility is shared. I suggest you reserve judgment for when you have more information about what happened."
Anonymous2: Re: Ending a relationship: It does take two people to get married, but sadly it sometimes takes only one to end the relationship. One person can be abusive, alcoholic and refuse to change, constantly dismissive of spouse's needs, absent mentally or physically ... the list is endless. Or one spouse may just have fallen out of love and want a divorce and the other spouse has no recourse. The responsibility for ending a relationship is not always evenly shared.
Carolyn: I didn't say evenly shared, just, shared. There's a big difference.
Anonymous2: Re: Betrayal: Why dance around the truth? It seems the mom is way overstepping her boundaries by not wanting her daughter to have to deal with the truth. I agree the aunt shouldn't violate trust, but she can certainly go back to the mother and say, "Either you tell her the truth, or I will." I don't mean to bad-mouth the dad, but to simply offer facts.
Carolyn: It is a lie of omission, and Mother has made Aunt complicit. The real nut of this question is, who owns the truth?
I'd say the truth of a marriage belongs to the couple alone, but when that truth is already known to some outside the marriage, and seriously affects some who don't know, the truth arguably stops being the couple's alone.