Love, accept and support sister for the person she is
Q: My sis is planning on getting married this weekend. She and her fiance broke up last year over an affair but have gotten back together. She loves the guy but doesn't "necessarily expect it to last forever," "doesn't completely trust him" and "realizes people don't change." When I asked if she thought he was worthy of her, she bluntly said, "No."
She was out of our lives for 10 years — I was a very bossy older sis and take a lot of blame — and we so don't want that happening again. We have told her we'll support her, whatever her decision, and will. Her fiance hasn't told his parents and doesn't plan on inviting them. She is acting pretty flippant about the wedding. Help us here, I think the right decision is to support her, seal our lips and go forward. Am I wrong?
A: I do think you've made the right decision, but it may be based on the wrong conclusion.
Your sister is acting pretty flippant, yes — I'm just not so sure she feels as cavalier as she sounds.
I assume he cheated, since she professes not to trust him. If so, then add that to her long estrangement from family, and her near desperation to be ahead of the curve on predicting her marriage's demise — not to mention, ahem, your imperious use of "we," as if you are the official spokesperson for the healthy side of the family — and what do you see? It's not hard to argue that the bride's yeah-whatever cynicism isn't a belief system, but instead a system of defenses. Your "sis" sounds deeply afraid.
I don't just mean afraid of being cheated on again, though I'm sure that weighs on her. I mean afraid of being humiliated, dreading her family's tsk-tsk disapproval, scared of living out her days as the lone black sheep in the pasture.
Some people manifest this fear by perpetually soliciting others' good opinions of them. This is the "love me" crowd, and their needs are transparent.
Others manifest this fear by beating you to every bad opinion, wearing their black wool in defiance of all those expectations they never quite seem to meet. This is the "bite me" crowd, and they can be so prickly that you miss their needs entirely.
But if she's in this crowd, then to overlook her is a crucial mistake; you'll keep handling her with oven mitts and lose any chance to get close.
Meanwhile, she'll see right through your grudging "support." What she wants, presumably, is what just about anyone wants: for you to see her as a sister like any other. Not the little sister, not the messed-up sister, just, sister.
You may never see her that way completely, especially if her marriage is as ill-advised as it sounds. It is up to her to grow up and get over herself. But you can train your eyes on her, vs. her acting out du jour, since she's the fixed quantity throughout.
And you can see her in a light that's a lot more respectful of who she is. Put this on a loop in your mind whenever you're about to talk to or about her: "I'll never completely get her, and that's what's great about her." Repeating is often believing.