Dear Ann Cannon • My husband and his sister are at a point where they’re not on speaking terms. How do I support my husband without having to take sides?
— Hoping to Hear From You
Dear Hoping • I’m sorry. Family feuds are difficult for everyone to navigate.
There’s a lot of information I don’t have here. What caused the estrangement in the first place? How bitter are the siblings? Because I don’t know your husband personally I can’t predict how he’d respond to friendly overtures from you toward his sister. I’m assuming, however, that because you don’t wish to take sides, you must have affection for both of them. Am I correct?
My answer? Unless you think being in contact with your sister-in-law will seriously harm your relationship with your husband, I would be kindly upfront with him. Tell him you love him, but that you don’t want to take sides for the sake of everyone else in the family. Let him know you’d like to maintain some kind of contact with his sister, but he doesn’t have to be involved. Then meet her for lunch when he’s not around. Or whatever. You get the idea.
A word of caution. Don’t try to fix their relationship. That’s their job. Not yours.
Dear Ann Cannon • My husband and I really enjoyed spending time with a couple who were both at least a decade older than we are. We met them as a fun couple around eight years ago and didn’t know either individually before that. Nearly a year ago, the husband of this couple passed away unexpectedly. We were all heartbroken and worried for our friend.
Since then we have endeavored to include her in our plans, inviting her to the same cultural events, outings and holiday gatherings that we all took part in before. But nearly a year out I am struggling with the fact that when we do anything as a threesome, I feel guilty that my dear husband is alive and hers isn’t — a kind of survivor guilt. It’s strange, but I feel hesitant to show much affection with my hubby when she is present. We feel subdued and stuck in the past when we go out with her. Is that dynamic normal? Should I just try to do things with her as a girlfriend? It’s hard also when she just seems angry that her husband had to go and die rather than grateful for the time they had together. How do I help my grieving friend but still enjoy the life I have?
Dear Survivor • Over the years I’ve heard widowed individuals say that once their spouse died, they fell off other couples’ social radars. Props to you and your husband for maintaining a relationship with your friend, even though the group dynamic has dramatically changed to the point where things feel awkward to you.
You ask if your reaction is normal. I suspect it is. I also suspect that’s part of the reason why couples stop inviting a suddenly single friend to join them. It’s easier for them that way. Seriously, it’s awesome that you continue to reach out to your friend. And, in fact, I would keep reaching out to her. Eventually, doing things as a threesome rather than a foursome will become your new normal and all of you will feel more comfortable. Think in terms of what she needs more than what you need right now. And if you think she’d enjoy some one-on-one time with you, then go for it.
And now for a word about her anger. I think it’s pretty common for a spouse to be angry with the partner who’s died and left them alone. This is especially true when the death was unexpected. Those feelings dissipate somewhat over time, though they can (and do) flare up now and then. Give your friend the space she needs to grieve.
I hope this helps.