It’s What She Does, Not What She Says / Keepin’ It in the Family
Dear Dr. Hurd,
What do you do about a good friend who rarely follows through on anything she says? She is very kind and generous to me, but when we make plans or she offers to help with something, she rarely shows up. If I say something about it, she just waves it off with something like, “Oh, you know how things go!” I’m getting frustrated.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Integrity matters. Yes, we tend to think of the likes of Abraham Lincoln when we hear that word, but integrity—day after day, every day—is practical. It’s the ground you walk on. It shows that you’re stable and reliable. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say are among the most important things in life. It’s dishonest and psychologically unhealthy to fake it with people. While it isn’t necessary to impose every last thought or opinion on someone who isn’t interested, you should never utter or act anything fake, particularly in friendships or other voluntary relationships.
Sadly, your friend lacks integrity. Your frustration is telling you that perhaps you should reconsider your friendship. Or at least reconsider your opinion of her. You’re never going to change her—don’t waste your time—but you can be more honest in your opinion.
The saying, “It’s impossible not to communicate” is really true. We communicate through our behaviors. When our words and behaviors don’t match, it’s almost always our behaviors that reveal the truth. Sometimes we act one way while thinking another, but it’s our responsibility—as a friend, spouse, or whatever—to make the two match as often as we can. And it’s not just out of consideration for others; it’s for our own self-esteem and mental health.
When someone makes plans and repeatedly fails to show up, that’s a problem. When someone makes plans and repeatedly fails to show up and expects you to treat it as reasonable and acceptable, that’s a huge problem. If you care for her that much, why not tell her you have a huge problem? Show her this article, if you like. You’ve got nothing to lose, other than a flaky “friend” who doesn’t care enough to tell you the truth—and expects you to put up with it.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’m in a difficult situation. My partner of six years (now my husband) has a son in his early twenties who is supposedly straight. Last week the son stayed with us for a week at our beach house and he made several obvious advances toward me. It was unmistakable that he wanted to “hook up.” He is very attractive, but I look at him as my son, too. I simply don’t know whether I should tell my husband about the fact that (1) the boy isn’t nearly as “straight” as my husband thinks he is, and (2) that he disrespects our relationship enough to try to get me to cheat on his father.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Wow. So many things wrong with this one! The fact that your husband’s son is not as straight as he thinks he is is certainly news, but that’s not the main news. The problem is that your husband’s son has crossed a major line.
We’re only as sick as our secrets. That doesn’t mean that everything is everyone else’s business. But it does mean that you don’t hide something like that from your husband. Start with him. He’s the one you owe the most to; more than his son. Whatever you think or feel of his son’s sexual advances toward you, make sure you share this with your husband.
It’s anybody’s guess how he will react. People often don’t believe it when they hear something like this. Ask anyone who has been sexually abused, especially in their families, and they’ll tell you the same thing. There’s a widespread tendency to “blame the victim” or to “shoot the messenger.” So think carefully about how you want to break this news to your husband. Involve a skilled counselor if you like. Don’t rush it, but if you put it off indefinitely it will turn into a burden that will be bigger than you can imagine. After all, why do you think you felt compelled to sit down and type this email to ask me what to do? It’s a heavy load to carry, and it will get heavier with time.
Your husband’s son is a grown man. He clearly has issues, and the purpose of this response is not to speculate what those might be. But his issues aren’t your responsibility. You and your relationship are your responsibility.
You used a key word: “disrespect.” You nailed it. Whatever your husband’s son’s issues, his behavior showed a lack of respect. Either he does not understand basic boundaries, or he does not care. Either way, boundaries have been violated, and it’s important and healthy to hold him responsible. Don’t be harder on him than you think he deserves, but don’t sentence yourself to secrecy, either. Life’s too short for that, and it’s not right or healthy for anybody.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.