[Two Pronged] Choosing between my sister or my partner
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
Sheila and I have been living together for 10 years. We're not married and have one child. My sister invited me to for a 3-day, 2-night Hong Kong trip with her daughter and I said yes. Actually, I have this “tampo” to her because she never invited me on a trip. She’s an OFW. I consider the invitation as time for bonding (we’re only 2 in the family).
I never mentioned it to Sheila until after 3 days. I don’t know why; maybe because of my excitement. Sheila’s sad face surprised me. She asked why I decided for myself without consulting her first.
I told her she’s my sister, that she's paying for everything and that we are rarely together. This is bonding time for us.
Sheila doesn’t care. She said I already have a family with a 2-year-old baby girl who has chicken pox right now. Sheila said I should have declined it even if my sister already booked. I told her that’s not right because: 1. She’s my only sister; 2. First time that my sister invited me for a getaway; 3. My sister will feel bad if I don’t go. “Hindi na siya iba.”
I don’t know how Sheila found out that I kept this invitation from her. I apologized for lying. Still she couldn’t understand my reasons. She said: 1) I should have asked her permission; 2) declined the invitation, 3) should consider 1st my family instead of this HK getaway, 4) Find an excuse to turn down the offer.
But I am firm about going ahead. I do not want my sister to feel hurt. We are only 2 in my family.
Sheila answered: What will the neighbors think that you prioritize your sister over your family? When you leave for HK, I will be back in the province by the time you come back.
Why can’t she understand me? Am I wrong?
Is it wrong to accept my only sister’s invitation? What will be the consequences if I decline her offer? Please answer me.
Just as each couple is unique, so is their approach to decision making. For example, some share everything, some divide it up, some share the key areas like finances and childraising and divide the rest (formally or informally) and some just muddle through on a case by case basis.
You have given us no information on how your 10 year partnership deals with these issues but a number of things stand out. Most couples, after a decade together, would have sorted out the inevitable tensions that can arise when one party is caught between family of origin and family of generation. Your statement that on receiving your sister’s offer “I never mentioned it to my partner, I honestly don’t know why I did that” simply does not ring true. Whether that is because you thought this was a decision you were entitled to take unilaterally, or one which you knew would lead to discord and so you wished to postpone the inevitable confrontation, or something else, we cannot tell.
However, it is something which you would be wise to analyze further rather than just shrug off since it could lead you not only to resolve your current conundrum but also improve your understanding of the dynamics of your relationship with your partner.
Equally, Sheila’s comment “What will the neighbors think that you prioritize your sister over your family?” also seems a strange reaction to the circumstances – you clearly see you sister very seldom – and thus one which possibly hints that there is some history here of which we are unaware. After all, you are not in this relationship for the benefit of your neighbors so how you and Sheila manage your partnership should have little, if anything, to do with them.
In the final analysis, it is probable that Sheila’s reaction was prompted by your decision to accept the invitation without telling her and then keep it secret for three days. Analyzing the reasons you acted this way will help you answer your other questions.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. I worry you might be frustrated by Mr Baer’s and my answers. You clearly want us to tell you that you are right and Sheila is a meanie (to say the least) for depriving you of a free trip to HK to bond with your only sister, an OFW, whom you rarely see. However, that is not the role of therapists, or even of “advice columnists,” counterintuitive though that may seem.
Clearly the way you communicate with Sheila needs vast improvement. It is not just your lying through omission (not telling her right away about the HK trip) but lying about the reason you lied (you simply “forgot” to tell her).
Then you wrote: “I don’t know how Sheila found out that I kept this invitation from her. I apologized for lying. Still she couldn’t understand my reasons.”
Sentence 1 implies you might have wanted to keep the invitation a secret even longer; sentence 2 and 3, that apologizing for your behavior should have been enough. That, having “admitted” through your apology that it was your fault – though you clearly do not feel it is – she should move on from there and feel as enthusiastically as you that you are going to Hong Kong.
That her reaction was so different from what you had hoped for hints that this is not the first time you have tried this. No wonder Sheila is not falling for it, in the same way you are not falling for her “what will the neighbors think?” argument.
I am so sorry that we have not resolved your above conundrum for you. However, I am hoping we have done something far more helpful — an invitation to look more deeply into the underlying messages you give despite a seemingly simple “I want go to HK with my sister.”
All the best,
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