DEAR AMY: I suffered regular sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin when I was between the ages of 5 and 8. He is eight years older than I am. I actually go years without thinking about it, but when it comes back to me I feel angry and in pain. I’m 46 years old now. Over the past few years I have shared the secret with my sisters and a few close friends, but I will never tell my entire family. It would destroy my mother. Today I will head to my uncle’s funeral. My cousin will be there. I do not know what to do when I have to see him. He is a huge, charismatic man. Everyone loves him. I feel like an insignificant blip on the radar within the family. In the past I have avoided him, but he will approach me in a way that implies I am “too good” to say hello. I have also just tried to greet him as I would anyone, with a brief hug and niceties. He doesn’t treat me any differently than my sisters, which makes me wonder if he even remembers what he did. Am I a horrible person to just pretend during these moments that I have forgotten and go ahead with the niceties just in order to get through?
DEAR UNSURE: Nothing about your behavior makes you a “horrible person.” And nothing, and no one, should make you feel small and inconsequential. The age difference between you and your cousin puts his behavior in the predatory category when you were a child.
I want for you to feel big and empowered instead of small and invisible. Reaching out to this cousin privately to explain why you won’t be offering hugs to him might help you to continue the process of putting this behind you. This carries risks, however, of opening a dialogue that you don’t want to have, or perhaps hearing an unwelcome denial from him. A therapist should guide you.
In the meantime, yes, definitely avoid him.
If I were your sister, I would flank you at any family events. If he wanted to hug you, he’d have to get through me first.
DEAR AMY: My wife and I have been married for 20 years. We are empty nesters. I have just realized that I am unhappy in the relationship. I am an outgoing person, and have always had outside interests and friends. Slowly, over time, I gave up my interests to please my wife, who has no friends, nearby family or outside interests. She does not have a job. I always felt guilty doing outside activities. She also passively added to the guilt by bringing up chores that I am forgoing by going out. In the beginning, she was more outgoing, positive and had career plans, but over time those have all gone by the wayside. She’s negative and uses nagging health issues as an excuse not to get a job or find new interests or friends. If I bring it up, we fight, so we have not discussed this in several years. Being in our 50s, I feel we’re too old to make any changes in the relationship. The sex life is tepid. I could leave, but would worry about her mental status, considering her lack of a support system or job prospects/experience. Outside of having affairs, what can I do?
At a Dead End
DEAR DEAD END: Your wife sounds depressed, and rather than you being able to successfully inspire her to work on her own issues, her situation has pulled you down.
You are not ultimately responsible for your wife’s life, just as she is not ultimately responsible for your emptiness now. So stop blaming her.
You make two incorrect assumptions: that at late-middle age, you can’t make any changes; and that if you fight about this, the sky will fall.
You sound more willing to have an affair than you are to try to improve your marriage.
You should welcome your wife into marriage counseling. It might be the very first thing you two do together, and it could be a game changer for both of you.
DEAR AMY: “Grieving Daughter” described her mother’s heartbreaking choice to withhold her cancer diagnosis from everyone, including her husband and children. I know this seems unbelievable, but I had a family member do the same thing. I agree with Grieving that this increased our pain when the loss was so sudden.
DEAR GRIEVING: I’m so sorry.