Ask Amy: Sister insists family include abusive ex

October 28, 2013 

Dear Amy: My sister, who is in her 50s, finally separated from her husband of 35-plus years. He was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive to her, both privately and publicly.

Not long after they separated, he had lifesaving surgery, and she was with him all the way. My siblings, our parents and I all visited him in the hospital and rehab. We can all understand her feeling somewhat guilty and responsible. However, since then nothing much else seems to have changed. He's at her apartment, and she is at his quite frequently.

My sister expects our family to continue to invite him to all the family gatherings.

If we do not invite him, she says she will not attend. He can be charming at times but also rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful to our family. Although we wish him well, most of us would prefer not to see him.

I feel like I'm being held hostage to this relationship. What can we do?

— Frustrated family

Dear Frustrated: Your sister is more concerned about her abusive husband's comfort than yours. Now that these two are separated and your sister has a home of her own, you no longer need to treat them as a family unit. The generous thing to do is to give him an opportunity to behave well, along with a crystal-clear heads-up about how things are going to go in your home from now on.

Let's say you are going to host this year's Thanksgiving dinner. You contact him separately in advance and say, "Steve, we've tolerated years of abuse, disrespect and other nonsense from you. We had to because you were married to my sister. But from now on you should be on your best behavior while at my home. If you behave in any way I find objectionable, I will ask you to leave."

If he behaves badly, you ask him to leave, and if your sister insists on going with him, you should simply tell her, "Do whatever you want to do. I completely understand."

Dear Amy: Like "Hopeless in the Suburbs," my sexual addiction was out of control. I sought help from a program called Celebrate Recovery, founded by Pastor Rick Warren. I truly believe working this program saved my life.

— Healing and happy

Dear Healing: There are many programs within faith practices and available through research on the Internet. The first step is to seek help.


You can contact Amy Dickinson via email at, follow her on Twitter @askingamy or "like" her on Facebook.

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