>My youngest sister has bipolar disorder and is supposed to get married soon. She’s alienated the rest of our siblings with her “emergencies,” demands, and accusations. Sis wants me to stand up with her, and I will because I promised, but I’m not convinced this is a good move. How can I be supportive about something I don’t think is a good idea? And what do I do if she wants me to run interference for her with the rest of the family?
Anonymous / Beverly
Your question is really a two-parter: how to support a mentally ill sibling while keeping your own sense of self intact, and what to do when you are asked to participate in a wedding you don’t wholeheartedly approve of.
Part I: You need a therapist. Find one with a background in “family systems” — that’s the term you want to use. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is popular, but for this kind of thing, you should probably find someone who identifies with a more psychodynamic approach. Got it? Do a little research and see what you think.
Because if you are writing to me, then oh, my dear, you have been carrying these burdens for far too long, and you need someone to talk to. Why you? Why are you her ally when the rest of your family has, presumably long since, distanced themselves? Did you ever make an actual choice to play that role, or have you been reacting rather than responding for years, perhaps your entire life?
As far as the wedding is concerned, this is what you need to remember: Nothing you do will make your sister’s life — or wedding — better or worse. If you break your promise and refuse to be her maid of honor, it will only be fodder for her Drama Factory. Offer her the wisest and most compassionate counsel, be disregarded. Behave with the most exquisite courtesy to all, be accused of grandstanding. She’s in the grip of love and madness, and you, my poor dear, are but a zephyr in that hurricane.
When it comes to running interference, simply say no. If she asks you to carry messages: “No. Call her yourself.” And if this means that suddenly she’s besties with Middle Brother and you’re on the outs, well . . . either way, you really do want to get that therapist.
Part II: Even without the complication of mental illness, people are sometimes asked to attend, or participate in, or perform, weddings that they just aren’t into. This is awkward. Unless there is a strong empirical reason to object to the wedding — abuse, infidelity, financial malfeasance — say yes. You don’t have to be a bubbling fountain of joy at the ceremony. “Quietly content” will do.
Love is a mystery, and none of us really knows what goes into, or goes on in, the marriage of another. It isn’t hypocritical to celebrate the wedding of two people who you aren’t entirely sure ought to be together. It is, however, arrogant to assume that you can plumb the mysteries of the human heart sufficiently to make such a call absolute. I mean, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman broke up, for the love of Moses. This makes it clear to me that no one, anywhere, knows anything about what makes marriages succeed or fail. So don’t worry that you’re giving a seal of approval to something that shouldn’t have one.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.