DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: My niece is trapped in a really bad relationship (not married, but living together). It has no future, but she refuses to see this. We’ve tried to tell her to get out of the relationship, but she just gets mad. How can we help her? — K.W.
Define “bad” first. Oh wait, KW does: not married, therefore no future. Well, that’s just stupid.
Laws vary between states and provinces in terms of what constitutes a common-law relationship but once you’ve met those requirements, it’s as good as being married in the eyes of the law for your state or province and, quite frankly, that’s all that matters. The need to add God into the mix with a religious service is a personal choice, although families that fuel themselves with faith would say otherwise.
The Man and I went with a marriage commissioner service at a gallery in town. It was quick and lovely. I’d said since that maybe we could have remained common-law instead of spending the money on one day but then he kind of wondered if I’d still think that in five years or be annoyed that we hadn’t gotten properly married by that point. There is, of course, no way to answer that unless you buy into theories of multiple universes where such a life may have been lived. The year the Man and I spent apart, I can honestly admit it gave me some comfort to think that there could have been a version of the universe where it worked out better for both of us as a couple .. and then this universe came in line with that slight pipe dream and voila! Married! Never saw it coming..
DEAR K.W.: When someone steadfastly refuses to listen to wise advice, there may be little we can do, humanly speaking, to help them. They may simply be stubborn, too proud to admit they’re wrong, or they may sincerely think they’re right and we’re wrong. Whatever the reason, they refuse to heed our warnings.
Here’s the thing to think about. This is a niece, not a son or daughter. Even if it were a relationship the son or daughter was having, it still really isn’t the business of the parent to disapprove and bitch about it and try to break it up. Adults have to make their own choices in life and this ultimately means that they are going to have to make their own mistakes, too. Assuming this relationship is really a “mistake”. Without details about the guy for why he’s a bad pick, we just have this writer’s opinion on the matter.
What can you do? First, let your niece know you love her and care about her, even if she doesn’t accept your advice. If your analysis of her situation is correct, eventually this relationship will end, perhaps painfully, and she’ll need your friendship. You might offer to take her out to lunch and listen to her side of the story, not arguing but gently expressing your concern and letting her know you care. The Bible reminds us that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
And it seems like KW would like to skip directly to “speak” and act like he or she knows the right answer without having any access to the actual test being taken by this niece. Maybe the guy is really awesome but struggling to find a decent job or has family issues that stress him out. Nothing is said that he’s an abuser or a drug addict or a criminal. He’s just not married to her. Big deal — not.
Then pray for her. God can do what we can’t do, and he can change even the most stubborn heart. Pray, too, that your niece will not only come to see the wrongness of what she has done but will also face her need for God’s forgiveness and guidance. Pray, too, for wisdom as you interact with her.
If he’s monogamous, leave them alone.
If he’s not monogamous but they’re in a mutual agreement to enjoy multiple partners of various genders, leave them alone.
If she’s happy with the way her life is right now, in whatever form it’s taking, leave her the fuck alone.
Finally, don’t give up on her. Even if your niece rebuffs you right now, your life is an example of how she should be living. She needs Christ, and God can use you to point her to his forgiveness and love.
If it’s 1950, maybe. Or 1850. Or 1550. Everybody is different. Every situation is different. You disapproval doesn’t add up to squat. Your life is your life, hers is hers. If she isn’t living your life, maybe it’s because she has chosen not to. Perhaps on purpose and with joy in her heart. I’m so glad I’m not K…
If there’s a legitimate beef about the guy, though, as in true, factual, photographic evidence of abuse, then you owe it to your niece to encourage her to seek help and keep at it, even if she’s trying to shut you out. Help her find the help she needs from the medical community, mental health experts, and support groups. Don’t leave her thinking there’s no hope, no escape, and no future that doesn’t include him. Then is the time to use your happy marriage as a model and show her what she’s missing in terms of a healthy relationship. Help her start the very long process to fix things for herself.
(This all would assume she’s ready and wants to. If she’s not, then maybe prayer winds up being your only alternative…)