I have a much loved in-law whom I trusted with a confidence regarding another relative of hers. She promised to keep my thoughts secret, but she eventually told the relative what I had shared with her. I am angry and sad, I deeply care about her, but I don’t think I can ever trust her again. I will see her in the future at family events, how do you suggest I handle this situation?
Betrayed and Embarrassed In-Law
Dear Betrayed and Embarrassed In-Law,
Oh no! I’m so sorry your in-law broke your confidence. She’s deeply wounded not only her relationship with you, but yours with the relative you spoke of. Of course you are angry and sad!
Family loyalties create slippery situations. I take it you married into the family? In-laws are often judged by blood relatives as less-than members of the clan. Perhaps your in-law perceives herself as closer to this relative, and concluded she had the right to gossip. Information is power, so maybe she saw this as a way to gain the relative’s confidence. Or maybe she agrees with your assessment, but doesn’t have the courage necessary to speak to the relative in her own voice on the issue. My head spins with all the possibilities. And none of these soothe the sting of her actions.
So, how to move forward? Your letter doesn’t say how you discovered this betrayal. Have you considered gently confronting her? You might simply say, “I’m angry and sad that you told our relative what I shared with you in confidence.” Don’t over-explain your perspective, just state your feelings and let her sway in the breeze for a bit. Her response will speak volumes. If she acknowledges your feelings and sincerely tries to make amends, the healing can begin. On the other hand, if she gets defensive and explains her side of things without acknowledging yours, then that tells you a lot, too. Confronting her puts you in a vulnerable spot, however. You may be too bruised right now to approach her. Give it time. The opportunity to talk with her may present itself. Or, you may already know this is a conversation you don’t want to have. That’s okay, especially if there’s any history of her breaking confidences. Old habits are hard to break, and family dynamics and loyalties are even harder to change. Long-term relationships, as with family, will go through deep wounds like this one. They’re not impossible to heal, but require thoughtful, intentional effort on all sides. For now, when you see her, be kind, brief, and elusive. Forewarned is forearmed.
As you recover, take good care of yourself. Spend time with people who love you, and with whom you feel safe and appreciated. When you’re sad, you may recall feeling a pang of hesitation before you confided this secret to your in-law. Forgive yourself for not heeding that intuition. Celebrate that you’ll honor it the next time you feel it. When the anger comes along, listen to “You Told Me”, by The Monkees. (They just released a terrific album which I intend to make my summer soundtrack). This song is the first track on their 1967 Headquarters album–the first one playing and composing as a band after years of being derided as “the Pre-Fab Four.” This Mike Nesmith (the one with the hat) composition takes a swipe at the critics, and ushers in a new chapter in their songbook. Maybe it’ll help you turn a page, too.
Thank you for your questions! Send in more for next week’s column!
Editors Note: This edition of Maria’s advice column was originally published in 2016.