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How Far Will You Go Into Someone Else's Life?
Old 04-25-2010, 08:48 PM   #1
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How Far Will You Go Into Someone Else's Life?

This thread has nothing to do with Fuego's topic, other than his topic put me to thinking about this.

A bit over a year ago I posted a thread about some young friends of mine that were thinking of quitting their jobs, he to start what seemed to me to be a poorly defined software venture, and she to investigate do-gooder and green careers.

People here gave me helpful suggestions about how I might approach the topic with them, but in the end I decided that there is always a lot that I don't know, and maybe this is their destiny or karma or the first steps to getting rich. So I said nothing. It has since turned out medium badly, they lost their coop apartment, she hasn't been able to find adequate employment that meets her psychic needs and his venture survives but struggles along. But we are still friends, and neither of them feels uneasy around me so I think for me I made the right decision.

I have made similar decisions in my family. I had an alcoholic brother 11 years younger than I who died last fall from alcohol related illnesses. I always treated him well and made the assumption that he had to see what a crappy life he was setting up, so what could I do? I never mentioned his drinking to him, other than refusing to get in his car when he was drunk. I didn't even try to get the keys away from him, once he had refused a request. Good way to get hurt, IMO. My other brother sometimes collided violently with him over drinking, and a few times literally went to the mat physically. I felt that that course was fruitless and risky, and drunk brother never changed anything anyway. However, when he died he made fighting brother his beneficiary, so on some level he must have felt that fruitless though they were, his attempts at influence signified love.

Similar but less dramatic problems in sister's life. She is sober, but she is wrecking her marriage and her relationship with her male children. DH has recently moved out and no way will he move back. Years ago she talked to me about getting divorced. I felt that her husband was a real salt of the earth, and a guy that I am very proud to know, so I told her this. I also felt that if she walked on him it would be the last opportunity she had to snag a standup guy, but I did not express this. I have never gone back to this topic in over 10 years, and neither has she. She continues to make really odd decisions, sometimes justified by "that's just the way I feel", as if thought had nothing to do with anything and only feelings counted. She volunteers this justification, so on some level I think she is aware of how odd some of her decisions might look from the outside

A woman friend of mine confided that she has stopped having sex with her husband, and having gotten out of the habit and doesn't want to attempt to resume. I know her husband, IMO he is light years ahead of her next best solution. Yet she expects this fairly young guy to support her (she is retired), take her out to dinner, go to parties with her, etc., with no intimacy in the deal. I told her that there likely were ways to get back into the groove, and that this status quo typically is not one that appeals to husbands. (Not likely that there is a female over age 16 that doesn't understand this) She ignored the issue and never mentioned it again. I did not want her to see me as a possible replacement, which I totally am not. Her DH has finally moved out too.

One's siblings are a special category, as in my case at least I am the older brother and I can see odd types of thinking and recognize that I first saw it when they were 13 or whenever, so I know it is patterned rather than responsive to the situation. I am sure they see similar gaps in my awareness, but only once do I recall have any of them say, "Ha, do you really know what you’re doing?" And although I remember that comment very well, I went ahead with my plans and in fact I hadn’t really known what I was doing.

One's adult children are even more challenging, because here you really care and very much want to spare them pain that you suspect is coming down the pike. However I cannot remember having any doubt that I raised have any effect. But it does stress the relationship, at least temporarily, so I quit speaking out. I have made plenty of questionable decisions myself, and continue to do so, so perhaps when I move out from my glass house I will feel bolder.

I did try to influence my former wife, as I felt that I had a direct stake in outcomes. I would say that these attempts were not utter failures, but I would be hard put to describe them as successes. And of course she is my former wife.

My helping is pretty well limited to taking food, lending an ear, running an errand. Strictly Indian, not Chief. The goal is relationship maintenance, not change.

I guess for me I have arrived at tend your own garden, if you have surplus share it. But I try to never go beyond an easily defensible perimeter and try to stay serene. ( A real stretch for me).

I guess I have no question, but I would be interested if anyone wishes to share interventionist successes, so I could at least imagine that outcome.

Ha
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Old 04-25-2010, 09:34 PM   #2
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It was very interesting reading your stories.

Personally, I cannot really say there have been any situations where I have really tried to intervene in a very direct sort of way. I will give advice, when a related topic comes up, but never otherwise. For my direct family, I have very regularly used nudges, to try and get them to realize certain problems on their own. By direct, I only mean my parents and brother. I have one particular SAHM aunt who is such a poor mother that two of my three cousins have developed serious mental disorders, she also loves living way above her means even as the wife a specialist doctor. Did not get involved with that, perhaps partially because I was too young at the time that any good could be done.

The biggest nudging I have done with my family has been with my parents, particularly my mother. My father is one of the most good natured, accommodating, and has always done his best to provide a decent (though not amazing) income. My mother, when under stress, would have really bad mood swings, and would consider getting divorced (for a second time) many times. I had to constantly counsel both of them throughout my childhood. Recently, I think it has gotten better as my parents near retirement, but I cannot be absolutely sure since I am not around them often anymore.

As for other people, the most I would ever give is advice, there really isn't much you can do other than give them information to make their own decisions.
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Old 04-25-2010, 09:46 PM   #3
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Sorry Ha , I have no intervention successes . I have an older sister who I love but is pushy , overbearing and interested in status symbols . We have clashed and I feel bad but if she was not my sister I would find her pretentious and overbearing ! So now I just keep my distance and hope for the best .
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Old 04-25-2010, 09:57 PM   #4
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After seeing family members make bad choices without common sense (for example, if I say the "B" word, as in you need a Budget, they look at me like I've lost my mind), I've tried to intervene in the past, but have found out that trying to change people doesn't work.

All we can do is nudge them in the right direction, but if real change happens, they have want to change themself. So my approach is if I see they really want to change themself and come to me for idea, help, etc. I'm eager to assist, otherwise, I just let them make their own path.

I guess in a way, it all balances out anyhow. I have an older brother who tries to "save me" by nudging me to have a what he defines a "worthwhile retirement" (travel, see the world, etc.) where I'm quite happy just treating everyday like Saturday and just being, do what I want to do.




I remember this old joke I heard many years ago....

Q. How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. One (but only if the light bulb wants to get changed)
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:05 PM   #5
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I am slowly letting my own children find their own way in life; they are in their early 20s now. So far so good. We don't try to influence anybody else in our families. They are all doing OK though. I don't ask anybody for advice either. They probably think we are nuts for leaving the workforce early, to leave money on the table and join the lumpen slum (my vocabulary has been steady enriched by sticking around here!).
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:10 PM   #6
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It is a tricky subject... but HA, I disagree with a lot of how you handled what I would consider your loved ones...

If I hear that any of them are going to do something that is risky, not well thought out, or just plain stupid (IMO)... I will give them my opinion... I do this in a way that is not dictating, but as a suggestion... a 'have you thought about it this way' kind of way....

Now, sometimes they think about what I said and change.. most of the time they think about what I say and do it anyhow..... but at least IN MY MIND, I gave them my counsel... as they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink...


BTW, I have also not gotten involved with someone who I KNEW would not follow any advice and just wanted someone to agree with them... like the girl I know who shops to much... and have lost houses etc. because of it... I know she will not change.. and I know if she asks for advice, it is more that she wants a bail out... but she is a sister of a friend... so no family ties... come to think of it... I have not talked to her in years after she went back to her BF who was stealing money from her, lying to her, cheating on her etc.... and she swore she would never go back to after he got another girl pregnant and made her get evicted from her rental... but she did.. and was with him for another 1 1/2 years.. last I heard, he moved across the street with another lady, stealing her money...
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:19 PM   #7
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It is a tricky subject... but HA, I disagree with a lot of how you handled what I would consider your loved ones...

...
I see your point, but I guess that giving advice has never worked out for me. "If you're so smart, how come you aint rich?" (This is not directed at you, it's just my thought process when tempted to speak up other than very indirectly.)
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:21 PM   #8
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I stay out of people's business and expect them to return the favor. Even if someone asks for my opinion, I tread carefully. I believe that most people do not seek my genuine opinion but rather expect an affirmation of their opinion.
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:28 PM   #9
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I stay out of people's business and expect them to return the favor. Even if someone asks for my opinion, I thread carefully. I believe that most people do not seek my genuine opinion but rather expect an affirmation of their opinion.
Exactly. And I would add, that I regard protecting myself and any in my household from being affected and harmed in any way by someone else's addictive behavior, to be job one when confronted with that sort of behavior. A second priority would be making sure that I do not harm the addict, for example by enabling. "Do no harm" is a good start.

I would offer to take an alcoholic relative to AA, if the relative was timid and if the relative was sober at the time. I would refrain from serving drinks at any gathering at my house attended by that relative. That sort of thing is fine and neither enables the relative nor harms me or those in my household. But I would NEVER try to do an "intervention". I am not expert in nor even slightly trained in addiction counseling.
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:49 PM   #10
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I found out a long time ago that people are going to do what they want to do. However, I am willing to listen as sometimes people need to be heard and feel that someone cares.

There are only three people in my life that I would go to the end of the earth to help in a crisis. Fortunately there has not been a crisis, but if one ever comes about, I'll be there.
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:50 PM   #11
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I have no idea how this could be implemented by anyone else but the person's insight at the time was remarkable and effective.
I was a Big Brother for many years (male figure to unfathered boys, if you are not familiar with the organization). One day we had a meeting of just Big Brothers and one of them described an outing with his LB which was unorthodox, to say the least, and totally against any BB policy. His LB had been acting out and he took him down to skid row and passed out small bottles of wine to the winos. The LB complained that he didn't like the place. BB replied: "better make friends with these folks now, if you keep going the way you are going you are going to end up here". Our jaws dropped just to hear it, but it is one of the few effective interventions of any kind I have actually known. Actually changed LB's life.
How this could be done anywhere else I don't know. But in schools, military, work and families it does happen from time to time although most frequently nothing effective does happen. I wish with all my heart that I could know something to say at certain times. But at least I know some people have managed it on occasion.
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:53 PM   #12
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For the most part I try to bite my tongue, but I'm seldom successful. It's just that I've got such a great handle on the right thing for everybody else to do, and their lives would be so much better if they'd just listen to me! I just wish it was as clear to me what decisions I should make.

Seriously, with the exception of DD (25y y.o. single mom) I do tend to listen and then give advice or my opinion, but just once. People go ahead and do what they are going to do anyway, as is their prerogative. I do have a hard time sticking around to observe the results of some of their decisions, although with family you are sort of stuck. Watching someone you care about making bad decision after bad decision is painful. But what can you do? And I agree with Ha, it's better to keep your mouth shut and still have the relationship intact afterwards.

DD, on the other hand, gets an earful on a regular basis. I'm trying to back off, and as a result she seems to be listening a bit more. Or maybe just finally growing up. Time will tell.
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Old 04-25-2010, 11:15 PM   #13
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From the opposite perspective, I know many people have attempted to give me advice, and I'll admit I'm guilty of judging the quality of the advice before having heard it by their circumstances or what I already know about them (Ha's comment about "if you're so smart, how come you ain't rich?" comes to mind). I take my Dad's advice to heart, and have been careful to take DW's opinion into consideration as well. I have to admit my teeth grind when my almost bankrupt, always on the verge of losing the house MIL tries to give me financial advice, or any of my multi-divorced, call their kids by their last name crazy aunts try to tell me what's wrong with men, well, you get the idea. I think there is so much bad advice floating around that the signal to noise ratio is too great to do anything but filter all. I've found that most people just want to vent, and that if pressed for an opinion, I ask if they agree with key salient facts (i.e. "you've told him you wanted to get married for three years now, right?") and simply state the options as I saw them and they would know what choice was right for them. Now that's not saying I don't have opinions, and express them - often - but I've been burned enough times giving advice I try not to at all costs.

One exception I would make is the situation with your brother driving drunk. I had high school classmates who died due to drunk driving; I see someone getting behind the wheel drunk as someone telling me their off to attempt murder, so I get pushy then.
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Old 04-25-2010, 11:41 PM   #14
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No intervention successes here, either. I've posted here before about my sister, who has struggled with drugs. She's currently living with my Dad, and has been unemployed for the last couple of years. She does seem to be off drugs, which is good, but she will have a hard time finding employment based on her appearance (meth does REALLY unappealing things to your teeth), and her lack of a stable job history. I have lots of opinions about what she should be doing to re-build her life, and the kinds of things that my Dad should do to steer her in that direction.

Ultimately, though, I keep these thoughts to myself. If either of them came to me for advice, I'd probably share my thoughts, but I'd have no expectation that any advice would be followed. I firmly believe that people do not change unless they reach a point where not changing is more painful than changing.
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Old 04-26-2010, 04:01 AM   #15
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:55 AM   #16
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I think some previous members hit the nail on the head when they said that no one changes until he/she wants to change. Or until they are so sick and tired of being sick and tired, they do something about it. That said, I think efforts should be made to dissuade a loved one from a destructive lifestyle as much as possible. For my son(or my husband and parents, too, but they are all deceased) I would move heaven and earth. I am occasionally asked by friends for advice but steer clear when it involves their children. My Dad used to say, and this is true, you can criticize them but nobody else better. My sister used to call and vent for hours on end about her husband, but I never advised her to leave him. And guess what, after much sturm and drang, things seem to have been smoothed over between them as they got older. They seem content with each other and are enjoying ER together.
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Old 04-26-2010, 07:29 AM   #17
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I think some previous members hit the nail on the head when they said that no one changes until he/she wants to change. Or until they are so sick and tired of being sick and tired, they do something about it. That said, I think efforts should be made to dissuade a loved one from a destructive lifestyle as much as possible. For my son(or my husband and parents, too, but they are all deceased) I would move heaven and earth. I am occasionally asked by friends for advice but steer clear when it involves their children. My Dad used to say, and this is true, you can criticize them but nobody else better. My sister used to call and vent for hours on end about her husband, but I never advised her to leave him. And guess what, after much sturm and drang, things seem to have been smoothed over between them as they got older. They seem content with each other and are enjoying ER together.
This is about where I would come down.
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Old 04-26-2010, 08:18 AM   #18
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Thank goodness my relatives are pretty normal (without damaging dependencies or noticeable financial issues)

Working with Veterans who are seeking employment and VA benefits, well, I sometimes get "all up in their business" - this is to test if the individual is at the "low" needed to get change into action. For example, some of these guys have served time in prison - so I just tell them that was stupid - want to go back? What happened happened - now it is time to move forward. I have had some great success stories both with my vets and my sailors I have mentored over the years. Sometimes it DOES take an outside perspective/opinion to start the ball rolling for change. You cannot determine that timing.
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Old 04-26-2010, 09:26 AM   #19
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I guess I differentiate my meddling. I will not hesitate to give financial advice, especially when asked. Its not hard to help people avoid really dumb/overly risky decisions, so I am happy to do so.

Other than that, I generally do not meddle. Things are less clear outside of dollars and cents, and there is less of an objective criteria for what the "right" choice might be.
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Old 04-26-2010, 09:59 AM   #20
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I guess I differentiate my meddling. I will not hesitate to give financial advice, especially when asked. Its not hard to help people avoid really dumb/overly risky decisions, so I am happy to do so.

Other than that, I generally do not meddle. Things are less clear outside of dollars and cents, and there is less of an objective criteria for what the "right" choice might be.
I kind of fall along these lines generally (recent SIL gambling issue notwithstanding).

Financial and legal advice - I'm willing to give some advice if solicited for help or if something being done is so patently stupid that I would feel really guilty for not saying something. It is hard to tell when someone is asking for advice or just randomly discussing something they are planning to do.

Financial advice isn't as strongly phrased as legal advice. I don't want to have someone come back to me and say "but you told me xyz course of action would make me rich!!". My in-laws (with whom I am in direct contact daily or weekly) are in such financial shape that basic things like "budgeting" "saving" and "spending less than you make" are foreign concepts. The recent recession has opened the eyelids some. But yes, it is very hard watching people piddle away their financial futures when you know you could easily help them turn their financial lives around, if only they would just listen. But you can't make them listen to you, you can't force them to take actions. They have to do it themselves.

As for legal advice, I don't have a problem giving advice if I know the subject matter or law. Or I will tell them, "let me look into that and get back to you with an answer" or "here are some issues that you need to look out for" or "I don't know - you will need to get an attorney to take care of that for you that knows that subject".

Sometimes you can phrase advice in the form of "here is what I do/have done and I think I have been pretty successful with it". And extend the offer, "if you ever want to sit down and look at this in more detail, I would be happy to talk it over with you and show you what I have done".

Sometimes people just need a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes they just need to talk it over and realize there are pros and cons for every decision, and that they have to weight those and come to a conclusion themselves.
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