Too close for comfort

Published: June 23, 2009 | Last Updated: June 24, 2009 By | Reply Continue Reading

LONGER THAN USUAL QUESTION🙂

Hi Irene!

I’m so glad I stumbled onto your website! I am going through a situation and desperately need advice! I have a very close cousin, Coralee, who I’ve basically grown up with like a sister and we’ve been friends most of my life. I am 28, and she is 37. About two years ago, I set her up with a co-worker of mine, a relationship that ended about six months later when he moved to California for another job. During the time she was dating him, I got pregnant. When my husband and I shared our exciting news at a family get-together, she stormed out of the room. I later learned from my co-worker that she was very upset and jealous. She felt that, at 35 years of age, she deserved to have a wonderful husband and to be starting a family instead of me.

When my daughter was three months old and I was getting ready to go back to work, my husband and I decided to move down the street from my parents, so my dad could watch her during the day. Coralee, my other cousin (Faith) and her husband, their parents, and my other aunt all live within about 10 miles of my new house. As a result, what was once an every-other-week get-together with my family, because we lived about 45 minutes away, is now 2 or 3 times a week. We have dinner at my house once a week, dinner at my aunt’s house once a week, and spend every holiday together.

My daughter is now 13 months old, and although Coralee was jealous and angry when I first got pregnant, she is now obsessed with my daughter. Before we moved, I only saw her at family functions and rarely one-on-one but she now sends me text messages and emails incessantly – 3 or 4 times a day and as late as 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And although she sees my daughter at least 2 or 3 times a week, it seems like it is never enough. She wants to come over on my days off, asks me every weekend if I want to go shopping or out to lunch, drops by at my dad’s house while he is watching my daughter, and at least once a month, “suggests” that my husband and I go out on a date so she can babysit. If I don’t respond right away, she sends messages like, “I guess you don’t want to talk to me,” or “I haven’t heard from you lately…”

Last weekend, my husband, daughter, and I took a trip to visit my mother-in-law. During the course of this 4-day trip, Coralee sent me five text messages and called me twice, and when I didn’t respond right away because my battery had died, began sending messages to my husband, who was extremely irritated. He got another five text messages and one call from her and responded once to tell her we were safe and that my phone had died. She continued to send messages, saying things like, “I am having withdrawal,” and “I miss you,” and “You obviously don’t feel like texting.”

I chose not to respond because I knew it would lead to a very long string of texting that I didn’t have time for, considering I was already stressed making sure my daughter was fed, got her naps in an environment she was unfamiliar with, and didn’t break any of my mother-in-law’s things or toddle down the stairs. I also wanted to enjoy the vacation with my daughter and husband.

When we got home, I called my mom to ask for advice. She told me to call Coralee’s mom and see what she thought I should do. Well, when I called my aunt, as my uncle was handing the phone to her, I heard Coralee’s voice in the background yelling, “Why does she call you and not me?”

I didn’t realize Coralee was going to be over there for dinner when I called, so I was in a very uncomfortable situation at that point. My aunt went to the other room to talk to me, and I told her that things were getting really bad with Coralee and the texting and calling were getting to be too much. My aunt said she would talk to her that night. The next day, I emailed my other cousin, Faith. I am very close with Faith and explained what had happened on our vacation and my conversation with my aunt the night before.

This is not the first time Coralee has been told to back off. Faith has told her in the past that she is too needy (with me and with her other friends), and she often drops hints to Coralee that she should let us have some family time. As Coralee’s younger sister, she has always felt that Coralee is possessive of her, too. Coralee has been raised to think that she can have anything she wants. Her parents have never said no to her. So even Faith became like a doll that she could control.

As a result, she has very few friends and no significant other. She no longer has any hobbies, as she quit boxing and working out when she had a fallout with her trainer. She is a high school teacher and gets off work around 1:00PM with not much to do for the rest of the day. I feel like my daughter has become the only thing she looks forward to in her life.

I love Coralee, and I’m grateful my daughter has people in her family that love and support her, but I am becoming very angry about this situation. Coralee does not respect my time or space. She doesn’t seem to understand that I don’t always have time to be in constant communication with her. I just want to be able to come home, spend time with my daughter and husband, and relax and go to bed without feeling like I have another person’s needs to tend to.

With a one-year old, I barely have time to wash my own hair or shave my legs most of the time, let alone fulfill Coralee’s need for companionship. She just doesn’t understand how hard it is to come home from a 10 1⁄2 hour day at work after spending 40 minutes in heavy traffic and then feed, bathe, change, and put a squirmy wormy tired baby to bed every night, and then scarf down my dinner and collapse into bed. Of course I would not change having my daughter for anything in the world, but sometimes I just get exhausted, and it is HARD!

Coralee just doesn’t seem to understand that. On top of that, I don’t believe it is healthy for my daughter to have someone in her life, who is obsessed with her and thinks she can do no wrong. Coralee has often made comments that my daughter is “perfect,” and I don’t like the message that may send. Even though I have unconditional love for my daughter, I realize that she is just human like everybody else and will most definitely make some mistakes. If I treated her like she was perfect and could do no wrong, she might end up like Coralee, with an unhealthy view of herself and what a true balanced relationship should look like.

I know Coralee needs to see a counselor, but I also know if I were to suggest it, she would be livid and probably not speak to me for months. Although my aunt said Coralee’s embarrassed by this whole thing, she has yet to contact me to apologize since my aunt talked to her on Tuesday. How should I handle this situation without creating more of a rift in the family?

Frustrated yet hopeful,
Mimi

ANSWER

Hi Mimi:

Although you are fond of your cousin, you sound appropriately miffed at her jealousy, possessiveness and intrusiveness. Coralee hasn’t been able to accept the changes in your life as you took on the new roles of a wife and then a mother.

But you haven’t done a good job either–in terms of establishing appropriate boundaries and communicating candidly with her about your own needs. Because she is so demanding, you may have to be very direct in setting limits about how often and how late she can call, for example, and about how much time she can spend with your daughter. Coralee shouldn’t have to hear this from her mother. You need to have a heart-to-heart with Coralee herself or this situation is going to fester to the point of a blow-up.

Another caution: Even if you are blunt, Coralee still may not “get it” first time around but at least you will have been forthright and given her the feedback she needs. Yes, she needs to get a life of her own and find other people and things she enjoys. Freeing up some of her time, the time she now spends on you and your daughter, may leave her holes that she will fill with new relationships and interests.

Being cousins as well as friends adds an additional level of complexity to your relationship. Even though your friendship has turned rocky, the fact that you have such strong family connections has kept you close. Since you appreciate and value the importance of kin, be careful to avoid a rift that could rapidly deteriorate into a family feud if other people are asked to get involved and take sides.

Since you are more whole than Coralee, extend the olive branch to her. Apologize for not being direct in the past. Tell her how much you love her and appreciate the love she shows for your family but tell her in no uncertain terms that you need more time and space for you and your immediate family.

Let us know how things turn out.

Best,
Irene

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