Q: My girlfriend, 54, and her 17-year-old son moved in with me about 6 weeks ago. Our life was totally stress free and effortless until about 2 weeks ago. When I was with her son while she was away at a family event, he was talking to me about drugs. I mentioned that I and his uncle and aunt on his mom's side had all done recreational drugs a little bit a long time ago. Well, on the following Monday the mom, aunt and uncle found all of their kids, 17 - 20, doing drugs. While trying to deny it, the son told all the adults, "Well you did drugs, so why can't I?" and gave up our conversation of the previous weekend. Mistake #1 against me for talking to an adolescent about it. Next, while at a party, I was talking to a 40-year-old guy who dates my girlfriend's 27-year-old daughter. Making casual convo he asked me how I like the brother of my girlfriend and his wife. I stated that I liked them OK but just did not like some of the things they do, but which I have done too. They drink every day to excess and get totally drunk on the weekend. I drink too, but not to that degree. Mistake #2 on me as the guy IM'ed the girl who told her mom and it all got back to the brother and his wife. The complication here is that my girlfriend is overly protective of her 45-year-old brother who lived with her for 2+ years, letting her pay for everything during the period until he moved in with his wife 2.5 years ago and is still not working. Understanding I goofed up by saying these things, I made apologies to all. No one is accepting them. Where do I go from here? -- Joe, 58
Dr. Susan: You have found yourself in the middle of one big-time dysfunctional family that has been looking for someone else to blame. While I'm all for honesty, you were a little too honest about the wrong things with the wrong people. That said, I don't believe that your admission of early drug-experimenting is what suddenly caused all those teens to start "doing drugs." Everyone doesn't have to make the same mistakes (if during your admission to the teen, you indicated why you stopped your own early drug use). But also, kids in their late teens trying out a joint isn't the end of the world as we know it. And their behavior is not your fault.
Now, when you indicated to someone outside the family that certain family members get sloppy drunk, you might have suspected this sort of thing would get back to those involved. Don't complicate issues by fretting over your girlfriend's relationship with her brother. If everyone would simply talk about their own lives and not discuss the private habits of others, less would get twisted in the retelling, and fewer apologies would be required. The fact here, though, is that you didn't lie, you apologized for carrying tales, and the rest is not your fault. Give them time to simmer down.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.