Question

Since the death of our mother last year, the relationship I have with my sisters has disintegrated. I’m being accused of posting mean things about them on social media. I have not done any such thing. I love them both and would not do that. The one sister doesn’t even use social media and sent me a message that though she doesn’t have social media, she hears from her daughter that I go back and forth with my brothers on social media with hateful comments. She could check for herself that this isn’t true. I don’t understand why she wouldn’t check it out for herself. In her email to me she said I would never be invited to any event of her family in the future, including weddings. I am so hurt. I never ever put anything online that is negative. Two of my brothers have posted hurtful and rude things on social media, but I never have. I miss the relationship with my sisters. Why would anyone make up something like this? I can’t ask questions because they’ve blocked me. I really am at a loss, confused, and hurt. I don’t know how to fix it.

Answer

It’s an awful feeling to be misunderstood and falsely accused of something you didn’t do. It can feel like a terrible dilemma of having to choose responses that could get interpreted as incriminating silence or defensive explaining. Let’s talk about how you can respond to this painful development in your family.

First of all, losing a parent can dramatically shift the relationship dynamics in a family. Not only do we all grieve differently, roles naturally change when a person disappears from the family dance. If your mother’s role helped stabilize these sibling relationships, her absence could now require all of the siblings to learn new ways of relating to each other. I mention this because these challenges you’re experiencing may involve more than the obvious details you’ve shared.

Since your sisters aren’t speaking to you and have blocked you from interacting with them, it’s important to turn your focus toward responding in ways that align with your deepest convictions. You alone are responsible for how you respond to your sisters, even if what they are doing is completely unjustified and unfair. Even though you can’t force your sisters to interact with you, you aren’t powerless to act.

M. Catherine Thomas reminds us of an important principle taught in the Book of Mormon:

“I have come to know that in any moment what I send out is my choice, and I can’t blame it on a situation or on another person. ‘And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you’ (Helaman 14:30-31).”[i]

Your peace will result from how you respond to your sisters and not from how your sisters respond to you. If you believe that you can’t feel peace until your sisters re-engage you, you’ll put yourself in a more tumultuous and miserable position. President Russell M. Nelson taught that, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”[ii]

I take great comfort knowing that even the Prince of Peace was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”[iii] Even though the Savior spent most of his life being misunderstood and ridiculed by those around him, his purpose was fixed, which allowed him to have “peace which passeth all understanding.”[iv]

What is your purpose when it comes to your family relationships? You know the truth about your intentions and you know that you want to have close meaningful relationships. Even though you’ve been accused of behavior and intentions that don’t match your reality, you can have peace as you seek confirmation that you’re doing your part to be a good family member.

W. Jeffrey Marsh shared an account of how the Prophet Joseph Smith responded to false accusations. His willingness to trust the truth of what really happened in combination with his deep desire to seek the truth, even at the expense of his own reputation, allowed him to experience peace. The following is the account as reported by an acquaintance of the Prophet:

“I went one day to the Prophet with a sister. She had a charge to make against one of the brethren for scandal. When her complaint had been heard the Prophet asked her if she was quite sure that what the brother had said of her was utterly untrue.

She was quite sure that it was.

He then told her to think no more about it, for it could not harm her. If untrue it could not live, but the truth will survive. Still she felt that she should have some redress. Then he offered her his method of dealing with such cases for himself. When an enemy had told a scandalous story about him, which had often been done, before he rendered judgment he paused and let his mind run back to the time and place and setting of the story to see if he had not by some unguarded word or act laid the block on which the story was built. If he found that he had done so, he said that in his heart he then forgave his enemy, and felt thankful that he had received warning of a weakness that he had not known he possessed.

Then he said to the sister that he would have her to do the same: search her memory thoroughly and see if she had not herself unconsciously laid the foundation for the scandal that annoyed her.

The sister thought deeply for a few moments and then confessed that she believed she had.

Then the Prophet told her that in her heart she could forgive that brother who had risked his own good name and her friendship to give her this clearer view of herself.

The sister thanked her advisor and went away in peace”[v]

I invite you to follow the counsel given here so you can not only learn to trust the truth of what really happened, but also use it as an opportunity to see if there are places where you can understand any contributions you’ve made to this situation.

And, don’t forget that additional peace can come as you soften your heart and pray for your family relationships to heal. Young Nephi lived with the constant barriers of pride and aggression from his older brothers, which caused him immeasurable grief and suffering. His response in instructive for all of us:

“But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.”[vi]

There might be openings in the future when you’ll have an opportunity to respond to your sisters. You might be tempted to defend yourself and criticize them for how they’ve treated you. Instead, seek an opportunity to understand what happened for them and why they responded in such an extreme way. Clearly, they’re hurting from something you don’t understand and you can stand in the strength and power of knowing the truth of your heart and intentions. This purpose can give you reassurance to extend compassion and understanding to them, even though you might want to naturally retaliate.

The Prophet Joseph Smith emphasized the power of a soft response, especially to those who are unkind to us:

“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind….It is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind and retard our progress by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father the more are we disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls, to take them upon our shoulders and cast their sins behind our back….If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.”[vii]

Even if you don’t have a chance to speak with your sisters in the near future, you can still make room for the strong possibility that they’re experiencing tremendous pain and confusion about who you are and what they mean to you. You can make room to hear their experience and then ask them to make room to hear your experience and intentions. This will be an important exchange to rebuild the trust and security in this relationship. In the meantime, you can continue to seek peace while you patiently hope for a chance to reconnect with them.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. You can receive 20% off by entering the code MERIDIAN at checkout. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber
Website: www.geoffsteurer.com 
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
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[i] https://bomhandouts.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/living-the-spirit-of-at-one-ment.pdf

[ii] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2016/10/joy-and-spiritual-survival?lang=eng

[iii] Isaiah 53:3

[iv] Philippians 4:7

[v] Jesse W. Crosby, in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999), 162–63.  (The full article by W. Jeffrey Marsh can be found here: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-4-number-3-2003/dealing-personal-injustices-lessons-prophet-joseph-smith#_edn15)

[vi] 1 Nephi 2:18 

[vii] https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-addenda/74