Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

What do you do when your brother takes your abusive mother’s side? Is your boyfriend drinking too much?

DEAR NATALIE: My brother and I were totally traumatized by our abusive mother growing up. It really impacted us both differently. I have sought therapy and moved away from the city where we grew up. I don’t really talk to my mother often because when I do, it becomes heated really quickly, with both of us saying hurtful things. My brother, on the other hand, has stayed close to my mother and resents me for leaving. He even took her side on more than one occasion. It is astounding to me that after all the abuse we experienced as kids that he can be around her. It has really put a strain on our relationship, too. I love my brother so much and want to have him in my life, especially now that my husband and I are expecting our first child this spring. But how can I move forward if he won’t acknowledge what she did to us? -- WANTS HER BROTHER BACK

DEAR WANTS HER BROTHER BACK: A teacher of mine in graduate school said something interesting about abuse in families: Even with an abusive parent, children may have different memories of their experiences. You may remember the abuse, but he may not have perceived it or internalized her behaviors in the same way. You’re different people with different experiences, even when exposed to the same person. This could partly be why your brother doesn’t see eye-to-eye with you. You dealt with your trauma head-on, seeking therapy and taking the necessary steps to mitigate the toxic relationship you had with your mother. Your brother, on the other hand, has run toward her, not away. There’s a wedge now between you and your brother because of how you both choose to relate to her as adults. The best thing you can do is to recognize these differences and try to move beyond them so you can spend meaningful time with your brother. You may want to have a heart-to-heart with him and say, “Look, I know we remember our childhoods differently. You know how I feel about mom, but I would love to have you back in my life more. With the baby on the way, I want you around your niece or nephew and be part of our lives. Can we make a pact not to let mom come between us?” See what he says. You aren’t being defensive — you are approaching him with love. He may be caught off guard and share some of the emotional baggage that he may be carrying around. If he does, listen with an open heart and mind, validate his feelings and remind him that you are always there for him. It could be just the thing to open the floodgates and create a more meaningful connection.

DEAR NATALIE:  My boyfriend and I have been together for a little over a year and I recently moved in with him. He is a good person, overall, but there is one major issue that concerns me: He sometimes doesn’t come home when he says he is going to and has stumbled into our place at 5 or 6 a.m. I can always smell beer on him, like he’s been out drinking all night. I’ve even had to wake him up so he wouldn’t miss work, which really stresses me out. I am not much of a drinker, and when we go out, I usually drive or we take an Uber. But I am also not a babysitter. I really love him and don’t want us to fall apart because of this, but whenever I bring it up, he calls me names and tells me to stop “harassing” him. He becomes so defensive I don’t know how to talk to him about it. Any suggestions? -- NOT HIS DRINKING BUDDY

DEAR NOT HIS DRINKING BUDDY: He’s becoming defensive and deflecting his behavior because deep-down, whether he is conscious of it or not, he knows his behavior is hurting your relationship. This drinking is clearly becoming a problem. The fact that he is coming home late, that you have had to wake him up so he wouldn’t miss work, and that he lies to you about when he is coming home is all problematic. If he has a dependency on alcohol, and it sounds as though he might, this issue isn’t just going away. The only thing you can do is take care of yourself and set boundaries. I also want you to view the word “love” as a verb. His actions are not loving when he berates you. You don’t have to accept that behavior. The next time you challenge him on how much he is drinking and he verbally accosts you, I would say this: “It’s hurts me and our relationship when you belittle me every time I try to address something out of concern and love. If you don’t work on yourself, I don’t know how we can move forward in our relationship. I love you, but I won’t allow anyone to verbally abuse me. I am here to support you, but I also deserve respect.” Relationships can survive substance abuse if everyone involved is willing to do their part. But if he isn’t yet willing to acknowledge that his drinking hurts your relationship, you may have to reevaluate. Remember, if he is indeed dealing with substance abuse issues, that addiction is a disease and everyone experiencing addiction need compassion. But you’re right — you aren’t his babysitter. Things most likely won’t get better on their own unless he gets help. At the very least, I would seek counseling for yourself so you can deal with the situation constructively. Don’t stay with anyone just because you love them. Love isn’t enough. You need mutual trust and respect, too.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Know your crowd. Different networking or philanthropic events draw different audiences, so keep that in mind as you navigate the scene and chat with people. You want to meet people where they are, share your story and, most importantly, ask open-ended questions so they will share theirs.

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email,; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)