DEAR HARRIETTE: My aunt has been in an unhealthy relationship for 12 years. She keeps making excuses for her husband's actions, but I know that the relationship is breaking her spirit. How can my family convince her to finally leave and start a new life? -- Rescuing My Aunt
DEAR RESCUING MY AUNT: You cannot control your aunt’s actions. As an adult, she has the right to stay in a bad relationship -- even if you disagree.
What you can do is to talk to her about her dreams and desires for her life. Don’t complain about her husband. Instead, encourage her to think about her future. What does she need to do to reach her goals? By encouraging her to consider her own interests and work toward them, you create space for her to dream.
If you see an opening to talk about her relationship, you may take the approach of giving examples. I know a woman who was in an emotionally abusive relationship who plotted a course that took several years to complete. While having a full-time job and rearing a child, she went back to school, got an advanced degree and ultimately secured a higher wage. With more financial independence, she eventually was able to leave her marriage without too much financial hardship. Another person I know asked her parents if she could move back home temporarily until she got on her feet. It took years for her to drum up the courage to walk away, but the safe haven of home helped her to make a smooth transition.
Think of stories that you know that may help your aunt see options for herself.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)