Tough subject... how to approach family member

I have a sister who seems to be falling… hard.
She’s recently left for college and is going wild. Rumor has it (through her friends), that she’s having lots of sex with lots of different guys… and really enjoys drinking.

God I’m devistated. I love her to death.

We were NOT raised that way. My parents are clueless.

She’s very shy and does not talk about her personal life.
I fear, if I approach her directly on the subject she’ll never talk to me again.
I KNOW she has major self image issues, and my belief is that she’s getting reassurance about her image from these guys through the sex. She’s never had a long term boyfriend (that she’s ever mentioned… remember, she doesn’t TALK about her personal life with anyone in the family!)… but she’s risking her entire future! Marriage, children, etc, etc…

She’s NOT on birth control (which I disagree with anyway… completely!)… heck, she’s never even seen an ob/gyn doctor yet (her first visit is scheduled this fall)…

Oh God, what do I do? Do I approach her and risk loosing my entire relationship with her?

Prayers are of course appreciated…

What type of relationship do you have with her? How does she view you? i.e. friend? parent type? are you close?

Perhaps you should just work on your friendship with her. Leave space for her to share. Depending upon how close you are would then determine how directly you should approach this subject…

we have to earn the right to be heard…


Talk to her. You’ve got to. Be gentle at first and really, really listen to her. In fact, you are going to need to do more listening than talking. I would also be matter of fact with your advice. Maybe have some statistics handy to back up why this is not for her benefit. Try to also have a mental list of what it is that makes her special, so that you can help her to understand that she is worth so much more than this.

This is a difficult situation, and I hope you can find the right way to approach her.

I would approach her this way “People are saying that you’re acting out of control and that you are sleeping with many guys. Why would they say and think this?” Then you leave it open for her to think about her actions, not just to answer (and maybe lie to you) that she’s not having sex (the answer you’d get if you asked “is this true?”).

My younger sister and I don’t really talk about sex too much (she lives 12 hours away), but she now has her first boyfriend and I told her to not be stupid like I was (I had sex with a number of men in my life and I had a child out of wedlock), that she deserves a man to treat her with respect, that includes to respect her virginity. My family never taught me about self respect sexually speaking, and so I knew that no one would tell her, so that is why I spoke up and told her that she deserves better than I allowed for myself. I don’t know if my discussion will have any influence on her, but I do know that I am the only person in her life who has held her to a higher standard and demanded that she do the same for herself.

Thank you all…

My relationship with her is very stong… although I’m sure she feels very intimidated by me…
I am much older than she is, and appear to have made many “good” decisions in life.

I am certainly not a perfect person, by any means… and I have also made many mistakes…
But appearances don’t always reflect those mistakes… I’m a sinner too…

In my teenage years I was a “nerd” (yes, I admit it! :smiley: ), highly motivated in school, faith, music… I just worked very hard and always tried to be “good”. I look back on high school with very innocent eyes.

So, what I’m saying is, I can’t relate to making these types of mistakes… so I’m afraid she’ll look at me as judgemental of her choices.
I am NOT judgemental… I just love her and want her to know how much she’s loved.

I guess I should try to just say exactly THAT to her… but still, I’m so scared she’ll view me as judgemental because “I’d never understand what she’s going through”… in many ways that’s true… :frowning:

She definitely needs to see an Ob/Gyn! That’s an important thing. She needs to see one and to be honest with the doc. That kind of unprotected sexual activity can kill, render her infertile and make her a vector for spreading diseases to others. Which says nothing of pregnancy, which is a whole other issue. Maybe you could have a pre-ob/gyn appointment visit with her wherein you encourage her to be open and honest with her doc; that may help her open up to you on the same subject and if not, will be useful to her. Plus keeping it in the realm of disease and health removes a lot of judgementalism that might be inferred by her; after all people talk about health when they care about someone.

And I wouldn’t bring up the rumors. Many young women are not virgins by the time they are 18, so going from a general assumption that she may be (not is) sexually active or has been, may be an easier approach.

Good Luck!

Thank you… I really like the idea of staying in the “safe” zone of disease and health… and discussing honesty with her doctor… maybe that will ease any appearances of judgementalism…

Is it a good college, is she progressing academically, does it look like she will have a successful career? Make sure that her future in the work place is going well, and if that personal life is one that she enjoys, then leave her to it. That is unless you think she might truly get hurt, but the learning and academic process is of top importance. A lot of sex with different people is certainly not something that I would condone-I couldn’t do it personally. I think it’s horrible. However, and this might be off topic, if she is in a good, serious relationship (and they aren’t married-gasp!) then sex can be practical and fine, if both people respect and truly care for each other. So if that is or becomes her way, then don’t try to tell her she’s wrong just because of those religious rules, which are sometimes not practical.

You mentioned in your first post that your sister is drinking a lot. As someone who has been down that road I can tell you that this could be the crux of the problem. She may be drinking so much that when she is drunk she makes really dumb decisions. The shame and guilt one feels later about those decisions leads to more drinking, and more dumb decisions.

She could be suffering from the disease of alcoholism. Most people don’t realize that this disease kicks you in the behind when you are stone cold sober. You feel so disconnected from the world. When you drink you no longer feel that disconnect so it is difficult to see the drinking as a problem. In fact it feels more like a solution.

I like the person who suggested that you approach her with the question of helping you understand why some people would say such things about her. In other words, why would her friends say these things? Is there something going on, dearest sister, that you need some help with? Has something happened to cause them to worry about you?

Don’t be surprised if you are told that the problem is them. If she does say that don’t argue with her. Assure her that she is loved and valued. Many times I did things when drunk because deep down inside I did not feel as though I mattered - it was only when I got sober that I discovered that everything I do and say matters.

Remember, too, that it could take several approaches before she tells you the truth. Don’t give up…ask St. Therese to shower her with roses and then do not pass up the opportunity to tell her how precious she is in your sight and in the sight of God.

Thank you for your comments!

I’m not positive about the amount of alcohol she’s drinking… but I do believe it lowers her inhabitions enough for her to come “out of her shell”… she’s a very shy girl with self image issues and I’m sure that the alcohol makes her feel much more confident.

I actually have talked to her about the alcohol… the problem is that she hides this all from the family. She sneaks it around. Maybe this is a sign of alcoholism… ??..
Hmmm, that makes me wonder, because my parents have always been open to allowing small amounts of alcohol before the age of 21 (while she’s at home with my parents, they’d offer her a glass of wine with dinner for a special occassion, etc), so there’s really no reason to SNEAK it.

Hmmm… more to pray about… UGH…

Thanks again, all!

Emily, I don’t know if she is an alcoholic or is what is called in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous a *potential *alcoholic. I can’t diagnose her and I would never presume to do so…it’s just that I know that when I went off to college I was overwhelmed. I went from a small Catholic High School to a large public University and I ‘went wild’ too - but it was all fueled by fear. Alcohol took that fear away from me.

One thing I learned was that alcoholism, the disease, will yank you across every boundary you have in your life. It took me many years to get back on track and while I do not regret my past, nor wish to shut the door on it, I know that many of the choices I made while under the influenced changed the course of my life.

I am going to suggest you start praying for the intercession of Venerable Matt Talbot. He got sober before there was an AA with the help of a very devoted spiritual director and the exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Someday he will be the patron saint of alcoholics and addicts. Ask him to intercede on your behalf for your sister’s well being.

And you might want to go to the AA website and learn more about the disease. Maybe it can help you.


Do you know what kind of website you’re posting on?

Are you Catholic?

Do you reject the teaching of the Catholic Church that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is a mortal sin?

Were you ever taught what happens to the souls of people who die in mortal sin?

Is heaven full of “reasonable” people?

It kills me how some Catholics justify gravely sinful actions as long as “it’s not hurting anyone else” and “I can handle it”.

Aw, Em, this must be totally devastating for you.

Is there a Catholic campus ministry where she’s going to school? That could be a good starting place for her to find some more wholesome friends.

Could you invite her over for a heart to heart for a long weekend or something? Having made poor mistakes myself, though thankfully of a lesser magnitude, I definitely wish a friend would have taken me aside to show me that I really could just turn around and stop.

From my own experience and others whose problems sound as extreme as your sister, you begin to live a double life, pretending everything is OK and acting like the same sound, moral person you were, yet feeling like you have made an irrevocable mistake and now have a reputation to keep up. One of my very best friends got caught up in that lifestyle and ended up pregnant at 19. Hopefully your intervention will prevent it from getting that far. We’ll say a prayer for you and your sis.

You have to talk to your sister. She is destroying her life at such a young age and she is going to regret it. Talk to her as a friend and explain to her that there are consequences to her actions. Be honest with her and tell her that you have heard stories about her and you do not like the stories that you are hearing. You are not judging her but you love her very much and you don’t want her to make a mistake that will effect the rest of her life. Say to her that you understand that the way things are now are not the same as they were when you were at college. She must enjoy college because that is the best years of your life. You look back and think of all the things you did. What memories will she have.

And tell her that she does not need to be drunk to fit in. All alcohol does is make you feel good for a short period of time and there are always consequences. And in this day and age with HIV/AIDS you cannot be sleeping around with any Tom, Dick or Harry. Not only because of religious reasons but for many other reasons also. What would she do if she got an infectious disease or ended up pregnant.

She needs to realise that she cannot continue like this. And also make her understand how would your parents react if they had to find out about her behaviour not from you but from strangers. And that you will help and always be there for her. Tell her that you love her and care for her and you will do whatever you can to guide and assist her in the right direction. Tell her that you are not perfect and that you have also made mistakes in your life but not the kind of mistakes that could affect your whole life.

And if it comes to a point whereby she gets angry or upset with you. Just be calm and tell that you will always be there for her if she needs you and leave like that. Tell her you will pray for her and will always love her. She also needs to think for herself what is right and wrong. You cannot force her to change but guide and assist her in the right direction.

Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts… it means more than you know…

I have a wonderful faith-filled family that is really coming together over this… my SIL, inspired by THIS THREAD… (who is so much braver in these situations than I am… I’m scared to death my sister would close up and never want to talk to me!), went up to visit her and start a dialog just last night… and apparently it went very well.

And I have also emailed my sister regarding their conversation last night… mostly based around how much God loves her.

Hopefully we’re reaching her heart… I want her to know how much she is loved… one step at a time…

Thanks again!

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