Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Update on Fiancé’s Stepfather’s Behavior

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Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,

Four years ago you gave me some advice regarding my then-fiancé’s stepfather, George, who was inappropriately physical towards me. I thought you might like to know what has happened since then.

I currently belong to a support group for expectant first-time moms. A couple of weeks ago we decided that each of us would write a “gratitude journal,” and share it with each other.

[Note: A gratitude journal is a diary of things for which one is grateful. They are a way to focus attention on the positive things in one’s life. Gratitude, the feeling of appreciation or thanks, has gained a lot of attention in the field of positive psychology.]

The first entry I wrote and shared with my group is how grateful I am that I did not marry Van. I shudder to think what a disaster that would have been!

Soon after you gave me your advice about how to handle George, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and as a result both she and my dad were so stressed out that I decided not to share with them my concerns about George’s behavior towards me. The next couple of times Van and I were with his mother, Ginny, and George, he was fine, so I assumed I didn’t have to worry about his leers and touching anymore.

Then, four months before our wedding, all of which was planned and paid for, Van and I went to a holiday party that Ginny and George gave. When I went to say hello to George, he put his hand on my butt and squeezed it. I reeled around and said in a loud voice, “What are you doing, George? Get your hands off me.”

People around us heard me, including both Van and Ginny. George was all sweet and apologetic and said that he was just reaching for his phone. As he was loudly saying how sorry he was for bumping me, he leaned in and whispered in my ear, in a vicious voice that only I could hear, a vulgar four-letter word. I told Van I wanted to leave.

Van said I was wrong to cause such an ugly scene after his stepfather had explained “the accident” and apologized. When I told Van what his stepfather had whispered in my ear, he said that Van would never say such a thing and I must have misunderstood him.

I was so upset for days that I couldn’t eat or sleep. All I did was cry. I finally confided in my close girlfriend everything that had been going on with George. She understood why I didn’t want to tell my parents and upset them, so she took it upon herself to call my grandmother and tell her what was going on. My grandmother hopped on a plane and I met her at the airport. I told her everything.

She asked me, “What do you want to do about the wedding: go through with it as planned, postpone it, or call it off?” I told her that I felt I had to go through with the wedding because everything was paid for and I would feel foolish backing out at that point. She said, “No, honey, this is a wedding that should not take place.” I agreed with her.

My grandmother waited in the car while I went to tell Van that I did not want to marry him. When she saw Ginny and George arrive after Van called them, she got out of the car and came to the front door. She could hear all three of them yelling at me, telling me to stop being so emotional and to cool down. Then George started yelling at both my grandmother and me that he had a fortune invested in the wedding.

My grandmother asked him how much. George told her. She pulled out her checkbook and wrote a check for the amount George said, handed it to him, took my hand and we left. In the car she hugged me and said, “They’re not nice people.”

From there we went and brought my parents up to date. My parents were great about it, though they felt bad that they had no idea how much I had been suffering – my father had a few choice words to say about George’s behavior and how disappointed they were that Van sided with George. At that point my grandmother offered to reimburse them for what they had invested in the wedding, saying that since it was coming out of their inheritance anyway, they should inflate the amount. We all laughed.

Van contacted me a few times after that saying he loved me and that we should give our relationship another try. He never mentioned the role of George’s behavior in what happened between us; rather, he would say things like, “You and I are meant to be together, I know we can make this work.” Sure, I had my moments when I questioned my decision to break things off, but then I would remember how Van did not stand by me when I needed him to do so.

Fast forward to the present, with more items for my gratitude journal: I met and married a wonderful guy and we’ve built a solid life together, based on trust. Lots of good things going on: we are excited about becoming parents; my mom’s cancer is in remission; my grandmother moved closer to us and she looks forward to spending time with her great-granddaughter, whose middle name will be the same as her first name.

I am so glad I didn’t marry Van!

Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response,

Many thanks for your update. I am happy for you that you have so much to include in your gratitude journal! Wishing you, your husband, your daughter, and your family lots of love, joy, and good health.


Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts

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