Dear Dr Robert,
I feel my letter is urgent! My dear friends have found themselves in the middle of a great tragedy. The husband of 12 years has been accused of coming home drunk and attempting to fondle his 13 year old step daughter. He has yet to be charged or arrested. He is living away from his family and proclaims his innocence but also believes and proclaims publicly that his step daughter is a wonderful child and has no reason to believe she would make this up to create problems in their family. He is confused why she believes this happened. Everyone is a bit baffled. This man is a good man as far as we know and has had a good healthy relationship with this child.
My question is this; because I am unsure if this incident occurred I am unclear how to approach the subject of should the family try overcome this. The wife is still secretly visiting her husband and claims publicly not to have contact with him for fear of further hurting her daughter. She believes her daughter, but is in a state of disbelief about the future of her marriage. This couple is so in love and has been a good role model to many other couples and families for years. Is there hope for this marriage or are they fooling them selves.
A concerned friend
Dear Kim Parker--
Let's try to cut to the heart of the matter. Since your friend came home drunk, and since he says that his step daughter would not invent such a story, I think it is fair to assume that something inappropriate took place. In fact, many men find teenage girls sexually attractive, and it is mainly the force of laws, and the fear of other unpleasant consequences that prevent this kind of thing from happening even more often than it already does. I assume (although I cannot be certain, of course) that this fellow has such sexual feelings, perhaps unacknowledged or unconscious to himself, that he has usually kept them under control, but that this time when he was drunk acted them out to some extent. You say that your friend is "a good man," but it is important to remember that no one is all "good." Everyone of us has a dark side, and alcohol can be a dangerous drug in that it has a way of letting the darkness express itself in ill-considered ways.
That said, people do make mistakes, and it seems clear from your friend's present behavior that he does not imagine that this form of acting out is either acceptable or tolerable. As I understand your letter, this man is confused, and needs counseling as soon as possible. In the first place, becoming so drunk that he would lose control in this way suggests a less than optimal relationship to the drug alcohol. I say "the drug alcohol" to underscore that just because alcohol is legal to buy and consume, does not mean that it is any less psychoactive than the other illegal drugs that people like to consume. I mean such substances as cocaine, heroin, crack, etc. Even if your friend rarely drinks, or at least rarely to excess, that does not mean he is not an alcoholic. By my lights, a person is an alcoholic if when consuming alcohol that person loses awareness to the point where his or her behaviors cause problems in personal or work life. By that definition, and according to the facts in your letter, I would say your friend requires immediate counseling about his drinking problem.
Further, your friend, his wife, and the daughter will all require counseling--possibly conjointly, possibly individually, or maybe both conjointly and also separately--if this wound is to be healed so that the three of them can go on with their lives, as I imagine that they should. In other words, if the marriage is as good as you believe it is, your friend should make immediate efforts to stop drinking, and then turn his attention towards working with a counselor, with his wife, and with his step daughter in order to heal the pain and suffering this incident has produced. With such counseling, and based on what you have written to me, the prognosis here seems positive. Without it, the outlook is dismal.
If you like, you might print out a copy of your letter along with my reply and share it with your friends.