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Dating Maze #315: The Shunned Bride
Dating Advice 315

Dating Maze #315: The Shunned Bride

As she walks down the aisle, will the mother-in-law be throwing rotten tomatoes?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a 29-year-old woman who has finally found the right man. My fiancé, Gary, and I are planning to be married in six weeks. You'd think I'd be on cloud nine, but the truth is that I'm terrified. My future in-laws hate me, and some members of my fiancé's family have already stated their plans not to attend our wedding.

I'm not using the word "hate" lightly. I first met Gary's parents about a month before we got engaged, and that meeting was filled with tension. Gary noticed it, too, but he believed that once we all got to know each other, things would ease up. Exactly the opposite has happened. When we announced our engagement to Gary's parents, I felt as if we had told them that someone died. They didn't announce our engagement to their friends, didn't put it in the synagogue announcements, and didn't want to invite anyone except the immediate family to the engagement party my parents made for us.

What hurts even more is the fact that my future mother-in-law never refers to me by name. She uses derogatory terms when addressing me or talking about me, and she has criticized me to Gary in my presence. I know that she says plenty more when I'm not around! Gary says that his mother is having a hard time accepting me, and that it hurts him that this is happening, but he hopes that if we're patient, she'll come around. He's asked her to call me by my name and told her that if she can't say anything nice, to please not say anything at all. But she hasn't changed. Gary now just ignores her when she goes on one of her "venting sessions." Gary's father is pretty silent and cold to me, too.

I can’t figure out why Gary's family hates me so much.

I've tried to figure out why Gary's family hates me so much. We're pretty similar religiously, and we both come from middle-class backgrounds, so the issue isn't a difference in religion or class. I have a college degree, a job I like, and some money in the bank, so I'm not dragging Gary down with debt. I love Gary and I treat him with respect, so they can't say that I don't treat him properly. And I was pleasant to Gary's parents when we met and I don't treat them disrespectfully, even though I am hurt by how they feel toward me. Gary thinks it's a personality issue – I'm a high-energy, social, assertive person and maybe that's too much for them.

I invited my future mother-in-law for coffee one day, to try to make peace with her. I told her that I know things are awkward between us right now, and that I hoped in time we can have a good relationship. I asked her if there was something I could do to help it along, and she basically said that she doesn't want me to marry her son, that she thinks our marriage is destined to fail, and that she hopes Gary will come to his senses and realize this is a big mistake.

Gary's parents were not interested in helping plan the wedding, and only reluctantly gave Gary a list of relatives to invite from their side. Gary's married sister seems to be adopting the family position about me (I never met her, she lives 500 miles away) and has told him she won't be coming to the wedding. Just today, Gary's mom got so frustrated with our continued wedding plans that she said she plans to announce to all the guests that she is not pleased with his choice. Now I'm afraid that as the date grows nearer she may do something to sabotage the wedding.

I just want to have a nice wedding and start a life with the man I love. I'm not dreaming that Gary's family will accept me, but I don't want them ruining the wedding, either. And what do we do about our relationship with Gary's family after the wedding?


Dear Jennifer,

It's difficult for us to read a letter like yours, not only because we see how painful it is for you to be planning a wedding where Gary’s parents would like nothing better than to stop it from taking place. We're also concerned because experience has shown us that the disrespectful way they treat you will continue after the wedding, and we worry that this will have an effect on the marital harmony that you and Gary hope to achieve.

First, let's look at the positives about your situation. You're fortunate that Gary is astute enough to see that his parents are treating you badly, is disturbed by their behavior, and has stood up for you. However, you both may be underestimating the power their venom toward you can have. In addition, his hope that in time they will accept you may be unrealistic. It sometimes does happen, but frequently these hostile comments and behavior do not subside (they may even increase) and create real tension between the couple. That is our biggest concern.

You have to take steps to prevent them from poisoning your relationship.

We don't know how much more you personally can do to improve this situation. You are treating your in-laws with respect and even made overtures to try to mend fences. It may be that you and Gary have to wait it out to see if his parents come around after the wedding. At the same time, however, the two of you have to take steps to prevent his parents from poisoning your relationship. Here are a few suggestions that we hope you and Gary will discuss and try to implement:

  1. While the Torah commands us to honor our parents, it also says that "A man should leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). While you and Gary should continue to act respectfully to his parents, both of you also have to understand that your marriage comes first. That means Gary must continue to stand up for you and adopt a "zero tolerance" policy by insisting that his parents speak to you respectfully and not say anything negative about you to him. It's not enough for Gary to simply ignore them when they disregard his requests. He may have to tell them, "If you continue to be disrespectful toward my wife, I will hang up the telephone, walk away, or stop the conversation." And he has to follow through on this.
  2. It's a very good idea not to live near Gary's parents. The two of you will have to decide if this means living at different ends of the same city, different communities, or different states. Minimizing times that you and his parents are together will help you avoid difficult situations.
  3. When you do visit Gary's parents, or host them in your home, keep these visits short. If you are live far away from his parents and come to see them for a few days, don't stay in their home. You can arrange to be together for a few hours at a time, and spend of the rest of your visit doing other things. It may help that when you are together, you engage in an activity that can be a distraction for all of you.
  4. Gary should also limit the amount of time he sees or speaks to his parents when you are not present. We've seen people whose marriage unravel because it's hard to withstand the parents' continuing negativity and pressure through daily telephone calls and frequent lunches or dinners without the spouse present. Gary can stay in touch with his parents, but the two of you have to figure out what the right balance will be.
In-laws often mellow once grandchildren enter the picture.

5. When you and Gary have children, you'll have to talk about the new challenges you face with his parents. They will probably want a relationship with their grandchildren, and Gary will probably want his parents to experience the joy of grand-parenthood with them. The two of you may have to establish new "rules" at that time.

Oftentimes, in-laws mellow once they see that a couple is doing well, or once grandchildren enter the picture. But in a situation where they continue to act antagonistically, the couple may decide to drastically minimize their contact with difficult family members.

We'd like you to be sensitive to the fact that Gary could be suffering from this as much as you are. His parents are putting him in a difficult position, and he may be torn about following our suggestions. If that is the case, we recommend that he speak with a rabbi who specializes in dealing with how Jewish law deals with difficult challenges to honoring one's parents. Not every congregational rabbi is well-enough versed in the legal and psychological issues to provide the best answer, but should be able to recommend someone highly qualified to speak with.

Before we close, we'd like to address your worry that Gary's family may try to disrupt your wedding. Sometimes, that can be a real concern. Other people in this situation have found that it is helpful to hire or designate someone to keep an eye on disgruntled family members and stop them in the event they attempt to sabotage the décor, food, music, or atmosphere of the ceremony and reception. It is painful to have to include this sort of arrangement in your wedding plans, but it may be necessary to give you and Gary peace of mind, to help you feel that your wedding day will be as smooth and special as you deserve it to be.

With our very best wishes for a wonderful life together!

Rosie & Sherry

August 21, 2010

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 42

(42) marilyn piven, December 13, 2011 7:57 PM

Are Gary or his family at all able to identify what is troubling them? The lack of information here is confusing. Can they not say, or will they not say, and does Gary know but won't say? Gary's attitude here is key. If does not know, why not, and if he won't say, why not? Gary has to tell his family that they won't see him or their grandchildren unless they cease criticizing and are civil. The first nasty word to the grandchildren about their mother must be followed by no contact until there is a meaningful apology. They have to state their objections or stop voicing them. When you describe people who are unable to explain themselves and could disrupt a wedding you are talking about mental illness.

(41) Rose, April 12, 2011 4:45 PM

Mother inlaw, husband sister and nieces

As I read this it seems a simular situation. My Mother inlaw bad mouth me in front of my husbands family. At our engage dinner she stood up and stated she didn't want grandchildren. Then in front of my brothers an spouses, my family she stated she did not want me to have kids. I've tried for 10 years to be pleasant, nothing works. My family says she is mean, they believe she is not educated. Mother inlaw is jealous usually because perhaps your educated, have a good job,own your own home and you know God.

(40) SisiL, March 2, 2011 8:33 PM

Gary's family

IS NUTS. I hope Gary doesn't take after his family. But what specifically are they saying to you and about you? I think that Rosie and Sherry are being overly nice about his family. Honestly, to hate someone without any sort of reason is a sign of serious personality issues. This sort of behavior makes me wonder if there isn't some bigger issue in Gary's family like mild personality disorders, or mental illness. You need to sit down with Gary and discuss his family's hatred of you. See if other current (or past) partners of his siblings have faced the same level of hatred. The best thing would be to distance yourselves from his family. Don't worry about them coming to your wedding, if I were you I wouldn't invite them as they'll most certainly make your wedding miserable and cost you money to boot. Save your sanity and your money and just leave them off the list, by inviting them and letting them wreak havoc on your wedding day you'll just play into their insanity. Have a smaller wedding and focus on your marriage. Since Gary isn't listening to their insanity then maybe he will agree to distance himself from his family. I hope for your sake that they ALL live very very very far away or that you two can move far away after marriage. Don't worry about making peace, you cannot reason with unreasonable people. To use political terms, Don't negotiate with terrorists. These people are emotional terrorists who cannot be appeased with anything less than the destruction of your relationship. They may get better after you two get married and have children, or they may start on a campaign of spreading poison to your children. I hope you two have a wonderful wedding, and a beautiful marriage.... and that Gary's family grows to regret their awful behavior.

(39) Anonymous, September 22, 2010 6:29 PM

I feel sorry for the future bride.....The same thing happended to me 21 years ago. My husband told me from the start that his parents were "backward" and he was looking for someone active, highly educated and modern like me to share his life with. At our wedding my sister-in-law and mother-in-law went around to all of the guest tables and bad-mouthed me, saying that my husband "could have done better" and that I was a "witch". When our daughter was born, I planned to return to work, (I am a psychatric social worker), and my in laws continued to bad mouth me to all of the relatives that I was a "bad mother" and unfit wife. When my father-in-law was on his death-bed from cancer he told my 2 sons who were 13 and 9 at the time, that I was a bad mother and "home-wrecker". No matter how much I tried to please them and build a relationship with them, my in-laws were toxic and it has been a constant source of marital disharmony. I strongly recommend that the bride to be think twice as there will be alot of sorrow if she goes through with this marriage, as experience suggests that it will only get worse after you tie the knot. She will most likely be shunned by her husbands relatives, the subject of vicious gossip at family gatherings etc.......There is not alot the future husband can do, he can cave into pressure from his family and he may even start to believe what they are saying! Not good for Shalom Bayis. It is true that when you get married, you not only marry the man, you get his whole family. Good luck!

(38) voraciousreader, September 4, 2010 1:43 PM

Expect to work hard on your marriage

Reading about this bride-to-be situation with her toxic future in-laws reminded me of what happened to me more than 30 years ago. After my mother met my future husband's family, she warned me, "Watch out." Boy, was she right! Simply put, my husband could not change his family. Instead we worked on building a loving relationship and a loving home -- just like my parents. My in-laws are long gone and sadly, my husband barely has a relationship with his sister and the rest of his family. While my family has embraced him with open arms, both of us still carry with us the open wounds of his family that tried to tear us apart. Furthermore, this sad situation has, I hope, strengthened our love for one another and our family. And, most importantly, now that our children are adults, the experience has, I hope, made us both more sympathetic and loving towards the men and women that our children choose to spend their lives with. My constant prayer is that my children's in-laws afford them the dignity, love and respect that I never received.

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