Dear Emuna

My boyfriend and I have been together now for three years. We are very serious and eventually plan to marry, travel, have children, etc. I am crazy about him and vice versa. However, his family lacks boundaries and is constantly trying to dictate our future together. They have always given us money, gifts, etc. and now plan to pay for our house and wedding. I was not raised to accept things being handed to me so this is very tough to accept.

I have also learned that the money and gifts come with strings attached. These strings have not been formally stated but they have said they want to have a say in when we have kids, how many kids we have, where we live, where our kids will go to school, what I need to do to be a perfect wife to their son, etc. I’m in an uncomfortable position because I don’t know how to address this issue and never have had to in the past.

I should also note that my boyfriend’s older brother is the most disrespectful towards me and his mother always defends him. He is very misogynistic and believes that I have no right to work as a woman and should be a housewife. I love my boyfriend so much and I would hate for our relationship to take a turn for the worst. He has recently begun defending me and also stood up to them about what he actually wants with his future, but now they blame me for his “deviant behavior”.

All Tangled Up

Dear Tangled,

You raise a lot of serious issues here. The first and the most important are the “strings” from your family to be. King Solomon writes in Proverbs that “one who hates gifts shall live”; in other words we don’t want to be dependent on others. I respectfully recommend that you immediately start to disengage from this unhealthy pattern you have begun. Refuse all presents, pay for your own wedding (even if it has to be smaller) and accept apartment living until you can afford your own house.

I know this sounds drastic but while you are taking from them, you put yourself in a position of dependence and you give them power. If you are financially independent, you will be better able to set boundaries. It is very difficult to give with no strings attached (although there are those healthy parents who do) but the strings here are ridiculous, inappropriately invasive and destructive. It is none of their business when you have kids, how many kids you will have, where they will go to school and so on. That level of involvement (read: power) in your lives is very significant and not their place.

In fact, even without money involved, I would be worried about in-laws who imagine that they should have a say in these matters. You say that your boyfriend has recently begun defending you. I am sorry to say this and I don’t want to cause a rift in your relationship but he has to do much more. He doesn’t just have to defend you; he needs to defend the relationship. Quite frankly, he needs to tell your parents to butt out, that these issues are none of their business and that they have no say in any of these areas. He can say it politely and respectfully of course but he should be very clear that this is non-negotiable.

If he can’t or won’t do this, it is doubtful you will be able to have a successful marriage. Parents need to keep out of their children’s marriages. The Torah makes it absolutely clear that you must be his first priority, as it says, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife” (Genesis, 2:24). If he can’t accept and fully internalize this, if he can’t take your position against them and, if necessary, create a distance from them until the relationship can be normalized, then you will not be able to make a marriage work. I hate to say such a thing but it’s better to know in advance.

He MUST make it clear to his parents that if they continue to make these demands on the two of you, they will lose their relationship not only with you (which may be their goal) but with him as well. If he is able to do this with his parents, then his brother should be easy. And basically irrelevant. You can avoid him more. He doesn’t have as much emotional power or pull and certainly no financial one. The real issue is his parents.

So, again, your boyfriend has to stand up to his parents, very assertively, and insist that they back off from their invasive involvement in your relationship. And the two of you need to come to an agreement about living within your means and not take these gifts, so you won’t be beholden to people who may love your boyfriend but have attached too many strings that reflect their own agenda. Be strong and good luck.