I feel like a stranger in my own home.

October 17th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 27 comments

My husband (second marriage for both of us)  and I live in a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom house. Our 24-year-old nephew is living in the house with us for the purpose of learning my husband’s trade and going to college part time. I am feeling uncomfortable with this arrangement as he is not my blood relative and he has asked me if I am “trying to give him hints” which I don’t think I really answered at the time due to being caught off guard.

Later I explained to him I am not his friend, I am his aunt. I see my role during this time as helping him to get up and out on his own. I told him he needs to go out and make friends of his own age. He moved from another state and has not made much of an effort that I know of to be social.

I never explicitly talked about the “hints” comment with him, but mentioned it to my husband who said we don’t really know what he meant by that but if it ever comes up again they will have to have a man to man talk.  I tried to not worry about it, but am as careful as I can to always dress very modestly, and try not to be alone with him.

He is doing well in his work but I feel profoundly uncomfortable with this arrangement. I told my husband I would like to be able to shower in our camper in our yard and I even said I would be ok with living in the camper until we are able to find another way to work things out. My husband is not in favor of me living out there but is ok with me showering out there, however he has not had time to set it up for showering yet.

I sometimes shower in the middle of the night when not too tired or wait until the weekend to shower, when our nephew goes to stay with his birth mom, step dad and half siblings about an hour away. He is supposed to be with us a year.

Rabbi Daniel and Rebbetzin Susan, please share your thoughts with me on this.

Dear Acea,

We know exactly what we want to tell your husband, but unfortunately he isn’t asking for our advice. Will he pay attention to our words? If not, you need to find someone to whom he will listen. If there is no one (or no one who will give the correct advice) then this is one of those times where you must stand up for yourself with strength and determination.

The short answer is that this is unacceptable. It isn’t just a minor issue.  It is absolutely and completely not ok. Your husband has an obligation to provide you with a home in which you feel comfortable. For you to need to shower in the middle of the night and feel nervous and on edge in your home means that he is failing in his duties.

It goes without saying that a man’s obligations to his wife are far more significant than toward his nephew or even his brother.

Of course we do not want to contribute to tension and disagreement between you and your husband but we do have to say that you are being too accommodating. Having your nephew live with you without strict parameters goes against time-tested ancient Jewish wisdom (this would be so even if he was your blood relative, by the way). If anyone should be moving into the camper, it should be your nephew. Even that is only acceptable if you are comfortable having him so close by. If his words or actions make you feel nervous or embarrassed, then he should not be on your property at all. He certainly should not be entering your home at any time that your husband isn’t present neither should he ever enter without knocking and being admitted. 

Your husband’s nephew is probably a little immature. Most 24-year-old males who are not yet supporting themselves are not men, but boys. And boys entertain fantasies.  When he asked about whether you are trying to send him hints, we know without any doubt exactly what he meant by that and are a little surprised that your husband didn’t. 

We suspect that perhaps your husband is just trying to avoid confrontation and is hoping that things will gradually settle down without him having to sit down for that serious ‘man-to-man’ talk with his nephew. 

We are not sure if your husband is mentoring his nephew for his nephew’s benefit, for the business’ benefit or for both. If your husband is trying to help his nephew, it cannot be at your expense.  If your husband’s business needs the help, then you can graciously assist with providing meals and other support to your nephew, but asking you to share what sounds like fairly compact living quarters is way too much.

If this answer sounds strongly assertive it is because we want to make sure that you do not feel an obligation to compromise or “wait things out,” or not to be so sensitive. Standing up strongly for what is right makes one a good, not a bad wife. A man’s home may be his castle, but a woman’s home is her castle, her nest and her domain.

Wishing you a home of joy,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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27 comments

A Hoffman says:

Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,
Thank you,
You write to this matter well. Too often the chats, talks, etc., carry little ethical direction , nor that which is propery spoken.
The review of the text of the,”Law “, addresses this, as well as wh are called the Epistles.
Not tiny issues.
Bad jokes are not funny.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks A Hoffman-
Appreciate your comments
Cordially
RDL

Janet Huey says:

This was perfectly addressed, erudite, straightforward without being disrespectful.
The husband is avoiding conflict.
If he doesn’t get her discomfort, handing him this answer should do it.
I was saddened that she had to ask for advice.

Susan Lapin says:

We were saddened by this letter too, Janet. We hope this leads to husband and wife communicating more openly and respectfully on this, and other, issues.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Janet–
But will she show her husband our response to her letter? I can only hope so. We edited out several points that we felt would make it harder for her to show her husband our letter.
Cordially
RDL

Jim B says:

Great response. It seemed to me as if you both would like to personally deliver the message and make sure it was followed through. If Acea ignores or tries to rationalize away her “gut” feelings she could be setting the stage for a terrible tragedy. This is not just a matter of hurting someone’s feelings or causing a little dissension. This could actually be a life/death scenario in the making. I know you know, you can’t save the world but I get the feeling you really want to try. You have my utmost respect.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Don’t we all wish we could save the world, Jim?
We’d all like to change the world; improve it, and perfect it. But in the end, we can only do those things for ourselves. We have the power only to change ourselves.
Cordially
RDL

Alessandro Mecle says:

Words of wisdom carry a sort of power that reality itself sometimes does not spotlight.
Thank you.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Alessandro-
Always wonderful to hear from you so far away.
Cordially
RDL

Carla says:

I never feel compelled to comment, but I would END this situation today, if possible. The nephew needs to move out regardless of the family fallout. You are NOT safe being with someone so unstable and it is a matter of time before disaster strikes. If you were a member of my family, I would beg you to take action immediately. I am sure there is some other male in the universe your nephew can be roommates with and hopefully develop some maturity. I would NOT allow this situation to continue regardless of the emotional fallout.

Susan Lapin says:

I am glad you did comment, Carla. You and Jim both see a physical danger. Maybe I’m sheltered, but I admit that didn’t cross my mind. I was focused on the fact that a woman must know that her home is safe psychologically and emotionally and that her husband cares about her. You both may be right, of course, so I’m glad you spoke up.

Michael says:

This is excellent advice. It makes me wonder what arrangement Avraham and Sarah had with Lot – Avraham’s nephew. Surely they took every prudent precaution to make Lot comfortable while preserving modesty and privacy. In our modern time, “families” are all too often an odd mix of friends, coworkers or distant relatives sharing rent under the same roof. Americans would do well to heed Ancient Jewish Wisdom and preserve modesty and privacy in such an unfortunate setting as a mixed “family” arrangement. May the Rabbi and Rebbetzin be strengthened and blessed with much Success.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you, Michael. Look, we are big on hospitality and I know that my grandparents often housed refugees from Europe even though they themselves were in a small apartment. These were sometimes close and sometimes distant relatives and sometimes unrelated people from their hometowns. But everyone was aware of the need for propriety and proper behavior. That refinement is gone in too many places today.

James says:

Indeed, the letter’s ‘feminine modesty’ understates, yet it cannot hide some alarming undertones that emerge between the lines. For example, if I were filming a reality show depicting an immature nephew horning in on an uncle’s marriage nest, the line ‘Are you trying to give me hints?’ calls for a soundtrack. As the composer, I would pass over the tragic violins and opt for the seductive saxophones. The husband needs to say to the nephew ASAP: ‘Go the camper. Go directly to the camper. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.’

Susan Lapin says:

You are right, James.

Kevin says:

This is how family sexual assault happens. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but I’d kick him to the curb today. I’d be offended at the insinuation he made. How dare he speak to her in this way. As the old saying goes, house guests are like fish, only good for about 3 days!

Susan Lapin says:

I have a feeling that this house guest should not have lasted three days, Kevin.

Lesa Gibson says:

If you have a lock on your bathroom door why would you be afraid to take a shower? The inconvenience of having to dress modestly in your own home for a year is inconsequential compared to the help you are giving to your husband’s nephew. Where I come from in the South my husband’s nieces and nephews are mine too. As husband and wife we are aunt and uncle to all our siblings’ children. Since you have no children, growing a relationship with this young man could be a positive experience. Extended family often become a source of joy and help in childless couples old age. I admit I didn’t really understand the context of the “hints” comment. My first thought was you hinting for him to move out.

Susan Lapin says:

Lesa, well, you are certainly presenting another side of the argument. However, my husband and I feel that she is entitled to feel comfortable in her house. If the only reason I felt safe was a lock, I wouldn’t feel safe. This writer was willing to give this a try and welcome her husband’s nephew, but it isn’t working out.
You make a good point about spouse’s relatives being your relatives too. However, since this is a second marriage for both, these could be very new relatives. It is certainly easier to love someone you have watched grow up than someone you meet as an adult who speaks to you in a way that is offensive.

Janice says:

While I wholeheartedly agree with your advice should we not be asking what the context of the “hint” comment was made? It could mean anything depending on the context. As well she did not mention any other comments or actions on the part of there nephew that followed this inappropriate comment. While I 100% agree that she has a right to feel safe in her home and that her husband has a responsibility to provide this, I’m left wondering if there isn’t an element of overreaction here? Just offering another view point.

Susan Lapin says:

That’s a valid question, Janice. I tend to think that if she wasn’t feeling uncomfortable then the comment would have slid by her. I love that so many people chime in so the question writer gets different perspectives.

Acea says:

Note: this is an amended and final version of my comment today 🙂

Thanks all (especially Rabbi and Rebbitzen) for your comments and attention, and taking the time to consider this matter. I agree that the context of the “hints” comment is important and that is why I mentioned that I didn’t understand what he meant by that (actually rereading what I wrote above, my husband said that and I agree with him. Our nephew might have thought I was hinting for him to leave but I wasn’t!)

I have felt other concerns at other times but have never been overtly physically threatened. (Just feeling like I need to be super situationally aware) I try to be situationally aware in all circumstances.

All that having been said I agree with Lesa in what she is saying.  I don’t think our nephew wants to be wierd so there is hope. He mentioned to my husband the other day he wants to take classes onsite (not just online) so that he can meet people his own age. Over the last week or so he has been making an effort to be more polite and respectful. I have been very specific telling him what my personal boundaries are, regarding comments and also personal physical space. I think he appreciated the talk actually. Maybe he just didn’t know how to be properly respectful before.

It seems like his personality is changing for the better although I do not let my guard down either.

As I write he is preparing to move into another camper we have, hopefully by the end of next week (It requires some renovation which he is doing).

In addition I came across the laws of Yichud online and have shared them with my husband. I believe this will help solidify the context of my concerns and feelings of discomfort, hopefully taking it out of a possibly painful subjective realm and putting it into more of an orderly housekeeping realm.

As a complement to this, I am working on being much more “on the spot” responding to anything I feel uncomfortable with, personally, immediately, clearly and directly. Gd willing our nephew will grow into a solid and blessed adult we will all be proud of and we will put these days behind us as purely an instructive memory.

Thanks again for all your love, concerns, thoughts and advice ♡

Acea

Susan Lapin says:

We’re so glad to hear from you, Acea, and are delighted if anything we or other people said was helpful. You mentioned ‘yichud’ in your comment so I would like to explain that those are laws that govern men and women who are not married (or very closely related like parents/children/siblings) being in seclusion together. My husband and I were obviously referencing that when we wrote.
It sounds like being open about the problem is serving you, your nephew and your husband well. We hope you continue to be a guiding light in this young man’s life.

Acea says:

Thank you Rebbitzen Susan ♡ and thank you to Rabbi Daniel as well!!

The cool thing about finding the code of law is that my husband relates to this and likes to read this type of material. It’s much better than me telling him how I am feeling and he feels frustrated he can’t solve it right away and gets upset. He tries very hard and has a lot on his mind. If we have the opportunity to share these laws with the family I believe under the right circumstances and in the right dose it could be helpful! So when you and Rabbi Daniel mentioned that this is part of Ancient Jewish Wisdom it gave us the key 🙂

Jim B says:

Acea sounds like a strong woman. Some positives steps have been taken and the family is making some good adjustments. It would be wonderful to hear how things are going two or three months from now.

Acea says:

Thanks Jim B! I am feeling more confident now that I have read and re-read everyone’s answers and feeling all your support and caring and concern (Rabbi Daniel and Rebbitzin Susan I feel like you were being like mama and papa bear, being fiercely protective of me and I really appreciate it 🤗).

This has helped me to move forward emotionally to grasp the situation positively.

I feel like many of you were ready to run out and make a profound and memorable intervention for me!! Fortunately it doesn’t seem like extreme measures will be necessary but it definitely felt nice to know you all had my back, thanks, I’m not used to having a posse!! 😊 💖 🤗 yee haw!!

And those who were giving other views challenging the negative thoughts and feelings I had been having, I really appreciate that as well because it made me think of the road we need to take to navigate through these hard fears and emotions to reach what Gd wants for us in this situation. I believe He is giving us a gift in this really wierd wrapping paper and teaching us.

Maybe I will get to an update at some point in a few months. I just want you all to know that you have helped very much and thanks 💖

Susan Lapin says:

This is lovely, Acea. You are right – we care about each other here.

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