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.
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