My brother seems to be marrying a girl who doesn’t show love/respect to him or his family as far as I can see (in a few months they’ll be married). This is his first marriage and first serious relationship. He has traditional values for marriage and he believes that love is sacrificial where he would do anything for her.
I’ve been concerned since they started dating as she didn’t seem to show any preferential treatment to him in public (seemed like they were platonic and even strangers at time). From my understanding, the two become one – they are becoming an entirely separate family unit together and I respect that as other siblings have gotten married and it does change for the better. But I also understand that she is joining our family and he is joining her family.
She rarely attends any of our family gatherings and he comes alone (hadn’t seen her for over 4 months, at any holidays where he was there, and she lives 5 minutes away from family so it’d be easy to pop by for even a short period of time when everyone is gathered). That is what it was like when they dated and I had hoped that it’d subtly change when they got engaged and I very much hope it will change when/if they get married.
The excuse has been that she’s shy or busy, but I’m starting to believe that she doesn’t like us, values her own family higher than her fiancé and his family, or that he and his family is not a priority for her to get to know better.
This makes me anxious because I feel as though lack of respect for his family shows lack of respect and love to him (whether that be intentional or unintentional). It feels as though she wants us (his family) to pursue her and she’s uninterested/platonic in us.
I want to support my brother for wanting to pursue marriage and I want to welcome her if she wants to be associated with our family, but I feel as though with her she doesn’t respect/love him and is mostly closed to his family being a part of his/her life when they get married which hurts and is a sad thought.
(Side note: she is very attached to her family. My brother will sacrifice to get to know and spend a lot of time with her family even though he is also busy, but she historically hasn’t mutually tried to spend a little time with his family and he’ll spend those times with us alone.)
What would be the wise thing to do as a sister of the future groom? He is willing to do anything for his bride which is wonderful, he is financially and emotionally independent of us which is good for her and he’s excited for marriage with her.
I understand that the man initiates/pursues and often sacrifices greatly for his wife. But I thought that the woman also reciprocates and sacrifices too? I never heard of the groom’s family having to pursue the bride too. Don’t want her to feel manipulated/cornered that she must spend time, but she should want to out of reciprocating his love or caring about people who care about him?
-Concerned and Confused Sister who doesn’t know what to do
Dear Concerned and Confused Sister,
Oh dear. What a difficult position you are in. It is very painful to watch someone we love move forward in a way that we worry will bring them sorrow rather than joy. You don’t want to stand idly by but neither do you want to be the cause of a breach in the couple’s relationship (which might be fine) or risk a rift with your brother.
If we may, let us divide your concerns into two parts: 1) how she relates to your brother and 2) how she relates to his family.
We are fans of competent premarital counseling. Perhaps you can make some inquiries to see if there are quality sessions of that sort in your area. Some churches and synagogues have mandatory counseling, but sadly, they are sometimes pro forma rather than insightful and helpful. If you do find a good source, maybe one of your married siblings can recommend it to your brother saying that he wishes that he had taken advantage of such counseling as it would have made for an easier and more joyful adjustment to marriage.
You don’t mention your parents, but do they share your concerns? Is your brother close to them? Did they model a mutually loving and respectful relationship? Can they lovingly ask your brother some probing questions and share advice? You are all on very sensitive ground and may or may not be able to approach this topic with your brother.
As for this woman’s relationship with your family, you are certainly correct that ideally she is marrying a man and his family. What if your brother is correct and she is terribly shy and insecure? How about extending the benefit of the doubt and acting as if that is the case? Maybe being the “outsider” at family events is overwhelming for her. Why don’t you take tiny steps to forge a one-on-one relationship? Send her a short, light note telling her how you are looking forward to having a new sister. A week later, drop off a cookie/fruit platter/lotion for her—something small and inexpensive. After that, based on what you know of her interests, invite her to go out for coffee, or to a movie or to get a manicure together saying that you’d like to spend some relaxed time with her. Take the high road and see if she will join you. (Her response to these gestures will make you feel better or shoot your concern sky-high.)
You don’t want your brother to feel that his siblings and parents are ‘ganging up’ against him, but if your concerns are shared by other siblings, it could allow you to calmly determine which sibling’s words might be best received by your brother. Here is the area we’d explore if we were directly involved and the message we’d like to convey to your brother:
Your brother is in his first serious relationship and his marriage values are traditional. All this is excellent. We don’t believe that a long series of intense emotional relationships makes for a good eventual marriage. As long as his fiancée shares your brother’s traditional marriage values, this information is reassuring.
However, what sets our alarm bells jangling is your evaluation of your brother’s ideas of love being sacrificial and that he’d do anything for his fiancée. Sacrificial love means that one party gives (sacrifices) while the other party receives (takes) But while God designed marriage so that nothing is sweeter than giving—sacrificial, with implications of suffering and loss, is not a term to be used in the context of marriage. (We discuss the Hebrew word for sacrifice in our book Buried Treasure and how the word should relate to marriage.)
What is more, one of the roles that most women expect (and accept) from their man, is a firm hand on the tiller. What most women desire is a measure of leadership from their man. This is not easily understood by most modernly-raised young men. It certainly wouldn’t be understood by a young man who sees marital love as sacrificial. Unless your brother does not want his future wife to have a relationship with his family, he must let her know that this is non-negotiable. She will respect him more for his doing so.
Usually, it falls to the man’s father to teach his son that automatically agreeing with and accepting anything that his wife wants will bring neither of them happiness. This is part of what angered God in the Genesis account of Adam eating the fruit brought to him by Eve. Adam should have reproached Eve, not acquiesced to her. In the case of your brother, there might well be factors we don’t know but on the face of it, we’d like to see your brother encouraged to sit down with his fiancée and firmly tell her that her behavior towards his family is not acceptable. This tough but necessary conversation should have occurred before the engagement but better now than after marriage. A wise counselor would help your brother grow in this area before it is too late.
Ultimately, your brother is responsible for his decision. Sadly, you can’t keep him from making a mistake (if he is doing so). Make your best efforts, pray, and let him feel your support and love.
With much empathy,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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