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How not to hate

Question:

Hello Rabbi,

I’m writing to you because I desperately need advice about how to deal with something uncomfortable in my family. I know I’m thinking about it the wrong way and I don’t know how to think about it differently, ignoring the thoughts doesn’t make them go away. The basic issue is: I dislike my brother’s wife. I wouldn’t care about her if she married someone else, but she is a bad fit for him. Not only does she not bring out the best in him, she actually brings out the worst in him. I’m sorry for how long my message here is, and if seems like I’m ranting. I have so much to get off my chest and I don’t know who else to turn to because I don’t want people who know my brother or his wife to be influenced by what I say. It would mean so much if you could read this and advise when you have a chance.

My brother got married in 2022. During the short time they dated, I knew she was not a good match for him, for many fundamental reasons. My sister saw the same things independently, we didn’t really discuss it. My other brother felt the same, also we didn’t really discuss it. There was one time that I realized they agreed with me, but they felt we couldn’t speak because our brother who was dating was very defensive about it and made up his mind to marry her already, even after one hour of meeting her. He was very attracted to her and it blinded him in a scary way. My parents were blinded also unfortunately and were just excited for him because he made a complete 180* and became a baal teshuvah in his 30s and he was now in his mid 30s and finally getting married so they were blinded and happy (the girl is about two years younger than him). From when they got engaged, it started becoming apparent to my brother that he was maybe making a mistake, but he felt committed and consulted a rabbi who advised him not to think much of it and to stay engaged (this rabbi does this for everyone, but he wasn’t my choice of who to consult). He still wasn’t seeing things so clearly yet on his own.

From the day they got married, it has been very difficult for me to watch this horrible union unfolding. Am I supposed to think every marriage is a holy and Godly union? I don’t think theirs is a blessing. And my struggle is accepting that they are married and knowing that it breaks my heart that my brother isn’t with someone that would be better suited for him. This is not a case of “no one being good enough for my brother” – I know his flaws very well, and I know what he needs to flourish and grow. I know what environment brings him down and I know what environment launches him to be a superstar.

She lacks sensitivity and lacks awareness of the emotions, experiences, and feelings of others. She lacks warmth. She has a hard time expressing gratitude, and “thank you” does not easily roll off her tongue. She lacks intelligence and she lacks wisdom. She is not curious about anything, has no desire to learn, and if someone tells her something, she doesn’t know how to APPLY that information to a similar context. He is the exact opposite. Before he became religious, he spent over a decade exploring life and the world, pushing his mind, curious about everything, and he is naturally extremely intelligent, very quick to grasp and apply information, and gifted in many things. So this is not her fault, we are all given different capacity by god. But it does contribute to why i think she is a bad match for him.

Such a silly story: he asked that no one rip off his bandaid from his arm, as there was a lot of hair under it and he wanted to cut it off instead of ripping it. She held his arm and said, “I wont rip it”. He said “are you sure?” she said “yes”, so he said “I trust you”, and gave her his arm. Immediately she starting changing her position, so he pulled his arm back and said, “were you going to rip it?” and she said “yes”, and he said “but i trusted you”. She didnt seem to care, she rolled her eyes and said something like, she knows better, she’ll show him “look, see, we pulled it off and its fine” and that he’s being a baby… This was in front of my entire family. This isnt a smart person to act like this.

Not only this, but their goals for their future and their core values were never in line. He was blinded by her appearance and thats the only explanation I have for why he didnt notice this. He has certain torah values he wants to raise a family and home with, meanwhile she doesnt think for herself let alone articulate what her values even are, and just wants to do what the most popular thing is to do by society without caring about the outcome.

We are a close family and she makes no effort to join in and we make every effort to be inclusive and sensitive of her needs or wants. I try to give her space but I also try to reach out to say hi and ask how she/the baby is doing, but she barely answers me, and almost never initiates a conversation.

My brother is fiercely loyal and loves his family and would go to the ends of the earth if his brother is in distress, and has done so. When I was going to spend the night with my grandmother who was ill, his wife told me, “why don’t you just hire someone to go there”. I replied (and I know i should not have said this because it sounds combative, but I had enough already!) “because it’s MY grandma and if I’m able to, why would i give up that privilege to a hired person who doesn’t love her”. It’s not like it was taking over my life, it was just one night, but it’s an example of her general attitude about things and not being so nurturing and not having anything she feels strongly about or cares about (except jewelry and vacations, she has expressed clearly).

I know that a girl who demeans him, who doesn’t respect him, who rejects his kindness, who ignores his needs and concerns, who constantly brushes him off, who speaks low of his positive aspects of his identity to his face, is not going to win his heart. He has a tough exterior but will MELT for a girl who is kind to him. She called him weird, to me, his SISTER, as we watched him playing silly with our sister’s kids, and she was clear she was not joking. She mocks him. She disparages him. And eventually, he loses his temper with her and everyone says that he is the one to blame. He yells with a strong tone and says hurtful things I’m sure and they get into a fight. I know, it’s wrong to get angry, but I don’t judge him and everyone who does is not being fair, because they don’t see the full picture. She is poking and poking and poking and poking him, and after a while of having enormous self control, he erupts. I honestly haven’t seen him sink this low in years! Since he became religious really. And I don’t blame him entirely.

For another example, he tells her what few environments will be a weakness for him to guard himself spiritually, and she says, “oh stop, its fine, go” So he goes and has a hard time. Then it happens again, and he says, “its going to be harder for me this time” and she says “oh stop, you’re such a baby, just do it” and then he goes and feels he is on the verge of having an argument with a certain person who is heretical who mocks god openly. He tells her it’s hard for him to hear this and he doesn’t want to go back, she says “oh stop just go” and then he finally goes and gets into a very small argument with that man. She gets mad at him and cries and he said, it’s too big of a test for him to keep being in that environment, go without him if she loves going so much. She refuses to go without him, she says “just come, you’re such a baby”, so against his better judgement, he went again, and got into a slightly bigger argument with the man. She gets mad at him and cries again, and he said, it’s too big of a test for him to keep being in that environment, go without him if she loves going so much. Again she refuses to go without him, so he went again, and this time he got into a bigger argument with the person. Again, she cried, again, he tried to explain and asked for her support, again she belittled him and nagged him to go, and again he went, against his better judgement. The two men had an argument again. Finally, after a YEAR of doing this with her friends every week, he announced, with a very strong tone, “that’s it!”, that he needs to take a stand, and he is never going back there again, she can go herself if she wants, but he cannot go, it gives him anxiety, it makes him sin, it brings him down, he’s not able to withstand this test, but she can go whenever she wants without him! She started to cry and called my parents and said he’s not being supportive and he’s such a tyrant to put his foot down with her, how could he, etc., etc.

So I know there are 3 sides to every story, but I know enough to know, either she is delusional, or she is very stupid. I think her lack of intelligence makes her really not understand how HER OWN thoughtless actions got them/him to this point and how she’s been more against him than a helpmate. My brother’s goal is to not put himself in just very few very specific situations that will test him, until he grows enough to have a fighting chance at passing. But her pressure is incessant and he wants to please her, but her inability to see the future consequences makes her more of a detriment to his spiritual growth than a support of any kind.

Meanwhile, I’m watching my brother crumbling. He has been so stressed and not his best self, and he feels trapped. He regrets marrying her, but they have a child and another on the way and although he would like a divorce in his heart, he is not entertaining the thought in reality. They’ve spoken to rabbis but got no where. It is what it is and he knows he has to just muscle through. But I watch from a distance and want to spit on the day that he met her and if she walked out on him and ran away and left the kids behind, let’s just say, i might be very happy about that. How do I not hate her as my sister in law? How do I come to love her as a person? Am I obligated to love her, or just not hate her?

Thank you so much for all of your time.

 

Answer:

Hello,

I read your letter, and as you say there are three sides to a story. But for our purposes, we have to divide this issue into two separate issues, your relationship with her, and your brother’s marriage.

Regarding your relationship with her, obviously you dislike her, as you write, for number of reasons. There is a point, that is important to note, and it is point that is often overlooked, that the relationship with an “in law”, whether it is a mother, sister or daughter in law, has a certain element of subconscious competition. You have a certain feeling, that she took your brother away from you, and now she is a central figure in his life, which to a certain degree pusses you out. This competition is a natural component of this relationship, and it has to be dealt with. To illustrate: if your sister would talk rudely to you, and hurt your feelings, you would be mad at her, but in a few days, you would get over it, and continue on, even if she didn’t apologize. However, when it is a mother or sister-in-law that makes the same comment, it might take you years to get over it!

I do not mean to say that, the things you are saying are not true, no they are true, however it is important to realize that the inner reactions to hurts, quirks in the other person personality, etc., are going to bother us more than they will, if it was with one’s blood relative. As you yourself write, that these things wouldn’t bother you if she was married to someone else!

Our job is to concentrate on the positive and build on it. This is what brings out the goodness in other people. Try making a list, even if it will only be small, of positive traits or factors that you see in your sister-in-law. This way it will help you see her in a more positive light. This will be noticed by your sister-in-law, and her attitude will change.

Aside from this is, what we call giving unconditional love, without judging her, her personality, her faults, or the way she treats you brother. This will help you.

Another point is, to try to adopt an attitude, that your brothers marriage is not your business, and that you have you own life, especially knowing that it is possible that some of the faults that you are seeing are coming from the subconscious competition between the two of you.

Regarding your brother, it would be a good idea for him to seek help, with a frum counselor, who can guide them, with their issues. Two people getting married in their thirties, is always tricky, because at that point often people are more set in their ways. Therefore, their marriage needs extra work, and extra guidance, navigating their way through. Helping them get used to each other, and to each other’s personalities, habits and wants. I can’t advise you to talk to him about it, as I don’t know if you discuss such personal things, and also because at times, bringing the topic up, can just make things worse.

Best wishes

 

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2 Comments

  1. I know in my own life that my wife is a perfect match in some ways and a push for me to work on myself in others.
    Hashem knows what’s best and maybe your brother will grow tremendously from such a relationship…

  2. Thank you very much for your openness, you really bared your heart for this one. I really felt your pain and distress in all that you described.
    Yet the answer of the Rabbi (does not need my haskama obviously) but is very wise. We all land in difficult situations and sometimes the big task in our life is to deal with a spouse which is not exactly the perfect match.

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