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My sister is separating and likely divorcing her husband after 15 months of marriage, and my family strongly disagrees with her decision. Do we tell her this?
October 21, 2012 1:14 PM   Subscribe

My sister is separating and likely divorcing her husband after 15 months of marriage, and my family strongly disagrees with her decision. Do we tell her this?

My sister married young after dating her husband for a few years. She lives in my hometown; mom and I live several hundred miles away. Two weeks ago, she called me and my mother (separately) to tell us that she has decided to separate from her husband. They have been in counseling since before they got married and according to her she has been unhappy for a long time. She told me that night that her husband was depressed, mostly due to his job, but he was refusing to go to one-on-one counseling or get a different job. As a result of this depression, he was possessive of her and refused to let her go out with her friends.

When she first told me about the separation, she was very upset and told me that she needed time and space to clear her head, but she wanted to continue counseling with him and encourage him to commit to making changes that would help them save the marriage.

Since then, she has done a complete 180. She refuses to speak to her husband, who is heartbroken. She moved in with my father, who is supportive but confused about the situation, while her husband has stayed in the house that they bought just after they got married. She spends all of her free time going out with her friends to bars - something that she never really got to do when she was younger since she went straight from living with my father to living with her now-husband. She told me a few days ago that she believes the marriage is over and she wants to file for divorce.

My mother is extremely upset. She believes that my sister is not treating this relationship like a marriage and is not taking her vows seriously by refusing to speak to her husband and try to work things out. I'm not quite as angry, but I'm saddened by her behavior and I really feel like she's making the wrong decision.

I've been very supportive of her and have not told her that I do not agree with what she's doing. (She also seems to have relatively little need for support at this point; every time I call and ask how she is, she replies "happy.") My mom has been less supportive, but she says she feels she is failing as a parent if she does not try to talk to my sister about how she could handle this situation differently.

I've never been married or divorced, but I can imagine it doesn't feel good to have your family tell you they don't support your choice. I also know that there could be other things that were going on in the marriage that mom or I may never know about. That said, we really want her to think about this more carefully than she seems to be. Do we tell her this? If so, how?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (65 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read your whole post and have yet to find a compelling reason why she's making a wrong decision and many reasons why she seemed to have made the right one. I think you may want to consider supporting her decision and seeing where that takes you.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:17 PM on October 21, 2012 [78 favorites]


She is going to do what she has to do and it won't be easy. Do you need to add to her woes by adding your displeasure to her problems? This may be one of those situations where if you can't say something helpful, better to say nothing till the situation settles.

You will not change her mind about something like this by telling her off.
posted by zadcat at 1:17 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It doesn't sound like you are doing this out of concern for her well-being, which from this short description seems to be better served by this separation. So I don't see why you should tell her.

Maybe you should think about what is best for your sister?
posted by grouse at 1:18 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe you could read this thread to give you a feel for the other side of the problem.
posted by emilyw at 1:20 PM on October 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


If I were in your sister's shoes and my parents came and told me that I was doing the wrong thing by divorcing someone I no longer felt I could be married to, I would view that as an utter betrayal of love and trust on their part and would cut them from my life. It sounds like your sister has realized that the man she married is a controlling man and she has every right to get out now. Your parents are doing wrong by their daughter to not support her in this.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [37 favorites]


My sister married young

They have been in counseling since before they got married

according to her she has been unhappy for a long time

he was possessive of her and refused to let her go out with her friends.


I'm ready to throw a party for her and I'm not even related to her! Be happy she had the sense to get out of this while she's still young and before children have entered the picture (it sounds like). Yay her!
posted by palliser at 1:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [91 favorites]


You might want to read this recent anonymous question, asked by someone whose family let her know loud and clear that they thought she was making a mistake. I'm not saying that it's impossible to be supportive while still voicing your concerns, but that question is a good primer in what not to do.

From Plutarch's Lives:
"[Lucius Æmilius Paulus] divorced his wife Papiria, the mother of many fine children, among them Scipio and Fabius Maximus; and when his friends remonstrated, and asked him, “Was she not chaste? was she not fair?” he held out his shoe, and said, “Is it not handsome? is it not new? And yet none of you know where it pinches, but he that wears it.”
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:24 PM on October 21, 2012 [126 favorites]


If your sister and her husband were dating but not married, and she presented to you all of these reasons for breaking up with him, would you support her? From what you've written, I can't see any reason why you wouldn't. So why does everything change now that she's married? Why should the social convention of marriage totally overwhelm all other considerations?
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your sister is the one actually IN the marriage. You and your mother aren't. Only she (and her husband) know what is going on. If she's old enough to be married, I'm guessing that she's a grown adult, yes? If she is, then she's quite capable of making her own mind up.

I fail to see how this is anyone's business but your sister's. How would you feel if she started poking her nose into your relationships?
posted by Solomon at 1:34 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you love your sister, support her decision and be there for her. It sounds like her life is hard enough without her entire family adding to it.
posted by Silvertree at 1:35 PM on October 21, 2012


ffs, they don't even have kids. Why are you thinking so poorly of her for wanting to leave behind a marriage that seems like a prison? She probably going to bars because she's stressed and can tell that her family is not on her side.

You should be applauding her for taking the initiative to change her life.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 1:36 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one benefits from a marriage that goes on longer than it should. Nothing good will come of your sister feeling cornered into staying with her husband -- not for her, not for him, not for you or your parents. Please don't make this situation any more stressful or humiliating for her than it has to be. She needs you to help her out right now with the positive but difficult change she's trying to make in her own life.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:39 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


No. Your job while your sister (who has been in counseling regarding her relationship for longer than the 15 months she has been married) is getting divorced is to tell her you love her, to tell her you're sorry this sucks so much, and help her with any expenses she can't handle while she's getting divorced if you are in a position to help her with them. Anything else is unnecessarily burdening her in a very difficult time.

Now, if you're concerned that she's making bad decisions and taking stupid risks while in an emotionally fragile state during a very stressful time, you might want to tell her that you're worried about how she's coping. That can be done in a supportive and helpful manner. But telling her you know better than she how to handle the relationship (which she had been in counseling to save for more than a year) is not terribly reasonable. It's not kind; it's not helpful and it's not loving.

No matter what she has told you about the relationship, you really don't know what it's like unless you're in it. You're not. So it's not your decision about whether she should end it, and it's not fair to try to make it your choice by burdening her with your disapproval.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:45 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


So.. she DID try to work things out and it sounds like the husband was unwilling to do everything he could do to fix the problem. Women are often forced into trying fix problems in relationships that THEY DID NOT HAVE ANY FAULT IN, and take all the blame to boot. She had the condition that to stay in this situation the husband needed to seek one on one counseling and reconsider his job, and he didn't. He sounds heartbroken because he screwed up and now has to take the fall for his own responsibility in his life. I bet if your sister went back to him then he would just fall into the same patterns as before. Good for her for moving on.

She did give it an honest effort it sounds like. If that is the reason you and your mom disapprove, I don't think you have a leg to stand on. Are you or your mom in relationships that you are less than satisfied with, and resentful that she is happier leaving while you choose to stay in less than bliss? It sounds like your parents are divorced, are you projecting your feelings about that onto your sis? Why aren't you anything but relieved that she is happy?

Re: going to bars - she went directly from living with one authoritative male to another. Its time for her to figure out who she is, so that she doesn't repeat this situation.

Please do not voice your opinions to her if you can't be either happy for her, or helpfully constructive as to the next stage in her life.
posted by cakebatter at 1:48 PM on October 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


I can understand why your mother is concerned - walking out of marriage and refusing to look back seems like she isn't taking her marriage vows as seriously as your mother would. The best thing to do is to talk to your sister in an open, curious way to find out what is really going on. First, telling her that she is wrong won't improve her marriage, it will just damage your (or your mother's relationship) with her. Second, as many people pointed out, you don't know how bad things were. Give her a chance to tell you why she is leaving and why she went from distressed to happy about it. Finally, if there is room to influence her thinking, you will only find it if you listen to what she is thinking and then gently present other opinions for her to consider.
posted by metahawk at 1:51 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nothing about your description says to me that your sister has been nor continues to take this lightly. Her decision comes after a 15 month period of marriage that included extensive counseling, and it does not sound as if it was made lightly.

I do wonder if there is also some personal/cultural/class/religious shame issue underlying this that was not mentioned.

Another vote for keeping yours and your mothers concerns under wraps and to just staying supportive.
posted by ndfine at 1:53 PM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


From your description, she never should have married this guy in the first place. So I would say don't fret her about leaving a bad relationship.
posted by windykites at 1:58 PM on October 21, 2012


It is very possible she is not telling you everything. Could be her marriage was hell on earth on the inside. People on the outside cannot always tell.



Whether or not she should divorce (and I am not a fan of casual divorce, just so you know) the fact is she is the one that makes that decision for herself, and it is better if you support HER. You can support HER without agreeing with her decisions, and frankly it is better both for her and for the marriage if you keep that info to yourselves as it would probably only make her dig her heels in harder.


I know how it feels, my youngest daughter and her husband are no longer together, but they had their reasons, and I respect both them and their reasons.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's sorta ok to lament the demise of this marriage, in mild terms - "Aw, it's too bad things didn't work out with Jimbob, he seemed like a nice guy." - but expressing anything more strongly negative than that is just offensively disrespectful of your sister. Nobody has to stay married for any reason.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:00 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, she was super unhappy in her marriage, tried unsuccessfully to work it out and now that she's left she's happy? What more needs to be looked at here? Would you rather your sister be happy or would you rather she abided by some random definition of what marriage is and continue to be unhappy?

Seriously, this seems pretty cold-hearted of your family. She's an adult capable of making her own decisions and it would be nice if you supported her.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:01 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm basically going to palliser's party for your sister because just from your description this sounds like an unhappy situation for your sister (and her husband not letting her see her friends scares me).

But. I think you are allowed to gently express your concerns ONE TIME to close family or best friends when you have serious reason to think that their decision may be harmful to them. And by "gently express" I mean that you have to do it in a way that clearly communicates your concern is for your family member, and that you will support their decision, and that you just have a couple concerns -- and then you have to listen while they address your concerns, and accept their reasoning. And then you have to STFU about it forever unless they bring the subject up again.

But yeah, I mean, it sounds like she's already gone through a lot to try to deal with this, and is feeling some relief to be out of a rotten situation. I'm not sure what else you want to get from her.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:03 PM on October 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I had exactly the opposite problem, but it has the same answer as yours. Over 15 years ago, my best friend was getting married to a guy that I was pretty sure was bad for her; he seemed kind of like a blowhard and a braggart, and he once tried to advise her against pursuing a career choice I knew she was considering. I was convinced that she was making a huge mistake.

But - I also realized that look, it was her life, and it was her choice and I had to support her choices and respect them. Also, I told myself, I was not inside their relationship, and she was most likely seeing things that I wasn't seeing. So I held my tongue and decided to trust her judgement - I'd be there to pick up the pieces when things went bad, I decided.

Except they never went bad. That was over 15 years ago, and I realized a few years after they got married that I was ABSOLUTELY AND TOTALLY WRONG about the guy. I am so glad that I never said anything then, because it would have crushed her and killed our friendship. Also, because I was totally wrong - I am so glad I trusted her judgement about her own personal life and her own happiness.

And that is exactly the same reason why you should trust your sister. She is the one in the relationship; she is the one who is having hands-on experience with why it's not working with him. She knows her own heart and she knows the weak points in that relationship far better than you do.

Do NOT try to talk her back into this. Support what she decides to do. Because years from now you could find out you were wrong about how bad the guy is, and come to realize she made the right choice after all -- and on that day, you're going to want to be feeling grateful you didn't say anything and supported your sister, rather than feeling guilty you made things worse for her during a difficult time.

Good luck to her; as for you, i wish you temperance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:03 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, and "my family strongly disagrees with her decision" ---

That would be your mother, who is strongly upset;
you, who are supportive; and
your father, also supportive....

In other words, exactly ONE PERSON disagrees, and that's someone who lives "several hundred miles away" and doesn't know anything about the day-to-day inner workings of your sister's marriage.
posted by easily confused at 2:04 PM on October 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Separation and divorce brings about a hell of a lot of unsolicited advice from others - unfortunately, a lot of this comes from the people you think you should be able to trust and rely on the most.

My sister recently separated from her husband - don't know if they will divorce or not. If you think it's difficult being on the sidelines of all of this, please remember that it is a thousand times more difficult actually being on the insides of a separation and divorce.

Please support her. Listen to her. Say "I love you" a lot. Remind her that her happiness is important to you and everyone (tell your mother this too). Offer her kindness, not judgment. Trust her. And give her lots and lots of hugs.
posted by raztaj at 2:06 PM on October 21, 2012


She's spent years in counseling with her husband. I think that should allay some of your fears that she's flippantly throwing the relationship away--it sounds much more likely that after those years, she's come to a serious conclusion, one that leaves her feeling relieved and at peace. She's young, so the way she expresses that relief might come across as flippant or callous, but, again: years in counseling. I think that points very strongly to "tried really hard to make it work," rather than "not trying to make things work with her husband."
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:10 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Her husband was being at best annoying, at worst controlling and abusive (that's what I read from "possessive"), and wasn't taking responsibility for his mental health. She was extremely unhappy and is now very happy. What else is there to say? They've been having issues for the duration of their marriage. It's likely she made a mistake and got married too fast, and is overwhelmed with her freedom as a single adult, which can be quite exhilarating if you've never got a chance to enjoy it. Express your sadness for her, perhaps, as thirteenkiller describes, but I would be overall supportive. She needs time to figure her life out and staying in this marriage will not help.

For reference, my best friend got married right out of high school to a woman who seemed decent enough to everyone else. From the outside they're a normal married couple. She, however, is depressive and has anger issues, and their lives are a living hell. He's been kind of stunted for a long time at a level of personal development that I don't think he'll get past until he accepts that his marriage has gone haywire. Your sister seems like she's on the path to self-discovery.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:11 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


You don't know the details of just how bad it was. It's probably a lot worse than she's told you. The red flag behavior I read in your post was:

"he was possessive of her and refused to let her go out with her friends."

This is a baaaaaaaaaad sign in relationships if your spouse wants to keep you in jail. No wonder she wants to bust free and go to bars. If he's depressed and angry and wanting her trapped at home all the time, it probably is a lot worse than you know about.

Good for her, I say.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:11 PM on October 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


*accepts that his marriage has gone haywire and quits taking the blame
posted by stoneandstar at 2:12 PM on October 21, 2012


No, you shouldn't say that. Your sister has been through a lot in just a few years, and has made a go of it, but it didn't work out. As for her going to bars; well, good. She needs a neutral place to unwind.

At this point, with a divorce and possibly a house sale to get through, she needs support (both practical and emotional), not judgement. Definitely not judgement. Even with a mutual breakup, things will be rough. This one isn't mutual, so she needs close people there for the long haul.

You could perhaps offer to take your sister out for a drink or a meal, and there say "Okay. What do you need from your family to get through the next few years?" and start from there.
posted by Wordshore at 2:16 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Her husband is using her family to get at her, that is horrible and sad. She sounds like she gave it a good try and now wants to move on but he is having trouble letting go. Tell your family its time to step up and support her and gently but firmly redirect him away. Usually there is a lot more to a failed relationship than any outsider will ever know, her family should trust her on this. Imagine if he turns into an aggressive maniac during sex, or flirts with very young women, or throws things on the floor and tell her to clean it up, or makes her feel bad whenever she has fun, or calls her a fat slob fifty times a day, makes her cry all the time, or whatever... trust her that she cannot live with it be it minor or crazy, she is not happy with him and is trying to improve her life.
posted by meepmeow at 2:19 PM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Take this from someone who divorced her husband after 13 months of marriage (and separated even earlier than that) - please don't tell her you disapprove of her decision. It's hard enough making the decision to leave your husband, let alone doing it without the support of your family. If you were happy that they were getting married, she probably assumes that you're not happy about the divorce. You don't have to vocalize it. She has enough on her plate right now without having to hear that she's making yet another mistake. Be kind to her and keep the love and support flowing. Trust in her decision because you might not know the whole story. It will mean more to her than you'll ever know.
posted by Nutritionista at 2:26 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It is kind of weird to me that your family seems to be on the side of the husband, even though he refused to get counseling despite the fact that he "refused to allow her to go out with her friends."

I'm not even clear how it's possible to type that sentence and wind around to the end of the question by stating your family disapproves of her leaving him. He 'refused' to allow her to see her friends and her family thinks she should stay with him?


(She also seems to have relatively little need for support at this point; every time I call and ask how she is, she replies "happy.")


Well, there's your answer.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:34 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


refusing to speak to her husband and try to work things out.

Sounds like she spent the entire duration of the marriage, and all the time in counseling before they got married, trying to work things out. Sometimes when you're done, you're done.

You and your mom should keep your opinions to yourselves.
posted by ook at 2:50 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


You seem a bit bewildered and upset by the turnaround from "do whatever I can" to "not speaking to him". Remember that you aren't there, so it's entirely possible that he said or did something utterly unforgivable when she first moved out (very common) or that when your sister moved out the release of pressure was so great that she realised there was no way for her to willingly cram herself back into that box again. The latter is exactly how it went for me when I had a break from my first real boyfriend - it was only a week but the relief, the weight off my shoulders was so great that I couldn't imagine ever even being friends with him any more. As it turned out I spoke to him again, got sucked into a maelstrom of emotional blackmail and lived with him for another few months until I lost my shit. If I were doing it all again I would actually move out and not speak to him again.

Is it possible that the separation (divorce) of your parents is playing a part in your mother's reaction? I assume that since your mother is hundreds of miles away and your sister lives with your father. People can carry a lot of baggage around that and it can impact how they view the same 'mistakes' in others.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:54 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


You don't have to live her life everyday, but she does. It would be nice if you guys would be more supportive of the choice she feels like she has to make. There are probably things she hasn't been able to tell you guys about because she might be afraid you'd be dismissive. Don't just go forward thinking you guys have it all figured out and that she's at fault.
posted by discopolo at 2:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who went through a similar divorce without the support of her family. Please don't do that to her. It's not your decision, and she's your sister. Whatever her decision is is the right decision.
posted by cmoj at 3:06 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there are times when people you love make decisions and the best thing for everyone is not to pass judgment on those decisions, except in extraordinary circumstances which I don't think these are. When someone chooses to get married or divorced you support them because you love them not because you necessarily think what their doing is the best choice.

You're telling her that you don't agree with what she's doing isn't going to help anything. She's not going to reconcile with her husband because or family doesn't approve of her getting a divorce. If she did I think it would be a huge mistake because the reconciliation would be for the wrong reasons.

This might be one of those occasions where since the decision has been made the best you can do is keep quiet about it because saying something will only benefit you and not your sister.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 3:09 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your parents are divorced and yet your mother seems to have the biggest issue with your sister getting divorced. What's the deal with that?
posted by Good Brain at 3:45 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


If your sister is happy, it's none of your business.

If your sister is miserable and in a controlling/abusive relationship, then it's your business (to encourage her/him to make changes/leave).

Both you and your mother have to rise above your own personal feelings and think about your sister's wellbeing.

And, yes, most couples are extraordinarily good at putting up a nice front for the world - you have no idea what truly went on in their relationship. Your sister is happy - that should make you happy.
posted by heyjude at 3:48 PM on October 21, 2012


Before divorce was 'available' as an option in society, maybe many people – especially young women – went from their parents to a marriage.

Perhaps they sat, trapped in silence, with no option. Marriage was marriage. Doesn't matter if you're happy, they would say, you're married. You're not supposed to be happy.

I wonder how many people lived tortured lives and lost their dreams because marriage was an institution, and divorce was unmentionable.

Your sister probably knows what's best for her. Just because previous generations suffered lack of choices, doesn't mean their children have to.

Power to your sister.
posted by nickrussell at 3:57 PM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just to be clear: your sister has extricated herself from an unhappy, possibly abusive marriage, after having worked to salvage the relationship since before the wedding. Your mother doesn't approve because evidently her daughter's happiness and well-being is less important than the vows she took. You're sad because you (inexplicably, at least in terms of your question) don't think she's thought hard enough about it.

I would gently suggest that you (and your mother) ask yourselves a more pressing question: what kind of relationship do you want to have with your sister in the future? Do you want her to feel that when the chips are down, her family has her back (even if they might personally disagree with her)? Or do you want her to feel that her loved ones' support is conditional?

There's a very important relationship at stake here, and it's not your sister's marriage.
posted by scody at 4:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [34 favorites]


I'm still missing the part where your family STRONGLY disagrees with the divorce. It just sounds like only your mom is tripping on it, and she's so far away that her disapproval is based on some theoretical principal, and not based on anything in reality.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:45 PM on October 21, 2012


This is a very interesting question. There are a lot of inferences to be made here. A few of them:

“She spends all of her free time going out with her friends to bars - something that she never really got to do when she was younger since she went straight from living with my father to living with her now-husband.”

So apparently your parents are divorced, and from the fact that your sister lived with your father when she was "younger" I gather that they were divorced when you were both relatively young or at least nearing adulthood. This is an important factor. Divorce always has an impact on the children of the couple divorcing, particularly when those children are not yet adults or are about to become adults. It's almost inevitably a life-shaping event, and one that can't be ignored.

You say nothing about the nature of your parents' separation, how it happened; but I think certain possibilities can be drawn out even without that information. When parents divorce, there's a lot of pain, and that pain can often lead to regret and general resentment over what happened. Often that pain can lead to a general belief that divorce is wrong, that marriage vows really and truly need to be taken seriously, that not taking them seriously can be destructive.

I mention all of this because I was intrigued by this bit of your question:

“My mother is extremely upset. She believes that my sister is not treating this relationship like a marriage and is not taking her vows seriously by refusing to speak to her husband and try to work things out. I'm not quite as angry, but I'm saddened by her behavior and I really feel like she's making the wrong decision.”

It sounds like your mother has some traditional ideas about marriage, since she feels that vows should be 'taken seriously' and marriage should be 'treated like a marriage' – which is okay, that's not meant as a criticism. I only find it interesting to think about why your mother has these traditional ideas about marriage. Like I said, your question makes it pretty clear that your parents are divorced, too. That's probably the reason why your mother feels so strongly about divorce; because she feels it's a mistake she (or maybe your father) made, and she'd rather not see her daughter go through the same unnecessary pain. It's important to point out that this is a common pattern for parents to follow with their adult children, and it's often not a good one, because it means generalizing their experiences and treating them as though they are universals to be applied to their children, too. But your sister is an adult. She isn't the same as your mother, either; and this situation is different from the one your mother and father faced.

I think you should spend some time thinking not so much about what your sister is going through right now but what her marriage has been about. Here's what I can see that's worth contemplating:

Your sister married young. At the time, she was already in counseling with her future husband, and was living with her father, who was separated from her mother. But she got married anyway. Why? It's rather unusual for the child of a divorce to marry young, and when it happens even though there are already a few unresolved problems in the relationship, it's usually for a few possible reasons – to prove something to her parents, to prove something to herself, etc. It is hard for most people to marry for the right reasons, but for a young person whose parents are divorced and who is in a relationship that has had trouble already, I have a hard time imagining any really good reasons to get married yet at all. I think it sounds very likely that she jumped the gun there, and that she knows it. She does say she's been unhappy for a long time, and she has implicitly expressed regret for getting married so young.

And from the sound of the reaction the family has had, she's already felt a lot of pressure to stick to a marriage that is making her unhappy. Add to that a possessive and controlling husband, and you have a very good recipe for unhappiness.

I agree with those here who've said they think you should respect your sister's decisions and not pressure her. I know it's hard, given that it seems like the wrong decision to you, but please know that people here who have said that "possessive" is a terrible sign are absolutely right. I think you should swallow your ideas about what you thinks she should do and talk to your sister, making it clear that you want to support her and giving her someone she can lean on. She will need that badly right now.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and one more thing:

“I also know that there could be other things that were going on in the marriage that mom or I may never know about.”

Why? Why not ask her?
posted by koeselitz at 5:19 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm, you want your sister to stay with a guy who is possessive and refuses to let her go out with her friends? Sounds like she is in a potentially dangerous situation. Hope she makes it out okay, and you find the warmth and kindness to support her while she does so.
posted by lulu68 at 5:21 PM on October 21, 2012


People like you and your parents -- who believe that women should sacrifice themselves wholeheartedly to any relationship, no matter how harmful it is to their health and happiness -- are the reason why so many women stay in abusive relationships. Because they KNOW they will get no support from the people who are supposed to care about them most, even if they take the risk and make the effort to save themselves.

Your sister sounds like she's finally taking a leap of independence and strength. I don't think this is the only controlling relationship from which she's going to be distancing herself.
posted by crackingdes at 5:27 PM on October 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


My sister is separating and likely divorcing her husband after 15 months of marriage, and my family strongly disagrees with her decision. Do we tell her this?

No.

Who do you want more in your life? Your sister or her ex? This is the choice you are making. Choose your sister. Your mother should choose her daughter. The great news: she's young! She has plenty of time to find the love of her life.
posted by amanda at 5:54 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've never been married or divorced, but I can imagine it doesn't feel good to have your family tell you they don't support your choice. I also know that there could be other things that were going on in the marriage that mom or I may never know about. That said, we really want her to think about this more carefully than she seems to be.

You've already gotten your answer here but how much more careful can someone be, who's been in couples therapy longer than she's been married? You need to back off.
posted by bleep at 5:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is nothing in your question about why her marriage was so good that you and your mother think she should stay in it. Seems exactly the opposite.
posted by Mavri at 6:02 PM on October 21, 2012


That said, we really want her to think about this more carefully than she seems to be.

She's been thinking about this since before she got married.

but [husband] was refusing to go to one-on-one counseling or get a different job.

He's the one who's not wanting to work on the marriage. She's done everything she could do here. She gave the marriage her best shot, but she can't save it if her husband isn't on board.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:06 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, crackingdes is right on. After I left my first unhappy relationship, I got much better at leaving negative/controlling relationships in general-- including those with some of my family members. If your sister is just now tasting what it means to be free and unmanipulated, she's not going to want to put up with it from you or your mom either. (I know you're actively trying not to be controlling, but if she senses disapproval she's probably not going to submit to it.)

It's a sad pattern I've noticed throughout life that family members often side with a woman's ex when she breaks up with them, for some reason. I've seen my mother do it to me and my sister a million times, and I will never understand it. I can only assume that my own mother has more respect and admiration for a man she only knows socially than she does for her own daughters, to which I can only shrug, distance myself from her emotionally, and move on. Luckily my father has always been on our side, even while acknowledging that we're human and make mistakes too, and thus I've grown to trust him much more as an adult.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:31 PM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


From the OP:
Thank you all for your comments. I've sent this link to mom as well and we've both been checking in and discussing it.

I understand the rationale for jumping on the husband based upon what I said about his behavior, but I truly believe that this is a result of his depression. He never blocked the door to keep her from leaving the house or screened her calls or anything like that. I believe he is seriously depressed and the only thing that makes him happy is my sister. To allay this, he only wanted her to spend time with him. I believe he needs serious therapy to work through his depression, but as I said, he has unfortunately refused to go to one-on-one therapy.

This thread has been incredibly helpful in helping mom and I understand our feelings and think differently about the whole situation. Mom called my sister earlier this evening and told her that she wanted to make sure that she knew that we love her, support her, and all we want is for her to be happy. She said my sister seemed surprised and appreciated this a lot, so I think we're moving in the right direction.
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I understand the rationale for jumping on the husband based upon what I said about his behavior, but I truly believe that this is a result of his depression. He never blocked the door to keep her from leaving the house or screened her calls or anything like that. I believe he is seriously depressed and the only thing that makes him happy is my sister. To allay this, he only wanted her to spend time with him. I believe he needs serious therapy to work through his depression, but as I said, he has unfortunately refused to go to one-on-one therapy.

THIS. IS. BAD. Stop making excuses. He knows there's a problem (the depression), is actively not trying to change that, and is manipulating your (very unhappy) sister into staying in a bad situation. And your sister has tried for years to get him help. Good for her for finally moving on!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


I understand the rationale for jumping on the husband based upon what I said about his behavior, but I truly believe that this is a result of his depression. He never blocked the door to keep her from leaving the house or screened her calls or anything like that. I believe he is seriously depressed and the only thing that makes him happy is my sister. To allay this, he only wanted her to spend time with him. I believe he needs serious therapy to work through his depression, but as I said, he has unfortunately refused to go to one-on-one therapy.

This is going to sound harsh, but so? If he refuses to get therapy, to help himself, and puts all of the burden of his mental illness onto your sister's shoulders, how is that appropriate? How does that help the relationship?

I am the depressed one in my relationship. And there are times where I don't care about anyone but my partner and my child. I don't emotionally blackmail them into staying close. I don't put the burden of my happiness on their shoulders. That's unfair, and impossible in the case of depression.

Look at it this way. If being depressed and making your sister his only source of comfort and happiness was how he dealt with mental illness, and he refused to get any other help, exactly what does the future hold for your sister? She has been in therapy, she has tried and he has not. No matter how much you love someone you cannot be their everything, you cannot make them whole, you cannot heal them. You can support them, but to do that they need to act. "...he only wanted her to spend time with him" sounds like a classic manipulator's move because they were just married, they live together! Chances are they spend more time with each other than with anyone else. Chances are that what he means by 'spend time with me' is 'be who I want you to be and nothing else'. He is not acting, so she cannot support him to get better - she can only support his inaction. Which she has done, for however long they have been together. It's unsustainable though.

If you cannot grow in a relationship because your partner demands you only change to their needs, you only support their desires, it's ultimately a dead end. Your sister is trying to grow and right now she needs space that he is obviously resentful of.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


I believe he is seriously depressed and the only thing that makes him happy is my sister. To allay this, he only wanted her to spend time with him. I believe he needs serious therapy to work through his depression, but as I said, he has unfortunately refused to go to one-on-one therapy.

Your sister was not put on this earth to "make" her husband (or anyone else) happy. Your brother-in-law was not put on this earth to be "made" happy by your sister. They -- like you -- were put on this earth to take responsibility for making themselves happy. That your brother-in-law is refusing to do so certainly is sad; it is not, however, any sort of good reason for your sister to jettison her own happiness or to place limits on the rest of her life. I say this not to be harsh, but to simply be very clear where the responsibility lies here. Your sister and her husband both possess exactly the same amount of free will; they have simply chosen to exercise it differently.

That said, good on your mom for calling your sister. It does sound like a step in the right direction. Good luck to your sister on her new life (and to your brother-in-law that this might be the event that prompts him to get the mental health care that he needs).
posted by scody at 7:39 PM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Consider how long you think she "should" wait for him to seek treatment--five years? ten? forever? How long until she's put enough effort into honoring her vows and it's finally on him to get treatment for his illness?

His depression doesn't make him a bad person, but he's treating your sister very poorly and, I'd say, not honoring his vows by expecting her to be his only source of happiness while he refuses the real, effective treatments available to him.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:46 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm happy to read your update, and that you were able to connect with your sister.

I believe he is seriously depressed and the only thing that makes him happy is my sister. To allay this, he only wanted her to spend time with him.

This is EXACTLY the situation my sister is in right now-- I was literally just talking about it five minutes ago with our other sister. She's married to someone who wants her to be home, with him, all the time. He never comes over, barely leaves the house himself, and gets frustrated and controlling when she wants to spend time with other people. As a consequence she feels unhappy and like she has to spend solid days at a time not leaving the house to "work on the marriage." Compared to our other sister's relationship-- to a man who is always suggesting ways to spend time with other people and help them out-- the contrast is clear. If my first sister tried to divorce "depressed husband" I would pat her on the back and take her out to dinner. He refuses to go to therapy and she is young, she should absolutely find her own happiness and give her soon-to-be-ex the wake-up call he needs.

My sister in the frustrating marriage has also been "working on the relationship" since they got married, if not beforehand. They're constantly having big talks about who needs to do what and why they're both frustrated, forever and ever, and I haven't seen them radiantly happy together since the first few weeks of their relationship. Sometimes things just aren't right-- it's actually a blessing that they're still young and don't have any children together, and she can walk away. (Making someone get treatment for their depression is futile.)
posted by stoneandstar at 8:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I understand the rationale for jumping on the husband based upon what I said about his behavior, but I truly believe that this is a result of his depression. He never blocked the door to keep her from leaving the house or screened her calls or anything like that. I believe he is seriously depressed and the only thing that makes him happy is my sister. To allay this, he only wanted her to spend time with him."

Sooooo, in order to prevent someone from being upset and sad all the time, your sister has to be unhappy? He's stubborn and won't go to therapy, so she has to suffer for it? When did she suddenly become a walking bottle of magical happy medicine? I'm having a really hard time following your logic.

She's your sister. You need to worry about her welfare and happiness first.

Why are you so worried about the welfare of someone who isn't even related to you? I get having sympathy for others, but you can't save everyone, and you can't expect someone else to do the saving for you.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 9:36 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


My family was *horrible* to me when I decided to leave my possessive, controlling and abusive husband. This was devastating to me, especially as they tried very hard to retain their relationship with him and took up writing him supportive emails, sending him recipes, and so on. This is in spite of knowing a few (but not all) of the abusive and sometimes violent things he did to me.

A separation is not a divorce. I do not understand why people who are against divorce freak out when people separate. Sometimes, it is a much needed wake-up call and a chance for people to regain their sense of self, direction and so on. Maybe her husband will use this time to seek medical attention, engage in individual therapy and make major changes to his behaviour.

Separation can be a chance for the relationship to heal and grow stronger. It doesn't mean you're walking away from everything. Honestly, if more of the people who loathe and stigmatize divorce were supportive of separation, some people might have the courage to separate earlier and perhaps work on their marriage then.

Moreover, you are looking at your sister at the beginning of her separation. Her feelings may shift 100 times in the next few months. Going out and celebrating the deliciousness of not being blocked from having a night out may be something she needs to do right now to heal. She may feel different in 3 or 12 months. Or maybe not.

That being said, I didn't go back. My family can still be quite horrible to me. Don't be that family. You haven't lived it. You don't know what it's like to live in that marriage. But she does. And it's okay for her to make herself safe and okay and to walk away. I mean, gosh, it sure sounds like she tried really, really hard. Perhaps she's doing the best thing by leaving now while she still has some shred of her self esteem or before he starts to display (even more) abusive behaviours, which can emerge during pregnancy and the post-partum stage.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:37 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe he is seriously depressed and the only thing that makes him happy is my sister. To allay this, he only wanted her to spend time with him. I believe he needs serious therapy to work through his depression, but as I said, he has unfortunately refused to go to one-on-one therapy.

Your sister is not a therapist. Being "the only thing that makes him happy" is not a cure for depression; if anything it's enabling him. And he's still refusing treatment? Even after this wakeup call? Yeah. She's doing the right thing.
posted by ook at 10:04 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


To give maybe a slightly more sympathetic perspective than other commenters here:

I think I understand what your sister's husband is going through. After a string of really bad jobs that left me depressed, I actually found myself in the middle of a divorce a few years ago. My depression made me do some silly things (I got incredibly lethargic to the point of being almost paralyzed as far as advancing my life) and one of the things that really compounded my depression was the fact that my then-wife grew more and more distant from me. I found this incredibly frustrating and painful; why couldn't she just see that I wanted support while I was going through what I was going through? Which made me more depressed, continuing the cycle.

And eventually the whole thing ended in divorce. She finally couldn't take the cycle anymore. I spent months unemployed drinking too much and trying to figure out how to get my life back together. And eventually... I did.

You know what? Honestly, I wish that had happened sooner. I wish she hadn't spent years feeling like she wasn't happy but trying to put those feelings aside, and I wish I hadn't spent years clinging to her. I had this idea that she was the only thing that could save me from depression. In fact, that's not really how depression works. You don't get through depression by demanding that unhappy people stay unhappy just a little longer for your benefit. Depression was something I had to work out for myself; there was no way for her to do it for me, even if she had wanted to.

Sincerely, I agree with other posters that you should probably put your sister's needs first here, but even if what you're concerned about is making sure her husband is okay, I have a feeling what's best for him is for her to move on and let him figure out what he needs to figure out on his own.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you don't agree the best course of action is to do a lot of listening and give no opinions.
posted by chapps at 1:07 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your sister has tried, over and over again, through counseling both before and during her marriage, to make her relationship with her husband work --- he, on the other hand, refuses to do so: apparently his plan is to just stew in his depression and drag her down with him.

Look, depression is an illness, and there is medical assistance available, which he is admittedly unwilling to accept. If he had a physical illness such as tuberculosis for which he refused to seek medical care, would you insist that your sister never leave his side and thereby endanger her own health? Or would you acknowledge that, having done her best to help him, she is more than justified in saving herself?
posted by easily confused at 5:07 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


He never blocked the door to keep her from leaving the house or screened her calls or anything like that.

I think it's a general principle that whenever you're saying "X never did worse thing" than whatever X did, odds are high that you're making excuses for an inexcusable situation.
posted by endless_forms at 2:21 PM on October 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


There are two things I think you could get some perspective from reading:

Why does she stay with that jerk? This is a list of why people stay with abusive partners, written by an EMT who has seen the outcome of a great deal of domestic violence. The blog ("The Pervocracy") as a whole is NSFW, but that post is PG, though it does feature a tasteful Babeland ad.

Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay is often recommended for people who are trying to decide whether to leave their relationship or not, but it might give you some perspective on how a person might come to that decision, and what kinds of things are "fixable" and what aren't. I read it when a friend was going through a rocky time in her relationship, and it gave me a lot more perspective on what she was going through and how to support her.

By the way, how old are you?

Is this your younger sister, or your older sister? How much relationship experience do you have yourself? You mention never having been married yourself, but there's stuff people generally learn over time about how relationships work, by observing it play out with their friends or in their own relationships.

I think that when people are younger, we often believe that one person can "save" another unilaterally, but that's not really how relationships work or how people work. One person can provide a supportive environment for another person to work on themselves, but you cannot, ever, force someone to change.

Helplessness is actually really controlling. It forces the other partner into a position where their needs are less important or unimportant, where the entire relationship centers around the helpless partner getting their needs met.

I also have noticed myself getting less black-and-white about the sanctity of marriage and the horrors of divorce as I age. I'm married; I'm deeply, truly, happily married. To steal from another MeFite, I'm married as HELL. When I got married, I thought divorce was the biggest awfullest disaster that could happen. But, as I've watched my friends and family go through the cycle of bad-marriage and divorce, I've come to the conclusion that I'm a big fan of divorce. The really awful disaster is staying in a bad marriage.

I have also noticed myself growing increasingly less enchanted with the romance of noble suffering for the sake of ones beloved. In dramatic narratives, happy mutual support is boring, and noble suffering is interesting and romanticized. In real life, happy mutual support is interesting and the medium for human growth, and noble suffering is mutually destructive, as koeselitz suggests here.

She believes that my sister is not treating this relationship like a marriage and is not taking her vows seriously by refusing to speak to her husband and try to work things out.

koeselitz also observed that it seems like your parents are divorced, and suggests that your mother's own divorce may be affecting her perception of this situation. I'm going to extend that interpretation. If your mother suffered in an unhappy marriage a long time before getting divorced, or if she suffered in that marriage and then had a divorce thrust upon her, she may be kind of attached to the idea of suffering for ones marriage. If it's okay for your sister to leave an unhappy marriage, then maybe it would have been okay for your mother to leave, as well, and that means that her suffering gets robbed of some of its meaning. It may be worth it to talk to your mother about what her own marriage was, or is, like, and how she feels about her own divorce (if we're not totally off base in thinking there was one).
posted by endless_forms at 7:57 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


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