Dear Dr. Yael:
I am wondering what has happened with my son-in-law. He does not want my daughter to speak with her father, siblings or me. Why would he want to control his wife to the point that she not “be allowed” to speak with her family?
I do not want to cause any shalom bayis problems for my daughter, so I am trying to respect her husband’s wishes. But this is my daughter I’m talking about, and I want to have a relationship with her. It is unhealthy for her to be cut off from her family!
It is also absurd that he does not even let her talk to his own mother. I am extremely worried, but I do not know what to do. She calls me when her husband is not home and I know that I have to be ready to hang up at a moment’s notice if he walks through the door. I do not want to interfere in their relationship, and while I understand that she should not be on the phone when her husband is home, to never be allowed to talk to one’s own family is crazy! What can I do to help my daughter in this situation?
Despite having scant details from your brief letter, I will try my best to respond to your question from different perspectives.
I do not know if your son-in-law was hurt by both sides of the family. If so, he is reacting to that pain. I suggest that you reach out to him in an attempt to repair the relationship. Asking a third party, like a rav or therapist (individuals who can be objective), to help mediate the situation is sometimes helpful. If you try either approach, but your son-in-law insists that nothing negative has occurred, it may be a control issue, which is a more serious problem.
Is your son-in-law isolating your daughter from her friends as well? If he is trying to completely isolate her, it is a warning sign of an abusive relationship. From what you’ve described, your son-in-law’s actions can be very dangerous to your daughter’s self-esteem and wellbeing.
According to Shalom Task Force, “Domestic abuse has been defined as a pattern of coercive control that one partner in a relationship exercises over the other in order to dominate, or gain and maintain power and control.” Isolation is one of the strategies a spouse uses to practice control and abuse. And if the aggrieved party has no support system and no one to turn to when she or he is feeling abused, the abuse can continue unhindered. Thus, you must intervene in order to ensure that your daughter is in a safe relationship.
If I am speculating incorrectly about the situation, the following questions should be addressed: Were harmful comments made in the past that is now causing the alienation? Can you think of anything done by either side of the family that has caused your son-in-law’s desired estrangement from your family and you? Keep in mind that people sometimes distance themselves from family in order to – in their view – protect their marriage.
I know of toxic situations whereby a rav advised children to cut off communication with their parents. But this is generally not the norm.
When I did research for my DVD, “Chutzpah is Muktzah 2,” I learned that there are husbands who tell their wives that halacha demands that they listen to them before listening to their parents or anyone else. While this is accurate, our gedolim were known to treat their in-laws with the utmost respect. A story is told of a gadol who would cut the challah on Shabbos and first give the cut bread to his wife and his widowed mother-in-law so as to show them the proper derech eretz.
A true ba’al middos makes every effort to not sever ties with family and instead works on building relationships with everyone.
Finally, more questions to ponder: Did your family and your son-in-law’s family meddle in an inappropriate way in the couple’s business? Did a singular event occur that was the basis of your son-in-law’s drastic step? If the answer is yes, you need to give your daughter and her husband space in order to form a solid relationship between themselves. And they will need to do this on their own. In the meantime, find a way to be connected with them without being over-involved. Hatzlachah!
About the Author: Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Respler will be on 102.1 FM at 10:00 pm Sunday evenings after Country Yossi.
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