Dear Mrs. Bluth,
My relationship with my kallah of eight months is falling apart and I fear we are headed for a divorce. I am not sure how we came to be here, a place of hostility and war. My chavrusa suggested I reach out to you in the hope you could help me figure out where it went wrong and how we can fix it.
After coming home from Eretz Yisroel, where I learned for two years, I was ready and willing to start the next chapter of my life with a wife and family. I started the shidduch parsha on solid footing, knowing hashkafically what kind of home I wanted and I new I only wanted to date women who shared my values and perspective. The search was not easy or readily forthcoming, but I didn’t give up and approached each new prospect with optimism and an open mind. Finally, I met Esther,* who is sweet, mild-mannered and seemingly strong in the same ideals as me. It was after the second date that we knew we were meant to be.
Her parents seemed to be fine, upstanding people, albeit somewhat over-bearing, and things progressed smoothly through the engagement and the wedding. While it was all on a grander scale than I was used too, I had been told that her parents could afford it.
It was once the festivities ended that problematic truths came to light. It was about two weeks after the wedding when I realized that any plans we made, Esther needed to double-check with her mother. I found this very disconcerting and made mention to Esther that what we shared privately should not be discussed outside and that only we should decide on whatever concerned us. If we were adult enough to get married, we should be mature enough to run our lives without checking with her parents.
This was to no avail.
As time passed, it seemed that Esther’s parents were always in our home, even when they physically were not there.
I never shared with my parents what was going on, until, one day my mother asked if everything was okay. I broke down and said it wasn’t. I share with her some of what had been going on. It was then that she told me of the hard time they had with Esther’s parents during the wedding preparations; how much more they had to pay over what they had originally agreed upon because the other side wanted a far grander event than my parents could afford. In fact, they had to remortgage their house and sell off stocks to meet the cost.
Things have become even worse between Esther and myself. A day does not pass without crying, arguments or horrible silence. We rarely speak to each other and just when I was going to suggest that we should consider separating either temporarily or permanently, we found out we are expecting a baby. That is why I am writing, in the hope that you can give us some kind of life preserver to cling to and find our way back to the way we were before.
So, you thought that life was going to be easy? The fantasy is so much different from the reality that we choose not to acknowledge may exist, and often it is the day after sheva brachos that the truth begins to emerge.
I am truly saddened for both you and Esther, because through no fault of your own, you have become victims of “the in-law syndrome.” That is when the in-laws feel safe enough to expose their true selves without fear of reprisal. The controlling, manipulative power and demanding demeanor they held over Esther now includes you. But there is something that you can do. You and Esther can decide to fight for your rightful autonomy, especially now with a child on the way.
Realistically, what do you think your in-laws will do, disown both of you? Work towards splitting up your marriage? Decide that they want their daughter back and try for another son-in-law who will play by their rules and settle for living under their thumb? Highly unlikely, especially now that their is a little one on the way! This baby is the card that will allow you to break their absolute hold over both of you, but Esther has to be on board – if not, it won’t work. Esther has to understand that you didn’t marry her parents and they have no business in your marriage. She has to agree to make the separation with her parents that should have been in place before she married you and transfer her loyalty to you, her husband. Then, both of you need to visit a therapist to help you get back on track. The therapist will help you ride out the initial storm your in-laws may put up, as well as help you regain a healthy respect and understanding of your roles in the marriage, while looking forward to the next milestone of raising a child in a loving, respectful and tranquil environment.
I strongly believe this is not only possible, but probable and for your baby and your marriage, you will attend to the task at hand sooner than later. Fight for your marriage together and you just may gain the respect and attention of your in-laws. They may come to realize that they will lose more by being the enemy.
Should you need a little outside muscle, don’t hesitate to reach out, and I will be only too happy to have coffee with your in-laws. Hatzlacha and b’shaah tova.