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Dear Dr. Yael,

I am writing about my son-in-law. I am baffled by his behavior lately. My son-in-law does not want his wife to speak with me, her father, or her siblings. Why would he want to control his wife so that she does not talk to 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 and I want to have a relationship with her. It is not healthy for her to be cut off from her family! He does not even let her talk to his own mother, which is also absurd. I am extremely worried about my daughter, 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 her husband walks in the door. I do not want to interfere in their relationship and I understand that she should not be on the phone when her husband is home, but to never be allowed to talk to your own family is crazy! What can I do to help my daughter in this situation?

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A Reader

 

 

Dear A Reader,

Your letter is brief and I have few details on the situation, but I will try my best to respond to your question from different perspectives. This is, once again, the challenge of writing this column. With little information, we try to answer the question from many angles. I do not know if your son-in-law was hurt by your family and by his family and therefore he is reacting to this situation in this manner. If that is the case, then maybe you can reach out to your son-in-law to try and repair the relationship. Sometimes asking a third party to help you mediate, like a Rav or therapist, can also be helpful.

If you try this and your son-in-law states that nothing has occurred, then he may be trying to act in a controlling manner. This is a much more serious problem. Is your son-in-law isolating your daughter from her friends as well? If your son-in-law is trying to completely isolate your daughter from all of her friends and family, then this is a warning sign for an abusive relationship. What your son-in-law is doing can be very dangerous to your daughter’s self-esteem and well being.

“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” (Shalom Task Force). Isolation is one of the things that a spouse can use to pave the way for a controlling and abusive relationship. If a woman (or man) has no support system and no one to turn to when she/he is feeling abused, then the abuse can continue unhindered. You must intervene in order to ensure that your daughter is in a safe relationship. Perhaps you can have one of your other children try to ascertain if your daughter is in a safe relationship.

These are all conjectures and perhaps there is another side to this situation. Were there damaging things that happened and these damaging comments are alienating the couple in this situation? Can you think of anything that you did or his family did to provoke such a response? Sometimes people distance themselves to protect the marriage. We have no idea what is really transpiring, but this is another angle to examine.

I know of toxic situations where children had to cut off from their parents and this was advice they actually received from a Rav. This is generally not the norm. We are sorry that we are answering with so many possibilities, but the question had so little information in order to give a clear response.

When I did research for my DVD Chutzpah is Muktzah 2, it came to my attention, that there were husbands who were actually quoting their wife that halacha demands that the wife listen to the husband before her parents or anyone else. People asked me to address this issue in another DVD or in a book since they felt their son-in-laws were poisoning their daughters against them. It is in fact the halacha that a married woman must respect her husband more than her parents and do his wishes, but all of our gedolim were known to treat their in-laws with the greatest respect. In fact there was a story told of a Gadol who would cut the challah on Shabbos and at the same time throw a piece to his wife and to his widowed mother-in-law in order to accord them both derech eretz. A true baal middos tries not to sever ties with family and works on building relationships with everyone. As mentioned above, it may be a good idea to get a third party involved, so that you can have an objective person who can help you understand if your involvement with your daughter is helpful or harmful.

Is it possible that both your family and your son-in-law’s family were mixing in too much or in an inappropriate way? Is it possible that something was going on, which made your son-in-law take such a drastic step? If yes, then you may need to take a step back and let your daughter and her husband form a solid relationship on their own. Maybe you can find a way to be connected with them without being over-involved. If this is definitely not the case, then please try and intervene as quickly and as skillfully as possible. Hatzlocha!

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.