Dear Debra: On Marriage & Mothers-in-Law



By Debra Darvick

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Dear Debra,

My future mother-in-law has never been particularly welcoming. I’ve tried every way I know to connect with her. Nothing works. I invited her along when my mother and I go mother-of-the-bride dress shopping. That’s when she said her own wedding dress still fit and that’s what she’ll be wearing. Yes, her own wedding dress!

I am beside myself. I don’t know if this is an empty threat or if she’d really do it. I asked my fiance to tell his mother how inappropriate this is, but he shrugs and says that’s just his mom. My mother says it’s not too late to call off the wedding, that this woman is going to make my life hell and my marriage one long struggle. I love my fiance and won’t even think of breaking our engagement. But I have begun having nightmares about what this woman could do to our lives.

— Stressed


Dear Stressed,

wedding veil PixabayI had to read this several times before I could actually process the reality of your situation. Your future mother-in-law seems vicious and/or cravenly jealous at the very least and deeply disturbed at the most. Let’s assume deeply disturbed.

While I understand that you don’t want to break the engagement, your mother’s concern for your future has merit, especially if you will be living near your in-laws. If you don’t address the elephant in the room, she will trample the loving marriage you intend. Make it your goal to move forward with chesed, kindness, while establishing boundaries to protect your marriage.

I consulted Rabbi Steven Rubenstein of Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield. Judaism teaches us to honor our parents and places a high bar on our obligations to our parents even if they are nitrafa da’ato, literally, “torn in the mind.” Your fiance doesn’t see his mother’s behaviors for what they are because he has normalized them instead of seeking professional help. Your presence challenges the dynamic.

I urge you and your fiance to speak with a professional who will help him see his mother’s behaviors more clearly. You both need guidance and support in learning how to set boundaries as a married couple while maintaining love and compassion for a troubled woman. Rambam forbid parents from creating situations for their children where honoring them becomes an onerous burden. While wearing one’s own wedding dress to a son’s wedding comes pretty darn close to being an onerous burden, there is still room for honor.

Discuss the bedeken with your rabbi. This veiling ceremony echoes the moment in the Torah when Rebecca veils herself upon first seeing Isaac. Tradition interprets Rebecca’s action as setting herself aside for Isaac. A contemporary interpretation might view the veiling as creating a boundary for herself as an independent person. Hopefully, your mother-in-law will relent. If not, rise above her choice and model the strength and growth you will continue to develop throughout your marriage.


Dear Debra,

A dear friend has remarried. It’s great to see her happy and cared for by someone she loves and who loves her, but I cannot abide him. When we first met, I thought he was just awkward or uncomfortable, but he still sets my teeth on edge.

We still have our girl time, but I dread it every time we are together as a foursome. What can I do?

— New Hubby Horror


Dear Horror,

Here’s a short lesson in grammar psychology. Whenever we join two clauses with the conjunction “but” we negate the value of the first clause (the one up there with the words happy, cared for and love) with some sort of self-righteous validation (in this case I cannot abide him.)

Might New Hubby be awkward because of some vibe you are projecting? Maybe he doesn’t want to spend time with you, and doing so is yet another way he demonstrates his love for his wife, your friend.

It comes down to how much you value the friendship. If you want to preserve it, try really hard and find something you can build on with New Hubby. You might not want to; doing so anyway will demonstrate your own love for your dear friend.

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