Dear Debra – Stepdaughter Bride Turns Nasty

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Dear Debra,

My wife and I have been married for three years. Her first husband, the father of her two adult daughters, passed away when they were young. My wife told me the girls gave her a rough time growing up, even wishing she had died instead of their father.

Her older daughter was recently married in Israel. First, no one told me when the ketubah was being signed, and I missed it. Then, as the ceremony began, I joined my wife and her younger daughter beneath the chuppah along with the groom’s family. I was taken aback when the younger daughter told me I wasn’t supposed to be under the chuppah. I told her I belonged beside my wife and refused to leave. My wife did not intervene. The daughter relented as guests began arriving.

The ceremony proceeded without incident, but later, my wife told me that the younger daughter was following the directions of her older sister, the bride. It seems she didn’t want me there in order to symbolize the presence of their deceased father. The groom told me it was their wedding, and they could do what they wanted.

I am very hurt that my wife’s daughters conspired months before to exclude me from the ceremony. No one, not the bride, her younger sister, the groom or my wife informed me in advance that I was not to be included under the chuppah.

I believe my wife’s daughters haven’t healthily dealt with their father’s death, continue to use the past as an excuse to mistreat their mother and have no respect for me as her husband. Although my wife says she sided with me during discussions with her oldest daughter about my presence under the chuppah, I question how assertive she was. As for the groom, it may have been their wedding, but it shouldn’t have been a forum to be nasty. What now?

— Feeling Excluded


Dear Excluded,

The seeds of your recent experience began long before you and your wife stood beneath your own chuppah three years ago. Wishing the surviving parent dead might be within normal parameters of fresh grief for some children, but one would hope that the grief your stepdaughters are brandishing would have been worked through years ago.

Giving their mother a rough time because their father died should have been met with more than the passivity your wife continues to exhibit. It seems she long ago decided to make up for their father’s death by becoming a floor mat. You are correct; your stepdaughters are treating you the same way they have treated their mother.

Moving forward will take more than I can offer you in this column’s space. Get thee to a therapist’s office, pronto — with your wife if she will go, without her if she won’t.

These are the issues as I see them: stepdaughters whose grief has metastasized into unacceptable disrespect and hostility; a wife who cannot stand up to her daughters, thus impacting your marriage; and a husband, you, who has married into an unhealthy dynamic. Hopefully you and your wife can develop a zero-tolerance plan vis a vis her daughters’ behavior. If not, expect similar exclusions to continue. Jewish Family Service would be a good place to begin.


Dear Debra,

A couple my husband and I have gone out with for years have always had this shtick of teasing each other. I think it sometimes edges toward hostility. My husband never agreed until recently, when the “teasing” escalated into an outright argument.

Initially, we thought it just happened with us, but they carry on like this even in large groups. I no longer want to go out with them and have begun “being busy” when she calls. She has asked if anything is wrong, and I’ve used the white lie technique. But that can’t work forever. What can I do?

— Unwilling Bystander 


Dear Unwilling,

My mother’s cardinal rule was “no teasing.” She believed, and I agree, that behind even lighthearted teasing lurks meanness. It appears this couple long ago crossed the line separating lighthearted and hostile.

You’re right; white lies won’t work forever. Next time your friend calls to go out, tell her how unpleasant their arguing is to be around. Ask if everything is OK. They may be undergoing personal reversals that have kicked up the teasing to its current state. If she demurs or denies, you are left with two choices: continue to see them and suffer indigestion or reiterate the truth — their arguing ruins your evening, and you no longer wish to be party to it.