Sunday 25 February 2018

Dear Patricia: My unwed sister says my fiancee is only marrying me for my money

Patricia Redlich

Q: I recently got engaged and am planning to marry my fiancee soon. I've known her for over three years. During that time, she has been really supportive as both my parents passed away within a short period of time.

My older sister, who lived near my parents, was their main carer during their illnesses, because I live abroad, and she is now left with a void in her life. She is middle-aged and not married. We've drifted apart since I moved overseas five years ago, and more recently we have quarrelled a lot, mostly stemming from the fact that my sister feels bad that I wasn't around more.

My sister has always had mixed feelings about my fiancee, and has openly stated to me that she doesn't feel she would make a suitable wife for me. Since the engagement, she has expressed outrage at the fact that we will be getting married shortly, and has warned me repeatedly that I should turn away.

I have obviously listened to my sister's views, but I still feel that I am making the correct choice. And now it's getting to the point where I am avoiding my sister since she continues with her insults against my fiancee, saying, among other things, that she's only marrying me for my money.

My fiancee is aware of the strained relationship between myself and my sister, but she has no idea of the recent upheaval, and knows nothing of the nasty things my sister says about her.

What can I do? I would love to keep the peace. Yet I feel that my sister is interfering far too much.

AIT'S easy enough to understand where your sister is coming from. She blames you for not doing more when your parents were ill. What that really means is that she resents the role she had to play in their lives. She's middle-aged and not married, as you said. She feels she missed the boat. She definitely reckons she got the short end of the stick. While she was caring for your father and mother, you were away creating a good life for yourself. And your engagement, and pending marriage, are a stark reminder of how different things are for you.

It's small wonder she doesn't like your fiancee. Given the emotional hole she's stuck in right now, how could she like a younger woman about to embark on a full and happy life? You say you listen to your sister's views. Don't you see that she hasn't got "views"? She has terribly painful emotions -- despair, anger, jealousy, and probably fear too --as she looks into the void which is now her life. She's grieving for her lost options.

This isn't about the suitability of your fiancee. This is about your sister's sadness. The discussion, if you like, is about the wrong issue, the battle an artificial one, the real problem your sister's misplaced despair.

Ultimately, of course, this despair is her responsibility. She has to learn to see that she's not a victim, that she made choices, that she did what she felt was right, that life still has much to offer her, if only she would reach out and take it.

She is seriously out of line raging at you about getting married, making disparaging remarks about your fiancee, meddling where she has no right to go. What she needs from you is a gentle and loving hand. She needs you to put boundaries in place. You have to tell her, quietly, that she is over-stepping the mark and must retreat. Do you understand? Allowing her to talk about you, or more precisely your fiancee, is simply giving her permission to avoid her own pain. That will not help her. It is also inappropriate.

I'm sure you're fond of your sister. I also think you feel guilty. Guilt is not a good basis for being a true friend -- which is what she needs right now. Deal with your guilt, which means dumping whatever part of it is inappropriate. As for the rest, you have to forgive yourself. You can then tell your sister you're sorry for emotionally abandoning her while she looked after your parents -- for the "drifting apart" that you talked of.

Tell her, too, that you now understand how hard it all was for her. Then you have to tell her that you love your fiancee very much, and that she has to butt out with her criticisms of your choice of partner -- said gently, but meant very firmly. In short, she has to respect you. And then you have to tell her that you want to be close to her, to be there as one of the building blocks of her new life. You get the picture.

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