“My Sister Is Marrying an Abusive Man. Do I Have to Help Her?”

My sister is involved in a verbally and emotionally abusive long-distance relationship. The list of offenses is long and unbelievable, and we all – her family, her friends – have independently tried to talk to her about it. None of us has been able to dissuade her and she is now engaged to this man and planning to move to his country after the wedding.

He comes from a large family, and neither he nor his family are hesitant to phone or email my parents, me, or my sister’s friends when they have a problem – and they always have a problem: my parents should be giving him more money for the wedding, I wasn’t social enough at the engagement party, neither my husband nor I let anyone from his side have alone time with our infant son, her friends aren’t classy enough to attend events with his friends, etc. — the abuse gets spread around.

And that doesn’t even approach the things I know he and his family have said and done to my sister.

Yesterday I sent out the bridal shower invites and within twelve hours the groom forwarded an email to my sister, me, and the other bridesmaids that had clearly been circulated around his family and which viciously tore down (there was a lot of name calling) my sister and me for planning an event his side couldn’t attend. Remember, they live in another country. I included them on the invite list out of courtesy and because I am under strict family orders to “play nice” for my sister’s sake.

Honestly, after everything that has gone on previously, this email was not a surprise and I was ready to just add it to the list. The truth is, I’ve gone beyond outrage and into exhaustion. I don’t want this psychopath or his crazy clan in my life, and frankly I was ready to soldier through the wedding, help my sister pack, wave good bye, and never call her again.

Then my mother called. She said, “I know you and I’ve seen you pulling away. Please don’t cut your sister off. It’s going to be bad and she’s not going to have anyone and there’s always the chance she’ll try to get out one day. Your father and I are old and you’re the only one who will always be there. You have to make an effort to keep her in your life. She’s going to need you.”

I know a lot of his actions are a deliberate attempt to isolate her. I’ve done my reading on abuse. I’ve talked to her about it and she agrees with me one minute and defends him the next. I don’t care anymore.

I love my sister, but I don’t want to be involved with this kind of scary-crazy anymore. And I certainly don’t want my son exposed to what will soon become her side of the family. (That bit about people from his side wanting “alone time” with my son comes up at every single event I’ve attended with them and it makes me rabid.). What are my responsibilities to her? — No Thanks to Scary-Crazy

I understand your frustration and your disgust and your concern, but I think you need some perspective. The level of interaction you’ve had with the abusive husband-to-be and his psychopath family is at its peak right now because of the impending wedding. I can’t imagine that, once your sister and her husband move to another country and the wedding is behind everyone, you will have much reason to be in touch with her in-laws or that your son — or any future children — will be exposed to them. When would you have an occasion to even see them again? Maybe if you go visit your sister? So… don’t go visit her. See her when she comes to visit you and your parents. Sure, her abusive husband will probably come too, but I doubt his family will tag along.

Your mom was right about your being a bridge back to the world of sanity for your sister. She may not ever take the bridge back — and I can imagine how sad it must be to lose her to the other side — but as long as as you stay present in her life, the bridge is still there, and maybe, just maybe, one day she’ll walk — or run — back across. Staying present in her life doesn’t mean sacrificing your own or jeopardizing the safety and comfort of your family. It doesn’t mean exposing your son to your sister’s in-laws. It doesn’t even mean exposing yourself to them after the wedding is done. It simply means some regular phone calls and maybe some mail now and then — a care package from back home for her birthday, a postcard when you’re on vacation, stuff like that. The point is simply to let her know you’re thinking of her, that you care about her, that you miss her.

You still have the wedding to get through, and it’s probably going to majorly suck. The good news is you have a lot of people on your side — your parents, your sister’s friends — who are going to think it majorly sucks. Lean on them a bit. Vent to them when the wild in-laws are driving you nuts. Think about what steps you can take to manage your stress and anxiety during the wedding and the days and events leading up to it. Practice your favorite forms of self-care: bubble baths; a long walk in the park; a massage. Enlist your husband to be on the defense come wedding day, making sure the crazy family doesn’t get anywhere near your son (or at least are not left alone with him!), while you focus on just getting yourself through the day and supporting your sister as best you can.

It really sucks that your sister is making such a big mistake and that there’s nothing you can do or say to stop her. But that doesn’t mean you should cut her out of your life. You can stay present in hers while honoring your own boundaries, which will be easier with her moving to another country. Your mother is right — this isn’t the time to say adios to her but rather to hold on; the tenuous grasp she has with you may soon be her only link to a safe and loving reality.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

36 Comments

  1. LisforLeslie says:

    LW#1 – i can not imagine the stress you and your family are dealing with. Your sister is making a choice, and I think she’s got a screw loose to make it, but something inside of her needs this. The only recommendation I have is to re-frame the situation. You know that he is trying to isolate her. That’s the reason he sent you that email chain. That seeing how awful his family is would get you angry and you’d pull away more and more. So to get up in his craw – seriously to make him insane – do the exact opposite.

    That email? If he brings it up – “Well, everyone has their perspective. I appreciate you letting me know how your family feels.” Any complaint? “Thank you for sharing your concerns, I’ll think about that.” Shit, I would have sent him that in an email and copied his family members. So that they knew he exposed them. Let him deal with the fall out from that shit.

    When you have an opportunity to talk to her alone, you can say that you were really hurt by it but that you love her blah blah blah. Your sister may not care about herself, but maybe if she sees how mean he is to the people she loves, maybe just maybe she’ll open her damn eyes.

    Girl needs deprogramming.

    LW2 – MOA. This is not a supportive fellow. This is a man who doesn’t know his own emotions, is vindictive and petty.

  2. Juliecatharine says:

    LW2, WWS and not for nothing but if you’re not ready to be a mom you don’t have to be. You have options.

    LW1….I’m not sure I agree with Wendy. Wanting to keep a lifeline open to your sister doesn’t mean you have to submit to being abused yourself or even be a passive observer. If you’ve had enough you’re entitled to act on that. Your sister is an adult who is making crappy choices…those have consequences.

    1. Anon from LA says:

      LW 1: You can support your sister and stay in her life while simultaneously refusing to deal with her abusive in-laws, even while serving as her maid of honor.

      If I were you, I’d flat out tell her, “I love you but I can’t deal with his family any more. They are cruel and abusive, and if you want to interact with them, that’s your choice, but I won’t do it any longer.” Then you let her handle all the wedding stuff related to his family.

      Think of it this way, it might actually be good for her to see you demonstrate some boundaries.

  3. anonymousse says:

    LW2:
    He only has fingerprint access? He can still change his effing password.
    Don’t be foolish. He’s not trustworthy, and you know it.

    Break up with the jerk and focus on getting ready for your world to absolutely change when you have a child. You’ll have enough to worry and care about, there will not be room for cheating partners.
    Please, the next time you are having casual sex, use condoms and use a second method!

  4. LW1, I hope that you are also making arrangements for child support from the bio father.

  5. Northern Star says:

    LW 1, your mother makes some good points, but… your sister is a grown-ass adult. Have you sent her the email chain? Does she sit there and ignore it while people abuse her loved ones? Well, that’s a choice she makes. And it’ll have consequences.

    You can revisit the topic when/of your parents pass away and she’s still with the loser, but until then, if you need to disengage, then do so. The abuse is being directed at YOU. You don’t have to take it.

    1. Yeah I mean like, if I got that email chain I would very forcefully and politely tell her to tell them they can fuck off cause I don’t care. They can have their angry email fights but what do I have to do with it? Let them have their unreasonable fights, they clearly have plenty.

    2. LisforLeslie says:

      The LW said he sent the email to the sister as well (unless there are three siblings). So yeah, she got it.

  6. Lw2 WWS and all that. But I stopped reading to start laughing at this line:

    “A month in and I started getting weird feelings from him, so I took a peak at his phone.”

    No. That’s not a cause and effect that is acceptable in relationships. If you feel weird, you hike up ur big girl panties and talk to them. Snooping through phones is not what people in trusting relationships do. Hey, Ive done it! And I’ve regretted it every time. Even the times I didn’t find a thing! It gives you a sick feeling in your stomach, and you will stop and nothing to find some sort of evidence that you were right to snoop.

    He’s not to be trusted but youre not going about things well. Don’t do this to your next partner. Either trust them or talk to them.

    1. I also think it complicates things because if you find something and bring it up to them they automatically, and somewhat rightly, will start to get upset that you snoops and oftentimes gaslight you into fighting about that instead.

  7. Candice Conner says:

    Remember that part at the wedding that you hear speak now or forever hold your peace?Well speak. Let it all out.Embarass the idoits. Let everyone there know how abusive that jerk and his family have been. And they want alone time with your baby? Why?Where are they from? Strange as hell to me.Look I know you love your sister but you and your family come first.It is her choice let her deal with the fallout even if it means estrangement. Do not let your parents guilt you into being her keeper. Not your job.

    1. ^^^^^THIS I personally would not put up with this BS for another second. I would probably boycott this wedding totally. I hope the sister isn’t going to a country where she will be treated poorly or even abused by these people. I hope she wises up before she has kids with this man possibly in another country where she may not have any rights. LW can’t control her sister, but she doesn’t have to support her choices either. I would refuse any further involvement in this clusterfuk.

    2. dinoceros says:

      That really only benefits the LW though if she just wants to spite everyone. If that’s all she wanted, then I don’t think she would have written in. It doesn’t really address the LW’s concern about whether she needs to be there for her sister. As the mom is getting at, if she alienates her sister, then if her sister needs anything when trying to leave this guy, then she’s not going to contact the LW. If the LW is fine with that, then cool (but I don’t know why write the letter…)

    3. wobster109 says:

      Unfortunately that part is only said in movies, rarely ever in real life. And it only refers to legal reasons, such as the groom is already married, or the bride is the groom’s long-lost sister. Nowadays the legality of the marriage is determined beforehand, so there’s no need to give audience a chance to object.

      Even if that part were still in the ceremony, LW would likely be thrown out, and look like the bad guy.

  8. dinoceros says:

    LW1: The main goal, IMO, is to not lead your sister to believe that if she comes to you for help later on, that you’ll be unsupportive or rude or whatever to her. It doesn’t mean you are forced to like your BIL or his family or anything like that. Like Wendy said, the wedding drama is probably short lived. So, find a way to deal with his family for the time being that doesn’t involve making your sister feel like you dislike her or resent her. After that, keep in touch with her enough that she knows you’re there, but don’t feel like you have to insert yourself into her marriage.

    LW2: Of course you shouldn’t trust him. Look, TBH, I think it was a mistake to get back together with him at all. Anybody who is so wishy washy about you that they’ll just dump you because they aren’t sure if they are over their ex, is probably not that into your relationship or you. Normally, a person who is happy with their partner doesn’t just go off trying to get back with their ex. Learn your lesson and date people who actually indicate they only are into you, not you and other people.

  9. LW2 i was with you until you (again) start mentioning him being secretive and acting shady and then whoops you’re now pregnant and it’s not his baby! What?! You pay a lot of attention dictating how he’s acting weird but then glossed over the fact that you cheated on him during the relationship.

    I don’t think either of you are mature enough to handle a relationship where you’re pregnant with another man’s child. MOA and start owning up to your own responsibilities.

    1. I am confused. Did she have sex with a third guy. (cheat) or did she get pregnant by the fwb that she slept with (while they were originally broken up) and not find out until a few months later?
      Either way these two both sound super immature. She better grow up fast! It sounds too late to end the pregnancy.

  10. Should you trust him? When………now? It’s like Wendy said: why do you even ask? Maybe because, judging by your version of events, you aren’t really mature enough to make good judgments, or to handle real relationships. I feel bad for you that you’re pregnant with the child of a guy you hooked up with for one night, and that you’ve got a boyfriend who says he accepts you, yet is doing everything possible to act like he isn’t with you.

  11. Stillrunning says:

    LW1- I’m still stuck on and a little creeped out that his family wanted alone time with your baby? What was that about? Was the fiancee just throwing stuff out, hoping to make a hit?

  12. To LW 1; I agree with what Wendy said. Keep it in perspective, you won’t have to see them much after this wedding and you can be there for your sister while also keeping your distance. She knows where you are, hopefully she will reach out to you if needed. I also kind of think it is BS that your mom said basically “it’s all up to you now.” You aren’t your sisters parent and she is an adult. You can’t just hang around waiting to be someone’s safety net, nor should you have to. Family ties don’t mean you need to put yourself through the wringer. BOUNDARIES are your friend (again as Wendy said). There are plenty of people who are related to each other who don’t bail each other out of situations on the reg. So… be a friend/sister she can call if she needs to but you aren’t in control of anything she does and you shouldn’t have to suffer the fall out of her bad choices either. XO.

  13. LW1: calm down. You know they are nuts so don’t get angry, just say OK, good to know it, or some neutralising stuff like this. But don’t ever let your child with these people. The fact they ask for it is insane. Just say: no way.
    Is there a cultural difference at stake here? Do they feel you despise them? They sound hurt by your rejection. Not to defend them, how they act is indeed abusive, but just to understand. Anyway, try not to label people: this never helps in a conflictual situation. Let your sister do what she wants and keep indeed the contact with her, whatever man she is choosing is her business. It is absolutely useless to try to dissuade her to marry a man she is in love with. Act towards her like towards an adult. This is the man and the family she is marrying with: OK, her choice, not yours. Respect her decision. So set some limits regarding your sanity and above all, your child’s, but stop judging.

    1. Northern Star says:

      I think it’s pretty sad to posit that people from other cultures would somehow be excused from basic civility. I don’t know of ANY culture where name-calling via email or phone is anything but an insult—or where complaining about the bride’s family to their faces is anything but rude.

      They just sound like absolute jerks, no matter where they’re from.

      1. I’m sure she probably just meant, do they come from a culture where there are different expectations how how the two families interact or come together? And perhaps they are feeling very hurt because the bride’s family is not living up to those cultural expectations.?

        The name calling and drama – yeah they are just assholes for that.

  14. Rangerchic says:

    LW1: I don’t think it’s your responsibility per say. I would let your sister know that if she ever needs help that you’ll be there for her and then do what you need to do for you. It’s a sad situation. I think once she is in the other country you might not even hear from her much if they are as controlling as you say. Also, if she plans to have kids then she may never even visit once they are born. All speculation and I hope it’s not true but they sound horrible enough to control her in whatever way possible. Good luck.

  15. Wendy, please don’t be so cavalier about recommending benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax), especially without having any medical credential. These drugs are extremely addictive, and withdrawing from them is dangerous. We need to de-normalize using them for unpleasant life events.

    1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      Yep, that’s why I asked if she had a prescription and suggested seeing a doctor.

    2. I gotta agree with 000. I “know someone” who got a one-time prescription for benzos from their go to deal with a temporary situation and has now been a regular user for years. They are extremely physically addictive and hard to get off of. Even when you wean down to the tiniest amount, you get withdrawal if you don’t take it. I would discourage anyone from asking a gp for a prescription. They’ll probably give it to you, but it’s so risky. There are way safer coping mechanisms to try first.

      1. *GP, not “go.”

      2. And I mean, they’ll give it to you with no real discussion of your mental health. You can say your relationship is stressing you out or you have a lot of travel coming up, and they’ll write you a scrip for heavy drugs.

    3. I have to say, I was also surprised this came up. Mostly in the casual way the question was asked, “do you have a prescription for Xanax?” Like, it’s something lots of people have. As 000 says, prescription drugs are so normalized thanks to doctors just writing scripts without a second thought. Not to mention the commercials for anything and everything. We shouldn’t be able to walk into our doctor’s office and ask for something we saw on tv. We should be told about these drugs by our doctors when we describe symptoms or when we are diagnosed with something that warrants the need to take them. This is yet again, another way Big Pharma continues to make billions and billions of dollars.

      1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        Yeah, I don’t really feel like debating this, guys. You’ve made your point, thanks.

      2. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        Ive updated my post and I would like to move on.

      3. Thank you.

  16. Trust your gut. Ask your sister questions. Do you think it is OK to call us names? Yes or no? What are you going to do about it?

    You need to have a personal and criminal background check done on the fiance. Has he been married? Been arrested or jailed? A criminal background check on some of his relatives too. Wanting along time with your child, creepy. A lawyer in his country could do this for you. Our embassy should be able to give you recommendations.

    You need to talk to your parents again. This should not be all on you. Getting her out is going to be expensive. A trust could be a solution. A yearly distribution where she has to come to your country with any children and talk with the trustees alone.

    Remember you and your families safety comes first. And there is no fixing stupid.

  17. Beatdizzy says:

    I agree. Setting up a trust to help her get out when she needs to, maybe not even telling the sister about it so the absuve husband doesn’t get to it through her, because he will try. Just LW telling the sister that she can always ask for help getting her and her children out of the country no matter what happens. I would also raise the option of a pre-nup with the parents. Otherwise, how is she going to get the kids out of the county? Some countries would jail her for this, so as soon as she has kids she will be trapped forever unless she abandons them. This whole thing is a terrible idea. I also agree with shining a light on the families bad behavior, not to shame them, but just so everyone is clear that this behavior is not acceptable.

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