Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: Future husband’s daughter emotionally abusive?

DEAR NATALIE: I am engaged to an older man who I have been dating for the past few years. I have moved some of my clothing and other personal items from my house into an unused room in his house. He has a grown daughter who moved away many years ago and she recently came home for a weekend visit. She arrived while I was working, and when I drove home that day, I was horrified to see that all of my clothing and personal items were thrown on top of dirty boxes in the open and filthy garage. She was not happy that I had used a closet and dresser in "her" old room.  I immediately loaded my items back into my car. I worried that she would blow up if I asked her about moving my belongings so I didn't mention it. She never brought it up, either. I quietly addressed the issue with my fiancé later that night. He did not feel a need to discuss the situation with her because she would be leaving in a couple days, anyway. I am afraid that she will always consider me to be an intruder, and I have suggested to my fiancé that we look for another home to move into when we are married. He does not want to buy another home, and he will not move into my house due to the distance from his favorite golf course. I cannot consider selling my home yet because I am using it for storage. If this situation is not better by the time we are married, I am wondering if I should consider buying myself a larger home, in his neighborhood near the golf course, and ask him to move in with me? —CAST AWAY

DEAR CAST AWAY: What concerns me most in this scenario is that fact that everyone seems afraid to confront the daughter for throwing your belongings out into the garage. Her old room may have some sentimental value for her — but she doesn't live there anymore — and she needs to recognize that her father is allowed to move on with his life. Instead of tossing your things into the garage, she could have asked you about your belongings being in “her room.” Her response is that of a child, not a grown adult. I am concerned that she’s behaving so disrespectfully and that your fiancé didn’t do anything about it. Is he afraid of her reaction? Is she emotionally abusive and he doesn’t want to deal with it? Learning more about the dynamics of his family before you walk down the aisle may be helpful to you as you navigate these murky and volatile waters. As far as you buying a house that is in his preferred neighborhood for the both of you to live in, I would talk that through with him first. Yes, you marry your partner, but you also marry into a family. Are these the family dynamics that you want to deal with in the long term? It sounds like you are being incredibly accommodating to him, but he needs to meet you halfway, too. If a fresh start keeps your clothes from being tossed out of the house, he may need to reconsider his attachment to his current home and instead focus on the future with you. 

DEAR NATALIE: My brother is getting married soon and they are including my siblings (three other brothers) in the wedding party but not me. Being the oldest brother, I thought for sure I would be the best man, but instead I’m not even in the party at all. This is incredibly hurtful. My wife thinks it is because I have been hypercritical of how my brother and his fiancée have been handling COVID. They have been very cavalier with everything — not wearing masks to visit our mother, not taking proper precautions with crowds — they never stopped eating indoors at restaurants, either. As someone in the medical profession, I have a hard time watching their irresponsible decision-making without saying anything to them. We got into a big argument during the holiday season, but I thought things had cooled down. Apparently, I was wrong. I’m incredibly hurt and want to address this, but my wife says this will only make it worse. What do you think? — FAMILY PROBLEMS

DEAR FAMILY PROBLEMS: While I can understand your wife wanting to keep the peace, I also know how resentments can build over time when you don’t share how you feel. If you need to share with your brother exactly how his behavior has impacted you, then do that. Don’t be confrontational about it, however. It sounds as though he has been acting oppositional all year long, so you may want to take a different approach. Say something like: “I’ve noticed I’m the only brother not in the wedding party. I have to be honest, that really is bothering me. I don’t want you and I to have this level of tension. What can we do to work through this?” At the end of the day, it really isn’t about the wedding. It’s about the emotional distance you feel from your brother and your family. It’s about feeling hurt and publicly excluded. If COVID has shown us anything, it’s that what matters most are our relationships— with ourselves and each other. Don’t let this fester. Talk to your brother and try to find some common ground so that no one has any regrets. 

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