Woe Is Me! “My Sister Is About to Marry a Terrible Person. Should I Stop Her?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“My sister has been dating this guy for a couple of months, and is getting serious about settling down with him. But I really don’t think he’s a good match for her — he’s emotionally distant, doesn’t really communicate when they fight, and doesn’t quite get along with our common friends either. He doesn’t seem to be too encouraging of her career, too, and I worry that she will end up prioritizing him if she were to marry him. She thinks he’ll keep her happy and marriage will change things. But how do I tell her it’s a mistake, and she can find someone infinitely better?”
— Fight or flight
DR: I do understand your quandary, and I know it must be really frustrating to be in your position, but I’m afraid there’s very little you can do to change a decision she has made as an adult. What you can probably try is to introduce your sister to couples in healthy relationships — giving her a chance to observe, and hopefully, learn. Or, you could invite friends, who have been in similar relationships as her only to have it blow up, to hang out with the two of you and share their takeaways (but this is only if they are comfortable sharing their experience, of course). That might allow her to spot the red flags in her own relationship. You could also start sending her infographics on social media about what constitutes an emotionally abusive relationship. Or, if you want to be more subtle, just post them on your Instagram/WhatsApp stories so that she doesn’t feel it’s directed at her, and instead, process the information at her own pace, without feeling attacked. Maybe, you can also recommend her movies that depict loving, healthy relationships — as well as those that depict how emotionally abusive relationships can take a toll on people’s wellbeing.
I really don’t want to suggest a full-scale intervention involving your friends, though. If it doesn’t work and she chooses to continue her relationship, she’ll feel too ashamed to turn to anyone for support and guidance if — although it’s probably a matter of when — things do go south with her partner. That might just end up alienating her, and in a way, and prolong her misery by depriving her of a support system at her hour of need. On that note, I think you should also be super-cautious while advising her because you don’t want her to resist admitting things are going badly in her relationship –when they do, that is.
I do think you should still try to get her to see that she may be about to make a mistake that’s not the easiest to get oneself untangled from. But do be sure to let her know that you’ll be there for her no matter what she chooses right now!
AS: Maybe you could try the chutney test, like they do in 3 Idiots? Maybe that can open her eyes? Or, you can ask a private investigator to dig up dirt on him. He sounds too suspicious not to have any, you just have to stalk his social media a little and something surely will come up. And if this also fails, you can just sit her down and tell her about how all the “great” men in the world have turned up to be massive red flags. Maybe then she will see the light.
RN: Firstly, you should have told her this much earlier! But I understand why it might have been difficult. However, this is a tricky terrain to walk on: what if, by dissuading your sister at the 11th hour, you don’t end up stopping anything but instead damage your relationship with her? This doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything at all, it means you need to be strategic about it.
Try asking her pre-marriage questions like what she’s afraid of, what she’s looking forward to, and what she’s unsure about. Try and tease these issues about her fiancé out of her rather than spelling them out and ambushing her. Then, remind her that she has support systems — that she has friends and family that she should prioritize no matter what — so that she can rely on you from the get-go. There’s a way to provide support without alienating her — but trying to stop the wedding altogether may just make things worse. Reiterate the importance of having a career again and again. If you’re comfortable, have an honest but kind talk to understand why she wants to marry this guy, and express your concerns frankly to see how she responds to them.
But remember — she’s a person with agency too, so it’s important to talk to her rather than decide for her.
SK: Yes, you should stop her. If you didn’t have a favorable opinion of the other person, in general, outside of whatever relationship decisions they took, I would tell you to express your disdain passively. But more is at stake here. I assume you have done your due diligence, and have plenty of reasons to believe this person is not the right partner for your sister. (Last minute gut-checks: do her friends and your family share the same opinion? Have you spoken to him about your concerns? Has your sister shared concerns of her own about the relationship? Does it feel like she’s going out of her way to justify his neglect or emotional abuse?)
The first step is to tell your sister of your wariness. This is not to ambush her or critique her reasons, but just to understand where she’s coming from and what her priorities are. Marriage is about many things, but if it feels like she’s pushing herself to be someone she is not, it’s fair to at least do something. This calls for some strategizing: is there a way to ask others for help, people who may know them as a couple together? Or, take your sister away for a vacation, giving her the opportunity to step back from this whole situation, and reflect on her emotions and choices.
Give her time to make her decision regardless, but make sure she has all the information she needs before she says yes — or, well, no.