The email I received seems to speak for itself. No introduction necessary.
I recently became a kallah and am very happy. But I have recently seen and heard things that have me worried.
I spent a Shabbos at my future in-laws’ home. This is the first time since we were introduced, and the vort when we had spent time together – just my chasan, his family, and me. The few times that I have met my future in-laws, they seemed like a cute couple. They have been married for over 35 years, and they have five children and many grandchildren. They seemed very loving and warm. They still are loving and warm people. They made me feel very welcome, and I had a very nice Shabbos with them and the other children and my future nieces and nephews. But there was one aspect about Shabbos that really bothered me.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I did not like the way my chasan’s father spoke to his wife, my chasan’s mother. At first, I thought he was joking when he would look at her and say, “Nu? I come home from shul and you’re sitting around talking. Do you expect me to prepare the meal?” Later on, during the meal, he said the same thing about the dishes being cleared away. I began to observe my future mother-in-law and she seemed to do everything for her husband, which is nice, but I don’t know if it was out of fear or love or duty or what. My mother-in-law never responded back with a nasty comment. She just started busying herself with what had to get done, and adding, “We were just having some fun.” I understand that couples joke around with each other, but this seemed like the way the household was run. The husband would say something and the wife would jump to do it – or do it before the husband would ask (She set up his coffee mug and utensils for Shabbos morning before going to bed). There were other things that happened over Shabbos, but I think you can see where I’m going with this.
I dated my chasan for a few months. I think I know him pretty well, but I have heard the expression that you don’t really know someone until you live with him. I don’t want to have a marriage where he expects me to jump at his every whim and then gets angry if I take an extra second or two to speak with someone. I am not saying that my in-laws have an abusive type of marriage. All I am saying is that from what I observed, it seemed that my father-in-law was genuinely upset by my mother-in-law sitting and talking to family instead of setting and clearing the table. Would he have yelled if he had to get his own coffee mug Shabbos morning? I’m scared that if this is the way my chasan grew up, he may expect the same from me or treat me the same way.
Malka (not my real name)
Malka, thank you for the email and mazal tov upon your engagement.
I can understand how you may feel after what you observed and what you saw over Shabbos, but let me use a mashal/nimshal to explain things.
Mashal: A frum man went on a business trip and had to stay over in the town for Shabbos. He found the local shul and went to Friday night minyan and to Shabbos morning minyan. When it came to leining the parshah on Shabbos morning, the man observed the gabbai calling up men from different areas of the shul for aliyos. After davening, the man approached the gabbai and asked why the aliyos were given out in that way, “Why didn’t you go by row and seat order or give aliyos to people according to their last name alphabetically. The gabbai looked at the man and asked if he was in the shul last week. The man answered, “No.” Then he asked the man if he was going to be in the shul the next week or the week following that. The man answered, “No. I’m just here on business this week.” The gabbai then said, “You weren’t here last week. You won’t be here in the coming weeks. What you saw is just a little snippet of what goes on here. You don’t know if someone had a yahrzeit or a simchah or if I did go according to the alphabet. You are making a judgment on something you observed once for a few minutes. Stay a little longer and then maybe we’ll talk again about this in a few weeks.”
Nimshal: Malka, I am not making light of your feelings, but you may not know all the family dynamics of your future in-laws yet. Maybe this is a running joke or maybe your father-in-law was seriously upset at his wife. You haven’t been a part of the family long enough to make the statement, “I am not saying that my in-laws have an abusive type of marriage. All I am saying is that from what I observed…” Yes, what you observed may not have been the finest behavior, but again you don’t know enough to make such a statement.
Think about your own family that you grew up in: your parents, maybe a sibling or two or three. There are dynamics in every family, and within every family there are sub-dynamics. There is the husband-wife dynamic, the parent-child dynamic, the sibling dynamic, etc. Think now to instances where a Shabbos guest or an observer may not understand an inside joke that was made amongst your family members that everyone within the family was in on. To the one-time observer, things may seem off if he or she doesn’t “get” the joke.
I am not saying that your future in-laws have a loving relationship or an abusive one; I’m just saying that you are very new to the family and can’t decide on such a thing after a few instances where there are decades of this relationship and many layers to it. Yes, if you are worried that your chasan may observe this behavior and emulate it (which may be a joke, albeit a bad one in my opinion), then you should say something. I warn you about insulting or criticizing his family, because like any good child, he will come to the defense of his parents. But you can (and I hope you have already) spoken of the type of marriage you want and even have discussed which roles you will both play – who will be responsible for certain chores or something along those lines.
I wouldn’t judge anything based on 27 hours of being together with the family. Don’t forget, they were probably nervous to have you come for the first time and wanted to impress you and make sure all was perfect. Let me ask you a question, Malka: Did your chasan, mother-in-law, or any of the other children look embarrassed by how the father spoke with the mother? Did the mother try making excuses and apologizing for her husband’s behavior? Let’s not jump to any conclusions until you know all the facts.
Yes, you are worried now, but observe and listen a little more and then have that discussion with your chasan if you feel that there is indeed something to worry about. But I would broach the subject very carefully.
Hatzlachah to you all.