The 5 Towns Jewish Times

Dating Forum: Brother Headed for Another Abusive Relationship

By Baila Sebrow

Question:

My brother is dating a woman who is mean and horrible. I know they are planning to get engaged, and my entire family wants to find a way to make him see what she is really all about.

First of all, she was married twice, and my brother didn’t even know about that until recently. He thought she was married only once. When he asked her about it, she admitted it, but she said that since it was a brief marriage it doesn’t count. She is really good at manipulating him and she controls his every move. I heard that’s what she did in her previous marriages. She tells the story that she walked out on her ex-husbands. I find that hard to believe, because she is the one who puts people down. We also heard that she was mean when she was a young girl, and made many girls in elementary and high school miserable.

My brother has not had an easy life. He went through a terrible divorce with a mentally disturbed, abusive ex-wife. And right before this woman, he had bad relationships with other nasty women. This woman seemed good at first, but then everything came out. What can we do to make my brother see the light now? We don’t want him to get hurt again. How can we stop him before he ruins his life? He claims that every person deserves to do teshuvah.

The other factor is that he has a daughter from his former marriage, and this woman does not want her around. We all agreed to take responsibility for her. We would rather do that than have her stay with a stepmother who doesn’t want her at all.

Response:

I first need to address an issue that is prevalent in those who have experienced more than one divorce — and that is deliberately withholding information about an extra marriage. The excuse they give when the truth is discovered (as it almost always is) is that one of the marriages was brief and so it does not count. That’s similar to what you are sharing about the woman your brother is dating.

It doesn’t matter if the person was married for one day. As soon as a couple is declared married, they are married. The length of time does not take away from that fact. And especially if there was a get, one cannot try to play around with terminology. So, from the beginning, this woman was conniving about a serious matter, and that should have been enough reason for him to end the relationship.

If that weren’t bad enough, there is an even bigger problem on the horizon, a problem called spousal abuse. For a moment, put aside whatever you heard about her past relationships as a schoolgirl and spouse to her former husbands. How is she treating your brother now? According to what you say, she manipulates and controls him. Although you don’t go into detail, it sounds like your brother might be recognizing that he is not being treated right, but he has a soft spot for her and wants to give her the chance to do teshuvah.

The ability to do teshuvah so that one can redeem himself or herself for past mistakes is Hashem’s endowment to His people. When it involves a person-to-person issue, those who accept the apology are very generous. But that is not the case here. We are talking about a lifelong commitment called marriage. One does not have a chiyuv to marry a person just so he can give her the benefit of the doubt that she will get better in a marriage with him. When a person has been married and divorced more than once for the same reason, history will most likely repeat itself. Perhaps therapy might be beneficial, but who knows? And besides, why should anyone play Russian roulette with his or her life?

That she was the one who walked out on her marriages does not impress me. There is a common misconception that it is the victim who ends the marriage. Although that can be true at times, in many cases it is the abusive spouse who walks out. Sometimes it’s as though they finished doing what they felt they needed to do to their victim by bringing them down, and they then feel bored. Or they feel that their victim will walk out on them, so they want to be the first one to call the shots, with the assumption that it will make them look better in the long run. Either scenario might be the case in your brother’s situation.

Spousal abuse happens to men, too. And no one has any clue how far this woman will go if she is demonstrating such negative behavior now. It is interesting that she has had a bad history with interpersonal relationships since she was a youngster. In many cases (though not always), an abusive spouse had a childhood history of bullying type of behavior.

I am very troubled by a number of things, namely the painful events in your brother’s life. Let’s start with his bad divorce and failed relationships prior to meeting the woman he is currently dating. What was it about those past women, as well as the current one, that the initial impression failed to reveal their true colors until much later? It seems like your brother is following a pattern of victimization.

As is often the case, victims of abuse tend to become attracted, at least initially, to the personalities of those who victimized them earlier. It is not that they want to be abused again, but people generally gravitate towards familiarity — even if the familiar is not good. So if your brother’s first relationship was abusive, then that is what he knows and feels comfortable with. We are all creatures of habit, and we can get drawn to whatever it is that we get used to. It becomes the comfort zone, even if it’s bad.

When the relationship ends, sometimes the victim will romanticize and embellish the few good moments that the abuser afforded his victim, and with time it doesn’t seem that the person was that bad after all. As is often the case, it is specifically that type of personality that the person usually feels attracted to over and over again.

You and your family are in no enviable position now. You all see that your brother’s life is headed in a bad direction. From what you are saying, he somehow managed to get out of his previous dysfunctional relationships, whether it was his choice or not. But we don’t know how the present relationship will end — or if it will. All we do know is that this woman is not conducting herself in a kind, honest, and respectful manner towards your brother. Other than warning him, as you have done, the other option is strongly encouraging him to see a therapist. Your brother clearly has issues in attracting women who are ultimately not good for him. He needs to recognize that and understand why he falls for such types. If he refuses, then I am afraid it becomes completely out of your hands.

Up until the next concern that I will address, I was able to give your brother the benefit of the doubt that he makes mistakes in choosing relationships. But we have an even bigger problem. There is an innocent child whom the woman your brother is dating does not want if she marries him. To make matters much more tragic, it sounds like your brother is going along with it.

Although it’s very nice that your family is stepping up to the plate by offering to take care of this child, your brother does not sound like a responsible parent. Furthermore, since you mentioned that his former wife has mental problems, she, too, might be incapable of taking care of a child.

This entire situation is out of hand. I can only imagine how devastating this must be for your family. My first concern is for the child and making sure that her needs are being taken care of in a safe way. I hope that since you show so much attention towards her, you are also making sure that her emotional health is being taken care of. That said, with all the information I have laid out for you, it would be beneficial if your family is not only guided by a family therapist, but also by a knowledgeable rav to whom you all can turn for direction in managing this saga.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.