When I began to date, I was looking for a woman who, aside from having the obvious important qualities, came from a large family with lots of siblings. As an only child, I felt lonely growing up. I missed all the fun I assumed my friends were having with their brothers and sisters. But more important, I wanted my children, one day, to have plenty of cousins to be close to. I knew I would never be the one to provide them with cousins, so it was up to my future wife to provide that opportunity.
When I met Etty, I was happy to see that in addition to her many amazing qualities, she had four sisters and one brother. Perfect, I thought — nice big family and the potential for plenty of cousins. We’ve now been married for almost two years.
The problem that I didn’t anticipate is that Etty is so close to her sisters and even to her brother that I often find myself feeling lonely and left out. For instance, when I come home from work, more often than not, Etty is on the phone with one of her sisters. She greets me nicely, but then she goes right back to her conversation, even though I haven’t seen her all day. We don’t get to have a decent conversation until she finally hangs up, which can be five minutes later or, if they’re in the middle of some important conversation, even half an hour.
When her entire family gets together to celebrate something, whether it’s a yom tov or a simcha, ultimately Etty will find some cozy corner to hang out in with one or several of her siblings. I’m usually left to find someone to talk to and keep myself busy, because I know that Etty will find it hard to pull herself away from these people with whom she is so very connected. They can’t seem to get enough of one another.
When Etty and I are alone with each other, we do have a very good relationship. We get along well and have fun together and it’s all good. But I do think that her immediate family is probably more important to her than I am. Of course, I’ve never asked her if that’s true. Maybe because I’m afraid to hear the answer! But I can’t help thinking about the old saying: “Be careful what you wish for.” For years, I wished to be part of a large, close family. So now I’m part of it, and while I happen to get along with everyone and they are all nice enough, I’m not really “one of them.”
Where do I go from here? I know that I could never try to get in the way of her very close family ties, and even if I tried, I doubt that I would ever be successful. And I don’t think I even have a right to try and break up something so meaningful to all of them. But I am feeling lonely much of the time and would like things to change. Any ideas for me?
As I read your question and empathize over how hard it must be for you to feel like the odd man out, I am struck by your gentle tone, your understanding of Etty’s needs, and your uncertainty over whether you even have a right to expect more from Etty. I get the impression that you haven’t confronted her or discussed your feelings with Etty, not wanting to rock the boat or compromise any of her close family time.
Very often, we fail to just ask for what we want. Whether because we feel it might seem too aggressive or self-involved, whether it’s not our nature to assume we are deserving, or whether it’s a matter of fear, people often settle for so much less than what they want and deserve—for all the wrong reasons. And sometimes, we just assume that others can read our minds and know innately what we crave. That is usually not the case.
First and foremost, you need to have a respectful conversation with Etty and explain to her what your experience is like as it pertains to her involvement with her family. You can describe, example by example, what it feels like to be the recipient of her actions. This shouldn’t sound like an attack, but rather a sharing of feelings and information. For instance, I happen to agree with you that when a man (or woman) comes home from a day at work, the loving, respectful thing for the spouse to do is to get off the phone ASAP and show one’s spouse the courtesy and dignity that a loving marriage should reflect. Additionally, it shows good manners and loyalty. Because at the end of the day, though enjoying close ties with siblings and friends is a necessary and wonderful thing, one’s spouse should always come first.
It is possible that Etty doesn’t even realize that this is an issue for you. Maybe she comes from a home where this type of behavior has never been modeled, and so she naturally assumes it’s no big deal and she’s not aware that you are actually hoping for attention when you get home. You need to share this information with her in a kind manner. Based on the wonderful relationship that you claim you have, I’m guessing that Etty will appreciate knowing how you feel.
The same thing goes for your discomfort at celebrations and in all the other numerous scenarios you can probably point to. As she’s busy talking to her sisters, it’s possible she’s never even considered how you’re spending your time and who you are talking to. Not everyone takes the time to consider others in such a way. That doesn’t make Etty a bad person, just someone caught up in her own good times. It’s your job to clue her in and enable her to show more consideration toward you.
I do wonder what stops you from taking the initiative and just walking over to Etty and her sisters and joining the conversation. Surely, they don’t hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign in front of them. You don’t need an invitation to walk over and join in. As an only child, perhaps you’re feeling uncertain about the rules that exist between siblings, and you worry about infringing on their own little world. Let me assure you that there are no rules. Yes, it sounds like they are super-close, which is a nice thing, but I encourage you to fearlessly join the club. For all you know, Etty and her sisters will be thrilled to have you on board and welcome your contributions to their discussions.
So remember—when we just ask for what we want, we’re sometimes amazed at how easily we get it. Start asking!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.