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Friday, June 1, 2012

The Family You Marry Into

Dear Brother Jo,

I first off would like to express my gratitude for your blog. I have used it and have found it very insightful. I served in a YW presidency and some of the issues and topics you talked about were very useful and helped me help them, so to speak. So for that, I thank you!

I have read quite a few stories about troubled youth and struggling YSA’s but I seem to still find myself in a debacle that I'm not that sure of how to handle. However, before I just jump head first into my situation, I feel an intro is in order.

I am (age withheld) and just moved back to my home town after finishing my college studies; I just graduated from school. I have good a job and making pretty good money.

I am dating a young man who is part of the singles branch here and we have been together for almost 2 years now. I really do like this guy and the topic of marriage has come up over the last few months and we seem to have the same views about marriage which is kind of exciting. My family, the members who have met him anyways, all seem to really like him and he does spend quite a lot of time with me and my parents.

However, it is his family that seems to be a setback. His mother and I are quite good friends but his father and I are not so much.  To be more accurate, it’s his step father.

When I first met his family, they all seemed rather friendly, he grew up with 4 other brothers and he has no sisters, so you can imagine they are all a little rough around the edges. It took me a few tries to get used to them but after a while we were totally fine.

After time though, the secrets of his step father’s secret life started coming out and all the peace that was in their home went away. It has been a VERY bad environment ever since. Their marital problems then turned to money problems and now they are all pitted against each other and they constantly fight.

Luckily, the young man I am dating left right before it got really bad, I should say that he got kicked out, but now he has been disowned by his step father, which really broke his heart because he was really close to his brothers and now he can’t really see them as often. His step dad also said that I am not welcome in their home either because I am guilty by association.

The man is very stubborn and prideful and sees nothing wrong with how he is living his life. It has also come to my attention that he is also abusive towards his family, mainly his wife, and that just scares me to the point that if I see him anywhere, I turn around and walk away.

I guess my question is how do I deal with this?

I'm scared that if I do ever marry this young man, how am I going to deal with his family?

I have talked to him about his father’s behavior and I have been very blunt in saying that if he does follow in his step dads footsteps that I will not stick around and he knows how I feel about that. I have also prayed about this and I know that when he says that he will not be like that, I believe him. I just don’t know if I can handle this whole thing.

Our Bishop knows about what is going on, but nothing has been said or done to help this family and that isn’t sitting well with me.

I know I just gave a “readers digest” version of this whole story, but I didn’t want to get too in depth and write a novel. If you do have more specific questions about this I will gladly give it. I will take whatever kind of advice that you are inspired to share!

Thank you so much for your time and patience,

(Name withheld)

Dear NW,

I'm happy to withhold your name, and if this is ever published you'll see that I've withheld some other details as well to help protect your privacy (although the details do help me help you).

You've raised several issues.

The first one I want to write you about it the all-too-common notion within the Church that "the Bishop is doing nothing". That may be true, and it may not.

Frankly, the only people who know the answer to that are the Bishop, the Lord, and the individual being helped. I've seen many situations where parishioners were "outraged" that nothing was being done by priesthood leadership when in fact things were being done, it just wasn't any of their business.

Another thing that people need to realize is that there's often a disparity between gossip and reality. We may think we know a situation based on what we've heard, but we forget that what we hear is third-party or biased information; sometimes abuse is real, sometimes things are labeled incorrectly because we make assumptions or because people twist things to hide some of the information.

Or they're just ignorant.

And (this is important) the job of a Bishop (or Stake President) is not necessarily to hunt people down and make them change their behavior. Like conversion, repentance comes from within. There are times when an individual's actions are deemed to be doing public damage to the Church or that their behavior is such where a disciplinary council is held with or without the individual, but even then the hope is for repentance. (You know, going back and reading, it's not clear to me whether or not the step-father is a member of the LDS Church . . . which might make all of this moot, anyway.)

Plus, it's always possible that a Bishop or other Church leader doesn't know what we think they do.

Which brings us to the issue of being your "brother's keeper".

I have no tolerance for child abusers, and I feel very strongly that if you know something concretely you must notify whatever authority (priesthood or otherwise) of the abuse. Please don't delay.

(Frankly, that may include having a chat with the Bishop which includes you expressing your disappointment in his lack of action.)

That's how you "deal with this".

Gather the facts and notify authorities to protect those that can't (or won't) protect themselves.

As for your possible impending marriage, when you marry someone you marry their family, too. If you "can't handle" being one of the relatives (whatever that means) then the marriage is a no-go.

Not that he's proposed . . . yet. (While Bro Jo is a proponent of "long courtships and short engagements" two years is a bit long even for me; seriously, you need to know SOON if this is going to happen or not.)

One of my "Five A's Why Not to Marry THAT Person"  is Abuse (the same list is also found in "Bro Jo's Guide to Relationships"); if you're satisfied that's not an issue (and you seem to be), and if you can find a way to deal with the family drama (you marry into a family, but every family has its problems) and if your future husband will cleave unto You even when it means separating from Them, then I think you're okay.

- Bro Jo

Dear Brother Jo,

Thank you for getting back to me so promptly!

Your advice makes sense and I appreciate the things you have said.

You asked a question that I would like to shed some light on: his step father is in fact a member of the Church and was serving in the Elders quorum presidency.

As for the abuse issue I did take your advice.

I didn’t know if anyone knew about it, and the only reason I found out was because I saw her one day on the street wearing a long turtle neck and huge sunglasses. Now, the sunglasses made sense, seeing as we live in (location withheld), but the turtle neck didn’t. This was a few days ago and the temperature has been rising and it’s just too hot outside to wear something like that.

I told my boyfriend about it and he called her and that’s when she broke down into tears.

We then found out that she had bruises up and down her arms and a black eye. She had also spent the night before in the hospital with some broken ribs from the same fight. I wanted to call in a welfare check that night, but she begged us not to, seeing that her husband is a middle school teacher and if the school found out he would be fired from his job immediately.

However, after reading your response, I decided to take some action. I couldn’t get a hold of our Bishop, but I did go and have a nice long talk with our ward's Relief Society president. She didn’t know that it had escalated to that point. She knew that they were having some problems but not like that. She said that she would be contacting the Bishop about it and that I didn’t need to stress. She then thanked me for telling her and told me to keep their family in my prayers.

Thank you for your advice. It was very much appreciated.


Dear NW,

Thank you for having the courage to do the right thing.

Let's pray that this family can overcome these trials; that repentance will happen where needed, and that people will do the right thing.

For you that may mean making sure that you don't gossip about any of this.

For you and your boy, that means being supportive.

And perhaps putting a little pressure on him. Two years is plenty of time to decide if he's going to marry you or not, so have the talk. Either move forward or move on.

Always wishing you the best,

- Bro Jo

{Readers - Never let someone's job keep you from reporting abuse. The fact that this guy works in the school system made this whole situation worse, not excusable! - Bro Jo]


Frank Pellett said...

One of the possible reasons for the BF not proposing after so long is a concern that he may turn out to also be an abuser. It's good that you've let him know that you would not put up with it in him, but the fear may still be there. Talking about the progression of your relationship is a very good thing. Hopefully he'll be able to put those feelings aside and realize what he has, and the possibility of losing it forever.

I hope things go better for your (hopefully future) mother in law.

Anonymous said...

I have an extremely dysfunctional set of in-laws. Without getting into too much detail, I had no idea just how weird/messed up things were when I was engaged. I knew the basics, but none of the history.

My husband and I deal by living 5 hours away from his nearest family and he makes decisions about what kind of relationship he wants to have with particular family members (when to visit, when to withdraw, etc.) It is HIS family after all and he is the one who has dealt with them his entire life. We aren't really close with any of them, but distance helps us maintain an emotionally healthy outlook with certain family members.

It also helps that my family is just 2 hours away. We have a great relationship with them and they're extremely supportive.

I would be lying if I said I never wished I had great in-laws, but we've managed just fine. I think distance helps A LOT with boundaries for us. I'm not saying don't get married to this guy (although after 2 years, I would think you would know by now) but be very aware that you are tied to his family after that and you should both have a solid idea of how you are going to approach those relationships before you go into marriage.