My older brother is in an emotionally abusive marriage. At least this is how my younger brother and I feel. We have discussed it countless time over the twelve years of their marriage and nothing has changed, if anything things have gotten worse. My older brother, E, used to be a fairly happy and funny guy. He was the life of the party, at times. Always had friends to hang out with. He was not only funny and smart, but girls seemed to take a liking to him pretty effortlessly. I never had a problem with the girls he dated because, for the most part, they were pretty cool from where I stood watching. That is until he dated this one woman in particular while I was in my last year at University.
She was actually a grad student at the university I was attending which is how he met her. He had gone down to DJ a party in town and she had been there. He had taken a quick interest in her and wit my help managed to get to her phone number form the student directory. To This day I can’t help but feel partly responsible for helping that relationship blossom, even though I’m sure he would have found her some other way if I hadn’t helped.
Here name was R and she seemed nice at first. But then I began to notice small things begin to pop up here ant there. I think what I was actually noticing were the small red flags that would eventually become too big to ignore. The first was the obsessive love she had for the dg and cat she owned. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the love one feels for a pet as I have one myself, but her’ was at a level I had never seen before. Because she was a grad student, she was living downstate and my brother, having graduated the year before, was living in the city, upstairs from our mother to be exact. Because of this she would drive up to see him on the weekend often. This involved her packing up not only her clothes but the dog and cat, too. The dog always rode in the front passenger’s side and the cat in the carrier in the back seat. There were even a few occasions when she would give my younger brother and I a lift up to the city when she was going to visit our brother. This meant we would sit, scrunched up in the backseat with the cat carrier between us while the dog sat comfortably up front with her.
The other red flag that I noticed early on was the picture of the ex-boyfriend who had died from a drug overdose that she kept on the sun visor, held up by two rubber bands. The picture was always there. Never far from her sight whenever she was in the car. I asked my brother once if this bothered him and he said it did. I asked him if he had ever told her this and he said he had tried to once but that she told him she would never take it down because of the guilt she felt over his death. To this day I’m not quite sure what she meant by that but it seemed to satisfy my brother to some degree.
There were other things, too. She was bossy. She seemed controlling. There was something about her that didn’t quite sit right with us. My brother began to lose weight and he looked stressed all the time, too. But the most noticeable thing was that he looked unhappy. And that was something rare to see in him. Even our friends began to notice the change and would ask me what was going on. I would usually shrug and say they should ask him why he appeared to be so unhappy. But they never did because, I think, we all knew the answer to that question.
The last straw for us came when he began to talk about moving with her to Seattle, where her family was. At the time my brother had a good job working for one of the city’s Latino newspapers. He was making decent money, had an apartment and all his friend were here. We didn’t see what good would come of him moving to a new city, where he had no job lined up and no friends outside of her and her family. (The irony of that situation with the one I found myself in only a few years later does not escape me, by the way.) My mother, younger brother and I decided it was time to intervene. We sat him down and told him how we felt. He said he felt blindsided by it but I found it hard to believe that he didn’t sense something was up. I also thought he might have been secretly thankful that we had given him the push he needed in order to end the toxic relationship he had been in.
So he did. She didn’t make it easy for him but in the end she eventually went away and left him alone. To this day I’m sure she still blames me for their break up, although I’m not sure why she singled me out for it.
Fast-forward to a year later and that was when my (now) sister-in-law came into the picture. Well, she had been in the picture before they had actually decided to date, but she was in the background only popping up here and there. We had met her a few times when she had gone to some of my brother’s parties. She seemed nice and at the time I remember thinking she was pretty, too. She laughed a lot and seemed to have an over all jovial personality. I liked her and I remember noticing an attraction between the two of them. My brother had been single for some time now and so I mentioned the idea of dating her. He told me she had a boyfriend back in Mexico. I said, Oh, well, maybe they’ll break up, you never know or something to that effect.
Break up they did and she and my brother eventually began to date. Two years later her visa expired and she had to go back to Mexico. They did the LDR-thing for another two years before the subject of marriage was brought up. It didn’t exactly happen in the most romantic of ways. He asked her to move back to Chicago so they could be together and she said that she would only do it if they got married. She also wanted to know what his plan was and that she wasn’t going to continue the LDR-thing forever. My brother had never been one to talk about marriage so we were surprised when he told us he was going to ask her to marry him.
A few months later he and our mother flew down to Mexico to ask for her hand in marriage. It was then that my mother began to notice things weren’t entirely right with her and her family. Something felt off. But they got engaged anyway and a few months later she moved back to Chicago and into my brother’s apartment upstairs. Things began to change soon after.
We did our best to be a family to her because we knew she probably missed hers. I tried to be “sisterly” to her but she rejected my attempts. And she wouldn’t let my brother go to social gatherings that our friends had. Because she didn’t feel like being social, he wasn’t allowed to go and leave her alone in the apartment. Pretty soon our friends began to notice his absence at these get-togethers. Once again they would ask why. And once again I would simply shrug my shoulders and tell them they should ask him. But we all knew why.
Things never got better. They eventually married. She got a job working for one of the biggest ad agencies in the world and her career took off. Then talk of having children began to pop up and next thing we knew she was pregnant with their first. Not long after my nephew was born, though, it became evident that her career was more important than the newborn she had at home. Her mother had officially moved in to take care of the baby and my brother was left to deal with the childcare when he got home from work. My sister-in-law became a “weekend mom”, only seeming to have time for my nephew on Saturdays and Sundays. She did no housework and left my brother to do it all. She loved getting the praises on Facebook about how adorable and cute my nephew was when he was a baby, but she wasn’t too keen on putting the work into actually raising him. That was left for my brother and her mother to do. Things haven’t changed much now that their second child was born either. My niece has only added to my brother’s workload. My sister-in-law is still married to her job more than she is to my brother.
My sister-in-law is incredibly bossy. If she doesn’t like something she wont’ do it. It’s also gotten harder and harder to figure out what she may or may not like. She’s known to erupt over things that seem incredibly silly to most people. My mother likes to call them adult versions of a temper tantrum. She’s not afraid to make a scene either because if she’s angry about something, nothing will get in the way of her letting you know she is. On the rare occasions when we get invited to their house for some kind of dinner my brother has gotten into the habit of texting us to let us know that she’s been “slaving away” in the kitchen. My guess is so that we will shower her with rose petals when we get there and thank her over and over for gracing us with her (less than stellar) cooking skills. I guess. But who knows? Needless to say that’s never happened, nor will it.
Because my brother cannot speak his mind when he’s at home, he does so to my mother when he drops by to see her for something. He complains about the things that we do to offend her them. His complaints are always lacking in depth, too. He hasn’t a leg to stand on so he brings things up from years ago. Or he criticizes me, or our younger brother. He complains that we don’t visit with the kids enough but expects us to be the ones that have to make the effort. Making it so that in order to see them we would, basically, have to go over to their house, even though they live just a few blocks away and they could easily go over to our mother’s house. But my sister-in-law doesn’t like going to our mother’s house. She especially dislikes going because of my cat. She doesn’t like cats. We rarely get invited to go out with them. We rarely get invited too much, really. We have to put in all of the effort in order to be fitted into their life and yet they won’t return the favor. This has been going on for more than twelve years now and, to be honest, we’re tired of it.
We’re tired of being made to feel as though our lives have to revolve around them. We’re tired of getting the last-minute invitations to birthday dinners which usually results in one or two of us not going because we had made plans already and weren’t willing to drop those plans simply because they chose not to give us a considerate amount of notice. When I mentioned this to him once he told me that if I had kids of my own I would understand why it was difficult for them to plan very far in advance of things. Funny, I said to him, how our other friends who have kids somehow manage to be able to do it. He didn’t respond to what I said. He didn’t because he knew I was right.
Over the weekend he made comments to our mother that finally pushed me over the edge. He accused me of spending all of my time with my boyfriend and not enough with my niece and nephew. He accused me of, once again, dropping everything just to be with a man. He said that I was, once again, basing my happiness on whether or not I had a boyfriend. And when would I ever learn that wasn’t right? I wasn’t aware that my relationship with my boyfriend was that important a topic of conversation for him. What did he know about how things were going for me? Had he ever bothered to ask then maybe he would know that I’m in a better place today than I ever have been and that it’s not just because I met an amazing man who loves me for who I am, but because I also have a design job that brings in a steady income and because I’m still running my marathons? If he had bothered to ask he would see that I’ve never felt as emotionally healthy as I do currently. But he doesn’t ask. So he has no right to make comments and criticize.
My boyfriend and I are hosting a barbecue at his house next month. We’ve invited a group of friends along with my brother and his family. We wanted to get the kids together so they could hang out and play in my boyfriend’s huge backyard. Also, it’s a fun excuse to get everyone together. My brother and his family will not be going. You see, my sister-in-law’s birthday is on the Wednesday before the barbecue but they’re going to require that entire weekend to celebrate it. I know that’s not the reason they’re not going. I know that the real reason is because my sister-in-law doesn’t care to go to it and what she wants or doesn’t want to do is law in that household. It’s sad, really, because the kids are the ones that will be missing out on the fun.
My younger brother brought up the theory that he is an emotionally abused husband because of how angry and broken-down he seems to be. He also said that her bossy attitude about everything and how she’s basically alienated him from not only his family but from his friends, as well, are signs of emotional abuse. I’m not an expert so I can’t say for sure, but my brother has absolutely been pulled away from his family and his friends. My brother lives in a bubble, a bubble that consists of work, home and, most recently, joining the local school council. The council meetings seem to be his only escape these days. It’s an unhealthy bubble for him to be in. He hasn’t an outlet of any kind. If he’s not careful, the bubble will close in on him and he will explode.
My sister-in-law has changed my brother. Or at the very least he allowed those changes to happen. He told me once that when you were married you had to learn to pick your battles when it came to arguments with your spouse. I can’t help but think that my brother hasn’t won many of them.