When Siblings Marry
You may not be surprised that two-thirds of the siblings interviewed in, what was at the time, one of the few studies of young- and middle-adult siblings, said that the marriages of their brothers and sisters detracted from their relationship. They felt their sibling had “married down.” Or they simply didn’t like a sibling’s spouse or were not liked by him/her.
It is not uncommon for a brother’s or sister’s marriage to significantly alter the dynamics between siblings. Early adulthood, the time in which many marriages occur, represents a rite of passage from the inner turmoil of late adolescence to the tasks of preparing for a lifework and forming intimate relationships outside of the family. Doing what we “should”—largely defined by family models, culture, and the prejudices of our peers—often instructs us to get married and settle down, to start our own family. For some siblings, these moves toward independence dictate a move away from the close connections with brothers and sisters. For others, the insecurity and/or jealously of a sibling’s spouse forces a wedge between them.
Apparently, such was the case with Robert’s marriage to Rose. Envious of the intimate relationship between her husband and Estelle, Rose successfully controlled Robert’s life, influencing him to sever most of his outside relationships. It might be argued that in marrying Rose, Robert substituted a controlling wife for a dominating mother.
Perhaps even sadder than the rift between Robert and Estelle is Estelle’s inability to see any hope for them to “get together again.” Fearful of being rebuffed by her brother and convinced that not even a therapist could break the influence Rose holds over Robert, Estelle’s only hope for reconnecting is for Rose to die before her brother.
The job of maturity is to quiet old hurts and humiliations with the understanding that people can change. Yet Estelle, like a number of siblings, is frozen with anger, stuck in the past with no optimism for the future. Despite the daily pain of not having her brother in her life, she chooses to do nothing and to wait, hoping against hope that one of her children won’t call with the news of Robert’s illness or death.
For other adult siblings, however, there are things they can do to reestablish supportive lines of communication.
Tina C., an executive director of a national not-for-profit organization, described how her siblings’ marriages had affected their relationships. She talked about a family “truth” that dictated how she and her siblings were to react to each other’s marriages.
One of the things we all knew as “The Truth” was that when one of us got married, the rest of us were not allowed to have any judgmental thoughts or feelings. I don’t know where that came from. It was just something we all knew. And by and large, that has been the case.
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