Question: “I have been with my fiance for almost five years now. We got engaged almost a year ago. While dating, I always considered his family to be very welcoming! He comes from a big Catholic family, and is the second of five kids. I have one sibling (I’m the oldest) and our family is not very religious. Throughout our relationship (a large portion of it being long distance; four hours apart) we never really spent the holidays together. It’s very important in his family to spend time with immediate family only. After our engagement, I moved four hours away from home to be where he is. We don’t yet live together because it’s against his religion to live together prior to marriage, but I’m about three miles from his family. We spend almost every day together, and I even go to dinner with his family several times a week. I am included in most things. However, when the holidays hit, I’m not.
My mother-in-law is toxic: Am I wrong for cutting her out of my life?
When I moved last year, it was my first holiday season being away from my family and because I’d just relocated and started a new job, I was unable to get time off for the holidays to travel home. However, his family still wanted the holidays to be “family only” and to them, that meant not having me there. I am technically “not family yet because we’re not married.” This is when I began to REALLY notice that I was not actually being included in most things. So I spent the holidays alone in a new city, knowing no one.
I have been trying my best to form relationships with his siblings, but the older sister in-law and his two younger sisters are constantly going to do things without ever inviting me. They have a family group chat that I’m not allowed to be in. Next month his family is having professional family pictures done and I just found out that I am not included in those either.
We are less than 100 days from our wedding now. I just feel so heartbroken and like the family doesn’t want me around. It really hurts my feelings. My family has always included my fiance in everything we do since we began seriously dating, and especially after getting engaged. I have brought this up to my fiance and he doesn’t really understand it either. He sees his sisters not including me and has asked his mom to include me in things like the group chat and family photos. But they just tell him no. It has honestly made me start to resent them and not want to be part of anything. Do I just wait to see if once I finally share his last name if they’ll finally accept me? Do I say something to them? What should I do?”
Answer: I’m so sorry you’re dealing with being excluded from your soon-to-be in-laws. The family dynamic they have sounds like it would be extremely hard to manage, and it’s not surprising you feel the way you do. Despite being such stout Catholics, they seem unfamiliar with their scriptures and may want to reread because there are an abundance of passages that speak to being welcoming, hospitable, and inclusive. By the sounds of it, I’m not sure your situation will improve drastically no matter what hoops you jump through for them. The fact that you’re only 100 days from your wedding and still not making the cut for the family picture kind of demonstrates that. Did your future sister-in-law have the same experience and exclusion up until she said “I do” to your future brother-in-law? Also, is this picture going to be used for a family card after the wedding occurs? If so, then their logic doesn’t make sense to exclude you as you’ll be “family” by the time it circulates. But hey, maybe they’re not familiar with Photoshop and just placing you on the outside of the group for easy editing if things go south. That being said, it’s going to be up to your fiance to set the tone for how his family treats you going forward. So far he’s said it’s OK to be exclusionary and cruel.
Now some may disagree with me saying that, but despite you communicating your feelings to your fiance and him confronting them, nothing has changed. Yes we can only control others so much, but he has taken no action to set boundaries, enforce consequences, and stand by your side when you’re treated poorly. If my wedding was 100 days away and my family wanted to exclude my partner from family photos, I would not be showing up for picture day. The same goes for your experience during the holiday season, which was pretty horrendous. The fact your fiance chose to leave you alone in a new city with no one to spend time with while he had a happy holiday with his family is concerning to me. After you’re married, when push comes to shove, will he stand by your side or continue to run to theirs? It’s hard to stand up to our families, but I can almost guarantee you that nothing will get better if he doesn’t start putting his foot down as soon as possible.
As for how you manage these feelings, I would try to establish yourself in your new home as much as you can. Go out of your way to create new friendships, find fun hobbies, and really put some roots down that don’t include his family. I would also highly recommend couples therapy or pre-marital counseling that is not done by a religious leader to ensure you are on the same page, communicating well, and set up for success after your upcoming nuptials. Congratulations and I hope this helps steer you in a happier, healthier direction.
Morgan Absher is an occupational therapist in Los Angeles who hosts the podcast, “Two Hot Takes” where she and her co-hosts dish out advice. She writes a weekly column, sharing her advice with USA TODAY’s readers. Find her on TikTok @twohottakes and YouTube here. You can reach her by email at Mabsher@gannett.com or you can click here to share your story with her.