We shared everything — and then I married her brother
have a friend — we’ll call her Sarah — who has been my closest friend since high school. Coming from a city with a tiny frum community, she boarded in my hometown for the last two years of high school and then we went to seminary together.
During all those years, Sarah and I shared a close friendship. We grew together in many ways. Sarah was the first one there for me when each of my grandmothers passed away, and I was by her side through a broken engagement. She got married one year later, and obviously our relationship shifted when she got married; I was single, and we naturally had proper boundaries in place without ever discussing it.
I continued in shidduchim, and no one was more shocked than I when, at age 23, Sarah redt me to her 22-year-old brother. I was soon engaged to him, and three months later married and living a ten-minute-walk away from Sarah and her husband in Lakewood.
And that’s when our entire relationship kind of derailed.
Suddenly Sarah wasn’t just my best friend — she was my husband’s sister. Not only that, but as an only daughter with several brothers, Sarah is exceptionally close with her mother. They share everything. Like, everything. Her mother knew what she made every night for supper. I imagine that since they lived so far from each other for so long, this was their way of staying connected.
But the first time my mother-in-law asked me how my fettuccine Alfredo came out — without my ever mentioning to her that I was making it — I was rattled. Sarah must have just mentioned it casually in conversation, but it brought the reality of my situation into clear view.
In addition to my own need for privacy, there was my husband’s desire as well. He wasn’t comfortable with his sister knowing things about his life that, to me, seemed normal to share with a best friend. I thought it was normal to ask Sarah (who had been living in Lakewood for a few years, while I was brand new) about sandwich or shawarma places, but my husband didn’t appreciate his sister and mother commenting every time we went out — and I have to say, I was beginning to see his point.
To respect my husband’s position-in-the-middle, I began pulling back from Sarah. Everything that came out of my mouth was thought about two or three times, and sometimes it was just easier to stay away. The nature of our prior relationship was that I probably would have confided in Sarah when I discovered I was expecting and needed advice on which doctor to see, what to do for nausea, and the other things you need that one close friend for before you’re ready to make announcements. But now I was stuck; I felt like it was unfair to my husband. When I did tell her my news, she was hurt that I’d waited so long to tell her.
I felt very torn. Our friendship wasn’t just about me anymore, it was also about my husband. We both realize that things have shifted, and I’m sure she misses our old relationship as much as I do.
Is there any way to maintain our closeness in a way that we all — Sarah, my husband, and myself — are comfortable?
Mrs. Geulah Preil is a mother and grandmother living in Ramat Shlomo, Yerushalayim. She’s a mechaneches in several American and Israeli seminaries and a veteran kallah teacher.
I want to reassure you that although your particular situation is unique, the confusion you’re experiencing is totally normal, for a number of reasons.
First of all, sisters-in-law often run into a situation where they have to define and refine their relationship with each other, even when they weren’t friends previously. Secondly, very often we’re in the position where we have to choose loyalty to a husband over our relationship with a close friend. Additionally, in your case, your friendship now includes the mother-in-law dynamic. Lastly, the reality of navigating friendships can become quite challenging as a result of marriage and status change, even if this is only because we’re busier than we ever could have imagined.
In your case, you’re encountering several dilemmas in one: a best-friend-cum-sister-in-law, the issue of privacy, plus an involved mother-in-law thrown in for good measure. (In fact, I get the feeling the mother-in-law piece may be the biggest part of this story.)
I’m not sure there is a perfect, pain-free answer to this dilemma. Whereas in a regular friendship, you could really walk away if things get too difficult, it is important to realize that, im yirtzeh Hashem, you’re in this relationship for life, because now, this friend is family. Therefore, it is really worth working this out, and working it out well, even if it might get a little sticky in the short run until your new dynamic is securely in place.
My feeling is that if you have an open discussion with your sister-in-law, you have the ability to build a relationship which, although different from what you had before, can still be a great one. In this discussion, I’d normalize the situation for her — and you — by saying that often friends and sisters-in-law go through major adjustments, and that you believe you both can make this work.
Ask her if she has any ideas and listen to them openly, making sure she knows that you believe this is going to get better. Truly hear her out, since obviously she’s also in pain about this, and validate the difficulty in this new dynamic.
It can work if you and she can come up with some clear boundaries for what and how things can be discussed, and what happens after you discuss them. When you talk about this, be sure not to criticize the fact that sometimes things get back to her mother, but point out that in this specific circumstance, it presents a problem to you and your husband.
As far as your husband is concerned, you can ask him the following: If Mom wasn’t involved in this, would he feel comfortable with this close relationship continuing, obviously making some adjustments?
If the answer is no, it does make it more complicated, but nevertheless, I think you can come to some sort of understanding between you and your sister-in-law about which things are “safe” discussions and which aren’t.
I’d emphasize to Sarah that this is not coming from not feeling close, but specifically because you are so close. Make sure to mention all the things you love and appreciate about her, and how this relationship is so important to you, and the fact that this is why you are trying to work things out.
It’s also important for both of you to understand that sharing information, and specific details about each other’s lives, doesn’t necessarily have to be the basis for closeness. Sharing of general feelings and ideas, learning together, and just enjoying each other’s company all create a friendship.
Friendships need to change after marriage. Here are some pointers to consider:
-If friendships were important before you got married, you’re most probably going to need friends going forward. Don’t cut people out of your life just because you’ve gotten married — just remember to maintain your boundaries.
-Be patient with shifts in dynamics in your friendships. They’re inevitable, but with goodwill and time they work themselves out.
-Keneih lecha chaver means that friendship requires an investment of time, emotional energy, or money. Your stage of life will impact the amount of input you can invest.
-According to Pirkei Avos, a friend is someone who helps you grow in some way. If you’re being drained by a friendship, there’s something off — it’s worthwhile to check it out.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 690)
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