Q: My younger brother and I are very close, and have been since I left home for college. We text each other almost every day and talk probably twice a week. My fiancé is not particularly close with his family, and as we get closer and closer to our wedding, he has started expressing that my closeness with my family bothers him. He has several times expressed jealousy for my relationship with my brother, encouraged me to talk to him less, and gotten upset when we’ve spent time together and I “ignore” him in favor of my brother, whom we don’t get to see in person very often.
Are people’s relationships with family naturally expected to change after marriage? I would never doubt that my brother’s wife is important to him, or ever consider that I’m more important than she is, but she’s never been bothered by my brother’s relationship with me. It seems strange to me that my fiancé would be jealous of a sibling, when our relationship is clearly very different, but I’ve never been married, so I feel like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
Did anyone else step away from their family when they got married? Is my fiancé being unreasonable, or am I for thinking that nothing would or should change? Are people expected to dial down other relationships when they get married?
A: Dear Anonymous,
To answer your first question, nah. The sum and substance of your important relationships shouldn’t change too much after marriage. I mean, you personally don’t change as a result of marriage, so of course you care about the same people, are interested in talking to them, want to spend time with them. None of that changes.
But, let me ask you something. When you get good news, who do you call first? You get in a weird situation at work, who do you ask for comfort and advice? Stuff that once defaulted to family, should now default to your partner. And that’s natural in just a logistical sort of way. Things that impact you, now also directly impact him. Turning to him first is great emotionally, but also just makes sense.
Based only on this letter, I can’t really tell you which of you is being unreasonable here, though I can try. To be straight with you, I get a little freaked out whenever anyone suggests their partner should spend less time with family. I’m sure there are times when it’s warranted, but it’ll always make me pause. It’s no mystery that abusive relationships often begin with slowly, deliberately isolating folks from loved ones. I’m not saying that because I think you are in an abusive relationship, but because it’s one of those thoughts folks should keep tucked away as a reminder. Also, more straight talk, the idea of someone being jealous of my relationship with my brother makes me involuntarily shudder. Like this.
But in complete fairness to your partner, he’s coming from a backdrop of not having any close family. In the same way that you’re admitting you don’t know what prioritizing a partner looks like, he doesn’t really know what a healthy, close relationship with a sibling looks like. It’s a good reason for me to cut him some slack. But, that also means he’s not a great gauge for what’s normal.
That doesn’t mean his feelings are necessarily invalid, and hey, there’s probably some specific stuff you can do to put him at ease (assuming he’s not harming you, and really just isn’t used to seeing what a close family looks like). Start with what I was saying above: Is he your right hand guy? Or is your brother? Who do you turn to first? Most? Then think about those social situations you mentioned. I completely understand your point about not seeing your brother often and wanting to reconnect. But look at it from your partner’s perspective. Are you holing up with your brother and leaving him to awkwardly, politely socialize with folks he hardly knows? Are you talking about things he’s unfamiliar with, swapping inside jokes without looping him in? If that’s the case, it’s an easy fix. Make him feel included.
Apart from that, nah. Relationships don’t naturally change because you got married. You’ve got a new go-to, a new sidekick. He’s your default, your most important, your top priority. But it doesn’t mean anyone else matters less than they did before. And don’t let him convince you otherwise.