By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
Unknowingly, my husband, Max, was involved in something at work that wasn’t 100% kosher. When he found out, he broke his ties with that business and lost his job. He is currently looking for work. I have a great career and make a decent living. Thankfully his parents and a wealthy, generous sibling have stepped up to the plate and are willing to carry us through this difficult time. I feel so blessed and cautiously optimistic about our future. My issue is that since Max lost his job, I have been growing increasingly angry with my sister Emily. All my other siblings, and Max’s siblings, at least expressed concern or asked how we are doing and what our plan was to keep our kids in yeshiva and pay the mortgage. Emily has been silent, and it feels hurtful.
Emily is married to a very wealthy man from a wealthy family. Their lifestyle, though outrageous, never bothered me. Going to her house was always an experience. She would show me her latest construction or remodeling projects. What I can’t wrap my head around is that Emily is involved in so many different tzedakahs and chesed projects. Her own sister was in a financial hole and she never once asked if there was something she could do to help. She is giving money to strangers in a public way, but to her own sister not a dime or even an iota of concern.
She knows Max is out of work, because I told her about it. Our phone conversations are ridiculous now. It is like there is a brightly colored elephant in the room and no one talks about it. Does she think I care about her latest social disaster or that her contractor laid a tile improperly in the bathroom? My husband is not working and that is all I can think about. I eat it, sleep it, and breathe it. I think she is being completely insensitive to me. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have predicted Emily capable of this. I want my sister in my life, but at the rate this relationship is going I don’t know how feasible that is. I am feeling confused and resentful, and it doesn’t feel good. Help!
Bitter by the Minute
Dear Bitter by the Minute,
Money is a funny thing. The situation at hand, and your growing resentment toward Emily, is chancy and heading into dangerous territory. Naturally, you would think that Emily would step up to the plate and, if not offer to help out financially, at the very least be a source of support, a shoulder to cry on, or show some display of sympathy, as in, “This sounds so rough. I’m sorry you are going through this.”
I searched your e-mail with a fine-toothed comb for jealousy of your sister’s lifestyle or an entitlement to her money, but I didn’t find any of that. What I did find was genuine hurt and turmoil brought on by your sister’s neglect of your emotional well-being. You are in pain and, for some reason unbeknownst to you and me, your sister is choosing to ignore it, at least while she is in your presence.
It is tempting for me to describe your sister using the word insensitive. I am going to avoid that word and use instead inattentive. I wonder if your sister has always behaved callously or if she is a generally sensitive person. I question what is motivating her seemingly unmindful behavior and discussions of bathroom tiles and social disasters. If she has never been a particularly emotionally tuned-in individual, then this would be more of the same. But your e‑mail is rife with shock and a feeling of having been blindsided by new displays of unsettling behavior. Why would Emily be acting this way?
This is only a shot in the dark, at best, but here goes. Emily is married to a wealthy man from a wealthy family. Often, women in Emily’s shoes do not decide how money is spent or to whom it is given. Perhaps she asked if she could help you in some financial way, but was turned down by her husband. Perhaps he doesn’t make the financial decisions and her in-laws vetoed the idea. Maybe she didn’t ask at all because she knows from experience that that is not how the family money works. There is a decent likelihood she feels ashamed that she cannot help you, knowing what it must look like on the surface, so she chooses not to deal with it at all. But again, I must reiterate that this is only a rough sketch and perhaps far from the truth.
As deeply hurtful as this is, and as entitled to your pain and resentment as you are, I urge you to figure out a way to begin to move away from those toxic feelings. If I were your financial adviser and your resentment was a stock, I would advise you to sell now. Letting go of anger and resentment is a gift you give to yourself, not Emily. There are two ways to go about it, and I will let you know which method I prefer. You can forgive her silently, never letting her know that you did or that you were angry with her. Or, you can talk to her about what you have been feeling. You can let her know how her inattentiveness has been making you feel and express genuine curiosity as to why she has not asked about your well-being. I prefer method number two.
Resentment feels awful. How will you let go of it?
Ill feelings toward an acquaintance or friend are one thing. If you ignore it or dismiss the person from your life, eventually you will move on. But this is no arbitrary acquaintance; this is your sister. In a perfect world, you would be soul sisters singing “Kumbayah” around a campfire. When married siblings fight, it does not only affect your relationship, but the entire extended family dynamic changes. Cousins can’t spend time together; family events are stiff and uncomfortable for everyone, at best. At worst, there are no more family events.
Sometimes wounded relationships are beyond repair, but those times are rare. If you do not want your relationship going down the bleak road I have described, the time to act is now. If your attempt to express your feelings and clear the air are met with actual insensitivity or cruelty (in other words, she dismisses your words and continues on about her tiles and tzedakahs), then there will be ample time to reassess the situation and write me a new, updated e‑mail.
Wishing you and your husband, and you and your sister, all the best.
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.