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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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I am looking for advice on how to handle a situation with my

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I am looking for advice on how to handle a situation with my fiance, whom I have been dating for 2 years. We have had an up and down relationship but it just recently settling down and we are looking to get married this year. He is a difficult person at time with such low self belief and esteem at times with highs and lows at life at times all this is all put down to the fact he had a traumatic childhood with his two sisters with the father sexually abusing him (and I believe the two sisters too) beating him and being very hard on him and taking any belief of him being good or worthy of love away from him. As a result his mum and two sisters are all very close to him and to me rather over protective of him and I dont feel they have or every will except me as part of the "family". My problem that I am looking for advice on is the fact my partner is very close to one of his sisters (he is the youngest and this sister is the middle child) and it makes me feel very uncomfortable and I cant see our marriage will work with the "closeness" he has with her as I find it hurtful and it makes me feel very uncomfortable. His sister pretends to him that she likes me and says everything that he would want to hear from her but does some very underhand things towards me which she things he wont notice and when I have spoke to him about it he always defnced her and attacks me with ferocity when I feel in our partnership he should have more feelings towards me. They cant go a day without talking and texting some days through the whole day and always every day and he knows this makes me feel uncomfortable as Ihave tried to talk to him about how unhealthy I feel his relationship is with his sister. She is married and has been for over ten years with three children and a part time job but still her focus remains on her brother and I almost feel like there are three of us in this relationship. He talks to her about everything and she knows about as much on our lives together as I do and I dont feel thats acceptable as there is no relationship boundaries and privacy for our relationship so I feel I cant build a proper relationship with him as my best friend and partner while his relationship with his sister is so intense. I wonder if with their background they are closer than most other siblings but he does not have the same relationship with the oldest sister and to me it seem more normal than the almost obessive one with his other sister. She cant seem to go one day without being in otuch with her brother and reafforming how much she loves him and keeping the bond at the forefront almost trying to be the most important person to him whihc I find very off putting towards our relationship as it makes me feel less close to him. Can you advise if this kind of relationship is normal or obessive and how can I make my relationship work if they are always so intensely in touch that I feel so uncomfortable with her being such an influence on him and such a part of his life? I am also trying to understand if this relationship is as intense due to their childhood and if so why just the two of them and not the other sister too?

Hi, I'd like to help you with your question.

It sounds like that the abuse the siblings suffered as children, which sounds particularly bad, has caused them to band together in a dysfunctional way.

Oftentimes, when children are abused, the way they conduct their relationships becomes dysfunctional as a way to survive and because it is the only way they understand. In your fiance's case, the fact that he was the youngest and the only boy may have triggered his sister, especially the one closest in age to him, to protect him. They may have also felt responsible for him because they have felt since they are older, they should have been able to protect him. The feelings of guilt, hurt and pain may have motivated them all to become a unit and protect themselves from all "outsiders". They look out for each other, but in a very dependent and enmeshed way.

The curious part of all this is why his mother is contributing to the situation. She is the other parent and since she may not have been able to stop the abuse, she should at least be trying to help the children overcome what they experienced. Instead, she is participating in it and keeping the children in a dysfunctional relationship. She may be doing this because she was abused herself, either as a child (likely) or while she was with the father. She also learned dysfunctional ways of interacting and may have taught the children to do what they are doing.

The obsessive relationship between your fiance and his sister should not be occurring after all these years. You are right, your fiance should be focused on you and his family should be second. The fact that he not only focuses on his sisters and mother but he allows them to treat you any way they wish then defends them over you says he does not value your relationship as much as he does his family. This is a dangerous sign and means that your relationship will be problematic unless this issue can be addressed before you marry.

Talk with your fiance about seeing a therapist. Hopefully, he has had the opportunity in the past to see a therapist regarding the abuse he suffered. But even if he has not, he still needs to address not only his abuse issues and the relationship he has with his family, but he also needs to address how he treats you. This is vital for your marriage to be successful. In any marriage, it is important that the partners put each other first and he is giving you signs that he has no intention of doing this in your marriage.

To find a therapist, you can talk with your doctor for a referral. Or, if you attend church, your pastor can help. You can also search on line at or

Here are resources that can help you learn more about how to address this issue:

Adult Children Secrets of Dysfunctional Families: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families by John C. Friel Ph.D. and Linda D. Friel M.A.

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buck

Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman

You can find these books on or your local library may have them for you.

Let me know if you have more questions or want further clarification.

I hope this has helped you,

I haven't heard from you. Did you have more questions or want clarification?


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Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Hi Kate, Sorry I hadnt checked my emails for a few days. Thanks for yur answer and I have a few more questions regarding this. I understand their whole relationship is dysfunctional but can you let me know what your thoughts are on why its only the middle sister and not the oldest sister that he has such an obsessive relationship with? I ahave talked to some friends and they have all said their opinion is there may have been some kind of inappropriate relationship between the two of them for them to be so close. To be honest its more his sister that cant leave him alone and not the other way aroun and as he is the type of persont o be emotionally manipulated and guilted he always does what she wants. She describes him as her sexy and handsome brother which I am not sure about either as I havent heard any of my friends call their brothers that kind of descriptions. I am also at a loss as to why when she is 40 and married with 3 children under 10 she still wants to be so close to her borther. Can you shed some light on this and if you could see this changing over time? My fiancee is seeing a therapist right now to work on himself as he has a problem with anger and doesnt know how to love himself they are helping him with this now but he doesnt discuss what they work on and he sees them very week. Can you let me know how I can cope with this as I find it all so unhelathy and needy from his mother and his sister and they seem to not want me to be with him as they are all "sdcared" I will take him away from them!?!?! If you could give some more details on this and how it could become more healthy I would really appreciate that. Thanks

It does sound like there is a very inappropriate relationship going on between your fiance and his sister. However, whether or not it's emotional or physical is hard to tell. It is true a sister should not be referring to her brother in the terms you described and that in and of itself tells you something is wrong.

There is a possibility that the situation between your fiance and his sister could change. Since he is in therapy, if he is willing to see that there is an inappropriate relationship, then he can change. The only way his sister will change is if she sees her behavior as a problem, which from what you describe, it doesn't sound like she does. It may be up to your fiance to put a stop to the behavior. This will probably cause a lot of family conflict, but the only other option is to keep going with it and that is not healthy.

Your fiance's family is going to continue to give you a hard time unless either he puts a stop to it and insists they respect you (which doesn't mean they will, but it may control it a bit), or you leave the situation all together. This family is used to the dysfunctional way they interact and to them, this works. You represent a healthy view of relationships and you are not accepting of their behavior so they see you as a threat. The best hope in this situation is that your fiance is able to see the dysfunction and is able to pull himself and you out of it. Setting boundaries is the best way to cope with this situation. It would also help you a lot to consider therapy for yourself so you have support and someone to help you navigate the situation.


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