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Something Blue

Something Blue

By Liza N. Burby

Last year, Claudette Rotella was planning her wedding. She and her fiancé, Joe Deien, 35, decided that even though there were strains on her side because of her parents’ divorce 15 years earlier, they would invite anyone they wanted and not worry about whether all the guests got along. It seemed reasonable, says Claudette Deien, 33, but it all blew up in her face when her father refused to attend because his sister, who had helped Claudette’s mother during the divorce, had been invited. As if that weren’t enough, Claudette’s brother and three sisters put in their two cents.

“On the one hand I had my brother saying it was my wedding and of course I should invite who I wanted, and on the other I had my sisters telling me I was doing something wrong,” recalls Deien, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. “Two of my sisters were in my bridal party, and it got so bad that we were fighting at Christmas. I was saying things like, ‘You always take Daddy’s side.’ It was ugly. Throughout the entire event, there was this unspoken tension between all of us. Now that the wedding is over, we don’t talk about it but our relationship is still strained.” As Deien learned, with nearly half of all marriages in this country ending in divorce, it’s not unusual for the fantasy of a happy family to be dashed with the reality of siblings and stepsiblings at war with each other. For Phil Oraby, a family therapist in private practice in Manhattan, N.Y., the strain makes sense considering that a wedding puts all the players back together. “a lot of the stress, especially if your parents still don’t get along, has to do with them and how each of your siblings and stepsiblings feel about the divorce,:” he says.

Since siblings experience the same family events differently, you’re likely to run up against clashing views of your mother and father and stepmother and stepfather - not to mention your former stepmother and former stepfather and a seemingly infinite number of other combinations. “Everyone has ideas about what you should do,” says Robin Goodman, a family clinical psychologist at New York University Medical Center in Manhattan. “You’re planning an event from which you hope to be married forever and your reference for it is something that didn’t work out, and that’s stressful for you. “Depending on the age they were when the divorce took place, your siblings may have anger and confusion about it. Stepsiblings can feel protective and threatened about their parents and want to defend them if they feel they have been unjustly accused or left out. Whatever is going on, it can all come crashing around you when you try to make everyone happy for your wedding day.”

Those in the wedding party and on the guest list may not be the only difficulties, Oraby says. “The marriage of one sibling may bring up competitiveness between the kids for the love, care and concern of one of the parents. Or maybe the siblings think you’re making a mistake.” Sometimes siblings view a brother’s or sister’s wedding as yet another post-divorce desertion, according to Leonard Tuzman, director of social work at Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. “Very often the siblings have been a major support system to each other,” he says. “That’s why they sometimes jump in with a conflict. They may not necessarily be conscious of it, but it gets played out with unusual demands about who walks with whom, where they sit, whom to invite, whom not to invite. The most important thing for the bride and groom to do is focus on themselves.”

Helen Crohn, a social worker with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, based in Manhattan, agrees. “It’s important for the bride and groom to stick together and not let the stress interfere with how they feel about each other and their marriage,” she says. “Don’t lose your couple-ness. Remember why you’re getting married…Stress can cause you to pull away from each other. If it affects your relationship, which is very common, remember that it’s not your issue but your siblings’.” Goodman advises speaking directly to your siblings. “You have to separate your feelings for each other as siblings versus how you feel about your parents. If you’re dismissive, angry with your siblings, they’re likely to respond in kind,” she says. “Often you mix up all the feelings you have toward your parents and take it out on your siblings. You have to respect that one sibling may have very different feelings and respect that, rather than prove one is right and one is wrong. To argue about it won’t get you anywhere.”

Complaining to another sibling or relative only makes matters worse, she says. If you can’t settle the situation with your sibling, move on so it doesn’t ruin your wedding day. Tuzman adds, however, that this kind of problem goes both ways, and the bride and groom need to be sensitive to their siblings as well. For instance, if you deliberately exclude a sibling or stepsibling from the wedding, you’re bound to cause problems. “Make the siblings and stepsiblings a part of the experience whenever possible,” he recommends. “Some sensitivity can go a long way toward making the experience less stressful.”

Rita Blomberg of Bayport, N.Y., who attended her stepbrother’s wedding, says she experienced a snub generated by her stepfather’s ex-wife: Blomberg and her sister were not invited to the bridal shower. “My mother and stepfather have been married 18 years, and though my stepsiblings and I never lived together as a unity, I always thought we got along,” says Blomberg, 38, “As we were getting older, I thought we were getting closer, but this exclusion made me feel I’m not part of the family, which was more hurtful than anything else. “We pretty much made up. It’s important to move on from here. I value our relationship. And I don’t attribute what happened to the bride, but to the stepfamily members who didn’t speak up once they knew we hadn’t been invited.

If the problem seems to originate with the engaged couple, the siblings should discuss it when them. “Appeal to them how important it is not to create this conflict around the wedding,” Oraby says. But, he warns, it’s not always possible to repair the damage if people have hardened their positions. “Sometimes you need a third party or therapist to help the family understand what happened to what was supposed to be a happy event. The longer their positions set, the harder it will be to repair it,” he says.

Even if you never find your way back to apologize or explain, he says, “what will help is a willingness to talk and to listen, as simplistic as it sounds. Understand that people’s reactions are sometimes irrational and they can hurt one another and all you can do is try to repair it. It’s worth it and at times like this it’s important not to set up a drama that will be with you the next 30 years. Siblings need each other. “

*********************

Détente, A Time for K





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