Dear Dr. Gail: My future son-in-law, with what I assume were only good intentions, approached my husband about plans to become engaged to my daughter. He made the traditional advance of asking my husband for his daughter’s hand in marriage. I knew nothing of the plans and feel very left out.
My daughter and I are very close, and I have learned that her fiancé felt I might slip and tell her of the engagement. I would have never ruined the surprise for her in any way. She did pick out a ring, however, so she was well aware of the plan — just not the timing.
My husband, sworn to secrecy by the prospective son-in-law, felt compelled to keep it from me, and he did. I have been married for 26 years and feel his devotion should have been to me and not to the boyfriend. Also, in view of the times, I feel this young man should have asked my husband and me as a team.
Needless to say, I feel insulted, left out, and betrayed by my husband. It is causing me to view both him and this young man in a negative light. My daughter and her father are not emotionally close, and I feel my husband should have advised the boyfriend to include me in their private meeting. I am so hurt over this. How can I put this behind me so I can be as excited as I should be? — Betrayed and dismayed
Dear Betrayed: It is understandable that you are upset. It is 2007, and nobody believes that a future husband must ask his bride’s father for her hand in marriage. It sounds that both your husband and your son-in-law went along with this chauvinistic stance.
But you must understand that they were swept up in the romantic notion adhering to tradition, despite the fact it was an ill-thought-out gesture.
Was it misguided? Sure. But you should see it for what it was intended to be — a quaint, romantic conceit — and not a plot to conspire against you. It sounds to me that they acted out of tradition, not out of betrayal, with no idea they were insulting you.
Additionally, your husband may have felt caught in the middle — he was asked to keep the confidence of his future son-in-law, and he wanted to honor his word.
It’s also possible that you gave them reason to think you would spill the beans. If you have a track record of rushing to tell your daughter everyone else’s secrets, this might have given them pause. If this is the case, you need to demonstrate that you can change.
Regardless, you don’t want to let such lapses in communication continue. Your mission is not to chide or punish everyone for going behind your back, but to let them know that in the future you must be included in such news, and that you won’t continue traditions that don’t work for you.
You don’t want to set a bad precedent and buy into notions that let a wife be treated as less than her husband. This is not something you want for yourself in your marriage or for your daughter in hers.
Let your husband know you understand that they kept this secret out of romantic ideals, but their behavior was hurtful toward you, and you must be involved in such communications going forward. I suggest you meet with your son-in-law, too, or involve your daughter. While I wouldn’t make an enormous deal out of it, I would talk to him about your need to be included and the importance of equal respect.
There is a new family dynamic with the addition of a new family member, so you should be sensitive to that. Expect to have growing pains.
Traditions, bloodlines and gender roles carry great power, even though they are often accompanied by notions that simply don’t apply to life today. Another example is the “surprise” marriage proposal. Your daughter knew her engagement was in the offing, but not every girlfriend does — and plenty of women would be alarmed and annoyed if a proposal came out of the blue.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Often, tradition is maintained for the sake of tradition, which is not necessarily a good reason. Don’t take it personally. If an outmoded, irrelevant tradition isn’t working for you, it’s time to make changes.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .