Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: My Brother’s Relationship Cheapens My Marriage

Just when I thought Dr. Laura wasn’t going to say anything terrible this week, she came through for me. Attagirl, Dr. Laura.

Dr. Laura’s remarks are embedded in brackets within the question, and her answer is below it.

The question: I come from a family that believes very strongly in family. My dad is one of 5 and my mom has one sister. All in all, I have many aunts and uncles, all of whom are still happily together with their first spouse. [I’m going to put you all in the Smithsonian.] I have an older brother who has been in a relationship with a lady for at least 5 years. They have a child and I have to say they are great parents. 

Dr. Laura
Dr. Laura: living a life made possible by feminism, and then bitching about feminists.

The only problem I have is that I got married in 2008 to the most amazing person I have ever known and since then, my brother calls his girlfriend “My wife” and his girlfriend refers to him as “My husband.” Every time they say this it makes my whole body want to explode. I feel like they are belittling the covenant that I made to my husband. [And you’re absolutely right about that.]

Am I crazy? [Um, that’s not an indication of insanity.] How can I nicely say that it bothers me without upsetting them and cutting all ties?

Dr. Laura’s response:  [Laughs] I have the answer! Each and every time they say that, that you go, “Oh my gosh! Did you get married last weekend and I wasn’t invited?! I have to get you a present!”

My response: …


Your covenant that you made to your husband is so sacred, so strong, so I-come-from-a-long-line-of-smug that the fact that your brother refers to the mother of his child as his “wife” threatens it?

I have a child. My friend calls her dog “my baby.” Sometimes she does it in front of me, and in front of my child. And you know what? I love my daughter the same amount as I do when my friend isn’t around.

I have a job. My mom sometimes calls and says that she has been “working” in the garden. Working? Is somebody paying her for it? Did she have to go through three rounds of intense interviews before she could get that job? What about a Ph.D.? Surely she needed some credentials? OH WAIT NO SHE DIDN’T. And it doesn’t make a smidge of difference in my career or how I feel about it.

There are Christians out there who have very strong feelings about God and the right way to worship. The fact that there are Sikhs doing it a different way and yet still considering themselves religious could be seen as a threat to Christianity. You see where I’m going with this, right?

You get to define your own family, your career path, your religion. This misguided belief that how other people live their lives ruins yours simply by existing has long been used as justification for limiting civil rights and much, much worse. You have an inordinate amount of pride in a history in which you took no part, and an inordinate amount of fear about parts of the present which have no effect on you. You stand a better chance of continuing your all-important tradition of a very narrow view of family if you stop pointing out how others are doing it wrong, and concentrate instead on how best to live your life by the standards you have chosen.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

28 replies on “Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: My Brother’s Relationship Cheapens My Marriage”

Not to mention, some people have reasons to not have a legal marriage. Some also decide they don’t want a religious marriage. And who knows, maybe they have their own religious practices and believe themselves to be religiously married.

A couple of the endless reasons not to get legally married:

– One or both partners are on SSI or SSDI. There’s this thing called the marriage penalty that is not mythical when you are talking about PwD.

– You either can’t because your partnership isn’t legal in your state (either you are a same sex couple, or maybe your partner’s gender isn’t recognized/haven’t gotten/been able to get the sex marker change to go through) or because you don’t want to get married in a state where certain partnerships aren’t legal.

– You can’t divorce or annul a former marriage for whatever reason (waiting period, your state’s reasons are crap, or even needing to keep insurance from your ex- with their cooperation of course- because of health needs.)


See also widowed folk who need to keep their dead partner’s benefits in order to make ends meet. I actually know a few folks like that.

But really, if someone does not want to pursue a legal marriage, or a formal religious marriage for any reason that is up to them. If they count themselves married, well, I would kinda think they know best.

Yeah, that  is exactly what the case was forAmy step grandmother (rip) and her them partner. She needed her deceased husbands benefits, so she assumed guardianship over her medically frail partner in attempt tofinds alternativesafeguards. Unfortunately her own disabilities were used against her to deny her status when he passed. She was schizophrenic and the agency on aging used that to delegitimize her claim to their shared and even some of herpersonal property that happened to be in their shared house. It was a mess. And part of thproblem was that their partnership wasn’t considered valid to begin with because they decided it wasn’t in their shared best interest to marry. This attitude that dr Laura and her questioner exemplify an attitude that actually can harm people. Ugh.


I have feelings on this for mUltiple reasonsobviously

How strongly can she really believe in family if she lets something so inconsequential interfere with her relationship with her brother (and, presumably, her sister “in law” and her niece/nephew)? It sounds more like she strongly believes in the appearance of family than in actually maintaining strong familial bonds. Unless, of course, she’s chosen to interpret her brother’s actions as a direct wrong against her. Which is, frankly, a pathological degree of “it’s all about me!”

I know there’s nothing wrong with caring or having feelings about “trivial” things, but this is a person who has spent a significant enough portion of her time feeling threatened by her brother’s relationship that she called a radio show for affirmation/advice about it? Like, this woman probably had to call, explain the question out loud and in detail, possibly be placed on hold, and then say out loud, again, that her sacred covenant has somehow been defiled because her brother and his wife are not married? And she didn’t feel mortifyingly petty doing all of that?

I’m not surprised her brother refers to his partner as such. If the rest of the family has similar attitudes, it’s probably an attempt to get everyone to take their relationship and their kid’s role in the family seriously. Maybe it’s pessimistic, but I can see the alternative being, “[brother]’s girlfriend who got pregnant,” so calling each other husband and wife symbolizes their commitment in a way that very traditional people might understand. Although clearly not all of them do.

I’m with you, Susan. This sort of thing makes me want to flip a table. Should the sister not just simply be happy that her brother has been in this relationship for as long as he has? Does the usage of the word ‘wife’ sot indicate his love for the woman and his pledge (although not legally binding) to be with her for as long as the relationship is destined to last? I mean, seriously.

I’ve always viewed MARRIAGE (capitalized for emphasis) as a very, very huge and final step. In my opinion, two people shouldn’t go through the proceedings of signing the papers and having a ceremony and all of the other red tape a legal union takes unless they are 100% certain that they’re never going to want to do it again. Be with someone for eternity and never ‘get married’; I don’t care. (For reference, please see Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russel.) Marriage is not something to do because it is expected or ‘it’s time’. Marriage is something two people make a mutual decision to do, because it truly does change things.

“Your covenant that you made to your husband is so sacred, so strong, so I-come-from-a-long-line-of-smug that the fact that your brother refers to the mother of his child as his “wife” threatens it?”


This woman’s marriage is cheap to begin with if something so…I’m trying to think of a big word of vapor or vapor-like but nothing comes to mind because I’m so annoyed. But yeah, if that’s all it takes to make her feel like her marriage is devalued, then it didn’t have much value to begin with!

Why are people so obsessed with other people’s lives?? It only harms you (universal “you”) because you can’t help but be a busybody!

My sister is not married and she constantly refers to her boyfriend as “Uncle So and So”  to my daughter.  They started dated when my daughter was born.  It annoys me as I prefer to choose what my daughter calls people in her life.  I always refer to him as “Mr. So and So” in front of my daughter and on correspondence.  Either she has not noticed or she doesn’t care.  It’s still annoying.

So she refers to him as Uncle [Surname]? I have to say I find that odd as almost all adults (except grandparents) are called by their first names in my family (hardly ever with Uncle/Aunt in front), but maybe it’s a cultural thing.

Yes.  She calls him “Uncle Bob” when speaking to my daughter.  Basically, hoping that my little girl will also call him “Uncle Bob.”  WHen and if they get married then my daughter will call him “Uncle Bob”, but until then he is “Mr. Bob” to my daughter.

Ah, ok. In my family he’d just be “Bob” either way. If you don’t mind answering, how do you feel about the woman in the Dr. Laura letter – would her problem bother you as well, or is it more what your daughter calls him that is the sticking point for you?

Reading this (the original question and Dr. Laura’s answer, not your commentary!) makes me want both to point and laugh and bang my head on a hard surface.

One of the things that gets me is that, by all accounts, the brother and his SO are in a loving, committed relationship… but because they’ve elected not to stand in front of some legally-empowered individual and say a bunch of words that will make it possible for them to file their taxes jointly and maybe one day get divorced, their relationship is automatically less than the submitter’s. It’s like she’s imagining her marriage is a beautiful house with the meth lab of her brother and SO’s sordid non-marriage right next to it and her property value is suffering, as if relationships have a tangible value that’s affected by their environment.

I wonder if that’s just symptomatic of the way in which Americans commodify things like love and civil rights, like they will more rapidly depreciate if more people have access to them, or like they’re collectibles that lose value as they become more accessible.

Hm, I don’t know!

My sense is that it’s really a function of Western tendencies to hierarchy, and wanting to arrogate certain rights or privileges to specific groups, i.e. groups that are higher up on the ladder. Because those orders tend to dictate who gets access to what physical resources (food, water, shelter, education, money, etc.), they also tend to treat intangibles like civil rights (or what constitutes legitimate, recognized relationships) as resources that have value. And that tends to be true historically–say, for example, simonaic abuses in the medieval Church, where people in control basically decide that access to God’s grace should proceed on a mercantile basis (you give a priest money for an indulgence and he pardons you). It’s a sign of a truly fucked-up system.

Another thought that just occurred to me, talking of limited resources… How many billions of people, do you think, have been married, even, for the sake of argument, just within Judeo-Christian traditions? You’d figure that, if sanctity were such a valuable commodity, it would have run out by now. Or at least levels would be getting critically low. If I were batshit lady, I’d be worrying about those thousands and thousands of other “traditional marriage” people hogging a precious, dwindling resource, not my brother or a few thousand gay people.

I wonder where these couples live.  I live in Alabama where all that is required for a common law marriage is for two people to represent themselves as married.  In Florida on the other hand, there is no common law marriage at all.  Amazing to think this brother could go from belittling her covenant to partaking in one himself just by crossing state lines.

I’m having fun imagining the notes this women must have written to her parents when she was a kid:

Dear Mom and Dad,

My brother’s candy bar cheapens my candy bar. Can you arrange for him to call it something else, like ‘rectangular confectionary’?


Your Daughter.

Dear Mom and Dad,

My brother’s very existence cheapens my existence as your child, as I find his life choices to be vastly inferior to my own. For example, ever since I got the most amazing teddy bear in the world, he’s been referring to his plastic dump truck as “the best toy ever.” Every time he says this it makes my whole body want to explode. I feel like he is belittling my teddy bear. Can you arrange for him to be adopted by someone else so I can be your only child from now on?


Your Daughter

Dear Mom and Dad,

I find my cousin’s insistence that her new Lego set is “the best toy ever” deeply irritating. I thought we had resolved this whole issue after the brother/dump truck incident. Please correct this oversight ASAP.


Your Daughter

Dear Mom and Dad,

Last night while you were tucking us into bed, I overheard you telling my brother that you love him, even though he did not do as good a job drying the dishes as I do. I am obviously the better child here. We also get the same amount for our allowances even though, as said, I am better than he is. Please recant your assertion and dock his allowance, or I will be forced to cut ties.

More in sorrow than in anger,

Your Daughter

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