My niece wants my husband to give her away at her wedding instead of her father — and now I’m stuck in the middle!

Our elder has some advice to help a letter writer bring the two sides of her family together.

Dear EWC

My niece is getting married and she’s asked my husband to walk her down the aisle, instead of her father (my sister’s husband). Now, my sister, my very best friend in the world, won’t speak to me. Her husband cheated on her two years ago and she has still stuck by him after he apologized. Things have been declining for her ever since she found out — she found a receipt for money he was sending to this other woman. Who knows how long it would have carried on had she not found the receipt. He’s not supportive and gets drunk and loud in social situations. I understand why my niece doesn’t want him at her wedding but I also feel deeply saddened for my sister.

Folk replies

This is a very sad and awkward situation for you. You love your sister and you love your niece, and you do not want to hurt or disappoint either one of them. Because your husband accepted your niece’s invitation to walk her down the aisle at her wedding in place of her father, your sister is hurt. But if your husband had refused his niece’s request, your niece would have been hurt instead. What’s more, she most likely would just have asked another male relative to do the honors. After all, she does not even want her father present at her wedding.

Is your sister just mad at you? Or is she mad at her daughter too? If she is talking to her daughter but not to you, why is that? Her daughter, after all, is the one who asked her uncle to walk her down the aisle, not you. Does your sister feel that you should have tried to talk her daughter out of asking your husband or tried to talk your husband out of accepting?

Actions have consequences, and your niece’s not wanting her father to walk her down the aisle is a consequence of his own bad behavior. Your niece’s father is known to get unacceptably drunk and loud in social situations. Worse yet, he cheated on his wife for two years and continued to send money to the woman he had been involved with even after his wife forgave him for his affair and stuck by him. Given these circumstances, it is understandable that your niece does not feel he has earned the right to walk her down the aisle.

But your sister’s feelings in regard to this situation are just as understandable as your niece’s. Whatever his faults, your brother-in-law is still your niece’s father. And, whatever their troubles, he is still very much your sister’s husband. If her parents were divorced or even separated, or if her father were otherwise absent from her life, it would make perfect sense for your niece to ask her uncle to give her away. But because her parents are together, having her uncle walk her down the aisle amounts to a public disavowal of her father. If your sister is working hard to heal the hole in her marriage, her daughter’s going public with this rift by banning her father from her wedding may be adding to her pain.

If your sister has decided to stick with her husband despite his betrayals, it must be because he has some good qualities in addition to his obvious flaws. Was he was a good father to your niece when she was young? Did he work hard to support his family? Is he helping to pay for the wedding? If so, it may seem particularly unfair to ban him. Like the rest of us humans, he may be far from perfect, but your sister seems to feel that there’s enough good in him to want to preserve not only her own relationship with him but her daughter’s as well. She may be afraid that by having her uncle walk her down the aisle, her daughter may be venting her anger and disapproval of her father in a way that will make healing their relationship difficult.

It seems to me that you are caught in the middle of things. But in a way, this gives you the perfect vantage point from which to try to bring both sides together. Right now, your sister is mad at you and not talking to you, but you and she have a long history of love and support for one another that you can rely on. I am sure she is as miserable not talking to you as you are not talking to her. Your sister is you best friend in the whole world, so I suggest going to her and asking her directly what she thinks you should do. Tell her what you told me that you understand her feelings and are deeply saddened for her and ask her what she would have you do. She is in a lot of pain and needs you even if she is lashing out at you. Listen to what she says carefully, do not criticize her choices, and try not to get defensive if she criticizes yours.

In the big scheme of things, who walks your niece down the aisle on her wedding day isn’t very important. The important thing is that her wedding day is a happy and memorable event and that the integrity of the family remains intact. Rifts have a way of widening over time and as sad at this situation already is, it could get much sadder if the rift between you and your sister grows. If your niece is dead set against her dad walking her down the aisle, perhaps she could have her mother walk her down instead. Or walk down alone. Or walk down with her husband-to-be. Perhaps one of these other options would make your sister happier as well.

I hope this helps. This is a very sticky and emotional situation. There is probably no action you can take which would please everyone, but I think it is possible for you to mend things with your sister by finding out what she would like you to do and trying your best to do it. We are always here if you’d like to discuss this further. If you can, please write back and let me know how things turn out. I will be rooting for you.

Letter #: 422663
Category: Family

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