Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Should parents tell shadchan about the son's bipolar disorder?

I have copied an excerpt of a letter to Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. See the link for the entire question; she doesn't seem to have responded yet.
. . . Now, here is our dilemma: Are we obligated to tell the shadchan, the girl and her family? My husband and I are conflicted. I say “yes”, but he argues “no”. According to him, the moment we say the words “Bi-Polar’ we terminate all his chances of a decent shidduch. Moreover, my husband feels that since he has been totally well since he started on medication (and that has been five years now) there is no reason to announce a problem which is no longer present. He also argues that if the girl and her family find out about this and as a consequence she refuses to see my son, it will devastate him and he will regress. On the other hand, I am not comfortable leaving the situation as it is. To me, it borders on deception. My husband and I have been literally fighting about this. The conflict has destroyed our shalom bayis and I really don’t know what to do. I was thinking that we should consult his Rosh Yeshiva, but my husband pointed out that the Rosh Yeshiva is the first person people turn to when they seek shidduch information, and if he is made aware of this problem, he will have to reveal it – and the same holds true of the Rov of our shul, so as you can see, we are in a terrible bind.
What would you tell this couple to do?

I posted some comments about this here.

13 comments:

sprouter said...

I think it's pretty clear that the boy has an obligation to tell... but I don't think anyone needs to tell the shadchan, and I don't think he needs to say it before the couple is becoming more emotionally vulnerable with each other.

However, the more that we don't tell people, the more of a busha that it creates to have a mental illness in the frum community, and the more that stigma harms all of us - those people with diagnoses, those with undiagnosed disorders, and all of us who feel a little bit different, because the line between abnormal and normal isn't always so clear.

(I also think that some pretty crazy behavior passes for normal within the frum world... a result of the busha of seeing a psychologist and dealing with your issues?)

I was close friends with a guy from BP who had a pretty intense anxiety "issue." (no judging - we all might have anxiety disorders if we were from BP) His family was keeping it from everyone, as well as making snide remarks about his "loony pills" or something, which made the anxiety of being in shidduchim and having an anxiety disorder much worse.

I think telling (eventually) about the diagnosis indicates something much more positive about the family - that they are progressive, that they recognize the harmful effects of stigma, and that they deal with their medical issues with openness and kindness.

(posted the same thing on the mother in israel blog)

Anonymous said...

This says it all:
"...my husband pointed out that the Rosh Yeshiva is the first person people turn to when they seek shidduch information, and if he is made aware of this problem, he will have to reveal it..."

If I were the wife I would further discuss the potential problems that could result from not telling a potential bride about his disorder.

EOM said...

It's true that saying something may "hurt the shidduch" but not saying anything will hurt the marriage.
She will most probably find out sooner or later, what will happen then. Even if she will eventually forgive him, why set up such a road block for the start of a marriage, it's hard enough work even when things are on the up and up. It will also set up a situation where she will have a hard time trusting him in the future.
Even if she somehow never finds out, the young man in question will always have to carry around a secret and that sets up a wall between the two. People aren't stupid she sense that he is holding back and it will possibly lead to assumptions that are worse than reality.
All this aside, what a terrible lesson for the parents to be teaching a young man about to get married. If your afraid of loosing something just lie to get your way.

Jennifer said...

I think you ABSOLUTELY need to tell the girl and her family. My sister is bi-polar and coming from living with someone who stuggles with this illness - it is a lifelong committment. Even when she is doing great on her medication, you always have to be on top of the situation. Can you imagine how you would feel if you married someone and found out the day of your wedding that you were going to have to care for someone with serious mental illness for the rest of your life? It probably won't impact her decision to continue to see your son, but this girl has a RIGHT to know what she's getting herself into.

Just my two cents

Anonymous said...

YOU MUST TELL THE GIRL'S FAMILY. A friend of the family, a boy, was not informed of his wife's mental disorder before their marriage. Now they are divorced, with all the wasted emotions and energy.

No one wants to think that the union they have entered into has underlying secrets. The shidduch system should never withold serious information such as this.

Anonymous in Teaneck said...

First of all, the son is 24 years old and is considering getting married. He is, or should be, an adult. He should be the one to disclose this information. Second, it should be done as soon as possible, before there is any formal engagement. I cannot imagine finding out after marriage that one's spouse withheld information about a serious medical condition - and yes, that is what this is.

mother in israel said...

I am also wondering whether the parents consulted with the psychiatrist.

mother in israel said...

Sprouter, I agree that we need to be more open about mental illness. It affects so many families.

I agree that the parents must tell, but if they don't, the son is not off the hook. It's unfortunate that they are sending him the message that he is.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

No one has to tell the shadchan the guy has to tell the girl once things get serious.

Anonymous said...

IMNSHO, because of the stigma of mental illness in our society, it should absolutely NOT be divulged to the shadchan or anyone outside the family, but it definitely needs to be discussed privately between by the couple (and only them) at a point between considering marriage and becoming engaged. If they need to consult a rabbi or mental aheath professional they should do so privately - a shadchan is not a mental health professional, and cannot judge one person's ability to cope based on prior experiences with matches. If a person has had their illness under control for five years under the supervision of mental health professionals, then it is likely they are stable and it is better for a potential spouse to hear that from their potential spouse's therapist than a knee-jerk reaction from a shadchan who's only known the person for a couple months!

I have a mental health issue beyond depression, so I know from whence I speak.

Anonymous said...

Ok...I need to take a deep breath here. YES, you need to tell the girl and her family. My husband's family withheld his mental illness from me out of the fear that he would never get married otherwise. I only learned of it after the marriage, when odd behaviors began surfacing. Despite medications, and therapy, and rabbinical involvement, things went from bad to worse. Fast forward five years, and I am an agunah raising two small children alone. No woman (or man) should ever be led to the chuppah blind.

Standing up for a friend said...

When an old friend's ex refused to give her a get/Jewish religious divorce, she threatened to go to a Bet Din and ask for the halachic equivalent of an annulment because her ex hadn't told her that he was second-generation schizophrenic. (Sorry, not a yeshiva grad--no idea what a halachic "annulment" is called. I think the ketubbah is declared invalid retroactively, meaning that the marriage never existed, but I'm not sure.) She, too, was bound and determined to stay married--until the day her ex literally dragged one of the kids out of their home and locked him/her out.

The good news is that he did, eventually, give her a get.

The bad news is that one of their kids inherited the schizophrenia.

"Don't ask, don't tell" does not work in a marriage: The well spouse has a right to know, and the affected spouse has an obligation to tell! If this kind of flat-out lying isn't assur (forbidden), it should be!!!

Jacob Da Jew said...

One way or another, the girl/boy MUST be told.

I was talking long-distance with a girl from out-of-town, had her references checked and was going to meet her. We exchanged emails and spoke on the phone many times.

A few days before I was due to fly, she called me and told me that she is bi-polar. I was thankful that she did tell me. I would have maybe dated her anyways but someone in my family has something like already so the chances of our children being bi-polar were increased dramatically.

Baruch HaShem that this girl had the honesty and care to inform me and not sweep it under the rug.

BTW, added you blog to my BlogRoll. Keep up the good work.