39

I was born and raised in Italy and got married to a wonderful girl from Spain whom I met in the UK. A year ago my brother-in-law has met a nice girl from Italy and held a long distance relationship with her for about a year. A month ago she moved to live with him in Spain and he's about to propose to her.

I have been asked a few times by my in-laws the simple, very straight question: "what do you think about her?" and I provided my honest answer: she's a lovely person, easy going, good looking but I couldn't find much of an intellectual depth. To be more clear, every question that I have asked her she summarized in a word or she was unable to articulate a convincing argument to anything. She doesn't even speak Spanish while she lived there for over a year (she was there 3 years ago).

I have the feeling that it's too soon to propose and too soon to get married as they don't really know each other. They are both in their early/mid 30s and the age factor, at least on her side, pushes him to go ahead and foster the relationship. This family is very dear to me for many reasons, they are very famous and well respected in Spain and they really care about my opinions in general. From my conversation with other members of the family, I would say that we're all on the same page - she's nice, but she lacks something fundamental for a relationship and that is the intellectual capacity.

They are completely in love without control (which makes me very happy for them) but I think he deserves a much better girl; forgive me for being so blunt here.

How do I talk to him about my concerns about her without losing my relationship with him and/or with the family?

Edit 1

The answers below are very valuable to me! Just to sharpen my question a bit more: I was requested to provide my thoughts about the girl by both father/mother AND the brother-in-law. They asked me to tell them what I think because they know I will tell them my humble opinion. It's a tricky question and hence I need to formulate an answer that is honest and direct on the one hand while diplomatic and unharmful on the other hand.

  • 2
    @curiousdannii: Also, the most upvoted answer propagates to allow phrasing request, albiet requiering answers to explain in detail why that phasing matters. So by definition of the meta link you provided, phrasing-requests are voted on topic. – user6109 Jul 30 '18 at 12:24
  • 74
    What's her native language and which language do you two usually communicate in? I know that sounds random, but language barriers can really obfuscate someone's intelligence. – Lord Farquaad Jul 30 '18 at 12:50
  • 13
    Is her intellect something that is important to your brother-in-law? – Polygnome Jul 30 '18 at 16:37
  • 12
    Are you implying that non-intellectual people should never marry? – Ivo Beckers Aug 1 '18 at 8:52
  • 8
    @Lord Farquaad I'm Italian she's Italian we speak Italian. – ProcolHarum Aug 2 '18 at 0:11
201

I'll be honest with you. You sound like you're judging someone else's choices by your own standards, rather than what might be best for them, and what they consider to be their priorities.

Moreover, you come across as a bit of a snob who perhaps has judged the woman by superficial qualities. She might be much more intelligent than you think but just doesn't care about the things you care about, enough to extend a conversation about matters she considers uninteresting.

Now, it's entirely possible that someone who marries into your wife's "famous" family will have certain duties and expectations, like appearing gracious before the press. In that case I would suggest you focus on her perceived ability to perform those duties rather than her perceived intellectual capacity.

If not, then the only questions that matter are, "Does she make your brother-in-law happy?" and, "Does he think she embodies the qualities that make a good wife?"

As for your in-laws asking what you think, I would have suggested you tell them you don't feel comfortable talking behind their son's back, but if he would like to have an open discussion about it, then you're happy to tell him your opinion of her -- with the understanding that, in the end, it's his opinion that matters and that you will be happy for him no matter what.


(Edit) To clarify the statements in the last paragraph. You should not go behind your brother-in-law's back to discuss your opinion with his parents. If asked, your answer should be something like, "I don't think I should talk about this without (brother-in-law's name) present".

If, instead, the entire family wants to have a discussion as a group, and if your brother-in-law indicates he would be open to everyone's honest opinion, and if you all agree that, in the end, it's his decision to make -- then you can and should express your opinion freely.

As you might expect, saying, "I don't think she's very smart," can come across as a bit rude. Instead take a more tactful approach, and ask leading questions:

I'm concerned that you don't share the same interests. What do you guys do together? What do you talk about when you're alone?

Do you ever feel like she's holding you back in any way?

Does she seem comfortable when you both are together with your own friends?

Do you think she's willing to learn Spanish, if only to feel like she can speak freely with your family? If not, do you think that will be a problem?

These are fair questions. When you marry someone, you often marry their whole family, plus all of their friends. If one partner doesn't get along with that extended group, it can cause a friction that grows increasingly uncomfortable over time.

However, you should not exaggerate those differences, or focus on any one particular trait. Perhaps, to him, her most important quality is her sweet disposition, or her style, or simply the fact that they have great chemistry.

Moreover, you don't know your brother-in-law's intended fiancée the way he does. It's possible that her outward congeniality masks hidden depths, which (for whatever reason) she doesn't feel comfortable showing to just anyone. You have to first check that you're trying to keep an open mind about her.

Listen to his answers to those questions, without prejudgment. Be willing to change your opinions about her, and her "fitness" for your brother-in-law. Frame your own opinion in the context of what might conflict with what he wants, or which might cause significant problems in the family. Always try to make it about him and his values rather than about you and your values.

As an example: My wife doesn't much care about politics or current events. She has little interest in watching the news or discussing social trends. When my close friends first met her, this came across as shallow and slightly conceited, since we love to talk about those things. Moreover her overall appearance, her general "niceness", and certain cute mannerisms, make some people judge her as having little intellectual depth.

Of course, I knew her differently, and knew that she could and would talk about all kinds of things that interested her, in great detail and depth. Over time, my friends and family have come to know her as well, and come to love her for who she is and not who they expect her to be. In return, my wife opened up and started to express more of an interest in the things my friends value -- although she still rarely reads the news, she cares about what's happening in the world.

There are all kinds of reasons to get married. Some of us want a partner who reinforces who we are. Some of us want a partner who, instead, forces us to be someone else. You can't really know unless you are the two people involved -- and because that's impossible, it's unwise to jump to quick conclusions.

63

You don't.

It's not in your place to say this, when they're in love.

This is ultimately his business, not yours.

Here's why you shouldn't tell him to not marry her:

I could see if she were posing a real threat to him, in the form of a scam, or cheating on him, for example, that would justify you stepping in to help, but you have no evidence that such a thing is occurring. Your only qualm seems to be that she is soft-spoken and terse with her replies to you.

If you did tell him not to marry her, for only the reason that she is terse in conversations, then you risk sabotaging their relationship for trivial reasons, as well as potentially ruining your own friendships with them.

Please back off and do not meddle with their great relationship. Not everyone has an opportunity to find their life partner, so when your brother-in-law has found that person, you should support his decision to get married, or at the very least, stay neutral with your wording.

21

I'd say, have a talk with your relative and be honest. He might get defensive, but he might already have seen the problems you're seeing too, he's just not wanted to think about it too much.

I would try using leading questions. Instead of saying "I think this, this and this is bad about your partner", ask "What is it that you like about her?". Let him talk and try to understand the good qualities he sees. Then you can gently discuss the doubts you have, i.e. "Hey man, I'd never want to offend your partner, but.. I've had a hard time to get any sort of real conversation going with her. But maybe she just doesn't like me? What do you think?" He will probably start defending her and show examples/convince you that she is indeed intelligent/deep/it's just a language issue. But he might also admit that he's been sensing some of the things you're saying, and you saying it might be valuable confirmation for him. When in love, it's very easy to ignore any negative or just rational thoughts.

It's impossible to say how everything might go, because people are so different. But advise him to wait at least one more year before marrying. Remind him that it's a very big step, and even if it "feels" right, one just can't know a person well enough after such a short time.

  • 8
    One could argue that two (five, ten) years are also not enough time to know each other. One of my relationships fell apart after four years. One of my friends even after nine years so it looks to me that "hey, wait another year and maybe ..." doesn't solve anything for the same reason as you wrote: "It's impossible to say how everything might go, because people are so different." – Artholl Jul 30 '18 at 8:33
  • 4
    One cold argue for anything, and be right. This is just my two cents – Ludwik Jul 30 '18 at 8:38
13

Relationships can be certainly be intellectually based. For example, two physicists might get together every day and talk about nothing but physics, and have absolutely no interest in any other part of each others' lives. But either one of those physicists could be happily married to someone with Down's Syndrome as well, or quite miserable married to another person as brilliant as himself or herself.

So, our points of view diverge when you say that the intellectual capacity is something fundamental for a relationship. It isn't, in my opinion. For me, it is love, kindness, honesty, respect, trust and (emotional) communication. Those bring joy, which is what is fundamental to me in my relationships.

Intelligent people are entirely capable of becoming fascinated with each others' intelligence, getting married on the basis of that fascination, and spending the rest of their lives making each other miserable. They often do!

A happy relationship has to be emotionally based. (Happiness is an emotion, after all, not an idea.) It may or may not be an intellectually based relationship as well. So, if you want your brother-in-law to be happy, then evaluate at the emotional side of their relationship. If you feel that intellectual compatibility is more important than happiness (and I'm not saying that it isn't, just that I think otherwise), then you might keep on as you are doing.

Edit to answer your edit:

If they are asking your opinion, and you think it's best to wait and get to know each other better, I would suggest that you say that. Very few marriages are negatively impacted by waiting too long to get into them. And plenty of marriages are gotten into too quickly and turn out to be a huge mistake.

But I wouldn't talk about intellect, and how important it is, and I wouldn't even mention that you think her intellectual capacity is limited. Sometimes it's important and sometimes it isn't, and whether it is or isn't is not your decision. It's the couple's.

Think about it this way. Suppose your brother-in-law wanted to marry someone with brain damage, or in a wheelchair, or some such. Would you discourage him because the woman was "damaged goods"? If you did, he would probably lose respect for your insights, because if he's considering marrying her, he already knows what you're telling him and is considering it anyway. You would come across as shallow and insensitive, too. If you tell the family that you don't think she's all that bright, chances are pretty good that it will have something of the same effect. It seems unlikely that your brother-in-law doesn't know this, if it's in fact true.

I would focus on the positives, say that you would need more time to get to know her before you would feel comfortable sharing anything more than a superficial point of view, and suggest that there's never any harm in waiting a year or two, and plenty of harm in going in too quickly.

  • 2
    @DavidLjungMadison As I see it, the OP is essentially implying that intellectual parity is more important to a relationship than being in love and being happy. Not quite the same as your statement — I'm sure that the OP would be quite supportive of two simple-minded people who wanted to get married. – BobRodes Jul 30 '18 at 21:40
  • Fair enough - but that still helps shed light on the relationship assumptions the OP is making. – David Ljung Madison Jul 31 '18 at 0:59
  • Note, that you can see the term intelligence in different aspects including intra-personal intelligenct, similiar to the theory of Howard Gardner – Sip Jul 31 '18 at 9:57
  • @Sip That's a very interesting theory. Thanks for pointing me to it. I would think that you are referring to interpersonal rather than intrapersonal intelligence. In which case, you are perhaps suggesting that the OP really means that she doesn't have the ability to communicate well, and lacks the English skills to make the distinction. Maybe. – BobRodes Jul 31 '18 at 16:10
  • Yes I meant interpersonal Intelligence, my bad. I wanted to suggest that the term " intellectual capacity", which OP is describing, possibly is only one angle to the intelligence of the person - depending on his defintions of the term. – Sip Aug 1 '18 at 8:04
8

Soft spoken and terse with conversations?
Unable or unwilling to provide complex answers when put on the spot?

Sounds like me when I'm faced with someone intimidating (like a boyfriend's brother in law, or a job interview)
You're never going to see the best of someone under those circumstances.

While you've not seen her displaying her intellect meaningfully, that doesn't mean she's stupid. More likely she simply isn't comfortable talking to you, which, I'm sorry to say is probably borne out by your own judgement of her.

My advice if you can; Spend more time with them, see how they interact, watch for more complex thoughts. They're not so hard to spot. Give it time and keep an open mind.

That said, as others here have commented, Intellectual Parity is only a nice-to-have in a relationship, it's not crucial, certainly not as much as mutual love and respect.
You might not agree with this assessment, but your brother in law almost certainly does unless he's terribly unobservant of this person he's known for over a year. (that or he knows her intelligence better than you, which would be highly likely)

If you approach your brother-in-law with your concerns there is almost no way I can think of to broach the subject kindly or tactfully. You will come off looking like an asshole unless you have a far better relationship with your brother-in-law than seems likely to me.
If you must. Frame it gently as a concern in a much wider conversation. It's going to be an incredibly touchy subject.

But I wouldn't be willing to address it at all, it sounds like a fantastic way to alienate both of them and get uninvited from the wedding.

7

So based on two things you wrote about her that you "couldn't find much of an intellectual depth":

  1. "... every question that I have asked her she summarized it in a word or she was unable to articulate a convincing argument to anything."
  2. "She doesn't even speak Spanish while she lived there for over a year (she was there 3 years ago)."

You have definitely right to have your opinion on anything, but if you really have some power to change someones decision (the family cares about your opinion), you should be much more careful about what you say out loud.
Be honest, don't lie. But think twice if you have enough information before you say something bad about someone, because people remember bad things more and put them more weight.

  1. Do you know something more about her? Not just that she is good looking and lovely person, but what are her hobbies and interests? Did you ever tried to talk about that with her? Was her answer also just one word?
    There is also possibility that she just don't like you (or your questions) that much and that could be the reason why her answers are short. Last but not least, what is "convincing argument" is quite subjective.
  2. Someone has talent to learn languages and someone doesn't. Or maybe she doesn't have time or reason to learn Spanish. She was there three years ago. Does she speak Spanish in the past and just forgot? Italian and Spanish are both pretty similar. That could be advantage for one and problem for someone else. Based on this page the similarity is estimated at 82%. But one of the answers also stated that: "I can tell you my personal experience: Spanish people understand Italian much better than Italians do with Spanish". I know that you are also from Italy, but again - someone has talent to learn languages and someone doesn't...

One last point. Long distance relationships are not easy and it is test for relationship. If they were able to maintain one for a year and now they are together in one flat for more than a month and they are still full of love, than it is great achievement.

  • 1
    I agree that anyone can learn new language. I didn't wrote that someone can't do that, but someone has to put more effort into that. It is like music. After few weeks of study, one can play something just because they heard something and the other is able to play it only with the sheet. – Artholl Jul 31 '18 at 7:08
2

every question that I have asked her she summarized it in a word or she was unable to articulate a convincing argument to anything

That could just as easily be through disinterest in the conversation or through simply being quite a quiet person.

This world is full of introverted people who are perfectly capable of having deep conversations if they want to and if they feel comfortable enough to, but who will often prefer to remain quiet or keep conversation to a minimum.

She doesn't even speak Spanish while she lived there for over a year (she was there 3 years ago).

As a Briton, I don't find that unusual. There are thousands of Britons who move abroad and never bother to learn the language. This doesn't necessarily mean she is unintelligent, but could possibly imply other negative traits depending on the circumstances, for example she might simply have been unwilling to learn the language because she only intended to stay for one year.

This family is very dear to me for many reasons, they are very famous and well respected in Spain

With all due respect, unless they are royalty, that's irrelevant.

This is not about the family's reputation, this is not a business deal, this is the decision of one son about who he wishes to spend his life with.

she's nice, but she lacks something fundamental for a relationship and that is the intellectual capacity.

In my opinion 'nice' is more important than 'intelligent'. It is better to be 'nice but naive' than to be 'intelligent but nasty'.

but I think that he deserves a much better girl

That's not a decision for you to make. It is up to him, and only him, to decide who is 'good enough' for him.

As long as she is not trying to cause your brother-in-law harm and/or is not likely to cause your brother harm then there is nothing wrong here.

At the end of the day what matters isn't how smart she is or how attractive she is, it is what your brother-in-law thinks of her.

I have the feeling that it's too soon to propose and too soon to get married as they don't really know each other

That is a more convincing reason to suggest delaying marriage. If you really want to, then you could perhaps ask your brother-in-law if he is sure that they know each other well enough to get married. If either of them is unsure then it may be best to wait a bit longer (e.g. 6-12 months) before they consider getting married.


Remember:

Marriage is a big commitment, but it is not final, if it doesn't end well then divorce is always an option.

Children on the other hand are a far more serious commitment - after a certain point you cannot simply get rid of children. I find people often get those two mixed up in terms of severity.


Lastly, if your brother-in-law truly loves her, he might be prepared to reject the family and run off with her, like Romeo and Juliet. (I'd like to remind people that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy - they both die at the end.)

It is probably in everybody's interest to prevent that, and it is important that the family realises that. If they don't want to drive him away then they should tell him their concerns and accept his decision if he ignores them. If the family is right then they will be there to help him. If the family is wrong then they will still be in contact their son.

1

My suggestion to you would be that although you were asked your opinion by others not to jump into giving your thoughts and comments, but instead, take your concerns and direct them into questions. Assume that if you are correct in your assessment it a view that other people have already identified and by asking questions instead of giving comments you will help the other person to externalize any concerns they have and to contemplate them. This approach can be seen in 'motivational interviewing' in some professional circles (ocupational therapy for one) , but i think is simply a 'humble' and effective means of giving input through guided questions.

Concern:

she lacks something fundamental for a relationship and that is the intellectual capacity

Question: To what extent to you find it easy to talk about the things that are most important to you in life?: spirituality, politics, environment, how to raise a family your values etc

Question: How important do you think it is that you and here are of a similar intellectual capacity? How would you rate yourself and her on a scale of 1 to 10 where 5 is average?

There may be further questions like, do you ever find you are contemptuous about here lack of intellectual capacity, how much does it frustrate you etc.

1
  1. Who cares if she's not a rocket scientist. It matters whether or not she has a good relationship with your BiL and they have a good base for a marriage.

  2. No one can ever really see into the depths of another person's relationship. There's always stuff, good or bad, going on that you can't see. So don't presume to know what their relationship is really like.

The real concern/question is whether or not your BiL can be happy with a person who has the flaws that you see.

So, I think the way to do this is not by providing a direct opinion about her, but focusing on asking directed, thought provoking questions that will get your brother in law to probe the nature of his relationship with his girlfriend.

Something like: "I like her just fine. She seems nice and has lots of good qualities, like X, Y, and Z. But it's not really important what I think. What matters most is that you two have a solid basis for a real, fulfilling marriage."

Then you ask things like: Does she make you laugh? Are you interested in what she has to say? Do you think she'll be a good mom (if you have kids)? Do you think she'll be able to perform the duties associated with being in our famous family? Etc, etc.

If he's rushing into it, asking these questions may make him slow down and think about whether he needs more time, or if she's the right person.

If he really knows what he's doing and the answers are all "yes", then be happy your BiL has found a wonderful partner for him and start making her feel welcome in the family.

protected by Em C Aug 2 '18 at 19:47

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.