I did use the India tag as a matter of course, but as always welcome answers from members all over the world. Why? Because some of the most helpful answers to my previous India-tagged questions came from non-Indian members here at IPS.SE
Note: Two of my cousins and one friend have already benefited from the good advice given by members of IPS.SE but I was not directly involved in those cases whereas I would be if I am to convince my cousin.

Cultural Tradition

In India, cousins are often called 'cousin brother' or 'cousin sister' to indicate gender and also closeness. Our family is very large which is why I have been asking questions about many different relatives here. Why? Because we have some measure of 'social responsibility' to help our relations in trouble.


One of my cousin sisters has decided to marry a person whom I personally know to have 'bad habits' and is unreliable. I should not usually intervene in such matters, especially when my cousin has actually selected this person herself, but her parents are anxious because this is a local person of known bad character and unlikely to improve because he is a habitual offender.

But she flatly refuses to believe them that he will not improve and she is now in a 'big fight' with them over this issue, so they have requested me to use my influence (and also family responsibility as a 'cousin brother') to make her understand the danger. Is there any diplomatic and effective way to do so? More details follow.

Family History

My cousin sister [code name = Little Bun which is actually her pet name kept by her mother] is 24 years old and well-employed in a major company in a big city in India, far from our home city. When she visited her parents here recently she met a local man, aged 28 [code name = Joe], who has charmed her so thoroughly that she took a very quick decision to marry him just 6 weeks after their first meeting. They have fixed their marriage for October 12th and both sets of parents are invited, yes, but they have been cuttingly advised not to take any steps to stop this very small-scale wedding.

“Little Bun” the bride-to-be

Specifically, I am worried because Little Bun is making a big salary and Joe needs the money. Moreover, she is the only child of wealthy parents who own valuable properties in this city. It is sad but true that such girls have been targets of unscrupulous marriages in this region. I have seen more than one such local marriage end in cheating and bitter divorce, so I hesitate to tell her parents that I cannot help them in this delicate matter. However, I am absolutely not going to communicate with Joe in any manner over this or any other issue.

“Joe” the groom-to-be

The problem: Joe is notorious in this town as an unreliable character with plenty of 'bad habits' (read vices) -- this is no exaggeration because I know for a fact that he drinks alcohol in excess, gambles away his earnings and is being investigated for fraud at his former workplace. He used to be a low-level manager in a local firm but nowadays operates 2 'tourist taxis' which run to faraway towns and give him a good excuse to leave the city when he needs to.

There is no caste- or religion- or socio-economic differences causing her parents to oppose this marriage. It's purely the concern about the known character of this Joe. However, Little Bun, who was always treated as a child by her parents, is in rebellion mode and refuses to hear anything against her fiance.

In typical movie style, Joe has convinced her that he is the 'victim of circumstances and social conspiracies' that refuse to give him a chance to lift himself up and away from his 'unfortunate past.' As in, she is not exactly unaware of his reputation but he has given it a romantic twist and also misrepresented the facts to his advantage.


I am rather influential with Little Bun who is 14 years younger and good at heart. But if I intercede on behalf of her parents I might possibly not convince her, but also risk losing that influence. On the other hand, I am very worried that Joe will lead her into big trouble because although I don't know him very well myself, his past history is well known locally and he has even been entangled with a few girls leading to much complications and heartbreak.

What I have tried

I have not discussed the matter with her yet, simply because I can't do it more than once and want to prepare the best approach.

So here I am at IPS.SE:

Is it possible for me to diplomatically convince my 'cousin sister' that she is going to marry a person with 'bad habits?'

  • 6
    I am pleased to report that a few days before the scheduled date of marriage, my cousin decided that she needed more time and postponed the wedding by 6 months. Tentative date is now around April 15 (not decided yet) but interestingly Little Bun refused to commit to an actual engagement this time. I believe Joe is on probation. So we have time to work out a solution. Thanks for the interest @Adam Davis! Jan 21, 2018 at 8:22
  • This is the setup of “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” by Arthur Conan Doyle. Maybe you could do what Holmes did in that story?
    – rhialto
    Oct 4, 2020 at 8:42

7 Answers 7


(note: from a different cultural background, and with no direct experience of this situation - just my thoughts on how best to persuade people).

Ultimately, it's her decision, and telling her what to do will likely backfire. As I see it, helping her make the best decision she can is as much as you can do.

If you come across as telling your cousin sister what to do, or trying to mislead her as to your intentions, there's a danger that she'll react against that and not listen to what you have to say.

Instead, might it work to be very upfront with what your conversation will be about? E.g.

Your parents have asked me to talk to you. As your cousin brother I'd like to make sure you're aware of Joe's character and have thought through what you're planning.

That is, you're going to talk through with her, making sure she knows about Joe's character flaws, and all of the dangers these present (i.e. danger of him spending her money, coveting her inheritance, etc.).

After letting her know what you know, and checking that she's aware of who Joe is, you could present her with the options, as you see them (e.g. not getting married for now, agreeing to postpone or having separate bank accounts (as apaul34208 suggests) and then think through these options with her.

This way, you can be part of her decision and have genuine influence, instead of joining the group of people who have already told her it's not a good idea and that she shouldn't do it. Further, by telling her what you know about Joe, it should become pretty clear that you think it's a terrible idea without you having to say it explicitly, this means you might get to avoid being confrontational (which doesn't help here) while still giving her your opinion.

Whatever you choose, good luck to you, and her.

  • Thank you for the quick answer and this is probably the most diplomatic approach, @eff -- I tend to do things the way you suggested, as in giving information and options rather than insisting that somebody should follow a particular course of action. Sep 20, 2017 at 12:28
  • Yes, partly I like this approach because it doesn't burn any bridges, but the most important point is that it's the only way I've found of persuading people. Other, more confrontational approaches just haven't worked for me (although others might have had more success).
    – eff
    Sep 21, 2017 at 7:56
  • 1
    That's very true @eff -- moreover she is old enough to make her life decisions and it's not my intention to make her cancel the wedding as such, although that's what her parents wish: I just want her to be well aware of the history of her fiance, and not in the sentimental way he has portrayed it. If she would still marry him then I am willing to assume she will take the responsibility for the consequences, and that would also be a bold and decisive attitude on her part, in my opinion. Sep 21, 2017 at 9:01

The fact that Joe has not got a respectable or steady job does not mean he does not love or cherish your cousin sister.

There has been more than one instance where wealthy suitors and Mr-Rights have mistreated and abused the trust of their sweethearts and spouses. Although Joe's dire financial situation is, understandably, alarming it does not necessarily mean he will exploit or harm her.

Have you actually personally met Joe face to face? You said:

I know for a fact that he drinks alcohol in excess, gambles away his earnings and is being investigated for fraud at his former workplace.

Which strongly hints that you have definitely heard of him, but have you talked to one another?

No one seems to have a good word for Joe, which does make him somewhat of an underdog. Now, some women imagine themselves as Florence Nightingale (The female equivalent of Prince Charming, or the knight in shining armour) Other users have said as much in their own answers. There's even a syndrome called the Florence Nightingale effect the Wikipedia page limits this condition to caregivers and says:

The Florence Nightingale effect is a situation where a caregiver develops romantic feelings, sexual feelings, or both for their patient, even if very little communication or contact takes place outside of basic care. Feelings may fade once the patient is no longer in need of care.

Joe is not a patient but your cousin sister may have developed strong feelings for him because she feels she can “cure” him or make him into a better man. Well, it's not impossible, “bad” guys can change their spots... although it's rare. But let's give Joe the benefit of the doubt.


Here is what I would do in your situation:

  1. I would talk to Joe in person and hear his side. I'd listen to him and do my very best not to judge or interrupt his discourse with hearsay or ‘proof’ of his misconduct. I would want to sense whether he can change his behaviour, that his feelings for my cousin are sincere.

You could also suggest that one day Joe might be a father, how would he cope with that type of responsibility?

  1. I would then talk to his former employers, and colleagues and hear what they have to say about Joe.

  2. After forming an opinion, and gathering up the facts and evidence, you might feel that Joe is trustworthy. In which case, just have a chat with your younger cousin.

  3. Try to persuade her to wait five months. If their love for one another is “true”, five months will fly by (not for her but convince her otherwise). After five months their love-match will be met with less resistance. A happy wedding ceremony starts marriage life on the right foot.

  4. On the other hand, if your worst fears have been confirmed, you might consider writing “Little Bun” a hand-written letter, and give this letter to her in person. She should read it when she is alone. You can make the letter as long and as detailed as you like.

  5. In your shoes, I would include the following:

Dear cousin,

I am sincerely concerned for your future well-being and happiness. Your closest friends and family have expressed their deep reservations for Joe and fear he may not be the right man for you. His behaviour in the past has not been faultless, ...

blah, blah, blah

Then somewhere towards the end, the letter can be concluded with

Is there something, anything, you have not said but have held back from saying? Anything you want to say, I promise it will remain absolutely confidential.

In my eyes, you will always be my darling baby cousin, but before you take the most important decision in your life, I want to hear you say that you are happy and that you and Joe love each other and will go to the ends of the earth for one another.

Tell me that is so.

With affection,

English Student

  • 1
    +1 for a really nice answer covering all the options -- thanks @Mari-louA and I want to give you 12 upvote! Women wanting to reform a disreputable man is such a stereotype.The only approach I'd have reservations about is actually meeting with Joe because I know him only superficially (neighborhood functions etc) and feel uncomfortable at the idea of talking directly to him about such a sensitive matter which affects his own future -- again it goes against local cultural etiquette to discuss it with him because the implied concern of possible untrustworthiness would be interpreted as an insult. Sep 21, 2017 at 11:23
  • @EnglishStudent and yet, it is only by talking to Joe will you understand better if he is reliable or not. If he can change or not. If he is a good person or not. I'm not saying that you will know everything about him, in your first meeting, but you should be able to form a better opinion.
    – user3114
    Sep 21, 2017 at 11:23
  • 2
    The absolutely best advice you gave is to wait 5-6 months, @Mari-lou A which is what I told my own (not cousin) sister in a very similar situation: the person was a virtual stranger and she backed out within a month after this suggestion, when he revealed he is deep in debt and she sensed he was desperate to marry her for that reason. So if Little Bun is willing to wait I am sure she can form her own impressions of J within that period. Sep 21, 2017 at 11:27
  • @EnglishStudent this is something I did not anticipate, you cannot speak to Joe in person because that would be seen as a slight in your culture. Joe must know there are reservations about his character he should welcome the opportunity to tell his story. No... I did not expect talking to him would be a no-no. But it's interesting to know.
    – user3114
    Sep 21, 2017 at 11:35
  • 1
    It is a question of 'honour' @Mari-lou A -- you can read about Asian concepts of honour in this sample article that speaks about China and Japan but equally applicable to India. The gist of the concept is that both Joe and I might know very well what type of person he is; however my talking to him about it will cause him to 'lose face' which is incredibly distressing for many Asian people. So it would badly affect my future interactions with him if Little Bun decides to go through with this marriage now or maybe 6 months later. Sep 21, 2017 at 11:40

I was once very much like Joe, I had a lot of bad habits and my income wasn't exactly above board... Most people who are "bad people" would rather not be, but it's really difficult to get out of that life once you've been in it for a while and you've developed a reputation or worse a criminal record.

Just trying to say that his intentions may be genuine. But then again it is still a big maybe. Also good intentions aren't always enough.

The first angle I would try would be a postponement.

I know you're crazy about this guy, but marriage is a big step, why not wait a little while and get to know him a little better.

If that doesn't work, you could try to convince her to protect her assets. Separate bank accounts and the like.

You know the biggest fight most couples have after marriage is about money. Have you two discussed how you'll handle your finances? Some couples avoid a whole lot of problems by keeping their money separate.

It's always better to start talking about those big life issues before you get married regardless, so it would be sound advice even if Joe was a stand-up guy.

If all else fails... Invite him out for a stag party. Let him show his true colors on his own. If the guy really is a degenerate gambler and drunkard, he'll have a hard time keeping it together at a wild bachelor party... Just have your cell phone ready to snap a few pictures if need be.

If your little cousin really is in love, there's little you'll be able to do about it. Just try to help her see who she's fallen for. And be there for her if it falls apart.

  • 3
    I appreciate your honesty and can only reference our colleague @anongoodnurse's famous question at English.SE to say 'you are a better man than I' -- "The first angle I would try would be a postponment." This is exactly what I advised my own (not cousin) sister when she had similarly been ready to marry an unknown person 3 months after meeting -- he was deep in debt & his desperation for a quick wedding rang my sister's alarm bells, so she backed out and never regretted it! Thank you @ apaul34208, you lead by example here. Sep 20, 2017 at 5:30
  • I'm not sure whether bachelor (stag) or hen parties are common in India, they certainly weren't in Italy until twenty years ago. And isn't waiting until the party a little too late?
    – user3114
    Sep 20, 2017 at 7:01
  • Moreover, English Student would have to be invited to the stag party for it to work (taking incriminating photos etc.) and if he weren't? Recently my 28-year-old son was invited to a bachelor's party. Before painting the town red, so to speak, their mobiles and cell phones were collected and placed in a secure safe, not sure, or with the driver of the coach (they were a large group). So another reason why waiting until the stag party wouldn't work
    – user3114
    Sep 20, 2017 at 7:07
  • Sorry to say that Joe will not be having anything like a bachelor party because he is apparently very intent on giving his future bride the impression of being a very serious and reformed individual. He will probably celebrate with a few close friends after the event. Sep 20, 2017 at 12:24
  • 3
    "Just have your cell phone ready to snap a few pictures if need be." Is this really good advice? Get your sisters fiance drunk so you can show your sister how bad he is? Given that there is apparently plenty of evidence of this persons bad behavior, i doubt this will work and I doubt the OPs sister will appreciate this.
    – user288
    Sep 20, 2017 at 14:10

I'm sorry to say this, but I'm not sure you can say anything that would make her change her mind.

There's an episode of Modern Family where the oldest daughter is dating a shady man who is 20 years old than her. Her father is out of his mind but his wife tells him that she did exactly the same to her own dad when she was her age, just to annoy the father. It appears that the daughter is angry at her dad because he scolded her after she was sacked from college. Right after he stopped seeming to care about the shady boyfriend, the daughter broke up with him.

What I'm trying to say is not that your cousin sister seems to defy familial authority. I don't think so, and I couldn't speak in her position anyway. I'm saying that it is less than likely that your cousin will listen to you or your family if she's in love with this man.

What you can do

Despite of this, it's quite possible that she will suffer from this union. Please do not get offended if she marries him, but be here for her if you truly think the man is indeed dangerous. Violence happens so fast.

Take care.

  • Thanks a lot for confirming some of my thoughts, @avazula. I upvote! Yes, she seems determined, but luckily this Joe although a trickster is not exactly a violent person... Sep 20, 2017 at 12:21
  • 2
    Something I pick up from this is that when familial ties stop fighting this guy, one subtext becomes, "We're no longer part of the drama around your relationship. Take a very close, very clear look at this guy because he's your problem now."
    – user117529
    Oct 20, 2017 at 22:10

The thing about attraction is this. If a woman does not find a man attractive, there is little to nothing the man can do to convince her otherwise (I'm thinking friend zone here). But if she really finds him attractive, there is nothing that anyone can do to convince her otherwise.

Unfortunately for her, your cousin has fallen for the typical bad-boy stereotype. And is seems this guy is not just "acting" that way to make himself more attractive. He is actually living the lifestyle as well.

I don't think diplomacy is going to work in this case. Your cousin's life and livelihood is potentially in danger, and you should take a direct and aggressive route to convince her (or him) to leave the relationship.

For instance, get a private detective to follow the guy around. Provide her with concrete evidence of his behavior.

Whatever you do, make sure she is well aware that you do not like him or approve of their relationship. Don't be nice about it either. She may hate you for it, but I've seen too many women in abusive relationships to play "nice guy". Make sure you are there for her, because when things go bad, she will need all the support she can get.


Do not try to convince her that what she is about to do is "wrong". Make it clear from the start that you will support any position she chooses, and that you will be there for her through the good and bad.

Trying to convince her to do something she does not want to will likely solidify her decision (if it isn't already) in spite of what others warn her.

When you speak with her, find out her side. Bring up concerns from her parents and other family members.. but keep it clear that the decision is hers.

Perhaps you should also speak with her parents and convince them that the decision is hers as well, and they need to be supportive of her choices regardless (nobody will seek support from those who will say "I told you so").

If there is a way to create a prenuptial agreement or a way for the parents to limit the inheritance to her alone.. maybe you can also suggest that? You can't stop her from giving him money, but she can protect herself from the scam you described or a bad divorce if it does come down to it.


You need to forcefully take matters into your own hands because she is clearly being played, and therefore, under the drug of "love," does not have her best interests in mind. You need to clearly and strongly express your dissatisfaction and disagreement with this relationship to all people involved.

You and her family needs to let him (and his family) know that he is an inferior person, and not welcomed around her, and that it would be in his best interests to avoid her, despite his love or whatever. This should be made in a serious and threatening, but legal, manner.

Her family should also put pressure on her to not be involved with this guy. Depending on the situation ,there are some things that only the family can really do, so you may have to work with them. They need to threaten to disown her and refuse to provide for her financially if this marriage were to occur.

  • 1
    Solid points, thanks @Daniel Grover. I had asked this question 20 days ago when the situation was very delicate, and am now pleased to report that a few days before the scheduled date of marriage, my cousin decided that she needed more time and postponed the wedding by 6 months. So we have time to work out a solution. Oct 9, 2017 at 19:51
  • 2
    @EnglishStudent That update should be at the end of the question. Oct 22, 2017 at 15:55
  • Take caution with that answer, it can easily backfire if Little Bun refuse to submit to the pressure. It depends on the culture, but "beating" your child into submission by threats, even if he is legally responsible can be even worse than letting him do it.
    – Fanie Void
    Oct 2, 2020 at 12:32

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