Question: Dating in Grief, and a Manipulative Girlfriend

Q: Hello, My brother (let’s call him John) lost his wife in a car accident and started seeking out his next partner rapidly. After 8 months of his wife’s death John met someone, and he moved in with her at 6 months of dating, despite him expressing many times that she pressured him to move and had an anxiety break down when he first moved in, demonstrating his lack of confidence in his decision.

My brother stuck by his decision, and only 2 months later, she’s pregnant.

John was very upset and shocked upon first reaction, as they were not trying for a child. Birth control pills were their agreed upon method for birth control. My brother asked the possible/likely reason for this birth control fail, and she said it was because she took antibiotics with her birth control, and she attributes that to becoming pregnant. The news came to a big shock to my family as well, and my other 2 siblings and I believe she is lying to some degree at least, on how she got pregnant.

We ultimately believe she got pregnant on purpose and is using the antibiotic story as a cover up. My siblings and I believe that at best (although we feel very unlikely) she was irresponsible by not taking a backup method of birth control while taking the pill with her antibiotic, and at worst she purposely missed pills and tried to intentionally get pregnant without John’s knowledge or consent. I have yet to ask John more details of the story beyond what we already know (the family was just informed she is pregnant), such as if she knew at the time she was on antibiotics to take a backup method of birth control, as there may be a decreased efficacy of the pill when antibiotics are combined.

John seems to be under the assumption (or is at least ignoring the potential that she could be lying) that his girlfriend is telling the truth and it was just an accident, as he told my siblings and I that it was an accident and to not think she did it on purpose. After getting the news of her pregnancy story I have been researching antibiotic’s effect on birth control and there is no concrete evidence that antibiotics actually reduces the effectiveness of birth control, and that most women are told that antibiotics can reduce effectiveness as a just in case. I’ve also read that if antibiotics do affect birth control, it would be at most minimal, and that the most common antibiotics that could interfere with birth control effectiveness are not even the ones commonly prescribed. Even if antibiotics did indeed interfere with her birth control effectiveness, and she did take her birth control perfectly otherwise outside of this, that would mean that 2 weeks out of 8 months is when she got pregnant. Though possible, it all just seems so unlikely.

Other factors that make my other siblings and me wary of his girlfriend’s story are:

• His girlfriend already has two other kids that were not planned

• She expressed to John at the very beginning of the relationship that she was dead set on having another kid no matter what, despite her doctor advising against it due to potential serious health risks for her

• When his girlfriend told John she was pregnant, she had her kids bring a bowl with baby shoes in it to surprise him of the pregnancy, as if he should have reacted happily, as if they were trying for a baby. She didn’t tell him previously that she missed her period, or that she took a pregnancy test, she jumped straight to telling him the news by having her kids present him with the information as if it were a happy surprise.

It’s hard for me not to assume this method of telling him the news wasn’t manipulative, as I find it strange she used her kids to assist telling him the news, as opposed to the two of them discussing it first together before the kids were told. If my brother wanted to discuss the idea of an abortion, the kids already knew she was pregnant.

• She has demonstrated other red flags about her personality, and my siblings and I can tell John holds back on how much information he gives about her. John also makes excuses for her for actions that in a typically healthy relationship are not usually considered okay. Example, she goes through his phone text messages on a consistent basis. John said she does this because she’s been cheated on in the past.

John’s also afraid to express himself to her about certain things about their relationship because he’s afraid how she will react.

I don’t know how to approach my suspicions with my brother, and my other siblings don’t want to express their opinions at all, as they do not want to get involved. They feel that if they talk to John about their suspicions, he will inevitability tell his girlfriend. My siblings do not want potential conflict with the future mother of their niece/nephew, as accusing/expressing concerns she intentionally got pregnant is a very big thing to suspect someone of, as it is a very manipulative, horrible thing for someone to do.

My siblings also do not want to express their feelings to John about the situation because they feel it won’t make a difference regardless, as we don’t think he would leave her even if the truth were to come out that she did intentionally get pregnant to trap him, as he has an obsession with not being alone/being in a relationship (he has perused 100+ women since literally the day of his wife’s death; his current girlfriend was the first woman not to reject him).

Due to John’s fear of being alone, we think he would stay even if she did do this on purpose.

I’m sorry for the long backstory. I guess I am just looking for some outsider thoughts on the situation and I respect your thoughtful answers, as well has your knowledge on sex education. I know it’s a lot to unpack, and also, a lot of suspicions/assumptions. I want to ask John more questions about her pregnancy story, potentially tell John my suspicions of his girlfriend’s pregnancy, but at the same time we have no proof that this pregnancy was intentional on her end. But it’s very hard for me to give his girlfriend the benefit of the doubt, especially on all the factors involved in the situation. I don’t know how to approach it, asking him details about her story, without being accusatory.


A: Wow. I’m so sorry your brother is in this new, manipulative, unsafe relationship.

I think you should trust your gut.

Whether or not she intentionally got pregnant, there’s clearly something about her that sits the wrong way.

Is he seeing a therapist? If he’s not, I would advise that he start to see someone. You could gently nudge him to talk to someone about the pure number of unexpected life events he has experienced in the last couple years. Don’t make it about her, make it about seeking support for change in general.

Beyond that, just remind him that you’re there for him. Likely he already knows how you feel about her, about the relationship, and about the pregnancy. It’s hard to hide how you feel about someone when the level of mistrust is that high. When he needs you again he’ll know you’re there, and he’ll know he can talk to you. That’s a hard role for you, so be sure that you seek out someone to talk to, too. Even if it’s just a trusted friend.

Planned Parenthood advises that the only antibiotic that impacts birth controls effectiveness is rifampin, prescribed for tuberculosis. I understand the sweeping generalization doctors place over antibiotics, but it leads a lot of women to thinking that their prescription medication was to blame for their accidental pregnancies.

More likely is, if they were on the pill, they did not take it as prescribed.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi. All of the “red flags” you mentioned are valid concerns. In the absence of further details it almost sounds like entrapment by pregnancy (something my first wife pulled on me 3 months after we were married [we agreed to delay 2 years to work on us and so she could finish her degree]. Took 13 painful years to divorce her.)

    Antibiotics have little to nothing to do with the mechanics of pharmaceutical birth control which regulates a woman’s hormones through various means. Whether through carelessness or by intent, if she became pregnant without his knowledge or consent, it was deceptive.

    Whether someone cheated on her or not, every relationship has to stand on its own unique merits. That means their relationship must functionally satisfy their respective needs and be built on a foundation of trust irrespective of any other relationships they may have. That she felt compelled to go through his text messages and drag her old jealousies into the new relationship reflects the psyche of a very broken human being.

    But they both sound like they’re very broken. Your brother appears to be in deep denial. So the question is how to get them to deal with their issues, and do so with compassion. Maybe an intervention with the goal of getting them both to seek therapy, individually and as a couple. My personal opinion is that neither had any business jumping into a relationship without repairing their core issues first. Then again, broken people come together, for stranger reasons. Maybe the prospect of actually building and leading a happy, functional, and productive life as a couple might be sufficient motivation for them to seek professional help and start a process of evolution.

    Hope this didn’t come across as overly pompous. It’s just that I’ve been there, done that (and am still doing it); and the signs are all too familiar. You’re a good sister. I hope things work out. Good luck to you all.

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