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Husband's family was insensitive

Dear Carolyn: My dad died last November of a heart attack. My husband's parents and siblings have never said one word to me to acknowledge his passing. About two weeks after he died, they all came to our house to celebrate my husband's birthday, and no one said anything to me. It was very weird.

Then we spent Christmas with them and again, nothing. I have been with my husband for 10 years, and have shared many of their milestones with them, happy and sad. I thought this had at least earned me the socially appropriate amount of sympathy.

After I realized none of them was ever going to say anything, I really felt like they just didn't care. I told my husband -- not in an angry, accusing way -- that it really hurt my feelings, that I couldn't understand it, and I just couldn't let it go. His response was to ask if I wanted him to say anything to them (of course not) and then to act annoyed with me that I had brought it up.

How can I reconcile this hurtful oversight with the fact that I am going to be spending significant amounts of time with them for the rest of my life?

-- Virginia

A: Seems to me your husband himself gave you a window into his family's non-response.

To his mind, apparently, the only reason for mentioning your hard feelings was to ask him to take action on your behalf -- right? He asked what you wanted him to do about it, and when you declined his offer to take action, he got annoyed.

That's an unusual enough reaction to warrant attention. Specifically: He had several possible responses available to him that would have cost him nothing and would have eased your mind. "I'm sorry they let you down" or even the dour but useful "That's just the way they are" -- how tough is that?

So. Does this sound familiar? Your husband's family had several possible responses to your father's death that would have cost them nothing and would have eased your mind. "I'm sorry for your loss," "I heard about your Dad, how are you doing?" -- how tough is that?

Answer: Very tough, if sympathetic words are not in this family's emotional lexicon.

Given the way families work, his insensitivity and his family's insensitivity on the same topic are enough to warrant at least some consideration that you've got a pattern on your hands.

Start with your history with your husband, and mentally page through it for other evidence, unrelated to your father's death, that your husband is strangely or just quietly absent when opportunities for spoken solace arise.

Then move to your history with his family, and page through that.

e-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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