Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering columns from her archive.
Dear Carolyn: I have been happily married for three years. Because we live 30 minutes from my in-laws, we see them pretty much every week.
The problem is my mother-in-law. In addition to her frequently imposing her will on us (e.g., enlisting someone to build steps off our deck when we had no interest in doing so), she shares intimate, and almost always negative, information about all of her relatives and friends. Friend A doesn’t know how to raise her children; Uncle B is a cheapskate, etc.
My husband understands my discomfort and has occasionally made excuses for us to not see his parents. But it’s gotten to the point where I find his mother’s presence suffocating, and I really have no desire to see her again. Do I have to make up excuses for not seeing them for the rest of my life, or is there a better solution?
– Jersey Girl
A: Sometimes, for difficult emotional situations, it can help to be nakedly practical.
Your husband knows you dislike his mom. You know he wants to see Mom regularly. She’s your tormentor; she’s his mommy. Both of these warrant respect.
And both of you, then, need to figure out how infrequently and how frequently, respectively, you can bear seeing her.
Could he live with cutting back to once or twice a month? Could you live with accompanying him every other visit? Every third?
Is he willing not only to see Mom mostly solo, but also to stick up for you under the inevitable pressure he gets from his mom for your absence? Are you ready to incur and endure her wrath, smiling?
As you may have deduced, this is less an in-law problem than a potential marital problem.
You two agree, you’ll get through this; you don’t, you won’t – not unless you’re cool with lifelong excuses (her life, not yours).
Husband deserves break
Dear Carolyn: My husband passed information about me to his mother that I told him in confidence. It was concerning my uncomfortable feelings toward his brother, whose choice to parade his relationship with a married woman was making me dread those visits.
I really didn’t think it was necessary for my husband to share something his mother didn’t need or care to know, especially since it certainly wasn’t going to help the situation. In the end, it didn’t change anything except turn a privately awkward situation into a publicly awkward one.
My husband knows I’m upset and apologized, but the damage has been done. Any suggestions for where we can go from here?
– St. Paul, Minn.
A: To Forgive-Him-Because-He’s-Human-and-You-Love-Him-Land?
Unless his breaking confidences is a recurring problem, or unless he ratted you out to his mother in a deliberate effort to sow discord – which would negate the apology and require one serious conversation – then what you described isn’t all that terrible.
In fact, it isn’t even that hard to understand. Your husband is in a lousy spot, caught between spouse and sibling. In negotiating such difficult relationships – explaining why X was strained, Y stayed home, why Z wasn’t a good idea, etc. – it’s fairly common for the wrong thing to slip out.
Assuming the apology was sincere, I’d suggest that from here you proceed to sympathy for his awkwardness, not just your own, and cut the guy a break.