Hello Captain Awkward,
I’ve been reading your blog for the past while but now I feel like I have a question to ask.
My fiance’s family is fairly close on his mother’s side. His mom remarried a few years ago and through the process of it all, Fiance has three step sisters to add to his two younger sisters and his younger brother. Big family.
Through the course of my degree, I had to move from city A to city B, which happens to be about three hours away from where the rest of his family is situated in city C. City A was located in between B and C, and at that time, going to visit wasn’t so bad time wise and planning wise. But now that we are in City B it is much harder to travel to City C to visit, especially when taking the 6 hour round trip into account as well as our lives becoming socially more demanding as our circle of friends has grown. Despite this difficulty, we make an attempt to travel up to visit every 2 or 3 months to visit for a weekend at a time and we have made a point to travel up for almost every holiday that is hosted in City C.
So I come to my problem. While we make the effort to travel up to visit fairly regularly at this point, only Fiance’s mother and stepfather have made a point of coming down to visit us in our home. While we don’t have a ton of space, we’ve made an effort to have a spare bed for visitors and we are always constantly reminding people that they are more than welcome to stay at our place if they should be in the area.
Furthermore, when we do travel to City C, we make a point of letting everyone know we are coming, but unless it is a holiday, it seems like no one makes a point to see us even when we are in their city. This wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t for the fact that eventually someone we didn’t connect with makes a point of pointing out that we didn’t visit THEM individually and they miss us and to please let them know when we’re back in town.
After two years of dealing with this, I’m starting to get frustrated.
It is a time and financial stress for us to make the trip (We’re both dealing with student loans), and while I understand everyone in City C has their own lives and finances and time demands, it feels like we’re the only party willing to sacrifice our time for the relationships. When we are unable to make time for everyone, I feel guilty, but at the same time I’m beginning to resent them because I feel like they’re not willing to make time for us.
This frustration with Fiance’s one side of the family is compounded by the fact that his father hasn’t made the time to visit us either. When he makes a trip to our city, he tends to choose a meet-up location that is out of our way (on the other side of the city if we are lucky and all the way to City A, for the most part) despite the fact that we have more than enough room for people to sit, visit and drink a coffee. And Fiance’s father tends to be more vocal about us not making time to see him, despite the fact that he is more financially sound than us, and with more free time on his hands. I know this situation especially makes my Fiance feel guilty because of his close relationship with his dad, but once more I feel frustrated and resentful because we are the ones putting in the majority of the effort and it feels manipulative to make us travel all the distance while not putting some effort back in.
I realize its immature to score keep these kinds of family moments, and I try to make an effort to give everyone reasonable doubt, but at this point is has been two years with us constantly giving our time and energy. Is there some way I can rationally explain this to our family members, with out making it sound like I’m keeping score or whining about the situation? And what is a reasonable expectation for this kind of situation? Is it even reasonable to expect anyone to come and visit us?
Thanks for your insights,
Trying to go the Distance
Dear Trying to go the Distance:
I do have a suggested solution to your problem. It will involve some negotiation and readjustment, and maybe some whining and guilt-tripping by your partner’s family, but all of that is survivable in the short-term and will put you in a much less stressed-out place over the long-term.
First, let’s talk about the whole: “We never see you!” guilt trip. While we’re on the subject, here is how NOT to start a conversation with someone who is calling or visiting you.
“Hi Mom! Hi Dad!”
“Wow, we haven’t seen/heard from you in a while. We were starting to wonder if you were dead! Why don’t you call us/visit more often?”
Everyone needs to stop doing that shit. If you don’t get to see your family all that often, why waste the time you do have and set everyone’s teeth on edge by guilting them about how you wish you got to see them more? Enjoy the time you’re seeing or talking to them now. First, it’s just annoying, especially when you have made the effort to call or travel and they have not. Second, guilt is not the motivator people think it is.
I know “We never see you!” or “We never hear from you!” is a pretty automatic thing to say and it’s meant to express “We miss you and love you!“, but if you’re not actually beginning a detailed conversation about how/when to make that happen and what your part of that will be, I suggest a blanket replacement with “I’m so glad to see you! We missed you! I’m really glad you’re here!” and focus as much as possible on the now. Your point will come across.
So, Letter Writer, here is what I suggest you do.
Part One: Make the plan. Sit down with your fiance and make a travel budget that is about both money and time. Four to six weekend visits + various holiday celebrations adds up to a lot of logistical planning and money, so do a full accounting of how much you spend on trips in a year. You’ll want that number before you make any decisions.
Script: “I love seeing your family, but I am feeling stressed out both about time and money. Can we sit down and figure out a budget for how we can see them but also not overextend ourselves?”
Now figure out how many times you actually want to visit and how much money you want to spend. It helps to be as specific is possible. Mark out those dates on the calendar and maybe also mark down the trip budget amount so it’s on your radar. And make an agreement between the two of you: Those are the trips. Unless there is a funeral, a wedding, or another emergency, those are the set times you are both going to City C over the next year, and you will jointly refuse all other requests.
It will be interesting to see if you get into a “How can you talk about money when this is about family and love?” discussion.
Two points you can make about that:
- While it may seem unromantic, putting the effort into budgeting, planning, and logistics is how you get to have quality time with the people you love. Don’t marry anyone who doesn’t value your skills around that, seriously.
- Would it be cheaper and less stressful but allow him more family time if he went solo for some of the trips?
Part Two: Communicate. It’s his family, so he should be the one to tell them when you’re planning to come. “We did some planning ahead for next year, and these are the dates we’ll be in town.” He can respond to any additional pressure or requests with “We’d love to see you! We’ll be in town on (dates) so let’s make a plan for then, or as always, you’re free to come stay with us anytime – just give us a week or two notice so we can be ready for you, or, even better, why don’t we nail down a time while I’m here!”
It’s his family, so he can also take on making individual plans with people he wants to see. “We’ll be in town next month on these dates. Are you free to have breakfast with us on Saturday? We didn’t get to hang out with you last time, let us know!”
People are bad at “We should totally get together sometime!” and good at “We should totally do x specific thing at y specific time/place“, and it sounds like his family is no exception, so do a little more work and nail something down. Remember that the perfect time, date, and place that works for everyone doesn’t exist, so don’t get sucked into the “Whatever’s good for you!” “No, whatever’s good for you!” trap. Pick something that works for you guys and invite them to join you or not as they can.
He doesn’t have to tell them about your decision-making process or justify it in any way if he doesn’t want to, and I would let them be the ones to notice that you have planned fewer visits and bring it up rather than acting as if there is anything to apologize for. If it does come up, he can say “We did our budget for next year and this just seemed to make the most sense to both of us.” He shouldn’t use you as an excuse or make you the bad guy, but since it sounds like you are in graduate school, go ahead and use school. “We got a little overextended last year, so while LW is in school this just made more sense.”
Part Three: Let the Guilt Go.
I think that you would benefit from some realignment of expectations and giving yourself permission not to worry about certain things.
If people really wanted to visit you, they would. All you can do is invite them and make it clear that the invitation is sincere. They have to do the rest. So if they don’t, give yourself permission to never, ever, ever worry about it, and if they guilt you about not visiting more, smile and say something innocuous and let the moment pass. Inside your head you know that they probably won’t visit. Let it be a pleasant surprise if and when they do. Have a great time with fiance’s mom and stepdad when they do come. Know that fiance’s dad is a slippery bastard who makes things difficult when he visits, and let your fiance handle it however he wants to.
The fact that people are not making plans with you guys when you do visit tells me that they are also busy and don’t feel like dropping everything in their lives just because you are in town. So you visiting less often might be a good thing for these relationships. Right now they assume you will be there again in a month or two, so it’s no big deal if they miss you. If you come less you will be more of a priority when you so visit. I think you can solve some of this by making more specific plans with them, and you can solve the rest of it with “Sorry! Maybe next time!” and then not worrying about it.
Good experiment when you need to renegotiate a relationship: If you’re making effort, and the other people aren’t making effort, and you’re getting sick of making the effort, and you’ve taken the step of telling them how you feel and asking them to make some effort, stop making the effort and see what happens.
You’re perceptive to realize that keeping score is stressing you out and making you angry. This is stressful stuff, because it is about your fiance negotiating an adult relationship with his family and figuring out how to align their expectations for how things have worked in the past with what he wants from the future. It’s also about the two of you negotiating how you handle his family, how you decide to spend your time, money, holidays, etc.
Finally, let me shake a little dash of feminism on this stew for you:
His family is his to manage. It’s his job to remember birthdays and anniversaries, send cards and presents, take the lead on planning things and interacting with them, act as a buffer when necessary, and manage his own emotions and connections with them. That is not a job you automatically get issued because you are a lady. You don’t say anything about your own folks, and you obviously love his family and want a close relationship and will naturally work with him on some of this. But it’s okay for you to say “I want to go 4x/year, max, and they can visit us the rest of the time if they want” and let him figure out how to make everyone happy. Making you happy has to be a part of that equation.