#833: When your spouse won’t set boundaries with your in-laws.

Dear Captain,

I am married to a wonderful, funny, smart man. We have an amazing two-year-old and I just found out that I am expecting again. Life is good, except that his normally-long-distance family is suddenly in the area (an hour’s drive away) and thus all the issues about my dislike of them that we have managed to gloss over are coming up in a big way. (The stuff I found in the archives about in-laws involved a partner’s family being just as toxic for him/her as for the LW, and this isn’t so much our case.)

His family history is too long and sordid to get into, but it involves active addiction, physical and sexual abuse, and my husband being informed at nine years of age that he was now responsible for everyone else, including not just his siblings but his mother. (She was the one informing him of this.) This resulted in an incredibly responsible and patient man, but one unable to see his siblings and mother as anything but helpless victims who need him, when in fact there is major manipulation going on in order for them to maintain the hapless lifestyles to which they are accustomed.

It is not reassuring to my husband that I love him more for the disaster zone from which he emerged (I haven’t used those words to him); he wants me to love his family. And he keeps comparing them to my family, and asking how I would feel if he didn’t love my family. When: well, if this were a Hollywood rom-com, my family would be the uptight prissy overeducated East Coasters, and his would be the lovable “honest folks” who teach my family to open up. But in real life, my overeducated parents and brothers are the kindest, funniest, most liberal people you can possibly imagine, and his family drove me to tears on my wedding day with their social boorishness and constant pressuring of me to drink (I am a recovering alcoholic AND was visibly pregnant). So when my husband says, after a nightmare afternoon with his brother during which said brother indulged in belching, farting, cursing, and homophobia in front of the toddler, and ignored social cues to the extent that he was there three hours longer than either of us wanted him there, “How would you feel if I didn’t like having [your brother] here?” I want to scream that I am just too tired to keep up the pretense that All Brothers Are Created Equal anymore.

And in a few weeks his mother will be here, for seven months’ stay. (Not actually in our house: small mercies.) She will be here my entire pregnancy, because that’s not already enough of a stressful or emotional time. And she’ll want to see her granddaughter, so I imagine she and the aforementioned brother will be at our house nearly every weekend. In addition to the broken record she plays about her victimhood (divorced almost thirty years but How He Ruined Her Life comes up in every conversation), she is a rabid conspiracy theorist, and bases her right to judge how her son’s kid is being raised on a lot of debunked stuff. Like, anti-vaxxer stuff: that level.

I try really, really hard to be polite, to guests and in-laws especially. But “polite” is going to be the best I can do, if the latest visit from his brother is any indication. Pregnant, working full-time, and parenting a toddler, I do not have one-tenth of the social acting energy I would need to pull off a “Yay! You’re here again!” And pulling that off is what my husband wants from me, despite how he’s seen my wickedly-introverted self get completely drained by a few hours with people whom I genuinely adore, and his having watched one pregnancy wipe me out already. He wants me to be delighted that these people are descending on us every weekend.

Is there any way I can talk to him about this without making him feel I want him to choose between his family and me? How can I convince him that it has to be enough, because it is all I have, for them to be fed and given places to sit down and allowed to chat at the toddler (at least until they say something offensive)? And is there any way – there may not be – for me to convince him to stop equating a visit from Racist Uncle Stoner with one from my thoughtful, compassionate, brilliant brothers? I know the family comparisons make him extra-defensive, but he’s the one who brings them out. I don’t, for exactly that reason.

There may be no possible answers to this, but there is no possible answer to “just force yourself to love these people”, either!

Like Chekhov But With More Theories About Government Plots

Dear Like Chekhov,

We can’t undo a lifetime of your husband’s relationship with his family in a blog post, so, I want to start by saying: There is probably no script where you set boundaries about his family that will necessarily make him see things your way, where everything is resolved pleasantly without further friction.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries with him about their visits. The truthful answer to his question: “How would you feel if I didn’t love your family?” is “Dude, I would be really sad, but I’d also try to work with you about what kind of visiting schedule you could handle, and as long as you were polite to them when we did see each other, I wouldn’t pressure you to feel any kind of way about them. Not everyone is meant to be best friends!


When his mother arrives, could you handle something like:

  • 1 visit per month from Grandma & brother at your house where you act as pleasant joint host. You will break out the good dishes and smile. You will try not to say “You can’t possibly be serious.
  • Husband can take your daughter to see Grandma and on outings with Grandma as many times as he wants.
  • Husband, please go have fun hanging out with your brother! The operative word here is “Go!”  When Brother overstays his welcome, kick him out!Brother, good to see you today! We’re kicking you out, though – got a million things to do. See you soon!Or, consider putting him to work on unpleasant chores.So glad you’re here. It’s gutter-cleaning day! Thanks a million for helping!He’ll either bail or you’ll get your gutters cleaned.


I suggest these arrangements for illustration purposes, what’s more important is that you decide what you can live with and then ask for it.

There is stuff that your husband values about always having an open door to family and that’s real, primal stuff. There is also stuff you need about sufficient down-time and not having to play hostess to people you dislike all the time so that he can perform filial piety, and that is also real, primal stuff. I know you want to avoid a situation where he feels like he has to “choose between you and his family” but this is that situation! That is what you need him to do, and you need him to choose you and the family you have together. Choosing you in this instance doesn’t mean not ever seeing his family, but it does mean not shoving them down your throat and then berating you when you don’t love that.

This honestly might be a good time to bring in a couples’ counselor to referee. Whether you involve one or not, I suggest stating every request about his family strictly in terms of your needs.

  • Start with visits from Brother, since he’s here. “If you want to see Brother this weekend, can y’all go out? I am not up to hosting anyone tomorrow.
  • Husband, I need time to myself today. Why don’t you take Toddler to see Grandma instead of having her come here?
  • I have about one family dinner or outing in me per month right now. If you want to hang with your family more than that, enjoy! But I can’t commit to more than that.
  • You’re a working mom, so isn’t it just so helpful that your husband’s family is here to help? So helpful!”Hi Mother In Law, hi Brother, good to see you. Have fun with Husband and Toddler – I have some errands* to run. Gotta go!”
  • You’re pregnant, so you need naps. So many naps**. “Sorry to bail right when the fun starts, but if I don’t close my eyes right now I’m gonna pass out!
  • It’s risky, but sometimes invoking your doctor can help. “Doctor says I’m supposed to take it easy right now!” “Doctor suggested that stress is bad for me right now.” “Doctor recommends not taking on additional stressors right now.” Your husband is going to be horribly hurt that his family are considered “stressors” as in, “But they’re faaaaaaaaamily! That’s not the same as something stressful” and that’s maybe where the couples’ counselor or doctor comes in because the truth is they ARE stressful… to you… and no amount of his wanting it to be different makes it so.

Bailing on togetherness time won’t be without friction or consequence. Your mother-in-law is definitely gonna pick up on it if you are not around 100% of the time faking happiness to see her and her wack ideas, and she is 100% gonna make remarks about it to her son, who is 100% gonna try to persuade you to get with their family program of “Boundaries Are Mean.”

Scripts for when that happens:

  • I want you to have a wonderful relationship with your family, but I am limited in how much I can or want to play host to anyone, especially right now. I appreciate you being a buffer.
  • Our house does not have to be In-Laws central every weekend! I literally cannot handle that, and if you want to see your family that often I need you to find another way to make it happen!
  • I don’t think the conversation about whether I love your folks ‘enough’ is fair or productive. If I’m going to love them like you do, that will have to develop in its own time. I can tell you that being forced to host them for hours every weekend is not improving my affections!!!” (BTW your “I’m done pretending that all brothers are created equal!” script is good.)
  • I’m okay being the bad guy here. Tell them you want them to come but I’m just not up to it today! Tell them that you forgot that we already had plans! Tell them whatever, but I cannot do this every weekend.

Letter Writer, this all sucks, and I don’t think it’s gonna be easy, but I don’t think you’re being unreasonable to want to take care of yourself and limit stress. Turns out that limiting exposure to people you know stress you out is a very effective way to limit stress.

Like many abused kids, your husband never got to learn the life skill where other people can have all the feelings they want about something that he needs to do to take care of himself, and he can make the best choice for himself even if it pisses them off and annoys them. That’s very unfair and sad, but it’s not fair for him to try to impose that pattern onto you. Now is definitely the time for you to exercise that skill, as in, “I can’t handle having your family here every weekend even if you have different feelings about that.” There is no prize for being the world’s most accommodating person, and the prospect of your husband (or his mom or brother, by proxy) having sad feelings doesn’t obligate you to play eternal gracious hostess! It is okay to have conflict sometimes and to risk pissing people off!

*”Errands” could be “going to the movies” or “seeing friends.”

**”Naps” could involve headphones, and reading.


268 thoughts on “#833: When your spouse won’t set boundaries with your in-laws.

  1. Nothing but sympathy from me LW. We live near my husband’s family and they are always, always, always doing somekind of get together or another. There’s something every weekend. I finally had to say “ENOUGH” and tell my husband that we need to pick and choose the things that we are going to do with them, because I literally could not handle all of it. AND I’m an extrovert AND I love his family. It was just all too much. It’s hard to strike that balance with a willing partner, much less a partner that doesn’t “get it.”

    Luck, sympathy and jedi hugs LW.

    1. I would say we are married into the same family, but my husband is the only one in his generation who is married so far. There’s always at least one thing every weekend (Sunday dinner) and usually more (tickets to a show, a last minute invitation to brunch, sledding at the good hill, etc.) I’m an extrovert and my husband’s family is amazing, but family is a LOT of people (aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, a whole shebang). It got a lot better when I realized everything wasn’t a command performance. So I skip when I want and everyone accepts “liz is tired from a tough work week” or “liz is in the middle of a really good book and just couldn’t put it down”. Husband goes and takes toddler and all is well. Of course that’s part of why they’re amazing, they understand that.

      FWIW, the toddler can be a really good excuse to get people out. I’m MEAN about bedtimes/naptimes/bath time. We get visitors who stop by in the evenings and I say – “hey it’s time for the little to go to bed/nap/bath and it’s too exciting if she knows that her uncle Fergus is still here so we will say BYE BYE now. Wave bye bye to uncle Fergus”. Even if that doesn’t send Fergus on his way, it is amazing how long you can hide out doing a “bedtime” routine or transition it to your own nap. Oops! Fell asleep putting baby down.

      But the best solution is sending your husband out of your house to spend time with them. Parks, libraries, etc.

    2. My Dad’s family is like this and when wrangling three small kids my Mother eventually had to do the same thing. The only problem for her was the push back of “But you don’t care if you don’t drop everything to visit this obscure cousin! Preform family!” and my Mother stuck with “No our plans are to go apple picking but maybe we’ll swing by later!” and that first time she did. We brought apples. My Grandmother, one of the sweetest women I’ve ever known, was PISSED and there was passive aggressiveness all around.

      My Mother stuck with her “Nope we have plans but maybe if the kids aren’t too tired” and if she was too tired sending us with Dad. We would also go for Not Events just, pop in to say hi because we were near by when we were just out and about with Dad. There were growing pains but eventually it stuck and was the new norm. My Mom rarely played host, partially because my grandparents loved to, but mostly because she just didn’t want to. She’d help cook/set the table/what ever at their place, but having the power to up and leave instead of having to chase people out of your house can be helpful. So, maybe instead of having everyone over for brunch, say that with the kid(s) it would be SO MUCH EASIER for y’all if you could do it at their place more, and promise to bring those awesome cinnamon rolls you make!

      For all of you dealing with this since apparently it’s a more common problem than I realized, good luck.

    3. Oh heavens yes. My husband’s HUGE family is togetherallthetimeforeverandever. He has 5 siblings and all of them live within 1/4 mile of each other with their families (we are the weirdos living half an hour away) and they all see each other almost every day. It’s . . . overwhelming. And I too love his family! But I am an introvert, I have other friends, I have hobbies, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE doing things alone. And they are totally mystified by this so that they holler at my husband when they see me out shopping by myself because how dare he not come with me or call them to come with me?? Oye. Though call me in an emergency and I am there in a heartbeat. I just won’t be there for every get-together and still remain a functioning human being.

      So much sympathy LW. Boundaries aren’t selfish. Boundaries aren’t mean. Boundaries are necessary. Do what you need to do take care of you and your littles.

  2. I would like to point out that even if his family was the most wonderful, awesomest family in the world, if they were *constantly* around, and constantly didn’t take hints, and constantly overstayed their welcome, that would still get pretty annoying and overbearing pretty effing quickly. I get along great with my family and they have none of the issues of a level of seriousness of LW’s in-laws (that’s not to say *no issues*), but after a long weekend with them, I’m just about jumping out of my skin because I’m so ready to get back home to my peace and quiet and cat.

    1. (all this is to say, it is perfectly normal and rational and not selfish to want your house to yourself, or your family unit, even before any dysfunction enters the picture).

    2. No kidding! I love my in laws. I love my family. But if any of them suddenly lived down the street and insisted on a visit every weekend, I’d be in hell. I can’t spend that much time with ANYONE!

    3. Agreed. I’m autistic and an introvert, and I need my space. It’s easy to push me into overload, and it’s hard to find new ways to say “Please to be shutting up and leaving now, thank you.”

      1. My dad likes to say “Here’s your hat and your coat, what a shame you have to rush off”. I also suspect he has cultivated a grumpy and curmudgeonly reputation so he can just tell people to leave. I need to get him to teach me how to pull it off the way he does without (apparently) offending any friends or family.

        1. I have a friend that will just abruptly say “Okay I’m kicking you out now!” plain as that. I love it and have never been offended by it. I haven’t heard it in awhile though because I’ve learned that visits should be about 2 hours and never more than 3 for her. I think she finds it relieving that she doesn’t have to say it to me anymore.

          1. If people are visiting in the evening, my mom will just go up to bed when she’s done with the visit, or even change into PJs if she’s close with the people visiting. She’s done this forever, and it makes for a good tag-team method with my dad. “Well, looks like my wife is done for tonight.” They make a joke out of it and everyone goes home. It helps that it’s matter-of-fact and all about my parents instead of the guests. Not you need to leave, but we need you to leave so we can ____. OK bye!

          2. I do that with some friends who appreciate it and have trouble interpreting social cues. One of my friends loves it if I just say, “Friend, GTFO please. It’s time to go.” He only lives down the road so it’s cool 🙂

          3. I’ve had that, and it works, but I prefer the, “Okay, we’ve got five more minutes before I kick you out.” That way I can have time to adjust mentally, bring up anything else I was wanting to say, etc. (Of course, this only works if you respect the 5 minute rule, which thankfully is the norm in my friend group.)

          4. Late hub and I tried the “we’re going to bed now bye” move to get people out of our house once, and we heard a noise later, husband went out, and two of our guests had come back in and were having sex on our living room floor.

            So…that’s actually a thing that can happen.

    4. I hope that Chekhov’s husband can realize that loving a partner’s family is an amazing bonus, not a requirement for coupled, romantic love. We don’t demand family profiles when we’re falling in love; it’s hard enough to find a single person to give ourselves to. If we come to adore our partner’s family, that should be considered a great gift, not a requirement. Respect and tolerance should be the baseline expectation for a family that exhibits ‘normal’ levels of mental health.
      I suspect that her husband has a hard time dealing with her reaction to his family because he feels that it reflects upon his efforts to keep that family together. I doubt that we can imagine the amount of work and emotional effort he has put into maintaining that family. I can imagine that if that had been me, and this was the family that my 9-year-old self had been entrusted to raise, I would be extra-sensitive to any criticism of them. I wouldn’t see them as separate from me, because they reflect my love and my best efforts.
      If anything I’ve said makes sense, I think Chekhov’s husband could benefit from counselling to help him create separation between his concepts of self and family. I wish you the very best.

  3. LW, I think your husband is – quite unknowingly – being very unreasonable if he wants you to love his family, or to have any other emotion you aren’t actually having, about any situation or topic. Because, you can’t talk people into or out of having emotions. Emotions just happen, be they convenient or no; they just *are*. You literally cannot do this thing for him – not that I’m suggesting you should do all the hosting and hanging out with them because it’s within the realms of possibility, but loving them is just not a thing you can choose to do.

    1. Oh gawd, people wanting you have certain feelings about things and then being UPSET that you do not have those exact feelings are THE WORST.

      1. It took me a very, very long time to work out that a certain person in my life was responding to my love of various things – especially things I knew more about than he did – from a place of insecurity. “But if you don’t like Thing I Like, maybe Thing is not actually good! No, it’s you. You must be wrong.”

        1. That, and not recognizing that people respond to the same things in totally different ways and consensus is not obligatory for a healthy relationship. (If anything, it’s anathema.)

      2. My family tried to tell me to not feel anxiety about starting university, even though I had literally just said, “if I could logic myself out of anxiety, I would have done it years ago.” Then they tried to tell me they weren’t minimising my experiences -.-

    2. Preach! Now if only my brother-in-law understood that, my sister’s lifewould be less stressful.

    3. LW, I agree completely with your aggravation, and I also want to say that unfortunately, what Groovy Biscuit says here is also counter-true about Uncle Stoner. I wish wish wish that we chose who we loved – especially in relationships established when we were children – based on the beloved’s sound personal virtues! I wish we did!

      But as anyone from a Rough Background can tell you, we super, super don’t. No one really does. As children, we just love who we love. We choose our boundaries after that as best we can. I know you’re seeing this in realtime and probably don’t need to hear it from me, but I find that I want to yell WHY DO YOU LOVE THEM THEY ARE AWFUL a lot, because I really want love to be something that is a good barometer for whether or not people are good for you, and even between adults it. Often isn’t.

  4. If my spouse called her siblings “thoughtful, compassionate and brilliant” and used insult words to describe mine, I’d be defensive, too. You have a point, but your spouse might have one, too.

    1. Right – acknowledging that it might not always be easy to host LW’s family is a good way to show compromise. “Look, if my brother was visiting every weekend and you needed a break, how could we work that out?”
      I love my bf’s family but if he insisted they were amazing and perfect, I’d barf.

      1. Before we get too far down this road, does the LW say that stuff to husband, or is she saying that to us by way of comparison? I get the feeling she is holding back making such comparisons to husband b/c she knows he can’t hear anything against his family.

        …also, the part where his family abused him?…

        I have one great sibling and one I wouldn’t inflict on anyone (including myself) for any length of time. My partner’s sisters are great. If I wanted younger brother (jerkbro) to visit, I wouldn’t try “But I love YOUR sisters” as my tactic. I’d go with “Please do this giant favor for me, I will minimize annoyance & hassle for you.”

        1. I guess my thinking is, if he can’t hear anything against his family, the LW could approach the situation as if they were normal and she just wanted more boundaries. And the way to do that could be to imagine if her husband wanted more boundaries with her normal family – how would she compromise then? Coming at it from that approach, even if LW doesn’t say it outright, could be one way to manage her husband’s defensiveness, that’s all.

          1. As a thought experiment, “How would I receive these boundaries if my husband proposed them with my family?” might be helpful. I guess you didn’t mean that the LW should use the question rhetorically, but since I think that’s what some of us got from your initial comment I have thoughts.

            My experience with saying things like, “How would you feel if my brother was over every weekend?” is that it lets the other person define acceptable boundaries when what’s important is communicating your own boundaries. Especially if the husband is already defensive, LW is more likely to get “I would never ask you to compromise time with your family!” than empathy. If what’s important for LW is setting boundaries that work for her, asking husband what boundaries he’d set with her family is at best a derail and at worst actually counterproductive.

            I’ve been in situations where, “I would do [thing] for you,” has been used as a guilt trip to get me to do something I wasn’t keen on or to feel bad about a thing I didn’t do. In many of those cases the other party was never in danger of me asking them to do the thing. After all, why would I ask someone to do something I wasn’t keen on doing myself! LW could easily put herself in a position where husband insists that he wouldn’t ask her family to maintain boundaries, so her boundaries are unfair. Conversely husband might feel like LW is saying, “I’d let you set whatever boundaries you wanted with my family’s visits, so you should respect my boundaries,” when he isn’t interested in setting boundaries with her family in the first place.

            Husband also has much different feels about family, in-laws and LW’s family specifically than LW does in general and about his family specifically. They have different jobs, stress levels and social energy. Heck LW is pregnant! At first blush, “Look, if my brother was visiting every weekend and you needed a break, how could we work that out?” seems like a good approach. The time frames are the same. Both people are brothers, but the feelings are not the same at all. Nor is the situation of LW’s brother visiting every weekend a pressing issue. Husband’s family’s visits are. I’m sure you’ve encountered people who are much more generous about hypotheticals, esp hypotheticals they think are unlikely, than they’re likely to be in real life. Heck, lots of times people are generous that way without malice or being consciously deceitful.

            When you have specific needs, asking your partner what they’d do if the situation were reversed on them in the hopes that their answer will align with your needs is a longer shot than it looks like at first glance. When their answer isn’t what you needed to make your point you’re stuck in the position of having to dismiss your partner’s answer or walk the conversation back to what you actually wanted. It’s super easy to end up with a contorted, unclear conversation or even to end up making the other person feel like they’re being emotionally blackmailed.

            TL;DR Asking leading, rhetorical questions on the assumption that you’ll get an answer that justifies the boundaries you want to set is a bad bet.

          2. @TheCardboardKid

            “When their answer isn’t what you needed to make your point you’re stuck in the position of having to dismiss your partner’s answer or walk the conversation back to what you actually wanted”

            Yes yes, a thousand times yes.

            Trying to compare situations by asking “how would you feel if my [only sort of similar but mostly different] situation was happening to you?” is nearly always an Apples vs. Oranges prospect. How would LW’s husband feel if LW’s polite, charming, boundary-aware brother was over all the time? Maybe pretty good, since LW’s brother is a different person with different behaviors.

            I’ve had emotionally-opposite conversations with my husband about siblings. He has a troubled little brother who we tried to help out and eventually had to kick out of our home to essentially live in the streets. I was wracked with guilt, and kept saying things like “But what if this was My Sister? Wouldn’t we have let her stay longer, and tried harder to help her?” and my dear, dear husband would always look at me like I had three heads. My sister has been self-sufficient for nearly a decade, is not abusive, respects boundaries, does not steal from us, and likely wouldn’t take any help for granted. The kind of help we would offer her if she for some reason found herself in trouble would by definition be different than the help we were able to give his brother.

            These “put yourself in my shoes” hypotheticals are only a good tool in as far as you are really, truly able to compare shoes. LW is wearing worn out sneakers three sizes too small and would be asking her husband to picture himself in roller skates. They’re both things that go on your feet, but they aren’t the same at all.

        2. I guess I am just hearing a narrative of “you emerged from a pile of garbage, but are nevertheless great and worthy of being joined to my family of brilliant eminences, to the extent none of the swamp water sticks to you”. I know some people feel exactly that way about their own families (sordid! swampy! glad to shake off the muck!) but we aren’t getting a first-person account of that sort here: we are getting a second-person account. If the spouse is the author of that narrative, and the LW is repeating it in solidarity, that’s one thing; but it’s a very different thing if the LW is using things the spouse has told her about his family as evidence for why everyone everywhere must agree that they are gross and ought to be disavowed (though her family is beloved and totally deservedly so according to all criteria, internal and external). If he feels strongly that for better or for worse his family is a part of him, then this is insulting to him, too. That’s not to say that she can’t set a lot of limits about the presence of people she dislikes in her home. But there is a lot of “all reasonable people would agree that his family is awful, and my family is great, and to the extent that he values his family, it’s only because he has Stockholm Syndrome” in the letter. Maybe! But another way to read it — even granting his family as manipulative — is “my husband used to be theirs to push around and define reality for, and now he’s mine for those purposes!”

          1. Wow, that’s sure a way to read in a bunch of stuff that isn’t there, if you want a reason to play the “both sides must be equally wrong” game.

            Mr. LW is not responding with “But YOUR mom says racist stuff and you expect me to put up with her; why is my brother different?” He’s lashing out with emotional blackmail.

          2. “But another way to read it — even granting his family as manipulative — is “my husband used to be theirs to push around and define reality for, and now he’s mine for those purposes!””

            I–what? How on earth are you getting “I want to boss my boyfriend around and he won’t let me 😦 😦 :(” from this letter? All I am seeing is “These people make me uncomfortable and exhausted. I am pressured into putting up with them way more than I am okay with, and accused of being unfair for having my own feelings. Help me establish boundaries so that Mr. LW can respect that I do not want them around.”

            LW’s siblings could be trashy as hell for all it matters–but this letter is not about them, it is about in-laws who say racist things in front of children, overstay their welcome and *made LW cry on her wedding day because they were pressuring her, a recovering alcoholic and pregnant lady, to drink*. At no point is there reason to play devil’s advocate for “but what if the LW’s siblings are terrible tooooo?” It’s 100% not the issue. Her partner not respecting her feelings and wishes, is.

          3. I think that you are reading in. I didn’t get any of that from her letter. She seems like a nice person who married a dude whose family is kind of awful, and I don’t see that she’s manipulating him or pushing him around–she’s not asking him to cut them off, she’s not telling him they’re garbage, she’s saying she finds them exhausting and inappropriate and she wants them to be elsewhere than in her house 24/7. She’s not even telling him not to bring them round at all, she’s just not wanting them every damn weekend.

            And for context, I come from a family that is basically two garbage fires that united to form a larger, messier garbage fire. So I’m probably biased in the direction of putting your own clothes out and exiting the Dumpster before attempting to extinguish the conflagration behind you.

          4. ‘I guess I am just hearing a narrative of “you emerged from a pile of garbage, but are nevertheless great and worthy of being joined to my family of brilliant eminences, to the extent none of the swamp water sticks to you”. ‘

            ‘ the LW is using things the spouse has told her about his family as evidence for why everyone everywhere must agree that they are gross and ought to be disavowed (though her family is beloved and totally deservedly so according to all criteria, internal and external).’

            I am not seeing this narrative at all. In fact, I don’t see anyplace the LW even suggested that her in-laws “ought to be disavowed.” In fact, the LW is saying that she is willing to welcome them into her home. So that idea seems to be something *you* brought here, since it isn’t in the letter. At all.

            You’re making a lot of suppositions and have a lot of ideas that aren’t in the actual letter. That’s your right, but all we have here is the letter, so it isn’t helpful to project your suspicions onto the LW absent all evidence.

            If the things the LW says about her in-laws are true, she has the right to think that they are shitty people. She has the right to have a good relationship with her own family. She has the right to not want to pretend that having a thoughtful and loving person over is the same as having a rude and bigoted abuser over, because these things are *not* equivalent.

          5. I didn’t get that impression at all. Sure, people are generally willing to make more allowances for people they love than for people who irritate them, but what she’s described about her in-laws is a bunch of pretty objectively awful behavior (pressuring a pregnant, recovering alcoholic to drink, oh my god. that alone.). Either way: she doesn’t particularly like these people, she doesn’t want to play enthusiastic hostlady to them EVERY WEEKEND, and her spouse is responding to that with emotional manipulation.

          6. She specifically says that she DOESN’T say that to him.

            “It is not reassuring to my husband that I love him more for the disaster zone from which he emerged (I haven’t used those words to him)”

            And that HE’S the one that brings up comparisons to her family.

            “I know the family comparisons make him extra-defensive, but he’s the one who brings them out. I don’t, for exactly that reason.”

    2. Yeah, I picked up on this too. But overall it’s pretty irrelevant. LW feels how they feel, and LW needs stress management. Spouse going out with family rather than hosting is still preferable.

    3. Polychrome – I might be misunderstanding where in the letter you’re drawing your point from, but the way I read it was that although the letterwriter FEELS that way about the sibling descrepancies, she takes care NOT to voice them – the husband is the one who voices any differences.

    4. Yes, I picked up on this too. LW, it’s possible that your over educated, brilliant, kind, liberal siblings are your spouse’s over-intellectual, patronizing, bleeding heart siblings in law. I’m not saying they’re like that, I’m just saying that there’s a possibility that he sees your siblings differently than you do.

      In answer to spouse’s “how would you feel if I didn’t want your brother to visit?” I would almost automatically say “I wouldn’t want my own brother to visit every weekend either.”

      I like the captain’s scripts, but I would start from a place of your stated needs independent from any family influence. Assuming 8 weekend days per month, you need 3 for errands/chores, 2 for your own nuclear family bonding, 1-2 for personal recharging by yourself alone with nobody around (ok maybe that’s just me) and that leaves 1-2 for extended family time, assuming that you split that time equally. I’m also assuming that you may not have enough spoons for errands+extended family on the same day from how you talk about your previous pregnancy. Anyway, framing it as basically budgeting your spoons takes away the perceived judgement of his family. Obvs, you will have your own budget, the above is just an example.

      1. That’s a really great idea. Making it clear that you only have so much time in a day/week/month to do the necessary things makes it easier to point out when faaaaaaaammmmmmily time is taking up undue amounts of space. It’s not just that the LW will be unhappy if the in-laws keep coming over, it’s that the groceries won’t get purchased, the house won’t get clean, the toddler can’t go to music class, etc. etc.

      2. Oh, mapping the time is an excellent idea!
        Because OF COURSE the LW has been sitting around on the couch eating bon-bons during the time she -should- have been hosting a large family party. Again.

      3. “I’m just saying that there’s a possibility that he sees your siblings differently than you do.”

        Since her siblings aren’t the ones being emotionally abusive and trying to damage her health, it really doesn’t matter how he sees them. The LW is not the one insisting that her husband must love her family and enthusiastically entertain them at all times.

        Regardless of how anyone feels about their in-laws, *actions* are pretty quantifiable.

      4. Yeeeees. Because he is not hearing her needs, he is hearing her feelings about his family. Not out of bad faith, I’d guess, but out of sensitivity–my goodness, he has a family that’s like that, *he knows it*, but admitting it to himself would be disloyal and horrible etc etc, so knowing that his beloved wife sees his family being like that sends his shoulders up around his ears. And it doesn’t take much.

        All this discussion about what the LW is not saying just KEEPS reminding me of a fight I had with my husband during a week-long visit with his parents… in which I did NOT say “Your parents’ life is boring and fake,” and he heard it anyway. Because on one level he definitely thought that himself–anyone comparing their lifestyles would know he thinks that–but it really needled him to hear me thinking it, me making mental comparisons to my own parents, me counting the days till I could get out of their house. That’s what I’m trying to say–when someone’s feeling that way, they are hypersensitive, and if they’re your SO who’s with you pretty much day and night, they *can* in a sense hear you think. So unfortunately it doesn’t quite matter what the LW does not say.

        BUT to frame it in terms of what she needs, period, may break him out of the cycle. It may get him hearing what she needs, and then get him looking at the family visits in terms of what she needs, instead of ONLY “she hates my family.”

    5. The LW specifically said at the end of the letter that family comparisons made her husband super defensive, so she didn’t bring them up, but he did. I think you raise a very valid point but we have to take the LW’s word that that is the case – her husband isn’t the one who wrote in, and as far as we know (or until we hear from her husband, I guess) her in-laws didn’t make him cry at his wedding and they don’t use slurs in front of his child.

    6. In addition to what the Captain already answered: He is bringing up the comparisons between their families. As far as I read the letter, LW is trying to handle this as kindly and gracefully as possible when talking to husband.

    7. I was also a bit confused by the insistence on how great LW’s family are, just because … it’s not relevant? It actually doesn’t matter how objectively super-awesome your family are: it would still be totally reasonable for your husband to find them overwhelming, annoying, irritating, boorish, etc. My family are pretty awesome, and mostly my partner likes them, but I can still see when she’s reaching her limits of loud shouty brother-in-laws.

      I just bring this up because it sounds to me like you might be fighting the wrong battle: you are creating a relationship between “how much of your family I can stand” and “how objectively awful your family is”, when actually, the first doesn’t have to have any relationship to the latter. (I mean, if his family is abusive, then clearly it does, but since he doesn’t regard them as abusive and you don’t seem willing to push that one, I’m kind of regarding it as off-the-table.) I think if you want to continue to support his choice to have a relationship with them, you need to separate the categories of “how much I like your family” and “how much time I am willing to have them in our space”.

      Though, also: Is there any way I can talk to him about this without making him feel I want him to choose between his family and me? – gotta say, I think that when you create a family of your own, “choose the family you have chosen to have over your family of origin” is 100% a legitimate request. I would not be with someone (and certainly wouldn’t have children with someone) who didn’t prioritise my needs over those of their family of origin. That doesn’t mean I would demand my partner cut off contact with their family, but it certainly means that my boundaries and right to a safe home and a safe and unstressful pregnancy take precedence.

      1. The latter bit is exactly what I wanted to say. Choosing the spouse-family over the parent-family is kind of what marriage is for. Not to say that parent-family can’t also be super important and valuable, but why get married at all if you are not going to make spouse and kid the priority.

        I’m not sure the LW should use that as a discussion point necessarily, might be best to save for a couple counseling session if LW goes that route, but take it to heart to bolster confidence on the “no actually I am allowed to set boundaries about time with husband’s family” front.

      2. A fair point, but I got the feeling she was bringing it up because her husband is the one who is comparing them? Like, it sounds like she can handle more time with her family than his because they don’t do stuff like try to bully a recovering alcoholic into drinking to the point of tears on her wedding day (I think we can all agree that’s pretty fucking egregious), but her husband isn’t seeing it this way – it sounds like he’s doing the, well, YOUR family came twice last month, therefore MY family should be able to come twice because IT ALL HAS TO BE EQUAL dance with her.

        His family could be the most awesome people in the world and she still might not like them or want to see them more than once a month, so I think you’re right, I wouldn’t even bother getting into the whys and wherefores of why she doesn’t want more time with them. I honestly have no idea how to handle it if he’s like, well, you see YOUR family more often because I’ve never had to deal with a situation like this. It does not, however, sound like the LW is demanding that her husband feel a certain way about her family the way he is about his.

      3. I’m in a semi-similar position to LW as far as our respective families. His family aren’t racists and our families have similar education levels and politics, but his family puts a LOT more demands on our time than my family does, his brother refuses to see his therapist regularly or stay on his meds and sometimes behaves accordingly, and his mother is extremely manipulative, with the penalty for not going along with her manipulation being that she screams at my husband in ways that I’d just never heard anyone treated on a regular basis before being with him.

        I’m aware that my husband still doesn’t feel a super-intense connection to my parents, and I don’t totally get it, but I also don’t ask him to lovelovelove them in the way that he’s made clear he hopes I can learn to do with his mother. Which I can’t, because I listen to her verbally abusing someone I love on the regular, because she makes massive demands of my time and energy at the worst possible times (like the LW, I am pregnant and we are actually facing increased demands from my MIL when we are struggling to get our home and lives ready for a baby), because…I just don’t love her. Here’s the thing: while I try, as the LW described herself trying, to steer clear of any comparison between our families, there are times it’s really, really difficult, and they often center around the how objectively bad your family is/how much of your family I can stand question, and how those categories can run together.

        I can mostly avoid the “my parents are lovely people while your mother is manipulative and abusive” higher-level stuff, but the logistics can be hard to avoid. Why are my parents going to be more welcome to spend significant time with us after our baby is born? Because they will provide meaningful help, deferring to what I want and am comfortable accepting and how my husband and I have decided to parent, rather than offering “help” of kinds I don’t want and arguing with me when I politely decline, or aggressively questioning our parenting decisions. Why did my parents get to spend time in our new apartment before his mom did even though she lives closer? Because they were the ones who volunteered to detour to Ikea, get the last piece of furniture we needed, and spend the day unpacking and assembling furniture, while she wanted an invitation to sit and socialize. Obviously I don’t know if there’s a functional difference like this between the LW’s family and her in-laws, but my point is, it can be hard to disentangle the different types of wanting to or objecting to spend time with one family vs. the other.

        (Where I’m lucky is that, while my husband may not feel that intense love connection with my parents and definitely wishes I felt it with his mother in ways that sometimes feel like pressure to me, he does recognize the basic difference in helpfulness. As Christmas approached and his mom, who was hosting, demanded more and more of our time and we were feeling totally overwhelmed by everything we had on our to-do list and she had on a to-do list for us, he said “I can’t wait until your parents get here,” because he knew they’d arrive and just quietly start taking things off our plate and get me off my sore pregnant feet.)

      4. I agree that it seemed LW spent a little too much time jumping between praise and almost apology for how overeducated, etc, her family is, reassuring the reader that they are cool and down to earth, and I wondered about where that was coming from and why it was necessary. I totally get that when people from different backgrounds (ethnic, regional, economic, whatever) marry, there is often a delicate dance of cultural sensibilities that must be performed. But I think she may be committing the fallacy of assuming that each family is the way it is SOLELY because of these differences, and having that in the back of her mind (even though she strives not to say it) isn’t going to help her approach this with equanimity. Thought their two families seem to fit stereotypes rather than challenging them, it’s still worth remembering that some families with every privilege are thoroughly dysfunctional, and some families that come from not a lot of money or social standing are rich in other things. The answer is like you say, to focus on the right question which is how to respectfully set boundaries.

        1. They both seem defensive – him about perceived insults to family he loves, she about being perceived as unfair or mean. So he gets defensive if he hears a comparison between the lines in which his family would come out badly, while she feels she needs to justify her desire for boundaries or for less time with his family than with hers by explaining (to herself and us at least) why her family is better so she’s not being mean…

          Maybe it might be more helpful to think of her need for more boundaries around specific behaviours or around visits to her home as something she doesn’t need to somehow prove is justified, and separate from whether someone is objectively loveable or wonderful or not? Because they seem to be inadvertantly feeding into each other’s defensiveness.

          1. Yeah–I think he’s saying ‘But we like YOUR family’ and she’s telling us ‘And there’s REASONS for that.’ The thing is, you don’t need reasons. If you don’t like someone (or their family), you don’t like them and you’re not obligated to change that.

  5. I’m lucky enough to have great in-laws. But I still lay out boundaries much like those the Captain described. Something that helps me get through particularly exhausting visits is to take an extra day off on the end of it. I call it my “in-law recovery day.” Husband goes back to work. Kids go to day care. And I have the day to myself to decompress, work on my hobbies, take a little day trip, put my house back together – whatever, in order to return to normalcy after a visit with them. If you have the ability to take a day off alone to restore your sanity, do it!

    And if pregnancy #2 wears you out – please DO take the Captains suggestion and push Toddler and Spouse out the door in the direction of Gramma’s place. You can pass out and nap in peace and he can visit with his mom all he wants. My pregnancies sapped all my energy so I pushed a lot off on my husband and didn’t feel a bit guilty about it. Don’t you, either!

    1. Tiny Female Toddler + proximity to an unsupervised Uncle Stoner are making my Hell No hackles rise.

        1. Seriously, you know us stoners can’t put the bong down for a SECOND to watch a kid in our care! Kid in a hotbox all day long! Nevermind that we hold down jobs with six digit salaries, own a house, and are generally active members of our community.

          1. I think this is a little unfair to the LW and a bit of a derail – regardless of your personal feelings about pot and how you use it, it is completely fair for a parent to say they don’t want it and/or people under the influence of pot around their toddler. Hell, I know people who use it regularly who don’t use it around their own children, I imagine for the same reasons they don’t want to smoke cigarettes or be drunk around their children.

            Substitute pot for alcohol or any other substance – hell, substitute ‘pot’ for ‘racist epithets,’ if you want. It is completely within the uncle’s rights to be baked all the time (uh, assuming he lives in a state where that is actually legal, I guess?), but it’s also completely ok for the LW to not want a baked person (or drunk person, or person who just can’t stop talking about those darn N-words) around their kid.

            I think sometimes people use the word ‘stoner’ as a shorthand for irresponsible or untrustworthy, which I think is not fair to the vast majority of pot users. But this sounds like a personal pet peeve that is not really that helpful to the LW’s actual situation, which is that she doesn’t want to be forced to spend time around someone that she doesn’t enjoy being around while being told she has to pretend to like it.

          2. I’m fairly certain that Myrtle was using “Uncle Stoner” because it is the shorthand the LW provided in the letter. Additionally, Uncle Stoner has demonstrated inappropriate behavior in front of the toddler (racist comments), so I think it’s reasonable for hackles to rise at the thought of him being near the toddler with minimal supervision.

          3. I was just confused as to why a female toddler would be at more risk than a male one…I understand the worry about neglect etc, but I would think that would be true regardless of gender of the child, and same with exposing them to racial epithets!

          4. @twomoogles: People with bad boundaries are often sexist as well (from all the context clues it sounds like that’s likely in Uncle’s case), so yeah, I’d be worried that he either wouldn’t take appropriate care around her or would be actively/carelessly abusive. I’m not at all ok with the idea of kids in the hands of irresponsible adults, but especially little girls around creepy older men.

    2. I have to do this after dealing with my OWN family. It’s a great policy if you’re able to take the time.

  6. I’m so sympathetic on this one, and I’ll be reading the comments with interest, cause this is an argument that comes up in my house a lot. I’m very close with my family, and my partner is too, and we spend a lot of time together. His family I find more difficult, and sometimes I need to limit my time with them (they argue a lot, doesn’t seem to bother them but I find it stressful) and my partner frequently breaks out the comparison between the two families, like I should be as enthusiastic about time with his family as he is about time with mine.

    1. I like theme parks and walks in the park, but have different tolerance levels for each 🙂 maybe framing it as “your family is great, just high energy. I enjoy spending time with them, but personally do better with smaller doses because it’s not the speed/energy-level I’m used to.” He’s used to his family and you’re not.

      That’s my perspective as the person with a high-energy, loud extended family. Introverts who marry into it often have trouble and will retreat for brief periods, find a quiet conversation in the corner, act uncomfortable… which I’m personally ok with because quiet, introverted families drive me a little nuts. Everyone’s got a different baseline for what they’re used to and comfortable with even when things are mostly functional.

      1. Speaking as that extreme introvert who was flung into a high-energy, loud set of in-laws, it got to be something of a joke when we went to visit. His mother put us into the upstairs out-of-the-way bedroom, and I would retreat there on a regular basis. My ex told me that when one of his (seven) brothers and sisters would ask where I was, they’d phrase it, “Is Megaera hiding again?” But not in a hurtful way.

        1. That’s great when you have somewhere to hide, and with a supportive spouse it can be a great option. Works for me and husband – we are both introverts. His family don’t bat an eyelid if I suddenly disappeared to the bedroom while we’re staying with them. My family are…difficult…but they’ve come to accept the fact that Husband will quietly disappear whenever we have company. I do have to reassure my mother every. single. time that he does this with EVERYONE, not just her (even if there were ten other people in the room she’d think it was all about her) but once I’ve done that, she’s OK. Sadly, it sounds like LW’s husband isn’t 100% on the same page as her regarding this sort of tactic, but using the Captain’s suggestions of pregnancy + tired + naps or errands etc, could be quite effective.

          1. Sorry in advance for this derail–I have zero idea whether this applies to your mother, but having been on the receiving end of “You think everything’s about youuuu!” I can vouch that sometimes it’s the result of having been scapegoated as a child or in a later ongoing life situation. As in, you’re used to everyone making the problem About You so you preemptively go there whenever something bad happens. It’s not necessarily a sign of malignant narcissism.

          2. Having a place to hide is excellent. When my husband and I visit my parents, we get the basement bedroom, which is pretty secluded and quiet. With his parents, though…there’s nowhere to hide. There should be, but their house is in an endless state of unfinished renovations, rendering 3 of 4 bedrooms basically uninhabitable. So we’ve been put in office spaces, tv rooms, etc, thus ramping up both of our introverted anxiety due to things like “can I actually take a shower and then get dressed without someone walking in on me to check their e-mail?” I would get nervous and twitchy…and then kind of inwardly snarky and petty. My husband got monosyllabic and emotionally closed-off (partially due to the introversion and anxiety and partially due to the stress that lots of travel puts on his body due to a chronic health condition). And there always came a moment during our visits there when I just broke and started crying while folding laundry or something because the combination of his closing-off and the lack of privacy to decompress every day got to be too much. The last time this happened, he blurted out something like “do you think I like being here?” which I hadn’t even thought of. I thought he did like seeing his family, even if the situation wasn’t ideal. Turns out the non-ideal-ness outweighed the other stuff.

          3. Wow. That sounds incredibly stressful and I wouldn’t deal with it well at all. I have a weird thing about anyone other than my husband seeing me between getting up and being fully dressed (issues from complete lack of privacy in childhood) and I also really struggle with staying at my husband’s parents’ for that reason. Most of their house is on the ground floor, but “our” room is one of two little rooms upstairs (I like that isolation a lot). But that means if I want to use the bathroom I have to go downstairs, and his parents get up stupid early (like 5am) just to hang out. And if they hear me coming they pop up to say hi and offer tea and be all nice and I freak out a bit. Worse, their shower is in a tiny room with a translucent door behind the kitchen, so you have to walk through there to get to it, and there is always somebody in the kitchen.

            But at least they understand if I want to hide in the bedroom.

          4. Amberxebi: I can definitely relate. It feels very weird for people who I do not know well to see me before I am showered and dressed. The last time we stayed with the in-laws, the only viable shower was accessed through the master bedroom. So I had to wait for my MIL to wake up, clear out of her bedroom, talk at me before I felt ready to be human, and I could make myself….more okay.

        2. My girlfriend quietly retreats from parties periodically by either a) napping, b) using her phone, or c) playing guitar quietly so that she’s adding to the energy of the party but isn’t expected to talk to anyone. It’s not my family’s favorite thing, but they aren’t mean about it and I’m just happy to have a way to bring my favorite introvert who I love so deeply to family gatherings in a way that doesn’t drain her.

          1. My thing is to retreat quietly into the kitchen with stuff to clean up. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work on my MiL, who invariably follows me and tries to help! Even if it wasn’t my escape thing, I really hate guests doing my chores for me plus my kitchen is barely large enough for one person to turn around in. I’m working on politely telling her I’d rather have the kitchen to myself so she can relax for a change.

      2. That’s why we’ve never fixed our dishwasher, broken for seven years now, it gives introverted me a place to retreat when guests get loud.

      3. I made a point of watching out for my new introvert BiL in this situation! To welcome him to the family, I taught him my greatest secret … how to do the introvert disappearing act without getting called out and also fooling people into thinking you were really social!

        My sister got married this summer – her husband is great and someone I genuinely like … one of the many things we have in common is being introverts! At the engagement party, I was in the kitchen (my favorite introvert “I’m not hiding, I’m helping!” hiding place) when I overheard some people asking where he was in that way that implied he should make an appearance. (Which is translated by many introverts as “Come present yourself for interrogation!”) I scampered off to find him (in the den watching WWII documentaries with my introverted boyfriend and introverted father … exactly where I wanted to be …) and said “Dude – it’s time to make the rounds – I promise you we can do this in less than 10 minutes and in such a way that if you do it a second time an hour or so later, people will swear you were the life of the party!” He gave me a skeptical but resigned look and we were off! I mean, it’s his engagement party … you can hide on the holidays, but not when you are one of the honorees!

        We worked the party – “Oh! Aged Aunt! Have you met Nick?! Isn’t he so handsome …” and as he makes brief pleasantries, I scan for the next conversation. The first time I slipped away from him I smiled at his panicked look as I left him with a chatty relative … and about 5 seconds later called “Nick! Come here! You have to meet Uncle Critical!” and then to Aged Aunt “Sorry! I need to steal him! Man of the hour! You know …” Lather Rinse Repeat, 8 minutes later we are back on the couch right in time for the D-Day part of the documentary! For round 2, he went around with my sister – I had told her that my old trick worked for him, so she kept him moving too! There are so many great pictures of the two of them at the party and everyone was talking about how nice he was and how pleasant and how perfect for my sister … and aside from time spent on the buffet line, he was probably only in the main part of the house for a total half hour!

        I learned as a teenager that I would get blasted for hiding or being too quiet … and discovered a few minutes of “LOOK AT ME!!!!” and then going off to a quieter place made people happier than hours of standing quietly by with a smile plastered on my face. It’s hard for the people I love to understand it’s not personal when I disappear and it’s important to me that they do understand – and at least for me, meeting them halfway got both of us nowhere … but speaking their language in short bursts made all the difference!

    2. I can only say this as the perspective of a child – but I really wished that this was an issue that my parents had figured out a better way to handle. Both sets of extended relatives came with separate difficulties, but there remains a lot of grief from both parents regarding a desire for extended family to be equally loved/visited/sought out/avoided/etc.

      I have no awesome (or mediocre) advice for this either. I just wish this was an issue my parents had addressed a bit more in a place like counseling and less with my brother and I, because this is something that has definitely continued on into adulthood.

    3. I am too. I know my family can be really intense, really judgmental and very stressful for my spouse to be around. But we are a pretty close family. So he sees them once a year, and the rest of the visits are me with the kids, where he gets to stay home and enjoy child-free downtime. My parents initially moaned about it, but I told them he likes to have the time to work on Shiny Home Improvement Project for us, and they eventually got the hint.

  7. So much sympathy, LW! I suspect your husband may be less enthusiastic about hosting if you let him do, say, all the hosting for a month? Could you take yourself outta the house, as the Captain suggest, and leave him to cook, host and toddle-manage while you go treat yourself or work from a coffee shop on a laptop? I imagine you will feel really guilty about this the first few times, but he’s not giving you a lot of options. If he won’t compromise, you need to take yourself outta stressful spaces, at the very least for the sake of your second child.
    TL;DR: “Wife” does not equal “hostess”. Share this wonderful discovery with yourself and your family through word and deed 🙂

        1. Ehhhhh I mean, I’m sure a 10 year old explaining to another 10 year old that her mom is not the maid, and therefore not evidence that they are “rich” COULD be funny, but I don’t really remember it as such. (Much more fun was explaining that the gigantic nude paintings around the house were actually OF my Grandmother. Best faces.)

    1. My husband wanted to have some political event at our house. Even if I agreed with him, I would not want to have people in my house. I would not want to do the prep work, the cleanup, and the smiling during.

      We agreed that if I had to go out of town for work, it could happen in my absence.

      I had to travel last week. He did everything, including cleaning the house beforehand. I think he might not be so eager to host another event.

      1. THIS. My mom was an Army officer’s wife during the Bad Old Days when being an Army wife meant also being, de facto, a host, cook, seamstress, event coordinator, and 24/7 on-call welcome wagon, none of which are things my mother enjoys doing or finds easy.

        So, my dad coming home and being like “we need to host a lunch for Officer Soandso” really meant “Wife, you need to clean and decorate the house, plan and execute a lunch for 75 people, figure out the food, serve, spend the entire time chatting gracefully and being interesting without actually having an opinion about anything that might be controversial, make sure everyone has enough food and drink, then clean up afterwards and remember to write thank you notes to everyone, also,” which is a fucking logistical nightmare and something that you would get paid mucho bucks to do if it was your actual job.

        A billion slow claps to you for being like, awesome! Have fun! and letting him host his own event. I think it’s a really important thing for people to realize that stuff like this doesn’t just magically happen (and I will never forget someone telling me at my actual job as an event planner that the event we had just sweated blood over to keep running smoothly just “ran itself.” I am not sure how I managed not to choke him with his own tie.).

        1. this totally reminds me of the scene in the first season of Friday Night Lights where Coach comes home to Tami and tells her he’s supposed to host the team bbq – meaning she’s supposed to host. She miraculously pulls it together, but then he finds her under the table drinking wine mid-bbq and she’s basically like “YOU OWE ME”

        2. Yeah, that attitude in my volunteer-run organization just burns me. No, events don’t just run themselves. And the novice event planner who is anxious and unsure would benefit from their emotions being validated and some gentle questions to figure out what kind of mentoring would help, rather than being told this small, starter activity is no big deal and doesn’t need much effort. Maybe not for you, who has years of experience under your belt, but for newbie doing it for the first time, that attitude can fuck off. Not helping. And then people piss and moan about recruitment and retention and how there’s no one new to run the events.

          1. We may be in the same group. Or it may just be an inherent similarity in volunteer groups.

            I’ve run a handful of events, and they most assuredly do not run themselves. Even Kingdom University, where an existing infrastructure handles class registration and scheduling, there are no magical pixies who find and coordinate with sites, manage random details the day of, or clean up afterwards.

            That’s not to negate how awesome and helpful it is to have that structure, or to have long-standing events where you don’t have to recreate the wheel, but it does do a disservice to the person running an event to say it takes no work.

            I think there is a balance between acknowledging the work people do and not scaring off new volunteer by making it sound harder than it is.

          2. Yep, sounds like same organization, KellyK. And yes, having a preexisting structure and institutional memory can be very helpful. But sometimes it is very much a hindrance too. We’ve got these dinosaurs who don’t let go, and that’s the way it’s always been done, and so then change is hard, and New Person Energy does not get channeled into the organization but either gets extinguished or goes somewhere else.

            And then the problem where the incompetent/clueless person volunteers to do X job, the group agrees to that person being responsible for X job (because you can’t turn away volunteers), person doesn’t do X job, so group members desperately pull it together behind their back so it’s not a total shambles because the group wants the event to succeed, and person is convinced that they are wonderful at X responsibility and that events run themselves. Sometimes you just have to let people fail and learn, even if it’s hard for the group.

            Can you tell I am a little grumpy? I think these issues are common to most volunteer organizations. I just get frustrated with an unwillingness of the group to be conscious about process because “social engineering! run away!” Community-building is work. It takes effort and thought and awareness. Doesn’t just magically happen, anymore than events just run themselves. But then, I suspect most of these things entail all that emotional labor coded feminine and therefore invisible. Sigh.

    2. Given that apparently husband has taken care of his family since age 9, this may not be a fair assumption. But yes I agree that if LW’s husband wants more time with family, they can find ways to do that that don’t involve LW and that should be OK.

    3. “Wife” does not equal “hostess” — so much this!

      I used to stress out SO MUCH when my mother-in-law would visit, because my husband is kind of a slob and I’m embarrassed at the condition of our house in general, and she was a stay-at-home mom who has very high standards of cleanliness and in the past had made some digs about my hostessing. (We get along well now, but we had a rocky start.) My experience is that wives tend to be judged more harshly than husbands regarding housekeeping and hospitality.

      Well, on her last visit, I just decided not to bother. I spent the week beforehand like any other week–doing my normal chores but nothing above and beyond. I reminded my husband that the sheets on the spare bed needed washing, but restrained myself from jumping up and doing it. And it did get done, more last-minute than I would have done it but MIL had a clean bed to sleep in when it was time to sleep, which is all that matters. I was polite and friendly as always, but did not jump in to try to find entertaining things to do, leaving that to my husband (after all, I don’t expect him to play cruise director when my family visits).

      The world didn’t end. My mother-in-law got to spend quality time with her son and grandson. And I was a MUCH happier and more relaxed person for the duration. Lesson learned.

      1. DH insists that family doesn’t care if it’s clean, and it took a while for me to find the right way to explain that they do care and that, while “caring” is different from judging, it can still end up with one side or the other feeling distinctly uncomfortable. And I don’t want anyone feeling uncomfortable, guests or hosts.

        When people come over and the place isn’t the way they keep their own house (whether cleaner or dirtier) there’s always some sort of joke made about the condition of the house. And I, the female, am always the butt of those jokes. Whereas DH gets ribbed if there’s something noteable about the yard, or exterior, or the cars. So if he invites people over without giving me time to clean up, I end up looking bad.

        It wasn’t until one of his friends made a joke about, “Wow, you even dusted,” that he got it… people notice the condition of the house. If we don’t, it’s because we live here and don’t even see the worn carpet, or dinged wood trim, or that cracked paver in the front yard anymore.

        What’s helped me is that, if it’s his family/friends, then he’s “responsible” for cleaning beforehand. And if it’s my family or friends, then I am. No matter who had the time to do the actual work of cleaning that time, or how much of it got done. We both work on it as much as we have time for, but that way when the inevitable crack about our house/furniture/paint/carpet/dust/pet fur comes up, one or the other of us makes our own joke about whose “job” it was to clean this time. It’s amazing how well that has worked to stop practically every.single.joke from DH’s friends/family about the state of the house.

        It’s a trick I picked up dealing with my ex’s family visits. My ex’s family used to insult my housekeeping pretty much as soon as they walked in the door, every time they showed up for their 3-4x a year visits. Until the day I responded, “Yeah, I was really busy at work this week, so Mr. Ex had to clean. I didn’t want to make him feel bad about it, but he worked really hard and did the best he could. I think it looks great, and what’s important anyway is that you’re here.” I’m surprised they didn’t hurt themselves from the speed of their backpedaling. And once I made sure they knew that he was going to be cleaning up for them for all future visits too, all derogatory remarks stopped, for good. It was like magic!

        Folks seem to be comfortable – nay, outright enthusiastic – about teasing a woman about “her” housekeeping, but they clam right up when they think they’re making a man feel bad about it. There goes that stupid double standard again, but if I can use its power for good, for once, I’m all for it.

        1. andyl: my Mom (both before and after her divorce) used to face that situation with an “if you don’t like it, the exit is just behind you” or an “if you don’t feel comfortable, there’s an hotel just around the corner”. I realise this is a bit of a nuclear option, but now we just receive visitors who don’t think our home is a free bed and breakfast. It’s really worth it, in my opinion.

  8. “How would you feel if I didn’t love your brother?” is very unrealistic… I think most, or at least many, people don’t love their in-laws. My partner’s family is not stressful like this, but I’m quite open about not really clicking with them and he understands it. He sees them about once every week or two and I see them every month or two. This is a completely reasonable set up for everyone involved.

    1. Even if you like and respect and value your in -laws, you may or may not actually love them. You didn’t grow up with them so don’t have that semi-automatic love that children have, and when you get to know people as adults, even with people you like there may be only a few where you will describe the feelings you have as love. Of course it’s lovely if you do develop love for them, but it’s not surprising if your relationship with them – even a great relationship – remains different from the one you have with ‘your’ family.

    2. I adore my in-laws. They are wonderful people who I love very much. I still see them about one third as often as spouse sees them, because I have other priorities.

    3. I have never understood that particular logic. I fell in love with my partner, not his/her whole family. Same goes for my siblings and their partners. This toxic idea of “well, you’re my sister so you should LOOOOOOVE my partner” is BS. You live with them, you love them, great. I owe you a basic level of politeness and decorum at shared family functions so that my interests in seeing YOU and the rest of my family are satisfied. I don’t need to be your partner’s biggest fan or vice versa. Isn’t this associative property of liking one of those geek social fallacies?

      As many others have said, it wouldn’t matter if his family members were the bees knees, you can STILL not want to be around them 24/7. I think redirecting him out of the comparison trap when it comes up and focusing it back on YOU is how you do that. “I’m asking you…” “What I need…” “I’d really appreciate it if…”

      1. Yes. I like some of my in-laws, I tolerate others. I do actually love my sister’s partner, in a filial way, but that grew over the course of seven years. I found him incredibly annoying at first. I’m pretty sure one of my sisters loves my husband; the other has always been more emotionally guarded and that’s okay (so am I).

    4. Yeah, this exactly. My partner’s mum and two sisters aren’t nearly as draining as the LW’s in-laws sound, but I still don’t feel huge love bonds for them, I don’t have a lot in common with them, I don’t particularly enjoy their company.

      My partner himself doesn’t get along well with his younger sister and finds his mother hard work, so our level of comfort there is very similar. We see them 6-8 times a year at family birthdays, Mothers Day, Christmas etc, all of which we host because MIL is fairly frail and she and younger SIL share a tiny, extremely grotty house that they don’t like having people come to. In the in-between, partner calls his mum once or twice a week and will, as needed, run errands for her when SIL is away / take her to med appointments etc. When my children were preschoolers and I was working less hours, I would take MIL grocery shopping once a fortnight as my contribution, but she now has a government-funded Home Care Helper who does that for her.

      My elder SIL is a more complicated situation, for a few reasons – partner is closer to her, and she has had some extreme tragedy in her life over the last few years. Despite this, I have had to set boundaries with her too for my own and my kids’ sake – one of them is that I allow her frequent phone calls to go to the answering machine if she calls during the work day, for instance (I work at home, which means many people interpret that as “legit interruptable for hour-long chats whenever I feel like it”.)

      My family lives further away, which puts logistical constraints on how much we see them, so it ends up being very similar amounts of visits (even though, if my brother and SIL lived closer or any of us were less busy, I would definitely see them more often than any other part of the family web, because … I not only love them, I really like them).

      The one thing in LW’s letter that struck me, too, was that it seems like the issues with her partner’s family go beyond matters of social taste (burping and farting are potentially ill-mannered, but not moral failings) and into areas where there could be real concerns about the safety and appropriateness of their influence on toddler (homophobia, profanities, the mum’s extreme ideas about health etc). This is a whole ‘nuther ball of wax to me. My in-laws are socially inept / “uncouth” in similar ways to what the LW describes, but they are not, or at least they do not express, bigoted views. (Actually it’s my own loving, traditional evangelical Christian, painfully homophobic in the “Jesus loves the sinner not the sin” vein, parents that are the bigger problem there).

      1. “areas where there could be real concerns about the safety and appropriateness of their influence on toddler”

        Yeah, that part of it leaped out at me, too. That’s where the “Oh, husband, why don’t you and toddler go visit them” approach might not be an option, especially if the LW can’t trust her husband’s judgement when it comes to these particular individuals.

  9. LW

    I don’t know if this will work or not, but it sounds like one of the stumbling blocks you have here is an inability to find a meeting ground on which you and your husband can actually *have* conversations about this. Because you find his family stressful and difficult, and he feels like family is overwhelmingly important, so any conversation between you is hitting the roadblock of BUT FAAAMILY.

    So… can you take family out of the equation when you bring it up?

    People who overstay their welcome are exhausting, no matter how much you like them. It is reasonable to say “I do not want open-ended hosting sessions where I have no say in how long someone is in my space”. People who want to be social more often than you want to be can be exhausting, even if you genuinely love every moment you spend with them. It is reasonable to say “I cannot do Social Thing more often than X times per month”. People who pressure you to drink when you don’t want to/are unable to can ruin the fun of a good social gathering, even if they’re your favourite people in the world. It is reasonable to say “I do not want to attend social events which involve alcohol, if the guests will include people who will try to insist that I drink”. It is reasonable to say “I will not accept homophobic comments in my home/spoken around my child, and anyone who wants to be welcome in this space needs to be baseline respectful of that”.

    It is perfectly reasonable to set boundaries around any one of those things, or indeed all of them. And these are boundaries that exist for ALL guests in our home, because my love for a person does not actually diminish how much energy it takes to clean a home, cook a meal, serve drinks or maintain a conversation.

    You’re working full-time and you’re pregnant. You NEED down-time on a regular basis to recharge your batteries so you can function. Otherwise you’re spending all week working, then spending all weekend working, and never actually getting time to rest.

    It is reasonable to put in a boundary like “I cannot play host for more than X hours today. So I need you to start wrapping things up by X o’clock. If you want more social time, feel free to take the opportunity to take them and Child on an outing somewhere and I will take the opportunity to have a bath and take a nap”.

    I realise the rose-tinted glasses of BUT FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHMILY can be hard to see clearly through, but it might help to limit your discussion to the *specific, individual behaviours* and the *specific, individual scenarios* that are a problem for you.

    1. I also think setting rules around behavior around the Toddler is important. It’s also something that even Faaaaaamily understands. Nobody wants to be the reason for a parent teacher conference about using inappropriate language at daycare, and kids are sponges. Everybody should be on their “little kid listening and learning” manners in front of the kid, you might even be able to get her to help. I can’t tell you how many times my baby cousins reminded me “we don’t SAY shut up!”

      My friends kids make me apologize when I curse in front of them. And I do, because I should. Get on it Uncle Stoner.

        1. I’m not entirely sure what you’re referring to here, but one does actually owe any children one is the guardian of (to take care of them and ensure they are not exposed to any dangerous situations, or else find a new guardian for them who can do those things) whereas one does not owe ones adult family (or the adult family of ones spouse) anything at all, nor is obligated to them in any way. So no, seeing to the needs and safety of your child is not manipulating situations.

        2. Yes, it is doing that. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an unreasonable thing to do. As adults who are in control of our behavior, we are expected to model appropriate behavior for the children around us.

          Note that I don’t think it is appropriate to like, bring a kid to adult activities and expect people to accommodate that.

          But if someone wants to spend quality time with a child or family with children they should be willing to follow the behavior guidelines set out by that child’s parents. If they aren’t, then they can spend less time with the family. That’s just how I see it.

        3. No? The kid lives in the house, therefore it’s not reasonable to expect them to not be there at any given time. When a child is present, adults should behave in kid-appropriate ways, which most people will generally agree means not cursing, not drinking/smoking excessively (or at all, depending on the location and the parents’ tolerance), not watching porn or horror movies…et cetera. If you don’t like those rules or don’t enjoy being around children, then you shouldn’t congregate at a house where children live.

          1. Ha! I remember ages ago visiting my dad’s, and Resident Evil was playing on his gigantic TV with full surround sound. My brother brought his family to visit too, including his kids who were maybe 3-5 years old at the time. One of the kids asked a question about the movie, I don’t even remember what, but my brother was furious with me for taking it seriously and answering it. Like, dude, you’re the one who is comfortable exposing your very young kids to extremely graphic violence at many times their actual size, don’t get mad at me for not dismissing their questions and concerns. He then proceeded to tell the kid that it isn’t real, don’t worry about it, etc. However, ever since then, they have made sure to bring along child-appropriate movies and pop them in as soon as they get to grandpa’s. Of course, then my brother got irritated with me for validating my nephew’s reaction to the racism he observed in Cool Runnings and again with the gaslighting that there’s no racism there, you’re just imagining it/being oversensitive/whatever while giving me the evil eye. Sigh.

  10. LW I totally hear you. I have a highly difficult Mother-In-Law and a husband who loves her dearly through her faults. She lives far away right now, but visits every couple of months for about a week and stays with us. All of our lives significantly improved when I a. stopped giving a sh**t what she thought about me, and b. stopped spending as much time with her. When she does visit, I started ‘going to bed’ right after I put my baby to bed. Like at 7:30pm. I also stopped taking time off of work when she visits. Oh no, I don’t have any vacation days 😦 Finally, the Captain’s advice on putting people to work is so key. My MIL will visit and not lift a finger, so I’ve just started assigning her tasks. Like hey – can you make dinner tonight, here are the ingredients and recipes. Or Husband and I are going out to dinner, you can watch the baby. Thanks!!! Life is so. much. better. Hang in there!

  11. I find my own family stressful, and even the best-behaved and non-abusive ones get on my expletive nerves after about 5-6 hours of contact on rare occasions. LW, you have my sympathy.

  12. This forum has been suggested in other threads, but DWIL (Dealing With In-Laws) may have some insights you’ll find either helpful or reassuring (because you’re not alone). Please note, however, that the contributors are quick to recommend actions you rightly might consider drastic (things akin to DTMFA or uprooting your home base to an entirely different state are not, AFAICT, uncommon…I may just be reading the wrong threads, though!) Approach anything drastic that might be suggested with a shaker of salt.


    1. I was about to offer the same suggestion, and the same warning. If you want robust and solution-focused advice about problem inlaws, DWIL is hard to beat. But they’re very much focused on taking firm action rather than offering sympathy.

      1. They offer sympathy in the form if, “that was a crappy thing they did. How are you going to address it?” I’ve also found them to be reassuring in the sense there are a lot of old threads you can read and see that other people have had similar struggles.

    2. Lol, the people on babycenter make people on white supremacist sites look rational and well-adjusted. Angry is not even the word: it’s like they exist in a special state of Internet Troll Rage. I’m surprised they haven’t choked on their own bile long ago.

      I have never seen them suggest *anything* in response to any situation, no matter who is at fault, except cutting all contact. I wouldn’t go down the Judgmental Parenting Website path unless you don’t only hate your in-laws, you hate your parents, siblings and possibly your own children. Because their advice is best if you’d like all of those people to leave you alone permanently.

      1. I….do not agree with this. They are ridiculously ablist in terms of language used, yes, so of the ‘c’ word is something you find upsetting steer clear but I have seen plenty of posts where the general response has been ‘you’re out of line’ or ‘that wasn’t ok, you need to apologise’. Most of the ‘step back, cut contact’ advice is given where the issue really is too much dependency, and also, once you’ve hit the level of ridiculous that some in-laws have sunk to on the posts listed on the sticky or best of compilations, there isn’t much you can do besides disengage, grab as much distance as possible and use legal means to protect yourself if they won’t stop.

        1. I hadn’t encountered DWIL before this suggestion and read through some threads today. I wouldn’t word it as strongly as Elaine did, but that community doesn’t seem at all useful one’s in-laws are unredeemably horrible. People who write in with more everyday-level problems do seem to get really disproportionate advice. Your MIL was holding your baby and stuck her finger in your beer, and she didn’t stick it in your baby’s mouth but you’re pretty sure she wanted to? Cut off all contact immediately she’s a danger to your children!! Then if the LW responds saying they’re taking a more moderate approach, a bunch of commenters pile on to browbeat the LW and tell them why their approach, which they have selected as being right for their life and family, will never work and any continuing in-law problems are now their fault. There is zero of the ‘you’re the expert on your own life’ philosophy that holds here at CA. Would not recommend to anyone, really.

          1. Actually, they called the finger-in-the-beer one exactly right — that extended family member turned out to have a frightening history of child abuse and neglect.

            That’s a very common pattern on that website — posters asking advice continually bury the lead, writing in about something small, but when prompted, it turns out there’s this giant hellscape as background. The regulars there have gotten uncanny at spotting the pattern, which is why they seem quick to jump to extremes sometimes — the extremes turn out to be warranted.

            I’m getting a similar vibe off the LW for this post — in my book, bigots get cut off from all contact with children. End of story. Uncle Homophobe would never be allowed in the home or in the presence of the children. A lot of people call that jumping to extremes, but I call it basic care of children.

          2. It won’t let me nest anymore but in reply to Helen:

            Yeah, this pattern doesn’t actually exist. The thing is, if you assume EVERYONE is irredeemably evil, you will always “catch” the “subtle hints and clues”… because a certain percentage of people will be irredeemably evil. But this doesn’t give you any insight in to the large numbers of people who are… not irredeemably evil.

      2. Yeah, I’ve checked out DWIL and pretty much every thread I’ve seen has been universally hostile, judgemental, and utterly unhelpful. I’ve seen a lot more ‘why are you allowing people to treat you badly, HUH??’ than I have practical advice. YMMV, of course, and if LW finds it helpful then more power to her, but that’s been my experience.

  13. How would you feel if I didn’t love your family?

    Is this for real? There are mother-in-law jokes for a reason. M-I-Ls are stressful! Pregnancy is stressful! Too much stress is bad for the baby … and ps, bad for the mom-to-be.

    Would it help to actually compare the amount of time you spend with the family you love, and use that as a base of comparison? If the in-laws are coming over every week, and you only visit your family every third week, then that’s not ‘loving as much’, that’s too much together time. And exhausting. Even for people you love a lot.

    Although the letter-writer didn’t mention how often they visit their own family, so I’m not sure this will help.

    1. There are mother-in-law jokes for a reason

      Yeah, but on the other hand, that reason is misogyny, or there’d be equal numbers of brother-in-law jokes!

  14. The whole family comparison angle to this thing is just a big, giant trap, if you ask me. Don’t indulge it in conversation, and try to avoid it in your thinking if possible too. I really liked the Captain’s proposed deflection for that one, because it brings the focus back to you and your husband – “I’m sure I’d be sad if you didn’t love my brother, but I would hopefully do X about it because that’s how I want our partnership to work” immediately steers you back to what you really want to talk about anyway, which is what you’re going to actually do about the actual situation you have actually in front of you. I just really can’t imagine how talking about each of your families and how/if they compare and what you feel about each of them is every going to take you somewhere actually productive (although I’m not a therapist, and maybe a good one could take that in a helpful direction, I don’t know).

    Just wanted to address that because it seems to be the conflict-behind-the-conflict here, and as seductive and appealing as it probably feels on some level, it’s a mine field with no reward on the other end of it.

    1. I’m not sure. The emotional “not meeting forever mean but you don’t looooove us” can be emotionally counted with, ‘i don’t even meet my own family forever and i looooooooooove them!”

      Emotional protests can react very poorly to logic.

      1. Sure, but even that is really about you and how you react to your family, not whose family is better or more worthy of love, which seems to be the comparison that’s sort of lurking under the surface here.

        I was particularly reacting to this, from the letter: “And is there any way – there may not be – for me to convince him to stop equating a visit from Racist Uncle Stoner with one from my thoughtful, compassionate, brilliant brothers? I know the family comparisons make him extra-defensive, but he’s the one who brings them out. I don’t, for exactly that reason.”

        The “your family vs my family” thing is an undercurrent in this entire conflict, one that’s apparently coming out explicitly at times, and I just wanted to make sure LW understands that that’s not something that’s going to be helpful on any level. It’s a red herring anyway, since the real conflict is centered on how they, as a family, are going to handle family visits, not whose family deserves to visit most often.

  15. So much empathy for you right now, LW. One thing i’d like to mention, since it sounds from your letter that you are trying to avoid Baby’s First Racist Epithet, is that you might want to have an age appropriatecnversation with your daughter about How Uncle And Grandma Say Things That We Should Not Say. I don’t know if you’re trying to avoid grandma having much influence on your kid (and avoid dooing things to her like she did to your husband), but if grandma is going to make a relationship with your daughter, I wonder if your husband recognizes that what happened to him was Not Okay and that shielding your kid is also important.

    Best of luck, and I hope you guys can talk with a a counselor to get on the same page about boundaries, priorities, and safe environemtns for you, your husband, and your child(ren).

    1. >>an age appropriate conversation with your daughter about How Uncle And Grandma Say Things That We Should Not Say.

      We do this as well. My partner and I do tend to swear in casual conversation – nothing racist or homophobic, but “fuck” and “shit” are part of our everyday vocabulary. And we decided early on that it would be easier to explain to the children that “there are some words that it’s okay to say at home but not in front of Grandma” (or at school, etc), than it would be to change our own conversational habits. And the kids have been great about it – a little bit of testing the boundaries here and there, but they definitely get the principle. It’s the same conversation as “In our house we have X rules, and at your friend’s house they have Y rules, and at school they have Z rules. Some of the rules are the same, and some of the rules are different, and you have to follow the rules of where you are.”

      So LW, I would definitely explain to your little one that as much as we love Uncle Stoner, there are some things that he says that are not appropriate for anyone else to say.

      Yes also to naps when the inlaws visit, whatever form those naps happen to take!

      1. In my family, we call these “driving words”, because they are words that the grown-ups use when driving, and that children are not allowed to use until they are old enough to drive.

      2. i have a question about this in practice as my husband and i are in a similar situation. do you let your kids use words like “fuck” and “shit”? because in theory, why shouldn’t i, but i have to confess it seems like a huge taboo to let me elementary age kid and toddler use them.

        1. Believe it or not, they haven’t actually used them very often. YMMV of course, but I wonder if it’s one of those situations where knowing they’re allowed to say it breaks the taboo and makes it less fun?

          Also, research is beginning to show that kids learn as much from their peers as from their parents. If you think of children in an ESL family attending an English-speaking school, they will likely not have nearly as strong an accent as their parents do. So if that’s the case, it makes sense that my children aren’t swearing, since the children around them likely aren’t either.

          I think in practice we do also modify our own vocabulary in front of them, the same as we do at work or in front of our own parents. So they’re not hearing swear words in direct conversation, but we don’t worry too much if they overhear them when adults are talking to each other. Probably the best way to deal with it if it does come up, is to not act shocked, and to gently explain (or remind) that this is one of those rules that’s different in different houses, and even though it’s okay here at home, it’s not okay at school or with your friends.

          Sorry about the rambly response. I’m just thinking through it myself as I type, as I realize that it hasn’t really come up for my children!

          1. thank you for taking the time to respond! i really appreciate hearing your thoughts.

            my one child is 11 and starting to use “lesser” swear words…and it seems sort of…uncouth. even though i probably have a vocabulary similar to what you are describing for yourself. a lot of the time i feel like he is boundary testing or trying to get a reaction out of me. and sometimes he’ll drop a “shit” or “fuck” into the convo if he’s quoting us or someone else. we also haven’t censored much of his media for language although i guess we try to keep it in the not grossly obscene territory.

            mostly i’m just wondering how other parents deal with this and am i overthinking it? they are just words after all?

            my other child is nearly 2 and acquiring language so i’m a little worried he’ll pick it up and just swear all the time, although he hasn’t yet.

          2. Interestingly, I. came from an absolutely zero-swearing household and school (even words like “gee” and “gosh” were not allowed [religious parents, religious community, long story]). I swear way more than the average person, now, and I think it’s partially because I never heard swear words until I was in junior high so I didn’t really develop much of a taboo against them.

          3. My elementary-school-aged son prefers the word “ass” to “butt”, and we’ve said that’s fine, but please use “butt” or “bottom” at school because it is more polite. But “ass” is OK at home, if he likes. He also sometimes says “dammit”. We just don’t react to it. It’s a little uncouth, yes, but…it seems to us that fighting that fight will only make him say those things more, and that telling him which ones are more polite to use in public has a better effect.

          4. It’s interesting. My daughter is 16. She has been surrounded by adults who swear her whole life, and I’ve even given her explicit permission to swear around us, and she chooses not to. To the point that she won’t even sing the swear words in her favorite songs when she’s singing along. We’ve had conversations about it; she just says she doesn’t want to.

            It’s true that she does spend time in other environments where her swearing would result in unpleasant consequences, but she understands the contextual nature of “local rules” quite well due to having three very different households where she spends a lot of time, as well as school and church environments, and in most other cases she just adapts her behavior to the environment.

          5. @Buttermilk, I also grew up in a household where swearing didn’t really occur, and when I was switched to public schools at 7, because I had literally never heard a “bad” word, the first couple of weeks I had to stay in a ton of recesses because the second my classmates figured it out, they were suckering me into saying “fuck” and “shit” where teachers could hear, and I literally had no idea they were “bad”. My teachers didn’t help–“you know what you did!” is not a reason for making someone stay in at recess!!

            TL;DR: People who never let their kids hear a “bad” word and never explain that there are words for one context that are not words for another context are not doing their kids any favours.

        2. Here’s my thing: I worked at an orphanage for a few years and the kids there had no idea about what words were appropriate or not. They didn’t know that you couldn’t use the local language equivalent of the words you used in, say, a job interview. One of my jobs (even though I hated it) was to make sure they learned that those words were often inappropriate, so they could make good choices about when to use them. This doesn’t have to mean never using them, but they do need to know when and when not to.

      3. My ex and I would tell his son, “Don’t say that at school!” Eventually, that morphed into “At XYZ event, don’t say anything you can’t say at school.”

    2. Now I’m just having a gleeful time imagining Racist Uncle saying something racist in front of the toddler, and the LW leaning over and saying something like “Tiny LW, Racist Uncle uses that language because he’s ignorant and fearful, and we’re not ignorant or fearful, are we?”

  16. LW, I think a couple’s therapist visit sounds like a good idea.

    In the long term, past the end of the 7 month mil visit, you might find it helpful to have a way to talk about your families and hope he’llama understand:

    1) you feel how you feel, and that’s what it is

    2) it is actually pretty hard to love people who hurt the person you love most in the world (your husband) through abuse, and building a relationship with his family would take time no matter what

    3) that you want your husband to love your family, because when the people you love, love each other, it’s awesome

    4) but you won’t love them or him any less if he doesn’t particularly care for your family. Your husband’s love of your family is his to feel and experience, it’s supposed to enrich his life and their lives. It’s not a validation of your family’s value or goodness, or the price of admission for loving you

    But I don’t think any of those things are even possible to really discuss if you can’t get to a place where you can ask for and set boundaries about them in your space.

    Good luck, LW. I hope things are as easy for you as possible going forward.

  17. I would also like to suggest perusing the subreddit justnomil ( reddit.com/r/JUSTNOMIL ). There you will find many people in similar situations, and you’ll be able to get suggestions and support from people who have been in your position and have found ways to deal with/fix it.

  18. My sympathies to you LW. I have had my own struggles with intrusive, abusive in-laws and a husband who was unwilling to set boundaries himself or have me set my own. I found Susan Forward’s books Toxic In-Laws and Toxic Parents helpful.

  19. Oh man, LW, this sounds like a very tough row to hoe and I am sorry you are being put through this. Just reading this letter made my shoulders go up around my ears.

    I have not had to deal with awful in-laws (one of the many and varied reasons that marriage is probably never going to be in the cards for me is never wanting to ever have to deal with in-laws) but I do think that, and I say this fully believing that your husband is a wonderful, funny, smart man, I think he is being incredibly emotionally manipulative and I don’t think he necessarily realizes it.

    It is really not okay for him to demand that you feel a certain way about his family members visiting. It is not okay for him to demand that you love his family. It is not okay to use the weird emotional yardstick of but what you would do if I didn’t like your family?!? to beat you about the head with (metaphorically speaking). You are the boss of your own emotions and opinions about other people and while it would be annoying enough to have a spouse want you to tolerate folks you don’t like for extended periods of time, him demanding that you feel a certain way about them makes me get all…shoulders-earsy.

    1. Yes, this. I get a strong vibe that Mr. LW is (however unintentionally) using LW to outsource his conflicted feelings about his family. If he’s feeling conflicted and upset (say, he loves Bro but is unhappy about Bro’s loud racism) he can let LW vocalize those things, so he needn’t do so. And then he can safely ride to his own emotional rescue by criticizing LW for having those terrible feelings.

      1. Indeed, and as we’ve seen over and over on this site, a lot of men shove their emotional labor off onto their female partner (I am sure this happens in a lot of relationships, but as a woman who has dated mostly hetero men, I firmly believe it is a very gendered phenomenon, or we’d have lots of guys writing in about how their wives are making them manage their relationships, and we just don’t see that).

        I do think the “my inlaws are awful” and “my husband demands that I love people that I don’t even like” are two separate problems. The first one is one that can be dealt with with some concrete actions, even if it’s not easy. The second one is what alarms the hell out of me.

        Whether it is demanding you love football if you don’t or Chinese food if you hate it or deep-sea diving if you’re afraid of water and fish, or whatever it is, her husband not just asking her to tolerate his in-laws but to LOVE THEM, as though it’s something you can do on command, is really scary.

        I’m trying to imagine how I would react to someone being like BUT I DEMAND YOU LOVE THIS THING/PERSON/ACTIVITY THAT YOU HATE, THAT I KNOW YOU HATE AND STRESSES YOU OUT and all of my imagined reactions are….very bad.

        1. This. One of my least favourite of my mother’s favourite phrases is, “Take what you get and like it!”

          Um, no. I can’t just magically like something I don’t like. LW can no more force herself to like people she dislikes than I could force myself to like food I hated as a kid.

        2. Beyond being creepy as hell, it’s also a way to shift blame. I’m seeing a dynamic on the husbands part that goes something like this: His family is terrible, and on some level he probably knows it, but cannot face it. So instead of dealing with his family and/or his feels about how they behave, he makes it his wife’s fault because the doesn’t love them. So, he gets to have his upset feelings about family visits without admitting to himself that his family is in any way at fault. It’s like–he’s not just gaslighting the LW, he’s also gaslighting himself.

          1. I have thought about this a lot. The “who is it safest to get mad at” phenomenon. I think it’s a common thing for people to get mad at, or express their feelings through or onto someone else who is doesn’t pose a threat to them. Besides married people, I think it’s also common among children with one supportive, loving parent and one shitty parent. They get mad and “HATE” the parent who shows up and is there for them because they can, without fear of rejection. When they can’t acknowledge or express their pain over the parent who has hurt them – it’s all displaced onto a safer target.

            Given what the LW says about past abuse, I can see how he would do sort of the same thing with her as it’s “safe” for him to express his pain/feelings/ambivalence on her, rather than to towards the people who created that pain to begin with. It’s hella toxic for the relationship with the LW and unfair, but I think what you all are saying makes sense.

      2. Yeah, my spouse (whose family is not nearly this awful) has a habit of doing this with his emotionally fragile mother, and it’s really aggravating.

    2. I totally agree. The problem here is the husband, not the in-laws.
      It’s bad enough that Mr. LW doesn’t respect LW’s wishes; trying to wheedle her into “loving” his family is all kinds of wrong.
      My guess is that he knows just how messed up his family is, but he’s afraid that if he acknowledges one of their flaws, all the rest of their flaws will demand their fair share of his attention, and the entire thing will unravel and he’ll have to admit that his family is a mess, and he’ll have to make some hard decisions about how much he wants them in his life. LW’s refusal to play along keeps reminding him of his own doubts.

      If I were LW and hubby asked “How would you feel if I didn’t like having [your brother] here?” I’d say, “if my brother spent all afternoon belching, farting, cursing, being homophobic, and stayed three hours past our wanting him to leave, I wouldn’t want my brother here either.”
      That would make it about the behavior, not the person.

  20. I have two perspectives to pick up; firstly, someone who grew up and survived that kind of family has usually been conditioned to absorb the awfulness. They are usually not given the interpersonal skills necessary to resolve conflict and talk about feelings. So what you are asking of hub is justified and fair but his not getting it is likely at least in part of reflection of his map for how to navigate conflict. Abuse thrives on people making nice at any cost to the point of bizarre doublethink type mental acrobatics. Your normal folk healthy assertive requests are unknown territory. I survived a family like that and it took years to become brave enough to even acknowledge how warped and tiny my life map was. All my interpersonal conflicts felt like the scary terror of losing people. In my house, you absorbed the badness or you were abandoned. My desire to be an adult and be in good relationships was there but my skills on how to execute that were non existant. I thought I was bad at that stuff because I was bad. It made me ashamed not to be able to handle conflict.

    Secondly; it took a few attempts to limit contact and choose sanity. I had to take a long hard look at all the abusive badness and my inability to fix it as a kid. Then my family denied this new reality and pressured me to fit in where I had done. I set small boundaries and was met with all kinds of abusive OTT nonsense gaslighting and bullying. Then I grieved having a family that could handle small boundaries. Then I reached a stage of anger and set big boundaries and family played along until they saw I was stronger and at that point, I could no longer have healthy contact. Then I grieved their loss. Now I deal with the weird unquestioned social assumptions about being in a family and parental love are true for most people but not me. I will never have loving parents. I feel like an orphan. Bereft is not too strong a word. I am surrounded by happy functional families like yours. The process was a cha cha nightmare of two steps forward one step back, sobbing and loneliness. Did I want to just stop tolerating the bullshit one day? Yes. Did I know it would be the right thing for me? In my gut yes. Did it take me three years? Yes. My loss deserved that time.

    You are making a fair request. In normal folk land, this is a no brainer. And practically speaking, hubby can and should act on this. My view is that the emotional work involved in facing up to his faaamily dysfunction is massive and terrifying and being a dad is scary and so it might be a while before he can set boundaries and not feel hideous about it. It is possible that if he changes his dynamic with them, it will open a world of pain and grief.

    Could be the making of him as a happy healed person. But please don’t underestimate what it is like to look at the ashes and ugliness where your birth family should have been and mourn that.

    1. This ^

      I basically came here to say the same thing. I grew up with a boundary swamping, sometimes emotionally abusive family, and LW your mother in law sounds even worse. And when you grow up like that you learn to just let the abusive people do whatever they want with zero protest because they create so much unbelievable drama when you do protest, and if you were raised by them it seems like their displeasure is the worst thing in the world. I’ve learned that some of the stuff my own mother does is completely unreasonable and I now limit contact fairly tightly (and live across the country which makes that even easier), but it was hard to learn and at first I was kind of shocked and offended when my then partner wouldn’t come to family events and didn’t seem to want to be around my family. I notice this the most when I go and visit them now, and see my father and brother who are still fully enmeshed in the world of manipulation and gaslighting and drama basically do anything to avoid conflict with my mother. In fact they will line up to pressure me intensely to not set boundaries with her because when I do she gets so OTT and they will act as though it’s my fault for setting her off. Hell, growing up I used to argue with her and firmly believed that I was an unreasonable and terrible person because everyone around me acted like her intense tantrums when faced with an angry teenager (she would seriously end disputes about how I should clean my room with implied suicide threats) were the fault of said teenager.

      Anyway, my point is that understanding that it’s OK to set boundaries with an abusive parent is a realisation you have to come to on your own, and it doesn’t sound like your husband is there yet. That doesn’t help in any practical way, but perhaps it will help you understand what’s going on when he treats your boundary setting like an unthinkable rudeness. For him it *is* unthinkable, and I suspect there’s no way for you to get him to really understand that setting these boundaries is right and reasonable. It is right and reasonable by the way, but I think you’re in for a long and lonely fight for a while where he tries to gaslight and pressure you into toeing the line and letting them do whatever they want. Stay firm. Hopefully he’ll eventually see reason, but until then he doesn’t have to agree with you to respect your limits.

    2. Those social assumptions not only hurt badly and make you feel soooo alone, but they put a hell of a lot of pressure on people like you, me and Mr LW to play nice because faaaaaaaaamilayyyyy. We are, as you say, socially conditioned left right and centre to be Good Daughters/Sons/Siblings/etc.

      (There’s a trailer for a TV show playing all the time on the channel my daughter watches and the first words on it are “Families ALWAYS have fun!” alongside footage of families having a jolly good time together. It makes me rage so much on behalf of the lonely, sad little girl I once was who wished she could get away from her toxic, abusive family while simultaneously feeling that SHE must be the problem.)

      This stuff runs waaaay deep. Which means this issue must be tackled sensitively. That’s why the advice that LW make her boundaries about her own feelings and needs, not “your brother is so XYZ” is so important.

      1. I am definitely not saying that Mr LW is being fair. But this probably is not him not playing fair by choosing to be lazy or to consciously pressure LW as much as it is him feeling safe enough to choose to step out of an entire lifetime of messed up family abuse. Sexual abuse, addiction, co dependency, this is not simply a dislikable family, it is a damaged one that some children do not survive.

        The difference between ‘I find your family distasteful and not my sort of people and ‘your family are unhealthy and unsafe to spend time with’ matters. And LW can set boundaries but Mr LW has to choose to take on significant long term emotional work to face the truth. That kind of denial has a cost to him that I think people forget when they assume this status quo is happy for him.

        It is agony to love poisonous parents.

    3. Thank you so, so much for sharing this and for saying that bereft is not too strong a word. I have had the exact same feelings (like an orphan, surrounded by happy families that I have no conception of), and it always seems so drama-queen-y to verbalize them because 1. Parents are still alive 2. They look like “good” parents to everyone else. But, fuck, it is SO hard

      1. I am sorry that you are having to go through this too. And I can relate and I don’t think it is dramatic to feel that loss so deeply. I am right there with you on that, you are not alone.

    4. This. When the whole situation is a mess, and you effectively sort out just one part of it, you have to readjust your own thinking, not just your behavior. That is, you don’t just “stop answering the phone” you learn that it’s okay to not answer the phone.
      Your thinking changes and you see things from a healthier perspective, which allows you to see the next step to take, and that it *can* be taken.So then you start picking at the next loose end, which leads to the next, and eventually you find you’ve unraveled the restraints that were holding you in.
      But the process can take years, and the first steps are the hardest, because you’ve been raised to believe the world will fall in if you don’t follow the old rules.

      1. Thank you, you put it into words more neatly than I do and I definitely felt that world falling in fear. It didn’t fall in and it did me a lot of good to limit the contact but I am still grieving.

  21. Because of his background, LW’s husband is behaving as if his mother and siblings are actually his children from a previous relationship. If that were the case, although still problematic his position would be slightly more reasonable – but they’re not his children! With this underlying everything, negotiating over details of number of weekends is never going to change the underlying dynamic of “You’re a monster for not loving my family”. LW, I agree wholeheartedly with the Captain that counselling would be a great idea to address this, because I’m concerned that this will be a problem for the entirety of your relationship. He’s putting others ahead of you and refusing to listen to your very legitimate concerns when he shouldn’t be. If that’s not possible, while overall the Captain’s scripts are excellent, I would go carefully with the “I don’t mind being the bad guy” one, as that may reinforce the very problem that you are being unwarrantedly cast as the bad guy.

    1. SO much THIS.

      If his parentification took place as young as nine, that is a terribly young age where he likely can’t work through this alone when confronted with people he feels responsible for.

      In fact, his very qualities of responsibility, ability to lead, and awesome maturity (which makes him so attractive as a person) were gotten at a high cost. And shaped him not towards independence, as a normal upbringing would have, but towards using those excellent qualities as the servant of his family.

      I think couples counseling is an awesome idea, but in the meantime, modeling the correct behavior for everyone is sometimes our sad, but necessary, task.

  22. “and asking how I would feel if he didn’t love my family”

    ZOMFG this is pushing every single one of my buttons and I am doing everything possible to keep from sweary words. This is such horseshit. This is no way to have an argument. This is a shitty deflecting tactic that shits up the discussion to the point where actual communication turns to shit.

    Couples therapy stat. Excuse me, I must go be angry elsewhere.

    1. “How would you feel if my family was continually nasty and I expected you to swallow it with a smile?”

      Not likely to help, but goddamn.

  23. I totally agree with this advice, and I think I really needed to hear it. Coming from the perspective of the partner with the less-loved family, who has definitely had those bitter “wait but I see your family all the time!” thoughts (…because I actually *like* her family), wow do I get how hard it is. Consequently, this was a really, really good post for me to read and digest. So thanks.

    Especially with a family that has always been in your business, but never actually close, and kind of dysfunctional, it’s really easy to just so desperately want them to be lovable and functional and supportive. And, it’s really easy to think that if you just put up a good front, if your partner at least pretends to like them, if you have that Happy Family Facade thing going on, it will actually magically be a happy family thing, and will somehow fix all those years of distance or brokenness or whatever. So like, while you have to trust your husband if he is explicitly saying that he is ok with all these visits, he…might not be. You putting up boundaries, and the fact that the two of you *are* close to your family, could likely bring into stark contrast all of his complicated, longing feelings about how he wants his family to be vs. what they actually are. Also, at least in my case, trigger feelings like “but wait, why do you get to put up boundaries?! I’m not ever allowed to put up boundaries with these people! Oh wait…” Your husbands needs to stop staying stuff about wanting you to love his family, but in the meantime know that his frustration and sadness is not your fault, it’s just that little kid realizing how freaking unfair it all is.

    Which is to say you should put up those boundaries and do everything Captain Awkward says, and it’s not your job to shield him from that sadness, and certainly not your job to fake happiness in an attempt to smooth things over.

    Sorry if this doesn’t really add much to the conversation, and is likely me projecting quite a lot, but ouch my heart, I am having so many confusing family emotions. Thanks CA for another great post.

    1. “Also, at least in my case, trigger feelings like “but wait, why do you get to put up boundaries?! I’m not ever allowed to put up boundaries with these people! Oh wait…”

      Well, thanks for making my eyes start to water 😦 Its not just the dust.

  24. “I know you want to avoid a situation where he feels like he has to “choose between you and his family” but this is that situation! That is what you need him to do, and you need him to choose you and the family you have together. ”

    What the good Captain said, every word of it, and more, because, LW? Your husband already chose you over his family-of-origin, because for the vast majority of people, that’s what getting married *is* – promising to choose and keep choosing somebody as a major priority in your life. (That’s what typical wedding vows say, anyway, although marriage is of course different for different couples/groups.)

    It is not wrong or cruel of you to remind him of that promise, although it might be better to have it come from a couples’ therapist or similar.

  25. LW, the next time your husband wants to try and play the ‘but faaamilies should be treated equally, you like your family, why would you not like miiine?!” You need to point out that actions have consequences. You are soon going to have two children. If one of your children acts out and the other behaves, will they both get cookies? Or will they both get grounded? No? Of course not. Because they behaved differently. You are treating your families differently because they behave differently. Yours are respectful of boundaries and mindful of the space – both physically and in conversation – you need to be healthy and happy. His? Are not.

    You GET to treat them differently if they are nasty or mean to you. And if they are nasty and mean to you, it is only natural you will want distance from them. Getting that distance is good and ok. You might need less distance if your husband was willing to step up to the mark more proactively. But he isn’t. So this is the outcome. If he does not like the outcome, he can change how he handles his family, but until that point, you need to protect yourself.

    If they take as much joy in needling your child as they do, incidentally, then this becomes worse, and I would recommend couples therapy. Like, ASAP, matter of urgency. And given the history you describe for your husband, find a therapist that has experience addiction. To be honest, even without that, I’d suggest marriage counselling anyway. He’s not exactly doing a great job in hearing and prioritising your needs.

  26. This might be a good time to think hard on the Sheelzebub principle. If nothing about your husband’s attitude about this changed, how long would you put up with it?

    As an above commenter said, it seems like you’re being prevented from having an actual conversation about this because your husband won’t even entertain the opening remarks. That’s a really tough situation to be in.

    I don’t know, LW. If you can’t even have a conversation about this with your husband, how long is this situation tenable? Maybe you’re not ready to think about this, but this sounds like the kind of situation that will eventually lead to ultimatums along the lines of “We need to go to counseling about this, or our marriage is over.” I know ultimatums get a bad rap (for good reason) but… this is an impossible situation. As the Captain said, this is already a situation where your husband needs to choose between you or his family. If he won’t choose you… what will you do?

  27. You know what I realized reading all this? In every relationship you always have to choose, it’s just that people say it like it’s a bad thing, like you’re picking sides in a fight. It’s either “mom vs spouse” or “friends vs date” or “that old friend vs their ex you started to get a long with”. People think it’s only one choice, and once you make it the person/people you didn’t choose have to go eat shit. But in reality it’s not one single choice, you get lots of choices, and most of the time people don’t even care!
    Sometimes we choose our partners (“can’t play tonight bro, it’s date night”), sometimes we choose our families (“sorry honey, can’t go out today, promised my dad I’d help with the badgers”), it’s also necessary to choose ourselves (“I can’t offer my place for drinks, not this weekend. I need to study”).
    Sure, there are times when we decide to sever ties with someone, but the grand majority of the time it’s not so much about choosing somebody else and more about choosing not-you.
    It’s just seems like every time someone takes the idea of making a choice as a huge threat or offense (even if it’s something ordinary and time sensitive like my examples above), it looks like they may not have the healthiest ideas about relationships. In fact take, by taking away choice you may be taking away one of the nicest things about our connections; how nice it is to be chosen 🙂

    1. I’ve seen it put, here and elsewhere, that your capacity for love is infinite but your time, energy, effort, and attention are not. Every day we all choose how to spend those finite things and how to balance them between the people we care about (including, hopefully, ourselves!).

      In the LW’s case, she’s not asking her husband to love his family less and her more. She’s asking him to spend more of his time, energy, effort, and attention shielding her from people who make her life difficult. Which is why him countering with “but what if I didn’t love YOUR brother?!” is such an enormous derail.

  28. I agree with more or less everyone who says you don’t have to feel any way other than you feel, you get to have peace in your own house, and the comparisons and all families aren’t created equally. But as someone who comes from the family who I objectively understand why no one would want to be in-laws with, who nevertheless always feels really sad and isolated by it, I have a couple of other thoughts, especially because you asked about ways to approach this with him specifically rather than what to do with the in laws directly.

    “How would you feel if I didn’t love your family” is a terrible approach in this situation, and also doesn’t make any sense. But I wonder if it might help in some way, when you’re having these conversations, to read it partially as him saying that your feelings about his family make him sad. Him being sad about it doesn’t change anything about your feelings, or what you deserve, or about the appropriate boundaries, but it seems like a potentially big thing in the background it might be helpful for you to be tuned into given you describe your marriage as a pretty happy partnership in most other ways. It’s unfair for him to ignore the ways that Uncle Stoner is awful to deal with and expect all the uncle treatment to be the same across the board, but it might be helpful in getting there in the conversation if you acknowledge that it’s a real fact that *he* cares about them and this maybe feels like a loss. That these real facts make him feel bad is a thing he’s going to need to get over or work through if he’s going to stop making unhelpful inflammatory comparisons – but he might be making them not because he’s an idiot who doesn’t understand your families are different, but because he wants you to empathize with him about how disappointing the reality that their difference imposes on your lives is. Maybe this isn’t true and he’s being a jerk, you’re the one who knows the guy.

    I mostly say this because I have the impulse your husband does – I wish my partners liked my terrible family, and when my partner hates my parents it really affects the partnership/causes great big feelings. A big part of that is that the unique dysfunction of my family of origin means I carry tons of guilt and protective feelings. Which means complaining about them or even being angry with them still sometimes feels unbearably disloyal. The guilt and protectiveness mean I pretty much never air these feelings except with people who love them too – my siblings, close friends who have known them for decades and understand the dynamics but are also fond of them and have seen all their colours including the nice ones. And if my partner hates my family, dealing with their terribleness gets lonely because it starts to feel disloyal to share it with my partner. Which isn’t a reason for my partner to do anything differently – I GET that my parents are difficult and my partner’s entitled to choose a life of peace and steer clear of dysfunctional chaos. I want my partner to live in peace. But being the only one in the partnership who feels warm feelings about my parents triggers All The Waves Of Big Protective Feelings I Know Are Unreasonable But I Must Weather Anyway and that shit is powerful. I don’t think it changes one iota of the Captain’s advice, but it occurred to me that might be something operating in the background of his resistance to boundaries and even your attempts to just bring them up, in addition to everything else that’s going on, and so a thing to consider when you’re approaching conversations.

    1. Yes, I had some similar thoughts that I couldn’t quite put a finger on or articulate.

      Assume that what he feels for his family isn’t just the results of abuse, but is mixed in with real love. He’s not handling it well, but perhaps he feels like he’s being asked not to love his family? Or like he’s being told his family is entirely bad, or objectively unloveable? I don’t mean that the LW would be saying or even thinking these things, but maybe it’s something the husband is feeling anyway?

      Maybe it would help, in the course of setting the boundaries that need to be set, to reiterate that her relationship with them is separate from his? As are her feelings? To go out of the way a little to verbally support HIS love for them, even while reiterating that that doesn’t mean she needs to feel the same way?

  29. LW, I’m basically your husband. And here’s the thing – when my partner met me, he would’ve raved about how “normal” I was, and how “amazing” it was that I was this stable, motivated, overachiever in light of my family. And the thing is? He was so, so wrong. On one level, yes, I was (and am) absolutely more functional than my family of origin. On the other hand, most-to-all of my outward success was driven by this weird mix of feeling like I needed to be successful to hold my family together, and feeling a sort of twisted pride in being “better than” my family in terms of external success. In short, while I looked great on the outside, I was *not* truly well on the inside, and I didn’t see it at all until my partner started pushing back on my/my family’s expectations on how available we’d be to them and how often we’d interact and what would be expected of us when we did interact.

    Part of setting boundaries to protect my marriage included me giving up my claim to the role of “family superhero,” and that was the part that made it really, really difficult. Because I wasn’t a bad person, you see! I was helping! Helping people who would be LOST and ALONE and DESTROYED without me and my helping helpy helpfulness! What kind of selfish monster doesn’t help their poor sad broken family? And, don’tcha know, if I only helped *enough*, then one day my sad broken family would be fixed! Because of the power of my external successes and willingness to do whatever they wanted whenever they asked! (With a side order of – my success was proof that my childhood wasn’t bad, because obviously having a child who aced academics and got a prestigious graduate degree means nothing bad ever happened during my childhood, so my parents’ very concept of themselves as decent human beings was (and is) *dependent* on how fantastically functional I am.)

    Ultimately, what drove me to therapy was feeling like I couldn’t cope with the conflict between what my partner wanted and what my family wanted – it didn’t even occur to me, at the time, that what I wanted might matter, because I’d spent my whole life being responsible for other people’s feelings to the exclusion of my own. Setting boundaries with my family was super-ugly, and painful, and now my family mostly treats me like cr@p because I’m useless to them, but so it goes (I’m learning) with toxic narcissists.

    So, LW, I guess this is a roundabout way of saying a few things: (1) Your husband’s functionality/remarkableness/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is, more likely than not, actually part and parcel of the family system he grew up in – he didn’t magically spring himself from the toxic soup of his family, the toxic soup that is his family CREATED his extreme functionality because it benefited (and continues to benefit) them; (2) Point (1) essentially means that your husband is in a place where he is totally blind to the toxicity, because, after all, he’s got a good life and *obviously* his childhood didn’t harm him because look how great he turned out; (3) He isn’t going to spontaneously move to the “my family is toxic” side of the fence by magic, because doing that means admitting he isn’t all right, he isn’t the family superhero, and things are not okay – as the designated over-functioner, that literally has the potential to explode his worldview; and (4) Therapy would be so, so helpful here – really, individual for him, but if he’s not at that point yet, couples therapy could be a good gateway towards him examining his family of origin and his role within his family of origin with a more critical eye.

    Regardless of all of this, as far as what you can personally do about any of this, the Captain’s advice holds – set whatever boundaries you need to keep yourself healthy and emotionally safe. Your husband does have a choice ahead, I suspect, but please keep in mind that you’re not really the one who is “making him choose,” anymore than my husband was making me choose – his family (and mine, and any family with boundary problems) is really the one making him choose, by refusing to accept and respect reasonable boundaries.

    1. Thank you for this comment. I am in a similar (but not so intense) situation with my partner, who has a…complex family in which he was definitely parentified from about age 10. Your comment has given me some insight into how this may have been experienced by him and effects him now; I think it will help me to be more sensitive and constructive when we talk about it.

      1. Thanks for this. Also in a similar situation – my partner’s family is similar in that zie was (and still is) expected to parent hir older, adult siblings. Partner’s family is nowhere near as toxic as the LW’s but zie is still seen as everyone’s savior since zie was the one to graduate from a prestigious school, get a job, and is living an “objectively” good life. Zie is pressured to monetarily and otherwise support hir older siblings since zie is the “responsible” one.

        I adore my in-laws, they are super warm, welcoming people. However, I’ve asked partner to set reasonable boundaries with them for the sake of our relationship as our own little family unit. For example, this very week it was “No, sibling, we cannot drive 4 hours to babysit your children this Saturday because you have not taken any steps toward finding a babysitter other than your mother-in-law that you cannot stand. We are happy to help you seek out/recommend resources for finding alternate sources of childcare, but we have plans that we can’t (and are unwillling) to change.” Cue familial pressure from all sides. Partner is standing firm, however, and zie is slowly but surely working towards setting these boundaries.

      2. Glad my comment could help! I basically had to rebuild my entire definition of “myself” from the ground up in therapy once I realized that “family superhero” wasn’t going to cut it, and it was SO hard, it helps to know my experience might help someone else. (Side note/note from the future for your partner: Things are actually really good now – I like myself and feel like my life has more meaning than when I was living solely to fulfill family expectations – getting here was a ton of work, but disentangling myself from a broken and toxic family system was basically the best gift I’ve ever given myself.)

        1. I just had sort of a weird realization. When I was in my late 20s and on vacation one year (and thus out of easy communication), my little sister was trying to get plans together to move halfway across the country, and when she asked our mother for advice, our mother freaked out and told her to call me, because I’m the one who knows about moving away. So I get a series of frantic voicemails from my sister begging me to help her figure out how to find an apartment and a job in the town she wants to move to, because she can’t move if she doesn’t have someone to advise her, but our mother says she can’t help. (My sister was kept very dependent logistically on our parents after I left home at 17 never to return, basically to stop her doing the same thing.) There have been other incidents where my sister needed advice or emotional support and our mother has told her to call me instead.

          I’m…guessing that’s not actually normal behaviour.

          1. Welcome to the Designated Family Superhero Club – you can hang your cape on the wall over there (or shred it and then set it on fire in that other corner over there – whichever floats your boat. :-))

          2. My family is a special sort of wtf–my parents definitely played favourites, I was “The Good One” (which didn’t really make a big difference to me, since I’d never been The Bad One) until I left at 17. My sister was 9 when I left and had been The Bad One all her life, and pretty much the second our parents figured out I was never coming back, ever, suddenly she was The Good One and I was The Bad One, and she’s never really recovered from the self-image whiplash.

            It’s also always been super weird to me that despite my opting out of everything to do with family more than half a lifetime ago, my parents still occasionally just abdicate all responsibility to advise my sister and tell her to call me about things that aren’t my business but might well be considered theirs, simply because they don’t feel like bothering or helping.

          3. That happened to me too, when my brother had enough of my parents’ shit and just stopped talking or replying to them. He then became The Bad One and I went from being The Bad One all my life to being…well, still Bad, but not The Worst. Thus I didn’t get the whole whiplash thing. My other brother is, always was and always will be The Good One because he has a learning disability and doesn’t answer back or make any decisions on his own initiative. In other words, they can basically treat him as a puppet.

          4. When I realized what was going on with it, I tried really hard to be sympathetic even though it’s often been pretty difficult (she had a tendency to throw me under the bus on a regular basis). I know it was really hard on her to go from being the horrible child to the bright shining star (and for a while, the only acknowledged child–my mum apparently went for some years acting like she only had one kid) while feeling that her status was totally dependent on me not getting back in our parents’ good graces.

    2. Oh, the superhero role!
      Well now everything makes sense!
      If the husband is a superhero for his family, when LW doesn’t want to take her proper role, that makes her a super-villain!
      *shudder* there’s no way to win, then – how do you tell a hero to stop heroing?

      Is there a way for him to be a hero for his wife and child by rescuing them from racist relatives?

      1. Sylvia, the real answer is that superheroes aren’t a thing, and if your entire sense of self-worth is dependent on being a “hero” at all times, you need help resetting your expectations, both for yourself and for the world(*ask me how I know this*). His wife shouldn’t have to turn herself and her daughter into “victims” for her husband to “save” to get him to protect their boundaries – that’s just as unhealthy as what’s going on now, it just benefits different people.

  30. LW, I do not get along with my in-laws. They only live about 45 minutes away, and the mil especially wants to bond more often.

    Now, they are not dysfunctional people, just 180 from my views (and luckily, my husband’s views) politically, and I find them exhausting. I have not come up with a polite way to say “I think you are 100% wrong, and what’s worse, what you are saying is actively harmful to me and other people”. So we put up a pretty hefty moratorium on politics-talk (which mil helps enforce) but to get to that point I had to do plenty of “We’ll be seeing you” getting up and leaving, or telling them to leave the house.

    But what really started to make things go smoother is when I started reaching out to them. I know this sounds like the most counter-intuitive thing in the world, but when I started to say “let’s go do X thing” they started to back off to how often I had to see them because FAMILY. And I like inviting them to X thing because X thing is generally something like “Movie” or “Play” or “Painting event” or “Library concert” or “Laser Tag” other thing where we don’t have to talk about anything. I don’t know the ins-and-outs of your situation, and I have never been pregnant, but your husband might take it easier if you invite them, instead of always having them over for social time. And, extra bonus thing, X thing generally has a set time (which means set ending) and is not at your house. This may not be helpful for you, and Captain Awkward’s advice about discussing boundaries with husband is spot on, but if one of the biggest issues (and it sounds like it may be) is the ever-extending, dear god please leave my house visit from Hades, pro-actively saying “let’s go to this” may help.

    1. Oh, I like this strategy of Inviting to a Specific Thing. It seems like it would give the LW some control over the situation. And it can be used in conjunction with all of the boundary-setting recommendations the Captain made.

      1. I think it’s a lot less useful if your mother-in-law makes a habit of pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do and making your cry (see behaviour at wedding above). Only do this if you genuinely do want to spend time with your MIL but just find her a bit much. If she never met a boundary she didn’t bulldoze through, and insults you repeatedly, don’t give her a nice one-on-one situation where she can really express her id.

  31. LW, couples’ counseling might be something to consider to help you guys communicate about in-laws and setting boundaries. Even if you can only manage a few sessions, this kind of stuff is totally what they do.

    Couples’ counseling was a god-send for my husband and I when it came to communicating about each other’s kids (and step-kids are basically tiny, weird in-laws that come over and live with you every other week.)

    In addition to finding ways to talk about our kids without defensiveness, one of the things we established was that at any point, the non-bio parent can be done with kid interaction, and that’s okay. Biology is a hell of a drug, and my kids “adorable boisterousness” can be my husband’s “shrieking banshees.” And neither of us is wrong. The ability to nope out at any time will make you feel much better about in-law interactions. Trying to force yourself to interact with people and feel good about it when you don’t want to is only going to build up resentment, which is exactly the opposite of what your husband wants.

  32. I 100% agree with everything CA said except this part: Or, consider putting him to work on unpleasant chores. “So glad you’re here. It’s gutter-cleaning day! Thanks a million for helping!” He’ll either bail or you’ll get your gutters cleaned.

    I don’t know how you’re Brother in law is but if he’s anything like mine having him assist with any kind of chore turns into more work for you later on. The last three months of my pregnancy had my in-laws over way more than I was comfortable with and my husband tried the putting them to work trick. Some of the results included a crib where I couldn’t lower the side because brother in law put that together, a nursery where my idiot brother in law decided to paint the ceiling the same color as the walls because he accidentally got some of the colored paint on the ceiling and it was easier to paint the whole ceiling lime green than to run to the hardware store for white touch up paint, the ‘fridge that never opened just right after he was asked to tighten the door handle (he did the whole door which required a handyman to come look at it and even he wasn’t sure how he did it!). So…just be careful with that one.

    Good Luck! You’re a great person…because you will at least sit in the room with your in-laws. My hat’s off to you there!!!

    1. Every time my in-laws visit, I magically metamorphose into the Aggressive Cleaning Tornado because their attempts to “help” give me nightmares. One time I found my sister-in-law “washing dishes” without using any soap. She just ran the dishes under the water and halfheartedly scraped the food off with her fingernails. Another time my brother-in-law brought his Waffle Iron of Waffles Past, Cat Hair and Horrors to visit and tried to cook me breakfast. Nope. Just NOPE.

      1. Ew!!! These scenarios are also the reason I don’t eat a lot of food other people prepare. So gross.

    2. See also, if they give you a lot of help (be it useful or not) you now owe them. Personally I find it much much harder to push people away who’ve done stuff for me, and also I feel icky about accepting help from people I don’t like, and even if you personally are fine with it manipulative people will throw the debt in your face when they want something.

      So…as a tactic to hopefully annoy them into coming less, I suggest it has a shelf life. If it doesn’t seem to be working, stop doing it. Helping ties people closer together in my experience. Even “helping” that isn’t really helpful. Plus it will give them more space to criticise how you live and bug you to change it.

      1. I am right there with you on the accepting help/owing thing. LW doesn’t say specifically what flavor of abusive the in-laws are, but if any of the boundary-stomping behavior includes snooping, rumor-mongering or endless nitpicky criticism, that would be another reason not to give them free rein in the LW’s home.

      2. I think the type of help CA was talking about is for when someone shows up unexpectedly, or stays longer than you’ve asked them for.

        “Hi In Law, so nice to see you. Today is regrout day and you can leave after lunch, or start on the kitchen”

    3. Oh gosh, I can relate to this. And it is SO MUCH mental effort to try to figure out a chore these Halpful folks can do that you won’t have to undo and then redo later on.

      My maternal grandfather, RIP, was a combination of Depression-era cheap (“Hey, I straightened, with my vise and pliers, all these free nails of all different sizes that I found half-buried in the dirt floor of the garden shed …rusty nails still hammer good, right? If I paint the walls the same color, no one will notice that I made rooms and shelves in the basement out of all different kinds and sizes of wood, from inch-thick particle board to plywood to wood paneling to 2x8s to reclaimed wall studs…”) and so practical that he was horribly aesthetically-challenged (examples of his taste: bought a Neon Baby Diarrhea / Snot Green Chevy Nova and was sad he couldn’t get burgundy red vinyl seats in it (he had to settle for black ones); and once stated his ideal bedroom would be painted black, walls and ceiling, with black carpet and a wall-to-wall mattress with black sheets “because all you do in there is sleep”). If it couldn’t be fixed with WD-40, (green) garden twine, baling wire, duct tape or a couple of sturdy thwacks with a hammer, it wasn’t going to get fixed. When your only took is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, right? When your only tools are WD-40, (green) garden twine, baling wire, duct tape or a hammer, then…et cetera! We still find some…unusual…repairs in my grandparents’ former house (he laid some faux-tile linoleum sheeting directly over a sewage pipe trench jackhammered in the subflooring and was astonished when the tile would “weep” moisture around the edges and bubble up six months out of the year, had little hidey-holes cut in the ceiling of the basement to stash things in between the ductwork, etc.)

      My granddad trying to do his own electrical work on the cheap resulted in a storage shed full of family heirlooms and furniture burning down and nearly setting his house and his neighbor’s house on fire, too, plus there were numerous hot spots in our basement walls that our electrician just found when we gutted the basement, including what are apparently brown heat marks on the inside of the walls. He said we were lucky the house didn’t burn down decades ago. Holy socks!

      So, yeah, better to pick something that is hard to goof up, like raking up leaves or something. If you ask a Halper to wash a load of laundry you can bet a bright red cotton sock and a dry-clean-only silk blazer will get thrown in with the whites and boiled in bleach-y water!

  33. Dear LW,

    You have all my sympathy. This is rough. The Captain has given you stellar advice, but I would like to offer a caveat for one bit of it:

    “I want you to have a wonderful relationship with your family, but I am limited in how much I can or want to play host to anyone, especially right now. I appreciate you being a buffer.“

    This bit above may not be true for you. It certainly wouldn’t have been true for me in that there are people I could happily see daily forever, and others, notably including my ex in laws, whom I could easily live without.

    If entertaining in general isn’t the issue, please don’t bring it up. It will bite you.

    Instead, remember that you are allowed to feel what you feel. You are allowed to say
    “I want you to have the relationship you want for yourself and your family members. I need a less close relationship with your relatives than you want. I need you to support that by reducing the demands you make on me to entertain them.”

    Good luck LW and Jedi hugs if you want them.

  34. As a survivor myself, I find what your husband says concerning. It may seem complicated and that he has mixed feelings but this has been drilled into him, what family means, what responsibility and love mean, in abusive families, it is a means of control, it is using this concept of unconditional love that protects the abusers but not the abused. While the Captain is right that right now your boundaries, your energy and well-being are the most important, your husband, brilliant, funny, charming as he is, is going to have to address the issues he has from his childhood to make sure the cycle of abuse is not perpetuated.
    If he is prioritising their feelings over your well-being, he might even make that a pattern with your children. In my own family, it was not just the perpetrators, even the victims would police other victims with this “but family means unconditional love and forgiveness, how can you let abuse affect your relationship with your faaaamily” stuff. You need to know, and he needs to know, when it means protecting you and your kids, that he can make the right call. The feelings of his family should never, never be more important than the well-being of your kids, he needs to be able to trust you and be able to speak frankly about decisions that are best for your family together, no false equivalents, no guilt or pressuring. You need to be able to count on each other to break the cycle. That means believing and trusting you when you say what you need, for one, and working within that, not trying to move your boundaries for his family, that is baaaaad.

    1. The feelings of his family should never, never be more important than the well-being of your kids

      Among other things: This. You are an adult, LW, you will probably (hopefully) be able to hold your own. But what if he pressures your kids to interact more with the adults in their life (especially his family) than they are comfortable with? Will he do what you agreed to as long as your present and let your in-laws be as possessive as they want to be once you’re out of the room? You have to be able to trust him with this.

  35. LW, am I understanding correctly that your husband is expecting you to:

    – work full-time
    – be the primary caregiver for your toddler
    – host his family every single weekend

    Because if this is true, set aside the terrible family for a minute, your husband is being selfish and unreasonable and frankly kind of an asshole.

    1. He sounds like a huge part of this failed family narrative. Counseling for you LW would help you extricate yourself. Maybe scheduling it the same time you’r.supposed to be with them. Call it a doctor appointment.

    2. I think we can add

      – demanding the right to tell you how and what to feel about his family

      to that list, and yes, neverjaunty, I agree with you. Right now it seems like the LW’s husband is prioritizing everything BUT her.

  36. I have a 20 year history dealing with difficult IL’s. They were meddling, boundary challenged and my husband also was raised to believe that he was responsible for them. So, he was very accommodating to just about any request they made even to the detriment of me. I let this go on for too long, before I had a come to Jesus talk with him and started putting forth boundaries that limited the time I spent with my IL’s, as we just never got along, and I wanted to reduce the time I had to interact with them and how much they were in my physical space.

    My advice to LW is to stop going down the rabbit hole and comparing each of your families and requiring each other to like/love your respective families. That is just wasted energy that will get you nowhere near solving these issues in your marriage. Instead, start focusing on how you and your husband can support each other in your extended family relationships. This will require LW to get honest with her husband about the extent to which she can interact with and be in the same space as her MIL and BIL. From there boundaries can be put together as The Captain suggested that reduce the amount of time LW spends with her IL.s

    If LW and her husband cannot get on the same page of supporting each other with regard to these IL relationships, I suggest counseling as if this problem is left unsolved it will lead to deep resentment which is a relationship killer.

  37. My in-laws are awesome, and every weekend would be (and is, trust me, they try) too much for me!

  38. You could tell him the truth. He knows it already. That’s why he keeps pressuring you to change your mind.

  39. LW, I feel you so very hard. I may have walked into it a bit more than you did, as my husband’s family already lived in the same town as he did when we got married, but this sounds so very familiar. I don’t know all the ins and outs of your story or your personality, but there is one bit that I think might be common to those of us raised as ladyfolk – a big hurdle, even though I’m outspoken and strong-willed by nature, was overcoming the social programming that I had to be accommodating, whereas he had no such compunctions.

    You have the right to demand the space that you need – and don’t let that word, “need,” fool you. What you need is not “the absolute bare minimum you think you can probably tolerate without resorting to axe murder.” It is not “my coping mechanisms are enough to get me through this.” What you need is a “sustainable normal” where you exist in a sufficiently healthy state to not only make it through the day, but explore life-enhancing activities like socializing (with those you actually like), doing hobbies, and so on. And feelings cannot be obligated into existence, so understand that he himself is pulling some abusive, manipulative crap on you when he tries to suggest that you’re betraying him by failing to love them. You don’t have to put it to him that way, necessarily, but you will probably have to be very firm about shutting it down when he tries it. You may be experiencing some of that same halo effect for him that he’s experiencing for his family if you find yourself excusing these kinds of behaviors from him.

    If your husband is putting himself out to be hospitable and friendly to your family, he may feel that there’s a quid-pro-quo situation going on (my husband, raised in a very similar scenario, was constantly doing things “for me” that I didn’t even want – much less ask for – and then feeling upset when I didn’t reciprocate by violating my own boundaries for him). My suggestion would be to shut that right down by informing him directly that he’s not obligated to your family at all (and stick to it; let him determine his level of involvement with your family). If he has the fixation on “fairness” that I think I’m seeing in your letter, he may be standoffish toward them for a while in an effort to make things “even” – but if he likes them he’ll come around, and if he doesn’t, it’s still probably best that his boundaries aren’t being violated anymore, either.

    1. If your husband is putting himself out to be hospitable and friendly to your family, he may feel that there’s a quid-pro-quo situation going on (my husband, raised in a very similar scenario, was constantly doing things “for me” that I didn’t even want – much less ask for – and then feeling upset when I didn’t reciprocate by violating my own boundaries for him). My suggestion would be to shut that right down by informing him directly that he’s not obligated to your family at all (and stick to it; let him determine his level of involvement with your family). If he has the fixation on “fairness” that I think I’m seeing in your letter, he may be standoffish toward them for a while in an effort to make things “even” – but if he likes them he’ll come around, and if he doesn’t, it’s still probably best that his boundaries aren’t being violated anymore, either.

      ^^^^THIS!!!^^^^^ My husband used to insist that I go along for visits to my in-laws and when I refused he would throw out the “well I do it for you!” This was something I had never asked for him to do. I just started scheduling visits with my family without him. If he offered to go, I’d let him know that he was welcome to come but this visit wasn’t going to be logged on some invisible score tally card somewhere to be dragged out in the future as a reason for me to visit his parents. It made a huge difference!!! He stayed home more, stopped pressuring me to go with him. Interestingly…now that we’re years into this deal and he’s had to do those visits with his family by himself the amount of visits has dropped from once or twice a month to once or twice a year. Apparently without me to take the heat off of him, the visits aren’t as enjoyable.

      1. THIS.

        We’ve gotten so many letters from people (mostly women) exhausted from running interference between their partner (mostly men) and their families, and I love that Captain is like, maybe, just, stop? Maybe without you there to use a human shield, they’ll have to do some managing of their relationships on their own?

      2. >> I just started scheduling visits with my family without him. If he offered to go,
        >> I’d let him know that he was welcome to come but this visit wasn’t going to
        >> be logged on some invisible score tally card somewhere to be dragged out
        >> in the future as a reason for me to visit his parents.

        This is brilliant!

  40. I’d be tempted to ask if there was some reason he doesn’t feel his daughter deserves to be protected from his brother’s inappropriate language and behavior. It’s fucking frightening, as a victim of childhood abuse, to see this description of a man building excuses for why the emotional safety and comfort of the woman he loves and their daughter are something to be sacrificed at his brother’s feet.

    However inappropriate Uncle behaves in front of you, he WILL be worse when you are not present. Especially if your husband refuses to take meaningful action to stop him.

    1. Yes, this. He might be too worn down from a lifetime of his family’s crap to stand up for himself, but he should realize that it isn’t good for his kids to be exposed to that. Sometimes that is that catalyst that spurs people into action in standing up to abusive family, they see it being carried on to their own kids and think “Wait a minute… this is just wrong.”
      I think LW is going to have to sit down with him and give him a list of the things that she won’t compromise on regarding his relatives and their children. He doesn’t get to unilaterally decide that it’s okay for both the children and her that this is something to be endured without any choice in the matter.

    2. Yeah, that’s why the whole “let husband take toddler to in-laws” kind of scares me. The LW hasn’t mentioned anything more pernicious than racist/homophobic language (but that in and of itself is pretty damn bad) so I don’t want to make assumptions, but it does worry me – if the husband can’t say something like “hey, brother, I don’t want you to use that kind of language around my toddler,” is he going to step up and say something if the uncle is doing something worse, like driving under the influence with the toddler in the car?

      1. Long-time reader delurking to agree with this SO MUCH. The LW did mention “physical and sexual abuse” in her letter. Under these circumstances, LW *and Husband* absolutely, positively, MUST protect their child. I personally would not leave a child, especially a pre-verbal or only recently verbal one, alone with a relative who had a history of abuse.

        Family counseling might be a really good idea; sometimes it takes an outsider to see the dynamics in a family and help strengthen boundaries.

  41. Dang, LW. That’s a tall pile of bricks. But congrats on your new wee one💕
    Online, I ran into no less than six people from my past, whom I’d tried to (re)start friendly relationships with (some blood relatives.) I learned that every person who’d chose to reply to my, “so, how’ve ya been?” with a rehearsed-sounding script featuring the narrator as main victim, gave me an important tool. What I gained was a roadmap of their normal. It was exactly the set of actions they were going to run on me, ranging from re-opening old wounds, to successfully running a “please make an expensive emergency trip to come help me, no one else will come, I’ll pay you back your airfare and expenses later,” ruse on me.
    At first, their victim stories didn’t appear to me to be an extension of Oprah’s*, “When people tell you who they are, Believe Them,”- but in six out of six cases, the Poor Me story Was a predictor to their future actions. Based on that, beware the MIL’s story. I have concerns that she will feel entitled to interfere with your marriage. I hope I’m wrong. -Hope this is helpful.
    *Oprah’s quoting someone, I think?

  42. LW, there is no one on this green earth I would host every weekend.

    That includes my partners family, my family, the late Nelson Mandela and Krysten Ritter.

    It is not unreasonable to limit visits to once a month.

    1. Oh how I wish there was a button here that would set “I love this” lights flashing around your comment!!!

  43. My FIL lives with us, and we still have to have that boundary conversation. It’s ok for us to go on date nights. It’s ok for us to go out just as our own nuclear family. We’ll bring him some dessert and leave dinner for him. It doesn’t help that Mr. tries to protect him from me – transposing some issues from his mother and a horrible divorce between his parents. Every so often we have that discussion. I’m not his mother, he doesn’t need to protect his dad from me, our marital home vs. not his dad’s place that he still lives.

    The majority of the time it functions amazingly well, but even with three really easy-going people, a fairly large space and strong marriage, we need to have those check ins. His feelings about people are his feelings. Mine are mine. Your actions are your actions. They are not the same, and do not feel your feels through me.

    1. I feel like “do not feel your feels through me” is both an amazing mantra and also needs to be embroidered on a cross-stitch in my house.

      Personally, I avoid visits to my parents’ house and prefer to spend time with them one-on-one, because it’s so easy to fall back into the peacekeeper role that I got stuck with as a child, which is awful and inappropriate and no kid should ever feel like they’re responsible for wrangling the feelings of two adults and their sibling, so I definitely know what it’s like to drag those patterns into new relationships.

  44. Seems to me that a lot of this would be equally exhausting to the LW even if the step-family were the most wonderful people in the world — the husband needs to stop making this about how the LW feels about specific people and instead start respecting the difference between Introvert and Extrovert.

    I mean, I don’t care if you were my soul twin from another womb, I would still only be able to handle a couple of hours with you before I’d need some alone time to recharge. Need, the way I need sleep or food.

  45. Hopefully this is not a derail, but I have a follow-up question to this. So let’s say the LW takes the Captain’s advice and sets those boundaries with her spouse around how much interaction she is willing to have with his family / how many times to host them, etc.

    Spouse’s family members have already figured out what buttons to push on Spouse to get their way. What happens when they push those buttons and he caves and lets them do an end run around LW’s boundaries?

    For instance: BIL texts them to ask if they are around on Sunday. LW and Spouse agree to tell BIL “we have plans on Sunday, sorry, can’t hang out.” But then on Wednesday MIL interrogates Spouse about his plans, and he forgets and says that they aren’t really doing anything on Sunday, and then the whole family shows up on their doorstep and LW is placed in the position of either leaving her home, not letting them in, or hosting the entire family because they just called her bluff?

    There are probably going to be two issues here – the setting of the boundaries and the enforcing of those boundaries. What are her options if she sets boundaries, and every time his family pushes on those boundaries it’s a fight between her and Spouse? Is it counseling time?

    1. I think the best response is for her to keep a go-bag of toddler and mum supplies (toys, change of clothes, novel to read, backup phone charger), pick up keys and toddler and leave the house. McDonald’s serves something like coffee and the ones with a play area don’t mind people sitting and letting their children run around wearing themselves out. She could also scout out local friends who are willing to let them come over and just hang out. When Spouse has to do the exhausting emotional labour of managing his family on his own he will probably be much less inclined to host his family constantly.

      Not that counselling isn’t very needed–Spouse clearly need to process some stuff–but that doesn’t mean that LW has to keep grinning and bearing it in the meantime.

  46. Hi LW! I’ve been the husband in your situation: letting my dysfunctional, alcoholic father walk alllllllllllll over our plans, arrive unannounced for “just a few minutes” and then staying for 18 hours (not exaggerating! oh, my, poor husband), staying for unplanned overnights…you name it and I let it happen.

    I love Captain Awkward’s suggestions because your husband’s going to do everything in his power to maintain the pattern his family has grooved into him. You’re not wrong to want space! He’s trying to train you, unconsciously I’m sure, the way he’s been trained to put up with really shitty behavior. To him, this is what But We’re Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamily means and you just don’t get it so he has to explain. Also, I believe you, LW, are the kind and empathetic one your husband trusts to be reasonable and accommodating. He knows in his guts that he can’t get that from his family so he ONLY asks it, unfairly, from his wife.

    What helped me start detaching was my husband talking about the budget of our time. I think someone put it in terms of spoons earlier in the comments. It was a very stark convo. For example, if I am unwilling or unable to set limits, that meant our whole weekend could potentially be devoted to Ostensibly Oblivious Dad Time. Every weekend. Remember how we used to enjoy the occasional, romantic breakfast alone? You know, without your dad yelling that he had cheese in the parking lot of our apartment building so let him in (true story). Remember how stressed you get when you can’t see your friends or read quietly or do chores because your dad tags along for hours? Remember how I have to put work on hold because your dad becomes “offended” when I don’t pay attention to him the full and complete 7 hours he “stops by” and then I’m cranky because my work isn’t done? It changed my warped perspective of “you’re telling me MY dad is the bad one and I have to be mean to him be saying no”, into “oh, my dad’s invading all our free time and that’s not great”.

    I wasn’t good at it at first and definitely half-assed boundaries or let old habits take over. I regret to say that I was SUPER defensive with the hubs and brought up his own family in the same way your husband is doing with you about your siblings, but I did start to make changes in how I dealt with my dad and the results were infinitely and almost immediately positive which helped reinforce my new behavior. I did the going out with coffee with dad by myself thing. The agreement was that I never throw my husband under the bus about cancelling plans. It had to be me saying generic “we’re busy”, “maybe next time gotta go”, “I can’t” and not guilting my husband for quietly leaving in the midst of hour three of Surprise Dad Visit to escape. This was important because otherwise I wasn’t the one enforcing boundaries, it would be blamed on Mean Husband who doesn’t understand faaaaaaaaaaaaaaamily.

    Later, I got into full-on actual boundaries after a deep dive with a great new therapist. I realized that I, like your husband, was so fearful of not catering to my dad’s every whim that I just expected my husband to swallow his needs down like I automatically did because I was raised to see that as being easier and the right thing to do. I hope your husband can eventually get into talk therapy, for his own sake. Maybe don’t push him on it just now as he’s so defensive and needs to take his own steps towards that goal. Couple’s counseling, however, is a GREAT suggestion and introduction to the wonders of outside guidance from a trained professional.

    I do think, with a little more distance and even a few small shake ups of the status quo, your husband could get some perspective about his family and the way he operates in that particularly toxic solar system. I sure did.

    Stand your ground and take care of yourself, LW. On behalf of your husband, I’m sorry you’re being drawn into these horrible dynamics. Your instincts are right.

    tl;dr: I was the hubs with my fam in the relationship. I expected husband to be the accommodating one with the patience of a saint because I was unwilling to say “no”. I did it out of fear, anxiety, and long-standing familial patterns. Husband telling me that he need to budget out free time helped me tentatively stop prioritizing my dysfunctional dad and start putting down boundaries. With time and trial and error, boundaries are firmly in place now.

    1. Just wanted to say ‘YAY!’ to your story. That sounds like hard work, and like a good place to have arrived at.

  47. Even if LW isn’t an introvert, there are only 168 hours in a week, and a lot of them are already designated for sleep, paid work, and toddler care. It’s reasonable to say “here’s how much time we have for everything other than work, sleep, and taking care of our small child. There’s nobody outside this household who gets all of it, no matter how much we love them. Not even if they’re doing our laundry while I’m making dinner and you’re reading to the child.”

  48. Dear LW,

    I wanted to address one other thing, the idea of a painless way to bring up your discomfort.

    I don’t know that there is such a thing.

    I think that when a deep emotional chord is struck – like family, like taking care of people, like love, like how you demonstrate emotion – when you hit this kind of thing, there’s no rubric.

    If you are honest, and speak of your feelings, and minimize derailing, and don’t demand he feel any particular way; if you keep the conversation about your needs and feelings you’ll probably minimize conflict. But I don’t think you’ll eliminate it.

    But that’s ok! You still deserve to be relaxed and happy. You and your spouse and your kids deserve to have friends and family who aren’t racist and abusive. And you’re right to advocate for yourself. Go you.

  49. I’m not sure if anyone else suggested this, but is it at all possible the LW doesn’t feel comfortable leaving their children alone with their in-laws because of the abuse? It is perfectly reasonable not to want to leave your children alone with abusive people, and if the LW doesn’t feel like they can rely on the husband to speak up if something happens, that could be adding another layer of crumminess to this whole situation.

    The LW may feel like they need to be a buffer, if their husband is more of the type to freeze, which is obviously a natural response and nothing to be ashamed of, but that also may make some of the options suggested not as much of a possibility for them.

    After all, the husband has a lifetime of being told not to speak up when abused – it’s really hard to break that, or to see that certain things are not acceptable when you’ve been taught that it’s just how things are.

    1. I was wondering that, too. I would be very untrusting letting my kid be around people I knew were abusive–especially without me there, *especially* if the other parent was the type to let his abusive family run roughshod. Maybe that’s unfair, but that would be my response.

    2. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

      Just speaking as a parent, I would never knowingly foster a relationship between my kid and an extended family member I believed/knew had a past as an abuser, whether physical, emotional, or sexual. That may not be the case in this situation — I see that the LW mentioned that her husband had a serious history of abuse, but not whether the extended family that’s living nearby were among the perpetrators, or whether the extended family that’s living nearby knew about and facilitated/enabled the abuse.

      But if you have people whom you perceive as not just offputting but dangerous around your kids, especially little ones, they’ll implicitly believe that they’re trustworthy. The most likely scenario is that they’ll treat your kid no better than they treated their own. If the situation is indeed “these people abused my spouse in terrible ways,” I personally think you not only CAN but SHOULD fight the battle with your spouse to keep your kids away from them as much as possible, even though it would no doubt be exceedingly difficult.

      1. There was a thread recently, right, where people talked about grandparents and how some were toxic, and their experiences with that? I think that would be a good read for the LW, too, in deciding how much contact she wants her children to have with abusive people.

  50. I think there’s a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed before the LW’s husband can really understand her point of view–and that’s that he is seeing her as an extension of himself, at least in relation to his family.

    He has had, from a far too young age, to subsume himself in the service of his family–to push his own needs so far down that he has forgotten what they are, or that they exist at all, and certainly that he is even allowed to have them. That has been his job since he was nine years old, and given that he has had no rupture, no moment of clarity about this, it is still his normal: ‘in my family, my mother and siblings have all the needs, and I have none, and also I am responsible for meeting all the needs.’

    He is now extending this role to his wife. I don’t think, sadly, that it is uncommon in people who have been abused, or consumed by their families, to think, instead of ‘my needs come last, ‘our needs come last’ once they are partnered or married. He may even be resenting you, LW, for not falling into line, for not doing what he sees to be the only right thing.

    This is not an in-law problem so much as a husband problem. He doesn’t realise he is allowed boundaries with his family, and so he has no concept of his wife being entitled to any–even though she is pregnant, even though this is depleting her introvert self, even though this entire situation is all kinds of brutally fucked up. He has learned to put his suffering to one side, learned that that is simply what one does when interacting with his family, and until he sees this for what it is, and recognises that it’s a problem, he will not be able to stop ‘my needs don’t matter’ from turning into ‘our needs don’t matter’.

    LW, your husband has had a terrible time of it. His childhood was taken away by people who preyed on his vulnerability and need to please, people whose duty it was to protect him from this kind of damage. And now he needs help to see that that was wrong, that he is entitled to a different kind of life, and that his damage is now damaging you and his little family. It is unethical for him to offer up his wife and child as more souls for his family to consume, and false to think that he must continue offering up his own.

    He needs compassion and help—from a professional, as well as from you—to start to see these things. Otherwise the family you and he are building will be demolished, and he might not even notice. And you need help, too, in being heard above the loudspeaker messages in his mind. You need to be there for one another, and I hope you can find a way to make that real and solid.

    1. This this this this this!!!! It can be so hard to find a kind way to say ‘stay in your own feelings lane’.

  51. I think one thing that happens in these bad family dynamics is -sometimes!- people get it in their heads that they have to keep putting up with X terrible behavior because if they don’t, it means that they *could* have stopped putting up with it before. And that means they’ve suffered through it needlessly., or they deserved better all along, or whatever other thought they can’t bear to confront. LW, I join everyone else in wishing you lots of firm boundary setting, and endorsing LOTS of marital counseling.

    1. Interesting; that sounds sort of like a reverse of the sunk-cost fallacy, where you think your investment will be lost if you don’t keep on with whatever isn’t working. Hint: it’s already lost, never to return, so do yourself a favor and get on with your life.

  52. After reading the whole thing my first mental response was “…so when is MIL going to screw up her housing situation and need to move in with the LW?”

    1. LW here – she already tried! Bought herself a one-way ticket to our wedding and asked where “her room” was when she arrived. Husband took her on a tour of the barely-2-bedroom miniature dollhouse that is our home and then bought her return ticket. It was ludicrous.

        1. Ha ha, yes! I left that charming detail out of the original letter because husband drew boundaries on it so fast I didn’t even have to open my mouth. So an illustration of just how co-dependent the family is, but fortunately not an issue on which he and I disagree.

  53. LW, reading your letter was like looking into a dark mirror. I hope it’s ok if I respond with my own story, so that if any part of it strikes a chord you can feel that much more informed and less alone.

    I met my husband 6 years ago. I was lucky enough that I had a fantastic therapist at the time, and he was looking to get into therapy when we first met. That has made ALL the difference. Like your husband, his family is full of addicts and abusers who constantly violate boundaries. While he was never made “the man of the house” the way your husband was at so young an age, growing up in a family of adults who behaved like children and who didn’t allow him to be emotionally vulnerable made him hyper responsible and co-dependent.

    My family by comparison was very functional, so I didn’t understand how to even process his family’s dysfunction until we started seeing the same aforementioned therapist in separate couples counseling sessions (I continued my therapy with her, he started seeing her a different day of the week, and she advised us both on our relationship). His family would act outrageously inappropriate with me and him whenever we met, and when I would point out “hey this thing your family did was outrageously inappropriate, let’s talk about that” on the car ride home he’d become very distressed and try to convince me that a.) that couldn’t have possibly happened, he didn’t notice it (yes my love, because to you this is so normal it’s not even worth noticing) b.) even if it did happen it’s not that bad, and I can’t be mad at them because they’re ADDICTS they can’t HELP it they’re just SICK and it’s my job to pretend everything is normal and c.) HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF I TALKED ABOUT YOUR PARENTS THIS WAY?!

    Your husband likes to make use of the c. argument; does he make use of the others? I didn’t know how to respond to my husband’s bizarre (to me) reaction until our therapist pointed out that this is a form of *gaslighting*, and while she was helping him to understand his issues and create boundaries with his family, she helped me with scripts to slap down any further attempts to gaslight me. NGL, it took *years* of repeatedly shutting down my husband’s attempts to gaslight me before he started to admit that maybe I wasn’t full of shit and yes, his family really DID hurt him as much as his wife can tell because she has eyes. It was exhausting. It involved a lot of crying on my part, a lot of dread, and for a while I felt like my husband would never admit the sky is blue, bears shit in the woods and his parents had done deep, love-murdering, childhood-destroying abuse to him and his sister (and that because we are now adults we need not play along with it a moment longer than we choose).

    During this process, my husband had a very weird relationship with my family. The kinder and more accepting my parents were of him, the more he would act like a sulking teenager when we visited them. If anyone asked him how he felt about my parents, he would honestly say he loved them and loved spending time with them. This confused the hell out of me until I brought it up in therapy, and had it explained to me that my husband couldn’t bear the evidence displayed right in front of him that other families made him feel a million times saner and more functional than his own, so acting like a moody teen was his way of not betraying his own family while he grappled with coming to terms with how much they abused him. LW, you don’t mention this outright in your letter, but it sounds like you have a great relationship with your family and your husband keeps comparing the two as if it’s some sort of contest, so I wanted to bring this up in case any of it rings a bell.

    I hope your husband can get help. This shit is bone deep and if your husband’s hurts are anything like my husband’s hurts, I can’t imagine healing them on my own, much less with a full time job and two babies (congrats, btw!). A therapist, and/or ideally an al-anon group for children of addicts to help him notice patterns of abuse in other families may make a huge difference. It doesn’t sound like he even wants help or thinks he has a problem, and for that I have no useful advice. But if he DOES decide to get help, I can say it’s possible for someone who wants to change to do so. My husband has a much healthier, based-in-reality relationship with his family now, listens to me, respects my feelings, and trusts my instincts when he is unsure about his own. He actually acts as happy as he once secretly felt to be around my parents. No more gaslighting, and while we are a united front on establishing boundaries during our visits with his family, it’s not escaped our attention that the healthiest members of his family are the ones who put an entire ocean/continent between them (what my therapist refers to as “greyhound therapy”, for the bus line). So we moved overseas, where my parents live, where we hope the reduced contact will help my husband continue his efforts to break the cycle of abuse as we build our family.

    Parents die, siblings have their own families. The family you create together must always be his #1 priority, if he hopes for it to outlive him.

  54. I just want to point out that what she sees in his family as outrageous and inappropriate is his normal. Just like her family feels normal to her…everyone’s family has their own brand of crazy it just feels “normal” until you get out in the world and see other ways of being. If she starts playing victim (coincidentally like how his mother acts) about how terrible his family is that will be familiar to him but doesn’t necessarily fix things. She needs to set her own boundaries with her husband without blame to his family.

    I think you can always support your spouse with their trials and tribulations but never trash talk their family. You never know when your inlaws and spouse could become your outlaws including your spouse but because you have children, their going to always be family.

    My personal story…my ex-husband’s family is still mine because he’s gone (suicide) but our son deserves to have his whole family even if (on both sides) there’s crazy. Protect the safety of your children but as adults your children get to decide their own boundaries too. Your husband may also think his family is crazy but he needs to set his own boundaries and you need to set yours. Hopefully, you will be a mostly united team and take care of each other.

    I LOVE Captain Awkward and mostly you are spot on but I think you missed this part.

    1. It’s not “playing victim” to set boundaries around the poor behaviour of others. It’s not “trash talking” to point out that poor behaviour. And just because abusive and inappropriate is *his* normal doesn’t mean LW has to pretend that it’s actually normal or desirable.

      I’m sorry for your loss but I think that there are some unpacked assumptions in your idea of family being an inescapable force whose “crazy” [sic] must be endured because there is no other option. You are “but faaaaamily”ing in a space that explicitly rejects that as an obligation, reason, or excuse.

      1. I’m only pointing out that if you read LW she is pretty black and white about his being horrible family and hers is “…kindest, funniest, most liberal people you can possibly imagine” which true or not is only her perspective. No family is perfect. It’s recognizing we all have a view of what normal is based on what we grew up with… I am not saying family is an inescapable force nor am I saying it should be endured. LW seems to want her husband to fix everything. She needs to figure out what is her work and what is her husband’s and stick to her own work. My point is that no one lives on an island or in a bubble… be aware of your surroundings, life is messy and complicated. Children complicated things in a big way, keep them safe but allow them to make their own opinions about ALL of their family members.

        1. Liberrygrrl, I have to respectfully disagree with your last sentence – I am very, very, very glad my parents did not allow Uncle Child Molester or Grandpa Angry Alcoholic or Auntie Flies Into Indiscriminate Rages for No Reason to have access to me as a child just because I “deserved” to “form my own opinion” about “ALL” of my family members. No one – NO ONE! – “deserves” access to a vulnerable child for any reason, least of all because “well, what is ‘normal,’ anyway, and they’re faaaaaaaamily, and maybe my child won’t be as harmed by this particular person as I was.” Nope. No way. Toxic people are not any less toxic to children – if anything, they’re more toxic, because children don’t have the years of life experience and self-confidence-building needed to retain a healthy sense of self in the face of toxicity and abuse.

          Chalking it up to a “difference of perspective,” as you seem to want to do here, is fine when the dispute is over, say, eating dinner with someone with bad table manners. Look at the letter again – LW is clear that Mr. LW’s family history “involves active addiction, physical and sexual abuse,” AND she describes, very clearly, how Mr. LW was and still is victimized by his family’s emotional and verbal abuse. Whatever may or may not be true about LW’s own family (which seems to be the part you’re taking issue with?), I can’t agree with you that there’s a “difference of perspective” to be had with respect to Mr. LW’s abusive family, and the abusive family does not “deserve” access to LW’s toddler and soon-to-be-born baby just so said tiny children can “form their own opinion” about the abusive family.

          1. You are misunderstanding me. I’m not saying let your two year old go play with Uncle Chester the molester. I’m saying that you need to allow your husband to do his work around his family. You as a couple also need to protect your child around anyone (family or not) and that you also need to recognize that like it or not, those folks are your child/rens family too. If you think you know best for your child as they grow up it might become the forbidden fruit and they might gravitate to them. Allowing people the opportunity for deciding their own growth (I’m talking about the husband in this situation) while you focus on your own stuff is HUGE in my opinion. Children should ALWAYS be protected. I say this after my own mother had some unstable emotional times where I would not allow my child to be around her without me being there. I believe every family has some kind of addiction, physical, emotional or sexual abuse it in, it’s more of a matter of how insidious it is…I don’t think any family is immune to it. The LW’s black and white thinking(his family is horrible and hers are perfect) and what smells like control issues to me, seems very condescending. That’s all I’m saying…

          2. “I believe every family has some kind of addiction, physical, emotional or sexual abuse it in, it’s more of a matter of how insidious it is…I don’t think any family is immune to it.”

            … No. No, not every family is abusive, and treating abuse as somehow normal makes it a lot easier for abusive people to get access to their victims.

            I have family members who are recovering alcoholics. If they relapsed they would not be permitted near my children while drinking, full stop, and I wouldn’t spend time around them while they were drinking either. If they couldn’t understand that they wouldn’t get to see us at any time.

          3. @liberrygrrl

            Oh, sweetie, no. “I believe every family has some kind of addiction, physical, emotional or sexual abuse it in, it’s more of a matter of how insidious it is…I don’t think any family is immune to it.” No, no, no. My family was fucked up and it sounds like yours was too, but I have to believe that there are people out there who treat their children like they love them.

            “Children complicated things in a big way, keep them safe but allow them to make their own opinions about ALL of their family members.”
            and then you said “Children should ALWAYS be protected.”

            Which one is it? Child/children is a really ambiguous word and you could easily be talking about almost-adults in their late teens, but I simply do not believe that children need to be exposed to dangerous relatives to the point where they can form opinions about those dangerous relatives.

            “You as a couple also need to protect your child around anyone (family or not) and that you also need to recognize that like it or not, those folks are your child/rens family too.”

            No. People who are abusive are not family and have no rights whatsoever to contact with anyone who doesn’t want contact with them. My mother violently abused my sister for years. I cut off contact with her years ago because the price of having contact with her was pretending my childhood didn’t happen and I am utterly unwilling to do that. That woman is not my family and has absolutely no rights to contact or support or fucking anything from me.

            “Family” are the people who actually love me and express that love in a meaningful way (if you “love” me and express it by trying to force me to live the way you think I should, you do not love me). Sharing DNA is utterly meaningless. “Family” does not matter. Kindness matters. Respect matters. Support matters. Having the same eye colour as some asshole who treats you like dirt does not matter in the slightest.

          4. This.

            “They are the child’s family too” sounds very, very “but faaaaaaaaamilyyyy!” to me, and I don’t like it.

            It reminds me of my mother snarling at me, “I have a RIGHT to see MYYYY grandchild!” in my face, before said child was even born, apropos of nothing much that I’d said. The mother who spent my entire childhood physically, psychologically and emotionally abusing me and whose extreme possessiveness meant that I wasn’t allowed privacy, bodily autonomy or my own choices in life. If she hadn’t extended that weird possessiveness to my daughter the moment she found out I was pregnant, I might feel more comfortable letting her look after the kid.

          5. @Mel exactly! I could not agree more, especially with your last paragraph. My “family” is the awesome people who love and support me, and who are there for me without imposing their own agenda on my life. Most of them are not related to me by blood or marriage, but they’re what “family” should be, and that’s what matters.

          6. @amberxebi: when I accepted a place in a doctoral programme in another country, one of the things my mother literally screamed at me over the phone when I told her was “BUT I’LL NEVER GET TO SEE MY GRANDCHILDREN”.

            I don’t have any kids. I had had vague plans to possibly have children about six years before, but it didn’t happen and by the point I was planning to move to another country (without my husband, who was sulking that I wouldn’t take one of the offers from less-respected schools that also offered me no financial support), so she was literally whining about children that had not happened and were not ever going to happen.

            I think this kind of possessive behaviour is a hallmark of abusers, because they know that under no circumstances would a rational person let them have contact with tiny vulnerable people, so they have to lean on “but faaaaaaaaamily”.

            The sad part is when their children, whom they’ve already abused, give in and believe that their abusive elders have a right to abuse the next generation.

          7. @liberrygrrl, you seem to be asserting that if one prevents one’s children from associating with abusive family members, the children will grow up curious about those family members and eventually make contact on their own, to their detriment; therefore, it’s better to have supervised visits to abusers than none at all. If that’s what you’re saying, I really have to disagree. I get to decide who my child associates with because she’s too young to keep herself safe. If, when she’s an adult, she wants to track down certain dysfunctional relatives and spend time with them, that will be her prerogative…but I’m not exposing her to them now, even with supervision, under the misapprehension that they have a right to be part of her life because they share genetic material. That’s part of what being a parent means.

            I also disagree with your second assertion. I don’t think any family is perfect, but there’s a difference between ‘imperfect’ and ‘abusive’. LW does come across as defensive of her family, I’ll agree with that much, but that seems to be rooted in her husband using them as a point of comparison when they are not in fact the ones behaving badly.

        2. Libertygrrrl, there is a vast, vast gulf between an imperfect family and an abusive family. The other term for an imperfect family is a good enough family. A good enough family doesn’t allow sexual abuse of children. A good enough family doesn’t “discipline” with putdowns, hitting, or threats of being cast out. A good enough family doesn’t expect children to put up with their family members ignoring them in order to get drunk or high. A good enough family doesn’t sacrifice the well-being of its children in the service of an adult’s personality disorder. A good enough family may have annoying habits, troublesome blind spots, or a constitutional inability to manage money; they may be limping along due to an adult’s chronic illness or other slow-motion rolling catastrophe; but they do not prey upon their children.

          In the LW’s case, her family is good enough. Maybe they’re not as shiny as she says, but they’re good enough. Her husband’s family piled abuse on him and also told him at the age of nine(!!) that from then on he had to be the grown-up. Now they want to walk all over his wife and children the way they still walk all over him. That is not good enough.

          Also, as someone who was, pardon my sarcasm, allowed to “form her own opinion” about family members who had already abused and neglected many children in the family: It took me years and thousands of dollars to root out the effects of that “opinion.” The clinical name for that “opinion” is C-PTSD.

  55. I want to bring something up that a couple of people have touched on about how awkward it is when people from dysfunctional and abusive families spend a lot of time with healthy, loving, supportive families. I’ve mentioned this before, but my bff comes from a ridiculously close, loving family of awesome people. A couple of years ago, she and I went for Christmas with her family. She’s southern, so Christmas is a big deal. She and her sister go home, there are multiple family parties, the living room is full of the presents that overflow the base of the enormous Christmas tree, every day brings a new treat.

    We were there for three weeks.

    By the time we left, I was about ready to have a nervous breakdown. I was 37, I think, that year. I left home at 17. I thought I had come to terms with how terrible my family is and how abusive my parents’ parenting methods had been, and I was wrong. Being exposed 24/7 for weeks to parents who love and support their children even as adults…who are proud of them, who accept them for who they are and value their accomplishments and abilities while still accepting that they are humans with flaws and things to work on… I knew, in my head, that good families are different, but I’d never experienced it. I had a hard time accepting that this didn’t come with strings. It was emotionally difficult to watch my best friend’s mom engaging in good, loving parenting even though my friend was an adult, as though she felt an actual responsibility toward her children and their well-being, even as adults. The level of respect and caring–and also that feeling of being *cared for*…I still don’t really know how to express my feelings about it. I never felt that cared for as a child in my own home.

    I felt more accepted in those three weeks by relative strangers than I have ever felt by any member of my family in my entire life, and it was HARD. It was really, really hard to be faced with the evidence of what I didn’t have that so many people take for granted. I knew, but I didn’t *know*. And I can see becoming withdrawn and ungracious if you aren’t as far in your processing about your own family.

    1. I can totally relate to this. The first time I went to visit my husband’s parents, his mother made me cry…because she did my laundry, folded it, and left it on the bed for me. No one had done my laundry since I was ten (or possibly before that, because I started doing my own laundry when other kids made me aware that my clothes were always dirty).

      It’s hard for me not to be resentful of my friends who had caring relationships with their parents. Most of them have no idea how lucky they were.

    2. The first time my partner visited with my family for a holiday, they spent the entire time waiting for the secret awful ritual thing I hadn’t told them about to happen. Before we went, they asked me over and over to explain how the five days would work, what we would do, who would be there, what we would eat, etc. Then they were completely tense and weird the whole time. On the way home, they commented that it had played out exactly like I said it would.

      The second time, the same thing. The third time, the same thing. The fourth time, I was not subjected to the pre-visit interrogation, because nothing had changed, but the weird tension was still there. Eventually, the tension wore away. But i did not find out until couples counseling a decade later that they literally did not know that a family could get together without a horrible ritual or two, and when I described a holiday without one, they assumed I was lying, and when the first (second, third, . . . ) holiday passed without the horrible secret ritual, they assumed we skipped it on purpose to make them put their guard down so it would hurt more when we finally dragged that secret ritual out and sprang it on them.

      I mean, my partner literally believed that I was lying about how a holiday would unfold in the service of some horrible secret family ritual which we would unveil in order to hurt my partner. Because it was easier to believe that about their wife than to accept that the secret horrible rituals of their own family were actually neither normal or okay. To be honest, I’m kind of glad that I did not understand that they literally believed I was intentionally lying to them in order to set them up for being victimized by this secret horrible ritual, because that belief had not one thing to do with me and everything to do with how much growing up in a family that has secret horrible holiday rituals they use to hurt each other actually fucks a person up.

      1. In families like this there are always Things We Don’t Talk About, and as a kid I think it takes a while before you realize that some of the Things We Don’t Talk About are unspoken because they’re normal and why would you talk about normal stuff and some are unspoken because they’re really NOT normal, and you don’t talk about them because it would shame the family. Learning the difference is…weird. It does weird stuff to your head. I’m glad that your partner has someone in their life who understands.

  56. My husband’s mother is a nightmare. That thing the OP’s partner’s family did making him emotionally responsible for everyone? She had her sons on that train when they were toddlers. She is emotionally abusive, manipulative, sexually inappropriate and just rude. She loves to go stomping all over boundaries and thinks nothing of threatening suicide if she doesn’t get her own way.

    I tried to be nice. I hosted, I smiled, I listened, I discussed with my husband afterwards. I set boundaries. I offered compromises. And do you know what? I just got so. Effing. Tired. Of trying. We got to the point where we actually timetabled her visits down to the earliest I was allowed to go to bed to avoid her. She still found ways to be rude, undermine our parenting, be straight up abusive to my husband in front of me, and in the end I had had enough.

    She made some offhand comment about me lying about being in pain (I have a long term health condition) and I snapped. Told her not to. It escalated. We had a huge row and that night I told my husband – that’s it. She is no longer welcome in our house if you want me to go on living in it. He goes to visit on his own, he occasionally takes our son for very, very closely supervised visits, I don’t speak to her, she whines, guess what? She hasn’t died of it.

    The reason I tell this long rambling tale is to point out that sometimes, it is OK to force people to chose. I hate that I was in this position, but you know what? I didn’t put myself there. I hate that it hurts my husband, but weirdly, it’s getting easier for him. He sees the abuse now and shuts it down, sets boundaries and defends them. It’s almost as if this needed to happen to help him to defend himself.

    Wife does not automatically equal hostess, MIL’s confidante, or punchline.

  57. LW could stand to be a little less “gentle” when Hubby tries that “but what if I didn’t love YOUR family” ploy. Okay, maybe it’s not a ploy, but it is a completely useless comparison. Individual standards of behavior should govern, and if his family is behaving badly, you deal with that without comparisons to how her good-behaving family is dealt with.

    How about “this is not about my family. Stop bringing them into this. Mother-in-law has no business doing XYZ. I want it to stop. Now. Don’t bring my mother into it. This has nothing to do with my mother. She is not doing XYZ. Your mother is. It stops. Now.”

  58. LW here! Thank you all so much for your input. It’s been really useful reading.

    The folks who said I was overly defensive about how awesome my family is are right, and though I do want to reiterate that I do not say as much to my husband, I realize that it’s not helpful even to make those comparisons to myself. I get defensive precisely because it looks, from the outside, like I’m just being classist by not liking his family (hence the rom-com example). But you’re right, it is kind of a red herring, except in that a) it has left me unprepared to cope with a family like his and b) it makes him feel all kinds of conflicted ways about being around a functional family. The comments from people who have been in his situation are incredibly valuable; thank you so much for that perspective. It’s one thing to say, abstractly, “This has given my husband a hero complex” and quite another thing to hear from the inside perspective how that complex actually makes you feel and experience the world.

    The sexual abuser in the family is neither MIL nor BIL; it is, however, someone who lives in the area and with whom BIL still has a relationship. So our children would never be allowed to go off somewhere with just BIL, because there’s a small chance this person could manipulate him into “…but I’ve never met my grandchildren, bring them by,” etc. Husband and I are united on that.

    We also had a talk about being united on the “don’t say that in front of our kids” front. He initially put it on me to call out his relatives, and I said, “Not just me, you have to say it too, and back me up.” He agreed.

    There is a lot of work to do, clearly, and having the great suggestions / support of the Captain and the commenters makes me feel more solid about getting to that work. Thanks to all of you again!

    1. Thank you for checking in, Chekhov! I am so glad that you and your husband are united on some of the fundamental issues. That is a good foundation that he can use to start building more healthy boundaries with his family. You keep rocking with what you’re doing, and your care of yourself, your kids, and your husband (in that order).

      We had a sexual abuser in my mom’s family. I didn’t even know about him until after he was dead. My cousins had a relationship with him. I don’t somehow feel I missed out on something important by my mom’s decision to protect me from that predatory adult and prevent me from meeting him or visiting my aunt who still had a connection with him. As an adult, I tried to reconnect with that aunt. She made or forwarded weirdly inappropriate sexual jokes that made me uncomfortable as a twenty-something. I wasn’t sure how to react as a young adult and let the connection lapse. And my male cousins grew up profoundly dysfunctional, including prison time for one for abusing family members.

      I am glad you’re focused on your children’s needs so they don’t need to navigate such dangerous stuff, or even have to develop a map for such territory. As they get older, you might want to work on having age-appropriate discussions with them about some of this stuff around boundaries and dysfunction and communication and so on. While my mom protected me, she didn’t educate me, and I was unprepared to encounter this stuff later in life, or even know how to process this shit when we did reconnect with some of her family after my parents divorced. Give your kids the tools they need and help them process stuff, particularly if they do visit extended family with dad when they’re older.

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