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Dear Captain & Crew,

This is a question about Xmas boundaries + the ever-awkward subject of money. I know, it’s completely ridiculous to be worrying about Xmas in July… I don’t want to think about Xmas before Turkey Day! However, Husband’s family starts planning Xmas far in advance, and they’ve started poking us about Xmas plans alread. Cue holiday anxiety!

After a blow-up at Xmas time 5 years ago by MIL (who is generally very sweet and kind), I have become very anxious about holiday plans with Husband’s mother and his extended family. MIL insists on spending waaaaay too much money on us, especially at Xmas time. For last year’s extended family visit, MIL bought our plane tickets ($2K+) before I’d agreed to the dates, paid for the rental car Husband and I used ($500+), insisted on paying for all the meals, and bought everyone a ton of gifts.

MIL’s trend of insisting on covering all expenses makes me very uncomfortable and anxious. 3 years ago, we all agreed on a Secret-Santa arrangement for Husband’s family, and set a spending limit of $40. Although MIL agreed, she bought gifts for everyone and blew right past the $40 spending limit per person.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with how much money MIL is spending on me. While it’s her money (and her choice to spend it), I really dislike how she insists on paying for everything whenever we see her. I really want to speak up about it. However, because of my own “I want them to like me!” issues, I feel like my mouth is glued shut & can’t speak up in the moment. I also know that my Husband really doesn’t want me to “rock the boat” by contradicting his mother.

I’m reaching my wits’ end in this situation, and I’m hoping you can offer me some scripts. I want to find my voice again and have agency in this relationship.

My questions:
1) After setting spending-limit boundaries in advance, how do I enforce those boundaries in the moment when everyone (but me) is all “yay, gifts!” on Xmas day?

2) If I can’t speak up to MIL in the moment about #1, what can I say to her after the fact to gently+firmly express that all the money she’s spending on me is making me really really uncomfortable?

3) What can I say when we go out to eat and MIL insists on paying? (Saying “we’ll get the next one” doesn’t work because she stubbornly insists on paying at every meal).

4) What do I say to Husband when he pressures me to keep quiet about Xmas/general over-spending?

Signed,
Stressing and Exhausted about the Holidays Months in Advance (DAMMIT)

(she/her pronouns)

Hi Stressing,

I’m sorry, I don’t have good answers or scripts to your specific questions. You are already doing & saying the right things. I think your best choices going forward are:

Go. And go knowing what you’re in for, including too much money spent on you, awkward gifts, & her picking up every check. Go wholeheartedly and try to enjoy what there is to enjoy about your in-laws and the way they celebrate. After this many years, you are not going to change your Mother-In-Law. She already knows how you feel. You can refuse to accept the gifts, fight every restaurant check, make a point, etc. but she is still gonna roll how she rolls. Choose your battles (like, making travel arrangements around YOUR schedule). Let your husband take the lead in all interactions, bring a really good book with you, stick to your own spending limits, and peace out of looking for middle ground where there is none. When you feel uncomfortable, go for a walk or go to bed early to read or go to the movies by yourself for a little while and give yourself some space.

Vs.

Don’t go. Celebrate the holidays your way, according to your preferences & values. Create a holiday tradition of your own with just you and your husband. Be low-key and thrifty and quiet and relaxed. Visit your In-Laws another, less-gifty time of year. In the meantime, let the guilt-trips and the “It just won’t be Christmas without you!” furor and the prospect of too-expensive gifts sent in the mail wash over you for the next half a year.

My recommendation would be “Go sometimes as a gift to your spouse, don’t go sometimes as a gift to your own well-being.” Reminding yourself that it’s a choice will hopefully give you more feeling of control. You went last year, so this seems like a good year to respond to the questions about your plans with “We’re planning to stay put this year and do Christmas with y’all every other year.” This is your husband’s family, yes? Then let him be the one to deliver the news and sail his non-rocky vessel through the guilt-storms.

P.S. “It’s July, I haven’t decided yet/I’ll let you know when that changes” is a perfectly fine answer to all winter holiday inquiries btw. Leave out “It’s fucking July, WTF fam?” part for best results. 🙂

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband, “John”, is currently studying for a graduate degree. He has exams coming up so is spending all day every day in the library and then when he comes home he just wants to eat dinner and go to bed. It sucks and I miss him but we are dealing with almost never seeing each other properly because these exams are important right now.

My husband has a friend, “Martha”, who is doing the same course. Martha is taking the same exams. Martha lives in the building across from us. And I just wish Martha would fuck the fuck off and leave him alone.

Martha is incredibly psychologically needy and seems to have latched onto my husband as a target for her emotional vampirism. She doesn’t have a boyfriend or may other friends here. I am all for my husband having friends and for him sometimes needing to be there for them, but Martha wants his attention all the time. She messages him constantly about trivial chatty things and ‘needs’ him to reply immediately. They go to the library and spend all day there together, and then when they get home he feels he needs to invite her in for a drink or even sometimes for dinner because she’s “so lonely”. Then five minutes after she leaves (which is always well after I thought she ought to have left) she is messaging him again. This happens all day every day.

The thing that kills me is that my husband will come home and say how tired he is of Martha and how he wishes he didn’t have to see her again all day tomorrow. So I say, “You don’t! Just say you’re not going to that library and go somewhere else to work! Or when she makes her sad face and talks passive-aggressively about how she’ll just go and spend the evening alone again, just let her go! The world is not going to collapse if you ignore her stupid messages!”

But he doesn’t. He says how fed up he is of her (and I think he really is) but then nothing changes! He still gets guilted into spending all his time with her and getting sucked into her emotional neediness. I don’t want to turn this into some huge drama when he’s focused on his exams, but I cannot stand to hear about Martha one more time, I cannot stand to see Martha ever again and I cannot stand to know that she’s stealing his time and energy that he needs for himself right now (let alone for me!).

Please help me before I do or say something I regret!

Yours,
Hateful Wife

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Dear Captain,

I’ve just spent weeks reading through your archives. I’ve learned so much and made lots of plans for how to better interact with parents, friends and colleagues. One of the subjects I read about a lot are difficult mothers and mothers in law.

My husband’s mom is emotionally abusive and very sad all the time. For a few years after marriage, I tried to tiptoe around her and keep the peace… Not that it ever prevented screaming fights or insults where I was mostly silently stunned and my husband resignedly grabbed his coat and we left. After we had some kids things got both better and worse. My mil LOVES our kids and the only times I’ve seen her smile is around them. However, the bad times were worse because now there’s more to fight about (The baby’s name is already on the birth certificate! Drop it! We’re not changing the name!) and also because I don’t want her to someday hurt my kids the way she does my husband.

A few years ago, we stopped having any contact after a particularly bad episode. Recently, my husband has stated talking about reconciliation. I’m hesitant. I can see about 100 negatives and only 2 or 3 positives.

I can see that the scripts and advice you’ve posted would work really well to help manage this relationship – if we go ahead with seeing her again. But, just the thought of it makes me so tired. It is stressful and exhausting before, during and after to interact with her. And even using your advice – it’s a lot of mental and emotional work, especially now that I’m worrying over my kids and my husband-keeping all five (5!) of them calm, quiet, and out of her rampaging danger zone. We live so far away, and the number of times we’ve flown and arrived tired and hungry and unpacked the suitcases and then packed up and left in tears before dinner…Well, it’s more than twice!

My husband is great, smart, easy -going, and a wonderful dad. He won’t reconcile without my support and help. So if I say no – it’s no. If I say yes, I have to go there WITH him to keep him steady and notice when the fighting has become too much and say, “it’s time to leave,” and drive away. I think he relies on me too much, but when I don’t want to see her, he won’t go.

She’s a lonely, sad woman who has driven away all of her family and friends. Is my exhaustion at the thought of having to “deal with her” a good enough reason to keep away?

Thank you for any advice you have.

P.S. If you have the magic combination of words that would convince her to see a therapist, I’d appreciate them.

Thank you,
Fulfilled and happy career gal, mom, and wife… Turned exhausted stressed-out shell by MIL

Hello and welcome to Awkwardland!

If your husband wants to try reconciling with his mom, I think it’s up to him to figure out a process that might work and to put supports in place for himself to make it possible, and I think that it’s okay for you to put the onus on him to do the work here.

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Dear Captain,

My husband is serially unemployed. Over the 8 or so years we’ve been together, it’s been a cycle: 12 months employed, six months unemployed, 18 months employed, 1 year unemployed, six months underemployed freelance, on and on.

I have been fortunate to find well-paid work in my field and have no trouble staying employed full-time. In the past decade, I’ve never been away from work for more than 10 days straight.

Now, on the one hand, I am so glad I can cover the bills every time he gets laid off or fired. I think we have an above-average marriage. He’s my best friend. Of course I’m going to support him through the hard times.

On the other hand, what about me?

There are days during his unemployed periods when I really resent that he can sleep in, work on his side-dream of being a writer, play his xbox, collect unemployment and apply for jobs. He’s basically having a six-month vacation, except for an hour a day of job applications.

Even as I type that, I know it is unfair to him. He isn’t choosing to be unemployed. But my jerkbrain keeps reminding me that he has had more free time in the past two months than I have had in the past 15 years.

But I can also acknowledge that it is probably depressing as hell to keep being let go by companies.

I tell myself that I don’t want him to feel like I am punishing him for getting laid off, nor do I want him to feel like he needs to “pay” for his unemployed periods by being my personal slave when it comes to household chores. But, OK, on some level, that kind of is what I want.

I just… Would it be wrong to ask that since I do at least 8 hours of paid work a day and he does 0, maybe he could put in some extra hours of unpaid work around the house during this time to take a little stress off me? Or something else to balance the load? I feel like he owes me. He has said he feels like he owes me too. But it feels wrong on some level to want to collect on that debt.

Can you suggest some self-talk to help me stop feeling like a victim of my own success? And is there a way to bring up couples counseling to talk this through that won’t feel like I’m attacking/judging his work history?

Conflictedly,
Someone else’s safety net

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I accidentally found a diamond ring in my boyfriend’s bag when he returned home from a recent trip to see his family. We have been together for three years, but have been on rocky territory for a while. We had a fight shortly before he left to see his family, which led to me saying I thought we should get counseling, which he wasn’t super interested in. As a compromise, I said we should give ourselves two months to work on our issues, and if we couldn’t make headway, see a counselor, and then…. ( I realize I didn’t make it explicit in our conversation, but I meant that if we couldn’t make things right, we should break up, as four months will take us through the end of our lease).

I’ve been feeling not great about the relationship, and seeing the ring, and the oh fuck feelings it brought up, makes me realize that I’m basically done. However, he is not an asshole, and I don’t want to to hurt him. I am worried he may be thinking of a Christmas proposal (there is a suspicious package under the tree), which… please no. No no no no no no no. How do I head off this potential proposal off at the pass? Or, if that isn’t possible, how do I very gently let him down if he does propose?

Saddling Up the Nopetopus

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You’re worried about someone or something. You want to help. What happens if you don’t try to fix whatever it is and take care of yourself instead?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years and I dread every interaction with his family. He’s the youngest of five. The eldest brother will ignore my existence entirely. If his mom sees me not right by my bf then she comes over to explain how she wishes he would date his ex from high school because of how much skinnier, prettier, ect…she is. I spend every holiday with them now because if bf goes go with my family they explain how controlling and evil I am. So now my family had just been doing holiday stuff a little bit later or earlier so that both bf and I can attend. They keep trying to convince bf I am controlling him. It started when he became vegetarian after meeting me (I don’t care if other people eat meat; I didn’t care if he ate meat). I don’t make a big deal about eating I just take the things I can eat when we eat with them. They however endless “tease” (it can get mean) over it. I don’t want to just not go because I want to see my boyfriend on the holidays and it helps him withstand the abuse if I’m there to shoulder some. I just wish I knew what I could do to help make it better?

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*Warning: Starred links contain Hannigram vids.

Dear Captain,

I’m a late-twenties woman needing relationship advice. Three years in, my boyfriend and I need to commit or break up (I want a monogamous marriage someday), and I don’t have a clear sense of what I want.

I feel like all relationship advice falls into two camps. In the first, I’ve heard smart friends and family say that successful relationships are rooted in mutual respect, honesty, communication, and shared values. This camp emphasizes partnering with someone who is supportive, loyal, and respectful. The other camp argues that your partner needs to be someone who lights you up, who inspires you, who you can’t imagine being without.

I understand that, ideally, a relationship succeeds in both areas – being crazy about someone and also sharing a mutually supportive partnership – but I have yet to find that magic combination. In my early 20s, I was in a relationship where I was madly in love with someone who was not a good partner to me. Ending this relationship was devastating, but it was also the only choice. I’ve talked friends through similar break ups, and I understand that “being in love” is simply not enough by itself.

My question is about the opposite situation. Coming off that rollercoaster break up, I met my current boyfriend, and could immediately tell he was more emotionally stable and respectful than my ex. We started dating even though I didn’t feel much “spark.” My boyfriend is handsome, smart, generous, emotionally available, and works an excellent job. He is also a great, supportive partner. By most standards I’ve hit the jackpot, yet I feel unsure. I hear my friends talk about their partners with giddy joy; I don’t think I feel that way about my boyfriend. Our relationship has a range of problems, from mismatched libidos to different senses of humor, ideas about healthy living, and consumption. In my best past relationship, an ex-boyfriend inspired me daily to be a kinder, braver person, and I don’t feel that way now. I don’t feel a magical sense of being “completed.” I know that long-term relationships don’t run on heady infatuation, and I do care deeply about him. If I end this relationship, I also fear ending up in another intoxicating but destructive relationship like I was in before. Am I too picky, chasing an unattainable fantasy of love that can’t exist? Should I work on appreciating everything I do have and accept that I might never be head-over-heels? Or should I end this good-but-not-perfect relationship to find a partner with whom I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life? To complicate everything, we recently started long-distance.

Thank you so much for any advice or thoughts –

Sad and Confused

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