CTFlyer200

Can we flee my husband’s family?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Cary’s classic column from

They’ll drive us crazy if we stay. We want to move to Colorado!


Dear Cary,

This is hardly a new topic, but here goes.

My husband and I have been married about a year and a half. We met, instantly fell in love and got married a short time later. We are in our mid-30s and know ourselves well, so there was no reason to wait. And we are crazy happy with each other. Unfortunately, this whirlwind courtship and wedding situation didn’t give me as much time in retrospect as I could have used with his family. Not that I would have ditched my honey, but I probably wouldn’t be living where we are now, which is the crux of the problem. Here’s the cast:

His mother: where fun goes to die. Literally. My husband’s father, whom he dearly loved, killed himself about 15 years ago rather than continue being married to her, although only my husband knows this and she wouldn’t believe it anyway. She is the typical old Catholic, martyr, misery-loves-company type. Refuses to say anything positive to my husband. Couldn’t congratulate him on our wedding day, much less contribute a dime toward it and she is very, very comfortable financially. I am polite to her, but I don’t see us getting particularly chummy when every time I see her, she unloads about something my husband did 20 years ago. She’s 70 years old and no, she’s not mentally ill — she’s just a bitch. When I lost my job about a year ago and our fridge died in the summer, we asked for help. Her answer? “Well, you’ll just have to wait for a sale and get it yourself!”

His brother: AKA Golden Boy. Which I find ironic since he has done nothing of note in his entire life except get married in the Catholic Church and pop out a couple of kids, so he gets the lifetime free pass for whatever bullshit he wants to pull. He’s lazy, uneducated, a freeloader, thief, cheats on his wife, and everything out of his mouth is a lie. His best skill is probably getting his mother to pay for whatever he wants by pointing at the kids and saying, “I really need ____, but it’s so expensive with the kids …” Total con man and he plays his mother like a fiddle. He just stole my husband’s golf clubs out of our garage and I can’t wait for how his mother justifies it so it’s my husband’s fault.

His maiden aunt: She owns the house we rent. She’s pretty nice although she believes family comes before all else, meaning we should dismiss every stupid thing the brother does because “That’s just the way he is!” She’s 75.

So we all live about two blocks apart. We moved into this house because it was sort of a wedding present from the aunt, the rent was affordable, and we were planning on having kids. Not a good idea in the 450-square-foot apartment we were already sharing with two cats in the city. Now, after a year and a half, we are ready to bolt. Except that we can’t just yet — any apartment we can find is even more per month. So we are saving our money and plan to move to Colorado in a couple of years. Great, right?

Except that MIL and aunt are expecting us to hang around and take care of them in their old age like they did with their mother. MIL can kiss my ass and we have no problem leaving her to Golden Boy — he more than owes it to her. But the aunt … she’s kinda nice and we don’t know how to handle that. She HAS given us a place to live and all. Should we be preparing her for this ahead of time (which will undoubtedly lead to endlessly complaining about how we don’t appreciate family and more of the MIL’s bitching) or just keep it all quiet and tell them after we’ve bought the house and the moving truck is packed? The grandmother died at 95 and there’s no way in hell I’m staying here 20 years in this situation. And I know this sounds really petty, but let’s be honest — the aunt and MIL make it very clear that my husband and I just don’t “count” as much as Golden Boy because he has kids, so you know where the inheritance is going.

So do we prep them or gleefully skip out?

Desert Gal

Cary's Loire Valley Writing Retreat

Dear Desert Gal,

I hear something in your voice. I hear a self-assured quality that seems at odds with what you are actually asking, or saying. You are saying that you have married into a family that you find intolerable. It is not something you can gleefully skip out on, even if you go to the moon. Nor can these characters be neatly labeled and placed in boxes. You can divorce your husband if you want out of the situation. But otherwise, you’re in. This is the family you married into.

So here is what I first suggest. Take the long view. And try the high road.

Your mother-in-law may be a truly impossible individual. But try the high road. Go to her and say that you love her son very much, that you recognize that you may not live up to her ideal of a daughter-in-law, that you would like to be accepted as a part of the family, but that your dreams for such a life are taking you to Colorado. Tell her that you recognize that she and the aunt (her sister?) will need some help in the years to come, and ask her if there is a plan in place, and what her hopes and expectations are for your role in that plan. Tell her that if she hasn’t thought it through yet, that you hope she will. Offer to help her come up with a plan if she does not have one.

Give it a shot. Like many people, she and her sister might prefer not to think about the future and plan for it but just wait until it happens and then hope their families take care of them, and make life holy hell for everyone just on general principle. But you have a chance, now, to put everything on the table and see what happens. You have a chance, now, to start the conversation. You can offer to help by creating a plan. And you can make it nonnegotiable that you and your husband are moving to Colorado.

I also hear something else that I think is significant: Your husband’s father killed himself when your husband was a teenager or young man. It is understandable that because of the enormity of this event one might wish to reduce it to ironic dimensions: that he killed himself, literally, to get away from his wife. But suicide reverberates through a family in many ways no matter what explanation we give it. Each person in this family was without a doubt affected by his suicide in ways that they may not understand and probably cannot or will not communicate. It is there, that suicide, in your husband’s psyche and in the dynamics of the family.

You say you and he know yourselves well, so there was no reason to wait to get married. But if you truly knew yourselves well, you would have known that, perhaps because of the pain and chaos of your early lives, you tend to make impulsive decisions. Knowing that you tend to make impulsive decisions, you might have waited. But you plunged yourselves into a situation from which you now wish to escape. So you want to escape to Colorado. That may be yet another impulsive move. So if you truly want to know yourselves well, you should know this: that you tend to make big decisions on impulse.

It sounds like I am scolding you, doesn’t it? I apologize. I have no place to scold. I have no right. Let me try to get at what truly bothers me. My guess is that your husband was deeply affected by his father’s suicide, and that it is present in your relationship today in ways you are not aware of. And I sense that this unresolved pain is pushing you to vacate the premises. But it will go with you. Unless you and he examine how his father’s suicide has affected him, and how his current family relationships are affecting both of you, my guess is that no matter what you do, eventually you will experience emotional upheavals that seem to come out of the blue, and you will not know how to deal with them.

I feel this in your tone: You want a quick solution. And yet your actual situation calls for exactly the opposite.

I’m not saying don’t move to Colorado. By all means move to Colorado. Get out of there. But no matter where you go, you will be blindsided by events in the evolving family drama unless you begin working now to understand how that dynamic operates.

How about this: You have the conversation with your mother-in-law, the two of you move to Colorado as planned, but then you promise me to embark on a course of self-exploration so you can bring to consciousness the ways that his father’s suicide is operating today in your relationship.

Here is a very quick gloss on that. You say that your husband shared a secret with you, which is that his father killed himself to get away from his wife. If your husband is relying on such a story to cover over the enormous feelings he must even to this day be experiencing as a result of that suicide, then he has some work to do. It will be painful but liberating work. It will involve facing the loss of his father. It will involve facing his own guilt about the ways he might have prevented that suicide if only he were a better son, if only he had loved his father more, etc.

If he clings to this story that his mother is to blame for his father’s suicide, then in the years to come when his mother truly needs his help, it will be hard for him to play the role of loving caregiver and son, of protector and provider. Unless he takes some action to reconcile, he may also feel constant guilt for having, in a sense, abandoned his mother after his father’s suicide.

This sounds fine on paper. It is easy to say but hard to get. You have to get it. 

For instance, a few months back I was driving the truck along Lincoln Boulevard by Golden Gate Park in the fog, bellyaching to myself as usual, when something “became real” for me. I felt in my chest something that I had perhaps known intellectually for some time: That my frail, demented 85-year-old father was never going to get up out of his bed and give me the warm, encouraging pat on the shoulder or the wise, clear, practical advice that I for so many years resented him for not giving me. Holy shit. What have I been thinking? There was no more father out there to blame. The only father I had was within me. The only father I needed, also, was within me. Whatever fatherly support or strength or advice I felt I needed, I would have to create for myself, or find somewhere within me. I had to embody that strength.

It was a visceral thing. With agonizing slowness, the heart learns.

That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. You can know the facts of this suicide, but certain things must be felt. So I suggest you find someone to help you and your husband work through his father’s suicide now, so it doesn’t creep up on you two for the next few years until you feel like you are losing your mind because lately you’ve been breaking down in tears at unexpected moments and some depression has overtaken your husband and he’s angry and resentful and drinking too much and getting violent and suicidal and you cannot find him in the gloom and you are wondering, where the hell did this come from?

Don’t wait for that. Confront this now. Go ahead and move to Colorado and find somebody to work with about this. You can have a good life and make all this work out. But you cannot ignore it. It will not work itself out on its own.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

7 thoughts on “Can we flee my husband’s family?”

  1. Gyah. I clicked “Submit” by mistake. Let’s try this again:

    Bringing up the inheritance is weird. Bringing up the suicide in the context that she does is weird. Bringing up the caregiving in the context that she does is weird. I feel, as many of you do, that there’s something in the letter that isn’t quite visible, but is pointed at by other parts of the letter. And I think that something is this: her husband doesn’t really want to move to Colorado, and she knows it.

    That, I think, is the unspoken issue she doesn’t want to discuss. He’s loyal to his family. She’s trying to make sense of why by breaking it down to transactions—caregiving for inheritance, suicide as proof of the MIL’s wretchedness, brother as the symbol of the unjust way her husband has been treated, and so on—but she can’t deal with it, and if she hasn’t dealt with it in the intervening time, she has not had a very happy marriage.

    Cary’s advice is fantastic, but what I see here is a problem between her and her husband—not a problem between her and her in-laws.

  2. Dear Cary, Letter Writers and Readers who give of themselves via their replies:

    After reading this LW’s questions, dilemmas and all the replies to not only this letter, but also the letter about the Muslim woman and the atheist Jewish partner, Cary’s insightful replies to both and ALL of the comments given from everyone who has contributed their thoughts, observations, sincere suggestions, etc. I feel all of us are So Very Fortunate to have this marvelous venue…a Community of Caring, so to speak.
    I want to thank Cary, and all who have ever written a comment and/or a letter.

    These two situations/personal stories, highlight Cary’s extraordinary insight, and the freedom we have to be able to agree to possibly disagree with each other really struck a very deep and meaningful chord within myself, reading these two letters, Cary’s replies…as well as Readers’ Replies. I learn something new with each letter that has been written and Cary’s consistency of sharing his insight and wisdom and care in each of his replies…this learning experience extends to all who have written a letter to Cary and all the replies to any letter that has appeared in Cary’s Advice Column.

    I grow from reading everything that is written here. My own personal journey is enhanced by all who have ever contributed.

    I realize that I am taking a position of relevant observation, and I have been touched so deeply by reading Cary’s most magnificent style of writing and his ability to go so deeply in his replies. As do so many of the folks that care to share their wisdom, as well.
    On occasion, I have offered my thoughts about certain life situations that Letter Writers share. I am so appreciative of this column and the many deep thinkers it attracts.
    I grew even more,via reading Cary’s comments on these two complex situations, in addition to many Readers’ replies, as well. I was struck by so much insight that was presented by those that shared replies.

    Thank you all for your well thought-out comments that have been presented here within the Advice Column on so many real life stories/situations.

    I want to make my comments/observations on All of the letters, Cary’s marvelous and thought provoking replies that touch me and teach me on many levels. The same goes for all the Readers’ replies, as well…that have been presented in this column.

    In today’s world, filled with an overload of so much superficial information, this is a place I can count on to provide a treasure of a venue filled with Depth. It quenches my thirst for contemplation, intellectual stimulation and a place where one’s mind, heart and soul can be expressed.

    Once again, Thanks to Cary for continuing this column and for all the Readers and Writers that contribute so much!! I sincerely LOVE being presented with so many topics/predicaments that I not only contemplate but also take in some valuable approaches to presenting situations that I have the opportunity to absorb some wonderful wisdom from different perspectives.
    This column is a safe haven filled with wonderfully written material that stimulates me on so many levels, reading replies with so much substance!! And, it is a joy to read Cary’s replies that can surprise, enlighten and think about so deeply, yet his marvelous sense of humor shines through with wit and wisdom!!

    THANKS AGAIN. CARY, and EVERYONE WHO HAS WRITTEN a LETTER and/or HAS SHARED their UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE via their own REPLIES!!

  3. As all the Classic Columns, this one begs the question “Where are they now?”

    My sense is that the LW is the kind of person who wants some control. Maybe a lot of it. I say that because she has taken it upon herself to call the whole game, like an umpire of her life, and that of others. The father killed himself to get away. The son knows what’s what (she doesn’t have to choose to believe him if that, indeed was his characterization). The mother is a bitch; the aunt is nice; the brother a hypocritical loser; she knows herself; he knows himself. This much certainty is the biggest flag of all. Truth is, she made a whopper of a mistake. A whopper. She married into a family without vetting it.The only mistake bigger is marrying someone without vetting them. Of course, not vetting like a political appointee, it’s done more softly, but it’s still a vetting.

    Why? Why would someone with this much desire for control and certainty be so rash? My hunch is that the tone of this letter is a pose. And maybe so are some other things in the LW’s life. Before anything more useful could be said to address the issues, aside from Cary’s response, one would have to read the situation presented without hubris. Without this flight forward.
    We all screw up, every single character does. LW, like everyone else, deserves some help and some good advice. But for that to happen, the act has to be dropped a little, the guard has to come down a bit. I sure hope they’re all all right. Everyone deserves happiness.

  4. I agree with Cary and monsterzero. I can only add the senior relatives are not entitled to long term care from the younger family members as the younger family members are not entitled to an inheritance.

    I wonder how the husband would feel if he read this letter his wife has written about his family. If it were me, I’d be horrified.

  5. I think the LW should try to stop thinking about other people’s money and who deserves it.

    Also, I notice that I am confused. How can her husband know why his father killed himself? How is the house a “present” when she says that they’re paying rent?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>