DEAR CAROLYN: I have been married for 30 years to a guy whose family does not consider anyone outside the immediate family as family, we — spouses, significant others — are asked to step aside for "family" photos, and these photos are all over his mom's house reminding me I am not part of his family. Hubby has recently started a texting group with the "family," sharing photos, celebrating milestones, etc., and I am not included. Other than our kids, I do not have my own family. I don't want to be part of a group that doesn't want me, but still feel sad. Your thoughts?
NOT FAMILY: My thoughts are along two lines.
The first is sympathetic. I am sorry your husband's family hasn't folded you into its ranks. I am sorry, too, that you don't have your own tribe to give you this sense of connection.
I won't join you in condemning wholesale the family-only text chain or photograph — I've been in a few myself, and excluded from a few, and it seems OK by me to acknowledge occasionally the pack that grew up together. It is a shared history that warrants its own attention. Again: sometimes. Plus, it's quite clear this isn't personal, applying generally to all the family's partners.
But I will ache with you that you're always on the outside. That his mom chooses to display only the immediate-family photos makes a persuasive case — in one fact alone — that she's ground zero for the toxic exclusion you feel.
The other line of my thoughts can be described in two words: Thirty. Years.
That span can cover the painful discovery years, the try-everything-to-fix-it years, the anger years, the giving up point where you realize nothing you do to reposition yourself will get you out of your mother-in-law's blind spot, and the years after that where you work to build your own kind of family with people who are attentive to you — and still have some years left over at the end.
So now I've got questions for you that I hope you will ask yourself: Why is this wound still so fresh? And what do you think you need to heal it?
Don't make "inclusion" your answer, though. That's in his family's control, not yours, and 30 years of letting them hold the reins on your feelings is enough.
Maybe try this for an answer instead: kindly, openly appealing to your mother-in-law, if you haven't tried that yet.
There's something else worth your focus, which you merely graze: your husband, who "recently started a texting group with the 'family.'" Where is he on this? Maybe he shares the family blind spot, or has tried to take up your cause over the decades and since declared it futile? But it seems so simple to ask him to include you in the text group that I hope you did so. Immediately and without fanfare.
Within these three points lies a rational strategy: Ask for what you want, kindly and plainly; don't live and die (emotionally speaking) on whether you get these things; and invest most of your energy in people who welcome it. They're your tribe.
This strategy is hard emotional work that gets easier with time: Take what you can get, then go get what you need.