DEAR AMY: My husband and I are really frustrated with his father and his father's second wife, who came into the picture when all the children were adults. We have been trying for almost a decade to connect and make getting together more bearable. It's not working, and I'm ready to throw in the towel. Amy, they just refuse to engage with us! My husband has explained his job every visit for the last two years because they don't listen to his response. They never ask about me; I may as well be invisible. They talk about themselves constantly, interrupt you when you talk, and basically talk over other people. My husband and I recently told them that we are expecting a baby. Not only did they not ask how I was doing with the pregnancy, but 10 minutes later his wife was talking about her health problems. I feel like we are at an impasse. I can't stand to be treated like I don't matter, and I don't want to force myself to be around people who aren't supportive, especially as a first-time mom. My husband is feeling angry with their behavior, which upsets both of us. Should I just go to family events a few times a year and suck it up, or should my husband and I try again to explain that their relationship with us is falling apart because of their behavior?
Try, Try, Again?
DEAR TRY, TRY: Yes, you might as well convey to your in-laws the way you feel when you are with them. Doing so might make you feel better, but you must also understand that it is not likely to inspire change.
The presence of a grandchild might nudge them toward a different focus, but again — people who are completely self-absorbed tend to dive into their self-regard, regardless of the audience.
These future grandparents will miss out on a lot. More is the pity. Yes, show up at family events a few times a year and tolerate the behavior, which you cannot change. Reward family focused and generous behavior with the quality of your own attention.
DEAR AMY: I have a friend from over 20 years ago, who has essentially invited himself to stay with me, in my one bedroom/bathroom home, for his vacation. He recently did this for the third time, even though I explained my unease with this arrangement. He doesn't rent a car and expects me to drive him around and come up with things to do while he's here. He brags about being a tightwad and how he NEVER drives. How do I dissuade him without hurting his feelings? I am a single female, by the way. We were never more than friends and — even then — not very close friends.
DEAR PUT UPON: Please forward me your contact information, because I could sure use a vacation, and you sound extremely accommodating.
My point is that social bullies need willing victims.
Your "friend" isn't behaving like a friend, and he is counting on your inability to deliver a truthful and proportional reaction to his imposition.
Please, learn to say no. An effective "no" need not be embellished with details or excuses. You simply say, "No, you won't be able to stay here. But let me know if you come to town and maybe we can have dinner while you're here."
Practice this — on paper, in the mirror, and with other friends — until you are more comfortable delivering your "no."
DEAR AMY: Parents describing themselves as "Put Upon" wrote to you about their daughter and son-in-law's financial dependence on them, as well as the son-in-law's passivity in terms of simply being helpful at family gatherings. They reminded me of myself — only I identified with the son-in-law. Is it possible that the son-in-law has been so overwhelmed by his wife's financially controlling parents that he is practicing passive-aggressive behavior? For me, it began when our car had to be replaced. I had a used Volkswagen in mind because I could afford it and would be able to maintain it. No, that wasn't good enough for my in-laws. I wasn't financially capable of being the husband they wanted for their daughter and later, not financially capable of being the father they wanted for their grandchildren. When I finally and passionately laid all this out for them, they said they "only did what they thought best." Maybe these parents should back off a few notches.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Very wise advice.