DEAR AMY: Since last year, I've been asking my wife to take a different approach to the holidays, and to just focus on our small immediate family. Every single year, without fail, there's some major disappointment, family conflict or travel debacle, typically with her extended family. She walks away exhausted, angry, frustrated or hurt. Last year, she said she was "done" after a big fight between her aunt and cousin that got very heated. She says that she does not want them around, but she feels obligated to host these big family holiday parties, because otherwise, they would not see each other. My wife finally said she was not going to host this year. I was thrilled, and told her we would find ways to make it special for us and our son. Soon after, my wife started to tell me that she was getting "rude" or "hurtful" responses from her family, saying that they were disappointed in her. She began to second-guess our decision. She told me that her family began to assume that I did not want them around, and she did not know why they thought this. I found out through another family member that my wife had actually blamed me for forgoing the holiday party this year, and she had told her family that she really wanted to have it, but I was against it. Amy, how can I get my wife to understand "quality" over "quantity" with familial relationships? I don't want to see my wife in this constant cycle of anxiety and stress. What do you recommend?
DEAR HUSBAND: Your wife's family members took advantage of her passivity for years, and now she is basically throwing you under the family bus in order to escape their reaction to this change. (Understand that your insistence that she change things is also probably stressful for her.)
But hey — she is half-right. You are the one forcing this issue, and you should be willing to take one for the family team. You are inoculated against this bullying because you likely don't care all that much what these people think of you. The beauty of being an in-law is that you get to make all the pronouncements, with very little personal consequence.
I hope you will take the lead and plan some holiday-centered plans that your immediate family can enjoy together, in the hope that these will become traditions. Attend your local theater's production of "A Christmas Carol." Make and decorate cookies to deliver to neighbors. Go ice skating together.
It isn't fair, and it isn't right, but you should be prepared for the possibility that even with a lovely, low-key holiday, your wife will feel pressured, guilty and as if she is missing something important. She will have to find the best balance for her.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I and our three children moved into a duplex home a few months ago. The neighbors are great except they smoke marijuana. The smell is awful. It bothers me a lot. Our whole house smells whenever they're smoking, especially my little son's room. We don't want to move anytime soon. What should we do?
DEAR CONCERNED: You don't say whether you rent or are an owner, but it is increasingly common for smoking to be banned in homes sharing a common wall — for the reason you cite. Marijuana smoke is especially pungent, and even if this next-door exposure doesn't prove toxic to you or your children, the smell alone is really noxious.
You should speak with your neighbors. You say they are "great;" there is a real likelihood that they simply don't realize the impact their smoking has on your family.
Say, "Hey, I want you to know that we are getting slammed by pot smoke over here. It's especially strong in 'Benny's' room. It's like it comes right through the walls. Can you guys smoke outside?"
Depending on their response, you will want to refer to your lease, condo or HOA rules to see what rules are in place, and enforceable.
DEAR AMY: "Worried Grad" wondered how to reach out to his college crush, two years after graduation. Thank you for encouraging him to do this, and for offering ideas for what to say. I contacted my college crush out of the blue — and out of the blue, we fell in love!
DEAR HAPPY: The thing to remember is to keep the contact light, and to not exert any pressure.