DEAR AMY: I am a 23-year-old woman who has been in a relationship with my boyfriend for four years. We currently live together and plan on getting married and having children. We are perfect together and I couldn’t ask for a better partner. His mother and I do not get along. From the very beginning of our relationship she has talked constantly about his exes. She will post pictures and tag them and invite them to family functions where her son and I are expected to attend. For the past couple of years we have both told her that this makes me feel uncomfortable and that I won’t be going to these functions if an ex or multiple exes will be there. The last family function was three months ago. I decided not to go because his ex accepted the invite. My boyfriend decided he would not attend, either. This caused a major uproar and his family is now accusing me of keeping their son and brother from them. I have decided I want nothing to do with them anymore. Is it right for us to be upset about this? Am I being unreasonable or jealous? My feelings are badly hurt and I can’t understand why they can’t let these exes go. Can my boyfriend and I still thrive in a relationship if there is a strain between me and his family?
DEAR WORRIED: Your boyfriend holds the key to how to both hold firm and help to rebuild your relationship with his family members. He should not put this all on you, but should say, “I don’t want to see my ex-girlfriends at every family event. So if one or more of them will be present, please let me know in advance.”
You are also going to need to get ahold of your feelings. It is inevitable that you will see and sometimes interact with other women who have been in his life. You should not freak out, but accept this occasional inevitability.
His family should respect his (and your) wishes, but you have handed them ammunition to cast you in the role of the bad guy. You can prove them wrong by being polite, not taking the bait and becoming more secure in your rights and wishes. Your boyfriend should also see them when he wants to and keep his distance when he feels disrespected.
You should both read, “Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage,” by Susan Forward (2002, Harper Perennial).
DEAR AMY: I have been married to my husband for 42 years, and every year I wonder why I stay. I don’t believe in divorce, but can see why some people do. If I had known how much he would change after we got married, I would not have married him. I know sex isn’t everything in a marriage but mere weeks after we got married, he turned me away and I was devastated. I wondered what I did wrong. Here we are, 42 years later, and it is worse than it was then. In the past six months I don’t think he has even kissed me, and I can’t remember the last time he hugged me. I finally gave up on making the first move because it hurt too much to be rebuffed. I couldn’t survive financially if I left him. I guess I’ll just have to suffer in silence. Any advice?
Suffering in Silence
DEAR SUFFERING: If you intend to stay in this marriage, don’t suffer in silence. Talking about this may be the toughest thing you have ever done, but you must try. Honestly talking about your feelings (and not just about the hurt) can help you to reclaim some intimacy.
Couples can become sort of frozen in silences, where the enormity of their feelings can seem too overwhelming to express.
Your husband may associate hugging and kissing and other endearments as foreplay to sex, and because he doesn’t seem to want to have sex, you can encourage him to simply be close to you, without the pressure of sex.
Counseling will help both of you, but if he won’t commit to meeting you in this way, please go by yourself.
DEAR AMY: “Worried Hubby” was threatened by a deep friendship his wife had with a man at work. A quick “rule” about outside friendships is if the spouse is disclosing things to the friend she should be telling the husband, then they have a problem.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Exactly. Thank you.