DEAR AMY: My husband and I are retired. We married 12 years ago — several years after his ex had an affair and left him. My husband has two grown sons (around 40), one of whom is married. The married son and his wife essentially ignore that I exist. My attempts to talk to them directly about it have not been well received. They are still upset that we opted to elope, instead of having a “real” wedding and inviting them. I also suspect that my lack of fundamental Christian religious beliefs may add fuel to the fire, although my husband has the same beliefs as mine. For the first five years of our marriage, I tried extremely hard to create a relationship by planning vacations with them and inviting them to our home. This was exhausting, painful, and only made matters worse. I continue to take the high road. I always remember birthdays and holidays with cards and nice gifts, although such attention is never reciprocated. I attend large family gatherings where they are present, and I am always cordial and friendly. I feel that I owe this to my husband. Here’s the issue: I brought the vast majority of our considerable net worth into the marriage. My husband wants to leave a large amount to this son and his wife, but I am opposed to this. I have other long-standing, loving relationships that I would like to recognize (although I have no children of my own). This is causing an issue in our otherwise very happy marriage. What do you think?
DEAR INVISIBLE: Outside the idea of you doing what your husband wants in order to please him, it is hard to justify basically rewarding people who have been unkind to you with a big payday upon your death.
You and your husband came together later in life, each bringing your own values — as well as financial assets — to the marriage. You should check the laws in your state to determine which of your assets would be considered community property. Then you should then earmark your own funds to go wherever you want after your death. Your husband should do the same.
See an estate planner. An “incentive trust” sets down benchmarks for behavior that a potential recipient must demonstrate before receiving funds, although “behave like a decent person” is fairly hard to quantify.
This issue reveals the magnitude of how hurt you feel. Your husband could probably influence his son, and inspire (or insist upon) basic politeness and kindness toward you. You don’t say that he has tried.
Regarding birthdays and holidays, if it makes you feel good to give when you never receive, then continue to do this. But maybe this couple should feel the consequences of their behavior now, versus after you are gone.
DEAR AMY: My mother-in-law just turned 95. She lives in a retirement village and has her own independent apartment. My husband and I drove two hours to see her on her birthday and took her out to eat. I noticed she had trouble getting out of the back seat. When we returned to her building, I got out of the car and offered my hand to help her out of the car. She said, “I can do it!” and refused to take my hand. There is a history of rudeness and coldness in this family. One of my husband’s aunts (by marriage) told me that this was the coldest family she had ever known. I’ve experienced this sort of thing many times, but avoid rocking the boat. Is that what I need to do? I don’t want to have bad feelings about my in-laws, but it’s hard to avoid when they treat me coldly.
Help Not Wanted
DEAR NOT WANTED: I think you need to give an irascible 95-year-old a break, but otherwise you should use your voice.
Reacting naturally in the moment, (for instance: “I think that was pretty harsh”), but not attaching to their reaction, might help you to feel more in control.
DEAR AMY: I have a message for “Broken Trust.” She is the young working mother whose husband had the habit of looking up exes online. It is better to be raised in a single-parent home, than to be raised in a home where there is emotional pain, distrust, one-sided love, arguing and fighting. I’ve had that experience growing up also and we all were better off after my dad left.
DEAR MISS RED: I agree with you.