Ask Amy: Toxic gossip defines in-law relationship
Dear Amy: My in-laws routinely trash spouses who have married into the family. They spread gossip (some of it truly vicious, and often completely untrue), always make insulting assumptions, and judge every move anyone makes in life.
How we raise kids, what we eat, or how we invest our money, everything is scrutinized, followed by snarky remarks.
The latest drama involved a very large neighborhood party for my father-in-law’s birthday.
I had told my wife that I could not attend because I must follow emergency guidelines because of my job. I told her that I’d prefer for her not to attend, as we know there would be no COVID precautions taken, but I left it up to her. She decided not to attend.
Now I find out that the siblings thought I was controlling her. The in-laws’ harsh and horrid judgment of everyone creates nonstop drama.
I try to avoid them, but leaving my wife to speak for our family causes just as much drama.
My in-laws want to have a better relationship with us, but they don’t seem to understand that they are horrible people and how they act and react is a reflection of their true personas.
I am at a loss as to how I can deal being attached to this toxic family. I do not want our children to pick up on the toxicity and stress that I feel. — Out-law in Oregon
Dear Out-law: The way to tamp down any dumpster fire is to deprive it of fuel and oxygen. You are doing this by avoiding your in-laws. Your wife can’t or doesn’t want to. She should become more discreet, because this fuels the gossip. She should then cut down on the oxygen, by shutting it down when the judgment and gossip starts.
Why do your in-laws know about your finances? How do they know the intricacies of your family’s decisions? They know because you or your wife told them. And you know about their harsh assumptions because (presumably) your wife relayed all of this back to you.
I’m not blaming her, and you shouldn’t, either. This was the family she grew up in, and this is what she knows about how people relate.
Branding your in-laws as “truly horrible people” is NOT helpful, even if it is true. Couples counseling would provide you two with a helpful script, and techniques for establishing boundaries.
Dear Amy: When does the family’s house cease being the “go to” place for adult kids to flop in whenever they are in between jobs, relationships, or apartments, or, basically, whenever they feel like it?
Honestly, I love my kids, but I have had it. My husband and I are still both working very demanding full-time jobs, and as we near retirement, I wonder when I get to retire from hosting our kids.
The other day, I heard one of our daughters (we have four) tell her friend, “Hey, no one is going to stop me from staying in my own house.” This was right after she announced that she was coming home for two weeks — “or longer ... it depends on my work schedule.” She has her own apartment 200 miles away!
I thought I would scream. My husband feels the same way. Three of her siblings had already flopped here for weeks on end because now that they are “working from home,” they have decided to work from our home.
What can I do? — Harried
Dear Harried: I think it’s time to scream. Each individual child might not have an awareness of the cumulative effect of these spontaneous and sequential home stays. Tell them all, “We love you. We love seeing you. But we are done. You can bunk with us only for invited holidays and in true emergencies. Otherwise, you’ll have to find another place to flop.”
Dear Amy: Your response to “Fifth Wheelin,” to deny a person’s participation simply because he is male, is repulsive.
Take a moment and substitute the words “black/gay/Hispanic/Asian/Jew” for “boyfriend/husband.”
Would it be OK with you to reject participation based on any of those criteria?
Your response to Fifth Wheelin’ implies “YES” would be your answer. — Repulsed and Disgusted
Dear Repulsed: “Fifth Wheelin’” planned occasional girls’ nights out (without her husband), and didn’t like it that one friend always wanted to bring her boyfriend along.
I think it is completely fine for spouses to occasionally do things with their friends, without always including their other half, and without making — literally — a federal case of it.