How do I stop resenting my brother's wife, stop mentally competing with her for the love and approval of my parents, and stop worrying about falling to the margins of my family?
posted by anonymous to human relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is long. As a preface, I've been in therapy a long time, and I know that my issues are based on childhood reflexes, but I'm having a hard time with this particular issue. I know I can't control other people's actions, just my own; I just want to figure out how to adjust my thinking and behavior.
Facts: I'm a 35-year-old male and I have a 30-year-old brother. My family all lives in the same metro area.
I have never had a secure relationship with my parents. I was a very smart kid, a nerd, different, and secretly gay. My dad used to verbally berate me from childhood into young adulthood -- he told me at various times that I was manipulative, or a momma's boy, or a snob, or incompetent, or immature. I had a lot of complicated emotional issues growing up, but my dad was emotionally tone-deaf and this was apparently the only way he knew how to deal with me. Also, he hit or shoved me at least a couple of times when I was a little kid. I don't know if this is normal; I know some parents spank their children, but this was more like lashing out in anger at me instead of planned discipline. It was very aggressive and intimidating behavior for a kid to experience, and I was terrified of him. I do have a few good childhood memories of him, but the bad ones predominate. Our relationship has mostly improved, but to this day he can still reduce me to a puddle of self-loathing with a particular comment or tone of voice. And he recently told my mom that he thinks I don't care about him because I never call. Hello? He's intimidating and doesn't know how to have a conversation.
So as a kid, I turned to my mom instead. I loved her, adored her. She was incredibly nurturing and giving. I liked being nurtured, and I was probably a little too clingy -- I don't know if this was a reaction to the way my dad treated me or if it was just in my DNA. All I know is, my dad criticized me for it -- I remember once or twice he accused me of "hanging on my mommy's apron strings." But I tried even my mom's patience sometimes. And despite the fact that I was a smart student, when I got to high school and stopped being number one academically, both parents would accuse me of self-sabotage. They also made me skip a grade in middle school, which totally screwed up my social life. My mom and I have long since made up, and we communicate well. While she wasn't a perfect mom, she's a terrific one.
But I eventually came to feel like my parents and my brother are the normal ones, that they're the ones who know how the world works and how to deal with people and situations day to day, while I'm the family fuckup.
So, my sister-in-law. My brother -- who is much more "normal" than me -- got married a few years ago, and his wife fits our family like a glove. We're a family of affluent northeastern Jews; she has the same background. Although her parents live several hours away, her parents and my parents have become good friends ever since my brother and his wife became serious. I realize this is unusual for the parents of married couples. I seem to see them 2-3 times a year, even though they're not even my own inlaws.
My sister-in-law is the daughter my mom never had, and the two of them have bonded incredibly well. She's similar to my mom in many ways -- I guess sometimes sons really do marry their mothers. My mom and my sister-in-law both like to entertain, throw small parties, be social, give gifts, go the extra mile for people, and so forth.
As for me, again, I'm gay, and I have a partner, who (obviously) is a man. My parents used to have an issue with my being gay, but they got over it, and then I met my partner, and they consider him to be part of the family. We've been together for 5+ years. Unlike my sister-in-law, he's not Jewish, and he was raised in the south, in a more modest socioeconomic background, so his parents are very different from my own. His parents and my parents have met each other once, and although it was perfectly lovely, they have little in common.
My partner is more of an introvert, and I have introvert tendencies. Neither of us likes to spend money; we rarely cook; we're not very good at keeping house or even putting stuff up on the walls of our apartment. Neither of us particularly likes to entertain. We live a very plain lifestyle, although sometimes I wish we didn't. Our apartment is very small and isn't really suitable for a dinner party. And my partner just doesn't put the same premium on family relationships that my sister-in-law does.
Although she's a lovely person, has been nothing but wonderful to me, and means well, I find myself resenting her alot, because I feel like she's taken over the family. I don't really like to see my parents all that often, but she thinks it's important for the family to get together regularly, as do my parents, so we get together. She's very take-charge and very giving. I know my parents have always resented me for not pulling my weight, for taking them for granted, for not taking responsibility for arranging family events, etc., and now my sister-in-law's example makes me look even worse. I really notice the new dynamic when it comes to major Jewish holidays, because since my sister-in-law is Jewish, all of this comes naturally to her, while my partner isn't, and therefore he doesn't seem to care that much about the holidays.
I already feel like an appendage to my family. This will only get worse. My brother and sister-in-law are interested in having children; we aren't. So someday soon they'll have kids, and the kids will rightly become the center of attention, and I'll begin to see myself as the ungrateful son who couldn't even provide grandchildren like my brother did.
Sometimes I wonder if I just need to get away from my family. My family's in the New York area, and I don't necessarily want to leave NYC and uproot my life just to get away from psychological stuff that would follow me anyway.
So how do I get over this shit? How important should family be in my life? Why do I feel like I owe them something? How can I live my life on my terms? How can I resolve all this without moving to a different city?