How do I best support my partner when he sets boundaries with his passive-aggressive family, particularly when the boundaries are about how they've been treating me? Wall of text, with bonus holiday drama, inside!
posted by SeedStitch to human relations (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My husband and I are both in our late twenties, and we've been married for five years and together for almost ten. We are foster parents of a twelve-month-old and I'm four months pregnant.
HISTORY. My husband and I are both middle children, raised in Catholic families, and we've both had guilt used against us to get us to comply. My relationship with my parents is very healthy now. My husband's family, on the other hand, still expects him to be "the good one" and capitulate to make it easier on everyone else. Now that we have a family of our own, we've been setting boundaries and are in that very difficult time where his family is pushing back. They've been pushing back at me, never at him, and it's when he's not around and with subtle digs or comments.
The boundaries boil down to us choosing to spend our time in the way that works best for us. His family has never been tightly scheduled, but we're insisting that we will arrive at X time, stay for Y amount of time, and leave by Z time. This is seen as rude and pushy and is blamed on me.
My husband's parents live five minutes from us, and his mom's a heavy smoker who smokes indoors. When our foster daughter arrived last January, we went from going there for dinner almost every week to deciding that it was not healthy for the baby to be in that house, so now we only go there on holidays. The few times we've seen them in neutral places, like a restaurant for dinner, his mom has spoken directly to me about how she wishes they could see us more. When my husband steps in and reminds her that the smoke is unhealthy for us and the baby, so WE'VE decided not to come to their house much, she gets very defensive and starts listing other places we've been in our lives that allow or have allowed smoking. Any time we've seen her since our decision not to go to their house has been at our instigation. This is very hard on my husband, who used to be very close with his mom.
My husband has two sisters, both of whom live at least four hours away. We have only seen them at holidays for years, and there have been comments for years about my husband and me choosing to leave "early" when, in their opinion, the party's not over yet. My husband's older sister has been the topic of several never-posted AskMe questions: she is very dramatic and is very immature; she finds it funny to do things like stand directly in your way when you're carrying something "just to mess with you". She likes to acknowledge boundaries in an exaggerated way, in a way that suggests she thinks I'm being ridiculous. (Example: she LOVES Facebook, and our county's regulations prohibit pictures of foster kids being shared on social media. I reminded her of this twice when we first got the kid, and now any time she takes a picture of the baby she turns to me and says, "I KNOW, no Facebook. I know." I haven't mentioned that rule in about eight months.)
His younger sister is much easier for me to deal with, as she has grown up quite a bit in the last few years. She used to be the source of a lot of conflict but about a year and a half ago, due to a chronic health condition, she spent several days alone in the hospital in her new city and I sent her a care package and texted her a lot to help keep her spirits up, and her attitude towards me seems to have really turned around. I do not think she sticks up for me to her mom and sister, but she treats me with respect most of the time. However, this sister's fiance and last boyfriend were both allergic to cats (the parents have two) and smoke, but the sister insists they stay with the parents when they come into town, putting her mom's feelings above the boyfriends' health and misery.
CURRENT DRAMA. The past year, since we've stuck to the boundaries we've set, has involved WAY more comments and digs than ever before. This all came to a head yesterday, when we were over for Christmas. My husband told his mom that to get the baby in bed on time, we'd be out the door by six at the latest. At 5:50, we started packing up, and the older sister decided it was a good time to have a toast for the recently engaged younger sister and her fiance, and she pressured me to stay "for an extra minute." His older sister was having a blast being mysterious about what she was up to, even though I had overheard her talking to her mom an hour before about doing the toast, so she didn't give any explanation about why she wanted us to stay. I told her that we'd stay if it really was only a minute, and my husband's mom, without turning to look at me, sighed deeply and said, "SeedStitch, please give a little." It was very clear from her tone that she thought I was being totally out of line.
My husband saw the exchange and saw my face but didn't hear what was said, so he came over to put his arm around me and we continued packing up. We did the very rushed toast and then left. I explained what had happened, with plenty of tears (thanks, hormones!). After we got home, my husband sat down and composed a letter to his mom and both sisters and had me read it. It was very firm, and we worked together to make sure it accurately represented how his mom and sisters, in the past year especially, have seemed to get the idea that I am the reason behind our choices as a family. He explained that any decision we make is fully made by both of us and that it is unfair for his family to act as if I am pulling him away in any form. While we love his family very much, we will continue to make choices, as a team, in the best interest of our family. He sent the email through Facebook, which he knows they all check frequently.
We have gotten no response from his mom or sisters. At his best guess, they're all sitting around talking about what they could have possibly done to provoke this and how my hormones are making me crazy and how could I possibly think they don't like me and wasn't that totally uncalled for and why did he have to ruin Christmas, first by leaving so early and then with that totally awful email.
We will be seeing his mother and sisters at his younger sister's wedding on New Year's Eve. (She has been engaged for less than a month; we have been enthusiastic and supportive, and I offered to do any paperwork stuff that needed to be done before they got into town.) We have a plan if the older sister tries to corner me and cry about how I could possibly have thought those things about her; I expect the mother and younger sister to be distant but not downright unpleasant. My husband and I will be side by side for as much of the event as we can, to prevent any triangulation attempts.
ACTUAL QUESTION. So. My husband is struggling a lot with guilt and apprehension about this. He sent the email to make things better for me, and I appreciate that. Besides talking to him about how much it meant to me (which I've done and continue to do) and continuing to remind myself and him that what he did was healthy and reasonable and that their responses are not our responsibility, how can I support my husband here? He is very hard on himself and will feel shitty about this for days, and I'm certain the younger sister's wedding will involve more push-back. What can I do to make it easier for him, however slightly?