Brother in Law tried to stop my wedding. How do I deal w Thanksgiving?
November 7, 2014 3:42 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I were married this past May. In mid-February, before the wedding, the husband of my sister in law called my husband to tell him that he was making a huge mistake marrying me and that it was going to ruin his life. There was a lot of classism and casual xenophobia in his reasoning. Now he and my SIL are coming in from out of state for Thanksgiving. What to do?

There was a lot of dramatic fallout from his phone call, including him being disinvited from our small wedding ceremony but being invited to the reception. He and I spoke briefly and politely at the reception in passing, but other than that we have had no contact.

My husband and my brother in law have had a strained relationship in the past, with a lot of condescension and controlling behavior on my BIL's part and avoidance and resentment on the part of my husband. They have not spoken since the wedding, though one or the other of them will reach out occasionally. (We live across the country from each other so it's hard to keep in touch sometimes, especially when the relationship is already strained.)

I know part (or most) of the reason for his phone call had to do with his own issues. He has trouble making friends and missed my husband, and felt like our marriage would mean that my husband would never move back home. I have sympathy for him, but I am still so angry. The things he said were extremely hurtful and touched on some of my deepest insecurities. I do not know how to carry on a relationship with him.

It is also difficult for me to carry on as if nothing happened. He has never apologized to me or even acknowledged the situation to me. He did tell my husband that he never would have said anything if he could have known that my husband would tell me. (He was, in fact, very angry that my husband told me.)

On top of all that, he fairly regularly makes racist or otherwise prejudiced comments in front of my husband and I, which makes both of us uncomfortable and angry. This was a problem way before this particular situation arose.

Now he and my SIL are coming to our state for Thanksgiving and I don't know how to interact with him. At some point I asked my husband if he could ask my BIL to apologize to me. I felt like I needed that to move past this situation. But now I'm not sure if that's the best idea. I should add that my husband has been very supportive of me in this whole situation, as have his parents, but we just don't know what to do.

So, I suppose my questions are:

1) How can I have a relationship with my BIL?
2) How should I handle this upcoming holiday?
3) How do I deal with his racist comments?

Thanks you so much for reading all this; I very much appreciate your advice and input!
posted by dysh to Human Relations (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Forgive them like they had a mental lapse due to shrooms and feed them.

You know you're in the right. Pity them for their stupidity, immaturity, and lack of wisdom.
posted by discopolo at 3:44 PM on November 7, 2014 [17 favorites]


With in-laws it's almost always best for the more directly related spouse to run interference. Talk with your husband beforehand and agree that he will confront any racist comments (or other inappropriate behavior). It sounds like BIL is more invested in a relationship with your husband than you anyway, and thus it's important that he know that the community standards of decent behavior in your house are equally important to the two of you.
posted by dr. boludo at 3:54 PM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why are they coming to your state for Thanksgiving? Were they invited? Who is hosting the dinner?

Generally speaking, it's on your BIL to apologize for injecting his issues into your impending marriage in a dramatic way, and to immediately and permanently cease from making racist comments in front of you. Your husband, and his parents if they're willing, should impress this upon him, and he should bear the burden of trying to make peace and smooth things over with you.

If this Thanksgiving is being held at a third-party location, like the parents' home, you should probably just be coolly civil to him and enlist your husband's help in making sure any egregious behavior (racism etc) gets shut down. Or skip it, if you want to. Life is too short to force yourself to spend time around people who make you feel crappy.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:56 PM on November 7, 2014 [14 favorites]


You say that you asked your husband to talk to the guy on your behalf. Did he?

Also - you say that the guy is coming from out of state, but it's not clear whether you're going to both be at the same events. Are you?

If it's a case where you are going to be at someone else's house, and he turns up, you could do the same thing - be polite and cordial, but maybe always seem to be just about to have something to do in another room whenever he walks into a room you're in (not like you sprint out of the room whenever he comes in, but just sort of subtly excuse yourself after a moment or two and get out).

If it's you hosting Thanksgiving, and he's already invited and definitely showing up, and your husband hasn't talked to the guy yet, maybe remind your husband that you're still smarting and that you'll need his help trying to smooth things over.

If you're hosting Thanksgiving, AND your husband has already talked to him, AND he's definitely showing up, give him a chance to see if maybe he complies with your husband after all.

If he acts like a total jerk, of course, either insist that he not treat you that way and have your husband kick him out if it's your house, or insist he not treat you that way and leave if you're visiting someone else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Your BIL doesn't need to apologise to you; he didn't say anything to you. He thought he was having a private conversation. Granted, a private conversation in which he was being a supremely shitty human being, but this is a dead end to pursue. Anything you two make him say isn't going to be sincere, and is likely to result not in what you want but rather in more drama you don't want.

Treat them politely, like strangers. Families are filled with assholes. If it's your home, you can either stand on principle and throw them out for saying racist bullshit, or you can grit your teeth through the holiday and never invite them back.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:06 PM on November 7, 2014 [10 favorites]


Just to answer a few questions: they are coming to our state for Thanksgiving because my BIL's brother lives here and invited them. My husband's sister had mentioned a month or so ago that they might come, but has not told my husband that they're coming for sure yet--he heard it from his mom. It will not be possible for them to join us for my family Thanksgiving because it will be held at a house full of smokers and they have a young child. I assume that we will meet up on one of the other days of the weekend, possibly at the house of my BIL's brother. My husband has not yet talked to him on my behalf. We've been dealing with other life difficulties at the moment so he has been putting it off. Understandably, it's not a conversation he looks forward to.
posted by dysh at 4:06 PM on November 7, 2014


1) How can I have a relationship with my BIL?
2) How should I handle this upcoming holiday?
3) How do I deal with his racist comments?


1) You can have an abusive relationship but not a good relationship.
2) You should have a good time that doesn't involve him.
3) By not being exposed to them.

Are you seriously planning to get together with this guy? After a person says that marrying you is a huge mistake that will ruin your husband's life, the correct response is that neither you nor your husband every have contact with him again. This is well beyond garden-variety assholishness and into abusive behavior. Don't be around condescending, controlling assholes. People in your family should treat you better than random strangers treat you; he is treating you and your husband poorly.
posted by medusa at 4:15 PM on November 7, 2014 [54 favorites]


You can't make someone apologize to you. Not really.

You have three choices, rise above it, skip it, or stand your ground.

1. Act as if it never happened. If you can pull this off, you come off very classy. It's only rewarding if the offending parties look like total shit-heels, or end up eating their words very publicly. Usually, they just think you're weak or stupid, or don't think about it at all. If you can be okay with being an excellent human and appreciate yourself, when no one else knows what it's costing you, this is the best solution. Frankly, I ain't that good a person.

2. Skip it. My choice. It's SO much less stressful. You can hang with friends, or enjoy a quiet evening at home gearing up for Christmas. It's not worth it.

3. Go, plan to say something and try to make it as non-drama as possible. (It's impossible really, but you know, that's the plan.) Perhaps something like, "Joe, I'm still butt-hurt at your behavior before our wedding. I'm trying to be forgiving and we are family now, but right now, I think we should probably give each other a wide berth until I'm over it. "

Frankly, if you want to have an enjoyable holiday, surrounded by your loved ones, you need to be wherever your in-laws aren't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:20 PM on November 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


Short answer: prove him wrong.

You won't ever talk him into a different opinion of you so let go of that. You can, maybe, change his opinion of you through your actions.

Withdraw any demand for an apology. If you got one now it would be hollow, empty, forced.

Be the amazing woman your husband married. Treat the BIL as part of your family. Show him the respect he can't muster for you. Be kind and welcoming and generous, even -- especially -- when it isn't reciprocated.

Win him over with kindness. Suck all the oxygen from his mistaken beliefs about you.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:20 PM on November 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh, if it's only a "maybe we'll see him" situation and it's not Thanksgiving, then you can easily avoid him. If you and your husband get invited somewhere where he'll be, then you can tell a white lie that you were sick or something and let your husband go on his own if he wants to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 PM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


It sounds like this guy is carrying around quite a bit of baggage, but that doesn't mean you have to take some on his behalf.

A couple of things:
  • If this guy was that much of a jerk to you, chances are he's behaved similarly to others in the extended family. If so, you'll enjoy the benefit of the doubt concerning any friction between the two of you
  • That being the case, your best strategy is defense. Be gracious (to the best of your ability) and just give him enough rope
  • As others have advised, ask your husband to take point on responding to anything offensive he says that requires a response. If he says something hurtful to the two of you or something flagrantly racist, your husband should just say "that's not how we see it," or "dysh and I would disagree with that," without going into greater detail. Such responses don't let anything go unchallenged but neither do they invite a huge blow-up at a family gathering. And they explicitly state that you and your husband are united in agreement, which, if you're lucky, will drive the twerp crazy. You'll look like the grown-ups and he'll have no counter without making a gigantic ass of himself.
  • Living well really is the best revenge. The best way to prove how wrong this guy was in his predictions is to be a happy, healthy couple and let everyone else in the family see that in action.
Focus on having a good time with the rest of the family and avoiding as much as possible anything more than superficial pleasantries with the jerk and you'll do more to undermine and annoy him than any frontal attack could ever manage.
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:30 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sorry to threadsit, and this will be my last post, but we will also definitely be seeing him for Christmas because we're going back to my husband's home state and he will be at their family Christmas celebration, so this is an ongoing problem.
posted by dysh at 4:30 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, he seems like a jerk. Let's hope your sister-in-law doesn't keep him around too much longer.

I would treat him the way I would treat a bratty four year old. When a friends kid is horrible and inappropriate I feel like saying "How can you let him hit you and scream in your face". Instead I busy myself in some other way and ignore it.

If I were you I'd head to the kitchen for more gravy and just be happy you have to deal with this guy very little.

This really is a time for you to shine by taking the high road. Good luck!
posted by beccaj at 4:32 PM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ignore it like it never happened. Ignore his ignorant comments moving forward.

You are waaaaaaaaay overthinking this. There is zero to address or fix. Really.

Be polite and smile. Inside, you know he's an insecure jerk. This doesn't effect your life in the slightest. Stop focusing on it.

To be clear - he permanently broke whatever friendship there was by calling your husband. No one needs to correct anything or stir the coals up. This person is not your friend or family. He's an acquaintance you see at events sometimes. Period. Hide him on social media so you don't have to pick the wound. Sorry for your SIL, but well, she chose him.

I would be HORRIFIED if my husband pulled what her husband did. I would be HORRIFIED to hear my husband making racist comments. Your SIL? Apparently, not so much!

Just let it all go. There's nothing to do but enjoy your marriage and the people who do love you.

Be well.
posted by jbenben at 4:38 PM on November 7, 2014 [16 favorites]


Act as if it never happened. If you can pull this off, you come off very classy.

Yes. Or, if it somehow comes up anyway, it's susceptible to a sharp joke aimed at the BIL, such as: "So, I guess you've decided Husband and I are allowed to stay together?" Or something like that in your own style.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:55 PM on November 7, 2014


1) How can I have a relationship with my BIL?
2) How should I handle this upcoming holiday?
3) How do I deal with his racist comments?


1) You can't, not one you'll enjoy. Don't try.
2) Don't make a big deal of it, but avoid him as much as possible.
3) If he makes them to you, either tell him he's being racist and you don't like it or just walk away. If he makes them in your hearing but not to you, ignore it. Don't borrow trouble.

I entirely disagree with the "be the bigger person! make a joke of it!" people. This is not someone who gets jokey in a kind-of-offensive-but-also-kind-of-cute way; this is a grade-A asshole and the poster shouldn't have to put up with him. Also, this is not a sitcom, this is her life. She has a right to live it as well as possible.
posted by languagehat at 5:07 PM on November 7, 2014 [18 favorites]


Here's how I deal with jerk relatives: Be barely cordial. Say hello and goodbye and pass the potatoes when you have to, but say the bare minimum that you have to around him. If he's hanging out watching TV with the menz, you hide in the kitchen with the ladies.* Sit as far away from him as you can get. If you can avoid him, do so, but don't be conspicuously rude about it. This doesn't require you to "kill him with kindness" (might be hard to pull off, and it doesn't sound like he's the kind you WANT to befriend anyway and vice versa), and if you keep it quiet enough others don't notice. He absolutely doesn't want to see or deal with you either, so if you can only interact with him when you absolutely have to, do so. Be coolly polite.

* I hate to stereotype, but this is generally how all Thanksgiving dinners go.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:41 PM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry this happened. But I don't see how you can really do anything other than go, keep your distance, and remain somewhat aloof without being openly rude.

I understand why you wish he would apologize, but I doubt you would actually find a coerced apology all that satisfying. Moreover, there are all sorts of ways that the process of trying to force an apology could make the situation even worse.

Perhaps try to reframe it like this: you won. This fool tried to come between you and your husband, and he utterly failed. Every time he sees you, he is reminded, again, that you won.
posted by girl flaneur at 5:50 PM on November 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


I assume that we will meet up on one of the other days of the weekend, possibly at the house of my BIL's brother.

So...they're not coming to your state to see you specifically? Is the Thanksgiving meetup really necessary then? It seems entirely plausible to say you don't have time to schlep out to your BIL's brother's house, when your BIL and SIL haven't even come forward themselves to say they want to see you. I would just wait it out and maybe even make other plans, so that you could honestly say that you're busy when and if they ask you about getting together.
posted by daisystomper at 8:51 PM on November 7, 2014


Wow, a lot of very different perspectives here.

I think part of the reason for that, OP, is that the right course of action depends a lot on your brother-in-law's personality and the personalities of everyone else involved in the situation--as well as on how often you see each other. If he's a basically well-meaning but emotionally clueless person (admittedly, your description doesn't give a lot of ground for this interpretation), then you or your husband telling him, calmly, how his behavior before the wedding hurt you might lead to some sort of reconciliation and understanding. If he's petty and insecure, it'll just feed the gossip mills in your family, put more pressure on the "peacemaker" personalities, and give you all one more thing to fight about next year. If you don't see each other that often, then it's probably best to just avoid him. If you do, then maybe you need to reevaluate how much time you spend together, or figure out a way to stand your ground without causing huge blowouts.

By the same token: exactly what kind of "racism" are we talking about here? Is he a just a clueless, sheltered white person from a conservative community who says ignorant things because they're "normal" in his world and he's never had any contact with different experiences? Or is he a bitter, frustrated white person who targets his resentment at minorities (laundered, of course, through some kind of sanitizing ideal like "self-reliance") as part of a consistent political philosophy, and is resistant to other points of view? If he's the former, again, just pointing out how his comments make you feel can do wonders--he honestly just might never have considered it. (My dad says ridiculous things about race all the time, but there's no hate behind it and he always does it with the best possible intentions. I think it's his way of balancing the parochial values he grew up with against a vague awareness that he lives in a more complicated world.) If he's the latter, then yeah, limiting contact, combined with polite, calculating snideness is probably the best approach.

In the absence of better information, I'd say this, from Nerd of the North, has the best chance of succeeding:

As others have advised, ask your husband to take point on responding to anything offensive he says that requires a response. If he says something hurtful to the two of you or something flagrantly racist, your husband should just say "that's not how we see it," or "dysh and I would disagree with that," without going into greater detail. Such responses don't let anything go unchallenged but neither do they invite a huge blow-up at a family gathering. And they explicitly state that you and your husband are united in agreement, which, if you're lucky, will drive the twerp crazy. You'll look like the grown-ups and he'll have no counter without making a gigantic ass of himself.
posted by urufu at 9:06 PM on November 7, 2014


Wow. I feel like a lot of these responses ("take the high road" "show you're a better person") demand that you do an enormous amount of emotional work that will allow your brother-in-law to pretend he did nothing wrong, and the people around you to pretend that his shitty behavior had no cost to you. NONSENSE. Eff that. Just go for the cut direct. Ignore the brother-in-law entirely whenever you're in the same place, until and unless he has apologized to you in a way you consider to be sufficient. Be present, enjoy the other folks who are around, and act as though that asshole is nothing but vapor. You're not the one who made interacting with him uncomfortable; his hateful bullshit did that. Let him be the one to carry the responsibility and effect of that, and let him be the one who is uncomfortable with the repercussions of his nonsense. OH NOES, OTHER PEOPLE ARE UNCOMFORTABLE? TOO EFFING BAD, NOT YOUR FAULT: THEY SHOULDN'T CODDLE RACIST ASSHOLE DIAPER BABIES IF THEY DON'T WANT SHIT GETTING UNCOMFORTABLE.
posted by amelioration at 9:57 PM on November 7, 2014 [48 favorites]


My mother refused to come to our wedding (she was trying to get me to either cancel it or move it, and I called her bluff), while my father-in-law put pressure on us to change the date because it conflicted with an Arsenal match (we didn't, and he did attend, but under protest). I had plenty of reason to stay pissed off with them, but decided life was too short and there were other tasks more worthy of the energy that shunning them would take. My decision was to forgive but not forget: I visit both of them, am perfectly polite to them, but keep their past behaviour in mind should they make any demands based on affection or family loyalty.

Once an aunt of mine made an anti-Semitic comment in front of us, presumably not knowing that my husband's father is Jewish. I chose to use this as what in modern jargon is called a "teachable moment."

Anyway. My point is there's a middle ground between having a warm family relationship with someone and cutting them out of your life. If you really don't want to go to this Thanksgiving dinner, then don't. If you do go, be polite to your SIL and BIL, but don't expend any effort on them beyond that. Of course any direct insults to you should be dealt with firmly (but civilly, for the sake of others present).
posted by Perodicticus potto at 11:46 PM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think it would help a bit to know what outcome you want. Imagine it's 2019. Do you want to have a warm family relationship with BIL ("man, those were some hairy days after the wedding, I can't believe how much I like you now, you shithead")? Or do you think that's impossible/undesirable and you just want to cool off and live through this set of holidays without smashing his face into the candied yams?

Whichever it is, I just want to say as the kid of a multiply-divorced family that the most awful, improbable hatefests die down. People who couldn't STAND each other, who stood on one another's porches and threatened to call the cops on each other, eventually can come around to hanging out at one another's hospital beds with flowers and having brunch together when the kids come to town. The jerky lions can wind up being beloved family to the angry lambs. So it is totally probable in my mind that by 2019 you guys are either going to be very chill together or very friendly together. Even if he has terrible qualities.

This holiday season, ignore the racist comments, and mostly ignore BIL, that's what I'd do. Maybe skip getting together at Thanksgiving. If they ask your husband where you are, he can tell them the truth. Be cool but polite.
posted by feets at 1:11 AM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nurturing family grudges is kryptonite to the Superman life you want to lead. Demanding insincere apologies is for third grade teachers trying to inculcate social niceties to their charges, not for adults who shouldn't rely upon the opinion of others for their self-image.
posted by MattD at 5:56 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


"living well is the best revenge".....
posted by alchemist at 9:15 AM on November 8, 2014


1) How can I have a relationship with my BIL?

Don't.

2) How should I handle this upcoming holiday?

He's excluded.

3) How do I deal with his racist comments?

He's banned from your circle.
posted by Gray Skies at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2014


I want to emphasize something someone mentioned above: it isn't you to whom BiL principally owes an apology. It's your husband. I know your husband has been very supportive of you through this, but I think he's dodging an issue he needs to confront. A family member insulted him by telling him he was making a mistake in getting married. He needs to decide what to do about that.

Family is a tough subject in any relationship, but it can be worked out if both partners follow a plan of mutual support and respect. You can deal with stuff that happens to come up between you personally and members of his family, but in general they are his family, and he has to be the one to be the main interface between you and them.

In short - this is between your husband and your BiL. I think you feel like you're in limbo for good reason - because it has to do with stuff that happened in a conversation you weren't a party to, so it feels very weird for you to have to address it.

Your husband really has two options. He can say to BiL that he deserves an apology for the insult and a promise that BiL will try to make the relationship work with you - or he can say he won't spend time with the guy because it's not worth the trouble. Frankly I lean toward the latter, but it's up to him to decide what he values more.
posted by koeselitz at 11:03 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


1) How can I have a relationship with my BIL?

Don't bother. He sounds like an absolute ass.

2) How should I handle this upcoming holiday?


You mention that you "assume that we will meet up on one of the other days of the weekend, possibly at the house of my BIL's brother". Don't attend. I'm sure you have better things to do.

3) How do I deal with his racist comments?

Don't be in the same place as him.

If that is unavoidable, your husband should be running interference. It's his sister's husband.

If you are in the same place, and he says something racist to you, call him out as a racist piece of shit, tell him to go fuck himself, and walk away. Stay away from him in future. Life is too short to put up with this nonsense, especially from an in-law.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:12 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wow. I feel like a lot of these responses ("take the high road" "show you're a better person") demand that you do an enormous amount of emotional work that will allow your brother-in-law to pretend he did nothing wrong, and the people around you to pretend that his shitty behavior had no cost to you.

Wow, yea, this. 1000x this.

My dads family pulled a pretty similar routine with my mom. A couple of them still don't like her like 30+ years later and still make shitty remarks.

She just completely ignores them like amelioration suggested.

The last thing you should do is act like this never happened, that isn't taking the high road, that's just killing yourself inside so that as they said, you can give them a free pass and let them pretend this never happened.

Talk to your husband, and make a point of never talking to these people again. If you do, expect all kinds of shitty remarks to pop out of their mouths especially after they get a couple glasses of wine deep until the end of time.

Be present, don't even say hi to them. Expect to still overhear shitty remarks.
posted by emptythought at 12:04 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


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