resources for troubled in-law relations?
December 28, 2015 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Yeah, I know, in-law problems are so common as to be a cliche. But I don't want my family to be a cliche! The resources I've found on in-law relationships have typically been super conservative/religious, or deal with highly toxic and dramatic situations (which ours isn't), or are mostly parenting-focused (we don't have kids). Surely someone has written a book or a blog about in-law issues that are mostly about clashing personalities and priorities?

After a stressful holiday season, it seems abundantly clear that things between my SO and my mother aren't going to improve without intervention of some sort. The thing is, nobody is actually behaving badly; they're just super different people, in ways that seem perfectly designed to infuriate the living daylights out of each other.

Mother is extroverted, warm, and generous, but also very anxious and flaky about plans/time/details. Extended family is loving, close, loud, chaotic. SO is kind and loving but reserved, deeeeeeply introverted, protective of his time and space. He is not like other SOs in the family, who have happily come into the fold as honorary kids. (His relationship with his own extended family is also loving-but-detached, and they are all quiet, reserved, orderly folks.)

Everybody involved is trying their best. My mom is working hard to observe boundaries; my SO is trying hard to "go with the flow" and accept my weird, noisy, huggy family. But despite best efforts everyone feels either rejected or put-upon, and gatherings are a stressful festival of managing tensions and soothing frayed nerves or hurt feelings.

I had hoped that basically, effort plus time would equal improvement. But it's been a few years now, and honestly, we're stalled. So I think we maybe need an actual plan, instead of just real good intentions. (NB: I am posting this because I'm the only MeFite among us, but both of them are very much on board with improving things.)

I've checked out a few mainstream books on "dealing with in-laws" but as I mentioned above the fold, they haven't applied very well to our situation. So is there, like, a CBT workbook but for building a healthy in-law bond? A blog where someone is hashing this process out, bit by bit? A book on blending families that isn't just about stepparents and remarriage? A support group or a therapy group for Folks Who Are All Very Nice But Just Don't Get Along?

Advice and anecdotes welcome as well, but I would really like pointers to resources above all.

Thanks in advance, MeFi!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If everyone is willing I think you can make this work. I feel you, but for different reasons. My Mom is a narcissist, my sister is kind of a show off needs to be center of attention, and my Dad is kindly, but sarcastic and silly. They are a bit much. If I tell you that I'm the introvert of the clan, you can appreciate the VOLUME of the personalities involved.

Husbunny is very reserved, and introverted and he pretty much goes bats when we visit because he sees the nonsense and how I'm shoved aside and it agitates him. Here's how we do it.

1. We get a hotel. We both need time away from the mishegoss.
2. We make sure there's an agenda, a movie, a party, something other than everyone looking for others to entertain them.
3. Build in escape valves. It's perfectly okay for Husbunny to disappear into the guest room to read. It's accepted and no one judges him.
4. He gets to stay in the hotel if he likes. He doesn't have to be at every event or attend every party. We fade early.

Reduce exposure on shorter holiday weekends by leaving him home. I do that sometimes. Husbunny eats pizza and plays Xbox. If I know there's going to be chaos, I'd rather just leave him with the cats frankly.

I don't know why your family doesn't get the introvert thing. Perhaps share some cute cartoons about it with them.

No one is wrong, and your husband may never want as much of your family as you do. That's okay. It's part of your relationship.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:26 PM on December 28, 2015 [15 favorites]

Can you give a specific example of something that has happened, and how it was handled at the time, and how that turned out? Because I think I know what you mean, but I'm not certain.

I also think it might help for you to define what you mean by "a healthy in-law bond," and also to ask your spouse what he thinks such a thing would look like. Because ultimately, part of the problem may be that you and he (or more broadly, your family of origin and his) don't have the same idea of what "healthy" or happy look like.

I tend more toward your spouse's end of things. And my idea of how to solve this situation would simply be for your spouse not to spend so much time with your family, because if spending time together results in drama, then not spending time together should dial back the drama. But I suspect that your family isn't going to like that idea, and that from their perspective, that would increase the problem of being rejected. But their feelings about the relationship or lack thereof, and his feelings, are a different problem from any problems that are internal to the actual relationship.
posted by decathecting at 3:27 PM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Can you give a specific example of something that has happened, and how it was handled at the time, and how that turned out? Because I think I know what you mean, but I'm not certain.

For an example of a "thing" that happens and causes problems: my mother runs late for EVERYTHING. She has in her head a starting point and a desired ending point, but never ever plans any of the intervening steps. As a result, there's always something that throws a wrench into her plans and makes her late.

In general, we handle this on our end in two ways:

1) I push her to spell out her expectations and plans before anyone leaves any house. She often finds, as she does this, that one or more elements of the plan don't work! Which you'd think would save frustration for her, too, but instead she just gets irritated at having to work out a new plan or be "tied down" by details.

2) We just automatically add an hour to any ETA she ever gives, or any event she plans. This is sufficient to prevent us from missing a movie or sitting around waiting, etc., but is not sufficient to spare my SO anxiety over it.

So in either solution, someone still ends up feeling stressed out, etc. Same with excusing my SO from events, which I do, and often--he just feels guilty, I feel lonely, my family feels rejected, so what kind of solution is it really?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:56 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not super-specific to your situation, but you may want to flip through some of Harriet Lerner's books and see if anything resonates. While most of her writing is about romantic relationships, she writes remarkably well about the not-so-great emotional triangles family members (including in-laws) get stuck in and gives pretty good suggestions for starting to dismantle them.

On preview: With your update -- for me, learning about Myers-Briggs types, especially the last "perceiving vs. judging" spectrum, helped me tremendously in getting less judgy with the sorts of conflicts you're talking about and helped my perceiver-friends in getting less frustrated with my need for concrete plans (that is, we both went, "Oh, your way is apparently a valid way of being that many people have! You're not just trying to drive me crazy!"). Might be something for both your partner and your mother to look into a bit.
posted by jaguar at 4:04 PM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

please ignore this if it's unhelpful, but having spent some time mediating between different cultures, one thing i've had to learn is that i can't fix everything. you might find that it helps if you can disconnect your involvement and just let your family and your SO fight it out. at least in my case, it turned out that my stress trying to make everything work was just making things worse.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:15 PM on December 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

Your mother is my husband and I am your husband.

This isn't a personality problem as much as it might be a consideration problem. My husband has learned to be more considerate of time frames (with help) and I have learned to be more chill (thru practice.)

Your husband is probably a planner and your mom is a wing-it type is my guess.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 PM on December 28, 2015

One thing that has 'helped' although that's a nebulous term I guess, is me disengaging a little (I am your husband). I refuse to feel guilty about not attending/taking time out/enforcing boundaries that my partner's family don't understand and get upset about - afterall, my partner feels no guilt about dragging me to yet another family event we all know will put me on edge and hurt my feelings and make me feel lonely. So I elect to be lonely without the added stress of being overwhelmed and in sensory overload. He manages his emotions, I manage mine.

(note: this actually kind of sucks and creates a distance in our relationship)

Another thing has been not buying into the social fallacy that we are ALL. ONE. BIG. HAPPY. FAMILY. It is just not going to happen. It might have happened with a different partner, it will never ever happen with me and the damage done trying to make that 'healthy in-law bond' happen has cemented it. So I limit time, limit effort, limit engagement. My partner manages his family, I manage mine, and we focus our effort on the relationship we have with each other.

Also accepting that 'this is just how Relative is!' does nothing to ameliorate their poor behaviour. People may be used to it but it is still kinda shitty behaviour towards people you 'love' and the married-in person is often a focal point. We have added complexity in that I never ever want to teach my daughter that it's okay for people to speak rudely or aggressively to you because 'they love you' - that's a dangerous lesson - but it is a feature of both family cultures she navigates.

The other thing I've done, in my own head, is stopped believing the lie that I am 'wrong' and do family 'weird'. Noisy loud affectionate families do their thing, I will do mine, neither is better or worse. I spent years listening to how 'sad' it was I saw my sister once in a while and had a meal with her. Or that I don't want to spend a week with her on a holiday. I believed it for a long time. Now? Fuck that noise. I have a great relationship with my sister and it is fulfilling and nurturing and right for us. It still underlies a lot of the way I am expected to engage with my partner's family though - like they 'teach' me how to really be in a family. It is unhealthy, incorrect, and leads to a lot more tension than if they just accept that I don't like hugging and sitting around doing nothing while they bicker and argue 'affectionately' and so on.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:32 PM on December 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

"My mom is always running late" does not really sound like a crisis that requires group therapy to me, it sounds like something your boyfriend/husband/partner should be able to tolerate, annoying as it may be. Part of blending your partner with your family requires everyone to accept some quirks like "they're huggers" or "mom has no concept of time." Be careful that he's not stressing you out over relatively harmless traits in your family. Being a grownup means just Dealing sometimes.
posted by cakelite at 5:41 PM on December 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I just want to say thank you for this question, as I was considering posting one about almost exactly the same conflict. Our Christmas was pretty miserable because of almost exactly this situation. Though in our case it isn't introversion vs. lateness but sickness vs. lateness, which makes my family members' lateness seem all the more egregious/inconsiderate. To speak to something mentioned above, my S.O. does identify more strongly with perceiving, not judging, on the MBTI, and is actually extroverted, but sickness has the same effect as introversion does in your case, amplifying the conflict and making it so there are very real limits to my S.O.'s endurance.

I find myself wishing that my S.O. would just decide not to try to be around my family if it's this upsetting to be around them, since I can't actually change them and me trying to plan ahead or take other steps to modify their behavior usually ends up in failure and then me sharing the blame for my family's foibles. But what I really would most like is if my S.O. could reach the difficult point of acceptance and tolerance I have for my family after years of conflict that pitted us all against each other.

Do you think your S.O. can get to that place? Are there measures you and your S.O. can take to make these inevitable situations at least more comfortable for your S.O. if you end up waiting? Can you put limits on how long you'll wait (tough love for your family) or avoid scheduling things close together on days when you'll be seeing your family? Can your S.O. find ways to be more flexible?

Definitely looking forward to other answers!
posted by limeonaire at 6:23 PM on December 28, 2015

I'm basing my remarks on your specific examples.

The examples you gave are really about mutual goodwill. We have very similar issues in my marriage except my husband's family is the one that runs late and is flaky, and he's the introvert.

As the on-time stressy person I finally just made a mental shift which is: I am giving X hours to his family. If they are not on time, then that's ok, it still counts in my giving of hours and I pack a book along. If we're doing something like catching a plane or seeing a play, I make sure I have control of my itinerary to get there and that I have my tickets in hand (or am picking them up there), and otherwise I have a book on my phone to read etc. Then I don't stay longer if I have other plans - I leave on time if I need to. We also never make plans to meet at a restaurant without a bar attached or anywhere awkward...we meet in a park or at our place.

I do realize that it's not about them being inconsiderate exactly, it's just how they roll with family. I hold them in goodwill. I however will not meet them on a windy corner in January.

For the introvert needing time alone, that's a need and he needs to drop the guilt and your family needs to drop the idea of respect, just as their being late is not intended as disrespect. Mutual goodwill, again.

The part about you being lonely I really relate to; I used to feel that way. Now, years and years down the road, I actually feel like this has strengthened my individual relationships to people because I have been able to be fully present to them as my solo-for-today self, and I have gotten to go to a lot of parties and things where if we were accommodating my husband's need for quiet I would have spent way more time at home. That said, he knows there are things he has to show up for...and he has the battery life to do with with good cheer because he gets that really important recharging time.

I agree that Harriet Lerner's books are really great about how to untangle some of the 'dances' we get into with other people, but a lot of this is going to be your family deciding to accept each other's quirks. That may mean less time together, and that's okay.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:14 PM on December 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

Reading these answers, I'm surprised by how many people think your partner should just buck up or give up, when, clearly, he is part of your family now. Leaving him home, if that's not his preference, is a form of exclusion and solidifies him as an outsider, even among the other in-laws, who appear to have meshed completely with your family dynamic. Plus, as you pointed out, it means you have to participate in important events without your SO by your side. Have you talked to your siblings and their SOs about how they make it work? Maybe they've run into the same issues but have found hacks to make it workable. Just because it looks seamless, doesn't mean it is. I would start there.

This next part may be hard to read because, while it's okay for us to point out our family's faults, it's generally not okay for others to do so. That said, I found it rather telling that you wrote that, "nobody is actually behaving badly." While your Mom sounds like a lovely person, being chronically late, especially when it's known to incite stress and anxiety in others, is behaving badly. It's rude and inconsiderate. Your family may have learned to shake that off as just being your warm, generous, but flaky Mom, but it's still impolite and thoughtless. Will your Mom change her ways? Probably not, but make sure that in accommodating her and her anxieties, you don't invalidate your partners justifiable reactions and anxieties. He wants to make this work. She wants to make this work. That may not be possible in the way each of you envision, but you want to make sure that, at the end of the day, your SO doesn't feel like you are discounting or minimizing his feelings. People deal with anxiety in different ways, but both your Mom and SO experience significant anxiety around plans and family interactions, as do you.

You asked for resources, and I wish I had some to offer you. I was in a serious LTR with presumed in-laws to be who were an incredibly stressful, chaotic lot. In that case, there was deeply ingrained emotional and physical abuse in the mix, which was *very* hard to swallow, especially as tales of abuse were laughed off as amusing anecdotes over Thanksgiving turkey, but I did it. I also found things to enjoy, like, and even love about these people. Since, thankfully, abuse is not a factor here, I would encourage your ex to focus on what he enjoys about your Mom and other in-laws. It will help mitigate his irritation and anxiety. Every time that he manages to show up with a smile on his face and to shake his annoyance and anxieties off is a win. He should celebrate it as such. The two of you still should discuss and debrief as necessary as a couple, but, if he can let go of some of these thing in the moment, he may find his own place in your family with all its fun and quirks.

I think this is completely solvable, but, unfortunately, the onus is on you and your SO because this is the established status quo, and no one else seems to chafe at it. If your SO can find less emotionally draining ways to be part of this family and interact with your Mom, fully support and invest in those. As for you, at the end of the day, your role is to be supportive of your SO without alienating your Mom. That is a tricky balance to strike, but you've probably been doing it your whole life, internally, and the only difference now is that it's front and center. Best of luck to you! I think you will find the way to make this work for all three of you, but it will be work for awhile, until it becomes second nature.
posted by katemcd at 7:36 PM on December 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

Just to clarify, I definitely don't think my mom's chronic lateness is perfectly OK--it's definitely rude and inconsiderate. (It's also a recent-ish development and one of a handful of signs that she is developing some cognitive problems as she ages, but that's a whooooooole 'nother fishkettle)

When I say nobody is behaving badly I just mean that nobody is acting out of spite or hostility or abusiveness.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:17 PM on December 28, 2015

Regarding this one aspect of the problem: it seems like most of the family activities are being planned by your mother (apologies if this isn't true.) In that case, I think there are two things you can do:

1) Try to get your mother to plan get-togethers that are less time-specific. So for example, not going to a movie or a play at a specific hour, but "we all hang out at a bowling alley/park/museum from 2-6" or something, where people can drop in or out at any time and those who are already there have something nice to occupy them. (This works better the more people attend, I think).

2) You and your husband (and also, if you coordinate, maybe your other siblings as well) can take turns setting up some family events or get-togethers. You can host some kind of come-after-lunch-and-eat-cake-and-talk-over-movies thing at your place, and if your parents take some time to show up, it's not such a big deal. Especially if instead of waiting around for people to show, you yourselves start on the eating cake/watching movies thing (or whatever you might enjoy). Or you might see if you can invite them to some event where it's normal for people to drop in at all times (shows at cafes or bars, etc.) Again, this works even better if you've got other people coming as well. Also, you two taking initiative makes it easier to dispel any "we try to get him to spend time with us but he hates it" narrative.

On update, there's one more thing: if you think this might be partly a cognitive issue, then I think there is a greater responsibility on your husband to see patience and goodwill on his part as a kindness -- to get that it's not him being put upon by inconsiderate people, but rather him helping to take care of your parents gently as they age.
posted by egg drop at 11:27 PM on December 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Also, how are relations between your SO and the rest of your family? It seems like having other people on board the mission for family peace and acceptance could help with regard to fraying nerves and hurt feelings. Other siblings can reinforce the "yup, she's kind of overwhelming!"/"he loves you, you know he's just overwhelmed, it's kind of cute" narratives, or help by pulling him off for some one-on-one time with somebody he gets along with more easily (which can come off much better than him going off to be by himself).

And finally, maybe there are things he can do for her or for other family members in his own way that might nonetheless be appreciated. Offering to help when she or other siblings need it, volunteering to do dishes or something, emailing your mother on his own once in a while to say a brief hi (maybe after some minor event in her life -- doctors' appt, trip somewhere, visit with other family members, etc.) Or being the one to send her pictures of the two of you occasionally. Basically, there might be things he can do on his own terms that help feed the need for closeness on her part and frame an alternative way for them to interact.
posted by egg drop at 11:41 PM on December 28, 2015

Firstly, I would gently suggest that everyone involved adjust their expectations, including you. I'm thinking of what you said about the other SO's:

happily come into the fold as honorary kids

This is wonderful when it happens, but IME it's also very lucky and really not the norm. If that's what you're comparing your SO's relationship with your mother to, you're setting the bar very high. Just getting along and treating each other with respect and kindness is good enough. Are you sure you're not pushing for more intimacy than is realistic or reasonable?

Secondly, I'm curious about what you meant when you referred to your mother "working hard to observe boundaries". That seems to imply she has a tendency to cross boundaries. How? Your examples just revolve around her poor organizational and time management skills.

Anyway, I doubt the most useful resources will be specifically for in-law relationships. I think you'll have better luck trying to locate the specific snags in their respective communication styles, personalities and relating, and looking for resources geared for those particular issues - e.g. extrovert vs. introvert, ask vs. guess culture, improvising vs. organizing, task vs. relationship orientation, etc.

Perhaps both should deal with their respective issues separately. Maybe your SO with managing his anxiety, and your mother with not taking his discomfort personally, if I'm interpreting this correctly.
posted by sively at 3:48 AM on December 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is the issue here that your SO is complaining about and criticizing your mom? When mostly she's disorganized and running late, which is annoying but not unexpected and, in the grand scheme of things, not that big of a deal? Is the issue conflict between your SO and mom or conflict between you and one of them about the other?

If one or both is complaining to you about minor stuff... tell them to knock it off. The intervention necessary might be more tolerance on your SO's behalf towards your mom and family.

How does this problem manifest? Like, your mom runs late and then what happens? People are left outside in the cold waiting for two hours? Or dinner is late? I'm wondering if what this problem really is about is your SO or mom complaining to you about the other.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:21 AM on December 29, 2015

Ugh. I feel your SO's pain. I haven't found a blog, so I'll write one :
My husband's family is numerous and. .. so, so loud. It seems like every family event is just four hours of screaming children and adults talking louder and louder to be heard over each other. And nothing has ever started on time. Ever. I don't think any of them has ever seen the first inning of a baseball game. I deal with it by 1. I take a pre-emptive Advil before going over there. 2. I bring something to talk about (guacamole! ) instead of how black people are scary , the war on Christmas, or how my uterus is empty. 3. I expect things to start late. Dinner's supposed to be at 5? We don't leave the house until 5:15. If I'm having them over I lie and say earlier than I really want. 4. I drink. As soon as we walk in the door, I pour myself a glass of wine or open a beer. No it's not ideal, but there you go. 5. Limit time. Agree ahead of time on when you're leaving. Have a safe word if it's getting too much and you need to leave early. 6. I don't go to everything. They've been known to plan 4 family events for a 3 day weekend. And often last - minute. I don't want to see anybody that much. I just say I can't make it. Sometimes the husband goes without me, sometimes he's had enough, too. 7. Recovery time. After two hours of family time I need at least four hours of Netflix or video games to recover. My husband is aware of all of these conditions and supports me in them. He is the one to tell his mom "GEM and I will be at X this weekend, but can't do Y". And he'll make sure I have that beer in my hand and help me make the guacamole to bring.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:07 AM on December 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Perhaps both should deal with their respective issues separately. Maybe your SO with managing his anxiety, and your mother with not taking his discomfort personally, if I'm interpreting this correctly.

And it may be helpful for you to separate out yourself from them. Your SO being anxious is not your problem to solve. Your mother taking things personally is not your problem to solve. You can ask them if there are things you can do to help, and if those things are reasonable (that is, they're not asking you to feel or fix their emotions for them) and you're willing to do them, then you can do those things, but if you're trying to manage everyone else's emotions, it's going to add a level of stress to the situation (and exhaustion to you!) that is probably counterproductive. They're allowed to have whatever feelings they have, and it's not a reflection on you or something you should (or can) fix.

It sounds like you're coming from a very compassionate place, but I suspect that you working on strengthening your own boundaries (i.e., really firmly getting secure in a place where you recognize that other people's feelings are really not yours to solve) would go an enormous way toward making this situation better. In large part because it will likely limit some of the triangulation that may be keeping the situation stuck, where either of them venting to you is keeping them from working it out with each other, even if just internally; if they can vent to you and put it on you to fix, they don't have to come up with their own solutions.
posted by jaguar at 6:45 AM on December 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

First: I love your username. :)

I am your SO. My husband's family sounds a lot like yours in the noisy/chaotic/so much togetherness realm.

The first thing I implore you to do is, really examine your assumption that the optimal outcome here is that all the in-laws "happily come into the fold as honorary kids". The weight of the expectation to perform an emotional connection that he doesn't feel - ESPECIALLY if the way your family does family is very different to the way that his family does - can be really difficult, burdensome, and painful for your SO. Also, even if he DOES feel like your family is his family, his natural expression of that would probably look very different. It can be very hurtful to feel like your own "loving but reserved" mode is seen as being worse than the "loud, exuberant, loving" model, or that your feelings are less sincere because they are less boisterous.

I think an important component of this is that you look after your own relationships to each party (not theirs to each other) and don't make it Your Job to Make Sure Everyone Is 100% Super Great With Each Other. "Everyone is cordial and pleasant and nobody is made miserable" is just as good a goal.

I don't dislike my in-laws, but the only thing we really have in common is loving my husband, and there's only so far that goes as a conversational topic. Also, there are very few people that I want to spend more than a few hours with, and that INCLUDES my own family - not because of any negative feelings I have but because ARGH TOO MANY PEOPLE TOO MUCH TOGETHERNESS TOO MUCH NOISE ARGH.

Here is how we have A Nice Time With The In-Laws For the Holidays:
1) We stay in a hotel, so there is a safe, quiet space to retreat to. (For us, that space is also smoke-free, which is KEY.)
2) Each of us is responsible for managing our own families. My husband is the one who, for instance, asks his family not to smoke in the house while I am there because I have respiratory issues.
3) I find a few topics of inoffensive small talk, for example: I have a pet and so do you, let's tell cute stories about our pets.
4) My husband spends time with his family chatting and whatever, and in exchange I am allowed to be really tired and need to go back to the hotel at a much earlier hour than I am ACTUALLY really tired.
5) He doesn't have to go to all my family stuff, and I don't have to go to his.
6) He is my backup to help with the narrative of "Red really likes you guys, you know she's just quiet!" or "You know Red, she's already deep into that book you gave her!" or "Red's really tired, her December has been really stressful."
7) Very Important: He doesn't blame me for being who I am or pressure me to change that for the sake of FAAAAAAAAAMILY.
8) Also Important: I don't complain to him about how much I dread the visits (lots) and do my best to be upbeat about it and encourage him to do what he needs to do.
9) We try to plan AROUND something else - a shopping excursion or a meal or a movie - so there is less of the "sit around and talk, loudly, for hours" form of togetherness that is so excruciating to many introverts.

If your SO is like me, I suspect that the implicit or explicit pressure to perform as "one of the kids" is adding stress that makes everything else--flakiness, lateness, anxiety, etc--that much more difficult to handle. Also, if you have tons and tons of events, or visits that are planned to the nth degree with no downtime, ditto. Taking off the emotional performance pressure and giving him breaks might go a long way toward helping with the rest.

Oh, one more thing - my in-laws often worry that they will hurt my feelings/make me feel excluded, when I am PERFECTLY HAPPY to sit quietly in the corner with a book or whatever. Introverts are often much less worried about being "left out" than extroverts think they are... or they have a very different definition of "left out."
posted by oblique red at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Might be too general, but as far as introversion, have both your husband and your mother read Caring for Your Introvert and then Quiet.
posted by orangejenny at 5:25 PM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for your input; I have some Harriet Lerner books on order and some thoughts on nailing down boundaries around the kvetching of all involved parties. Which is a lot of kvetching. And thanks to those who pointed out that it might just come down to everyone putting on their grownup pants and dealing.

The tricky thing is that my SO doesn't WANT to be left alone with pizza and cats on the holidays. If he did, it'd be a piece of cake and no conflict at all; I spent 30 years going to family events by myself (even when partnered, even when married), and I am well-practiced at the joyful solo holiday, even if it's not my ideal.

But to my perpetual surprise, he actually wants to be with his girlfriend on the holidays. And his girlfriend is always going to want to spend at least some time around her family on the holidays. So we just keep tinkering, and hoping we can find some kind of happy medium, because none of these happy occasions--holidays, weddings, reunions, new babies--are ever quite happy anymore and frankly, it's breaking my heart.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:04 PM on December 30, 2015

given your follow-ups, I can't help wondering why this grown man is repeatedly voluntarily putting himself in situations that apparently make him miserable and then complaining about his misery. he needs to figure out for himself how to manage his anxiety. it is not fair for him to put that on you.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:55 PM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

(I say this as someone who this morning decided she needed a break from her own bf's holiday family times)
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:45 AM on December 31, 2015

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