Family negativity
August 2, 2016 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm technically not married, but my boyfriend and I are in a very committed relationship (we bought a house together, adopted two dogs together, and I foresee no separation in our future). Anywho. My boyfriend happens to be a twin. As you can imagine, he and his twin brother are very close. Problem is, I can't say that I share the same affection for the twin as my boyfriend does. In fact, I find it very difficult to be around both him and his wife. They are quite negative people. I feel like if the four of us (me, boyfriend, twin, twin's wife) were all in a difficult situation, twin and wife would be the first to point out everything that was going wrong. As you can imagine, it's pretty emotionally draining to be around them for extended periods of time.

I've tried my best to work through this on my end, putting on a happy face and being as patient as I can. I don't think they know that I dislike them (although they don't seem too keen on me, either), and I don't think my boyfriend has picked up on it. However, we recently got back from a weekend trip with them and I'm finding myself feeling really displaced about things. I noticed on our trip that, twin and wife were negative, as I expected them to be. To my surprise (and disappointment), my boyfriend starting picking up some of that negativity. At one point, twin starting making fun of a stranger (who happened to be an old man having troubles walking), and of course wife was giggling hysterically. I sat in disgusted silence as this went on, but after a few minutes my boyfriend started to chime in and laugh, too. At that point I couldn't take it anymore. I told them I don't find humor in making fun of people, especially when it's an old man who is obviously in pain and struggling to walk. After that they stopped, and twin and wife steered clear of me for the rest of the trip. We were all still cordial with one another, but the atmosphere had definitely changed. Since then, things have been a little strained between boyfriend and I. We haven't discussed it, but I think he was annoyed with my rebuking him, and possibly a little embarrassed that I had upset the boat and caused waves between the four of us.

I'm not sure how to handle this situation. Obviously I'm going to be encountering twin and wife quite regularly... well, potentially for the rest of my life. I can handle their negativity pretty well, as I've come to expect it, but it's the effect they have on my boyfriend that really jars me. At any other given time, he's sweet, considerate, and caring - traits that I love about him. It's only when he spends time around twin that he morphs into this (albeit, milder) rude, condescending person. I don't want to be the self-righteous girlfriend who thinks I'm better than the family, and I feel like I might be coming off that way. But I also can't pretend to be amused by frat-dude antics and picking people apart like that. Can anyone offer some suggestions of what I can do to ameliorate this problem? I'm hesitant to explain my feelings to boyfriend at the risk of driving a wedge between he and his twin, but at this point I'm already anxious about the next time we'll all have to see each other (which will undoubtedly be soon).

posted by Teradactyl to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you are better than them. I mean, you are partially defined by the company you keep, but when that company is in conflict with your values, it's time to assess the situation. They might be garbage.

And what decisions will you make about your relationship if that is true? You don't get to dictate how he lives his life, but you do get to choose who you keep close in your life.

You should speak plainly to your partner, because that's the deal. You have to be honest about your feelings. Not to manipulate him, not to 'ameliorate' him, but just to say "I have standards in my life and this is an issue, I don't want to put words in your mouth so can you help me understand?"

Once he helps you understand you decide whether you live with it or not. Do you maybe distance yourself but tolerate it? (Are you okay with what that says about you?) Do you stop engaging with them entirely and continue to consider your partner on his own merits? Where's the line that it wouldn't be okay with you anymore? How much of your own principles are you willing to eat to keep the boat unrocked?

(Is that line when he teaches your kids to behave that way? ProTip: don't have them until you are certain about this, because as much as it sucks to break up with your xenophobic boyfriend, it really sucks to share custody with him.)

You do not get to - and also you don't have to, this isn't your problem - manage his relationship with his brother. That's between them. (You do get to decide you don't like it and distance yourself partially or entirely from it.) You don't get to - and also you don't have to - manage your boyfriend's personality. It is what it is, you like it or you don't.

Your boundaries are all you get to control in this life. This is one of those times where they are potentially a huge deal.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:19 AM on August 2, 2016 [15 favorites]

You can't NOT discuss it with your boyfriend if you hope for anything to change. Say to him, "I know you love your brother, but I must say I find his and his wife's negativity rather exhausting to be around. I'm not sure what to do about it." See how he responds then add, "I notice, too that you pick up their behaviour sometimes when we're with them, and I find that unsettling. [Example of old man]." It may be that he doesn't even notice the negativity because he's been hearing it all his life.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2016 [24 favorites]

And a postscript: twin relationships, and family-of-origin roles, can be complicated. It's entirely possible that, upon reflection, your boyfriend thinks the situation was also bullshit and doesn't *want* to be a person who acts like that, and wants to have a strategy for dealing with it. Actually talking about it with him might just crack the case for him.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

Not always easy to pull it off but I try to react to my negative relatives or friends as if they are misguided children in those situations.
Them: Look at that! How pathetic. Look how he is walking.
Me: (with a concerned but open face) Why would you make fun of someone who is doing the best they can? We all have our challenges. And everyone deserves kindness.

Usually the offending people try to defend their behavior in some inadequate way which I greet with a smile and nod ...and silence. I do not try to convince them they are asshats. As I would not try to convince a child.

As for your boyfriend, I certainly have been guilty of falling back into old family patterns. I would have a talk with BF away from his twin and wife with the same theme- we all want to be respected and be treated with kindness. Especially if we are minding our own business and twin have nothing to do with someone. There is no gain from being mean and negative. If you can have the conversation it would help him recognize the family dynamics that he probably grew up with and then can change them. You cannot change what you do not see as aberrant behavior. If he grew up with it believe it or not he may not see what it does to others and how it makes him look.

Good luck- this type of viewing the world would eventually be a deal breaker for me.

posted by shaarog at 11:24 AM on August 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

My parents love each other deeply, and my mom doesn't go to my dad's family events (mostly because a lot of my dad's relatives are huge fucking racists). They set those boundaries before I was born, and they're both happy with it, and my dad just says that my mom is busy with work stuff or whatever.

And always remember: You and your significant other do not have to be together all the time, or even be doing the same thing while you're in the same room. I love professional wrestling. My spouse hates it. So my spouse goes to a movie I don't care about during WrestleMania, or I watch it on my phone with headphones on while my spouse is watching something I don't care about.

So talk to your boyfriend (ThatCanadianGirl's script is great) and set your boundaries.
posted by Etrigan at 11:27 AM on August 2, 2016 [13 favorites]

I sat in disgusted silence as this went on, but after a few minutes my boyfriend started to chime in and laugh, too.

This would be a dealbreaker for me. I'd leave. Maybe I am overly dramatic, but I just couldn't deal with it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:28 AM on August 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am one of those "family is family" people. When you are in a long term relationship you are building relations for possibly the rest of your life. I would bet a fortune that trying your very hardest to get along will make YOU happier in the long run. It is no fun when you don't get along with close, close family.

However, making fun of disabled people is GOD-DAMNED crazy and you can call out your husband on it for sure. Instead of putting them on the defensive and (to them) YOU seeming a bit unreasonable, I think a quieter approach like "geez, I really feel bad for him. It looks like he is disabled and in pain" might make them think twice.

Your (mostly) in-laws? So they are negative. Meh. Maybe sometimes bow out of plans with them because of that-important-thing-you-can't-get-out-of. But I wouldn't tell your SO you don't like his twin. Some things don't really need to be said and CAN NOT be unsaid.

On preview, Canadiangirl's verbiage is great.
posted by ReluctantViking at 11:30 AM on August 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your problem isn't with the twin and his wife. Your problem is with your boyfriend. You haven't said anything and didn't intend to say anything about their boorishness, because they're not your people. But you *did* speak up when your boyfriend behaved boorishly. It's not his twin's fault that he behaved badly. He's an adult, and that's who he is. Perhaps being around his twin brings it out, sure. But it wouldn't come out if it wasn't there.

My advice: talk to your boyfriend - not about his twin, but about him. Why would he find a struggling old man funny? Why would he laugh at another person's suffering? Why is he annoyed that you would stand up against bullying? Is he on your team?
posted by headnsouth at 11:36 AM on August 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

You might want to consider the difference between negativity and rudeness.

Some people just have a negative/pessimistic outlook on the world, so that's what they think to comment on/talk about first. This isn't necessarily a character flaw I don't think (god knows I nurture my cynicism like a rare bonsai), but it is reasonable to be bothered by it (I had to do a unilateral friend-separation from someone whose constant negativity was bad for my own mental health, she got better, I got better). I think it can be alleviated to some extent by either countering the negativity with positive statements ("The service at this restaurant is so slow." "I know, but it gives us more time to enjoy the view/company"), or by by just turning it into something that is actually fun for you "Ha -- I knew that Twin's Wife wouldn't be pleased when the waiter showed up without water glasses for us...probably should have called to warn them, huh?".

BF probably also has a bit of healthy cynicism in him, but is attuned enough to your needs to not dump it on you all the time. Maybe being around Twin and Wife and others who appreciate his snark is comforting to him.

Rudeness on the other hand, isn't acceptable, and the example that you gave of making fun of the old man was rude. I also think that your response was appropriate -- Twin and Wife might think that you were acting like the PC police, but PC is really short for "treating others with respect."

I do think that you probably want to discuss this with BF. Now is a good time because it's just after the trip. Couch it in terms of wanting to have a good relationship with Twin and Wife, and being worried that you'd done something to offend them b/c they seemed distant during the trip.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:36 AM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

This gives me a very bad feeling about this relationship. Twins are generally extremely close -- this isn't a bond that will break. I'm also really disturbed about this mockery incident and your boyfriend's reaction to it. This isn't negativity -- it is unkindness and cruelty, whether or not the old man could hear.

I agree with ThatCanadianGirl that you need to talk to him about it, and I applaud the suggested phrasing.

But . . . you also may need to think about who your boyfriend really is and about your future with him. You do not just commit to or marry the person, but also the people with whom they have unbreakable bonds. You could try the route of suggesting that you be counted out when he socializes with his twin and his twin's partner, but I think that will be very difficult to pull off, and it doesn't address his willingness to join his twin in callous, mean behavior.
posted by bearwife at 11:36 AM on August 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am in my 50s and when I see my siblings we fall back into roles we had in our house growing up some 40+ years ago. I suspect it is more pronounced with twins that are close. Even if you don't like the way you are when you are back in time, it is hard to overcome. My guess is that the true nature of your boyfriend is the sweet caring person you fell in love with. But, that does not address the issue of how to deal with it.

I can think of no other practical solution than talking this out with your SO. When doing so, I would not be particularly negative about twin and his wife. Try to phrase it in a more positive way that you wish you could do something to help your SO be the person he is with you when he is with family.
posted by AugustWest at 11:40 AM on August 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think you should suck it up and say NOTHING.

They know making fun of an aged infirm person is wrong and disgusting. You hold your head high and say nothing more. Try to let it go if you can.
posted by jbenben at 11:43 AM on August 2, 2016

My thoughts are the same as AugustWest's. Siblings often regress into childhood social dynamics, without consciously realizing it. I'm positive I do. That probably increases exponentially when the siblings are twins. That's not to excuse the behavior, but I think it's likely that he didn't even realize he was slipping into a much younger, unreflexive version of himself.

Have a conversation about it. It will at least make him more aware of his behavior and able to correct it. I fully believe this is something that can be navigated through, especially if you know his real, current self is sweet, considerate, and caring.
posted by naju at 11:51 AM on August 2, 2016

Thanks for standing up for the man :)

In your shoes I would ask the BF if he truly shares those views and if not, why he played along.

I admit that in your shoes I also would have lost some respect for him and would reconsider the relationship in light of that. Maybe that's harsh? But. Either he thinks it's okay to mock people in that way, OR his character is not strong enough to stand up to those who do, OR his family dynamic overrules his compassion and loyalty to you and what you stand for.
posted by kapers at 11:54 AM on August 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Twins aren't sacrosanct. There are plenty of twins that aren't particularly close- for exactly these kinds of reasons. If he was just a sibling, you'd problem solve it differently.

Have some concrete examples of your concerns, explain your problem that the dynamic shifts back to their adolescent dynamic and is cruel and unpleasant to be around, and ask your partner what his thoughts are on how to avoid the dynamic. Hopefully he sees it for what it is, works on changing it, and can discuss it with his brother without demonising you. Or involving the idiotic, giggling wife.

Be as fun and light as you normally would be, fake pleasant till things become pleasant again, but address it immediately. And the brothers can have their relationship, independently of partners, you don't need to do couple things so often. Where are your friends? Also, add in another couple or sibling for the times you can't avoid the four of you being together. Let an outsider react to their cruelty.
posted by taff at 11:55 AM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you should suck it up and say NOTHING.

Thus implicitly condoning their reprehensible behavior. I'm glad you stood up for your principles and said something. You need to have a talk with your boyfriend about why you needed to do that, and why he joined in the "fun."
posted by Dolley at 11:55 AM on August 2, 2016 [22 favorites]

Is your partner's brother a dominant twin? I'm not trying to make excuses or say that your partner is not responsible for policing his own adult behaviour, but it is possible he doesn't even realise he's emulating his brother when they're together. Beginning with exploratory questions might be a better first position than some of the other options.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:03 PM on August 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Blood is thicker than water, and, at this point, you don't even have water yet.
posted by HuronBob at 12:20 PM on August 2, 2016

What do you need to do to take care of yourself? My husband loved soccer and was on a co-ed team for years and some teammates thought I was imaginary because I never showed up because soccer isn't my thing. (And that was totes okay with hubby.) A super negative friend broke up with me about 18 months ago and it's been glorious--turns out that I am no longer the negative Nelly I was when we met and being around her was a toxic experience for me. I just didn't fully realize it until after her disappearance. I'm not suggesting you abandon spending time with your partner's twin and wife for all time. But you should give some thought to how much it costs you to see them and then talk to your partner about his behavior, etc. It's an important conversation to have for your own sanity and well-being, and it's important to raise it in a nonjudgmental and open way. On preview, what others have said.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:43 PM on August 2, 2016

Speaking with some twins experience even though I'm about to stereotype; I'd be curious if the brothers had a more similar temperament and being in a relationship with the wife has moved the brother a few notches more caustic as they carved out their new normal with each other. Your boyfriend will know, but he might not have thought about it.
If you have a conversation about this, maybe ask if your boyfriend was always the nicest to others of the two, or if they used to be more similar?

If they used to be more similar than they are now, he might then recognize that the brother he knows is not quite the same as the person you've been introduced to, and perhaps then criticisms could be less fraught?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:41 PM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I dated an identical twin in university and didn't care much for his brother the few times I saw him. I later learned that this is more common than you think. In identical twins, there is often a dynamic where one twin is more dominant and one is more shy. If you are dating the shy twin, the dominant one can seem like a jackass in comparison, and if you are dating the dominant twin, the shy one can seem like a wallflower.

As far as family relations go, I come from a family where everyone is expected to come to everything, and I am slowly coming to realize that this is not a universally held expectation. My husband does not much care for my mother, and every time he asks to sit something out, I get an uncomfortable inquisition from her about where he is and why he didn't come. The questioning makes me more uncomfortable than his not coming does, and I finally flat-out told her to stop it. I realized that husband spends time with his family without me all the time. He'll go to drop something off for them on his way home from work and stay a bit or run into them on his way to the gym. It's fine. He sees them when he sees them, and sometimes I'm there and sometimes I'm not. It's much less stressful than the way my family does it.
posted by ficbot at 4:48 PM on August 2, 2016

I like ThatCanadianGirl's take, and script - you need to talk with him. It's about him and you, but mostly you. I think you also need an action plan.

My suggestion is to start with a slight apology - people hate being corrected in front of others, and it's hard to be shamed - so perhaps stating that if you'd had more time to think, you'd have found a better way to change the conversation to a more respectful one for that poor old guy. But you stand your strong feelings about mockery. Then head towards a talk about making a plan for going forward, because it's not the first time and won't be the last. Constant negativity isn't okay with you, nor is bullying humour, or other humans as the butt of jokes, so when it gets to be too much, you need an exit plan. A face-saving one that he can either join you in - or stay behind to indulge in if he's cool with that. His choices going forward after that will be revealing.

In that discussion, set a code word or phrase that you can use to let him know that you're uncomfortable with certain conversations and behaviours, or the direction a get-together is heading in, and that you'll be excusing yourself if it continues - especially if he's taking part. Because it's not like him and you don't want to see him in that light. Be it with his twin and SIL or anyone else, it should work because it's all about you and your boundaries. Kind of like Ding Training.

Like this: When things start getting negative, you quietly say "Ooh, my head." It gets a little worse..."Oooh, my head." Your boyfriend is now aware of how much negativity is going on, and how you're up to your ears - but you're not calling his twin or SIL or him out, just indicating that it's happening, and you're reaching your limit. After so many times, you leave without a big scene or any more explanation. Your head - it's been done in! You just leave, and your boyfriend knows why. And he can come with you, or he doesn't.

It lets you try as many times as you feel like trying. It lets you try to find the good parts in being with them. You're not trying to change his twin or the wife. You're not trying to change him. You're not the fun police at the event. You're a good sport. But things go the way they go, and you have an out. It gives him a chance to be the better person, or it gives him the chance to wallow if he disagrees with you. I expect it won't take too many times before you both know whether you stand together or fall apart. Always have cab fare for him or you, and be ready to leave. It's like when I was raising my daughter, and she was a toddler testing boundaries, I always had to be willing to follow through and leave the zoo, the party, the movie, the store if she acted up. It was hard, but it only had to happen a few times for her to learn I meant business.

If they ever ask about your poor head condition, then you have the perfect opening to talk about how the stress of certain conversations gives you a headache, and a heartache, and you have to leave.

This does work for me. I'm allergic to a certain place in Oakville. We often have to leave occasions early because of "my allergic condition..." You know - my allergies to spending time with blowhards and their grandiose attention-seeking productions. Sometimes I can't even go at all because of "my allergic condition." And if they ever ask, I'm allergic to bullshit.
posted by peagood at 7:03 PM on August 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Blood is thicker than water, and, at this point, you don't even have water yet."

Er, technically the quote is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” but you are correct in that a covenant has not been made, in terms of marriage.

My experience is that it doesn't really change. They can try, but unless it is the dominant one who is changing, the effort is mostly futile. But, I really really wish I'd had good therapy years ago because i would have been able to have the kinds of conversations you need to have without as much baggage as I have now. You need to be able to say to your partner 'your sibling/twin/parent/friend hurt me, is uncomfortable for me to be around' and have that heard and respected.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:41 PM on August 2, 2016

Oh, here's the good part of being nearly 50. I get to look back on life with some perspective. So from my vantage point here's what I would tell you...

I have no regrets at all for the times I spoke up for my beliefs or stood up for others. Even when my actions led to immediate unpleasant consequences, after enough time, all was sorted out for the best. The regrets I have are for the times I stayed silent and just went along.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. A very committed relationship... I foresee no separation in our future

2. We haven't discussed it... I'm hesitant to explain my feelings to boyfriend

You know these statements don't sound like they are about the same relationship right? Both these thing can't be true for very long.

A great piece of traditional askme advice applies: To have a healthy relationship you have to be willing to have conversations that might end your relationship.
posted by French Fry at 10:08 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

OP already admonished them sufficiently. They know they are garbage people.

OP, go ahead and revisit this incident with your BF if you want to go in circles and stir up trouble.

I'm thoroughly advocating letting the lesson lie there and letting BF process and mature on his own. OP if it comes up that you have to micromanage your BF, maybe this is not the relationship for you. My hope is that he approaches you and apologizes for being disgusting and immature towards that elderly gentleman on his own. I hope!
posted by jbenben at 11:07 AM on August 3, 2016

It sounds like this was a one time thing from your boyfriend. I would let his piece in it go for now, and only address it if it becomes a pattern.

However, I do think you should have a talk about spending less time with his brother and wife. I know I would. It's not worth it spending time with people like that, and it should be totally okay for you to only have to see them on special occasions. Your boyfriend can hang out with them on his own if he chooses.
posted by blackzinfandel at 6:30 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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