Dreading Christmas with the inlaws. Help me make sense of my situation.
December 2, 2017 6:49 PM   Subscribe

I am chronically ill in a mixed-race relationship. My in laws are nice enough, but boss me around a bit regarding my illness and in general are purveyors of outdated simplistic notions of people from developing countries.

So I am married for nearly two years now to a lovely caring person I've been with for five years. I had limited contact with his family when we were dating. While we dated, he lived in country X (where's he's from) and I studied in country Y. I had moved from country Z (in Asia) to country Y as a teenager. At present, we live in Y, they live in X. His family is nice, but very different from family. My family is liberal and pretty much atheist, we have a lot of mixed-race marriages (over generations), and family around the world. He's from a small Northern European country, very homogenous family – I'm probably the first outsider in their family.

Here's my problem: I don't quite feel comfortable around his family and I DREAD the holidays. His parents are loud compared to my family. They drink quite a bit, which is OK (I was a social drinker until I became chronically ill with a connective tissue disorder and now I find my symptoms get worse with alcohol – so I avoid it) but they tend to go on and on about the fact that I don't drink. They've clearly forgotten that I used to drink before I fell ill. They keep alluding to the fact that my not drinking might be a cultural thing, but it's really not in my case. My entire family drinks in social situations. I've tried to explain things to them several times, but I can't seem to get my point across. Anyway, meal times become stressful because they LOVE ask me every single time if I'd like a drink. It's exhausting.

In general, they seem to be fond of me, but they love to nitpick various aspects of my life. My illness is a hot topic at the moment. They didn't bother to read about my condition and various associated conditions until THIS summer and then got after me and suggested I should go to a specialist clinic in the city I live in for my illness. I've been to several rheumatologists over the years and my current rheumatologist used to work at that very clinic and I told them I didn't quite see the point of going to the clinic, but they refused to listen to me and got irritated and said that I absolutely HAD to visit the clinic as soon as possible. I ended up feeling cornered, left the room and spent the entire evening in tears. They later apologised, but this is how they are: I guess they mean well, but I'm not used to overbearing parental figures.

Also they aren't terribly PC. My husband's step cousin is married to a non European and his dad once said "oh now we have two of you in our family". His dad found my sister's boyfriend's name funny and kept repeating and making jokes (he kept mispronouncing the name ha). I once talked about visiting Russia (I'm studying the language and love Russian literature) and his mum launched into a tirade against the country. She's also not keen on Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe in general. I, on the other hand, study Arabic, love reading literature from these particular regions, have a best friend who grew up in Kenya. I'm exhausted. I want to bang my head against the wall sometimes/disappear when I'm around them. I know these are isolated incidents, but I'm tired of feeling so out of place when I visit them. They are happy in their little cocoon, in their tiny country - and good for them. But there is no need to trash talk developing countries. They have no understanding of European imperialism. Like zero.

My husband and I have had several arguments over his parents. His siblings are OK, lost in their own world, never take any initiative to check in on me (I can't work at the moment and my health hasn't been great for a while now). Meanwhile, I make the effort to text them regularly and stay in contact.

My husband finds it hard to hear anything against his family and he's repeatedly promised that he will intervene if his parents cross the line this Christmas. But I know deep down he doesn't quite see why I'm so frustrated. He sees them as loving caring parents who want the best for his wife. I see them as nice enough yet bossy people with ridiculously outdated and stereotypical notions regarding non-white people.

Help me make sense of this situation. I'm dreading Christmas. 10 days with the family. His siblings and dad are pretty much fluent in English, his mum not so much. I guess this is a factor as well. I understand their language well enough but can't speak it.
posted by dostoevskygirl to Human Relations (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My advice to you is don't stay with them. Stay in a hotel nearby and dip in and out of their lives over the ten day period as you please. It is much less stressful and gives you a place to run away to when they are being unbearable.
posted by dydecker at 7:03 PM on December 2, 2017 [38 favorites]

Yes, absolutely don't stay with them.
Also, it's good that your hubby says he'll stick up for you, but you must have a 100% rock-solid agreement about what "the line" is before you arrive. You guys have to spend the next 2 weeks working that out between you.
And then once you get there, spend a lot of time smiling and nodding. Remember that nothing they're saying has any meaning or any effect on anything outside the room you're sitting in. I don't mean this rhetorically or to belittle your issue. I mean - literally, actually, sit there and tell yourself that nothing they say can have any real-world effect over you. They're just blowing air around. When I do this it helps me not get bogged down by hearing people say hurtful stuff to me. We're so used to words meaning things that we forget that sometimes words actually don't mean anything. Have to consciously remember it.
posted by bleep at 7:11 PM on December 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

Don't talk about your illness. You might think " But they talk about it" TOO BAD, change the subject. It's your body and your health. Say "thanks for the concern, I'm handing it, let's talk about that movie though!" They can't talk about it if you refuse to talk about it.

You've GOT to form boundaries for yourself here. And, to be honest, do you even want to go? It's okay to not go. I don't talk to half of my family. Anything you don't want to talk about, just change the subject or go for a walk.

And I have chronic illness and disability. I don't expect anyone outside of my husband to understand it all. It sucks, but that's how it works. People don't care or they don't understand or they think you make it up or they think they can cure you. YOU get to control if your body gets discussed. Sometimes people "get it" but most people don't.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:12 PM on December 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Dydecker- I wish. But that's totally out of the question. They have a ski house in the middle of nowhere so we are forced to stay with them.

Also: apologies for missing words and errors in my question. Typed this up on my phone!
posted by dostoevskygirl at 7:16 PM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thankfully you guys are married now and can start making your own holiday traditions that don't include spending a bunch of time with them!
posted by k8t at 7:18 PM on December 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yikes. I feel for you. 10 days is a lot. I wouldn't even want to spend 10 days with my own family! Is there any way you can shorten the trip? Or stay at a hotel or airbnb instead of with them?

My in-laws were a lot like this and what got me through the holidays was learning not to take whatever they said so seriously. Practice the Gentle Art Of Eyerolling if they say something racist or not PC and the Calming Meditation of Not Giving A Fuck when they give unwanted advice on your health. Learn to say, "Hmm... you may be right," (TM Someone on Askmetifilter; I can't remember who, but I use that all the time to avoid arguments and long discussions about subjects in which I choose not to engage.) and then feel free to ignore their advice altogether. Saying, "You may be right," offers them the illusion that they're getting through to you or being helpful without you actually having to continue the conversation. Repeat as often as needed.

Make a game out of the annoying things they do and then mentally count them and reward yourself when you get home for putting up with all of their nonsense. (Ten racist remarks, ten bath bombs or books from your favorite store.)

If they ask if you want a drink, say sure, I'll have a glass of wine. Let them pour it and then pretend to sip it all evening. Dump it down the sink when nobody is looking. If they press you to have more, say, "No, thank you; that's my limit." or "Sure! I'll have one more." Rinse and repeat throughout the evening. Drunk people won't notice what you're doing anyway; most are just fixated on everyone having fun and think that alcohol is part of the fun-having.

Steer the conversation away from touchy subjects by engaging them in questions about their childhood, what it was like to grow up there, what your husband was like as a little boy, etc. Since you're not from their country, I bet they'll love to regale you with stories from their youth and what their own parents and grandparents were like. Basically, play along nicely and you might get to learn to enjoy parts of the visit instead of dreading it. If not, and they are truly insufferable, you have the Internet's full permission to bail out next time, especially if your husband doesn't keep up his end of the bargain and let's them all keep ganging up on you like that. 10 days! Ugh!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:20 PM on December 2, 2017 [19 favorites]

he's repeatedly promised that he will intervene if his parents cross the line this Christmas.

You might want to develop some signal to use when that happens, in case he doesn't always recognize where the line is.
posted by trig at 7:35 PM on December 2, 2017 [31 favorites]

Why are you going? Why not send your husband along without you, or stay a couple days but leave well before him?
posted by metasarah at 7:39 PM on December 2, 2017 [12 favorites]

I recommend a hobby. I spend the holidays on my in laws isolated farm, and I find bringing a big book like war and peace gets some quiet. I also knit a lot, it keeps me occupied. I also bite my tongue and try not to argue (oh, giving up gluten will cure my anaphylactic allergies I've had since childhood? Hmm, I'll read up on that).
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:41 PM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have done the remote, in-law, isolated Christmas thing, and I will say that the longer you are married, the less it (can) become an issue because you learn to cope and you learn what you can and cannot put up with. In that scenario, I try to become some other person. I also try to bring a good book, some headphones, and/or something to keep me occupied. Bring a 500 piece puzzle or a piece of cross-stitch. Never done that before? Perfect year to start. Bring cards and play endless Solitaire and be Mary Fucking Poppins and when people start to get to you, take a long shower or bath and put on the headphones after. The visit will end.

As you go through the visits, be an anthropologist, take mental notes about what works and what doesn't with these people. Never let them engage you on the topic of yourself. I like to prepare some questions in my mind for each person so if things start getting too into me, I can say, "So, what was it like growing up in [town], I've heard that it's an interesting place...."

One of the things that I learned is that I cannot cook dinner in this kind of setting. I have learned that I put too much time and energy into planning the meal and then cooking it and I get pissed if my MIL criticizes or tries to take control...because she will. She has made entire separate entrees, getting in the cooking space while I'm trying to work, because she thinks "[so and so] just won't like that!" So, I jump at breakfast. I can make a pile of toast, scramble some eggs*, throw some bacon in the oven and make coffee.

But that's me. For this year, because you really don't know, hang back. Be an observer. A cheerful, neutral party. You are Switzerland and you'd can't be bothered with their shit because you are just hanging in the corner, doing whatever.

Also, plan one or two outings by yourself ("I need to head to the grocery!") or with your hubs. God, the few times the two of us can get away in these family situations and just walk around and vent and howl at the moon are the best.

*OMG. The last time I did this, my MIL said, "Oh, I'd love eggs but they need to be completely dry and pretty much burnt." I turned to her and said, "I...just don't know how to do that, sorry, but I will make extra bacon and toast and you can help yourself." Because, WTF, burnt eggs?!
posted by amanda at 7:56 PM on December 2, 2017 [12 favorites]

Are there any other i laws or siblings who can help you out? Is going out for a walk to "get some fresh air" something you could do wrt your illness or the situation? In my family (and we get along really well ( we joke about how we all need to have rental cars and "escape plans."
posted by raccoon409 at 8:39 PM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

10 days in an isolated cabin is a recipe for a horrorshow even with totally simpatico people. Really. See if you can arrive later.

Excellent advice above re accepting and then ignoring the glass of wine, and "you may be right" is a fantastic line I am going to adopt immediately.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:25 PM on December 2, 2017 [12 favorites]

I would memorize a sentence for when they offer you a drink, such as "Oh, I have [full name of disorder], didn't you know?" whenever you get bored with that, change it to "Oh, I actually have [name of disorder]. Did you forget?"

bright and interested, every time. this is ONLY to amuse yourself and is not worth trying if you know it would not amuse you. they sound too dumb to understand words, so I would not anticipate much of any effect on them. however, if you got lucky, the fourth or fifth time they would say OH and suddenly become embarrassed due to the extreme time lag between the first time you told them and when they finally heard you. but this is a long shot. once you accept that you are effectively talking to a wall, there is some pleasure in experimenting with the various things you can say to a wall, because it is not listening.

Meanwhile, I make the effort to text them regularly and stay in contact.

I can't imagine why, or how it could make you feel anything but bad to do this. tolerating the disregard of his parents is bad enough without actively courting it from his siblings.

Everyone will say it is your husband's duty to set his parents straight and put some real serious effort into protecting you from them, and they are correct. he can't fix them but he can forcefully prevent them from expressing the worst of themselves at you. this is his obligation but it also should be his pride and pleasure. he's going to step in when they cross the line? great, but he must understand in advance that you define the line. and he should know where it is before you get there.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:35 PM on December 2, 2017 [24 favorites]

Captain Awkward is a trove of similar dilemmas. I searched "family + boundaries" and found
When your spouse won’t set boundaries with your in-laws.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:41 PM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

This sounds like hell and you need to start planning how to get out of doing it ever again. But to survive this (final) time, I recommend creating a personal schedule and sticking to it.

Make a space in the house that is just for you. Hopefully you and your husband will have a bedroom that's just yours? If not it will be much harder but you can try subtly arranging furniture to make a little nook with a chair and table that you claim and leave your things on, or determining the most unused room in the house and going there purposefully during the day. Decide on a daily wakeup and bed time and stick to it - even if you're not sleeping, stay in bed that whole time. It will help with stress. When you're planning your schedule figure out activities to do by yourself and do them in your space - ideally activities that you "need" to concentrate on, like reading a very big book, or teaching yourself to knit, or learning a new language with headphones on. If you can do this in your bedroom with your door closed obviously you don't need to actually do any of that unless you want to - I suggest angry naps and rapid-typing and erasing email screeds about your racist in-laws.

Also plan meals. Include the meals that the whole family has but try to make concrete plans to have at least a few meals and coffees with just your husband, and also have breakfast by yourself. Whenever you can, take your food and go somewhere else. This will likely seem incredibly rude to some of them and totally normal to others - since they can't be bothered to respect your culture or your health try not to care about being rude if at all possible. By knowing exactly what you'll be doing with regard to meals in a day you'll be able to brace yourself better for forced social times and plan chunks of alone time before and after, as well as lower expectations about what you'll be willing to put up with from these idiots.

Schedule recreational activities - if the family typically does things that are hard for you because of your illness, decide on alternative things for you to do - all the better if these things aren't actually with the family (like drinking hot chocolate in a chalet while the rest of them go skiing, or building a snowman while they go ice fishing). Like above, schedule blocks of alone time before and after any time you have to spend together with them in a forced way.

I think the worst might be the obligatory holiday stuff. For that, take it from a nice jewish girl - repeat to yourself that you will live through this, too. People like to tease in the name of "cheer" and get drunk before noon and get mock-offended when you stumble over traditions that you weren't born knowing. This is going to suck, but unlike optional things, you can't get out of the whole excuse the family had in the first place to come together. Try to just become as bland as possible. Unlike other times when you might have risked rudeness to make space for yourself, try to be part of the largest group - and then be a boring conversationalist. Be present but don't be interesting enough to invite focused interest. Inevitably someone more dramatic will do something and you'll be able to tune out totally. Talk about this with your husband beforehand and right before "festivities" start that you think this kind of thing will be needed for and make sure you guys have a way for him to get your attention when you need to be present again.

Don't let these people make you think you have any obligation to do this again. It sounds like it would be much more trouble than it's worth to get out of it this year but you have a whole twelve months to make it so this is your last time.
posted by Mizu at 10:34 PM on December 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I started bringing one thousand piece jigsaw puzzles every time I have to spend time with my in-laws. I am amazed at how well this works. People feel less compulsion to “fill the silence” with inane conversation when we are all working on a puzzle.
Your complaints are justified and I am sorry I can’t offer more comprehensive advice but this works for me.
posted by shibori at 11:11 PM on December 2, 2017 [16 favorites]

You are very likely a much nicer person than I am. In your situation of the repetitive alcohol offers I might say something like "Is something wrong with your memory?" "Have you been checked for Alzheimers?" or similar rude question asked with every evidence of sincere concern. You have tried to keep the peace, why not speak up for yourself and try to balance their ongoing rudeness. Would that cause a rift in the family for hubby and you? Would you mind not being invited next year? .
posted by Cranberry at 11:46 PM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh! Another tactic I employ is "watching the kids". I find young people infinitely more fun and easy to be around than a roomful of drunken, loud adults, so I'll often gather the young people together in a separate room for a pleasant activity like playing Mad Libs or simple board games like Trouble (my in laws are German, so we play Mensch ärgere dich nicht) or making salt dough ornaments. If you don't want to deal with a gaggle of kids, you can always ask one or two to "show" you how to play whatever single player video or phone game they enjoy. This way you get to kick back and focus on one person or activity without being subjected to multiple people bombarding you with personal questions or bad advice.

A side benefit, is that while you're watching the kids, the adults who just want to party and get sloshed without tiny hands constantly pulling at them or fighting, will think you're a wonderful angel to keep them so quietly occupied. Win/win!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:28 AM on December 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

Don't argue with them about things they don't have a say on. For example, don't argue with them about whether or not you should go to clinic A. You are the one chooses whether you go or not, it really doesn't matter what they think, so it's not worth arguing about it with them.

Try doing and having conversations about surface things that are not important to you. You could ask them about family history, the local area and local history. hobbies and activities that they are involved in. If it's not that important to you, it (hopefully) will be less frustrating.

Something like doing a jigsaw puzzle is a great idea, especially if you're willing to allow people to 'help' with it. It takes concentration but you can still have light conversation with people. It's not antisocial but it doesn't involve being super sociable.

And then you mention that they're in their own little figurative cocoon and they're happy with it. Find a literal cocoon there you can be happy in which might be in your room with a book and fuzzy slippers. And get your husband to protect that cocoon absolutely whether anyone else gets it or not.

I'm sorry all of my suggestions are essentially about ways in which you can suck it up and tolerate them. It's not fair, but I don't think they will see things your way even if you try to make them.
posted by plonkee at 12:42 AM on December 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

He sees them as loving caring parents who want the best for his wife. I see them as nice enough yet bossy people with ridiculously outdated and stereotypical notions regarding non-white people.

So what I think is important is that you two see a conflict between those points of view, when in fact, probably both of those things are true, and unfortunately, neither of them outweigh the other. Like, I'll bet you start talking about 'your parents are so bossy and have stereotyped ideas about other places' and your husband starts talking about 'but they love you and want the best for you' and then you're arguing about whether or not they really love you and want the best for you which is not even the problem.

The problem is, you find them overbearing, and they probably are. It's also probably how they show love, but that doesn't make it any easier for you to tolerate.

I think the best way to broach this with your spouse is to preemptively accept the point he's trying to make, but 'yes AND' it. So, 'You're so right honey, your parents are really sweet people! But also, they do try to boss me around a lot, and I don't really like it. You know them better than me - maybe you know what to say to get them to stop?'
posted by corb at 1:31 AM on December 3, 2017 [15 favorites]

Oh dear! I really feel for you, because that is so close to how my relation with my in-laws was like when I was married. Sometimes we managed to rent a place nearby their holiday home, but other times there was no way to avoid the dreaded holidays, and one time it ended in a terrible fight between my husband and his parents in their language, which I didn't entirely understand, but I did get that they were fighting about me, that I had no agency and that both my husband and my in-laws were "othering" me. I think you are very accurate in describing it as family cultures rather than wider cultures, and whatever happens, try to hold on to that.
It got better when I learnt their language.
It got much better on one holiday, unfortunately soon before we divorced for completely unrelated reasons. We were all in a tiny rented apartment in a third country with two babies (ours, and my sister-in-law's). It was suffocating. Then I got the inspired idea to throw everyone but my father-in-law out for a walk with the babies then shop and cook lunch with him. My main motivation was that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were both terrible cooks and also bossy and noisy and I just couldn't take one more second of neither bad food nor overbearing in-laws. My father-in-law wanted to stay on so he could pay for the shopping. That long morning together we really had a good time. He said cooking with me reminded him of his childhood when his mum was a cook in a big estate. And it was much easier to deal with the language barrier during a long slow morning (in our family, he was the one who struggled most with English). And after that day, he started protecting me and defending me and it changed almost everything. I don't remember we talked about my grievances with their behavior at all — I think the point was more that he suddenly saw me as a person instead of as that foreigner his son had married and he later passed that understanding on to his wife and daughter.
I think that the point of this experience is that you need to do something with them, one on one. Get to know them in a different way. If cooking isn't for you, maybe some other chore - do they have silverware that needs polishing? Making Christmas decorations? Cookie baking? Whatever you can do with the most challenging in-law(s) that takes time.

Also, for next time: ten days is too much, even for the closest of family and friends.
posted by mumimor at 3:26 AM on December 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

So much good advice here and I have marked this thread for my own Christmas Hell. I truly feel for you. My in-laws have some similarities in that they are well-intentioned but I find them overbearing. Ten days is really way too long. I wouldn't do ten days in any situation with mine or anyone's family! Even a week takes me close to breaking point. For the future I would look at ways of reducing this, it's really not reasonable.

Can you arrange to take some time out with just your husband? Even a couple of overnight stays somewhere would give you a break. You could frame this as being interested to explore around the country. Is there a spa town you could visit for an overnight stay? Or does your husband have some friends that he would like to meet with? If you can't swing the overnight option, then some good long day trips? Combine this with picking up shopping so you also are being helpful. For shorter trips, you can usefully reverse this framing if there's pushback. "We'll pick up the shopping. While we are in town, we'd like to see This Thing and have a nice lunch at Place, so we'll be back at x time."

I think it's useful to get your husband to start talking about this now to his family. "I'd really love to take a day trip to show This View and That Town to dostoevskygirl, and also to meet Friend while we are there."

Otherwise may well find you get there and find that they are disappointed about you not spending ten solid days and nights with them non-stop, and then they guilt trip your husband into not going.

The drinks thing is truly annoying. Some people will just never get this and never stop harping on about it. For many, it is tied deeply into hospitality and they feel they are not being good hosts if you don't have a glass in your hand. The impulse to refill the glass is just too deep-seated to remove - you will never stop them offering it and it's so wearing to keep re-hashing the conversation.

What I find works really well is to bring plenty of things that look like alcohol, and keep your own wine glass full so that they don't fill it themselves. This depends on what they like to drink at Christmas, ideally have a few options. Elderflower is a perfect substitute for white wine, the colour is very close. Get the cordial and dilute with sparkling or still water as appropriate, and put it in a wine glass (this is important!). If you can keep a jug/bottle in the fridge and top up a glass discreetly, no-one will even notice that you aren't drinking. Tonic water with ice and lemon is also excellent for this, as it is visually indistinguishable from gin and tonic (this is my bar go-to when not drinking). Get your husband to make the drinks for everyone if possible. Red wine is harder to substitute (though there are some "Christmas punch" brands that are very close) but generally I find if you have a glass full of what appears to be "white wine" people won't press it on you. If they do you can just leave it as suggested.

NB be prepared to have the "I thought you weren't drinking?" "I'm having some of this lovely elderflower thank you!" back and forth rigmarole a few times...but after a while, just the fact of a visual representation of an identical glass with an identical colour liquid in there will stop the constant attempts. I am always totally amazed at how well this works.

My other go-to for these situations is a routine of exercise and getting out of the house. You say it's a ski house...would your health allow some snowshoeing? Or just winter walks? It's helpful to get out and clear the head.

I always try to do an hour of yoga every day in these situations. No-one can possibly object to this, it's calming and you can do it in your room. Can be very gentle yoga...in fact no-one even needs to know if you just lie on the mat and read. Spin out the changing into and out of clothes, and have a shower. Treat yourself to some nice washing things too...things that take a bit of time like hair or face masques. I find that's really helpful...some small indulgences.

Good luck and keep calm! I'm rooting for you!!!
posted by tardigrade at 6:40 AM on December 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I've been vegetarian for all the (20+) years we've been together, and they still press bacon sandwiches on me at least once every visit. I just smile, and say, no thank you, and they carry blithely on. My partner always calls them out on this if he's there when it happens but it does no good at all. I think some people just don't remember really basic things like this which are outside their own routine, their cocoon as you put it well. It just doesn't stick. They mean well, and it's best to try and focus on where you can find common ground, and don't let the rest of it get to you - change the subject and move on.
posted by tardigrade at 6:58 AM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

So, my dad does the "You HAVE to do X, Y, or Z because I've done the research and it's the best!" It drives me crazy because I, too, have done the research (correctly) and have spoken with the people most likely to help me and FFS, I am an adult and I can do adult things. I gave up on pushing back because it just doesn't work and I was getting angrier and angrier. Now, I'll just say "Okay, great, will do!" and he drops it because in his mind, I've agreed and that's all he wants. Yes, it's not truthful but being truthful clearly isn't working for you with them right now so you might as well give it a try.

Also, if your husband's siblings aren't reciprocating your efforts at staying in touch, just stop. That's kind of your husband's job, anyway, and all it's doing now is making you feel bad.
posted by cooker girl at 7:59 AM on December 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am so sorry your husband doesn't have your back; that roundly sucks.

Do you think he'd agree to go for, say, five days instead of the full ten, to make it easier to manage?

I feel your pain about the booze; my OWN family refuses to believe me about dietary and other restrictions I have to observe because if health issues, and act like it's some kind of personal insult to them. All you can do is keep smiling and reminding them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:30 AM on December 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

A little flare up might come in handy. It means you might need to rest in your room with the door closed.

My siblings and their adult children are all coming for 5 days. I have been very ill for six months and they are concerned. They will offer me food, and track my fluid intake. I can already hear them in my head and its weeks away. I love "you might be right". I'm going to use that this year. Oyyyyy is all I can say.

So my advice: use your illness to your advantage. Agree a lot. If you pretend to do drink when you haven't in the past it could backfire. They may watch that very carefully. Watching one another in an isolated cabin is the entertainment. Try to stay off that stage.
posted by cairnoflore at 1:52 PM on December 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I mean, frankly, my big question is why doesn't your husband understand your concerns and why it's upsetting for you. I'm chronically ill, and if my husband didn't understand my condition and my feelings about it almost as well as I do myself I can't imagine it working.

But I mean, have you tried explaining to them why their actions are hurtful? I have had to have that conversation with my own mother multiple times, explaining that when she sends me an article about how the secret to managing pain is just to push through it and ignore it, that that is very, very hurtful to me. And I had to tell her, yeah I cried for hours after you sent that. And she was appropriately apologetic and maybe actually got the message. Especially for people who don't know you well and people who don't share a culture with you, I think it's worth trying to really explain the issue of unsolicited advice and how much of it a chronically ill person has to put up with and how hurtful and painful it can be. If you or your husband hasn't flat-out requested them not to do this and explained why, I think it's at least worth trying.

A talking point that might be useful is to say that when they ignore your health problems (offering you alcohol) it's hurtful because it seems like they don't pay attention to your needs. Or when they don't trust you to do everything already to take care of yourself (question your choice of doctor) it's hurtful because it seems like they have a low opinion of you. If they really are caring people then they should listen when you tell them you are hurt by their words and actions. If they aren't, then at least it should be less easy for your husband to pretend he doesn't see it.
posted by threeturtles at 9:47 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @threeturtles: I know right. You hit the nail on the head. That's exactly what I tell my husband: if they are indeed so caring, why can't they understand that their actions and words hurt (and I've told them so and even cried before them - this was when they didn't stop going on about the clinic for my condition). I think he just doesn't want to see them for what they are. I get it family loyalty and all, but count me out.

Thank you all for such amazing responses. I printed this page out and my husband and I worked on a plan for Christmas over the weekend, including a signal (thanks @trig), the brilliant puzzle and acting as though I am an anthropologist idea (thanks @amanda). I could go on...

I still felt really uneasy and noticed my symptoms were getting worse because of all the stress and spent a couple of days this week in bed - which hasn't been great.

And yesterday I decided I wasn't going to go and here's why: he called his siblings to tell them that I might not be able to come over because I haven't been feeling great (and my flare ups take weeks to subside) and they didn't bother to text or call me to check on me. I'm done with his family. Christmas has no meaning for me (I was raised by an agnostic mum and an atheist dad) and I am not going to ruin my health any further.

They do stress me out loads, and maybe I should manage my stress better, but at present this is how it is. Thank you everyone. I have this page bookmarked for further holidays...
posted by dostoevskygirl at 10:50 AM on December 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

And yesterday I decided I wasn't going to go and here's why: he called his siblings to tell them that I might not be able to come over because I haven't been feeling great (and my flare ups take weeks to subside) and they didn't bother to text or call me to check on me. I'm done with his family. Christmas has no meaning for me (I was raised by an agnostic mum and an atheist dad) and I am not going to ruin my health any further.

Dayum! Not even a text? I don't blame you one bit, dostoevskygirl. Your first responsibility is taking care of you, especially when you're managing a chronic illness. I do hope you're feeling better soon. And enjoy all of your future stress-free, in-law free holidays!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:50 PM on December 7, 2017

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