vacationing with in-laws and childhood (carry-on) baggage
August 22, 2018 5:13 AM   Subscribe

i grew up in an emotionally abusive home and now i am facing my first destination vacation with my wife's (lovely) family and i am freaking the eff out, should i even go?

we have not been on a vacation just the two of us, ever. i was hoping that would happen before this. all of our previous vacations were visiting her family. this is the first time we'd be going to a 'destination' where no family lives.

my family stopped having vacations many years ago due to stinginess and our last vacation involving people in neighboring rooms complaining to front desk about the screaming.

i have some health conditions (pretty new) and a lot of the activities they are suggesting would be problems ... like hiking in the winter!

they are also just very different planners than me (i would booked everything long ago. the vacation is in 3 months and is on diff continent) and that is v v stressful and we also have different budgets and goals

they are apparently really chill but even things like saying "i can't hike" seem impossible as my parents would (have/still) lost their shit. i sent the "i can't hike" email this morning and spent hours crying because i felt like, even if they react well, i have just made their trip worse. especially as i am half the age of my hearty mom-in-law but she's so much hardier so i feel like a big baby.

my wife really really wants me to go as she wants to vacation with her spouse but i am so convinced i am/will be ruining it for everyone. i have cried so much about this.

how can i handle this? no matter what i do (go and assert myself; don't go; go but don't assert myself) i would be making someone's trip worse (theirs, ruining all their fun plans with my broken body; my wife's, as she really wants to be a tourist with her spouse for the first time ever; and mine, slowly feeling more and more like shit, respectively)

every time i even mention maybe not going or maybe that i would be making things worse or that i wouldn't enjoy it my wife gets so so so sad and doesn't know what to do. she does not feel she can be my 'spokeperson' as she doesn't think she groks my problems (physical, because there's lots of things wrong and its easy to forget some; childhood baggage) well enough to present them well. she really wants to vacation with me and really wants me to have fun and is trying to convince me it'll be fun and that her family is not like my family at all and that ill be safe and happy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
She can hike with her mom and you can read a book. It isn't a big deal. You can all go see the Mona Lisa together or whatever it is. You're not ruining anyone's anything. You're not making anyone's trip worse. You and your wife will still have the wonderful new shared experience of being somewhere new together.

As an aside, are you being treated for general anxiety, or even anxiety specific to your emerging health conditions? This level of stress to a fairly benign, everyday family negotiation is not within the range of healthy.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:29 AM on August 22, 2018 [59 favorites]

Do you work with any medical professionals who could prescribe you some anti-anxiety medication? Maybe, on this first occasion at least when you're faced with so many unknowns, spending a large part of the time in a medicated state would be prudent.

And perhaps your wife could help by firmly establishing that you guys are going to be doing different stuff on your own at least part of the time. Make sure you can feel like you'll be able to tap out at any time, even if you're going to shoot for a high participation grade.
posted by XMLicious at 5:34 AM on August 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

she does not feel she can be my 'spokeperson' as she doesn't think she groks my problems (physical, because there's lots of things wrong and its easy to forget some; childhood baggage) well enough to present them well.

She needs to grok your problems and be your spokesperson, but she doesn't need an exhaustive list to do that. They are lovely people and they don't need to be convinced of your position on hiking or whatever. It can be as simple as "anon isnt a hiker so (s)he plans to conquer the used bookstores the day we conquer everest." She doesn't need to justify it but she does need to be your family's representative to her family.

Choosing your own adventure on vacation will not ruin lovely people's fun. Be careful though, as a repeated "I'm ruining your fun" complaint might, since it keeps them focused on you instead of their own chosen adventures. Anxiety treatment can help you with that.
posted by headnsouth at 5:47 AM on August 22, 2018 [49 favorites]

perhaps your wife could help by firmly establishing that you guys are going to be doing different stuff on your own at least part of the time

Yes, this! First holiday with your in-laws? You two should absolutely be making sure you get some alone time to decompress and just chill together - and since they're her parents she should be the one explaining "hey, today while you're hiking we're going to [do other activity]", or "oh, by the way tonight Anon and I are going out to dinner together so no need to include us in dinner plans" and so on. She can even explain "oh, Anon can't make it on today's activity so they're just going to relax (wherever) with a book" If the in-laws are lovely like you say they will have zero problem with this.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:56 AM on August 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

The thing about most lovely people is that they have good boundaries, and for people with good boundaries it is 100% fine to not spend 100% of your time together. If this is being planned as a 10-mile-per-day hiking trip with camping in the bush, then yes, that is certainly an issue where it might be worth re-evaluating whether it's the right trip for you. But if it's hiking on Tuesday, the museum on Wednesday, checking out a cool performance on Thursday, and hanging at the pool every afternoon, then you'll be around for 80% of that, which is more together time than most people manage on group trips (I personally have really different vacation priorities than my in-laws, so we do different things maybe half of the time. They saw 5 museums! I read a whole book and watched two birds fighting over a hot dog at the beach! Then we hang out cheerfully with drinks at the end of the day and compare notes, and as far as I can tell, no one feels their vacation was ruined for not being together constantly.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:04 AM on August 22, 2018 [21 favorites]

The level of anxiety and catastrophizing in your post is not in a normal healthy range. I don't think you should go, but not because you're gonna ruin it for people (you're really really not) but your reaction sounds like it's reaching a bit of a peak and I think you need to talk to a therapist. I could suggest ways to cope but this doesn't sound like a case of being an introvert and wanting your own time. You are getting pretty distressed over the mere idea of this trip.

Hours crying over an email you sent and by all accounts produced no negative consequences? Don't just not go on this trip, get some help. I don't understand how your wife thinks that you'll be fine when you've "cried so much" about this?

I think you should have a serious conversation with your wife that this trip has triggered some deep rooted issues that you need to resolve and you don't think you should go for the sake of your own health until you get a better handle on that.
posted by like_neon at 6:08 AM on August 22, 2018 [24 favorites]

That voice in your head that tells you you're ruining all their plans and will definitely ruin the vacation for everyone is the voice that kept you as safe as was possible from your own family's abuse.

It's helpfully popping up in this situation because it recognizes "family" as a situation in which you'll need more protection. But this situation is different from your previous family situations.

In non-abuse world, people doing different activities on vacations is perfectly normal and fine. You'll participate in the activities you can (and want to), and you'll do something else when you can't (or don't want to!). This is absolutely fine. Thank that voice for protecting you before, and reassure it that you don't need to be protected in this situation right now.

(The only reason I know about this voice is I have one too, it tries to protect me in all kinds of ways. My therapist has been helping me identify it -- if you don't have one, they're very helpful with this kind of thing. Sending you love and solidarity!)
posted by woodvine at 6:13 AM on August 22, 2018 [60 favorites]

Oh yes, people who won't plan in advance are so stressful for anxiety. But you know what? This gives you an opportunity to do your own planning. You can then either share the plans - in my experience most late-planners are delighted to have someone else do the work - or if they make their own plans, you can truthfully say you have a planning conflict with that strenuous hike. Plan things for yourself, plan a romantic time with your wife (your first joint vacation, of course you want some privacy), plan something non-strenuous and attractive for the whole group if you're up to it. Your wife can be your spy for the latter - if she says her family will like something, they will. That will give you at least some time with a defined tour leader role to play and buy you a lot of goodwill against the no-spoons time when you need to conk out in the hotel.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 6:16 AM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

you saying "I have just made their trip worse" is making a conclusion that another party should actually make. That's *not* for you to decide nor evaluate. "Worse" is also a relative term. What is bad for one person might not even be noticed by another. Don't hamper yourself and others around you by sticking by a conclusion you have no foundation for making. People want you around. People want you there. This doesn't mean "stick by me 24 hours a day", it means "it would be nice to be able to interact with you during this time period if you are amenable to that". People will have a "great" trip evaluated on their own terms. It might be "great" for your MiL *because* she goes hiking (for example), and might be just as "great" for you because you do not hike but have a chance to talk to MiL and others when they get back. I hope you can get to a place where you can have good communication about this with your wife and can be clear about your mutual expectations.
posted by alchemist at 6:28 AM on August 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Even if you did nothing at all but stay at the hotel while everyone else went out, you could still be good company - talking with the others in the mornings and evenings about what they did, showing interest, being happy to see them. The trick is for you to feel good about your level of participation, and for them to feel good about it too (and not worry that you aren't enjoying yourself).

I don't know what your relationship with them is like, but I'd make a serious list of all the things you do and do not expect to be able to handle on this trip. Be honest with yourself when making it and avoid both overestimating and underestimating your capacity. Write down the ways you would ideally like to participate.

Then make an additional list of the reasons for the things you don't expect to be able to do. If you can, write down what excites you about the activities you'd like to do, as well.

Go over both lists with your wife, until she really understands them. Do it with an attitude not of "here's why I can't" but of "I'm struggling with figuring out what level of participation from me would make for the best vacation for you and your family. Can you go over this with me, and listen to my thinking, and then think about how you'll feel on vacation given my ability to accompany you on things?"

Then, if after she sleeps on it she still wants you to come, I think you (with her support) need to inform her parents in a similar way - 'the trip sounds great, I told you about the hiking but on consideration I feel I should tell you in advance where my limitations are, I don't mind doing separate activities [assuming that's true], but how do you feel about all this? Would it affect your enjoyment of the vacation?' I don't think you necessarily need to explain all your medical problems, but I think the more information you can give them about what to expect from you as a travel companion, the more accommodating you can all be towards each other during the trip, and the better you can plan activities such that everyone is happy.

That said, if going truly causes you too much pain, don't do it. But do talk about it carefully with your wife and commit to some course of action like therapy so that in the future, you will be able to. And remember that if her parents are actually volunteering to spend this time with you, they like you and will give you a sympathetic ear.
posted by trig at 6:29 AM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

go and assert myself (ruining all their fun plans with my broken body)

Most people appreciate it when someone says, "Hey, I can't do that, but have fun! I can't wait to hear about it over dinner!" Your in-laws sound like that sort. They'll be grateful that you set reasonable limits for yourself, especially since those limits don't preclude them from having a good time. As an added bonus, they may be especially touched that you confided in them about your physical limitations instead of trying to slog through. Win-win!

don't go ([but my wife] really wants to be a tourist with her spouse for the first time ever)

Remember: Your wife doesn't want to be a tourist with Just Anyone; she wants to be a tourist with You, the person she loves. She'll understand that you can do some but not all of the sight-seeing stuff.

go but don't assert myself (slowly feeling more and more like shit)

Don't do this! First and foremost, you'll be putting yourself through avoidable, unnecessary pain. But, secondly, watching you struggle and feel miserable will make your wife and in-laws much less happy. No one likes to see a loved one suffering. Seems like this option is far more likely to "ruin the vacation" for others than your first option.

Also, I've totally been where you are before. Getting treatment for my anxiety (SSRIs + therapy + an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass Xanax prescription) helped a lot.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:33 AM on August 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

(Also, I just want to add that it's pretty common for people traveling in a group to split off and do different things, sometimes because of physical ability, but also because often people just enjoy (or dislike) different activities. And if you ever have kids, or when your in-laws get older, there will be more and more limitations and preferences - and that doesn't mean that time spent together will be less valued by anyone.)
posted by trig at 6:34 AM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

no matter what i do (go and assert myself; don't go; go but don't assert myself) i would be making someone's trip worse

Awww, I am so sorry you are hurting. I grew up in an emotionally abusive family where I was basically "responsible" for everyone's happiness including the two grown children who called themselves my parents. It's no way to live. I'm here to tell you that there are other ways to be a family, but for now it's a little stressful not knowing what way you and your wife will pick and then having to mush together with a family you don't know very well.

In short a few things that I learned

- People are basically responsible for their own happiness though families sometimes "team up" so that you and your wife can sort of co-own the happiness of your team. Sometimes this gets complicated in families where everyone in the family feels responsible to everyone in the family team also but I'd set that aside. Think about your own team.
- Find a few ways to show you're down with this event (a few meals or one big event) and then try to find your own ways to make yourself happy (with and without your wife) for the remainder of the time. If her family holds this against you or it inhibits their happiness, that is ON THEM. Tough to get used to this, but there it is
- Have a good chat with your friend about Team Us and how you can support each other (i.e. you support her with having the vacation she wants also, not just she worries about being "stuck between" you and her family). Your health problems are real and it's ok to advocate for yourself.
- Your wife may have to make some decisions about if her family does make anything into A Thing. I usually feel a partner's job is to support the partner, but this is hard for some people
- Get some treatment for your anxiety because it doesn't have to be that way, hours crying may be an accurate reflection of how you're feeling but it's worrisome enough that you should be able to go to a doctor and say "This emotional issue I am managing is negatively affecting my life"

It gets better. I bet there will be things you can find to enjoy on this trip. And spend some time planning a real vacation with just your wife (even if you have to start planning it now to start thinking about something positive) because that's a thing that should happen.
posted by jessamyn at 6:57 AM on August 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

Here's your mantra: These people are not my family of origin.

Your adrenal system is freaking out, because in the ancient days once attacked by a bear it was good to stay away from bears, but now you are not in danger of your life, not dependent on your wife's family for the necessities of life (as you were as a child), and you do not have to avoid this trip.

Here are some ways to make this happen:

i have some health conditions (pretty new) and a lot of the activities they are suggesting would be problems ... like hiking in the winter!

That's no problem. Bring some books or an art project and when they go hiking, you stay in your lovely accommodation or a ski lodge or a cafe and you do that.

they are also just very different planners than me (i would booked everything long ago. the vacation is in 3 months and is on diff continent) and that is v v stressful and we also have different budgets and goals

This is a great time to plan with your wife. Take a chart of the days and map out the things you want to do, the time you want to carve out as a couple, and the times you will "go with the flow" of the people you are with. This plan will change, but you can make it. You can come up with your food budget and research where you will buy your bread and cheese for picnic lunches or whatever.

Don't fall into the trap that they are The Parents so you have to go with their planning style. You can use your own!

they are apparently really chill but even things like saying "i can't hike" seem impossible as my parents would (have/still) lost their shit. i sent the "i can't hike" email this morning and spent hours crying because i felt like, even if they react well, i have just made their trip worse. especially as i am half the age of my hearty mom-in-law but she's so much hardier so i feel like a big baby. are not a baby, but you are treating this like the child you were (so much sympathy for that child) so your instincts are sound, but lasered in the wrong direction. Yes, there is a childlike response going on but NO, it is not related to what you will do on the holiday, it's related to how you are feeling inside about the holiday.

I recently had a house guest who couldn't walk far in the heat. I had planned a day of walking in the heat. We didn't do that. (But I did go do it on my own schedule.) It was no problem! For normal people, this is NO PROBLEM. They may express a little disappointment like "too bad you can't join us" but that is not code for "and we are about to make your life miserable" it is code for "we like you and want you to know we are thinking about you."

my wife really really wants me to go as she wants to vacation with her spouse but i am so convinced i am/will be ruining it for everyone. i have cried so much about this.

Regular people do not insist that you be 24/7 compliant to their agenda to be happy.

Please read that a few times.

Regular people are very able to say "enjoy your nap, I am going to hike up a trail and see you at dinner" and mean it.

how can i handle this? no matter what i do (go and assert myself; don't go; go but don't assert myself) i would be making someone's trip worse (theirs, ruining all their fun plans with my broken body; my wife's, as she really wants to be a tourist with her spouse for the first time ever; and mine, slowly feeling more and more like shit, respectively)

You go, you do the activities with the family that you can do. You spend the time that they are doing activities you can't or don't want to do relaxing in a hotel bed, wandering slowly around local shops, or taking a little tour of your own. Because this is stressing you out so much, you may want to build in some activities like visiting a beautiful space to sit and contemplate in or multiple naps.

I do think you need professional help but I think if you focus on the difference between fact (adults vacationing together have some times they do things together and some times they do things separately; they do not seek to control each other; they do not become abusive in the face of differing priorities) and feeling (inner child: nonononononono) you will be ok.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:11 AM on August 22, 2018 [7 favorites]

Have you talked with your wife about how you really want to vacation with just her, and how her family's planning style and budget does not match yours?

Would it help to plan things that will be just for you and your wife to do together while on this trip?

I'm just trying to gauge whether you want any part of this trip, and try to be honest with yourself. In my experience taking trips to make other people happy ends up backfiring. If you can reach an understanding with your wife, and find some things to do that mesh with your needs I would go. If not it's not fair to you. It's ok to want to enjoy a vacation alone with your spouse that isn't so stressful for timeline and activity and budget reasons.

Her family sounds well-meaning but maybe a little more involved than you'd like given that you've always traveled or visited them and haven't had that time as a couple.
posted by lafemma at 7:25 AM on August 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

My family-of-origin sounds a lot like your family-of-origin. My husband's family sounds a lot like your wife's family. It's so hard to lean into that love when you don't associate "family" with "love" and I completely understand where you're coming from.

That being said: when his family plans vacations/get-togethers like this, I do what lots of people have already suggested! I do what I can and plan other things for myself when they go off to do things I can't. I know why you're scared, but believe me, your wife's family loves you. They aren't your family-of-origin and it's okay to tell them you can't go hiking, etc. The first time I went on vacation with my husband's family, I was so nervous to say "I don't want to go fishing"...and it was fine! I stayed back at the hotel with one of his aunts and we read together. Then, everyone came back, we all showered or napped, and we had dinner together as a family. It was very nice and now it is much easier for me to do things with them because I have a positive experience to reflect on in the face of my anxiety/trauma brain.

I am also a MAKE PLANS IN ADVANCE person and his family is...not. I have learned -- and this was not easy -- to just sort of...go with it. Things have a way of working themselves out, because no one wants to have a chaotic, messy time on vacation.

You won't ruin their time. They invited you, which means they *want* you to be there. You will be safe and loved. I hope you are able to convince yourself to go and have a really nice time. And if you can't this time, that's okay! There will be other family vacations.
posted by sc114 at 7:27 AM on August 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Hey, so I have similar trauma around trips and also have vacationed extensively with my husband's family. They're nice people, but also very invested in the idea that everyone must do the same thing (as decided on by the patriarch) without complaint or else you're not a good team player. Coming in with my anxiety around travel--the idea that trips will be misery and I will never get to do what I want because if you ask you'll be yelled at--has made that dynamic extra hard. Yes, therapy is good, but I don't necessarily think your reaction is outsized for what you've been through. It's just maladaptive for this situation. But understandable, in light of the trauma.

I think the most important thing is to sit down and articulate your actual needs to yourself, first. Write them down. Jot down your anxieties surrounding them. I'm going to guess it's something like this:
  • I want to go on a vacation with my wife but I'm afraid to ask for that because we weren't allowed to go on vacations in my family.
  • When traveling with family, I want to have my physical needs taken into consideration, but I'm afraid to ask for that because in the past people have yelled at me for this.
  • I need x hours of downtime a day but I'm afraid to ask for this because in the past taking physical space from family would have meant more yelling.
  • I need to plan x number of activities for myself/my spouse on this trip but I'm afraid that breaking off from the family will get me "in trouble."
And so on . . . bring the list to your wife and ask her what she can help you accommodate.

I'd really, really recommend taking a small solo trip with your wife first, if you never have. I understand the resentment of that and also the fear--I never want on a honeymoon with my husband, was afraid to ask for one. He was planning trips with friends and I was having meltdowns. Finally I came to him and tearfully asked if we could go away for a weekend and he was like, "Uh? Yeah, of course we can." And that trip was great even though it was only a 3 hour car trip to vermont where we visited some cheese factories. It made me so happy! You have my permission to take a weekend with your wife and redefine what a vacation is for you before folding it into your wife's family's conception of a vacation. You're the grown-up now, and you can do it.

It's taken time but I've gotten so much better at advocating for my needs with my husband's family. Last trip, I just declared that we were going to go eat at a random vegan restaurant on the beach instead of going to applebee's and it was wonderful. But it's taken me like a decade to get to this point. Be kind to yourself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:43 AM on August 22, 2018 [15 favorites]

how can i handle this? no matter what i do (go and assert myself; don't go; go but don't assert myself) i would be making someone's trip worse (theirs, ruining all their fun plans with my broken body; my wife's, as she really wants to be a tourist with her spouse for the first time ever; and mine, slowly feeling more and more like shit, respectively)

Your in-laws seem like fairly nice, relaxed people to you, right? So think it through. I mean really think it through, not accepting vague stuff like "ruining!!!"

Scenario A:
They: want to go on an afternoon hike in the snowy woods, which you aren't physically up to.
You: tell them you can't, but you'll be fine in the hotel with your book and you're looking forward to hearing about their adventures at dinner
They: .....?

Are they going to be miserable just because you can't come to one thing? No. Are you going to be miserable all cozy with your book? No. Is your wife going to be miserable because she gets a little alone time with her parents? No. Is everyone going to have a good time and a nice dinner afterwards? Yes!

Or, what if your in-laws are a little annoyed and/or disappointed? Is the trip going to be RUINED? Are they going to HATE YOU FOREVER? Are they going to be MEAN TO YOU? No. You know that, right? You might notice they're a little annoyed or disappointed. But they're nice people, so they'll get over it, and everyone will still have a good time. A little conflict is inevitable when people spend time together. It doesn't mean you're going to be beaten or starved or thrown out of the house to fend for yourself, even if that's what your brain is yelling at you.

Believe me, I know that feeling that the territory you're looking towards is a LAND OF NEBULOUS DOOM THAT MUST BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS. It's a strong feeling because it was impressed upon your mind when you were young and emotionally plastic and lacked the experience to judge what was and wasn't likely to happen outside your home. But you're an adult now. You can work through what the "worst-case" scenario is actually likely to be. What the actual consequences of XYZ will be. And you can see that, in most cases, everything is going to be okay. Maybe not perfect, but okay.
posted by praemunire at 8:17 AM on August 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

Without discussing my family of origin too much in this forum let me say I empathize with this kind of anxiety, deeply. Most families I've encountered work VERY differently not only from mine, but from one another. You don't have to go, but you are also so very unlikely to encounter the kind of reaction you're accustomed to. 99% of the time people look at me like I have three heads when I say things about x action upsetting my parent(s). The kind of dance I am required to do is unique, and I hope yours is too. Sending you all the good wishes.
posted by wellred at 8:47 AM on August 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

I agree with whoever above suggested you take this off calendar for yourself for now, until you can get some help -- probably a combination of talk therapy and some anti anxiety meds. Your family apparently did a number on you during your formative years, and things that are within-normal-stress-management-levels for most people have been made unmanageably difficult for you. It's ok. It's like if you'd had a broken leg that needed to heal before going on a hiking trip.

It's ok not to go this time. Just tell your spouse you've realized you need professional help to deal with the stuff from your past and that it isn't about her or her family. Get some help so you don't have to carry this burden around forever. Good luck!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:52 AM on August 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I too have been in your shoes, on both sides: abusive family of birth who made Everything My Fault, and healthy (imperfect, but fundamentally good) family-not-quite-in-law. Every family is different, indeed. Hopefully some of it will echo with yours?

It sounds like underneath it all you do want to go; it's mostly fear of and from the past telling you not to? In my case the best thing I did was to go. I wasn't able to participate in everything, had panic attacks about being a horrible evil terrible person ruining evarrrythiiing (the soundtrack of my parents from childhood), but well, I had panic attacks when I wasn't on vacation too, and at least I was vacationing!

The really good part of it was that, as someone who cares about others' feelings (you clearly do as well), I paid attention to what my family-in-law did and said. They were genuinely happy, had some cranky moments, as does anyone on a holiday, and we had some neat talks, memorable explorations, and I got to do what I wanted too. Which included spending time with them, and being alone occasionally; not participating in everything. It was abundantly clear that there was no catastrophe. At no point was anything ruined, because everyone had been upfront about their wants, abilities, and needs, and they were emotionally mature (not perfect! mature!) so that when negative emotions and disagreements were expressed, they were not poisonous or weaponized. It was also enlightening to see disagreements amongst family members who fundamentally loved and respected one another, it was so very different from what I'd grown up with. Experiencing it brought it home, quite literally, and it turned out that was what I needed. I didn't realize it all at once! I had my moments of wondering if I'd made the right choice and so forth. But I was happy at the time of the holidays, and in the years following, the experiences took on new meaning as I grew and developed new, healthier frameworks. Frameworks developed largely thanks to those experiences.

I did also, at the time, have one of those revelatory experiences where the weight of your childhood crashes down on you as you see that the reality you experienced was fucked up in yet more ways you hadn't noticed. But it was worth it. I was so happy to have shared holidays with them, and twenty-odd years later (including a breakup with the ex fourteen years ago), I still have fond memories.

In comparison, the only fond memories I have of childhood holidays are when I refused to go with my parents – yeah they agreed to leave me at home alone starting around age ten, LOL *facepalm* – and, when I had to go with them, the times I managed to escape and be on my own.

I'd say go for it, and promise yourself that you'll remain true to your wants and needs – that will help somewhat with the anxiety, as well as honoring your childhood self/experiences.
posted by fraula at 9:39 AM on August 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Some kind, wise advice above. One thing I would mention is that if you go on the trip in the end, you gain a trove of experiential evidence (that your wife can also help hold for you, if she understands the differences between her family of origin and yours) of how people react to things like you making requests and stating your needs. This has been pretty much the number one practical resource in my becoming genuinely less traumatised and anxious about things like this. The evidence will have good and less good in it but based on what you've said it'll be many, many times better (as in: people will actually be trying to be nice to you at all) than the evidence you first learned from when undergoing this abuse. Love to you.
posted by lokta at 11:35 AM on August 22, 2018

As the wife in this situation, I want you to please know that deciding between my family and my husband is repeatedly stressful for me. I always side with my husband and allow him out of activities or even to cancel trips to see my folks, etc. My family is pretty chill and tries to be very understanding but is also deeply, deeply hurt by my husband's constant rejection even if they intellectually know the source of his anxiety, and I have to manage not only my husband but also my family's feelings, so I am always in between and taking care of everyone, and while my husband gets to stay home, I become the one with the burden of making everything okay and dancing as fast as I can to come up with excuses for him so my parents' hearts aren't repeatedly broken and they worry about the state of my marriage less than they would if I didn't put in all of that time being JUST SO CHEERFUL AND OKAY!! EVERYTHING IS CHILL AND GREAT!! Please try working with your wife to find a solution that works for you BOTH, not just you, because you will be handing her a ton of emotional work if you decide not to go on this trip. She will likely not have to do much work at all if you decide to go but just sit out on a few hikes. To be 100% honest, you will be ruining her trip by not going.

As others have suggested, please seek therapy.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 1:20 PM on August 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

I've been on many family visits and vacations, and many have not gone that well for many of the people on them. The dynamic I have seen several times that I don't see mentioned in the comments is when people agree to go, but have no idea what they will do. This is perfectly fine, but the problem comes when they sit around listlessly (or grumpily) waiting for the person who invited them to provide a suitable activity. That's a recipe for unhappiness all around. So plan for what you want to do, and see how it meshes, bearing any downtime you choose to take with all the grace and confidence you can muster.

Respectfully, three months is still plenty of time to get an unexpedited initial passport, vaccinations, do extensive research, make transportation, lodging, meal, and activity selections, deal with accessibility and other special needs, and otherwise do a thorough job of planning even a major international trip. If I had my druthers I would start planning major trips more than a year in advance (once I collected hundreds of potential points of interest for a two-week trip!), but this is not a rush job unless you're going to Antartica or trekking in Nepal or otherwise going way off the beaten path.

That said, you may be in a spot that for you, for this trip, it may not make sense to go. And that is fine. Your partner and their family have to be the ones responsible for dealing with their feelings if that is the case. You are not, cannot be responsible for ruining a trip that you're bowing out of with plenty of notice.
posted by wnissen at 3:25 PM on August 22, 2018

From the OP:
so some things happened!

part of my anxiety is that i was not sure if my wife had assumed i was invited, or if i was actually invited. i never was added to any email/phone calls about planning and my inlaws never spoke to me about it. which made the fear of 'ruining' (as many of you grokked, a direct quote from my childhood) more acute. since if i am a tagalong, changing the trip is way worse...

i am also newly diagnosed/not-yet-actually-diagnosed-its-a-medical-mystery! with some relatively minor disabilities and i am having problems dealing with that emotionally. plenty of entirely self-inflicted guilt about being burdensome *right now*, dontchaknow.

SO, the news:

my wife secretly (in our tiny-ass mime-box apartment, without me knowing, because she is a good witch) got on a call with my in-laws in the last day (!!), not knowing i had posted this, and clarified a lot of things. one: i am actually invited! i got added to planning stuff. i can see what is going on! (should she have told me there was planning going on and added me to the chain? sure. but...: you may notice a recurring theme of my wife not being a detail person. she is not. don't harsh on her for that, please... should i have asked? i actually didn't know there was planning going on until 12 hours before i posted the question, and thats when i learned theres been planning for weeks but nothing is actually booked or decided...)

two: she discussed her understanding of my health stuff as best as she could. she is not very good at this (her PCP once looked at her broken leg and asked WHAZZUP; she responded 'broke my scapula!' which is... i love you glinda the good witch, but not even close) but she got the vague sense of it across. her parents were cool about it.

three: she said "so, spouse's family did not ever give her good memories of vacations and she almost exclusively associates vacations with stress, screaming, fear, and punishment" and my inlaws' reaction was "all the more reason she should come and have a good vacation for once."

so i feel better. not quite the end, but the answers that were from people who admitted they were from similar fucked-up families were by far the most helpful.

thx e'ryone.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:45 PM on August 22, 2018 [30 favorites]

Go. Although you cannot see it now, my sense is you are overreacting to the down sides to this. For you, the only way to find out is to go.

Here is how I would deal with it--acknowledge and accept the anxiety as it comes about. Then let it go by saying a mantra "I am letting this go for now." It might come up in 5 minutes. Just say the mantra to yourself each time.

This is a growth opportunity.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:30 PM on August 24, 2018

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