DEAR CAROLYN: Two weeks ago, my sister and brother-in-law said some horrible things about childless people – apparently forgetting that my husband and I, who have no children, were in the same room.
Collective jaws dropped. My husband and I excused ourselves. Other family members came to our defense, and let them know how truly crappy they were being.
My sister and brother-in-law texted an apology a few days later, but my husband and I are having trouble forgiving them. The comments they made were not of the joking variety, and cut particularly deep because health issues have made pregnancy a bad idea for us.
How on earth do we get over this? We live less than a mile apart and can’t avoid them forever.
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DEAR SIBLING: Why are you avoiding them at all?
Why did you leave instead of saying, “I can’t believe you just said that, especially knowing our situation”? If you just weren’t quick on your feet, then why didn’t you respond to their text later, after some reflection, with: “A text won’t fix this – we need to talk”?
This is your sister. Talk to her. Either school her on the myopia of her opinion, or, if she chooses to defend instead of revise her view, make it clear you find it deeply hurtful and unworthy of her.
If this is just the latest chill in a cooling trend between you, then all the more reason to take it on.
Maybe this and other hostile encounters have pushed you to your limit, despite earnest attempts to make peace. You still speak up, though, to let them know you can’t abide spending time with them knowing how they feel about you. Declare it.
The alternative is to withhold how you really feel, and that’s one leg of the journey toward smug opinions like your sister’s. Intimacy in our primary relationships is the root system for empathy.
Plus, going silent behind a wall of anger may be understandable at first, but over time it can inflict even more damage, to even more people, than the cause of the anger itself.
DEAR CAROLYN: Six months ago I married my husband knowing his employment contract would not be renewed and we’d have to move. (He is a physician with a very specialized practice.) After a short job search, he accepted a new position, and we made an offer on a house.
After a couple of drinks last night, I told him I didn’t think he put much effort into his job search, and I didn’t want to go forward with the move. We could have gone just about anywhere, and he chose the place where it snows eight months out of the year!!
If I am not willing to follow my husband to the ends of the earth, was I wrong to marry him?
DEAR NEWLYWED: Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think there’s a fixed line that tells you what a “good” spouse will or won’t freely do out of love or duty to the marriage. That line is not only in different places for different people, but also it can move over the course of a marriage, based on how each of you has grown and changed.
The regret I hope you’ll explore first, though, is in waiting this long to speak up. If you really need the pressure of an imminent move – and the permission of ethanol – to say what you actually think, then I wouldn’t like this marriage’s chances even if you viewed following him to the tundra as the height of romance.
Situations like this are why various iterations of “love yourself first” have become stock romantic advice. When you know yourself, and trust yourself, and aren’t so terrified that telling your truth will make you unlovable that you need to be half in the bag before you can share an honest opinion, then you can actually communicate with your partner.
And communicating is how a marriage lives or dies. If you talk openly, you can learn each other’s needs and wants, and whether you’re willing and able to meet them. If you’re not communicating except to shout, “Look out! Impending doom!” after you’ve already submitted a written offer and earnest money on a little piece of that doom, then you’re inviting a situation where what you expect and what you actually have are related only by chance. That leaves a whole lot of space for disappointment, frustration and resentment to take up residence.
If you’re not un(der)-loving here, just immature, then your marriage can emerge strong and happy from that particular setback – but you need to grow up fast. First, apologize to your husband for blaming him when you were the one who didn’t do your part well enough; that was a serious cheap shot.
Then say you’d like to talk more, better, and more honestly – starting with where you’d both ultimately like to live, and how this upcoming move (or pulling the plug on it) factors into that.