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Can I yell at my in-laws?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  August 19, 2011 08:03 AM

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A few people asked me to post the rest of the "One Day" entries. It'll take me a little while to sort through them, so expect to see them on Monday. Glad you liked reading them.


Q: Dear Meredith,

I am a somewhat sporadic follower of your column. My question/issue is somewhat of a different variety than most of your writers. My husband and I have been married for two decades, and have been together for more than half our lives. We are very happy in our marriage (and I say that with complete confidence) and both know that we will live out the rest of our lives with each other.

My problem is with his family, specifically his stepmother AND his mother. (I hit the jackpot as far as in-laws go). First, let me start by saying that my father-in-law is an absolutely wonderful man. He is simply fabulous as a father-in-law, spends lots of time with his grandkids, and he and my husband are extremely close. My father-in-law's one fatal flaw is his choice in women. His first wife, my husband's mother, is a selfish, vain and small-minded woman, and so his second wife! They are eerily alike as far as seeing only to their wants and needs, and can be petty and downright mean toward family members.

My question is this: When the mother/stepmother crosses the line as far as what I can tolerate, when is it OK for ME to speak out directly to THEM? I would never, ever want to cause my father-in-law grief or anguish, nor my husband, but there have been a multitude of times where they've said/done/caused things that have been so downright awful that I've bitten my tongue not to say anything to them directly. I'm in this for the long haul, and over the years it gets increasingly difficult not to tell them how horrible they are, and how they are directly affecting the relationship between my husband and his Dad, never mind how it might someday affect the relationship between my kids and their grandfather.

– Biting My Tongue in Boston


A: Love Letters is about love so I'm going to avoid the etiquette part of this question (let's leave that to the awesome Miss Conduct) and concentrate on what's best for you and your husband as a couple. For many couples with in-law issues, the answer is to work as a unit. You must decide which battles you want to fight as a twosome and then have your husband (yes, he'd be the spokesperson) communicate the issues to his mother/step-mother/father. It seems like a roundabout way of dealing with problems, but from what you've told us, these women are not going to have a thoughtful discussion about their actions, especially not with you. If you call them out on their bad behavior you win nothing.

I know you want to freak out and scream at them or even sit them down and calmly tell them why they're awful. But really, it won't help. It'll just alienate the wrong people. You and your husband are the most important relationship in this situation. You have to stand together and protect your partnership. The question should be, "What do we want to do about this?"

There is one exception to this rule. If the mother or stepmother's bad behavior involves your kids, you're allowed to sternly explain how you do things in your household. In those situations, you can be the crazy mom.

Readers? Can she ever just speak out on her own or should this go through her husband? What battles are worth fighting? How can you deal with a terrible in-law without messing up your own relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith


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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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