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Heavy Meddle: Of In-Laws And Infidelity

How to survive the holidays with my wife’s cheating kin? (Nicola Jelenkovic/ Unsplash)
How to survive the holidays with my wife’s cheating kin? (Nicola Jelenkovic/ Unsplash)
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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

I’m in a pretty crappy situation in the sense that I love my wife, but hate the men in her family. For starters, her dad has cheated on my mother-in-law the entire duration of their marriage (30-plus years) and now lives with another woman. They aren't divorced because every so often he'll tell my MIL he still loves her and wants to get back together. They never do, and the cycle continues. It puts a ton of strain on my wife as my MIL will call and cry all the time. It doesn't help that we live eight and a half hours away, so phone calls are early and often.

The other man on that side, my brother-in-law, is recently married (less than a year) and is expecting his first kid in early 2016. Well, we just found out that he's been cheating for years and his marriage is in tatters. Who knows how that will end, but now we're dealing with that — with my MIL now calling my wife all the time to "figure out what to do."

I love my wife, but hate the men in her family.

To make matters worse, it's the holidays. We split them since her family is out of town, so we're headed to her side this Christmas. It's killing me because I can't stand the men and I am expected to play nice.

I understand that it's the holidays, but her entire family does this song and dance where they pretend these things haven't happened. I doubt her dad will be there, which helps make it a bit easier, but I know her brother will be there. All the recent news makes me dislike him even more. I've talked to my wife about it but always seem to get the same frustrated response. She asks me what they're supposed to do about it. It's the holidays, they want to enjoy each other's company, not fight. I get that, but their approach hasn't worked and always results in issues before and immediately after. I love my wife but need something to change.

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Please help.

Best,
Man in the Middle

Dear MitM,

Wow. That’s some in-law baggage, alright. It must be incredibly stressful for your wife to absorb the unhappiness of her mother and sister. The drama is clearly driving you batty, too.

I agree that the strategy of pretending nothing’s wrong is fraudulent and ultimately unhealthy. But I think you have to keep your eye on the big picture here, which is your relationship with your wife. You don’t want the dysfunction of her family to infect your marriage. After all, the sin of adultery stems from deceit. So it’s crucial that you remain open to one another, and communicative.

That said, it’s clear that in this case the way you’re bringing up concerns about your wife’s family is putting her on the defensive. You are, after all, judging her family, and asking her, in some sense, to solve a problem that is not of her own making, and one that is causing her far more heartache than it is you.

I do not recommend that you try to sort this all out on the eve of this particular holiday gathering. Why? Because there’s so much stress associated with traveling home for the holidays anyway. I fear that raising concerns right now — valid as they may be — will put her in a terrible spot. She either has to forsake her family (including a heartbroken sister and mom) or risk your disapproval. That’s a big ole lump of coal in her Christmas stocking.

what’s most important is that you recognize and accept that neither you, nor your wife, can control the bad decisions made by her relatives.

But I do think you can and should be honest about your own feelings moving forward — so long as you sort out exactly what your feelings are.

It’s not clear to me how much your frustration stems from disapproval of how her family behaves — both the cheating and the covering up — and how much of it stems from the way in which your wife’s time and attention are sucked up by this family drama.

Be honest with yourself about what’s really bothering you, and then talk with your wife, in a way that acknowledges the basic truth here, which is that she can’t control the bad decisions made by her relatives, nor even her feelings of anguish and duty toward them.

In the end, MitM, you may decide that you can no longer take part in the charade her kin enacts around holidays. And if that’s the case, you’ll have to work something out with your wife.

But what’s most important is that you recognize and accept that neither you, nor your wife, can control the bad decisions made by her relatives. They have their lives to lead. And you have your lives. That’s the good news here, actually: that you and your wife can follow a different path, one marked by love and truth and trust.

Onward, together,
Steve

Author's note: Okay guys, you’re up! Any specific ideas for MitM? Or perhaps some broader advice? Send your thoughts along in the comments section below. And hey, send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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