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Heavy Meddle: Help! I Hate Visiting My In-Laws Abroad!

A hundred degrees with no air-conditioning! Do I really have to go? (Sofia Sforza/Unsplash)
A hundred degrees with no air-conditioning! Do I really have to go? (Sofia Sforza/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 am an American married to a Turkish man. We have two kids, ages six and eight, and we live outside Boston.

For the last five years we've traveled to Turkey for two weeks in August to stay with his parents. This trip is the only chance my husband can see his entire family, as he is the only one living in the U.S., and our kids can see their grandparents. I get that, and can appreciate it.

However, I can honestly say that I detest going to Turkey. We stay at my in-laws’ house the entire time. The daily temperature averages 100 degrees and they don't use air-conditioning. We sit around all day doing nothing except take dunks in the pool. My mother-in-law cooks all the meals. I feel trapped and miserable. Aside from these issues, I am nervous traveling to Turkey given the global political climate, especially in the Middle East. Even though my in-laws live in a relatively safe area on the Aegean coast, you never know.

I feel it's time to make a change. I've suggested having his parents come to our home for an extended stay, skipping the trip altogether, or having my husband go with the kids without me. Am I being unreasonable? I think it's time to make a change but I am not sure how.

Signed,

Tired of the Bad Trip

PHOTO

Dear Tired,

I’m conflicted as to how to respond to your letter.

On the one hand, you detest this trip and I’m generally opposed to people subjecting themselves to experiences which they detest. Particularly, the mothers (or fathers) of two young children. Not just because of your own suffering, but because I suspect that everyone around you is picking up on your unhappiness.

On the other hand, when you actually describe these trips, there are certain aspects that sound, well, potentially rather pleasant. Such as staying on the Aegean Coast. And sitting around all day taking dunks in the pool. And having your mother-in-law cook all the meals.

Why is it, exactly, that you feel “trapped and miserable” in this setting? Are there implicit, or explicit, limits placed on your personal liberty? Are there limits imposed on you as a woman by Turkish culture? Are you not allowed to go on excursions? Do you feel unsafe, as a American woman, spending time in public on your own? Or otherwise breaking the routine? Is your husband’s family disrespectful or dismissive toward you? Does your husband’s preoccupation with his relatives leave you feeling neglected, or abandoned? In what ways do you not have the freedom to be yourself is what I guess I’m asking.

It’s important to consider these questions because you fell in love with, and chose to marry, this man. He’s from this particular country, and that’s where his parents (and two of your children’s grandparents) live. Although I suspect he chose immigrate to America and to live with you here, it probably still ranks as a considerable sacrifice for him to have left his family of origin behind.

The hard truth here is that a cross-cultural marriage is tough to negotiate. Or, more precisely, that it requires tough and honest negotiations.

That doesn’t mean that you should have to accompany him on visits that you find onerous. But it does mean that you should work with him to find a solution about which you can both feel good.

If you viewed these visits as truly dangerous, I doubt you’d be willing to send your kids off with your husband. So the issues here have more to do with your own feelings of frustration. It’s clear that you’ve suggested different options to your husband and I’m assuming — based on your neglecting to detail them — that his responses weren’t positive.

So maybe it’s time to think about compromises that directly address your concerns, while still allowing him (and your children) to spend time with his side of the family. To begin with, you could discuss visiting at a more temperate time of year. You could tell him that you need these trips to be structured in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like a captive. Perhaps this means building in some time for you to be on your own, or take side trips, or cook your own meals. Maybe it means spending some nights in a hotel. Maybe it means you joining the rest of the family for a shorter time, or only coming along every other year.

The hard truth here is that a cross-cultural marriage is tough to negotiate. Or, more precisely, that it requires tough and honest negotiations.

It’s clear that traveling to Turkey takes you out of your comfort zone. Your husband needs to be able to hear that. But you also have to be sensitive to the love and duty he feels towards his kin, and to work with him to find a path that respects both your needs.

Onward, together,

Steve

Author's note: We all know that visiting the in-laws can be a fraught experience in the best of situations. So imagine when it’s a cross-cultural odyssey. Any couples facing a similar scenario? Please 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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