Carolyn Hax: How to help daughter with tough in-laws, enabling spouse

Dear Carolyn: My daughter is married to a great guy who has an entitled, spoiled younger sister. His mother enables her and takes her side every time there is any conflict. My daughter goes through cycles with his family where things are calm but then the sister stirs up conflict. My daughter has a heart issue that is exacerbated by stress.

My generous son-in-law often takes them along on family vacations and pays for everything. It has now gotten to the point where they are upset if he and my daughter go without them. Her husband knows his family can be difficult but doesn’t want to deal with it. My daughter says she wants to completely avoid most gatherings with his family. She is fine with him and their child getting together. Is this the best way to deal with this?

Concerned Mom: Whatever the best way is, it doesn’t involve you or me.

Or his sister, or the rest of his family.

It’s best if the two of them, the vow-swappers, agree it’s best. If you give me a vote (you can’t), then I’ll go further and say the best way is for the two of them to start prioritizing their marriage over one or the other’s family of origin.

That their centers of gravity are still with their own families, as appears to be the case, is a bigger problem than any overindulged sister-in-law — though the former can certainly make the latter much worse than it would have been otherwise.

And maybe it’s just that I’m writing this on a Monday, but I don’t see what is “great” or “generous” about inviting along but refusing to deal with a family he knows is “difficult” in general and specifically unpleasant company for his wife.

We all have things we don’t want to deal with. If we’re going to give into that impulse and neglect them knowingly at someone else’s expense, then at best we’re typical, not great.

Except to the pot-stirrers who travel free. To them, his negligence is pretty awesome.

But this is all academic unless your daughter asks for your opinion. If she does, then start by asking her what she thinks is right. Then ask whether she has shared this idea or plan explicitly with her husband. Then ask why not, if not.

In other words: Deal with this by encouraging her to approach him about including her, so they handle things like this as a unit. Whew. And so she recognizes, if he refuses, that his refusal is Problem Zero.

The exception to that coupled framework being, of course, when you see signs of control and harm. In that case, you stop promoting “unit”-think and instead speak up plainly, with proof, on behalf of the one getting hurt.

Dear Carolyn: Our wedding was a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful event that included an outdoor ceremony followed by a move indoors to hosted appetizers, cocktails and a full dinner with choice of entrees. The cost of reserving the venue with all the caterers was not inexpensive and based on a per-person rate. Our wedding invitations were sent out three months in advance, said the wedding included cocktails, dinner and dancing, and included self-addressed stamped RSVPs. We submitted our count and paid for the venue based upon the RSVPs we received.

We were disappointed that a number of folks were surprise no-shows on wedding day, especially when we found out later they were “just too busy” to attend or had other thin excuses. This cost us hundreds of extra dollars.

Is there a way to word the invitation that lets people know we are PAYING for them to attend, without sounding like a cheapskate? It’s too late for us, obviously, but perhaps others would benefit.

I mean, you’re 100 percent right: It was awful of your loved ones to do this to you, and you deserved for your guests to treat you with care somewhere in the same ballpark as the care with which you prepared to host them.

But the idea that a line on an invitation worded just so can reverse the effects of societal unraveling? That’s an, “Oh, honey,” moment [pat, pat]. They either live in protective bubbles or know you paid through the nose.

The best advice I can give to couples is to build this “loss” into their budgets — and their emotional expectations. Awful as it is, it’s happening constantly now. (I know we’re all tired, people, but stop doing this.)

So why publish a letter with a hopeless non-answer? Because your letter, worded just so, has a better chance than I do of cutting through someone’s rudeness impulse to the future benefit of others. Thank you for trying.

And for what it’s worth, you don’t sound like a “cheapskate” at all.

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