Adapted from a recent online discussion.
For your mate's sake, make the effort with mean in-laws
Processing the letter: I don't know. It doesn't seem right that the wife (from Monday's column) is bearing the entire weight of his family's appalling treatment of her. If it took years for my S.O.'s family to start thinking of me in a friendly light, I'd give them the old heave-ho.
I'd feel pretty justified telling them to pound sand or removing myself from situations where I had to be around them if they continued to treat me like an example of their son's poor decisionmaking.
And what about him? Doesn't he bear a large responsibility to defend his wife and tell his family to knock it off if they want to remain in the married couple's life?
Carolyn: He does, of course; we didn't get any information about whether he was backing his wife, though we do know he didn't cave to his parents' pressure to get an annulment. The strength of his support will say a lot about the viability of the marriage.
But if the marriage is worth the effort (i.e., if he loves and stands by her), then the rotten in-laws are worth the effort.
You may be personally justified in giving a mean family "the old heave-ho" and "telling them to pound sand." But these are your mate's parents — and if sitting in this chair has taught me anything, it's that breaking or just straining the tie with even the most flawed of parents is an emotional blow.
I do not believe it shows good faith to your mate to refuse to put in the effort with his or her parent(s), even if they're jerks to you, even if any severed tie would be technically their fault.
As long as your mate is investing in the relationship and shielding you where possible from disapproving family, you owe it to your mate to invest in his or her miserable/wacky/granite-headed parents. For years. Without significant payoff. For no other reason than they raised him/her — and you love him/her.
Now, if you invest years, and years, and your mate dutifully sticks up for you and the family still treats you like gum that stuck to their shoes, then, okay, come to some agreement with your mate and start excusing yourself from visits to their turf or being absent when they come over.
Flipping them the bird within the first year or two, however, is not only shortsighted, but also will confirm to these disapproving parents that they were right to regard you with deep suspicion.
However misguided it is to aggressively reject a child's committed mate — or, similarly, to attempt to control one's adult child — it still comes from a universal, rather sympathetic place: fear of losing their child. It's far too common for that fear to come true.
In fact, anyone who takes the lead on keeping a mate's family away is deeply suspect, if not outright wrong. It's the adult child's place to keep his/her own family at arm's length.
And if the adult child is declining to do so, and thereby failing to protect his/her mate, then the mate has to deal with that from within the relationship, not by taking up torches and pitchforks against the family.