Q: My wife's family will host get-togethers and her parents will extend invitations to them on others' behalf.
We have a strained relationship with her extended family due to our not understanding or not following whatever social conventions they have that we haven't lived up to. They are also terrible at communication and confrontation.
I'm inclined at this point to say that unless we hear from the party thrower directly, we don't consider it an invite. However, her parents then seem put out that they have to shoulder the burden for us not going.
How do we handle this?
A: I'm sorry this family needlessly complicates things for you.
I'm also sorry this advice is mostly for your wife and I'm using you as a conduit.
Where solutions fail, I suggest policies: She tells her parents she appreciates their efforts to include the two of you and that of course she wants to attend — however, to save the second-guessing and hard feelings of recent history, she's considering herself invited only if she hears it from the hosts directly.
If her parents accuse her of being selfish or high-maintenance or whatever else, it would behoove her not to fight them on it. "That may be so, Mom, but this is what works for us."
Then she can assure them that she doesn't expect them to be the go-betweens, because that's a lousy position to be in. She's just warning them so they aren't confused by your absences.
If other family members decry your absences, then she (and you) can be sympathetic and understanding and regretful: "Bummer, we would have loved to be there. Please let us know directly next time? We don't always know where we're expected."
Of course all involved could get snippy with you, but if you're cheerful and consistent and you're giving everyone a simple way to avoid any miscommunication, then you really haven't left a lot of room to feel bad about your end of this decision.