Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Wife feels 'destroyed' after hearing in-laws' trash-talking
I spied: I read, not entirely by mistake, an instant-messaging conversation between my in-laws in which they both totally trashed me, calling me worthless, lazy, irritating and careless. My relationship with them has never been amazing, but I thought we had achieved some sort of mutual ground over these seven long years . . . This really tore me apart. They are staying three more weeks (in our tiny apartment), and I just feel . . . destroyed that this is what they think of me. How do I deal with this?
Carolyn: (1) Examine your own behavior. Where do your in-laws have a point, and where are they being completely unfair?
(2) Talk to spouse. Whole truth.
(3) With spouse's cooperation, decide how to approach these next three weeks. Confront? Kick out? Redouble efforts to please? Bite down on stick, count days?
Which you choose is less important than having a partner in your spouse. If you're alone in this hell, then that's a bigger deal than your unimpressed in-laws.
(4) Detach. For many, the emotional default upon receiving harsh criticism is to fight back reflexively: It's a two-part process of granting the critics significance in one's mind (by taking their criticism seriously), and then tearing down that significance by attacking the critics themselves.
There could be a lot more (or less) going on here than your reflexes say. The critics could be wrong, or dorks, or just on a different planet from you and incapable of getting who you are. They could be right about some things, wrong about others, and with a different delivery or in a different context their message could have been one you welcomed and even discussed with them over coffee . . .
It may also be that your pheromones don't get along with their pheromones. It could be that you bring out a side of their child that they don't/don't like/don't recognize, and so they see you as this visceral threat. In other words, overrule your wounded-animal impulse and look at this like a scientist. Dissect, learn, figure out how to proceed.
Two weeks isn't enough time to start planning forever-after
D.C.: I'm really disappointed that it didn't work out with someone I thought I really clicked with. The possibilities seemed endless when we first met, only to have all hope dashed a few weeks later. It's hard coming down from that cloud. Any advice to make me feel better?
Carolyn: Reading this isn't going to feel good, but if you built such high hopes out of a mere two weeks, then the problem is in your unrealistic expectations. If someone is attractive right away, that's exciting, but not reliable — because it has nothing to do with whether you have common interests, goals, values, worldviews, or anything else. When it's right, the possibilities seem endless after a year or two, not a date or two.
If someone is interesting right away, or easy to talk to, or comfortable and familiar, that's more reliable. But the proof still only comes with time.
It might help to look at it this way: Be wary when, at the very beginning, there's very little room for things to get better. Knowledge of each other makes you close; serendipity doesn't. I'm sorry.