Show The Folks Respect In Small Doses

Q. My husband’s parents are doing something wrong, and I don’t know how to handle the situation. They tell him that if he loved them, he would not live far away from them (we currently live four hours away). We are happy in the city where we are, and frankly, I would be very unhappy living in their town. We visit them once every two or three months and for most holidays. My husband also calls them one or two times a week. They say that this is not enough and that we must not love them.

I know that this is just insecurity and emotional blackmail, but their guilt trips upset my husband. To make matters worse, they badmouth me to my husband (never to my face), and blame me for taking their only son and not letting him move back home.

They have been doing this the entire four years we have been married. My husband stands up for me but it upsets him enormously when they say that he doesn’t love them.

We have both tried to reason with them. How do we change their view on love, or at least come to understand that we don’t have to live near them to love them? -Church, Va.

A. I don’t believe you’ll change their view on “love,” since what they are doing doesn’t sound anything like it. I don’t believe love is what they’re after-it sounds more like control.

I suggest you read M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie.” Some sections might be applicable to your situation. There are some folks who are not emotionally disturbed, or confused, or unable to understand a situation; there are some folks who are simply evil-bent on destruction and domination. Perhaps you need to minimize but not eliminate contact with your in-laws.

Your husband might curtail the frequency of phone calls and make them shorter if they’re not more congenial. Additionally, you might decide to make fewer trips unless their attitude changes. In this way, you may influence them to control themselves better. If nothing changes, call once a month out of respect and let it be.

Q. My question is about opposite-sex friendships when at least one of the friends is married. If the marriage is solid and there is trust between the spouses, such friendships should not be a threat to the non-friend spouse.

But, as my husband of 32 years has done, when the friendship is carried on secretly for five years and the spouse (me) finds out about it only because of an envelope flap with a woman’s name on it; when they exchange letters and cards several times a year through the husband’s business address; when the husband sends the friend a dozen red roses on her 50th birthday and gives his wife a card for hers, then there may be cause to ask whether this is “only a friend.”

I’m trying to remain gracious and civil about this friendship while telling him how I feel and the effect his behavior has on our marriage, but I feel very much betrayed and neglected. How do I maintain my self-respect in this situation? - Excelsior, Minn.

A. I disagree with your premise that it’s OK for married folks to have “personal” friends of the opposite sex, outside of the coupled social arena. When one is in a committed relationship, one owes his or her partner many things, not the least of which is to avoid those temptations that so frequently lead to neglect and betrayal.

The excuse that a healthy relationship should be able to tolerate such behavior is insensitive, unrealistic and generally self-serving. It sounds like you’ve been sleeping in an insincere bed for a long time. My heart goes out to you.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Dr. Laura Schlessinger New York Times Special Features

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