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Hax: Allow husband to avoid mom; you handle absence

Dear Carolyn: My mother is a narcissist. My husband of 13 years is tired of dealing with her at family holidays. He never has to see her at any other time, even though we live 30 minutes away. He wants me to tell her he doesn’t like her so she understands why he’s not at holidays and the occasional birthday. He thinks she should be made aware that it is her fault he isn’t there rather than make excuses like, “He had to work.”

I think it would hurt her to be told that, and I want him to just suck it up for approximately 15 hours a year. He thinks I’m too afraid of her to tell her the truth. I feel like it would harm my relationship with her, which I try to keep as cordial as possible. I am getting pretty good at calling her on the inappropriate things she says, but he doesn’t feel like he can call her out on stuff in her own house, and so he just doesn’t want to be there.

Whenever I bring it up, his standard reply is a frustrated “I just don’t want to be around your mother!” I tell him a lot of people find a way to deal with their in-laws for the sake of their spouses, but he doesn’t believe me. I told him we should ask around, so I’m asking you. – K.

If he needs proof that other spouses put up with in-laws, then don’t look for him to respond to reason (or to the entirety of Western dramatic output since Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas”) on the subject. He’s insulting your intelligence.

Since there is ample room for a reasonable solution here, you’re about to learn whether he’s willing to be reasonable (i.e., whether you married your mother).

Pinning fault on someone serves only two purposes: to request a change, or to punish. Your husband hasn’t the slightest interest in having your mom try to treat him better, right? He just wants out (while, ahem, not owning that decision)?

So, that’s where he budges: by admitting, and dropping, his campaign to punish her.

Next, you budge by counting the decade-plus that your husband has already endured of your mother’s negativity as time served. Detente was your choice, not his.

Then you package these two concessions: You release him from any obligation to see your mom (emergencies excepted), and in return, you handle his absence as you see fit. Deal?