Dear Carolyn: I’m not sure how to set effective boundaries with my in-laws. My husband and I are newlyweds. When last we visited them, they showed a family digital slide show. Mixed in were pictures of a woman my husband had been in a relationship with (over 10 years ago). I left the room after several, “Oops, we should have sorted these before we showed them to you,” and more pictures. The mother’s defense was, “Well, it IS his history.” I talked to my husband, who later that evening explained to them that neither of us wants to see these pictures.
Well, there were apologies, and we felt we made real progress in our relationship with them – respect established.
Until the next night, when again several pictures happened to pop up of another ex. At this point I said calmly, “I am not going to watch this,” and removed myself from the room.
I feel unaccepted by them and am not sure if this is just poor insight, judgment and taste on their part or if this is blatant disrespect. – M.
“Respect established”? Nothing like sharing a bucket of grins with the in-laws.
It’s not your boundaries that need toughening, it’s your skin.
You’ve given me two choices, between declaring your in-laws thoughtless or declaring them outright hostile to you.
I strongly suggest you give yourself a third choice: that they’re regular people with a lot of life behind them and a commensurate photographic record that they, oops, didn’t get around to updating. Or a fourth choice, that they’re people with a view of former loves that differs vastly from yours. Maybe to them it’s their son’s life story, no more, no less, no harm intended.
Both mean it’s possible that showing these pictures was no reflection on, or statement about, you.
And if that was the case, then your protest didn’t establish respect; it established that you feel threatened, insecure, so afraid you won’t be accepted that you’re afraid to laugh at yourself.
Or: Their apologies make this unlikely, but, maybe you’re right that they left those photos in on purpose.
If that was the case, then your protest didn’t establish respect. It established that they’d won. They’d gotten to you.
Regardless of their intent, their son married you, not these other women. Stop trying to prove what plainly already is. Let them worry about what they accept and why. What your in-laws think and do has no bearing on who you are.
Know that, and then use it, either to make light of the old girlfriend thing – “Hey, you said there was no one until you met me!!!” – or, if it’s the best you can do, to get through it with something resembling perspective. A few raindrops don’t bother a rock.
Dear Carolyn: Why is it so hard just to end a crappy relationship? Seriously. – I Feel Like I Should be Smarter Than This
Because you sought out this crappy relationship for a reason – you got something out of it and are still getting something out of it. Something you don’t even know that you need.
Find the need, find the source and fix it. Then the only obstacle to getting out is getting through the unabridged edition of hell that all breakups turn out to be.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.