Dear Carolyn: My husband and I were married in May and are preparing for our first Christmas together. We agreed that Thanksgiving would be with my family and Christmas with his.
The issue is my mother-in-law. She was very rude during the wedding — she barely spoke to me and gave no response when I said hello, and chastised me at the next-day gathering. She later planned a summer family trip that my husband and I were expected to attend during the one week when I told her I wasn’t available.
This is causing strain between my husband and me because they are very close. To me it’s clear she doesn’t like me and would rather I be out of the picture. My husband says we just haven’t found a space to connect, and I should just let it go until we do. My own mother says to kill her with kindness.
I feel like we should address our issues before the Christmas visit, but I’m not sure it would do much good. How should I handle the upcoming holiday?
I suspect “we” means you and your mother-in-law, but it needs to be you and your husband. That’s the relationship that has to work.
And so, yes, you and your husband definitely should address your mother-in-law issues before you load a First Christmas Together’s worth of expectations on that rickety sleigh.
In particular, you need to recognize the importance of letting stuff go, and he needs to recognize the importance of backing you up.
Meaning, for you: A failure to say “hello” is too puny a bean to count, much less hold onto for months. You’re married. This woman is your family now, and your husband loves her. You owe it to him, and by extension to yourself, to let minutiae go. “Guess she didn’t hear me (shrug).” Whatever. You find a way.
Meaning, for him, even though he didn’t ask me (but you can share this with him): Siding with Mother on big stuff like squeezing you out of vacations (!) is a 2 + 2 for spousal alienation. Honoring those new vows is so basic. “Mom really said that to you? No wonder you’re upset. I’ll talk to her, if you’d like.” And, “Mom, that week doesn’t work for us, remember?” Talking like this, calmly, helps both of you sort misdeeds from misunderstandings. Plus, neither of these responses sells out Mom; both merely validate that spouses are unified, side-by-side.
That is, presumably, the whole point both of marriage in general and the Mom conversation in particular. Spouses honor each other, and from there take life as it comes. Even when he believes you’re the one at fault in a you-vs.-his-mother incident — since you eventually will be, it’s inevitable — you have a right to expect him to treat you still as his top priority. It’s that much more important, in fact, when you and he disagree.
And he has a right to expect you not to get petty. Whether his mother was legitimately to blame in 99.9 of 100 battles prior to a current one is immaterial.
If one or both of you won’t budge in the other’s favor, then you’re serving yourselves, not the marriage. A marriage can survive this occasionally, but not when it’s the rule.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.