Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Whenever we visit my husband’s family (two or three times per year) he spends the entire time drinking excessively with his friends. I always feel neglected and hurt.
I’m all for giving him some space to see his friends, but he literally leaves the house all day, so I’m with his parents for hours alone with no car. Now we have a baby and the last two times we visited, he got so drunk every night that I can barely talk about those visits without crying.
For six-plus years I’ve cried, gotten angry, and begged him to change his behavior when we visit. Clearly his behavior isn’t going to change.
But my current response is to not visit his family. Which is an ultimatum. So where do I go from here? When we aren’t visiting his family, he’s a warm, involved and wonderful father and husband who occasionally has a couple of beers.
I don’t know where this person goes once we cross the town line.
Neglected and Hurt
Not going with him on these visits is the right answer to the immediate problem of his dumping you to go drink. It’s not an ultimatum, by the way — it’s a consequence. An ultimatum would be, “If you keep stranding me at your parents’ house to go binge-drink, then I will (punitive action here).”
But your excusing yourself from these trips addresses only the narrow issue of his transforming into a raging butthat the moment he crosses his parents’ threshold.
The wider issue is the one possibly waiting to pounce on you, which is actually a double: his drinking to such excess, and his acting in such brutal self-interest.
Maybe what happens in Hometown really, really stays in Hometown, but I tend to believe that people use their various capacities throughout their lives.
So someone who has a seemingly bottomless capacity for hard work, for example, may not work hard at absolutely everything, but that capacity will likely show itself in more than one area of his or her life. So how else does this weak and thoughtless side of him express itself? If it hasn’t, yet, then I imagine we’re both wondering when it will, and to what end.
Please insist on seeing a good marriage counselor. I’d be very curious how he explains himself to a disinterested third party.
Re: Neglected Marriage counseling plus data gathering: How do the husband’s parents and/or siblings react to his spending his entire “visits” with them out getting dangerously plastered? Do they regard this as normal? Do they themselves drink a lot?
Just questions Neglected might want to think about and bring to the first counseling session.
Re: Neglected: Does he cop to being a jerk during those times? Excuse it because (whatever)? Does he promise to do better (then doesn’t)? Does he say you’re blowing it out of proportion? Was the crying and begging him to change done during the visits to his hometown or in your own home where he’s warm and wonderful?
Good questions on both counts, thank you — particularly the one about when he crosses back over the town line. When he’s in his warm-and-involved-family-guy state, that’s the ideal time to talk.
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