Dear Carolyn: I have been in a relationship for almost 12 years now. We have been married for nine. My husband is divorced, and his family is very close to his ex.
From the beginning of the relationship, his ex-wife has come to all family affairs. In the beginning I did attend some, but found it very uncomfortable so I stopped, thinking she would back off as time went on.
The past couple of years, he has spent his major holidays with his family. It is getting worse.
Am I the one with the problem here?
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The family also has a family website, and of course, I am not part of that, either. It is as though I am the outsider here, even after all of this time and even after marrying him.
Though your in-laws are being thoughtless and self-indulgent — and though the ex’s version of events, where she openly accepts a more prominent role in her ex’s family than his current wife is granted, must be fascinating — your husband is the real star of this crap show.
He’s the one who can put a stop to it, and he’s the one who has a responsibility to care how you feel.
When he divorced her and married you, it became his job to own those choices. Not that he can tell his family whom to prefer or whom to invite — he can’t — but he can demonstrate to them that they can’t expect him to make an effort to attend these gatherings if they don’t make a better effort to welcome you. He can also make it clear he’s speaking for himself, since I can just hear them now, trying to pin this on you.
Even if they genuinely love the ex, their apparent refusal to have even one gathering in nine years where you get to be the only one of his wives present is stubborn verging on hostile, a prioritizing of their own allegiances over your feelings.
I say this not to shift any responsibility away from your husband, but to spell out that he has standing to advocate for you with his family. Doing so is just baseline support for one’s spouse (not to mention for his own choices), and you have a right to expect that from him.
Whether he agrees with this himself is oddly absent from your letter. Have you asked him why he keeps celebrating with a family that has shown you such chronic disregard? Did he say, “Sorry, I’m fine with their inviting the ex to everything, not addressing your discomfort with her constant presence, and excluding you from their website, and if you don’t like that then I’ll just join them for Thanksgiving without you”? Or its shorthand, some version of, “That’s your problem, not mine”?
Or: Have you not yet spoken up so clearly on your own behalf?
You did frame this as an ex problem, after all, one you apparently think the ex is supposed to solve (“thinking she would back off as time went on”) – but it’s a marital problem that you and your husband need to solve. To be married is to make each other’s interests the equal to your own. Calmly insist on that here.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com.