Carolyn Hax: How to help daughter with tough in-laws, enabling spouse

Dear Caroline: My daughter is married to a great man who has a legitimate spoiled younger sister. His mother supports her and is on her side in every conflict. My daughter goes through cycles with her family where things are calm, but then the sister stirs up conflicts. My daughter has a heart problem that is made worse by stress.

My generous son-in-law often takes them on family vacations and pays for everything. It’s gotten to the point now that they get upset when he and my daughter leave without them. Her husband knows his family can be difficult but doesn’t want to face it. My daughter says she wants to avoid most of his family gatherings altogether. She thinks it’s good that he and her child are getting together. Is that the best way to deal with it?

Worried mom: Whatever the best way, it doesn’t concern you or me.

Or his sister or the rest of his family.

It is best if the two vow-takers agree that it is for the best. If you give me a vote (you can’t) then I’ll go further and say the best way is for them to start prioritizing their marriage over one or the other’s family of origin.

That their focal points are still with their own families, as seems to be the case, is a bigger problem than any overly spoiled sister-in-law — though the former can certainly make the latter far worse than it otherwise might have been.

And maybe it’s just that I’m writing this on a Monday, but I don’t see what’s “great” or “generous” about inviting a family over, but refusing access to a family he knows she is generally “difficult” and in particular uncomfortable company for his wife.

We all have things we don’t want to deal with. If we give in to this impulse and knowingly neglect it at the expense of others, then we are typical at best, not great.

Except for the stirrers, who travel for free. To them, his negligence is pretty awesome.

But that’s all academic unless your daughter asks for your opinion. If she does, start asking she what she thinks is right. Then ask if she explicitly shared that idea or plan with her husband. Then ask why not if not.

In other words, deal with it by encouraging them to reach out to him to get them involved so they treat things like this as a unit. Furious. And so she realizes when he refuses that his refusal is problem zero.

The exception to this coupled frame, of course, is when you see signs of control and damage. In this case, you stop promoting “one-size-fits-all” and instead speak openly and with evidence on behalf of whoever is being hurt.

Dear Caroline: Our wedding was a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful event that included an outdoor ceremony followed by a move indoors to hosted appetizers, cocktails and a full dinner with a choice of entrees. The cost of reserving the venue with all the caterers was not cheap and was based on a price per person. Our wedding invitations were sent three months in advance, said the wedding included cocktails, dinner and dancing and included self addressed stamped RSVPs. We submitted our count and paid the venue based on the RSVPs received.

We were disappointed that some people surprisingly didn’t show up on the wedding day, especially when we found out later that they were “just too busy” to attend or had other flimsy excuses. That cost us hundreds of dollars extra.

Is there a way to word the invite so people know we’re paying to attend without sounding like a curmudgeon? It’s too late for us, of course, but maybe others would benefit from it.

I mean, you’re 100 percent right: it was horrible of your loved ones to do this to you, and you deserve your guests to treat you with the same care that you prepared to host them.

But the idea that a line on an invitation just worded that way can reverse the effects of societal collapse? It’s an “oh honey” moment [pat, pat]. You either live in protective bubbles or know you paid through your nose.

The best advice I can give couples is to budget for this “loss” — and your emotional expectations. As awful as it is, it happens all the time now. (I know we’re all tired folks, but cut it out.)

So why publish a letter with a hopeless non-response? Because your letter, worded like that, has a better chance than I of getting through someone’s Rudeness Impulse for the future benefit of others. Thanks for trying

And for what it’s worth, you don’t sound like a “curvy” at all.

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