Q: I need some help moving on. When my husband and I married almost nine years ago, it was pretty clear his parents didn’t want us to. They thought we were too young. We were twenty-six (me) and twenty-five (him) at the time, and we had been together for four years. We were not necessarily too young or in a rush by everyone’s standard, but certainly by theirs. I think this was because they married young, since that was the expectation in their culture and families, and my mother-in-law in particular perhaps feels like she missed out on some opportunities or life experiences a result.
During our engagement, they were never explicit about their disapproval (direct communication is not their strong suit), but it was made clear in other ways. Although they supported our plans financially and participated in everything, they did not act excited. My mother-in-law made side-handed comments in other contexts. Other people told me how they were feeling, or things they said.
The most direct communication came in an email from my mother-in-law to my husband one week after we returned from our honeymoon. In her email, she outlined her concerns about our marriage, which she said were not personal to me, although they certainly felt personal and were most definitely unfounded (judgmental comments about my family members and the area of the country where I grew up, assumptions that I felt pressure to marry young, assumptions that I would push my husband to have kids right away or give up his hopes of going to graduate school). She shared hurtful comments made by others, and stated that no one congratulated her on his marriage—everyone just said he was too young.
This email was sent to my husband, and clearly not intended for me, but in the spirit of full honesty he shared it with me. He talked to her about it, but due to dynamics in their family too complex to dive into here, he didn’t tell her how truly hurtful her email was.
Nine years later, I still feel hurt and angry when I think about it. We live close to my in-laws, see them regularly along with the extended family, and they are involved in our children’s lives. We have a good relationship overall. But I know I let my hurt feelings affect our relationship to this day. I’m not as open with them about my life as I might otherwise be, because I’m afraid they’re going to judge me unfairly. (One of my brothers got divorced, and I didn’t tell them about it until years after it happened because of something my mother-in-law said in her email about divorces in my family.) I’m always a little bit on guard, questioning everything I say to them. Lately, my hurt feelings have resurfaced because my husband’s younger sister is getting married (at age twenty-nine, which seems to be much more acceptable to everyone). Wedding plans are now a regular topic of conversation among the family, and I can’t help but think back to our engagement and wedding, my in-laws’ disappointment, and my hurt feelings.
I don’t see an obvious way to get closure on this. Is there any chance that trying to talk to my in-laws about it would be productive? I’m afraid it could turn out badly. And if I can never clear the air with them, how do I let go of my hurt feelings?
Thanks for your help,
Ready to Be Over It
A: Dear RTBOT,
Oof yeah. Carrying around all that old resentment is awful. Even worse to be freshly reminded of it all over again.
But, I’d guess that bringing it all up wouldn’t do much. I don’t really know too much about your relationship with your in-laws or how they handle conflict. The only clue I’ve got is that your partner thought it best to just drop it, and it likely is.
There’s no undoing what they said. It was flat out hurtful and there’s not much they could explain to change that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to soften how personal it all feels. Their comments? They were for sure personal. They pulled out all the ugly, dirty stops when they named specific things about your background and your family. Even still (though it doesn’t feel like it), this may have nothing to do with you. You said yourself that they were probably projecting. They’ve got their own issues and they were worried their pride and joy was stumbling into all of the same mistakes they made themselves. If so, it would make sense that nine years later, they’re overjoyed for younger sis. They’ve already worked through their personal garbage on you guys (lucky you!) and have no more vicarious angst to work out.
It also sounds like your partner might’ve been the first kid in his family to get married, which always involves its own fun complexities. Take it from another first—parents can have a lot of big feelings to work through the first time their kids do anything. It feels a bit too soon, he’s a bit too young, a bit too everything that doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to the siblings. All of that scrutiny about the big milestones seems to fall away later on, when it’s no longer such a big deal.
No matter their motivation, I know it doesn’t change how personal their comments were. With this stuff, you have to consciously, willfully choose to let it go—which is what you would have to do, anyway, even if you brought it up and they apologized and everything had “closure.” I’m not gonna lie, it takes a lot of effort. But loosening your grip on those bad feelings is good for you, and it is really the only thing you can control in any of this. There’s no fixing it.
But I’m just talking about that ugly bitterness and resentment you’re holding onto. You mention that these nine-year-old comments still impact your relationship with them, and honestly, that makes complete sense. Sure, be reserved! These folks took personal info about you and used it to hurt you. It only makes sense to be more guarded with them. The only thing that would change that is not a conversation, not even your ability to will yourself to get over it, but if they themselves had changed over those nine long years. How do they treat you now? They had some crappy, insulting opinions and feelings before—but opinions change. Have theirs? If so, maybe yours can, too.
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