Dear Carolyn • My parents tend to treat my wife as an unwelcome intruder in the family. My dad usually just ignores my wife, and my mom is critical/passive-aggressive with her. We all moved closer to one another recently, and I hoped the closeness would breed better relationships, but alas. After growing up in a house where problems are best left ignored until they blow over, I generally try to confront them head-on. But I know my parents will deny that anything is the matter. And it's hard to tell my wife she just has to be calloused to get over my parents' barbs.
Dealing With My Mom
Dear Dealing With My Mom • Well, then, I guess you can't do anything! You do realize you've directly talked yourself out of two possible ways to approach this and hinted your way out of a third? That's nowhere near as bad as ignoring/denying problems, but it'll nudge you back on that path. So let's rule back in the things you ruled out: (1) Confront your parents head-on. "Confront" might not be the right idea, but talking to them is. I don't doubt they'll deny everything, but changing their behavior is only part of what you're trying to accomplish. Another part is doing right by your wife, and another is making them aware of your feelings. That way, any action you take won't come out of the blue. (2) Tell your wife to get over it. "Get over it," no, but you can assure her that it's not personal and it's not her fault, that your parents often cross lines, and that you'll back her when they do. (3) Accepting that proximity won't make you close. This is the one you hinted around, but I'll just say it: If you talk to your parents and stand up for your wife and still your parents mistreat her, then you need to release your wife from your kumbaya expectations. Tell her that, while you hope she'll come occasionally, she's welcome to opt out of visits and other exercises in banging her head against the wall that is your family. Should it come to that, your having had that initial talk with your parents will come in handy. You'll be able to say, "Mom, Dad, after the way you treated Wife last time, I encouraged her to stay home." Connecting actions to consequences is rarely a bad place to start.