I have been a reader of yours for a long time, and I truly value your sensible advice. Now, I'm in need of some of my own!
My husband and I have been married for six years. We have a wonderful relationship and a real partnership. He works, I stay at home with our two kids. We both love this arrangement, and we've grown a lot as parents and as a team over the years.
The problem is my parents and one of my sisters. We're generally close, but they made some judgments about us, and really about my husband, that are unfair and just untrue.
For example, my parents and I took my children to visit my grandparents for the weekend. "Gary" stayed home and did stuff around the house and took this opportunity to relax. When we got home, the house was a mess. My parents feel this is a sign of disrespect.
When my parents left, Gary apologized to me and cleaned things up. My parents have similar stories to back up their assumption I am in a disrespectful marriage. My sister agrees with them. But if they looked a little further it might not be as it appears.
Something else. Gary is vastly different than my family. My family has a frenetic, high energy feel to them—they talk over each other, interrupt constantly and everyone vies for attention. My husband is very quiet, very thoughtful and would never interrupt anyone. He expects to be able to get his story out, but he is always interrupted.
This has made him more shy and even more quiet around my family. He is wonderful with each of them one-on-one when there can be thoughtful conversation. Now that he knows he's being watched and judged, he's almost shut down completely around them.
I don't know how to get through to my parents and sister. I feel distant and like we need to stay away from them to protect ourselves. Gary is hurt and angry and wants to write them a letter pointing out their faults and explaining, though he isn't perfect, we are in a great marriage and happy with our lives.
My heart truly hurts for my husband who puts so much effort into his work to support us, then comes home and puts so much effort and time into our kids and into our marriage. He is truly my partner in life. I love him so much and am so hurt that my own family hurts him so deeply.
Roxanne, your husband is so successful you are allowed the wonderful ability to be a stay-at-home mom. From all you say, he is a mild-mannered, hard-working, respectful man. How dare they find fault with him when you do not.
The dog that growls doesn't need to bite; its growl prevents a hand from being bitten. But the shy dog is more dangerous because it will cower until it snaps. If your husband commits his feelings to paper, it may create a greater rift. He married a good woman. Prove it to him. Be the growling dog.
Decide on a few simple rules. List your father, mother and sister and their behaviors. Alongside each, list what you will do if they occur and whether you will react publicly or in private. Your reactions may range from a discussion to a mild rebuke to a scolding to getting up and leaving.
As you give consequences to your children, give consequences to your parents and sister when they act up. Make your behavior so perfectly predictable your father, mother and sister see the connection. Don't ever allow them to disrespect your husband in front of the children.
First, give your family a chance to respond positively. Hopefully they will. But if they don't, unmuzzle the shy dog. Some people won't learn until they feel fangs.
Wayne & Tamara