My partner’s parents complain to him frequently that they don’t speak to our children often enough or have a closer connection with me. My partner then asks me to have the kids call them and to make a bigger effort myself. But my in-laws never call or text us! I’ve explained to him that relationships are two-way streets and it’s not reasonable to expect us to initiate all contact. He is unwilling to upset them, though. As background: His parents are generous with us financially (making large loans and taking us on expensive trips). But for many years, I have overheard them speaking unkindly about me when they thought I wasn’t around: criticizing me, our home, my interactions with my partner and the way we raise our children. Any advice?
The most important relationship here is the one between you and your partner, right? So, let’s focus on it. You mention telling him about the unfair burden of initiating all contact with your in-laws. And it seems unlikely that you would have kept quiet (to him, anyway) about their overheard digs at you. So, how does your partner propose dealing with these problems?
I get that he doesn’t like to upset his parents, but he can’t reasonably expect your relationship with them to flourish or even for you to encourage your children to call people who trash you behind your back — unless he believes that the emotional labor of dealing with his parents is your job, or that you and your children are bought and paid for by his parents’ generosity. Neither position is appealing.
Talk to your partner. There probably can’t be meaningful improvement in relations here without all the adults talking about the criticisms you overheard (which may be valid, by the way, but are still unlikely to dispose you kindly toward them). Or you can continue as things are, with your partner’s parents carping to him about you and the kids while simultaneously making hefty loans and paying for vacations. You and your partner should chart a course together.
Asking a Friend to Read Between the Bottom Lines
I have a close friend from childhood. We talk on the phone about work, our kids and mutual friends. The problem: My friend frequently mentions how much things cost: how much was spent, how much was saved, etc. She is comfortable financially. I once made it clear that we are not financial equals, hoping she would take the hint. She didn’t, and her insensitivity is starting to hurt my feelings. How do I tell her that I love being in touch, but her constant references to money make me uncomfortable?
I would knock off the oblique hints. How was your friend supposed to know that you wanted her to stop talking about money simply because you told her you weren’t “financial equals”? I gather this means you have less money than she does. Still, the mere statement of your relative positions in no way conveys your desire.
If you want your “close friend” to stop talking about cash, tell her! Money is a source of anxiety for many people — even for those who are financially comfortable. It often finds its way into conversations with intimates. So, don’t be shy about repeating your needs if necessary.
Just Out of Frame
Is it fair for me to be offended that my boyfriend’s mother doesn’t include me in the picture on her family’s holiday card? Her son and I have been dating for nearly four years; we live together, have a dog together, and we’re tracking to be engaged in 2023. Two daughters-in-law are featured prominently, which leads me to believe that I’m being excluded because we haven’t exchanged rings. Am I being too sensitive?
It’s not my job to judge your feelings. I’m sorry you feel left out. And I bet you’re right: Your boyfriend’s mother probably thinks of family as blood relations and their legal spouses. It’s not an uncommon view, and it is her holiday card, after all.
I would feel differently if you didn’t have the right to marry, or even if you were a committed couple who decided that marriage wasn’t for you. But you and your boyfriend seem to be at a different stage: living together but not ready to be engaged. (And I have no idea what “tracking to be engaged” means.) If you disagree, talk to your boyfriend. Maybe the two of you can approach his mother together about next year’s card.
You, Me and 2023
My girlfriend, whom I love a lot, wants us to exchange New Year’s resolutions. She thinks we stand a better chance of keeping them and holding each other accountable this way. Can I tell her I think New Year’s resolutions are stupid?
Well, I agree that a lot of New Year’s resolutions are short-lived: losing 10 pounds or learning Mandarin. They’re often forgotten within the week! But maybe your girlfriend envisions resolutions that are more personal to you and her: cooking dinner at home more often or taking more road trips. If not, steer her in that direction. Creating shared goals for your relationship in the coming year seems clever.