Reader Reconciling With Inlaws writes,
My husband and I have been separated for a few years now, but are still legally married. I made the choice to split, and that choice was not well received by his family. His sister wrote him a letter about what a horrible, vile, selfish, etc. person I am and it's about time someone in his family had the guts to tell him that they all feel this way and they all hate me. I figured they would take his side in our split, but I wasn't expecting all that. These people gladly took my hospitality, gifts, money and time while we were together, apparently while hating me and talking about me behind my back. I wasn't that surprised that they took his side but the vitriol did surprise me. According to them, he is the model husband/father and all the issues therefore lie with me. I have to say, it's been a welcome relief for me to have been away from them these past few years.
That being said, my husband and I have remained close with co-parenting, and are considering reconciling. I'm not sure how to handle his family. I would prefer to have nothing to do with them, but he is asking that I "forgive and forget" all that was said. How do you forget someone hates you, especially when they were so specific about it? And really, they have no idea what was going on in our marriage or why I wanted out. If they knew the reasons, they maybe wouldn't have judged me so harshly. That being said, the reasons are between my husband and me, not to share with family so they can decide who is "right."
I'm not sure if I can go back to their homes and pretend everything is OK if we get back together. I feel like issues like this need to be cleared, but my opinions/feelings for them have surely been altered knowing how they really feel about me. I didn't think much of a few of them before the blow-up, and now think I was justified in not wanting to spend time with people like them. I could probably handle spending a few hours with them without saying anything, but as they live several hours drive away, visits typically involve at least one overnight stay. I guess the bottom line is that I'm not prepared to rehash our marital issues with his family so they can see my side of things. I don't think it's their business, nor do I think it would improve anything.
How do I handle his family if we reconcile? He did stand up for me at the time, but now he is insisting that I let it go because he doesn't want to deal with it. He says me and his family just have to "get over it" if we get back together, otherwise it's pointless.
I commend you for trying to reconcile with your husband. Divorce sucks, especially for many kids, as I write about in my book. And inlaws can contribute to the viciousness, as they often come down squarely on the side of their child, as you're reporting. Still, most of the time, issues with inlaws don't have as much to do with the inlaws as people assume. The real tension comes from how your partner treats the discord between you and his family. Since you are in this new romantic renaissance with your husband, you likely want to think the best of him. This may mean that you don't want to express your sadness and anger that he doesn't defend you to his family, and you are projecting it onto them.
I am not saying that your husband "should" defend you to his family. There are couples where both partners prioritize the respect of elders and defer to them and their opinions. This is fine, as long as both partners are on the same page with their values. In your case, though, it appears that you want him to tell them to butt out, and he wants you to forgive, forget, and move on. These values aren't completely opposing, and compromises can be reached (something along the lines of he tells them to butt out and then you come from the rear and surprise them with some unexpected forgiveness and love). But if you're staunchly committed to your positions (butt out versus forgive and forget), then you can almost 100% bet that you'll quickly resume arguing if you do get back together.
I recommend that you and your husband go to couples counseling and figure out a plan for how you will deal with the inlaw issues if you reconcile. I recommend that all couples who try and take a stab at reconciling see a therapist because now is the time to look deeply into your issues to prevent their recurrence in Marriage 2.0. Currently, he appears to be putting his head in the sand about the tensions, and you are projecting your frustration with him onto them, exacerbating your levels of bitterness and making it even less likely that a rapprochement can be reached. A therapist can help you communicate about this issue, and understand on a deeper level why you're each being triggered by the situation.
Alternately, if you really hate being divorced, and you love him, and he refuses couples counseling even if you ask nicely, you may decide to work with your own therapist on radical acceptance, which is a psychology term meaning exactly what it sounds like. Your inlaws may never be your favorite people, and your husband may never intervene and protect you in the way that you wish he did. (Even if he isn't entirely avoidant of conflict, he is much less likely to ever intervene on this issue because his family stuck by him when he was separated, which likely increased his loyalty to them.) But nobody is perfect, and your separation may give you the perspective you need to say that this issue isn't worth divorcing over. Work with a therapist may also help you arrive at the conclusion that reconciling with your husband would not work out, much as you may want it to, because you would never be able to be satisfied with his hands-off approach to this issue (and likely others). I would not be surprised if you have your own unresolved childhood issues that are being triggered by your husband's (and inlaws') behavior, and this would be important to explore.
Good luck, and I hope it works out in whatever way is best for you and your family. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Or Just Send Your MIL A Fruit Basket And Call It.
Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.