Out-of-line in-laws must be stopped, but by whom?

The Washington Post - - NEWS - Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: I have been mar­ried for over 30 years and through­out the mar­riage, my in­laws have made fun of my in­ter­ests and cer­tain traits of my per­son­al­ity un­der the guise of teas­ing. I have never spo­ken up and de­fended my­self against th­ese com­ments, and nei­ther has my hus­band.

Only re­cently, I have been able to bet­ter ar­tic­u­late to my hus­band how much th­ese com­ments bother me (slow learner).

My hus­band and I dis­agree on who should speak to his fam­ily about this. I have asked him to talk to them be­cause I sense my in-laws will bet­ter ac­cept this dis­cus­sion from my hus­band, and be­cause it is my hus­band’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect me from this crit­i­cism. My hus­band be­lieves th­ese are my hurt feel­ings and that I should speak for my­self. Hav­ing My Back Hav­ing My Back: I am long on the record that each spouse serves as mar­i­tal spokesper­son with their own par­ents. Send­ing a spouse in­stead to do the talk­ing with in-laws usu­ally just means the sender is dodg­ing the folks.

But: This case is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, be­cause I don’t think the Big Talk With the Par­ents is what will serve you best right now.

Your in-laws have bul­lied you for years. While it would be right and de­cent of your hus­band to stand up (and have stood up) for you — which I’ll talk about more in a mo­ment — the voice with the most po­ten­tial im­pact here is your own. There’s noth­ing more pow­er­ful than when the tar­get of the bul­ly­ing stands up and says, no. No more, not funny. I will not put up with this treat­ment again.

So here’s the di­vi­sion of jus­tice-la­bor I rec­om­mend: 1. Wait till your in-laws pull their usual teas­ing shtick. 2. Tell them you’ve had enough. You say you now can “bet­ter ar­tic­u­late” what’s wrong with their teas­ing, so do it. 3. See how they re­spond. 4a. If you get through to them and they back down, thank them and cau­tiously treat this as the be­gin­ning of a beau­ti­ful, or at least not a one-sided mock­ery of, friend­ship. 4b. If they push back, then their son, your hus­band, needs to step in to tell them how un­ac­cept­able their be­hav­ior is now and has been for years.

Not be­cause he’s their son, and not be­cause you’re his wife, but be­cause when by­standers side de­ci­sively with the vic­tims, that’s when a bully is done.

Which brings us to the fact that your hus­band is, in retrospect and armed with this new in­for­ma­tion on how you in­ter­pret your in-laws’ crit­i­cism, per­fectly fine with his role as dis­en­gaged by­s­tander.

Re­ally? You’re fi­nally able to put words to your decades of dis­com­fort, and he’s got noth­ing for you?

He chose you, and his par­ents have ridiculed that choice for decades. I could eas­ily make a case that it’s in his own self­in­ter­est to stand up to his par­ents on that — es­pe­cially if they’ve “teased” him, too, into this cur­rent sub­mis­sion.

But he ac­knowl­edges that your feel­ings are hurt, and since when does any of us get to jus­tify re­main­ing a spec­ta­tor to a loved one’s mis­treat­ment? As­sum­ing he has a sense of self that’s in­de­pen­dent of his par­ents, this is ex­actly when he needs to use it. Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@wash­post.com. Get her col­umn de­liv­ered to your in­box each morn­ing at wapo.st/hax­post. Join the dis­cus­sion live at noon Fri­days at live.wash­ing­ton­post.com

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