The Vine: December 1, 2010
I have a very confusing in-law situation going on right now that I am not sure what to do about, and everyone I have asked for advice has just kind of shaken their head at me and given me a "you are so screwed" face.
Earlier in the summer, I married the love of my life and my best friend. He comes from a fairly abusive home, yet he and his siblings have never confronted their parents about any of the emotional/physical abuse (of which both parents were perpetrators, and there were also pretty serious issues between the parents), and all the kids and parents act like they are a typical, happy, lovey family. My husband is in counseling now to try and wade through all of it before we start our own family, and has somehow emerged as a kind, sensitive, gentle man.
Husband has two brothers I love, plus one sister, who is married with two adorable kids. SIL lives nearby to us and we have socialized with them quite a bit. When I first met SIL, Husband let me know she has (literally) no friends and asked me to befriend her. Although she and I have very little in common, I made an effort to become friends with her.
I learned that we would probably never be friend-friends, but saw good qualities in her and felt like we were on the road to being good sisters-in-law, and I included her in the wedding party after she told me how hurt she was at not being included in any other family weddings. Throughout the course of pre-wedding and wedding activities, it because clear to me that she is pretty insecure and she pulled some passive-aggressive nonsense with me, which I ignored across the board, because I know she has been through a lot and sometimes doesn't seem to "get" social cues.
Fast forward to about a month after the wedding. We go to a party at SIL's house, where she and her husband are hosting pre-and post-parties for a local wine festival. A few of Husband's and their friends are there, as are her husband's (Brother-in-Law's) brothers and sister. She has a strained past with the brothers, and has complained time after time about how BIL's sibs have treated her…alleging affairs, cursing at her, etc. However, on the surface, they all act like they are cool with each other.
We all act fake-nice, go to the festival, and return. Many people (basically everyone but me and SIL) are very intoxicated. Eventually, it is just us and the BILs. BIL's Brother #1, randomly, starts talking crap to the entire group about SIL, while we are all standing in her backyard. Pretty much just "what a stupid bitch, ha ha ha, I can't believe what a blankety blank she is," etc. It was so weird and uncomfortable.
I saw Husband getting upset, and took him inside to try to defuse him. He said that he was going to say something to BILB, and I tried to talk him out of it, especially in light of the booze, but also because #1, it is SIL's place, or alternately, BIL's place to stand up for her, and #2, I was afraid it would escalate.
Add to this that Husband is handicapped because of a terrible car crash when he was 25. I am talking chemically induced coma, 60-plus surgeries, can't lift his arms above his shoulders handicapped. He looks strong and healthy, but he is actually quite fragile. Although I know he got into his share of fistfights with his own brothers over the years, as an adult he is not a violent person at ALL, but I do not know BIL's family well enough to know how testosterone and alcohol affect them.
Husband still asks to walk with BILB#1 when he leaves, and BILB#2 joins them. SIL sees this going in a bad direction, and orders BIL to accompany them and make sure nothing escalates. After approximately two minutes I get nervous and follow them. When I arrive, Husband is lying limp on the sidewalk in a pool of blood, BIL standing next to him, and BILBs are gone.
Sars, it was the most awful thing I have ever experienced. BIL immediately starts blaming Husband, saying the blood isn't his, he hit BILB#1 first, etc. He tells me that if I call the police, Husband will be the one to get in trouble. In hindsight, I got steamrolled by SIL and BIL in my state of shock, and we drive him to the hospital ourselves. They tell me that Husband is violent, needs help, etc. I am confused, terrified, and basically just focusing on making sure he is okay.
Of course later I find out that version of events and everything else they were saying was a total lie. We find out he has broken ribs and his eye socket has been fractured. Basically, his face was stomped in, the right side of his face is crushed, and emergency surgery is required. It was an awful situation, which resulted in us having to cancel our (amazing!) honeymoon because he was not allowed to leave the country, a huge financial strain because he could not work for five weeks, and a huge emotional strain because of the situation itself, having to tell my family and our friends what happened, etc.
So: everyone was wrong. Husband said he did hit BILB#1 first. However, BIL and both BILBs are well aware of Husband's physical condition. And regardless of his handicap, it was a 2-on-1 fight with BIL holding my husband's arms back while they beat him. It was not a fistfight, it was, in my mind, a savage beating.
Following the incident, SIL started calling me and Husband nonstop telling us that we weren't allowed at their home, he needed to apologize to BILB#1 immediately, and begging us not to tell anyone in their family, since they "hate her husband already." Against his wishes, Husband honored her request, only to find out later that she had called their mom and brothers and told them a hugely fabricated version of events.
At this point, I cut off contact with her altogether, and Husband did the same. We have not spoken since, although she has texted several times…never asking how he is, just trying to guilt him into seeing his nieces. Neither of us has replied to any of her messages. Add to all of this fuckery that MIL has decided that FIL must not know, and as far as I know, no one has told him.
So. The holidays are coming up. MIL, in classic codependent style, is actually trying to make plans for us all to get together as if none of this ever happened, and Husband loves MIL so much, I know he will want to accommodate her wishes. I want to support Husband, but I am not sure that my boundaries will allow me to socialize with SIL and BIL. I am so so so so so angry with them for how they handled the situation and even more so for what happened afterwards (believe it or not, I gave you the edited version). And I know that I have no intention of lying to FIL if anything related to any of this comes up.
What the heck do I do? I don't want my new "family" to hate me (BIL/SIL excluded, who I could care less about), and despite their issues, I have good relationships with all of them. I definitely don't want to hurt Husband. But I don't want to betray my own need for healthy boundaries either. And, quite frankly, I am wondering how I will get through half an hour of chit-chat without someone asking me how Europe was and me replying that I have no idea because I spent the month of August feeding Husband a liquid diet and filling his prescriptions.
My mother told me we should move to California
The first thing to do is to get on the same page with Husband about the whole situation. Explain to him that, you know, you understand that this is his family and that you don't want to tell him how to do — but you can't, and won't, spend social time with SIL and her husband unless and until 1) some kind of apology, or at least acknowledgment that the situation is not entirely the fault of your household, is forthcoming and 2) any lies told about it to Husband's family at your-all's expense are retracted. Remind him that, as you've said, you spent the month of August feeding him a liquid diet and filling his prescriptions, and you'd happily do it again because you love him, but what you won't do is pretend it didn't happen, and anyone who's set on that course of action can drink a pint of bees as far as you're concerned.
See what he says. Listen. Try not to get angry all over again, and to keep in mind that you have two stories here: 1) these people wronged your husband; 2) your husband loves these people anyway. It's difficult when a romantic partner has relatives who behave unacceptably and then he accepts the behavior and fails to follow through with consequences, but you have to remind yourself that it's not as cut and dried for him as it is for you (and that, in this case, based on what you've said about his childhood, this kind of abuse and denial is…well, not "his comfort zone" exactly, but sort of, in that it's familiar, his version of terra firma).
Work together on trying to establish joint boundaries for the situation, and stay flexible where you can — i.e., you really can't face them this year, but things could change by the 2011 holidays, you don't want to write off the whole family, etc. Talk about whether he'd feel comfortable with you calling the family members you do like, or reaching out in some other friendly way that makes it clear you want a relationship with them but doesn't force them to pick sides. ("Sorry we won't get to see you this Christmas" is fine; adding a "…but it's all SIL's fault," no good.)
But if you can't bring yourself to pretend nothing happened, don't. Your husband may decide to do something different, and I know how maddening that might feel, but you have to draw your own line without judging where he puts his, and let him figure it out for himself.
I'm going on a two-week vacation in January, and I'd love to hear you and your readers weigh in on the cat-sitter v. kennel debate.
My 10-year-old cat Emma is a shy, sweet girl who is extremely wary of strangers. She runs under the bed if anyone new comes into the apartment. If the same person starts visiting regularly, she will eventually venture out, but she will dart back under the bed or into the closet if the guest makes any sudden movements or loud noises.
In the past, my parents have always taken care of her when I have travelled — if it's a short trip, they visit her at my place daily, and I take her to their place if I am going to be away for a week or more. Emma has lived with my parents, and she's comfortable with them. This trip is different, because I'm going with my parents. (They are taking my sister and me to Hawaii for their 40th anniversary. Awesome, no?)
My parents feel she should be at a kennel of some sort, because she will get more attention, but I don't know if it's attention she would welcome. I tend to think that she would be more comfortable on her own turf, with her familiar hiding places. I could have a sitter come in daily to feed her, scoop the litter, and make sure she is still alive. The sitter would play with Em too if Em were willing, but I wouldn't expect that to happen. Either way, there is going to be at least one stranger around, and it seems to me that it would be less stressful to have to deal with that in a familiar setting.
My parents think she would be more likely to come around to the playing or even cuddling with a stranger in a kennel, because she won't have really anywhere to hide, but I just think she'd be happier just hiding.
I'm giving my parents a stake in this is that she is really their cat, too. I moved back home with Emma about 9 years ago, after I broke up with the boyfriend I had been living with. I stayed nearly two years — I went back to college, then got a good job before moving out, and in that time, they became quite attached to the cat. Then a few years ago, I was having landlord/maintenance issues in my apartment and my mom was diagnosed with cancer, so Emma and I came home again, for about 18 months this time. Emma and I have been back in our own apartment for more than two years now.
So what do you think?
It's nice of you to give your parents a vote, but I think a "possession is nine tenths of the law" approach is in effect here. Emma lives with you right now; she's lived with you for the majority of her life; it's you who takes her to the vet and buys her food, and it's you who will pay for whatever cat-care solution you decide on.
Most cats would rather stay home, particularly ones who aren't "only" cats and won't get lonely, but it's eminently possible to get a sitter who will literally sit with the cat for an hour or two and read a magazine or whatever. The last cat-sitter I hired would come for an hour twice a day, feed and play with the cats, and leave detailed (and adorably hilarious) notes about each session: what toys she used, the consistency of the poops, on and on.
Hobey and Little Joe also do fine in a kennel environment if it's necessary — they can share a cage, and they like the attention — and neither of your options is likely to traumatize Emma permanently, but the easiest choice, net, is to find a hands-on sitter and not disrupt her. If your parents question the decision, tell them you appreciate their input, but you've already crossed it off your list — and if it doesn't work out, you're happy to let them subsidize a kennel stay for next time.
Tags: cats the fam