Dear Amy: Several years ago, my mother-in-law, “Betsy,” was unfaithful. This tore their family apart. More than once, Betsy asked my husband to “break the bad news” to his dad and to comfort him when he was devastated.
I was furious with her.
My parents were abusive during my childhood. My in-laws had always been wonderful. I saw them as a “replacement” for my broken family. Betsy destroyed that.
After she decided to stop running around, her husband welcomed her back immediately and acted like nothing had ever happened.
My father-in-law told me that I was also to act like nothing had ever happened, and that this was forgiveness. That directive destroyed any remaining feelings I had for either of them.
I have made peace with this, but the respect I used to have for them is gone. They want it all to be puppy dogs and rainbows again, but I am not capable of that.
I am polite, I go to family gatherings, but it feels like a chore. My husband tells me he understands (he is disappointed, too), but I know he would like me to be friendlier. I just can’t.
I would feel best not having to be around them at all, but we want our kids to see their grandparents.
What would you recommend?
Dear Unforgiving?: People can be stupid, unethical, dishonest, and hurtful. In a long marriage, partners sometimes betray one another, and demonstrate that they are flawed partners and parents.
Because of your personal history, you set great store on your in-laws to be the perfect parents that you never had. Unfortunately, they turned out to be the imperfect parents that many of us have.
Among the mistakes they made were to involve their son as a go-between in their marriage. They also seem to be insisting that you erase your memory bank and carry on as if this family drama had never happened.
Ideally, because they involved you in the problem, they would also involve you in the solution by telling you: “We are working out our problems within the marriage. We hope that you will hang in there with us while we do that.”
The way for you to recover from this is not to drink a cup of “instant forgiveness,” but to explore your own capacity for forgiveness. As ever, true forgiveness would benefit you more than them.
I think it is natural and normal — and shows good judgment — to go through a period of deep skepticism while you do that, but your goal should be to arrive at a nuanced and mature understanding.
Dear Amy: After a Little League baseball game, my wife and I took our daughter’s family of five to a new mid-scale restaurant for lunch. With three pre-teens, we were understandably seated in a larger adjoining room.
After we ordered, three dads with a total of five pre-teen boys were seated nearby. The dads sat at one table, and the boys at another. Immediately the boys became very animated, screaming and laughing continuously.
We glanced at the parents and boys several times, with no resulting effort by the parents to quiet their boys.
Our server apologized, but did not make any effort to quiet the boys.
Near the end of our meal, the manager offered to move us into the bar section, but it was too late.
I gave the server a generous tip, but the server and manager should have done more to make our dining enjoyable.
What was our best option?
Dear Distressed: Your server does not have the authority to shush a neighboring table. I imagine the manager is also reluctant to discipline a table crowded with young patrons when their parents are right there; this is why you were offered the option to move.
Instead of trying to control the situation with glances, you could have approached these fathers and said, dad-to-dad: “I know your boys are having a great time, but would you mind asking them to lower the volume? We’re having trouble hearing each other.” A thoughtful parent would then take up the task and ask the boys to pipe down.
Dear Amy: You provided a fun and thoughtful answer to “Not From Wales,” who objected to her husband speaking in Welsh to family members on the phone.
You missed an important point, however: He was talking on the phone. She was eavesdropping. He could talk in Martian if he wanted; it’s his conversation!
Not from Mars
Dear Mars: Great point.
You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.