3

I'm in a long distance marriage right now - my husband is American, I am Canadian. He comes to visit me periodically (and I him), and when we do visits here, my family is very insistent that we do some sort of dinner or event or something to all spend time together.

It's somewhat frustrating, as I understand they want to spend some time with him as they don't see him often, but it always has to be on their terms. They like to tell me when and where and how, and it's always to me directly - and if I mention that my husband should get a say/opinion or that I want to check with him, I get told that "this is the way we need to do things because then we can all be together as a family".

The most recent example of this is that we are going to dinner the next time he comes, to a local buffet restaurant. My mom decided when, she decided where, and then told me to pick a time between 1-4pm and to invite everyone like it's my idea.

So I did. I decided 4 pm so things would not be too busy (this place cooks your food in front of you, it can get busy and you have to wait lots if there are lots of people). I made a reservation and everything. I figured then we avoid the rush, it works out. It frustrated me some that it was a demand of when and where (without even asking us if we wanted to do anything, or if we had any plans or anything - I know from past experience if we did have plans, the expectation is that we'd change to accommodate them).

Fast forward to today - my sister asks if we can move it to 5:30 pm - this means it will be right during dinner rush, so we are going to have to wait a lot, it will be very busy and overwhelming. I don't want to move it, but if we don't, her husband can't come. So instead of negotiating or discussing, when I mentioned that I made the reservations and I didn't know if I could move them, there was just a demand that I figure it out because "we are family and we don't get to see him ever".

It's also frustrating because once they get what they want they tend to act overly cheerful and like my frustration doesn't even matter. I never get an apology or anything for the behaviour.

I'm honestly tired of being railroaded - I get that they don't get to see him much, and neither do I. I'd just like all of us to get input - I am tired of them dismissing me when I say I need to see what my husband thinks, I am tired of them deciding when and where and how without concern of what we'd like.

How can I make these lines of communication a bit clearer and more open? Every time I put my foot down, I tend to get told I don't value my family and get guilt trips thrown my way about how they're just trying to make the best of it and get to know him and all of that. It's very frustrating, and it makes me not want to plan things at all, because this kinda sours my desire to actually be around them.

Most of the time, we have a great relationship, but for some reason planning family events just seems to bring out the worst in my family (but my mom especially).

  • is it just one family member that has the most control of this- your sister and your mother? Do the rest of the family members have the same attitude? – ElizB Sep 5 '18 at 23:25
  • @ElizB it's mostly my mother - the generally accepted thing is that she decides it all, tells us where and when, and we do that. – Ash Sep 6 '18 at 0:30
  • being in somewhat similar situation (let say I'm your husband): remind them that your spouse voluntary singed for this family because of you, not because of them. if THEY want to spend time together THEY need to came up with few propositions you and your husband can chose one from. If after that they will want to change something: sorry, that train left the station. – SZCZERZO KŁY Sep 6 '18 at 14:08
  • Have you tried making the plans and refusing to adjust them? For example, it's symmetrical with your situation for your sister's husband to have done whatever it would have taken to get to dinner at 4 or else he's the one not valuing family enough. – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Sep 6 '18 at 18:27
7

Before talking with your mother:

  1. Make a plan with your husband, pick a day or two that might work, and that fits your preferences. Pick 5 places that you, your husband and your mother like to go to.

  2. Sit down and breathe. It's better to compose yourself before going into the fray, and don't assume there will always be one.

  3. Compile a list of all the different thoughts you have and separate the thoughts from facts. If you end up in a fight with your mother, the best thing to do is present the facts without emotion. They can't argue against their own facts.

When you talk with your mother:

Have some scripted responses ready in case she starts insisting you follow her whims just because of her desire to do so. This can help you keep your head and not be led by emotions. This is not easy, I know.

Some examples might look like:

Mother, I understand you would like to do this, but me and husband have plans to relax and spend the day together on that day. Is there a chance we can do it on a day that both me and husband and yourself agree on?

If she refuses

I don't see how me and husband will be happy if you completely take over the planning, and leave me and husband with no say and an obligation to go. If that's the case, I won't have any fun and will be less likely to go. I don't want to miss out on time with you, but you really have to understand that this schedule is not just yours, it's mine and my husband's too. I have limited time with him, and I'm sure you don't want to get in the middle of that. That would be really impolite.

These phrases will let your mother know that it is socially unacceptable to do that, and you will "be less likely to go" as in, you are slightly threatening you don't want to hang out with them, because she is railroading you. In addition, you are implying that she is being invasive in your relationship with your husband, and letting her know firmly it isn't right. Using phrases like "You wouldn't want that, right?" or "You know this isn't right to do, right?" continues to remind her that her own emotion could be getting the better of her, and you're offering reason versus emotion, and a good, civil conversation would be a better way of expressing expectations of each other. If you want more on how to express expectations of each other, maybe check out my answer on this question.

Another option is to create a message for everyone, including your mother, expressing that you have tried again and again to have a say in plans, but keep getting railroaded, and write it in "I/Me" terms, saying how you feel when you are spoken to in this way,. If at least one family member really gets what you're saying, they can realize that your mom is not respecting you, and help you put a stop to your mother's bickering, or at least be another voice of reason and support.

You could offer day and time options, that you and husband listed, perhaps including the one she wants (if it is a day you can/prefer to do), and at a time you prefer, and options of places (that you and husband listed). The hard part here is staying firm on these, and not expressing uncertainty, because she can latch on and wiggle that give-in from you. Do talk over that in detail with your husband, make sure that you both have decided firmly on these.

Making boundaries with anyone will definitely create resistance as they get used to the new idea, and they will have to deal with it in their own way. The important thing to remember here is that it is NOT your fault that they are feeling hurt, you simply have made something clear that you would prefer X over Y, and they aren't used to that. They will learn and heal. Or get mad, guilt trip you. (Hopefully not in this case).

Avoiding guilt trips are difficult to do, and here's an article on some methods to do that: Huffington Post article

From the article, the six major steps to take are:

  1. Don't take it personally
  2. Watch out for the signs
  3. Build up your self esteem
  4. Practice
  5. Stand your ground
  6. Say no

To sum it up, this is a tricky issue- you love and care for your mother, but can't stand being railroaded every time you want a say in what time you have with family and with your husband. Not to mention, your husband is being railroaded completely, and that isn't good. Following those guilt-trip avoidance guidelines will help build your confidence to put your foot down with your mother.

1

No is a complete sentence

It’s OK to be selfish with your yeses. As McKeown notes, you have to make your peace with the fact that saying no might mean trading popularity for respect. It’s unquestionably worth it.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/reganwalsh/2018/02/11/no-is-a-complete-sentence/#558039f456df

An invitation or plea for help is not a summons to appear in court. People who don’t want to attend events to which they are invited have the option of declining. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to attend.” That’s all that is necessary.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-fallible-mind/201204/no-is-complete-sentence

If you go along with saying “yes” to things you don’t really want to do, you are going to need to learn to put the word “no” in your vocabulary. Not only that, but you need to remember that “No” is a complete sentence...

Here is what you need to do when you don’t want to do something: say “No.” That’s no, period, end of story. If you want to say, “No, thank you,” that is acceptable, but don’t add anything else to the sentence.

“No” is the magic word to getting your life back. Just remember that it is a complete sentence, and act accordingly.

http://think-human.com/no-is-a-complete-sentence/

0

Your family is bullying you, and you have to assert yourself for your sake and your husband's sake, and, eventually for your children's sake. You are in a test of wills. Just hang firm, don't explain, don't apologize, at most make minor compromises, and eventually after a lot of drama, they will capitulate.

If the following responses seem too curt and cruel to you, soften them a bit, but get the message across.

When they say

You don't value your family

You say

My husband is the most important member of my family; I value him enormously.

When they say

we are family and we don't get to see him ever.

You say

My husband is the most important member of my family and I don't get to see him nearly as often as I want to. When he is here, we want to be together, and the rest of the family will just have accommodate our schedule.

Another technique that is useful with bullies is to say

This discussion is closed

and hang up or leave.

I am assuming your parents are not old and in poor health; if they are, you need to be more accommodating than this answer advises.

-2

So if the emphasis of your mom is on "we all have to get be together" (and it sounds like you don't object to that part) could she give way on the "where"? So you could say "sure, we'll switch to 5:30pm, let me find a nice place that won't be crowded then". You can even make the point that that way you can all talk without it being too noisy and overwhelming.

If you want to try to "hold your ground" take a look at the book "Emotional Blackmail". It's a bit pop-psych but it really helped me in dealing with my emotionally controlling ex-wife. It helps in seeing patterns of emotional control and gives techniques for changing the dynamics.

  • I had no objections to the place, in fact I want to go there, just the timing. But it's more about always having to do things because she wants to, because of these very strong "we are a family and thus we must" sort of feelings, without consideration of what my husband and I might prefer in terms of any of it. – Ash Sep 6 '18 at 0:32
  • 1
    @Ash well, I can only see two choices: compromise, or hold your ground and have a battle. I'm not sure what option 3 would be. – DaveG Sep 6 '18 at 0:34

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