Posted by fxckfeelings on June 23, 2014Share This Post
Of all the instinctual emotions the deserve to be second guessed—i.e., lust, hunger, blind cooperation with the statement, “holy shit, this milk must be a decade old, smell it!”—fear deserves the most examination and contemplation before fully giving in. That’s because sometimes we feel very threatened when we’re actually stronger than we think, and sometimes the threat is, indeed, immense, but we’ve done much more to fight it than we recognize. Whenever you’re threatened, don’t let anxiety tell you that you’re helpless and have done nothing worthwhile. Assess your actual options and accomplishments before you let anxiety control your choices or self-respect. In other words, think before you jump (or get a nose-full of bad dairy).
I’m afraid my father-in-law is going to destroy my marriage. He gets insulted over nothing, and holds grudges forever, so spending time with him is torture. My wife has no trouble admitting her father is like that, and while she doesn’t exactly take his side, she wants to maintain some kind of relationship with him. I want to keep him away from our home and kids completely because he makes me very nervous—it’s already hard enough to take care of them while also trying to manage my business—but she won’t cut him off. My goal is to protect my family without letting him break up my marriage.
Your father-in-law sounds like the kind of Asshole™ who would make anyone nervous; very quick to anger, slower to get over it, and never to stop blaming are the ultimate Asshole™ trifecta.
It’s understandable that he makes you so nervous and uncomfortable that your first instinct is to ban him from your house (or, ideally, shoot him into outer space), but your first instinct isn’t always your logical best choice.
After all, actively barring him is probably not necessary, and will certainly cause conflict with your wife. Your job then is to protect your family, not just from nasty intruding fathers-in-law, but from marital troubles, so weigh your moves carefully before declaring him persona non grata.
Fortunately, your position is strong, probably stronger than you think. Your wife doesn’t side with her father, she just wants to see him from time to time because she feels an obligation to family (which speaks well of her, by the way). Not to worry, however, because if your in-law really is a master grudge-bearer, then he’ll probably reduce the amount of time he spends with or talks to you without you having to lift a finger. So don’t panic and play into his hands by doing the one thing your wife can’t accept, which is shutting him out entirely.
Instead, think carefully about the worst thing he could do and how you would handle it. He could get offended and offensive, but then he’d leave and not talk to you for a year, so that problem would take care of itself. He could yell at you in front of the kids, but then you’d take the kids out of the room, ask him to leave, and site any future meetings elsewhere, so you could end them at will. As a father, you’ve got a large say in how you and the kids spend your time.
Perhaps his only power is his ability to frighten you, so remind yourself of his unbalanced bark-to-bite ratio. In every other way, you have the resources to limit bad behavior, if it occurs, and your wife is on your side as long as you don’t ask her to disown him. You and your wife are in no way dependent on him and you have your own financial resources.
Unless there’s a risk here that you haven’t mentioned, accept the burden of a little in-law pain and decide how much of your father-in-law’s company your family can endure. Know what you’ll do if he becomes loud or offensive; the better prepared you are, the less scary and intimidating he’ll become.
Then take advantage of the opportunity to disregard your anxiety and use your considerable leverage to manage in-law visits that you will never allow to get out of hand. The one good thing about some Assholes™ is that, if you’re lucky, you won’t have to make an effort to get rid of them because eventually they’ll shit all over themselves.
“I feel like my father-in-law is a one man home-invasion, but it’s a strong home, my wife shares my views and values, and together we can meet her need for a little regular contact while preventing her father from spreading his particular kind of nastiness and paranoia.”
I work at a homeless shelter, but it’s almost too much for me. Most of the people we take in are basically beyond help, but there aren’t resources for people who could actually use help, anyway. Then I read the news and see the way people treat one another and I’m sorry I brought kids into this world. My wife says I’m a good father and should stop making myself depressed, and she’s right, I am depressed, but I can’t see why everyone isn’t depressed, given the way the world is. My goal is to figure out a way to make the world better without making myself feel even worse.
Being sensitive to the ills of the world can motivate you to be good and charitable, as it has you, but it’s a dangerous and potentially destructive trait if you have tunnel vision about good and bad and forget about the good you do in caring for yourself and your family. The old environmentalist slogan is to act locally and think globally, so before you get crushed by the weight of the world, remember your local achievements, in your own home.
It’s no small challenge to make a living and keep your inner shmuck in check while raising kids and managing a marriage. You never have enough time, money, or energy, and there’s always reason for irritability and resentment against unfair neglect and disrespect. It takes tremendous discipline and strong values to shut your mouth and keep doing what you think is right under the stress of everyday life.
Unfortunately, feeling depressed about your inability to help vulnerable people makes you forget your actual accomplishments. That’s what depressed thoughts do, in general, is make you feel unreasonably self-critical and pessimistic; the more you believe them, the more depressed you get. Never trust a depressed conscience (or a homeless junkie, but you probably know that).
So turn off the TV, tune out the dirge in your head, and snap out of it. With the help of your wife or—if you want to pay more—a therapist, look at what you accomplish every day in terms of the difficulty of living up to your values while making enough money and responding to the shit you get at home and work. Ignore your depressed feelings and judge yourself the way you would a friend; give yourself the respect you deserve.
Don’t stop caring about the innocent of the world or change your values, but remember that your obligation to do good begins with what you actually control; acting locally, through your own actions with those closest to you in your own life. Those actions may not feel good, but they can, in their own way, save the world, even if it’s just your world at home.
“I feel worn out at the end of a long day and seldom feel I’m doing much good in a world that sucks. I know, however, that sensitivity and depression never allow me to feel pride and satisfaction. I will take time to judge myself carefully, relying on facts rather than feelings, and give myself respect for doing good when I deserve it.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname