Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In which I grow up a little right before your very eyes

So. This post is heavy and relationship-ful, and so if you want cranberry sparkles and pumpkin-flavored unicorns, I suggest you try clicking on the sidebar.

Everyone asks how marriage is, and it's great - same as pre-marriage, great. Except with one very hard piece. You're suddenly related to people you don't even know. Whose behavior you might not like. And you have no control over it.

And people, as you know, will defend their families till the end. I can criticize my own parent, but you can't.

The only thing we ever fight about is Nick's family. We are going there for Thanksgiving. And I am ashamed to say that over the last couple months I've behaved very, very badly about it.

Every time the topic arose, I would voice my dread. Talk about what kind of alcohol should go in the flask. Ask him things like the odds of his mom being nice to me this time.

Mean, spiteful, mean, mean, mean things to say about the family of the person you love so dearly and to whom you have committed your life.

The truth is, his mother said some very unkind things in public the weekend of our wedding. To my mother and to Nick. And like a dog, this got my hackles so far up.

What started as a tiny black drop of rage developed, over weeks and retellings, into a large, mottled, festering ball of loathing. It stopped being about her and what actually happened and started being about me and my anger. Not to pull in Star Wars, but if you have ever gotten into a cycle like this, you can see how easy it is to get on the Darth Vader, soul-eating track.

Nick's explanation to me was, she didn't mean the things she said in the way you took them. You need to understand what my mother is like.

And my reaction was, no, I refuse to understand bad behavior. I have dealt with a lot of bad behavior in my life, and I'm not taking any more, least of all from someone not actually related to me. She needs to be told that her behavior is not OK. She simply cannot treat people like that.

I said a lot more than that, and almost always in moments of anger. So it wasn't necessarily put constructively.

But I would go out for a run and envision getting into a fight with his mother at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I would picture, word for word, what she'd say, how she'd say it, and how I would stand up and tell her off, and stomp out the door. . .

My scenario would, of course, end there, because carless, I'd be stuck on the doorstep. Anticlimactic, I know.

But you get the idea. I'd end my run with an excess of adrenaline. I'd built up gobs of green bile and piles of purple vitriol. I'd return breathing hard and snorting flames. Were it tangible, I could've knit an enormous, flaming red (and green and purple flecked) afghan with my rage.

Behavior like this gets you. . .nowhere but into a bad place in you relationship. You feel like an asshole, because you are behaving like one.

And Nick, sometimes he would get really, really angry. And sometimes he would remain calm, and just ask me to see it from his perspective. Ask me to keep an open mind.

I would vow to him and to myself to try. . .and I would fail.

My husband, who to my face defended his family, but is a bigger, more constructive person than I, he spoke to his father. Who spoke to his mother. Who was surprised that I had taken things in the way I did - as Nick said, she hadn't intended anything unkind - but agreed to treat me nicely when we're up there this Thanksgiving.

I am hopeful. The best any of us can do is try. She will try and I will try. And the hardest thing to do is change family patterns. I know this as a deep, intense fact.

Thanksgiving is upon us.

And I have to say, I am so incredibly thankful for Nick who, even though he can get extremely mad at me, loves me and never questions his commitment to me. I know I can be hugely difficult, and when angered, head for the jugular. I'm smart enough to be really, sharply damaging. And I'm dumb enough to occasionally go ahead and let fly with it.

Our two months of marriage have been a huge growing up period for me. This old, and I still have so much growing to do.

Thank you, Nick, for having the patience to stretch and teach and grow with me. And thank you all for reading, and for sticking with me through all of, well, all of my everythings.

Big happy Thanksgiving hugs to all of you. Unless you don't celebrate Thanksgiving. In which case I wish you big late-November hugs.


  1. "I'm smart enough to be really, sharply damaging. And I'm dumb enough to occasionally go ahead and let fly with it."

    That is absolutely beautifully put. And I relate to it completely. I hope your Thankgiving is at least uneventful and at most, a very happy day!

  2. Are we sharing a boat here?

    The daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship is tricky, and I've been in your exact spot. My mother-in-law really didn't like me while we were dating--constantly saying nasty things about me behind my back, and even going so far once to drive to my parents house and tell them off for raising such a horrible girl who was ruining her son's life. To which I felt as you did--only I can criticize my parents.

    John has been downright saintly over the years with my complaining, but what I can tell you is this: It will (most likely) work itself out. Eventually (hopefully) she will come to realize how happy you make Nick, and that will count for more than anything else.

    Give it time, and give it patience, and grind your teeth and mutter imprecations under your breath, but try not to make the situation any worse than it is. It takes two people to make it better, even if only one person started it.

    Good luck!!!! And many hugs!

  3. You are not alone! Luckily we cut off ties with my in-laws after several confrontations, especially surrounding our wedding...I'll leave you with this: My MIL (without telling me) returned the dress we picked out together and wore a WHITE dress to our wedding. A white dress that looked a LOT like mine. I can normally top anyone's MIL story with some of the things this woman has done in the last 7 years I have known her, so if you ever want to feel better just let me know! :-)

    Happy Thanksgiving, may there be lots of wine to get you through!

  4. Cheryl - Thank you. I appreciate that. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Sarah - Thanks for the very constructive advice. I will really try to follow it. You are right, it takes two to make things better. Hugs to you!

    Katie - That is a lot of weird, competitive behavior to contend with. Wow. Happy Thanksgiving to you! Wine is a nice product! :)

  5. I, too, can related to the smart/stupid thing. For a very long time, that resulted in me choosing to keep my mouth shut about everything, which wasn't good, either.

    So we get better at expressing it the right way, over time. But it's good that you did, and it's wonderful that Nick was able to listen and figure out a way to make the holiday warm and pie-filled for everyone. Yay to both of you!

  6. My MIL would snipe too, especially easy as I'm not the same nationality as my husband and have different family customs and traditions.

    I got around it by asking her advice on things even if I didn't take it or really need it. MIL just needed to be needed, it took a while a lot of tongue biting, feigning interest and awkward girl time but it was worth it in the end to no longer be the unsuitable son thief.

    Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving to you both

  7. Happy Thanksgiving Lisa, Nick and both your families!

    Merging of families is difficult and you're right, perhpas the most difficult adjustment in marriage. I had a break-through dealing with in-laws while exchanging heated words with Luke and blurting "My family is normal!".

    My family is as dysfunctional, yet loving, as the next family but normal to me. I still think Luke's family is crazy. But I see how HE doesn't :)

  8. wow, lisa, much luck to you in getting through the holiday as harmoniously as possible! it is incredibly tricky, especially once you've felt hurt, to let go of it. kudos to you for trying, it's very good of you to do.

    but also, if she does start shit at the dinner table - i say throw down ;) and in other news, i am a poor role model.

  9. Oh, it is hard to love everything that comes with someone, huh? Hey, she raised Nick...a loving, caring man. She cannot be all bad.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. Happy Thanksgiving, Lisa, to you and Nick!

    I'm going to assume that all will go well this weekend.

  11. I've so been there, sister! As I've gotten older, I've started developing rules for my temper (it helps a bit, but not always). One of the rules is that I need to focus on actions more than on words. So... I reserve the fiery hotness of anger for people's actions, and just remain skeptical of their words. Sometimes it works. All the best for a peaceful Thanksgiving.

  12. You're in very good company based on the comments above. My MIL stories are minimal, because I'm half a world away from them and keep phone calls to a minimum. All of my drama came before our marriage and because of her pissing matches with my perfectly saintly mother who has never done anything wrong. (I can't believe I didn't burst into flames after typing that). And still there are things that she says that TRULY offend me, and he shrugs off because she is his mom. Frankly, I know my family is just as crazy as his--if not multiple times worse--and we try to live with as little thought to their crazy-talk as possible. It isn't easy and yes you will probably fight over them; but you'll figure out how to separate them from your marriage.

    Until then, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope it is a peaceful and uneventful one for you.

  13. Good luck! And hope Thanksgiving with you in-laws doesn't meet your horrible expectations :)

  14. Jessica - Boy, the smart/stupid thing is really, really hard. It takes a lot of self-restraint. And yes, it takes time and learning to figure out how to express it in the right way...

    Rio - That seems like a very good idea. I will try that. I don't know if I'll manage this time, but perhaps next. Happy Thanksgiving!

    HKW - Happy Thanksgiving to you and Luke and yours! I know my family is far from normal, but both my parents are consistently interested in and nice to us - and that's what I would like from his side. Or at least the nice part.

    kate.d. - You are right. And especially once someone has hurt my mom...letting go for me is very hard. Hopefully not impossible. And me, I suck as a role model, so I'm in the lineup right next to you.

    Lemmonex - You make a good point, as he truly is lovely. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

    DCup - Me, too! All the best to you and yours!

    Dr. Bad Ass - That makes sense. As I am all about words, I get very caught up in them. I will try to focus more on actions and see if that pans out better.

    Girl With Curious Hair - You bring up something very true. We all have our kinds of crazy - it's just figuring out what we can live with. I look forward to being able to separate...for now it makes me nutso. I hope your Thanksgiving is a happy one.

    Beach Bum - Thank you! I am hoping for the best! I wish you a great Thanksgiving!

  15. Good luck with the holiday. Until the wedding I fell in the defending-my-(harmless and sweet but BATshit crazy) family camp, but during the wedding planning I became the attacker as I became the doormat for everyone else's demands.

    Family is hard. But so worth it. You and Nick are lucky to have each other as family now.

    Boy, I feel silly talking like this when I really don't know you at all, I just read your blog a lot (and don't even comment most of the time). Or maybe that is the beer. Anyway, good luck! :)

  16. Wow, this all sounds oddly familiar. ;-) Enjoy your Thanksgiving! I can't wait to hear all about it! Good luck!

  17. I know I can be hugely difficult, and when angered, head for the jugular. I'm smart enough to be really, sharply damaging. And I'm dumb enough to occasionally go ahead and let fly with it.

    YES, oh my god, yes. But I am learning to check myself before I wreck... everything around me. And it's the first time I've been inspired to WANT to learn how to do that, how to grow, how to be BETTER and more patient and reasonable. We all have our faults, unmistakably, but I think when you meet someone who makes you want to work on those faults, rather than just clashing until you give up... well, that's just it right there, isn't it?

    Happy Belated Turkey Day, lady!


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