Dear Life Matters,
I am hosting a rather large holiday dinner with both friends and family invited. This is a tradition and it has always been very nice and a lot of fun.
But this year is a little different because one of my husband’s sisters has had a very bad marital situation this past year. Her husband left her and it turned out he cheated on her. She was devastated, but from what we can tell she is considering taking him back and there may be some reconciliation. They have been married a number of years and, quite frankly, this has come as a shock to everyone in the family. Their eldest daughter, who is still young and most would agree immature, is no longer speaking to him.
Truthfully, we do not know what is going on. We do not know if they are back together or not, if they are trying to make it work and certainly do not know what the family members, especially the eldest daughter, are thinking and feeling.
We have invited them to come to our dinner, but have not heard back from them. We really do not know what to think or how to act if they do come? How should we act if they come? How do we handle the tension between the father and daughter?
I don’t feel like I can hide my negative feelings toward him and I find myself wanting to ask questions. What should I do? How should we act? Should we not invite them?
I can see and understand your dilemma, but I think we should consider all of the possibilities before drawing any conclusions.
When someone in the family has had an affair and there’s a lot of tension, holiday get-togethers can be very awkward indeed.
You said that you already invited them, but they haven’t responded. I do not see how you can now disinvite them. If you did, that would definitely bring bad blood between you. If they have not answered, there is a very good chance that they are thinking about all of the same things that you are and my hunch is that they will back out gracefully this year. They probably don’t want to air their dirty laundry in front of all of you, and even if they said nothing, it sounds like they are in a very raw state that would make things obvious and tense for them and the rest of you.
That being said, they probably will skip this year and all of your worry will have been for not.
If they do come, it will probably be because they have worked things out to some degree and are feeling more comfortable.
It’s my opinion that you should just play host and treat them like everyone else. Do your best to make them feel comfortable. This will benefit you and them and everyone else there, whether the others know the situation or not.
As host, it’s your job to help everyone feel at ease and enjoy themselves.
I can understand your feelings, but I think you need to put them aside while hosting your holiday party. Just act the same as you do every other year.
Definitely do not ask questions; this is not the time or place for it. Also, it may not really be your business. Often we get involved in situations like this when, truthfully, it should be left up to the people directly involved to work out. We all need to be careful about getting drawn into these situations because the people involved often will try to get us on one side or the other and we may only be hearing part or half of the story.
It is usually the most vocal and seemingly wounded who will pull us in and, unfortunately, many of us think in terms of the heavy (bad one) and the victim. However, relationships usually do not work this way; it takes two to tango! More often than not we are not getting the entire picture so it truly is best to stay one step removed. We can be supportive while keeping an appropriate boundary.
One of the worst things you can do is invite one and not the other or bad mouth the other, only for them to end up back together and then you end up being the bad one or, at the very least, in a pretty awkward position.
I suggest you have a relaxing and fun holiday party and let the powers that be take care of your in-laws. Just be a good host and tend to yourself and your guests.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org