Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Husband Thinks His Family is Worth More than Mine”

Much money 07

My husband and I have recently started saving for a home (we currently live in an apartment) which means we’re now clamping down on our budget. While we were able to agree on most things, there is one area where we definitely do not see eye to eye. I had suggested that we set a “per family member” amount to spend on birthday gifts for immediate family (e.g. $40-60 per person). Anything spent above that amount would need to come out of our personal “fun money” stash (we each give ourselves $150 per paycheck). He, however, thinks it’s fair to set a “per family” amount, to be distributed evenly over the members of that family. There is one problem with this: I have four siblings, and he only has one. With this arrangement, each of my siblings would get a $20 gift, while his brother would get an $80 gift.

My husband heatedly argued that it’s not fair that I “get to spend so much more of our money” on my family. But in my mind, now that we are married we both share one big combined family. And by using his arrangement we are saying his brother is worth more and deserves nicer gifts than my siblings. On a side note, I actually constantly get the feeling from him that my family members as well as my friends aren’t ever as good or as important as his. He always has something negative to say about each of them, and, while one of his friends can drop by and spend the night on our couch without it ever being mentioned to me, it can turn into a huge heated debate if I even ask to have one of my friends over. It’s really starting to hurt my feelings and my self-esteem.

Am I out of line here? Is it selfish to want to spend the same amount on each of my siblings as he does on his, when I have four times as many? Or is he being unfair by segregating our families like this? Help! — Our Families Our Worth the Same

Nope, you’re not out of line. Your husband is being unreasonable here. You’re right that, once you’re married, you combine families. His family becomes yours and vice versa. To continue segregating your families of origin, even in the symbolic gesture of allotting gift budgets “per family” instead of “per family member,” you send a statement that you, as a married couple, are segregated. And where do you draw the line with the family segregation? Sure, it’s just a gift budget you’re talking about here, but gifts aren’t the only financial (and time) obligation that might pop up in terms of your families (and friends) over the course of your married life together.

Do you have a budget for how much money you’ll spend traveling to see each of your separate families (and friends)? Do you budget your time with each of them? What if, God forbid, something were to happen to one of your immediate family members that put him or her in a position of requiring physical or financial support (like a loan to pay off a big medical bill, for example)? Is there a cap on how much support you give one spouse’s family before you have to make sure you are investing the same kind of support in the other spouse’s family even if the need isn’t the same?

Throw in your comment about your husband always having something negative to say about your family members and friends and the fact that any time you want to invite a friend over it turns into a “heated debate,” and this becomes much, much more than just budgeting for gifts. Your husband is not treating you — and the each of people you are closest with — as an equal. He sees your circle of support as separate from his inner circle and, more troublesome, he believes his family and friends are worth more. Does that mean he thinks HE is worth more, too, then? One might surmise so.

I would recommend using this budget disagreement — and the more general decision to save for a house — as an opportunity to have some discussions about the state of your relationship and some of these issues that bother you. It wouldn’t hurt to seek the guidance of a marriage counselor to help nip in the bud these problems that could potentially grow larger than either of you can manage and that threaten to cause real and lasting damage to both your marriage and, as you said, your self-esteem. As I said, this is about more than just making a gift budget for family. I hope, despite disagreeing on that particular point, that you can at least both agree that your marriage is every bit as worth investing in and sacrificing for as a new house.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

45 comments… add one
  • Raccoon eyes

    Raccoon eyes April 14, 2015, 8:13 am

    WWS.
    *****
    LW, your husband sounds like an inconsiderate d*ck. I really want to say something more helpful and non-name-call-y than that, but that is what it really boils down to. I read this over twice, thinking that maybe I was missing something. But truly, how can a person rationalize the per-family-present rule when there is such a disparity in the numbers? Im at a loss. Combined with his disparate treatment of your friends v. his friends and that a friend of yours coming over (not even crashing on the couch it seems) becomes a “heated debate,” this sounds like it is creeping into emotional abuse. Im no expert, but just my two cents here. Wendy is absolutely right- time to get to a therapist/counselor of some kind (maybe agree to use your fun money if it comes down to it, bc you need it for your own sanity) like, yesterday.

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    • Lianne

      Lianne April 14, 2015, 8:37 am

      I couldn’t agree more. The situation in this letter made me irrationally angry. My husband treats my friends no different – if not better! – than his own friends. He is a gracious host and always welcomes all guests into our home. If he is acting that way with “his people” but not yours, that is just deplorable.

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      • Lianne

        Lianne April 14, 2015, 8:37 am

        By “he” in my last sentence, I mean your husband, in case that wasn’t clear 🙂

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      • avatar

        ktfran April 14, 2015, 8:48 am

        Ha. This letter made me irrationally angry for the LW too. Good call.

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      • avatar

        Kate April 14, 2015, 8:55 am

        I’m irrationally angry at the LW for marrying this man, knowing he’s this kind of human being. And also for wearing such blinders to reality that she believes THIS issue is the problem.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom April 14, 2015, 9:37 am

        I’m not irrationally angry but I do think she should have seen some signs of this before the marriage and ignored them. Maybe he hid this kind of behavior at that time or maybe they each bought gifts out of their own funds before marriage but I’d think the attitude about friends would have been there all along.

        Don’t ignore the red flags unless you love an unhappy marriage or divorce.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom April 14, 2015, 8:22 am

    Definitely seek counseling. You can’t have an imbalance in marriage where one person and their family and friends are more important and welcome than the other persons family and friends, unless there is a problem created by those family or friends. It doesn’t sound like your family or friends cause any problems so they should be as welcome as his family and friends. If he wants to limit your friends maybe you could agree on the number of times per month you may each have a friend over. Having a friend stay overnight should count as two days because they are there over two days.

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  • avatar

    Kate April 14, 2015, 8:41 am

    Doomed.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom April 14, 2015, 8:49 am

      I agree. I don’t see much long term hope for this marriage. I hope they don’t have kids, if they want them, until they resolve this in a way that makes them both happy.

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    • veritek33

      veritek33 April 14, 2015, 9:07 am

      I like that you changed to the bitmoji that most looks like you

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      • avatar

        Kate April 14, 2015, 9:16 am

        Yes, I resemble that bitmoji at all times, not just when I read letters like this.

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      • Cassie

        Cassie April 14, 2015, 5:42 pm

        I was going to comment on it, too. It’s very fitting for DW.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph April 14, 2015, 8:44 am

    Your husband is definitely selfish and maybe bordering on abuser territory (trying to separate you from your friends and family are big red flags),
    You are absolutely right that it’s all one family now and so one set of siblings should not be prioritized over the other. Like Wendy, I do wonder if there are other family related expenses that come up that he may be factoring in. Like if your family lives on the other side of the country and his lives around the corner, maybe in his head he’s chalking the disparity up to the extra cost to travel to see them? I am just wondering if there’s more to the story; birthdays are hardly the only time money and family intersect.

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    • avatar

      judge sheryl April 14, 2015, 9:49 am

      I think jumping to abuser is a bit far fetched. As long as he isn’t preventing her from seeing family or friends, acting like a jerk doesn’t mean he is abusive.

      He is entitled to not like all the LW friends and family, but needs to accept they are part of her life. Also, I think Wendy is spot on this isn’t just about the budget… If LW has 4 siblings, that might mean a lot more family time than the husband is used to, so maybe this is backlash?

      Def suggest counseling before resentment builds on both sides.

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      • Stonegypsy

        Stonegypsy April 14, 2015, 10:16 am

        I agree that rounding this up to abuse is a little far. However, I feel like a lot of the people on this site have been in emotionally abusive relationships, so any sign of trying to cut someone off from friends (such as fighting about letting them come over) sets off alarm bells for us.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph April 14, 2015, 10:48 am

        Yeah I was in a relationship with a lot of these same issues, and I didn’t really see it as abusive until after I left. I’m not saying he’s definitely abusive, or that he’s going to escalate that way, but separating you from your friends and always prioritizing his family over yours are definitely red flags for abuse. I am not trying to fearmonger, but simply to point out that these things are not ok and that she should have a heightened awareness for other similar flags.
        I don’t know about the rest of their relationship and tried to give the husband benefit of the doubt that maybe things seem skewed toward his family because they take different things into account when adding it up. But I still think its worth saying “this reads like emotional abuse” in hopes that she looks very seriously at the relationship as a whole and maybe sees that it is.

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  • avatar

    csp April 14, 2015, 8:46 am

    LW, I think there is a middle ground here. So, I think you guys need to get over the even thing. I would be careful in general about budgets because it makes you pick corners in your relationship rather than work as a team. I know when my husband and I first got married, he was spending crazy amounts of money on his god children. We had to have a tough conversation about how the gifts fit within our goals. We have the same issue with him having one single sister and I have two married siblings. Also, you have to see what is the family norm. If the brother is spending a bunch on him, then you need to reciprocate to some degree. Why not compromise with spending a little more on his sibling. Maybe not eighty but 45 on his brother and 30 for each of your siblings. We do end up spending more on my husband’s sister and I think it works better.

    One other thought, My siblings and I had a conversation once where we banned gifts to each other unless they were amazingly perfect. It has saved us the issue of buying useless things for each other. Or we decided to make our Christmas gifts one year. Everyone was relieved to have that burden removed. We all try to get together for dinner instead because we realized that time together was better than a scarf.

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    • avatar

      ktfran April 14, 2015, 8:54 am

      You do bring up a good point about what the norm is within the family. I don’t even care to know how much my sisters spend on their husband’s families. What I do prefer is that within our own family, we spend close to the same amount… within reason.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom April 14, 2015, 9:21 am

        We spend more on gifts for my husband’s family because they spend more on gifts than my family does. It would be awkward if we gave much more expensive gifts to my family than the rest of the family is giving and it would be awkward if we gave much cheaper gifts to his family than the rest of his family gives.

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      • avatar

        Anonymous April 14, 2015, 10:05 am

        Yes this is what we do too! Makes the most sense

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      • avatar

        ktfran April 14, 2015, 10:17 am

        Exactly… so, if LW’s brother in law is giving them $80 plus dollar gifts, I can totally see spending that much on him. If her family is only spending, let’s say $30 or so on gifts, that’s approximately what should be returned, in my opinion. Now, if there is no huge, glaring disparity between what the families spend, then all should be more equal. Or, set a spending limit within respective families too.

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      • avatar

        csp April 14, 2015, 10:28 am

        Right, but also, I have found in large families, people roll back the presents. Like my mom is one of five kids and they had 19 children. It got ridiculous after awhile so people started saying, why not don’t we pick names from a basket. Honestly, my brother is saving for a house and my sister is in grad school. I think it is ok to talk to the family about scaling back as well.

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      • avatar

        ktfran April 14, 2015, 11:49 am

        YES! We do that with our extended families. For my immediate family, we all buy gifts still… However, if my other sister starts having kids, I might personally have to scale back gifts because it would be like their 7 or 8 (between the two siblings, husbands and nieces/nephews) to my one. But right now, I’m ok with the status quo.

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      • avatar

        RedRoverRedRover April 15, 2015, 7:07 am

        Wait, so you have 18 siblings? Holy crap!

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph April 14, 2015, 9:16 am

      If this were just about the birthday gifts, then I would agree 100%. But the whole thing with not wanting her friends around but letting his spend the night without notice– it’s bigger than birthday presents.

      That said, I think that the LW and her husband are extremely focused on fairness and reciprocity and your point is a good one– it’s just impossible for things to be 100% equal all the time.

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      • avatar

        csp April 14, 2015, 9:56 am

        This is exactly what I was trying to get at. It seems like the whole equal thing is too much. I feel like they need to get on the same team. Like make a goal to save as much as possible rather than focusing on who spends what.

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  • avatar

    tbrucemom April 14, 2015, 8:48 am

    I don’t really have a problem with the budget part. I could see saying let’s budget X amount for your family and X amount for mine or even budget X amount TOTAL for gifts since they’re buying a house. Some people set more value on gifts than others. The part about treating family and friends differently in other areas though is disconcerting and she should definitely get that straightened out BEFORE buying a house.

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  • avatar

    tbrucemom April 14, 2015, 8:48 am

    I don’t really have a problem with the budget part. I could see saying let’s budget X amount for your family and X amount for mine or even budget X amount TOTAL for gifts since they’re buying a house. Some people set more value on gifts than others. The part about treating family and friends differently in other areas though is disconcerting and she should definitely get that straightened out BEFORE buying a house.

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    • avatar

      ArtsyGirl April 14, 2015, 9:02 am

      I could almost agree with you if the math was more balanced. The difference between one sibling and four is huge. If he was really trying to be budget friendly, he could have suggested homemade presents. Splitting a set amount amongst two different sized families suggests favoritism.

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  • Lyra

    Lyra April 14, 2015, 8:53 am

    Oooo this isn’t good. 🙁 The money for gifts seems to be the symptom of a MUCH bigger problem. He seems to have a problem with your friends and your family…meanwhile he can just do whatever with HIS friends and HIS family. He seems to think of your friends and family as almost “lesser” than his…a big big BIG problem. The fact that he is very obviously saying so many negative things about them is so very wrong. At the very MINIMUM he needs to accept and respect your friends and family, simply because they are important to you. He’s not even trying to do that. I would honestly consider if you even want to stay married to him. That’s probably a hard pill to swallow, but him being so blatantly disrespectful of the people in your life won’t ever go away completely.

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  • avatar

    ArtsyGirl April 14, 2015, 8:57 am

    My husband and I have six nieces and nephews and ten adults in our immediate family (not counting us) so you can imagine holidays are expensive. That being said, we have a set amount to spend per person. We do not distinguish between his family and mine. Even more, I am shocked that when you pointed out the discrepancy of giving your siblings a $20 present while his brother gets $80 that he did not see reason; suggesting an unwillingness to compromise. It sounds like he is a really selfish person and I would put the breaks on buying a house or making any other large financial decisions until you work this out because it is not going to go away and is likely indicative of bigger problems.

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  • Stonegypsy

    Stonegypsy April 14, 2015, 9:03 am

    LW, that total lack of respect that he has for your friends and family (seriously, it being alright for his friends to come over without warning you, but you even asking to have yours being a fight is really a big big problem)? That boils down to a pretty basic lack of respect for you.
    Get thee to a marriage counselor

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  • veritek33

    veritek33 April 14, 2015, 9:15 am

    The fact that he doesn’t seem to embrace your family or friends is concerning. I dated an emotional abuser that always pointed out how much better his friends were (i have no siblings so his were automatically better). And it started innocently enough, but by the end he was openly criticizing my family, their lower income based on his family, my friends, my friend’s appearance (saying one of my best friends was ugly and dumb), calling my father lazy for having been laid off for two years, etc.
    *
    I’m not saying your husband is going to do this, but I see this as a slippery slope and I think that it needs to be nipped in the bud, and marriage counseling seems like a good start. I’d also caution you against starting a family with this person until these issues are resolved. It sounds like he could become very controlling.

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  • mylaray

    mylaray April 14, 2015, 9:28 am

    This isn’t good at all. I don’t have a good relationship with my family at all and my husband would still never say that his family is worth more. Separating you from your friends and family is never a good sign. I think this is deeper than you realize and I think a counselor could help mediate between the two of you, but I don’t think this bodes well.
    .
    This kind of thing played out with my parents’ relationship with my dad always treating his family as more important, etc. And while it may have seemed innocent at first, it got much worse because ultimately there was a complete lack of respect.

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  • sobriquet

    sobriquet April 14, 2015, 10:33 am

    To address the gift budget thing, I actually don’t think he’s out of line. The LW is not happy with it and so a compromise needs to be made, but I can understand where the husband is coming from. I have a small family and my husband has a very large family. The benefit of a small family is that there’s more attention and, well, money, to spend on individual members. I love my husband’s family, but if we tried to evenly disperse gifts across the board, everyone would end up with a $5 gift. I just wouldn’t feel right about accepting a $100 gift from my brother in return. So my husband and I talked a long time ago about gift budgets and decided that we would do it by family unless we can afford more. I’m used to spending more on my family (and receiving more) and he’s used to spending/receiving less on/from his. We just decided to keep the dynamic the same. We spend an equal amount on our parents, though.

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    • sobriquet

      sobriquet April 14, 2015, 11:23 am

      ALSO, I think it’s completely unfair to think that if you spend more money on certain family members, they are somehow “worth” more to you. I think that kind of mindset can cause a lot of unnecessary grief and set you up for a lot of inevitable disappointment. I know some grown adults who still keep tabs on the money dispersed from their parents to their other siblings and I think it’s sad! I suspect that my mom has given my oldest brother more money over the years, but how can I get upset over that whenever she’s given me more than I have ever needed? Who cares if the numbers don’t perfectly even out? Just because she bought my brother a new laptop does not mean that I am suddenly owed a laptop or something of equal value. I’m not 4 years old.
      .
      Going back to my original point, my husband and I focus a lot more of our attention on his side of the family than on mine. We speak with them on a weekly basis, they are constantly communicating with us on Facebook, and his stepdad even texts us on a nightly basis. Meanwhile, I don’t really know what’s going on in the day-to-day with my family. It’s not because we like my husband’s family more, it’s just a different dynamic.

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      • Stonegypsy

        Stonegypsy April 14, 2015, 11:32 am

        And even if you were four years old – ‘not everything has to be exactly equal to be fair, and life isn’t always fair anyway’ is a good life lesson for anyone.

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        Sunshine Brite April 14, 2015, 3:45 pm

        Agreed, my family is bigger on presents than my husband’s and even among the nieces and nephews mine are still little kids and get a bigger kick out of presents so we spend more on them (like an outfit each & $25 gift card to their fave restaurants per sibling group so total like $100 for Christmas and birthdays combo)

        Except, this is a bigger symptom of the different dynamics because she dislikes it vs just seeing it as being different.

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  • avatar

    K April 14, 2015, 10:42 am

    That’s really ridiculous. I’m an only child and my boyfriend has 3 siblings. If I was using your husband’s logic I’d say since I don’t have any siblings to spend money on, my boyfriend shouldn’t spend any money on his siblings either.

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  • chief10

    chief10 April 14, 2015, 11:18 am

    My wife and I buy separately for our families, but we run into almost a reverse issue on her side of the family. She has 3 siblings, one of which is married. When it comes time to buying a present for one of their parents they want to split it six ways, counting myself and her brothers wife as separate individuals in the equation. So we have to pay for more of the present than the other two unmarried siblings?

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    • avatar

      jlyfsh April 14, 2015, 11:26 am

      Yeah, that’s crazy. It should be split by number of siblings, married or not. Unless it’s something where you’re splitting a room or house, etc, we always count a couple as a unit rather than individuals.

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  • Stonegypsy

    Stonegypsy April 14, 2015, 11:50 am

    Also, LW, I really want to know what made you want to marry someone who always has something negative to say about all the people you love. Seriously? If someone I was in a relationship with started bagging on all my friends and family, it’d be a short relationship.

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  • something random

    something random April 14, 2015, 4:59 pm

    The problem here is the perceived attitude of the husband more than actual gift limit. I come from a large family and my husband only has one sibling (and no parents). The truth is that my side takes up a lot more of our time then his does. My side takes up a lot more money, too. There are way more visits, showers, babies, etc. Its pretty much inevitable and certainly unfair. I’m lucky my husband is mature enough to understand my position. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get frustrated when things seem out of balance. I have found when I listen to him and take his point of view to heart, he is more than generous in approaching a comprise.

    It seems there is already an issue coming out in this marriage. To the husband this conversation is about a budget and figuring out what is fair in that regard. Adopting a view that the families are all combined after marriage is a common belief but perhaps the husband doesn’t feel that way yet (and truthfully most of us in the beginning are not as close to our in laws as our family of origin).

    To the letter writer this about a bigger issue. She doesn’t feel her relationships with her family and friends are respected and supported. Unfortunately, this is difficult to bring up with someone who is forcefully arguing about a budget. Such a person is in defense mode. Sharing her feelings might not come across as seeking comfort, validation, and resolution for a general relationship issue.

    I completely agree with Wendy about getting a marriage counselor involved. One partner should not be feeling “selfish” for trying to discuss and agree on family spending in a budget. Nor should she be feeling resentful and interrogated when she brings friends and family over.

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  • Nadia

    Prof. Stella April 14, 2015, 6:10 pm

    The LW’s husband sounds exactly like my ex-husband. To him, my family and friends were “lame,” and he’d resent it when I spent too much time with them. Family wasn’t the only issue though, and the relationship bordered on emotional abuse (e.g., he called me names, he demanded to know what I talked about with a friend if I hung out with her alone). As other readers have pointed out, this situation may be symptomatic of a much larger problem. I strongly urge the LW not only to seek counseling, but also to examine the “big picture” of her situation and whether she feels generally disrespected. I was married for 7 years (starting when I was 22), have been divorced for almost 4, and am so relieved not to have those issues in my current relationship.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark April 15, 2015, 10:15 am

    I think many of you are way off track here. Things are often different between families… Look, in mine — it’s much more in line of you give what you expect to get in return from each person. Think quid pro quo. My sister and I enjoy gift exchanges (birthday and christmas) that roughly tally the same amount. I don’t think her husband and his siblings do any gifts as they aren’t close…

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