Sometimes when I get letters from people asking for advice, I know there’s more to the story than what’s been shared, and I try to get more details to help me fill in the picture and give the best guidance I can. I thought you all might like to see an example with this sort of behind-the-scenes exchange that definitely helped crystallize what the problem was…
Once in a great while I open up Facebook because I miss my family and friends, and I end up seeing a picture with him and an ex because someone posted an old family picture. It hurts so much because I’m not talking about just one ex, but three exes. This has caused many arguments and pain, and I sometimes wish I had never met him because of his past. I understand we all have a past, but his doesn’t seem to go away because the exes don’t want to go away. I honestly believe they still have feelings for my husband. My husband says “just stay off Facebook,” but that’s just the social media part. He loves his family and wants to be around them, but his family chooses to invite the exes instead and it doesn’t bother him at all. Please help! — Heartbroken wife
When you say that your husband “loves his family and wants to be around them, but his family chooses to invite the exes instead,” what is it instead of? Are they inviting the exes instead of you?
They invite your husband’s exes to family events, but they don’t invite your husband and you?? And it’s always been like this? Have you ever been invited to a family event? Did your husband’s family come to your wedding?
And your husband has zero explanation for why his family has no interest in you? Is there anything about you – race, religion, where you’re from – that is different from them? Has your husband changed anything in his lifestyle since meeting you?
Was he in a relationship when you two met?
What prompted the anger management class?
Might it be related to why his family doesn’t seem to like you? Nothing you’ve said so far has given any indication why his family doesn’t like you, and yet they like three of his ex-girlfriends, so clearly they can like significant others of his, even when they are close with his exes. It’s YOU that is different here. Something about you or your situation or your boyfriend when he’s with you or something that has happened since he met you is the issue. I’m just trying to get to what that issue is or I don’t know what to tell you or how to advise you. It just feels like part of the story is missing.
When was this and had you met his family yet? If so, had they been nice to you? At what point did you realize there was an issue with his exes?
At this point, the LW stopped replying to my questions and I never heard from her again. I suspect, upon opening the can of worms that she very much did not want to open, she decided she’d had enough and moved on. Of course, it’s easy to look at the details that were uncovered – the domestic dispute, the felony charges, the anger management classes – and suspect that they are connected to why the in-laws want nothing to do with the wife. I’m sure on some level the LW must have known this as well, but she didn’t want to assume any responsibility for her in-laws’ behavior toward her.
Sometimes in cases like these I wonder why the LWs even write in when they clearly don’t want advice – at least not advice that may necessitate changes on their part or extending themselves in some way that might be uncomfortable or exerting effort when they think it’s not their responsibility to make the effort. But then I remember why so many often write in to advice columnists – they want validation that they’re right. They want someone else to say, “Oh, it’s awful how you’ve been wronged! There’s nothing you could have done differently to result in a different/better outcome. These other people are monsters who are jealous of you, and for your well-being you should cut them out of your life.”
I’ve been in therapy for four years now and talking to a therapist is a lot like reaching out to an advice columnist (but on steroids),and of the many things I’ve learned in therapy (and in life), one of the most important is this: Things don’t really get better without some effort and compromise from the person who wants things to improve. So much of therapy is uncomfortable, just as I imagine writing in for advice can be uncomfortable. To make yourself vulnerable to someone’s judgment is hard. It’s natural to want to disguise some of what we think might invite the harshest judgment. But that’s often where the answers are.
Anyway, I hope the LW in this case found her answers eventually. And I hope that if you have a relationship issue you need help thinking about, you’ll consider writing to me for advice. I may not have all the answers, but I probably have the ones you’ve been avoiding – the ones that are most likely to make things better.