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Dear Christine, Perplexed in Pontiac

| July 24, 2017

Dear Christine,

My wife’s family is horrible. They voted for Trump, they call black people, colored or the N word or worse, they are homophobic, although they have given that a bit of a rest since I’ve been around, they love the idea of a Muslim ban and want the wall to be built. You get it?I go with her once a year to visit them only because I love her so much and will stand by her side through everything. She has started to really struggle lately and is thinking of cutting them off for good. It makes her feel really guilty because she also sends money to her mother who is a lazy alcoholic in my opinion.I swear I don’t know how she came out of that family. She is so wonderful. How can I encourage her to walk away from them without feeling guilty? Thanks, Perplexed in Pontiac

Dear Perplexed,

I hear you. Many families have been torn up over political disagreements, particularly after the 2016 Presidential election. In fact, I just read an article that mentioned that it’s hard for those who dislike the current administration to spend time around people who like the new President. I suspect that occurs in each election to some degree, however the feelings are extraordinarily strong currently.

However, your wife has to call the shots about her relationship with her family, no matter how noxious you find them. You will end up with her resenting you if you push her to back away from them, but you can definitely take care of yourself. It’s fine to speak your mind about how you feel and what you need. But they aren’t your family so the decision for you to back off is much less complicated.

I just reread your question: “How can I encourage her to walk away from them without feeling guilty?” Who will feel guilty? You for pushing her to take an action that she is reluctant to take on her own? Or her, that she might feel guilt at separating from her family and feel guilty that her love for them is not strong enough to overcome their differences? This is important. She has to figure out what she needs to do for her, what is in integrity for her. You can be a sounding board, if she wants to explore her feelings with her, but if you push her one way or the other, she won’t be able to explore options as fully as she might need to. Each of us handles these issues differently. My wife used to have a close friend for a long time before we met. We even paid for her flight and hotel for her to attend our wedding 20 years ago. I was not eager to spend money on her as I really didn’t know her and never felt any warm vibes, but I agreed because I wanted my wife to have those most important to her at our special day. When this friend declined to give us a wedding card or gift, and didn’t show up at a time we hoped to share with her for breakfast the day after, I made one comment and only one. That I felt hurt by this person not putting us as a couple as any priority for the visit we funded. Over the years, my wife began to see the lack of connection in her friendship and she pulled back from it. It took a several years. On the other hand, I knew a lesbian couple that made a point of going to every family event, big and small, with their two children, even though they were made to feel unwelcome and were even left out of big family pictures at weddings and holidays. They both insisted on being there, as a couple, as a family, to let their extended family know that they would not be ignored. I don’t have that emotional strength but I was deeply impressed with their commitment to each other and to insisting their families deal with them as a couple. All this is to say that there is no best way or right way to deal with family who is not supportive of you two and who disagree on important issues like politics and religion. Try to give your wife the space to process what she’s experiencing with her family and how that feels. Also, honor your own difficulty being around these people. If your wife has that time and space to figure out her own feelings and needs over time, she will make a decision that is in integrity with her and there will be no guilt. Don’t push one way or the other, to avoid feeling guilty that you caused her to choose them over you, or you over them. Christine C Cantrell, PhD

Fully Licensed Psychologist

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067
248-591-2888

Click here to email Christine.

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