Thursday, July 10, 2008

advice column #24

Hey Bartender!

I'm getting married in the fall to a wonderful girl that I'm very much in love with. However, I'm having increasing tensions with her mother. Her mom is well intentioned, but a little over the top a lot of times. She's trying to help but winds up causing more issues than she solves. For Example, I mentioned once that I liked Apple Cider, and her mom had a case of sparkling cider special- delivered to me about a week later. There were two issues here- 1: The logistics of getting the cider delivered was a hassle for myself and my landlord and 2: It was more cider than I could possibly drink, and a lot of it just got thrown out.

Essentially, she has good intentions but does not really pay attention to what other people want, and I feel like I (and others around her) spend their time trying to manage whatever it is she's throwing at us.

Her personality really does not vibe well with mine and I have a hard time being patient with her. How can I communicate to her that I know she has the best of intentions, she really needs to just leave me alone most of the time?

The most important thing to do, when you are frustrated with your partner's parents, is to find in them qualities that you love about your partner. When you think about Mom-in-law, think about the qualities that you love in your wife, and remember how happy you are to have in your life the woman who taught your wife these qualities. Marriage is about family, and the way you begin the relationship with your wife's mom will effect the way your family interacts with her for the rest of your life. Start off with a little more understanding, and your patience will grow.

Despite our best efforts, we all carry around the programming that our parents gave us- and react to things as we've been taught to react to them. Eventually, you're going to encounter this same behavior in your wife, so figuring it out now will make it easier for you later. Think for a moment about what Mom-in-law is doing. Is she welcoming you to the family? Is she trying to show you that she cares for you? Or is she trying to drive you insane with cases of cider? It's most likely that she doesn't mean harm with her gifts, and that she needs to be assured that you feel welcome and know she cares about you. Telling her to "leave you alone" will not work, and will cause a huge rift as you rebuff what she thinks is a welcoming and giving spirit. If you can peremptorily assure her that you feel welcome- or whatever emotional message she's trying to send along with the cider- she might not feel the need to repeatedly assert these welcomes.

Also, teach her how to get the result she wants from you in the way that you find awesome. Maybe your family doesn't give gifts, but goes to dinner together or plays badminton in the yard or whatever you do. Explain to her the different manifestations of emotional vocabulary and ask her to participate in your variety. She might just be modeling behavior for you, and you need to pick up on her clues and respond to her. Say in a toast at a pre-wedding function, "I've been happy to learn lately that in-law family likes to welcome new people with often complicated gift giving. I hope that while I learn the traditions and customs of your family, you can also learn the traditions and customs of my family, so as your daughter and I create our own family, everyone can be included!" Givers tend to want to learn, and are usually happy to try something new, but never happy to do nothing. You have to give her something else to do, or you will offend her. Redirect her good intentions toward some goal that you find good. Accept that she wants to be in your life, as she's excited to have you in hers. Remember, you need to learn the emotional language of your wife's family as much as they need to learn yours, and taking the first step could be your responsibility, and joy. If nothing else, it'll be a big emotional step that your wife would appreciate, and will help set an example for inter-family relations.

As for other incidents, you said the Mom-in-law was trying to help. Great, you have a huge wedding to deal with, with tons of guests you might not know and details you might not care about. Delegate. Ask her to check that everyone in her family has lodging arrangements and travel arrangements. Ask her if she would throw a bridesmaid luncheon or a morning after brunch for the family or a bridesmaid shower a few months before the actual wedding. Give her things to do, so she'll stay out of the things that you don't want her involved in. Remember to thank her for all her help, because she loves those who are gracious for the help she gives them- whether they want it or not. Make her feel really included by asking for her input and guidance, even if you don't really need it. Make her feel as welcome as she's trying to make you feel. I think one of the best things you can do for yourself when getting married, is buy a box of thank you cards, and send them out liberally to people who are trying to help.

Another thing you need realize before your wedding is that you're about to marry into a family of givers (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), and you better stock that gift registry with things for them to get you. If you don't want things, you need to set up an account for donations (explain that you're saving up for a house), pick some charities, make a list of restaurants you would like gift certificates to, make a list of museums you'd want memberships to, ask for donations of airplane miles or travel gift certificates, but you have to tell them what you find acceptable or you will end up with more cases of cider than you could ever handle. As much as you love your fiance, you need to put in the effort to make sure that you can redirect the energy that her family can't help but give. You can't change them, but you can peremptorily annul the stress by managing them before they throw impossible things at you. This is really important for your relationship, your marriage, and your future. These people are now a part of your life, and you need to know how to make that positive for you.

I've thought about giving you recipes for punch with cider, or drinks with cider, but what I think you really need to drink is some whiskey and cider. While I think any bottle of maker's mark can give you a decent mixed drink, I'm going to list you a bunch of whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches that you might consider adding to your registry. Let the givers restock your bar, and set a price mark for your tastes that discourages them from doing it so frequently as to drive you to drink. Remember, you want single malt, single barrel, and the older is usually the better (aim for at least 15 year aged). If I were to make a short list, it would include Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Talisker, and Aberlour. I'd probably put a bottle of Pikesville rye too, but that's just me being sentimental.

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