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Dear Miss SmartyPants,

My father-in-law is visiting this weekend and I need some advice on getting through the weekend. The last time he was here he and his wife were upset that when they came to see the baby at three months old I stayed in the room most of the time and was not social - we explained post-partum depression and breastfeeding to them. They dismissed it as me being a rude drama queen and proceeded to insult me, my family, my husband and say some pretty abusive and hurtful things, all very loudly and all in front of our 10-month-old. Then he spent the rest of the day locked up in his room and the next day pretended like nothing happened. We were shaken to the core and really didn't know how to handle it.

My husband later shared that this was pretty common in their family while they were growing up and things were routinely swept under the rug after an outburst. We have had NO contact with his father since that last visit until he e-mailed and said he was coming in town for a conference and would be staying with us for the weekend. I am really angry at him for the things he said and how he treated us and I don't know how to handle this weekend. Help, any suggestions? My husband has been evasive each time I bring up all my feelings regarding this matter.


Dear Flummoxed,

Where is your mother-in-law in all of this? You said they were both upset with you. I can't tell from your letter whether or not she participated in the verbal abuse, but it seems as though she at least tacitly agreed with it. Perhaps she agreed with her husband because she actually agreed with him on this matter, or perhaps she agrees with him in general out of fear of reprisal. He may be a controlling guy who is angry and expects everyone to kowtow when he expresses that anger. You and I do not know the family dynamics, but your husband does.

There are a few ways you can deal with the father-in-law this weekend - being absent, being coolly civil, throwing yourself into the fiction like it's some kind of social experiment, whatever gets you through the days. But none of them will head off the damage to your marriage that's coming if you and your husband can't talk about this freely between you. I don't want to jump too far to a conclusion without hearing his side, but it's possible his evasiveness means he has retreated to the familiar pattern of sweeping this under the rug. Find a nice way to call him on it. The more unruly the feelings, the more important it is that you and he are able to air them. He needs to realize his first allegiance is to you and your children. Evasiveness is not constructive.

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