Dear Carolyn: I am struggling to balance my husband's relationship with my family. My family adores him and wants to spend time with him. He acts fine with them, but is grumpy and angry with me.
My husband is an introvert. I respect his needs and only ask him to attend a few family events a year. I also limit family visits to my house.
But this weekend, he told me that if it was up to him, he would never see my family again. He said he was willing to spend time with them because he loves me, but it makes him miserable and so he may be upset.
I do not know what to do. Dealing with him before family events often ruins the event for me. I love him and understand all marriages involve compromise, but I cannot agree never to invite my parents to my house ever again. I cannot accept that. What should I do?
Carolyn says: I am struggling to understand your husband. Introversion alone does not explain such a wholesale rejection when (apparently) he himself is accepted.
His sour moods and upsets are such strong deterrents to his seeing your family, they're a de facto refusal to see them — and such refusals are outliers even with spouses whose in-laws torment them (and who arguably should opt out).
Plus, his acting out emotionally is juvenile, not OK.
I mention these knowing I can't pry anything out of him from here, or make him a magical deal-with-it smoothie — because I also can't leave the gaps in his story unacknowledged when he has the leading role.
Even with these key questions about him unanswered, though, there is something you can do unilaterally on your behalf, possibly on his:
Your struggle is to balance, so stop balancing. Stop trying to manage your husband's interactions with your family, or his emotions, or your family's desire to see him. Instead, represent only you. See your family as you wish. Plan to visit them, plan to host them, keep in touch.
Keep your husband informed and respectfully empowered, and that's it: "Unless you know of a schedule conflict, I'm going to see [family] next [date]." "I plan to invite [family] here. Any objections to [date]? You can join us or make other plans for that day, up to you." Agree on a visit frequency upfront to pre-empt arguments.
It may seem awkward, but that's just because you're in marriage mode, where you expect to be one extended family. My suggestion is roommate mode, where you do your family thing, he does his, and you kindly accommodate each other on shared time and space.
Likewise, you do not serve as spokes-spouse for your absentee husband, except to present facts. "He won't be joining us." ("Why?" they will ask.) "He asked not to be included in these gatherings." Then, you speak only for you: "It's not what I prefer, but I chose to honor his request because the alternative was to drag him here."
If you're not ready to explain further, then say so, say you're OK, his introversion is the short answer, and thanks for their concern.
This may break nicely into a new normal. It also may knock loose some new information or insight, or reveal itself as early stages of some sort of decline (health, marital, other). Or it might feel like a limbo you must force yourself out of, possibly with good counseling.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org.