Dear Amy: My in-laws routinely trash spouses who have married into the family. They spread gossip, always make insulting assumptions and judge every move anyone makes.

How we raise kids, what we eat or how we invest our money, everything is scrutinized, followed by snarky remarks.

The latest drama involved a neighborhood party for my father-in-law's birthday.

I told my wife I could not attend because I must follow emergency guidelines because of my job. I told her that I'd prefer for her not to attend, as we know there would be no COVID precautions taken, but left it up to her. She decided not to attend.

Now I find out that the siblings thought I was controlling her. The in-laws' harsh and horrid judgment of everyone creates nonstop drama. I try to avoid them, but leaving my wife to speak for our family causes just as much drama.

My in-laws want to have a better relationship with us, but they don't seem to understand that they are horrible people and how they act and react is a reflection of their true personas.

I am at a loss as to how I can deal being attached to this toxic family. I do not want our children to pick up on the toxicity and stress that I feel.

Amy says: The way to tamp down any dumpster fire is to deprive it of fuel and oxygen. You are doing this by avoiding your in-laws. Your wife can't or doesn't want to. She should become more discreet, because this fuels the gossip. She should then cut the oxygen by shutting down the judgment and gossip when it starts.

Why do your in-laws know about your finances? How do they know the intricacies of your family's decisions? They know because you or your wife told them. And you know about their harsh assumptions because (presumably) your wife relayed all of this back to you.

I'm not blaming her, and you shouldn't, either. This was the family she grew up in.

Branding your in-laws as "truly horrible people" is not helpful, even if it is true. Couples counseling would provide you two with a helpful script, and techniques for establishing boundaries.

Response discriminates

Dear Amy: Your response to the reader wanting to deny a person's participation simply because he is male is repulsive.

Take a moment and substitute the words "Black/gay/Hispanic/Asian/Jew" for "boyfriend/husband."

Would you reject participation based on any of those criteria? Your response implies "YES" would be your answer.

Amy says: This reader planned occasional girls' nights out (without her husband), and didn't like it that one friend always wanted to bring her boyfriend.

I think it is fine for spouses to occasionally do things with their friends, without always including their other half, and without making a federal case of it.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com.