Dear Carolyn: We just returned from a week at the lake with our two grown kids, their significant others, and other family members from both sides. This is the third year we’ve set up this family vacation, and we want to do it next year — minus my husband’s brother and wife. They love this week and look forward to it, but the rest of us find them harder and harder to take.
One issue is the tension between them, which has escalated over the years. They argue a lot, even with grandkids around. He occasionally throws in nasty comments (“of course I didn’t want to see your son at my party — I wish he had never been born”). They seemingly have no filters.
The other issue is that she talks nonstop, to the point that people look for ways to escape. I spent an hour each day napping or reading, but that wasn’t quite enough.
We find the five- or six-bedroom house to rent and foot the bill. Our main goal is to spend time with our kids, and they appreciate it. We don’t ask anyone to split the cost, although some insist on contributing.
My husband is the one suggesting we not include them next time, but his strategy is to lie about it — just say we’re not renting a place next year. I can’t quite agree to that plan, but I’m clueless how to proceed. The expectation of being included is there — my sis-in-law suggested we rent a place for two weeks!
Carolyn says: Your husband’s suggestion doesn’t surprise me, given that he and his brother presumably had the same emotional tutor. Sad.
Lying and gathering without them are awful. Flat-out. They will find out somehow, because people always do, and then what? They’re hurt; you’re busted taking the low road; your in-laws are weighed down with the prospect of their lives ending as their children barely speak.
Going this route is especially awful when three high roads start here.
First, you can limit next year’s vacation to immediate family, and explain to everyone that the big house and big gathering stress you out. It preserves the part of your gathering you value most; it’s the way to be exclusive without being hurtful, and it’s the truth, albeit an incomplete one. This forces no one to pretend a weeklong party in a six-bedroom house didn’t actually happen. And, it buys time; maybe by summer 2017 this couple will have resolved things one way or another.
The second road is for your husband to tell his brother, with apologies for prying, that he’s concerned about the escalation of hostility between Brother and Wife, and he’s available for listening. Watching a couple unravel and caring only to the extent that it affects your vacation is not humanity at its finest.
The third road is one that — admittedly, I’m assuming — you all bypassed on prior trips: Speak up. “Please find another way to resolve this; there are kids here.” Or, “I don’t allow talk like that in our home.”
It’s not mean — it’s compassionate. People often don’t know how ugly things have gotten till people who love them hold a mirror right in their line of sight. Have the courage to do that, someone, please.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@wash post.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.