Wedding rant, FOO fog

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katherinicus

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Wedding rant, FOO fog
« on: November 07, 2018, 10:44:54 AM »
Hey everyone. I had a rough night last night, and I'm hoping you people can give some insight (as I always find this board to be full of very wise people who get what I'm talking about when I say this is not an easily fixable situation).

My partner and I are getting married in August. He's a wonderful guy, so I'm excited. Three of his friends have verbalized to me that I'm the "best thing to ever happen to him", and he's said as much as well. I feel that way about him, even though he brings a lot of baggage in the form of his family.

We've been together for almost 6 years now, and he has limited contact with his family after going NC with his sister. She started to scapegoat me, and became hostile to me in private (you can read my previous posts for details).  I felt beyond my scope to deal with her, and told my partner, which sealed my fate with a few of the more dominant members. In spite of this, he has repeatedly told me that this all actually has little to do with me.

There is a lot of dysfunction in his family.

His brother finally reached out a few months after my partner called him to announce the engagement. He hadn't spoken to him in a year and a half. My hope is that he realizes I'm not going anywhere and that he needs to make an effort to get to know me beyond what the sister says, but I'm reserving my judgement, as I tend to get my hopes up and feel disappointed if it doesn't work out. The UPDSIL also lives across the country currently, so perhaps he feels it will be easier to maintain a relationship on our end without being divisive, I'm not sure.

But regardless, I was wondering why I was struggling so much with this issue (extreme guilt, shame around what happened after I entered the picture, even though I KNOW what scapegoating is and that I just got caught up in a storm) and have since realized I'm a bit of my own family's scapegoat. Because of that, this is bringing up a lot of anger and rumination. I think I act out the same dynamic over and over in different places.

When I reach a breaking point and protest something in my family, I'm seen as difficult, overly emotional, the sensitive one. This has been the case for years. Yet my partner notices, as I do, that my mom is perhaps the most sensitive of all of us (her sensitivity is something everyone notices, but cannot verbalize to her), my brother and dad have a lot of anger brewing beneath the surface,  and my sister is also very sensitive, but almost pathologically passive with my parents, and relies on me for constant support and uplifting because of her anxiety issues. I've encouraged her to get psychological help, but she has a lot of self-stigma around the "types of people who do that".
In spite of her own sensitivity, she becomes very no-nonsense and harsh when she thinks I'm looking for attention (i.e. when I  verbalize something, or get upset over something that bothers me about the family dynamic). Then she treats me like a bit of an unhinged nutcase. This is especially frustrating because I'm the giver in our dynamic with her, constantly acting as an unpaid therapist and cheerleader, but I get very little credit when I have a rough moment, and that imbalance is beginning to wear on me. I know I need to set new boundaries.

One instance to illustrate my family dynamic is that this summer, my brother and father became increasingly angry and vocal about women and minorities "taking over", and were very hostile to any woman who brought up sexual assault. My own dad had to intervene at school when I was younger because I was being harassed by some classmates, but he somehow forgets it and I continually need to remind him when he says this doesn't happen like people say it does. Unfortunately, that is only one example of when I've dealt with it in terms of sexual harassment, but I continually wonder why he knows I've had experiences, but now dismisses them and continues to bring up the issue after I've told him it bothers me. I have a lot of leftover anger around it not being taken seriously with people I turned to for help over the years. I feel like I am constantly fielding conflict at work, worrying about the responsibility I have with my partner's family, then I go to my family, and hear them bag on women for a good while, and I just feel depleted. Once I reach a breaking point, I look like the problem.

I don't think I will change their mind, so the compromise I've reached is that I've repeatedly asked them to steer clear of the sexual assault topic at family dinners. One time I got upset and left the table. That was not enough of a wake up call. It came up again during the summer repeatedly, and I finally calmly asked again to keep the family conversation pleasant. At my birthday, right before my cake came out, my brother in law and brother made a joke again about sexual assault and immediately felt my blood pressure rise. I felt so devalued since I had made it clear it was a personal issue for me, but I knew if I cried, it would be pointed to as an example of me being unstable or a typical woman.

So I left shortly after to avoid them seeing it because the tears of frustration were coming none the less. I was furious.

My sister didn't ask me what happened, she just refused to talk to me for almost two months, joining them in the narrative of me being difficult, then just acted like nothing happened, and we resumed our dynamic again. No one in the family apologized, my mom said she was "sorry my birthday didn't work out". I clarified that I was grateful for everything they did for it, but that I needed that talk to stop, and that if it didn't, I would need to leave in the future. She said she understood and nothing further was said about it. Again, it was seen as if I was ungrateful and difficult because I caused an upset at a family event.

Recently my sister has stopped talking to me again. She is my maid of honour.
My mom is helping out luckily, since my other bridesmaid is a new mom and the other is not available these days, but even in the car, she began to say that my partner should have his brother as his groomsman, and suggested I was making it difficult for them to have a relationship. He does plan to ask, but I resented this being directed to me as if I held the key, as I already have a lot of guilt or sense of responsibility around the state of their relationship.

She tends to project her own difficulties onto my partner's family not realizing they're different (ie. when he doesn't talk to his mom, she thinks about when my sister doesn't talk to her, and thinks that he should be pursuing her - but he pursues his mom, it's her who is not reciprocating, or because my mom's own brother's wife is not very nice to her, she relates with my partner's brother feeling like he's "losing his brother" to me,  when I am actually responding to ill treatment, I'm not putting up boundaries to be difficult etc.). In my own dynamic with her, we've been codependent in that past, and I know that some of the stuff with his family is pushing at the buttons I have around being overly responsible for making everything work out, and making people happy. I worry my mom's going to interject about how we need to invite his sister.

I feel like I have been made out to be a bad person by his family, and I want, at this event, to feel like I have backing from my own people, but when my mom joins in on the FOGging sometimes (this is not the first time) I feel outnumbered, alone and misunderstood.

I can't wait to marry my partner, but the stuff around the wedding (the personalities involved) are digging at a part of me that was frustrated even before they started scapegoating me. Stuff in my own family.

I don't know what I expect from this, but I just wanted to share. How do you even begin to unpack this stuff?



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qcdlvl

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2018, 11:36:24 AM »
Congratulations on the engagement!

My own approach with difficult ILs is to remember that if they weren't your ILs, you'd probably have never even met them. Thus what's important is the relationship with your partner, not maintaining a relationship with your ILs. For me what this means in practice is that I have no more contact with my ILs than my fiancée does (in fact, substantially less), and that what my ILs do affects me only to the extent it affects my fiancée and my relationship with her - apart from this impact, they're not really different from any other superficial acquaintances I may have. Those I'm in contact with are civil to me and I'm civil to them; if they weren't, I'd walk away, etc. I've been essentially NC with my FIL from the word go. Their family dynamics are, in any case, their own, and my "job"  is to support my fiancée, my own protection and that of any children we may eventually have, not resolve family rifts I didn't cause, and cannot control or cure (in your case, the rift was caused by your SIL's hostility, not by the natural consequence that you told your DH), not act as peacemaker or mediator and it's most certainly not my job (nor yours) to maintain superficial harmony among my IL relatives.

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This is especially frustrating because I'm the giver in our dynamic with her, constantly acting as an unpaid therapist and cheerleader...

That's part of the problem right there - for her and your FOO more broadly, there has mostly been no actual downside to your being SG - they still get your help and support. You're doing the right thing by walking out of conversations that are upsetting. What they perhaps don't realize is that there is no actual downside for you to your setting boundaries, because you're already the SG - for example, either they will respect your boundaries on these conversations (a win for you) or you will walk out and not listen to them anyway (also a win).

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Bloomie

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2018, 12:40:29 PM »
katherinicus - I am sorry to hear that things are bubbling up as the wedding/marriage approaches. It seems like you have dysfunction on either side and are sadly, faced with disordered family paradigms and the problems that can bring.

qcdlvl offers great wisdom above in terms of your role in the in law family dynamic. It took me far too long to assume the one and only role I signed up for and that is the partner and support of my DH. Period.

Start now as you mean to go with the in law family. Despite the ruckus with the sil - draw a line in the sand and move forward with confidence and joy. The relationship between your fiancé and his family is not your responsibility and you have zero control over it. As qcdlvl said.. the 3 C's mantra is grounding: you didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it.

The other really great thing about establishing a new family with your love is that you prioritize and engage with your FOO differently because your primary relationship - your family - is you and your fiancé. We leave behind the dysfunctional and burdensome roles that were forced upon us in our FOO and embrace our true selves and live and respond from the freedom the circle of safety and love we are establishing in our new FOC provides.

You leave and cleave. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, you are no longer defined or in the FOG as a result of your FOO and their issues and views and behaviors.

If your sister, mother, father, brother, bil are rude and inappropriate, invalidating, marginalizing, if they scape goat you, give you the silent treatment... you move them out to a lesser level of intimacy because the core relationships to be maintained and most attended to is your very own new family and loving and supportive, trustworthy people.

So, if your FOO makes your bday miserable you don't celebrate that with them any longer and celebrate going forward surrounded by those who treat you with respect.

If your sister refuses to speak to you how can she be such an integral part of your ceremony as someone who is bearing witness to your vows? How do you feel about that? What can you control/change/cure in that situation that may bring some relief?

The wedding is a time of celebration and is important of course, but the marriage is the most vital thing to be preparing yourself for success in ime.

3 things I wish someone had offered to me before I married:

Get some savvy pre marital counseling that will help you and your fiancé establish yourselves as a separate and fully independent family and that can work through all of these complicated dynamics and develop strategies and hopefully redirect false guilt you may be feeling and inappropriate responsibility for things out of your control.

Read Boundaries in Marriage by Cloud and Townsend together.

Accept that what others think of you is none of your business. That sounds a bit harsh I do know.. but it has helped me to immediately stop ruminating and works as an abrupt healthy internal boundary over thoughts that can tear me down and only encourage and fan the flames of that inner critic that I have been wrestling since childhood.

This time preparing for your marriage is precious and only happens once. Do not take onto your back and carry burdens that are simply not yours to bear in all of these relationships. Enjoy this time and be intentional about what you allow/do not allow in and near your beautiful, happy life.

Strength and wisdom to you! :hug:
« Last Edit: November 07, 2018, 12:43:36 PM by Bloomie »
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candy

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2018, 10:58:34 PM »
Bloomie, what you wrote about marriage - how establishing a new family means joy, means leaving dysfunction behind, how it is a chance to define yourself and your role in a safe place, your FOC - is great wisdom to me. Thank you for that! I needed to read sthg encouraging like this today. And I will get the book you recommended.

Katherinicus, thank you for sharing! You are not alone. I can relate to what you wrote on many levels. With quite some dysfunction in my FOO and being married to a caring and warmhearted guy who happens to be a direct descendant from a malignant narcissistic family I do sometimes feel trapped in an abusive cycle. But I believe there are ways to end that cycle.

For us establishing boundaries with the FOOs is key. And what is more being dedicated to be the best parents we can for our precious baby child really helps to maintain focused.  :wave: Take care.

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all4peace

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2018, 09:40:02 AM »
qcdlvl gives great advice and a healthy perspective. I wish I'd figured it out decades earlier. I caused and suffered a lot of pain by trying to adopt his family as "my" family when they weren't even able to be a good family to him. So, yes, internal boundaries are great for dealing with the ILs. Same with your FOO. We all have our roles in our family. Generally, us being in our place works well for others in some way. When it stops working for us and we try to shift out of our place, there's a strong "change back!" reaction that can come from others--in the form of shunning, silent treatment, smearing, protest, etc. As I learned in therapy, either the family system eventually changes towards health and healing, or it doesn't and we're left in our new role and we may be alone in it.

I can tell you that I wish I'd learned earlier to protect myself, my marriage and my children. If people are unable to be considerate and kind, then I personally don't believe they have a place in the heart of our homes or families. We may still want a relationship with them, but they don't need to be allowed to ruin our birthdays and more because they don't have the basic decency to not dig into our wounds with inconsiderate and provoking conversations.

I wish you the best in figuring this out. I personally think it's totally reasonable to let your sister know that since she is unwilling to speak to you at this time, and is unreliable and inconsistent in her behavior towards you, you are unable to rely on her to be your maid of honor. It may enrage her or your family, but it's ridiculous for them to expect that you will wait breathlessly as your wedding approaches, hoping she decides to step up and be a mature adult.

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katherinicus

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2018, 10:55:28 AM »
Thank you everyone for, as always, such thoughtful responses.

My partner and I have gone to a type of pre-marital counseling (I requested it with someone who had knowledge of family systems and personality disorders, since I know some can feel out of their element unless they have experience with those). She was really great, and very much had the attitude that my partner has been left behind and disappointed enough, and that all of his big events become about them, so his wedding philosophy of "you can come, smile and shut up or don't bother coming" sounded reasonable to her at this point. His sister is an adult and she is not powerless, which is how we feel. I know my partner found it helpful to talk about his family with her because he'd never done therapy before, and there were some parts of his experience that were affecting him now. So that was a big win.

She told me they likely didn't hate me, but who I am to my partner. She also said she'd spent a lot of time with us, and we had a very equal relationship, so when I talked about how they accused me of controlling his decisions, she didn't get the impression I do that. Which meant a lot.

But I found I couldn't seem to get the idea through to my brain that I wasn't responsible, and she seemed to not get why I felt that way when he wasn't guilting me at all. Because he doesn't, he's fine with the distance, and he's back in school and would prefer to focus on himself for a while. I'm the one who feels like the wedding may be a turning point for the worst if we don't handle it well. She talked about the idea of "radical acceptance" with me, which includes accepting that an apology wasn't coming, and that this is how they are (like he has), because she could tell I was still repeatedly getting frustrated when they would do things that defied logic to me. I was also waiting for them to change so I could be absolved of my guilt. And it's true that I do. I am working on this, and though it seems like I'm still very stuck, it is getting better, albeit slowly.

But I don't know why I still feel I need permission to let go of this burden.  As if the key to resolving it all lies solely in my just being less offended by PDSIL. I am sure it's because I have a lot of experience with being the more responsible one. I do feel that my role with my mom has often been to be understanding of her issues when there's a problem between us, and to let go of the desire to have her understand my hurt feelings. This is true of my sister as well. I wish we could have talked about that further. But even knowing that's what's going on, I still feel awash in shame sometimes, as if I have something to feel bad about.

The blame is not something I've only heaped on myself. My BIL's wife had called me after PDSIL's blow-up incident to tell me "not to break up the family", and to explain away what had happened. She has also told me that the fact that I tell my partner when his sister does something to me is "causing a rift" and "of course he's going to agree with you because you're his girlfriend". I should be settling it with her alone, apparently.

When I tried to call my partner during her tirade to tell him what was going on, BIL's wife was insistent I would be worrying him and keeping him up. During the incident, she also let me know that this sort of thing happened every so often, and that if I wanted to be part of the family, I needed to be ok with it. Then PDSIL stormed around yelling about how I was an "f*ing drama queen" (yes, I realize the irony). So though this person was spiraling out, the whole thing seemed to be about policing me on how upset I was allowed to feel about it.  A bad reaction to it is the cause of the rift.

 The BIL's wife has since also had an "intervention" with my partner when he went to his mom's house to try and get him to go to PDSIL and resolve this, as has his brother. When my partner says what we both did to try to resolve this, and what he expects of PDSIL, they immediately turn to me as the cause of the rift. If I could not be offended, he could be with his sister and brother and family.

And part of this is true, because I would feel very hurt if his sister was smearing me, and some of his family bought what she was saying, and he just ignored it for the sake of family togetherness and posed happily for pictures with them when I'd done nothing wrong. If he let me take the fall for his family's issues. It's really important to me, after my previous scapegoating, that my partner not also throw me under the bus to resolve an issue. If he agreed to their story about me being the cause of their problems, when the problem has nothing to do with me, it sounds dramatic to say, but I would feel betrayed by it.

So I can't claim I'm completely not influencing the decision, because I think he knows that I couldn't stay if things were that way, but I also think he's mad enough that they treat me this way on his own. It's just that people forget that so often, myself included, that I need to continually remind myself that he has his own issues with them. His issues with him seem to be about how he generally comes out on the bottom with them repeatedly, I'm just an illustration of that.

So I do know that in one way, a very logical way, I don't need to fix his family. They have had issues long before me. But apparently both his family and my mom see me and my unhappiness over the way they treat me as a cause for the rift. And that did start this particular issue. A part of them fixing things would be about being kinder to me, and knowing that makes me feel responsible.

When my mom doesn't like her brother's wife (she's always been nice to his wife in spite of this, which is a difference), she I thinks about how sometimes the in-law DOES get in the way. Or when she sees my sister moved across the country to get married, she blames her spouse for "keeping her there" because she's unhappy, and it's meant seeing her and the grandchildren less. They have their own issues around this. I always try to remind her my sister is staying there for her own reasons.  Yet, in spite of her in-law opinions, I can't realistically see my mom being ok with my father's family treating her that way.

I don't want a relationship with the ILs anymore, I think I just don't want the label as the "problem". 
I agree that I have more work to do on my family of origin as part of this, and I'm reading over what you've all said and absorbing it.

What did you do to not care? When those feelings of shame come up, is there anything you tell yourselves?
« Last Edit: November 08, 2018, 11:08:07 AM by katherinicus »

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H_Allison

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2018, 11:51:53 AM »
I was so similarly in your shoes a few years ago and I just wanted to pop in and tell you that you are doing such a great job of articulating your feelings and getting right to the root of your conflicts- not settling for surface-level analysis. This forum has always been such a comfortable place for me to try to do the same thing, and you are already so poised to define what happiness looks like in your future marriage and how those in your 'second circle' do or do not fit into that picture. That's such a huge first step.

The truth of the matter for me was that things with my DH had to hit rock bottom before either of us really started caring about the right things. I won't say that I have gotten to the point where I have completely stopped caring about my ILs or their feelings about me, but I have gotten really clear about how/what I DO care about more: a rock-steady relationship with my DH and shared understanding of what support looks like from each other. Anything that compromises those things has to come second. Things started becomming more blakc and white for me. There was less fuzziness around "Do you think she really meant to come across that way?" or "It must have been a misunderstanding". I am sure part of this was because I learned more about NPD behavior and what to expect from resources like this forum, but I do beliee that the other piece of the puzzle was believing that I had a right (and maybe even obligation) to stay focused on what I do care about. It is always easier said than done, but I promise the people in your life who genuinely care about you want nothing more than for you to be happy and healthy. If you are polite and straightforward in how you advocate for your happiness and health, those who authentically care will support and encourage you and those who dont... well they will be subject to whatever level of involvement you feel comfortable with.

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Bloomie

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #7 on: November 08, 2018, 12:46:58 PM »
Kathernicus - Your relationship with your fiancé and his love and loyalty to you was the pebble in the pond of your in law's family that revealed the death of brokenness underneath I am thinking.

The minute that a family member responds in a healthy, reasonable way (you and your fiancé) to outrageous, high conflict behaviors - covert and overt, and refuses to be in close contact with out of control, histrionic, dishonest, divisive and destructive people it threatens the whole system I have found.

The amount of metamorphosis that seems to be expected of you (per your bil's wife - the dutiful family spokesperson and official flying monkey) to become like her and accommodate unacceptable behaviors and therefore earn a backstage pass to the family PD show and be welcomed into that very toxic system is not an invite a wise person like yourself is real eager to accept. Bravo! :applause:

This seems like a rejecting and insular system and they have soundly mistreated you and rejected you simply because their son/brother loves you. One of the most freeing things that was ever said over my own anguish with rejecting treatment by a similar family system was by my T who simply said.. "The problem is your H loves you. More than them."  :yes:

The emotions you feel are huge and important to honor. You are clear and have done so much important work to position yourself for a happy and thriving marriage.

At the same time you have been treated terribly, and so has your fiancé, by people you had a desire to love and honor as family. And it hurts. And those of us who have FOO issues as well and are overly responsible almost immediately turn that on ourselves as sadness and grief can be misinterpreted as deep shame and failure where there truly is no failure and no reason for shame.

I saw that pond of my in law family and it looked so good at first. Like a second chance to actually have an extended family. Nothing was at all what it seemed and I have grieved and been broken as I was labeled the problem. I do get how very hard that is. :hug:

Until... I got through the grieving and started healing from the stinging ongoing campaign to drive home the rejection of their idea of us and of our family and all of the attempts to get us in line with their paradigm. I got stronger and wiser and shook the remnants of all of the mud slinging and blame shifting off of my life, held my head up, locked arms with my DH and moved on with my life.

Processing all of this and getting support like you are doing is wisdom. Hard inner work, but oh so rewarding when we crest that hill of healing and release all of the pent up confusion, let go unanswered questions, and move beyond the pain to a place of acceptance and peace. 
« Last Edit: November 08, 2018, 12:52:16 PM by Bloomie »
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candy

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Re: Wedding rant, FOO fog
« Reply #8 on: November 08, 2018, 10:16:54 PM »
Oh, my, this is such a great thread. I will remember and use quite some of the thoughts here when my own doubts step in.

As things can get foggy writing things down helps. Collecting proof. Preventing abuse amnesia.

To my mind it is pretty normal human behavior or even a sign of prudence to second-guess yourself if you are confronted with being „the problem“ or the scapegoat in two (dysfunctional) families. Only a warm-hearted, empathetic and clever person will ask herself about her part within the dynamics. It is mature and wise to think about your stuff first, I think.
BUT if your counterpart only blames you and shows no interest in questioning himself (or herself or themselves), then there is an imbalance and it seems likely the counterpart‘s aim is not to solve things but to just let off some steam.
I try to remember myself over and over again that figuratively speaking I do not want to serve as a lightning rod for others.

It is a common tactic to assault or belittle someone when there is no way to prove that same one wrong.
You know ... you are always causing trouble, you are complicated, why can‘t you just line in with the PDfamily...
BUT being assaulted does not mean you actually are a bad person or behaving incorrectly. It just shows the offender has no other option aside from offending. It says more about the offender than about you.

I try to evaluate the ILs‘ behavior and my FOOs behavior as if they were strangers. Would it be appropriate, would it be polite for a stranger to talk to or behave towards me or towards my FOC like that? It helps as it provides more objectivety. And as I tend to feel guilty or shameful with other women, especially mothers, I need all the objectivity I can get.


If I feel bad about myself due to IL-dynamics, or if DH feels bad, I try to think about all the positive relationships we have. First there is DH himself - my rock, the one committed to work on our relationship with me, work on on our FOC, on our communication, and my DH really is a great guy - would he be there with me if I was this awful? Of course not. We grow together and we heal and we try to help each other to become a better self (that came out a bit big but I have no idea how to put it differently).

Second there are other good people in my life and in DHs life - close friends, co-workers, chosen relationships. Except for family and some other regular jerks the people who surround us are a bunch of good people and their being there serves as a feedback for me, for DH, as being good guys ourselves. Those lovely and lovable people would not be there if they weren’t valuing us for who we are.


I haven’t thought about mistaking feelings for one another before, like mistaking grief and sadness for shame or guilt. It really does make sense to me.
It still makes me sad that I cannot have a healthy relationship with MIL, FIL and BIL. I feel deeply sad for DH because of the way my ILs treat him. I anticipate more sadness and grief for the years to come. I am grieving for the healthy grandparents-grandkids relationship I would like my children to experience. Not going to happen. But it is not me withholding those relationships. I should not feel guilty or ashamed for things I did not cause. Nor should you.