Carolyn Hax: When your son-in-law does his Don Rickles act, is it okay
By Carolyn Hax
Feb. 9, 2021 at 8:59 p.m. PST
Dear Carolyn: My son-in-law verbally attacks one or all of us in my
family constantly in some way. Small group or large group, doesn't
matter. Makes snide or sarcastic remarks, criticizes, disagrees,
challenges opinions/facts. He knows more than anyone else, monopolizes
the conversation and puts down our daughter in front of us. The list is
A few examples: My husband says he doesn't like karaoke and son-in-law
says, "Who invited you." Told my cross-necklace-wearing sister, "The
thing around your neck offends me." Makes fun of another relative's
French accent. At a recent family dinner, we were tormented for six
hours. My husband wanted to punch him. I couldn't wait until he left.
Three years ago my husband and I had private talks with our daughter and
gave her a book on verbal abuse. She says she is not verbally abused.
This is the way his family is. She told us to tell him to stick it.
I don't think we should have to, and if he wants to come over, then he
needs to behave himself.
So now we are getting ready to talk to her again. How we should handle this?
J.: Tell him to stick it. In your own polite words, of course.
And throw in where, when, how often, and how colorfully you’d like him
to do it. Please?
You are right, absolutely, that you “shouldn’t” have to do this, that he
“needs to” behave.
But we don’t live in a “should” world. It’s as-is. The reality in which
you exist includes an aggressive blowhard for a son-in-law, an enabler
in your daughter, an admirable family ethic of reticence and decorum,
and a standing invitation from your daughter to swing through whatever
her husband tees up (please).
Maybe your daughter knows you’ll never do it; her husband is on to you
for sure. He knows you won’t tell anyone to stick anything, so he
gleefully offends, unchecked.
It’s time to accept that his choosing to behave is not among your
reality-based choices. Nor is your daughter’s stepping up to demand that
he behave, nor is her grasping, apparently, that a boor’s companionship
is optional. Your experiences have confirmed this.
Instead, you can: Ask him to behave; insist that he behave; show him the
door when he doesn’t behave; and warn your daughter of this plan ahead
of time so she knows it’s coming.
Or, even better — not to mention easier — you can just listen to your
daughter. She came from you and knows him; she might just know better
how to handle him than you do. Or she might not be ready to see him for
who he is, but still have the presence of mind to advise you to stand up
to him, in the moment, as politely as you must, to his face. There are
politic ways to do this. You’re not limited to “get steamrolled” or
“stoop to his level”; the assertive side has angels on it, too.
Certainly after taking it taking it taking it all these years, you must
feel some temptation, some pull, some promise of long-delayed
gratification, in the prospect of dishing it out? In your own polite
words, of course.
Write to Carolyn Hax at tel...@washpost.com
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Headshot of Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a
copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column
includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis —
Carolyn's ex-husband — and appears in over 200 newspapers.Follow