BEL MOONEY: Why should I let my angry sister-in-law come to my son’s wedding?

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Dear Bel,

Retired, I’m in poor health due to a debilitating condition which has become worse in the past couple of years. My treatment includes psychological therapy to encourage relaxation and positive thinking.

I have two younger brothers. The elder, Simon, is married to a dominating and manipulative woman, Eve. Ten years ago, they wanted money left to their two children in my father’s will, for buying a house.

My youngest brother was executor. He gave in and allowed them to change the terms of the will. I spoke with him and he changed his mind. The will stood.

This unleashed fury and abuse (mainly at me) from Eve. They left England, settled abroad and cut us off.

Now Eve has emailed my son to say she would love to attend his wedding next year ‘unless there’s awkwardness’.

She and Simon made a flying visit to see my son and his fiancee. This made me feel very disturbed and threatened. I told my son how I felt. When Simon and Eve met him and his fiancee, he made no mention of the invitation.

The next day, Simon met me for lunch and was friendly. My sister-in-law was nearby at the hairdressers, so I suggested we see her. She was hostile, soon demanding why I had ‘betrayed’ her ten years before. I responded in a considered way, not wanting the time with my brother to be spoiled.

I noticed she looked pleased when we spoke about my illness. She does not care about my welfare. I do not feel or act this way towards them.

I feel torn between being ‘nice’ and letting them come to the wedding — which would make me feel threatened again — or being honest that I don’t want them there.

My son and his fiancée will certainly back my choice. What would you advise?

ANGELA

This week Bel speaks to a mother who wants help deciding whether she should let her angry sister-in-law attend her son’s wedding

Your poor health renders you vulnerable to exhaustion and stress, in addition to which your longer letter reveals that since Simon and Eve moved abroad, your husband died.

Therefore you deserve the utmost sympathy in this painful family dilemma, which must be made much worse because you lack the support you feel your husband would have provided. I hope you spend as much time as possible faithfully carrying out your relaxation exercises.

Thought of the day

Be wise: have a drink and accept

That life is short, so hope should not be long.

In the few moments you’ve been listening to me

Envious time has slid away.

Seize the day; don’t trust tomorrow.

From Jonathan Bate’s translation of an ode by Horace (Roman poet 65-27 BC)

It’s good to know Simon did break their self-imposed silence to email the right condolences to you at that time — even if he and Eve were discourteous in failing to tell you that their son was getting married, let alone invite you. This behavior was, I assume, driven mostly by the sister-in-law you have never got on with, and who has been furious with you ever since you thwarted their wish to amend your father’s will.

Your uncut letter reveals that you think Simon and Eve have always lived beyond their means, hence their keenness to get their hands on that legacy. Your younger brother was persuaded, but then you changed his mind back — and Eve was furious. In fairness I must suggest there might have been a sound financial reason for their wish, or (as you think) there might not. Whatever the truth, such money issues can be fatal within families, as I know from past letters to this column.

What’s more, you say nothing about your relationship with Simon before he met Eve, which, if it was combative — as brothers and sisters often are — might have affected your views on his choice of wife. Childhood conflict can continue into old age.

What prompted this desire to be guests at a nephew’s wedding? Is it that Simon has felt guilty about what happened? After the pleasant lunch it must have been horrible for you to face a rancorous sister-in-law — and you probably showed it on your face, even if you tried not to.

It’s easy to understand your feelings. But your brother will always feel he has to stand by his wife, because that is (for better or worse) what marriage does. Many men reading this will know the feeling of being caught in the crossfire between their wife and another family member. Not easy. Simon may be viewing your son’s future wedding as a step towards reconciliation — even if uncomfortably aware that his wife’s recent behavior spoiled the friendly mood of your lunch.

Some people will always antagonise each other. Your relationship with your sister-in-law sounds like a non-starter from the beginning. You are as critical and resentful of her as she is of you. That has to be lived with, doesn’t it?

You say it’s obvious she doesn’t care about your welfare, but you may be reading too much into her expression. Who knows? What’s clear is that the one person who can resolve the issue is you.

The choice you present is between being ‘nice’ and being honest. I would choose reconciliation. It’s always better.

At the wedding you will be surrounded by supportive family — and in the future, growing older, you may long for Simon to be in your life, just as he might need you.

Husband’s affair threatens my health

Dear Bel,

More than two years ago, my husband left me for a 21-year-old. We were both 28 (together since 18), married for two years with a three-year-old child.

Within two weeks of leaving, he had doubts and, within six weeks, asked to come back. It was all a complete whirlwind. It took me three months to agree he could return. It’s been difficult but we’ve worked at it and now have another child.

I believe I was suffering with post-natal depression and was in a terrible way before our crisis. Perhaps it was the wake-up call I needed, too.

Although he is mainly to blame, I can see why everything happened and have understood my part in the relationship breakdown. We’ve each had counseling separately.

At the time, we found he had been exposed to chlamydia (which wasn’t passed on). Due to the high emotion, I didn’t process this. He was completely honest. But now my smear test has come back HPV positive (human papillomavirus infection) with borderline cell changes.

We were both virgins when we met, so I know the affair is the cause. There is a risk of me now having cervical cancer. It’s brought up a lot of emotions I thought I’d dealt with. I am angry and sad.

My husband is being incredibly helpful and I know this must also be killing him inside. My family, his family and my friends all encouraged me not to take him back, so I can’t talk to them.

There’s an incredibly high treatment success rate, so I’m positive, but annoyed that I should never have been exposed to this.

We had moved forward and this has set me back quite a lot. I need a neutral view.

ALANA

This letter came a while ago and I am hoping you have managed to process that distressing health blow with the courage and determination you displayed two years ago.

The fact that you were so acutely, sympathetically aware of your husband’s feelings says much about the strength of your love and the extraordinary level of forgiveness you managed to achieve, before this unpleasant result tested you again.

Your email displays an unusual level of understanding — that is, when you reflect on the fact that the affair may have been caused (even if only partially) by your post-natal depression. I admire your wisdom and generosity more than I can say.

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

The majority of readers will probably agree with your family and friends about his behaviour, deeming it unforgivable. These days, I find people quicker than ever to make judgments. But I agree that there will always be a limit to forgiveness, no matter how desirable (in the abstract) it seems.

Those who love the one-sinned-against usually fear that the sinner will repeat his/her selfish, cruel and destructive behaviour.

That is why, to protect you, they were all so against reconciliation. I understand that, even if I don’t entirely agree.

The presence of children always shifts the argument. Since your husband inflicted a terrible crisis on your marriage you have had another child, so you and he must have done some serious talking.

You tell me (in your original letter) that you were both ‘in a good place’ until this new bombshell, and that’s all the more reason to feel anguished that you have been reminded again of the physical reality of infidelity.

Some people (and I am one) know that a marriage can survive infidelity, even if it can never be forgotten. But to many others the thought of a partner having sex with somebody else is intolerable.

There are no rules, no norms. That is why it is spurious for outsiders to offer advice (‘Kick him out!’ — ‘Don’t take her back!’), yes, even if it is asked for.

You asked me for ‘neutral’ words rather than advice. So I’ll just say I hope you and your still-beloved husband try couples counseling and that you employ all your reserves of strength to pick your way through this horrible, upsetting situation and move forward (with him chastened, I hope) into a future full of family love and fun.

And finally… It’s not easy to love thy neighbor

Reader responses matter very much to me, so let’s cut to the chase: some of you felt cross about last week’s response to ‘Jennifer’, who has moved twice because of bad neighbors and is suffering again.

My critics thought me unsympathetic, although they were all writing from a position of having experienced bad neighbor issues. Which is entirely understandable — and (as I said) I do realise selfish neighbors are a problem in communities.

Contact Bel

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

Names are changed to protect identities.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Perhaps I was wrong to suggest that the writer ‘needs serious help from professionals’ at the start of my reply, but this wasn’t meant as a criticism, just a painful truth.

If she is continually so genuinely ill, unhappy and angry with her neighbors, what advice can be given? Regular readers will know I am not a harsh person but experience has taught me that saying, ‘Oh, poor you’ is rarely helpful — even if it’s easy.

Years ago I had a letter from a lady who was miserable and lonely in her village. Knowing its name, I spent ages researching activities available all around, even to the extent of looking up local buses. All this I printed in the kindest tone imaginable.

My reward was an abusive tirade for daring to suggest she could be proactive. She said I’d made her feel ‘worse than ever’. It was a lesson to me (still then rather green) that some people do indeed ‘carry the seeds of unhappiness deep within’.

One reader made the constructive suggestion that the lady would be better moving to a sheltered community. That was the setting for last week’s second letter (the elderly man who liked touching women) and one reader reprimanded me for being too kind to the man!

Praise came for my ‘bad neighbors’ reply (‘a masterclass . . insightful and humane’) from someone who has the job of assessing police recruits. He explains these issues often consume police time and while the ‘older person/awful family next door’ situation is sadly common, it can be hard to assess who is at fault, or ‘who is judging whom’.

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