Dear Carolyn:

I loathe my in-laws. I have never shared that with them and I tried, early on, to be on my best behavior, but they never got friendlier or welcoming. They just stare at me silently.

I feel extremely uncomfortable around them, and I am befuddled by this since I never "did" anything to them but be myself and be nice to them. I thought they would at least be friendly toward me because I love and care for their son/brother and may in the future provide a grandchild/niece or nephew or two, but no dice.

My husband refuses to speak to them about it. He acts differently when around them, self-centered (barely responds to me while I am there, gets quietly mad at me if I try to make him smile or laugh, talks about himself, I, I, I, as opposed to we, we, we), cold, quiet and nonresponsive to me, just like them.

Obviously, I dread holidays and special events. There is another wedding coming up. I really don't want to go, but, out of respect for my husband (who believes invitations are obligations, not invitations), I will go. Any suggestions on how to cope?Incognito in the USA

Respect doesn't just flow in the direction of the spouse who feels obligated to his family. In fact, "family" is such the sacred cow that you wouldn't be the first to feel bound to honor it even as said cow relieved itself on your head. You're taking this abuse from his family and taking and taking it, out of "respect" -- but you're his family, too. The family he chose. You're due some respect from him, too.

I'm not sure, though, that his confronting them is the answer. Do you want civility by fiat? And -- warning, I'm saying this can happen, not that it has happened -- there could easily be another side of the story.

You "never 'did' anything to them," but you may still hold beliefs or use words they find offensive, or treat their son/brother in ways they find appalling, or otherwise behave in ways that incite silence. The you-said-they-saids of an in-law scuffle can be dramatic and difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile.

They can put impossible pressure on the person wedged in between.

Still, even if that explains his abandoning you in their presence, it certainly doesn't justify it. He married you; presumably he believes in you and his choice of you. He owes it to you to stand up for that choice.

He can acknowledge the truth about his family's animosity -- even if he has to ask them outright how they feel -- and then accept it, and stop subjecting you (and himself, if that helps) to these torturous "festive" events.

These actions comprise the minimum respect, support and compassion a spouse should receive. Call this to his attention. It would be a disservice even to suggest ways to cope with less.

If he won't grant you a full or even partial pardon from his family events, then I think you need to consider the possibility that he either doesn't believe in his choice -- or isn't strong enough to stand up for it.

That's when the reputable and talented marriage counselor comes in. Now you dread holidays, but that dread spreads quickly to everyday life.