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Carolyn Hax: How to tackle parents’ disdain for a spouse


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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. View Archive

My parents have been unwelcoming toward my husband of two years. They’ve never corrected him when he calls them “Mr.” and “Mrs.” When my mom and I leave the men alone, my dad abandons him, affording only the briefest and most surface-level of conversations.

I know the reason behind their coldness: They just don’t approve of his career and moneymaking potential. It’s become so awkward that my last two visits, he didn’t even bother to come.

I’m stuck, because what can I say? “I want you to be nicer to my husband”? “Please stop giving him the cold shoulder”? What if they refuse? Do I stop my visits too? I should note there are no kids/grandkids involved here.

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Interceding for Spouse

“They just don’t approve of his career and moneymaking potential”?! And you haven’t verbally slapped them yet in their self-righteous faces?

The “what can I say” bit sounds disingenuous. You can say: that in freezing him out they push you away; that in judging him by surface standards they not only insult you both but embarrass themselves; that you’re asking them only to try to see him through your eyes — not for themselves and not for him, but for you, although all parties stand to gain from that effort.

Now, could be there’s some oversimplifying here; it’s possible, for example, that they just don’t like him or they legitimately disapprove on a deeper level vs. just not being wowed by his job, and the “career and moneymaking” angle was their way of rationalizing their dislike. Or, maybe that was the one thing you took away from a more nuanced explanation.

Regardless, there are two things I can say for sure: None of this excuses a failure to say, “Please, call us Joan and David,” when the Mr.-and-Mrs. act lasted past the point of silliness, so you can certainly talk your way to a solution there; and nothing you say will solve the problem of “the briefest and most surface-level conversations.” You can’t make anyone like anyone.

When you do ask them for a basic level of effort and civility, they can refuse, of course — in which case you’ll have a decision to make. The choices range from showing up with your husband as a form of quiet insistence on his proper place in this family, to playing the middle (seeing parents sans husband, for e.g.), to seeing your parents less, to severing the tie outright. There’s no one way that suits every situation, so your conscience has to lead.

To: Interceding:

There’s one big person to consult in all of this: Your husband. Sit down and come up with a plan of attack between the two of you that will suit you both.


The husband, duh. I’m as dismissive of him as the in-laws. Thanks.

To: Interceding:

We left out the part where the frozen-out spouse is going to resent your cowardice and disingenuous, “What can I say?” attitude until it builds up and he leaves — not because he can’t respect your parents’ foolishness (obviously, he can’t), but because he will lose respect for you.

Anonymous 2

Justifiably and fatally for the marriage, even if he sticks around. Thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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