My sister and I both married men who are way beneath us in many ways. Why we both chose so poorly is another story for another time. But the fact of the matter is that I think we both could have and should have married better men. We were raised to be kind and hardworking and, in general, “typical,” if you know what I mean. Our husbands are lacking in many ways and are not typical. My brother-in-law’s biggest fault is that he can never hold down a job. Though I think he’s probably smart, he manages to mess up and get fired frequently from his jobs. My sister has always had to work hard to help with finances, though I’m sure she is never really able to make up for his lack of income.
My husband, on the other hand, is an angry man. He has a terrible temper and screams often at our children and me. When he’s in a particularly bad mood, we all walk on eggshells, trying not to set him off, and yet he still goes crazy on us, and doesn’t care if anyone else is around at the time, like my parents or other people. He can be scary at times and out of control.
As you can see, neither of them are winners. Our lives are hard as a result of stupid choices we both made when we were young and naïve. But the reason I’m writing to you is because I find that our parents, though they are smart enough to know that both their daughters suffer in different ways, seem to be partial to my brother-in-law, despite his issues. And they show it in many ways. They rarely come over to my house to visit, but they’ll spend a great deal of time by my sister. My parents are always helping my sister and brother-in-law financially, and never us. Though my husband has a steady job, we could also use some help here and there. But it never comes our way.
Oh, and our husbands do not get along — at all. They are both busy criticizing the other without looking at themselves and seeing what their own problems are. So if there is a fight going on, and I say anything to my mother about something my brother-in-law said to or about my husband, she will always take my brother-in-law’s side. It makes me very upset. I understand why my parents are not crazy about my husband. I’m sure he’s not what they hoped for in a son-in-law, in many ways. But I can say the same for my brother-in-law, and yet they seem to always side with him and tolerate his problems.
This causes additional tension between my sister and me. I am resentful and kind of jealous that my parents have obvious favorites. It hurts me — as if I’m not hurt enough living with an angry man. Do you think there is anything I can do or say to my parents to help them understand that they are playing favorites and it’s only making matters worse in every way?
The situation you describe sounds painful on so many levels. Your husband does sound abusive in his anger toward you and others and is no doubt off-putting to everyone else who has experienced his wrath. I believe it is that very rage that is keeping your parents from visiting your home more frequently and acting as kindly toward your husband as they do toward your brother-in-law.
Though the comparisons your draw between these two men make sense in that you feel you and your sister both could have make wiser choices and married men who were more successful in life in general, that’s basically where the comparisons should end. Yes, it’s very likely that your parents wish that you and your sister were in happier marriages altogether; however, to be honest, being out of work and feeling the pinch of financial pressure, though stressful in many ways and far from OK, is very different from being in a marriage where toxic energy abounds.
Perhaps your parents believe that by writing a check and handing it over to your sister, they are able to make a dent in her challenges, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, there is really nothing they have within their power to do that would make any sort of difference in the challenges that you are dealing with. And besides knowing that they are unable to help you in any tangible way, they are probably trying to protect themselves from being exposed to your husband’s anger. No one likes being around angry people. And no one likes seeing their daughter and grandchildren suffer due to such a person. It’s hard to take and probably even harder to observe.
Furthermore, I suspect that when you complain to your mother about arguments between your husband and brother-in-law, it’s probably easy for them to assume that you husband was the one stirring things up, as they know what he is capable of and just assume (which I understand is not always justified) that your husband is to blame.
You’re all in tough positions. It always amazes me how one difficult person can upset so many lives and change so many relationships for the worse. My suggestion is that you cease to bring your mother into problems that exist between your husband and brother-in-law, and, frankly, try to stay out of the fray yourself. My advice would be to focus on urging your husband to get some therapy so that he can deal with his anger issues. If he can get a handle on himself and how he treats you, your children, and others, the rest will follow. If your parents no longer have to worry about being treated poorly by him, my guess is that they will be overjoyed to reenter your lives more fully and more lovingly. But make no mistake — your husband’s out-of-control anger is the real problem here.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.