Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Father Frustrated by Affluent In-Laws’ Influence

DEAR NATALIE: I really hate my in-laws. They are mean to my wife, mean to my daughter and have no respect for what I do (I'm a working artist and furniture maker). 

I got into a big fight with my wife's father recently about how he treats my daughter. It was her 8th birthday, and she ended up in tears because of them. 

I keep telling my wife I don't want any of us to be around them, but because they are affluent and she's an only child, she feels stuck. They threaten to cut her off financially all the time. They gave us a down payment on a house my wife wanted. I was fine with where we lived, but she wanted a bigger place in a better school district. They also pay for private schooling (so what does it matter?) for our daughter, and they lord it over us. Our daughter would be fine in public school and in a more diverse neighborhood, anyway. 

I don't know what to do. I don't want to start resenting my wife, but I don't like being in debt to anyone, either. What should I do? -- FRUSTRATED FATHER

DEAR FRUSTRATED FATHER: No matter how much two people love each other, a long-lasting relationship is built on more than that. You must have the same vision of the future, and right now, it seems as though your visions are not in alignment. 

Fear not! This doesn't mean you are heading for disaster (although it seems as though your in-laws would like that to happen so that they could have total control over their daughter again). 

If you haven't already, you should sit down and have a conversation with your wife about boundaries. I'm sure it bothers her that her own parents are emotionally abusive, but she probably has dealt with this her whole life and doesn't know how to handle them. 

The best way to deal in this situation is with a cool demeanor and some distance. She doesn't need to be at their beck and call. Perhaps when they invite you over for dinner, you go every other time. See where the chips fall. Or, if they want to take their granddaughter for an afternoon, make the visit on your terms, not theirs. Slowly start reintroducing authority over your own lives again and gently nudge them to more of a supporting role in the movie of your life. 

Subtle shifts in how you relate to them can reduce the anxiety and frustration you feel, as well as give you back a sense of control. Also, the word "no" can be a great word to learn for future interactions -- especially when they offer you money.

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to nbencivenga@post-gazette.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)