DEAR NATALIE: I married into a very conservative, white family. I am Mexican and very proud of my heritage. My husband is the only “liberal” in his family and they have made fun of him for being with me. I love my husband so much and so I hide a lot of the racist and cruel things they say to me. His mother even sends me memes about Trumpers building a wall to keep people out. She says things like, “Oh, this isn’t about you! Why are you so sensitive! It’s just a joke.” It really hurts me and makes me uncomfortable being with them. I don’t want to spend the holidays with them this year. I would like to go to Texas to see my sisters, but my husband doesn’t understand why we can’t do both. I haven’t told him yet what is going on because I don’t want to hurt him. Any ideas on how to break it gently that his family is cruel? -AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
DEAR AMERICAN NIGHTMARE: Please know that how you are being treated by his racist family is completely unacceptable. You have to let your husband know what is going on. You cannot carry this burden alone and you shouldn’t have to. He married you. He needs to defend and protect that promise he made to you when he vowed to stand by your side in the good times and bad. It can be challenging to stand up to family – even scary. But at least if he understands your perspective, he can excuse you from family functions or limit your interactions with them until he figures out how to confront the situation. While he didn’t choose his family, he can choose how to react to this situation. This is his family – not yours – and so this is his responsibility to address.
DEAR NATALIE: All couples fight. I know this. But my wife fights really dirty. Whenever we get into an argument, she always hits below the belt, criticizing my weight – which she knows is a sore spot for me. I shut down. Then she just berates me, calling me names. The other day, I just started to cry and she laughed. When she has time to think about it, she feels really remorseful. But I can’t take the constant verbal abuse. I love her. We have three beautiful daughters together, but the idea of her doing this in front of them and then also living with this for the rest of my life feels unbearable. Any ideas on how to cope? -EMOTIONALLY ABUSED
DEAR EMOTIONALLY ABUSED: I’m so sorry that you are being treated this way by a person who is supposed to love you. Emotional abuse is a form of abuse that people often sweep under the rug because they are embarrassed or feel as though it isn't “real” abuse. Abuse just doesn’t come in the form of physical or sexual assault. It can be financial, emotional and mental, too. You shouldn’t have to live like this and your daughters shouldn’t have to bear witness to this, either. It can harm their own understanding of themselves and how they relate to others. You need to have a meaningful conversation with your wife about how you feel when she emotionally degrades and abuses you. If you are afraid she might respond cruelly or gaslight you, write her a letter. Give it to her and then give her the space to read it. This way, you can get everything out that you need to say. You are allowed to express how you feel in all of this. You are allowed to say that you don’t want to be with someone who can’t control their anger and lashes out. You are allowed to say that you don’t want your children growing up in an abusive environment. Speak plainly and clearly. If she is angered by the letter or ridicules you for it, you may want to consider separating. I know that may seem extreme, but until she recognizes the severity of her actions and that her actions have consequences, she may not be willing to seek help. If she won’t commit to a plan to visit a couples’ counselor and/or an individual counselor for her own issues, I don’t see a healthy way forward here. If you are working and have financial means to leave, you may have to create a plan and be ready to put it into action. You don’t deserve to be treated this way, and over time, this kind of behavior from her could get worse. Unless she is willing to address her anger and make changes, you may be the one that has to do the changing … of address.
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