My husband has been estranged from his family for many years. He had been physically and mentally abused and his parents were never remorseful and continued living a destructive lifestyle after my husband made the break from them. His life greatly improved after the break and he has no regrets. Recently, his father’s health declined, and 2 days prior to his passing my husband had a conversation on the phone with him. My husband felt good about how things were discussed and was at peace with his father. We debated whether or not to attend the funeral, and wound up going. At the funeral home while my husband stood by his father’s casket, his aunt (by marriage) approached him and said, “Not as easy as you thought it would be, huh?” My husband and I were shocked to hear her say such a thing and made no reply.
Later, after the burial, we were at his parent’s home with relatives. Once again this aunt went to my husband, and this time said, “I hope you’ll make peace with your mother now.” My husband said nothing. She had semi-cornered him in the kitchen. Of course the aunt doesn’t know all the details of my husband’s horrific upbringing, but she is aware of some of it. One would think she would have kept her mouth shut. This was so out of line and hurtful to my husband. He’d been through so much in his youth and implying it was up to him to make peace was just wrong and meddlesome.
We talked about this several times, and we wish we had an appropriate response instead of being dumbstruck. Should we just keep quiet? Or should we tell the aunt how hurtful her comments were? It just feels wrong somehow to let her get away with this.
Not Ready to Turn the Other Cheek
Dear Not Ready,
A wise woman once said: “There are some games where the only way to win is to not play.” I am so happy your husband got out of an abusive home, found a loving and loyal wife, and created a happy life. He made a wise choice to walk away from a game where the rules always changed and the deck was stacked against him. He has emerged clear-headed and healthy.
Which is more than can be said for the aunt. Your husband’s response was the best: to not take the bait and engage in another round of the dysfunctional family game. She may feel she was protecting or defending her sister (or sister-in-law), but all she did was treat a grown man like a vulnerable child: holding him responsible for trespasses that were not his fault, and expecting him to make nice with an abusive parent. It’s amazing the extremes to which people will go to excuse or defend a loved one’s offensive behavior. Look at it this way: Her actions are more evidence of a sick family system. They confirm your husband’s choices to protect himself from it.
As to your question about contacting the aunt: I advise against it. I don’t think it would do much good, nor bring a resolution that would be satisfying for you. She chose very public spaces, teeming with emotion, to speak to your husband. That suggests she’s not interested in reconciliation; she’s interested in drama. I am deeply impressed by your husband’s courage to talk with his father before he passed. That was an essential conversation. Talking with the aunt is not.
These scenarios, unfortunately, end up on an endless loop in our minds. We find the brilliant retort only later, when we’re driving home or drifting off to sleep. Better to disengage from this toxic person rather than allow more of that junk in your world. If you saw this woman on a regular basis, maybe it’d be worth a shot at a conversation. As it stands, I say let her have her petty victory, and you and your husband celebrate the old saying, “The best revenge is a life well-lived.”
In time, you may find it in your heart to offer some good thoughts or prayers for the woman. When you do, your resentment will subside. That’s the best outcome of all—when toxic people no longer take up our precious head space. Contemplate these lyrics:
And then dance to this version: