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Carolyn Hax: her husband hurt by his stepfather’s unequal wedding toasts

Dear Caroline: My sister just got married—three months after my wedding. We love the groom and were very excited for them.

The trouble started right after my dad gave his toast. He congratulated his new son-in-law on his success, a wonderful partner for my sister, and said he was adding a son to our family. It was a nice speech, but I didn’t realize my dad hadn’t had similar praise for my husband at our wedding. My husband noticed it right away and was deeply hurt.

There were cultural differences that led to my father’s editing choices. My sister is her husband’s biggest advocate and has made it clear that he and his family need special treatment and praise.

In contrast, my husband is an introvert who brushes off compliments. His family is frankly a bit protective. I later found out that my dad deleted a line in his speech calling my husband his “new son” to avoid inflaming my in-laws’ fragile emotions. The speech was beautiful, but largely focused on his relationship with me.

After the wedding, my husband told me that it was clear that my father greatly favored my brother-in-law and that would drive a wedge between him and my father. He said he would be civil and my dad would always be welcome, but his days of drinking a beer or bonding with my dad were over.

The injury is clearly fresh, but I want to somehow improve it. I know my dad was thrilled to have my husband as a son-in-law. They were on the right track to a good relationship, and my dad doesn’t know it got off the rails.

Can I mediate the fragile emotions of two men, or should I just accept and let it be?

Sad woman and girl: The “problems began” when you met your husband after a lifetime of training as a peacemaker.

Please, please acknowledge how many red flags are flying from his response to your father’s toast, and how vulnerable you are to your impulse to appease and mediate.

By your husband’s response, I don’t mean hurt feelings. It’s fine, normal, understandable. And unhappy. Two almost back-to-back toasts, and one is (it turns out) deliberately less welcoming? Of course it will sting. In this regard, I feel for your husband.

But holy control over the way he reacted. Is the favoritism clear? Will there be a break? The warm connection is over? It’s toddler language with less fuss and better sentence structure.

There are so many mature, emotionally resilient ways to deal with an emotional slap:

“Is it just me, or does your father’s speech at our wedding seem colder in retrospect?” I wonder what it was about.

“Did you notice anything different in your father’s two toasts?” »

“Your father’s toast was so much hotter this time.” Ouch.”

Or, many variations of saying nothing:

“__” Version 1: Say nothing, but understand that her new stepfather feels closer to the other son-in-law, and deal with it internally.

“__” Version 2: Say nothing, but understand that your father feels closer to the other son-in-law, and resolve to work on the bond with your father.

“__” Version 3: Say nothing and acknowledge that it’s okay for some people to be closer than others.

“__” Version 4: Say nothing and acknowledge that he’s not your dad’s biggest fan either [shrug].

“__” Version 5: Say nothing and treat this as a data point in what may (or may not!) be a larger concern.

Or one of these aloud versions just for you.

Or, duh, he might trust you and your explanation.

Etc. So many emotionally healthy responses.

Instead, your husband took out the scorcher without even the slightest apparent interest in whether he was overreacting or there was more to the story.

If you assume that this reckless, accusatory, self-preserving tendency will never turn against you during your marriage — in the tradition of “my in-laws fragile emotions,” right? – then you have a wishful thinking to dismantle.

To be fair, you also have credit due: You responded with openness to the possibility of there being more to the story.

But I’m afraid it’s mostly an emotional race for your husband, doing the work for him to make him feel better. And part of the reason I think it’s this: “My sister…made it clear that he and his family needed special treatment and praise.” Firefighters carry less water. And your pleasant father complied.

This is not about son-in-law favouritism; it’s about two families with emotional patterns that are problematic on their own and potentially dangerous in combination.

I see a rigid and defensive scathing in a marriage with a self-denying peacemaker – and I implore you to seek individual counsel.

I hope I’m being alarmist and your husband has already backed down and apologized, and you’ve recognized for yourself the wisdom of not mediating.

But even then, counseling could still help you recognize your penchant for pleasure and learn not to follow it into an abusive emotional cycle. Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” can also sharpen your vision. Take care of yourself.