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posted: 10/29/2013 12:26 PM

Come to an agreement on how to handle husband's family

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Q. I have been married for four years. We love each other and enjoy being around each other.

Our families could not be more different. My family is very stoic and quiet. They have educations. If they don't like/agree with an opinion, they keep their mouths shut and change the topic to a pleasant or neutral subject.

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My husband's family is loud, racist and uneducated. They look at science and medicine as mumbo-jumbo they'll never believe. If I try to change to a neutral topic, they continue to press the subject, not just as individuals but as a group. It feels as though I'm being attacked by a pack of hyenas.

Sitting and smiling pleasantly is not cutting the mustard. Reasoning falls on deaf ears. Silence on my part upsets my husband, who advises, "Just be you." Hubby does not want to attend festivities separately so that is not an option.

How can I survive the upcoming holidays without wanting to run screaming?

Holiday Road Kill

A. So, uneducated (equal sign) unevolved? Wow.

You're reflecting your family's oh-so-proper DNA when you run out of ideas after "change subject" and "be right."

Likewise, although your husband is different from his family in enough ways for you apparently to make a good couple, it seems he inherited a few hyena genes. Just because he doesn't want separate attendance, it can't ever happen? Just because he doesn't want you to, you can't remain silent?

All this means, or needs to mean if you're both good sports about it, is that on this issue, you'll both need to work a lot harder to accept each other.

For him, it means adding 2 + 2. "Just be you" is exactly what you have done all this time, hello, and combining that with his family's ... habits? hostility? (equal sign) misery for you. That's not an appropriate status quo for him to insist upon.

Either he sticks up for you or helps you figure out how to handle his family better since you're obviously new to (and overmatched by) tactics like theirs and he's not, or gives you his blessing to stay home every once in a while, or ideally offers some combination of the three. Ask for this.

For you, "work a little harder" means you don't give up on mustard-cutting quite so quickly. Maybe you need to want to succeed at it more than you want to write these people off. Maybe you need to stop seeing his family as the collective, intellectual unwashed and train your eyes on them as individuals. Maybe you need a different knife -- a sense of humor, perhaps.

Not for the racism, of course. For that, you and he need a strategy, including lines you don't cross.

One way to start this whole process is by asking your husband how he would handle his family if he were in your place. Make it clear you want to come up with a better solution than just sucking it up to make him happy, though you'll keep doing that as a fallback if he meets you halfway.

He may well dig in less if he sees you're really invested, and I'm guessing you'd also need less of his support if he simply recognized that you needed it. Validation is powerful stuff.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2013 The Washington Post

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