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When irksome in-laws live in the neighbourhood

The question

My husband has recently decided to go to battle against his parents regarding a whole slew of childhood issues. While I support him, I know very well his parents will never change. What's worse is I have now heard that they think that I am a bad influence and that I must be "mentally ill," because they think I am the one pushing him into these confrontations. Worse still, we all live in the same neighbourhood. I feel sick to my stomach about leaving my house for fear I will run into them and what I might say. I pretty much never want to see them again after this. Do I confront the issue? Do I try to make amends or do I simply do as Oscar Wilde says and "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much." What should I do?

The answer

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First, stop mowing my lawn with the Oscar Wilde quotes! I'm the one who's supposed to be throwing those around like confetti at a parade.

I'm kidding: that's a good one. Actually, even though I've been a lifelong Oscar Wilde fan, I hadn't heard it before, so thank you.

Thank you also for the challenging, two-tiered question. Here at Damage Control HQ, we get a lot of questions about family, and a lot of questions about neighbours – but yours is, as far as I can remember, the first about people who are both, thus doubling the difficulty and fanning the friction.

One of the reasons I think we get so many questions about family and neighbours is because of one thing they have in common: you can't choose them.

And you do tend to have to deal with them. I suppose you can avoid/turn your back on family. Harder to avoid neighbours, though, as you suggest.

We had neighbours once who had an issue with us. They felt we had scooped them on a piece of real estate (our current domicile) they had their eye on and a right to and would accept no peace offerings or even an offer of the house itself.

What made it extra horrible was I would see the not-speaking-to-me wife of the couple everywhere. For some reason, whenever our eyes met, my hand would pop up like a marionette and my face would stretch in a reflexive rictus. She would just glare and turn away.

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Of course, our kids became friends. Played in the sandbox together while she glowered at me. Of course, my kid bopped her kid with a toy truck and we had to sort it out … My point being: battling with neighbours sucks. Whenever you battle with anyone you wind up carrying around a terrible psychic load and who needs that?

In your case, it will go double, because you'll be battling with both family and neighbours all rolled into one.

No, better, far better to figure out a way to get along.

Basically, I think you have to talk your husband down from the (metaphorical) ledge of his warlike stance with his parents/neighbours.

You don't say how old he is, or what his "issues" are, and of course I recognize there are some things parents do to their offspring that are so harmful they're impossible ever to get over.

But my rule of thumb vis-à-vis run-of-the-mill "issues" is: you can complain and whine and moan about what your parents did to you until about the age of 28, at which point you have to let the issues go, and try to become the best possible version of yourself.

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And it doesn't sound like your husband is being his best possible version of himself.

Maybe your in-laws aren't either, throwing around terms like "mentally ill." But that's on them.

And who knows? Maybe your husband is in the right. (As usual, I wish I had more information: God, or the devil, depending who you talk to, is in the details.)

But dollars to doughnuts confronting them will only make things worse – and could lead to a permanent rift.

Of course, he could find a way to approach them in a delicate, circumspect, kinder-gentler fashion and get it all off his chest.

To say: "Mom, dad, these are my issues, they've been simmering and festering all these years, now it is time for me to unburden myself."

But what, in the end, is the point? As you said yourself: "His parents will never change."

Why not just get it all off his chest to you, or a therapist, or friends or other family members or some combination?

Bottom line: in your boots, I'd persuade your husband to forget about going to battle with his parents – and basically forgive whatever it is and let it go.

Thenceforward: Lead by example. Even if they're rude to you, kill them with kindness.

Have them over for a nice dinner and just … be nice to them.

Why not? After all, as Oscar Wilde said: "After a good dinner one can forgive anyone, even one's own relatives."

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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