D ear Amy: My father-in-law is a hard-working, no-nonsense, retired ex-engineer who carried a lot of responsibility at the company where he used to work. Now he’s over 90 years old.
On occasion, usually around the dinner table with his wife and family present, he will publicly belittle, insult and vilify his wife of over 50 years.
He can be incredibly cruel. Sometimes he insults my wife (his daughter) and her siblings. Usually my wife and I just roll our eyes and try to change the subject.
One night, after an outburst that sent my wife crying from the dinner table, I lashed out at him. I told him I was disgusted by his behavior and told him to stop.
I decided I do not want this abusive man in my life or my wife’s life.
I want to support my wife and tell her to do the same, but it’s her father. For the sake of my wife and her mother, should I cut him some slack?
— Had It with Dad
Dear Had It: You don’t provide details about your father-in-law’s temperament or behavior prior to old age, but extreme mood changes and anger can be a sign of bad health. Alcohol can also be a factor. Is he drinking when he does this?
But let’s say your father-in-law has always behaved this way to some extent.
Do not roll your eyes and ignore this behavior. You were right to confront him.
When he behaves this way in your presence, you should always intervene. You should also convey that if you become aware of him being violent toward his wife, you will call the police – and instruct everyone else in the family to do the same. He will likely be insulted and decide to cut you off.
You and your wife should direct your concern to her mother. Is she safe? Even if you and your father-in-law avoid each other, you must do everything possible to maintain contact with his wife.
I shudder to imagine her life. If he is like this when he is with others, what is he like when they are alone? The National Adult Protective Services Association provides information on how to report abuse and get help for seniors (all calls are anonymous). Check the website napsa-now.org and click on Get Help to see how to report abuse and get support for your mother-in-law.
Dear Amy: Many years ago, my first wife’s father died suddenly. My wife totally changed and this led to a divorce.
In my marriages that followed (and there were several), something unexpected arose, unraveling the relationships. I ask myself, “Was it just bad luck or poor judgment?”
I have been married to a wonderful woman for the last 32 years (no more surprises!). I have been a great husband and she is happy.
Yet in discussions about relationships within her family, people actually have had the nerve to say, “And how many times have you been married?” Although most of my marriages were at an early age, I am still held accountable for those failures.
How do I rid myself of the stigma I carry?
— Tired of Taking It
Dear Tired: I wonder if you are stigmatized so much as the punch line of a family joke. The way to make it go away is to own it.
Reply, “Each of my 12 marriages was unique. I may be a slow learner, but I definitely saved the best for last. Right, sweetheart?”
That last part is called a “toss.” Your wife can pick up her cue and say, “What? You were married before? Honey, I never knew!”
Dear Amy: “Middle-Aged” asked if you think relationships between people with a large age gap are viable, long term. Then she noted that in her relationship, her significantly younger guy asked her to keep the whole thing a secret. To me, that was the red flag. Keeping a relationship secret will impair its long-term chances more than any age difference would.
— Down with the Down Low
Dear Down: Absolutely.