DEAR AMY: Nine years ago, my daughter and her husband asked me to move with them into a new home.
I had been widowed for five years and they felt I should not be alone. (I am now 84 and in pretty good health.)
We all got along very well until about six months ago, but I don’t know why. Nothing was ever said openly. They purchased a lake house recently and spend weekends at that home. I am not invited (nor do I want to be). There are no children involved – just the three of us. I do have a little dog that he does not like – in fact hates – but I cannot give the dog away.
Lately I get the feeling that my son-in-law is not happy with our situation. He barely speaks to me and mumbles “good morning” or “good night.” That is the extent of our conversation unless I instigate a conversation and only get one-word answers.
I contribute to the household, pay rent monthly, clean house, wash their clothes, take care of their dog, etc. I have spent thousands of dollars on this house and paid a third of the purchase price.
Should I speak to my daughter about my feelings? She and I get along very well. I feel she knows there is friction here but has not said anything to me about it. Should I look for another place to live? I don’t really want to live alone but I will if I have to. Please give me some input.
DEAR CHALLENGED: First this: Your arrangement seems to have worked well for everyone for nine years. That is a very successful record of peaceful coexistence.
Unfortunately, each person in the household seems extremely averse to bringing up a topic – or even asking a question – that might result in an uncomfortable moment or two, and so you have spent the last six months engaged in an extremely uncomfortable silent standoff. It is human nature to avoid discomfort, but you all have taken it to a new level.
You are a full partner in this household – you helped pay for the house and pay rent and expenses.
Sit down with both of them (if you can’t manage to face him, speak with your daughter). Say, “I feel a lot of tension lately; can you tell me what is bothering you? It would be good to clear the air. I miss the way we all used to get along.” This might have started over a very trivial household matter. Or it might not have anything to do with you – but with work, marriage or health difficulties of theirs. Maintain an open attitude and try not to be defensive. Read: “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most,” written by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project (2010, Penguin).
DEAR AMY: About a year and a half ago my grandson sent me a text out of the blue, telling me how horrible I am and saying that I “p–s everyone off in the entire family.”
I am 75 years old and was devastated and don’t know where he was coming from. I have never had a disagreement with him. I told his father (my son) about it and he said it was between me and my grandson.
I texted him back and told him I was sorry for whatever I had done and to please call me. I have not heard from him until the other day, when I received a “save the date” card to his wedding. I was in shock and do not know what to do or say about it. Should I just go and pretend nothing was ever said?
DEAR SHOCKED: You should plan to go to the wedding, but you should also try to understand what is behind your grandson’s outburst. Call him, offer your congratulations, and ask him yet again to explain what was behind his text, in an effort to get beyond it.
DEAR AMY: Your advice to “Concerned Relative” (whose young relative was in a polyamorous relationship) was wise and wonderful, with lessons for all of us no matter how we structure our own relationships. Mine happens to be a heterosexual marriage, but we all know that this type of relationship can have much opportunity for hurt of all kinds.
DEAR KARLA: As I said in my answer, all relationships carry risk – but the more people involved, the greater the risk. Thank you.
Email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com.