Ask Amy

Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 9:45pm

DEAR AMY: Many years ago my father-in-law had an affair with one of his employees. My mother-in-law chose to forgive him and stay in the marriage.

It has been apparent that she never really forgave my father-in-law, because any chance she gets she tells my husband how unhappy she is. She says she should have divorced him when he cheated.

Recently, while looking for some important papers, my mother-in-law found love letters from the other woman. She gave them to my husband to read. He was very upset.

In my opinion, my mother-in-law is trying to turn my husband against his father, which is not hard to do because they have never had a warm relationship.

I told my husband he needs to tell his mother he does not want to hear these negative things about his father.

I've been thinking I should say something to my mother-in-law about how this is affecting my husband, but I don't think she would take it well. What do you suggest?

— Concerned Wife

DEAR CONCERNED: In general, whenever contemplating an action that you believe in advance your mother-in-law "wouldn't take well," it's best to steer clear.

Your husband should give his mother the benefit of his natural reaction to this and tell her that he doesn't want to read his father's private mail — or hear about the frustrations and betrayals in her marriage — when the other person involved is his own father.

Your role here is pretty simple: to listen to and support your husband and encourage him to deal with his mother in a more definitive way. Ultimately, confronting her own unhappiness and making choices about her marriage will be her responsibility. She has a lot of work to do.

DEAR AMY: I grew up in a small, conservative town. Though I wasn't "out" at the time, by high school it was pretty obvious that I was a lesbian. I grew up and moved on and have a great life now. I live far away.

My problem is my sister. She made my teen years a nightmare. She had her boyfriends beat me up, and her circle of "mean girls" made every day a nightmare.

If anything, my parents saw me as the problem because I was such an unhappy kid as a result.

After I went to college, I cut all ties and have not seen or spoken to my sister in nearly a decade.

To this day, my parents act as though I am making a big deal out of nothing. Every time I visit, they try to casually spring us on each other.

I keep my bags in the car in case I have to make a hasty departure.

They say I am cruel because I don't want to see her. I think it's my choice. She has never apologized for the way she treated me or made any indication she wants a relationship with me, either.

Am I wrong to ask them to respect my choices on who I want in my life?

— Happily Estranged

DEAR ESTRANGED: Your parents have a lot to answer for. They raised an unrepentant, abusive bully and continue to try to force you to spend time with your tormentor. You could assume that their current efforts are a way of trying to deny their own role in what happened to you.

As long as you continue to fear an encounter with your sister, I think leaving your bags in the car for a fast getaway is a good idea.

However, I'd also like to make a pitch for forgiveness.

You don't need to confront or have anything to do with your sister in order to forgive her. Doing so would lessen your emotional freight and permit you to take your metaphorical bags out of the car, turn the engine off and face the extreme limitations of your family members with courage and compassion.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com

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