Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: A few years ago I was fired from a job. I was young and foolish and did something I am not proud of, and paid the price. I truly feel sorry for my actions. I spent time in therapy, and I am in a much better place now.
However, I was embarrassed by the reason I was fired, and told people whom I wasn’t close to simply that I was let go.
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Among those were my in-laws; we’re not close. But my mother-in-law needed to know more. She called my former boss (whom she had never met), forced the story out of him, then told her gossipy prayer-circle group and anyone else who’d listen. She also petitioned to my husband what a horrible liar I was, and that if he wanted out of this marriage, all he had to say was “yes.”
My husband, who knew the true story, told her he was happy in his marriage, and that was that. He’s shocked at what his mother did, but doesn’t seem very angry, and says it’s just her nature to be in the middle of everything.
I can barely look her in the face. Yes, I lied. I’m not proud of it. But I feel like two people did wrong here. Was it my duty to tell every single person I know the reasons behind my firing? I’ve never confronted her about this; should I?
DEAR GOSSIP: Wow.
I count two problems.
(1) Your mother-in-law is a hydra.
(2) Your husband is a wuss (a common hydra byproduct).
Whether you stole a stapler or embezzled funds, your mother-in-law had no business digging, much less sharing the treasure she unearthed. (I believe the boss was unethical in sharing that information, but I’ll leave that to workplace experts.)
Start with No. 2, and air to your husband your frustration that his mom crossed several boundaries to be overtly hateful to you, yet everyone’s back to business as usual. If he’s not as exercised as you are about this, then be prepared to say why you want more of his support. Actions this egregious against a child’s spouse often cost parents their relationship with said child, for good reason; will he issue her that warning in your defense? Enforce it?
You have the right to face the hydra yourself, but let your husband know you’re doing it first. Explain that you’re giving him a chance to say whether he supports your doing that and why/why not. Weigh his preference carefully, then do what you feel you need to do.
Should you choose that route, stick to a very simple argument: You make no excuses for your past mistake, but express that you find her snooping into your private business, then sharing it far and wide, to be a decency violation of its own that you find very difficult to forgive.
But you will try, because you love her son. Will she back him as well, by behaving more kindly to you?
TO: GOSSIP: It’s not a lie: You were let go from your old job. The details of why are no one else’s business, and there is nothing wrong with not advertising them.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: True — which makes the mother-in-law’s violation all the more heinous. Thanks.