Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Once many years ago, my spouse had a brief sexual affair with a friend of ours and then came clean to me and cut ties with the friend. We went to therapy and worked through the issues that led to the affair and came out of it with what I believe is a much stronger marriage. We have since had a child, bought a house and adopted pets together — our bond is strong and we are not planning to break up.
Yet a certain relative of mine — one we see very often — insists on treating my spouse like a flight risk. This relative was one of the only people I confided in after I found out about the affair because I thought he could be trusted to help me retain objectivity as we decided what to do about it. Instead, he is actively making it harder for me to emotionally move on, and every time we are around each other I have to suffer through reminders of that difficult time.
How do I get another person to believe what I now believe — that my marriage is stronger for the affair and that my spouse is not an evil person who can never be trusted again?
DEAR REMINDED: The answer is never to “get” anyone “to believe” anything — do file that away for current and future use.
Also please accept my sympathies. Having your carefully selected confidant basically turn on you is an extra burden where you hardly needed one.
But back to the “get another person to” problem: I’m not saying it’s never worthwhile to spell out what you need, ask someone for it directly and then hope your message gets through. In this case, I’m sure you have made the case to your relative that your hard work since the affair has made your marriage stronger, and that was a reasonable approach to try.
But when your relative proved himself unmoved by this information, that was your cue to drop the persuasion effort and move onto a “think what you like” approach, because only your opinion matters.
Launch this phase with the definitive Last Conversation About It: “You’ve made your point, Dear Relative. I’m through discussing it. Are you willing to look me in the eye and agree, right now, to drop this once and for all? Because if you’re not, then I need to come up with a Plan B.”
Plan B being some version of distancing yourself from this relative, but you don’t need to figure that out yet; you can think about where to draw the line and how to enforce it, then update this relative as needed.
But as you figure it out, you absolutely, 100%, can choose never to engage with this relative on that topic again — and must choose that to deliver a “drop it” message effectively. Hang up, leave the room, reply in non sequiturs, but hold firm.
Relative: “Let me remind you again of that difficult time.”
You: “[the weirder the better].”
Once you’ve made your point clearly — “Nope. Next topic” — feel free to use nonresponses as a chance to entertain yourself, especially if this person is an integral (as in, hard-to-avoid) part of your life.