*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Having a difficult relationship with your in-laws won't matter so much if your marriage is happy and you and your spouse support each other, but when you're separated, and your in-laws do all they can to make it permanent, it will be hard to avoid arguments.
How would you react if your spouse had an affair while they were away from you, and you suddenly met both of them while going to have lunch with your in-laws?
Would that be just confusion or an indication they don't want your marriage to last?
My friend Olivia, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, has been married to Robert, her husband, for six years. They have one son and a daughter together and recently managed to buy a home.
"We needed to work so much and keep saving until we could get our place. We paid rent, and both kept our jobs so we could finally afford house payments. It happened after our fifth anniversary, and I felt so relieved when we could do that. It had been on my mind ever since our marriage ceremony," Olivia said.
The couple had a short engagement and then planned a simple wedding without a party after. Olivia's parents supported them so they could get married even if they didn't earn enough to have their own home yet.
They also had a few arguments because Robert's parents were not happy about their marriage. His mom, Tina, kept telling her son it wasn't too late to change his mind even after the ceremony. And the first time they visited them after getting married, Tina spent 2 hours telling Olivia that she wasn't the kind of daughter-in-law she had hoped for.
"She made such a long list of the things she didn't like about me. And then she pointed out why I wouldn't make a good housewife. And she asked us to wait on having kids like it was her decision. It was all very offensive, and I didn't go back," Olivia said.
Olivia has avoided going to her in-laws' home in Phoenix since then. And each time Tina called and asked to talk to her son, her mother-in-law shouted at her or reminded her she didn't need to answer his phone.
In the meantime, the couple lived in their rented apartment and became parents while keeping their relationship away from Tina's interference. Olivia's mom and dad helped them look after their son and daughter, and they also had a babysitter.
"We had to do that so we could both keep working and have enough money to get our home. I didn't want my two kids to grow up in that apartment. I want them to be happy and play in our backyard and have pets," Olivia said.
While they both agreed to do overtime in the office in Phoenix, the spouses slowly became distant, and their relationship changed. Caring so much about work and not having time at all to go on dates made them forget important occasions like birthdays, and they didn't travel together like they used to before they got engaged.
"Our relationship was the same every day. There were no surprises, no gifts, not even breakfast over the weekends. Only work, kids, and bills. That got tiresome after a while, and I only saw her as my roommate," Robert said.
Olivia noticed he behaved differently, too, but she didn't get the time to plan any trips or even a date. And as more anniversaries passed, some of them left without any celebration, Robert began doubting whether he still wanted to be in just one relationship.
He wasn't ready for a divorce or anything like that, but he began looking around just in case someone noticed him. Angela, one of his wife's coworkers, visited them often and sometimes stayed for lunch. And she came a few times when Olivia wasn't around.
"She was so nice and didn't look tired and stressed out all the time. She even gave me some compliments and laughed at my jokes. It had been so long since Olivia did that," Robert said.
After a few more visits without Olivia in the house, Robert and Angela agreed to meet for lunch on their own. They had a good time at a restaurant in Phoenix and since then kept seeing each other two times a week.
Olivia noticed the extra spending, however, and when she asked Robert what was going on, he admitted he was having a relationship with her coworker. His wife asked him to end the affair, but he refused.
"He packed his things and said he wanted to separate. It wasn't a divorce yet, but he needed to think things through. And he wasn't willing to let her go. I felt so disrespected and offended," Olivia said.
Two months before this argument, the couple had finally bought their home in Phoenix, but their separation made Olivia confused about how she was going to keep up with the bills and monthly payments. Robert promised to keep helping her so their kids would have a nice home, but after two months of separation, he rarely sent her any money.
The mom did her best to pay the bills and look after her kids, with her parents and friends coming over as often as they could to help her.
"I could no longer afford a babysitter, and I needed support to be able to keep my job. And Robert didn't feel like answering my texts or picking up the phone when I called him. He didn't come to see the kids either," Olivia said.
In the meantime, her mother-in-law called her and invited Olivia and the kids for lunch over the weekend. She told her it was a way to say sorry for the way her son was behaving.
"She said she wanted to support us and that she didn't approve of his affair. I thought maybe she was finally ready to have a more positive relationship with me and her grandkids, so I said yes," Olivia said.
Last Saturday, the mom and her kids arrived at noon at Tina's home. They knocked, but Tina wasn't there to receive them. The front door was open, so they went in. They got to the kitchen and then headed to the backyard, expecting to find her doing a bit of gardening.
But over there, they didn't meet Tina or her husband. Robert was having a snack with his new girlfriend. And his wife and kids walked in exactly when he was telling her how much he loved her.
"She invited me and the kids for lunch when he was there with his girlfriend. I'm sure she knew this would happen, and she did it on purpose. I get it; she still can't stand me, but to do that to the kids. That's just too much," Olivia said.
Tina showed up 15 minutes later and said she had forgotten Olivia was bringing the kids over. Olivia refused to listen to her explanation and told Robert she wanted a divorce. She's not sure what will happen to their house, though.
What do you think about this situation? Was it just a coincidence that Tina and the kids walked in on Robert and his girlfriend when they were supposed to have lunch with Tina? Was the mother-in-law doing it precisely to make sure Olivia and Robert's relationship would end in a divorce?