Welcome Home! I Did a Little Redecorating

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Returning home from a trip during which my in-laws stayed with our kids, I discovered my mother-in-law had replaced our kitchen chairs with a set she bought at a neighbor’s garage sale. Who does that? When I saw them, I said, “I have chairs.” She ignored me and asked my husband what he thought. He didn’t want a falling out, so he said he didn’t care. He thinks I don’t like them because they came from his mother. Not true! I am appalled that someone would change my furniture without permission. BTW: I hate the chairs. What should I do when she comes over and sees that mine are back?


It is the greatest disappointment of my week that I can’t show our readers a picture of these chairs, for the sake of anonymity. (They are wantonly hideous!) Sadly, though, there is a bigger issue here: boundary-busting by your mother-in-law.

You don’t mention any history of inconsiderate behavior on her part, but your husband’s suggestion hints at pre-existing tension between you and his mother. It also seems unlikely that she’d be respectful for years, then — wham! — new chairs appear without your blessing.

Acknowledge the germ of generosity here. Say to your mother-in-law: “Thanks for watching the kids and for your gift. I don’t care for the chairs, though. I like to choose my own furniture. Would you like them?”

If your mother-in-law is frequently pushy, inform your husband that falling out with his mother may, indeed, be unpleasant. But falling out with you will be much worse. Tell him you expect backup. Remember, though: The ugly chairs came with free child care. And this woman is his mother. So tread gently, O.K.?

Credit…Christoph Niemann

The Old Browser-History Check-in

Years ago, when the whole family shared a single desktop computer, I checked its browser history often to see what the kids were up to. I found searches clearly made by my husband about divorce and dating. When I confronted him, he denied it. (I haven’t trusted him since.) We’ve discussed divorce, but stayed together, mostly for financial reasons. Recently, after a long sexual dry spell, I checked his phone history. I found two dating sites for married men and Google map searches for addresses in a city where we don’t know anyone. Clearly, I was wrong to invade his privacy. But every time we talk, I want to scream at him about this. Advice?


I don’t need to tell you that marriage is complicated, or that many couples stick it out for reasons that have nothing to do with hearts and flowers. But when you say you’ve stayed together for financial reasons, your question becomes easier to handle.

You may still feel hurt and angry about your husband’s possible infidelity. In a mostly pragmatic arrangement, though, your best bet may be to work out mutually-acceptable rules to govern it. Doing so could restore some honesty and respect to the marriage.

Apologize for violating his privacy, share the results of your snooping and discuss the boundaries of a relationship you can both commit to. Maybe you will be open to sexual encounters with others; maybe you won’t. But if you can’t find a way to trust your husband again, I don’t believe you can afford not to divorce him.

This Was Not the Plan

We were invited to dinner at the home of new friends. When we got there, they said they didn’t want to cook and had made reservations at a restaurant nearby. They ordered wine (which they alone drank) and expensive meals. My wife and I are on a strict budget, so we ordered modestly (no appetizers or drinks). When the bill came, the man said, “Let’s split it 50-50.” I didn’t want to make a scene, so I plunked down my credit card. What could I have done?


Would it really have caused a scene in Massachusetts to say: “We’re on a tight budget. Let’s divide the bill by what we ordered.”? There’s no shame in being fiscally responsible, and your host may have learned how the other half lives.

I know that many of you are already typing snappy notes about how the hosts should have paid the entire bill since they invited their guests to dinner. I agree that would have been nice, but they didn’t. And the time for working out payment (“Is it an expensive restaurant?”) was when the plan was hatched. Use your words, people!

Not Even a “Thanks”?

Were we asleep when the obituary for thank-you notes was published? We have given several wedding gifts to friends’ children over the past few years, and we received not a single thank-you note (or email). These days, when gifts are often sent directly by merchants, we’re left wondering if they arrived.


Well, it would certainly reduce the volume of mail I receive if The Times published such an obituary. And you’re right: Thank-you notes are not trending — though it’s always polite to acknowledge gifts. If you’re worried yours wasn’t received, ask. But we can’t force people to thank us. (We don’t have to keep giving them gifts, either.)

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.