I am in my mid-40s and have been married for four years. On top of all the marital difficulties we're having, my husband insists that I have dinner with his parents every Sunday, as well as every anniversary, birthday and holiday. The truth is, I don't really like his family, and I can only take them in small doses. They are loud, argumentative and mean.
I make it a point to accompany my husband every few weeks or so, and we spend every holiday with them. Today, my husband announced that his parents' anniversary and his father's birthday are coming up and that if I don't attend "we're through."
I was shocked by this ultimatum. I feel it is a complete betrayal of our marriage that he would back me into a corner like this. Spending time with his parents is very hard on me. They are very abrasive and critical, and I always leave feeling sad. My own parents are both deceased. This makes it even more difficult for me. We did things so differently in my family. Getting together was pleasurable and not something one "had to do." What can I do?
The first thoughts that come to mind are; why are you in your mid-40's and barely got married? Also, if this is your second (or third or fourth) marriage, why are you making the same mistake over and over again? The truth is that something doesn't seem to be adding up right. At this point in your life I would think that by now you would be mature and experienced when it comes to love and relationships. That's the reason why something seems a bit odd or maybe we are not getting the full story. For the purpose of this answer I will assume that the information given is true and accurate.
When it comes to being in a relationship I believe that getting to know the family of your future spouse should be a must. No matter how much people say that other family members shouldn't matter and that as longest there's love between each other that should be enough, IT'S JUST NOT TRUE. Unless you are planning to never have any kind of interaction with these people and you both agree, it does matter and it can be what determines if your relationship or marriage will last or not.
Before you commit to a long term relationship with someone you should always think about the future and know that in your partner's family there are always going to be holidays, birthdays and special events that will come up year after year and are never going to go away. This will happen whether you like it or not, it's just part of life. For this reason I want to emphasis the importance of really getting to know you future partner and making a decision on whether you will be able to deal with these family gatherings for the rest of your life. If you can't deal with it or at least come up with a system to work this out it is just best to not even go through with this life-long commitment.
The bottom line is, when you marry someone you're also marrying their family. In real life we don't get to choose our own family, but if this is true, doesn't it make sense that when it comes to marrying someone you take the time to get to know their family and determine if you are going to be able to get along with them or not? You don't have to become best friends but at least be able to see them and enjoy their company every once in a while. At the same time you are putting your spouse in a tough situation where he is forced to choose between his family and you. Of course I believe that your spouse should be first no matter what, but you don't want to force someone to make this decision because other factors might come into play and the result might not be favorable to you. Sometimes when things are rocky and one is making an evaluation of the relationship one of the factors in your favor might be the fact that everyone in their family loves you and this could be the strongest reason for someone to fight for the survival of the relationship or give up.
In your case, your husband has given you an ultimatum to choose to accept his family gatherings or leave. This is obviously very important to him and given that you guys also have other issues it means that this was the deciding factor for the ultimatum.
Your options are very simple, and if you can't accept his family then there's nothing you can do about it but just leave.
What I suggest you do is be open with your husband and let him know how you feel to see if he understands and can support you. Then he should sit down with each individual family member alone and have a one-on-one talk with them and explain how they are making you feel and tell them that as a result he's having serious relationship problems with you. If the family cares about him having a happy marriage they will change towards you or at least be a little more sensitive with you. If the family doesn't like you its possible that they will continue to behave the same way even more to cause you guys to split up. At this point your husband should acknowledge this and finally realize who the real problem is and hopefully pick you. If he doesn't then your marriage is a lost cause and you have done everything in your power to save it.