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Woe Is Me! “My Husband’s Cousin Disrespected Me In a Heated Argument. Now What?”

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Nov 15, 2020

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Image Credit: Vardi (1989)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


I recently had a very heated conversation with one of my husband’s cousins about homosexuality. He (a doctor) claimed it was unnatural because it doesn’t aid reproduction. I wasn’t alarmist but tried to reason with him. He got really personal and was very disrespectful and shamed me on several accounts for arguing and feeling bad about being outdebated. This makes me feel like my husband’s family judgemental towards me! Help!

— Rainbow, Dampened

KB: Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: the doctor cousin’s views are repugnant, outdated, and wrong. You did nothing wrong by standing up for what you believe in, and he should never have been disrespectful towards you under any circumstances. In short, from the way you’ve described it, you’re right and he was wrong.

But — you knew a but was coming, didn’t you? — I would caution you against taking any larger conclusions about the way the entire family feels about you from this one conversation. Being a part of a large, extended family means there will be times when your personal or political views collide with others’. There is no such thing as an extended family where every single person agrees with every one of your views, so just accept that fact. And part of functioning within such an environment without sacrificing your own mental health, or your relationship with your husband, is to pick your battles. You will exhaust yourself if you try to argue with every aunt and uncle who doesn’t agree with your views. So for your own sake, don’t argue every single time, and don’t carry these arguments with you for days. However, given that you feel specifically disrespected by this one person, the best way to handle this is head-on — just tell him calmly the next time you see him that you weren’t comfortable with his tone and chosen method of expression, but look forward to debating him again in the future as long as he keeps it cordial.

DR: First of all, my sincerest sympathies. Second, yes, I think they are probably judging you — not just for your views, but also for standing up to them. But, do you really care about the judgment of a man, who is not only homophobic despite living in the twenty-first century and being educated in the medical sciences, but also tries to nurse his hurt male ego by trying to shame you after losing an argument? If judgments matter to you, here’s mine: I don’t know him, but I’m feeling a mix of anger and pity towards him; on the other hand, you have my respect for standing up to, and engaging with him — it’s a stressful process, I know.

I know your in-laws may be important to you, but at the end of the day, you have to spend your life with your husband, and not them. So, why don’t you express your woe to him? Maybe, he’ll be able to assure you that his family’s patriarchal notions won’t get in the way of your relationship, or he’ll offer to team up with you against them.

LG: Dear Fighting The Good Fight-er: They are judgmental of you — or, at least, the cousin-in-law is. So what? Who cares what a bigoted person thinks of you? Do you really value his opinion when you disagree with his is phobic worldview so profoundly? You’ve got right on your side, and it sounds like you handled the situation with aplomb — not getting worked up, but trying to point out the problems with his hurtful beliefs.
But here’s the thing — reason doesn’t change hearts and minds. It’s a common misconception that facts and logic will win the day; unfortunately, a lot of research, the anti-vax movement, and Donald Trump have proven they don’t. Reason, logic, and facts — no matter how dispassionately and calmly you present them — make people whose side is only based on emotion, fear, or wishful thinking feel backed into a corner. And when someone feels under threat like that, they get resentful and defensive because their nervous system actually inhibits their cognitive ability to analyze, empathize, and reflect. So, they lash out.

Next time, a more indirect approach might be more effective at getting him to listen and reconsider his beliefs. You can find a guide for engaging in social and political discussions in a way that facilitates actual mindset change here. (We published it last year, but… it feels relevant now more than ever.) It involves a lot of listening, which won’t be easy to do. But on the plus side, it might go farther in changing the cousin’s and others’ minds and allow you to eat a meal without a bitter side dish of personal insults. Keep up the good work, shiny warrior. And happy Diwali!

RD: Okay, first of all, I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this. Sounds really stressful. I have a solution that may add more stress, but may also be really fun. If he’s of the opinion that sex = reproduction, maybe you can start an open and honest conversation about sex and pleasure at the dinner table? Look, you have NOTHING to be ashamed of, and there isn’t really much they can credibly judge you for. You should be the one judging them for their views, you know. And if in the process, you can make them uncomfortable, then maybe a tit for tat is all you need to get your confidence a bit higher. Revel in the glory that you’re right and they’re wrong, and have some fun with it. Good luck!

AS: I give you credit for trying to reason with this person – I’m sure it must have been infuriating for you. On top of being a homophobe, from your question, this person also comes across as rude, condescending and just plain odious. My suggestion would be not to lose any sleep over them, or over this argument – because they don’t deserve it. And in the long run, maybe you could keep some quips ready in your arsenal — whenever you meet this person next (although I hope you can avoid that) use your veiled (or unveiled?) jibes to put them in their place. I don’t think you should generalise this behaviour to your husband’s entire family, because the rest of them could be very nice people. And if there are a couple who judge you for speaking your mind, again, they’re just not worth your time — try your best to be thick-skinned about it.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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