By Kathleen Brehony on April 9, 2013
I’m planning a surprise birthday party for my husband, Richard. I’ve sent out invitations to family and friends and they’re excited to celebrate this occasion with us.
Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Richard’s father stating that if I invited his ex-wife (Richard’s mother) he would not be coming. He asked me to “un-invite” her. They’ve been divorced for over 20 years and both are happily remarried. Also, I’ve invited seventy-five people to this party and most are coming, so it’s not like he’s been invited to a small, intimate dinner that might be uncomfortable.
I know Richard will be disappointed if his father is not there, but it would be an even bigger disappointment to him if his mom was not there. Do you have any suggestions as to how to handle this distressing situation? Should I tell Richard about this?
The answer here is quite simple and based on a fundamental law of relationships and birthday celebrations: Never let anyone dictate your guest list and never cave in to another’s neurotic behavior.
Politely e-mail Richard’s father and tell him that you are not willing to exclude Richard’s mother. In case he doesn’t know this, tell him that this will be a large gathering and that you will be certain to seat him and his wife and Richard’s mother and her husband at different and distant tables. Simply state that it is your hope that he and his wife will attend the party because it will mean a lot to Richard. And then that’s it! No cajoling, no begging and, certainly no amendments to your invite list.
It’s a shame that this guy can’t let go of animosity and anger. Holding on to these negative emotions and refusing the call of forgiveness don’t just ensure his bad manners at a party invitation, but are also bad for his health and longevity. And this is not just a psychological reality.
Research has clearly shown that people who hold resentments suffer more physical problems such as higher levels of blood pressure, more intense muscle tension, and cardiovascular disease. It’s as if every cell of the body spends its energy hanging on to the past and the hurts that we suffered there.
Richard’s Dad, if you’re reading this, I suggest that you consider seeing a therapist or working with a spiritual adviser (such as your pastor, priest, or rabbi – pick one) about allowing forgiveness and healing into your heart.
I also must say that you sound to me like a selfish fellow. This party is not about you, it’s about celebrating your son’s birthday. So buck up! Swallow your pride or whatever it is that is preventing you from being generous with your son and his wife. Go to that party. Be cordial to your ex- and her husband, and then make a beeline for your table or another group of friends mingling in a distant corner of the room.
Barbara, healing the dysfunctional relationship between Richard’s parents is not your responsibility. You can’t tell Richard about all this now since this is a surprise party, after all. But it is very likely that, after the party, Richard will inquire as to why his father was not there.
Tell him the truth and remember that regardless of how much you love Richard, it is not your place to protect him from his father’s selfish behavior.
Send your personal coaching questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 473-4004. Kathleen is a personal and executive coach, clinical psychologist, and writer. (©2012 Kathleen Brehony. All rights reserved.)