My in-laws live 10 hours away by car. We (my spouse and I, no children involved) visit them twice a year; one week in the spring or summer and almost a full week during the Christmas holidays. Having them visit us is out of the question as they don't travel at all – they rarely leave the house. Our visits consist of sitting around watching TV. Going out to dinner has never happened because my father-in-law doesn't like eating in restaurants. When the entire family gets together, we meet at someone's house for a meal and all the work is done by the women while the men sit. Most of the conversation is in another language, which I don't speak or understand. I've asked my husband to translate and he will for a little bit but then stops. So I spend most of the time just sitting there silently. My husband and I each have three weeks of vacation a year. I'm tired of using more than half my vacation on family visits. How long is long enough to visit family and how often? How do I tell my spouse that I'd like to cut down on either the number or duration of visits?
Quite a few things going on here. Let me address/unpack piece by piece.
I know it's not germane to the meat of your question, but the first thing that jumps out at me is the statement, "all the work is done by the women while the men sit."
What's up with that? (Columnist looks at watch.) It's the 21st century! Time for your menfolk to get their duffs off the couch or find themselves sleeping on said couch. Tell him/them that in no uncertain terms! You have my permission to pound your fist on the table.
Ye gods, on the rare occasions where family or friends have gathered and I am too out of it/stuporific to pull my weight – well, first of all, I get "The Glare" from my wife.
As she is, say, whisking out a fresh tray of appetizers out to our guests and I am laughing and sipping chardonnay and chatting in the kitchen, she will shoot me a look that freezes the blood in my veins, a look that says: "What are you doing? Oh, wait, I know: nothing. You better hop to it, pal, and help me out, or as Beelzebub is my witness I will make your life such a living Hell you will pray for the sweet release of death." (Her glare is very eloquent.)
And I jump to my feet. Just saying. You doing all the work while the menfolk talk politics and sip brandy and smoke cigars is so 1956. You need to drag these characters into the 21st century kicking and screaming, post-haste and prontissimo.
Okay, on to the central issue. I hope I'm not being too overemphatic here, but I think you have an extremely legitimate beef. To drive 10 hours for the non-privilege of being forced to sit in silence while a bunch of your husband's relatives jabber away in a language you don't understand for an entire week is both outrageous and absurd and just sounds deeply taxing. Just hearing about it wearies me down to the bones of my soul.
Especially if, as you say, it's munching up more than half of your precious three weeks a year of vacation.
I have one word for you: surgical. You have to shorten these visits.
You ask what's an acceptable minimum – I would say "it varies," obviously, from family to family. My wife and I drive a certain distance (less than 10 hours but still a distance) for various holidays to visit my in-laws and everyone seems happy with a single overnight stay. As a matter of fact, I think they're probably relieved to see our car pull out of the driveway. Don't forget that hosting is a lot of work, too.
As to how to break it to your husband: just break it to him. Tell him like you told me, maybe even more emphatic: "I can't sit there for a week listening to a language I can't understand when we only have three weeks of vacation. Please. I'm begging you. Let's make these visits more surgical."
Maybe put it in a loving way: "I want to spend more tête-à-tête time with you."
However you do it, you have to do it, because life's too short to do everything from a sense of obligation.
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