January 25, 2021, 06:00:23 pm


"Welcome to WiseWomenUnite.com -- When adult children marry and leave home, life can sometimes get more complex instead of simpler.  Being a mother-in-law or daughter-in-law can be tough.  How do we extend love and support to our mothers-in-law, adult children, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, and grandchildren without interfering?  What do we do when there are communication problems?  How can we ask for help when we need it without being a burden?  And how do our family members feel about these issues?  We invite you to join our free forum, read some posts... and when you're ready...share your challenges and wisdom."

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Messages - confusedbyinlaws

Thanks for the advice and feedback.  I agree with you that I can't make my inlaws change and I am not expecting much change on their end.  And I don't really feel like it's my right to ask people to change.  But I do feel like I have the right not to tolerate certain things that they do.  I have reacted badly to things my inlaws do, taking things personally that were not personal at all, allowing their behavior to affect my self esteem and becoming increasingly resentful over the years and this has hurt me more than it has hurt them. 
Pooh, the answer to your question about whether my inlaws do these things only to me is both yes and no.  MIL does comment on everyone's appearance, especially women, weight, hair clothes etc. incessantly.  It's not personal.  Because of my own insecurities I have reacted more than others.  Other people in the family find it rude an annoying, but don't seem to get so upset about it.  Both inlaws are extremely weight conscious and don't hesitate to comment on people's weight. (Examples: FIL told my son he was getting fat when he returned home from college.  MIL told my mom how nice and trim she was  looking when she was dying of cancer and had lost so much weight for that reason. ) As far as I know no one ever confronted them about this until I did.  Everyone was aware of it and doesn't like it but they just put up with it.  Now MIL says she is working on not doing it, so maybe I've done her a favor.
As far as the food issues, it is about MIL wanting to feel needed as Fangle said was the case with others she knows.  MIL is all about wanting to serve others in that way.  There is nothing wrong with that except when people specifically ask you not to, in my opinion.  When I invite people over for a dinner party to my home, it is a gift that I am giving them and so I do feel like I have the right not to have it taken over by my inlaws.  I tried to explain to my MIL that it's like if I was making a quilt or something to give to someone as a gift and she came along and said "oh I want to help"  and took over and finished it.  Then it would no longer be my gift.  She just looked at me and I don't know if she understood or not.  She is such a nurturer that it seems really hard for her to accept that she can't do it even in my home. 
I have not observed my inlaws doing this to others.  My grown children have had family gatherings and I noticed my inlaws didn't try to take over and didn't over do it with what they did bring, if they were asked to bring a side.  The only other family is my husband's brother's family who live across the country from us and inlaws recently moved near them.  BIL is recently married and I have not visited there since inlaws move there, so I don't know how that is going.  My ex-SIL was very strong willed and didn't allow it.  She was also not well liked by them.  MIL was very nice to her but I heard what was said behind SIL's back.
The hardest thing for me to tolerate with MIL is the excessive complimenting and "niceness" that comes across as disingeniune.  My MIL really wants to and tries to be a nice person.  There is a defense mechanism called reaction formation and I think that is what my MIL does.  It's when someone feels anxious about having bad feelings toward another, so they over compensate by behaving in the opposite manner.  MIL tries really hard to be nice to me, mother me, compliment me etc.  I can see her looking for something nice to say to me.  Occasionally she blurts something very insulting out.  I have come to the conclusion that that is when her true feelings come out.  The complimenting makes me uncomfortable because it is really excessive and it doesn't seem sincere to me and also because I don't have good feelings toward her.  I tried to talk to MIL about this and said "I question your sincerity"  That was a big mistake because she said I called her insincere and that hurt her to the core.  I don't think this is something I will continue to address in the future, because I don't think it will do any good and only hurt her.  I don't even think she is aware that she does this.   I have not noticed MIL doing this to her sons or grandchildren, the way she does with me.
MIL has a listening problem too, but I have noticed that when her sons and grandchildren make requests of her she listens.
Pooh, I have been too sensitive and taken things too personally and this has made it worse for me.  And I have developed a pretty negative attitude toward them too and have dwelled on their bad qualities.  They do have some good points too.  They are not bad people, but even good people have bad feelings toward others.  I am a good person and I certainly have bad feelings toward them.  I think they resent me for not fitting into their family culture and I resent them for trying to impose their family culture on me. 
I am still struggling with how to move forward.  I find it hard to turn my hurt and anger off like a switch and I feel like there is never going to be the resolution that I had hoped for.  The best I think I can do is to make occasional visits with my husband and try to do this without giving up my power to them and without becoming so angry with them. This is how I hope to handle it.
1.Pay attenton to my reactions to them and do a lot of supportive self talk to get me through it. For instance if inlaws say something critical to me, instead of taking it to heart, I will tell myself that that is just their opinion of me and not my opinion of myself.  It might even help to say that out loud so that they can hear.
2. I plan to stay in a nearby inn or motel.  Under the circumstances, I think that would be best at least until we see how things go.  My inlaws will probably object and feel hurt by it, but rather than allow myself to be guilted into something I am not comfortable with I will stand firm on that.  I thought I could explain: "I am an introvert and my down-time is important to me. It's hard for me to be around people 24 hours a day. ( and this would not be a lie) I think it will be a more comfortable and enjoyable visit for me this way.  You want me to be more comfortable and enjoy the time, don't you?" 
3.  If inlaws visit us in the future and try to take over I was thinking I could respond by saying: "I am happy to let you provide food and serve me when I visit you.  Please show me the same consideration and allow me to provide the food and serve you when you are my guests.  "   My husband has told them that for now he doesn't think we should all be under the same roof, so if they come visit they can't stay with us.  That seems harsh to me, but I agree with it. This could change depending on how things go in the future, but for now it's probably a good idea. 
4.  If MIL makes comments about my appearance I think I will just gently remind her what she is doing.
I struggle with assertiveness and this has caused a lot of my problems with my inlaws.  Things would not feel this bad if I had only been honest and upfront with them from the beginning.  It is a new skill and I will probably make some mistakes.  It's hard to find the balance between being passive and going to far to the point of becoming aggressive.  I would be interested in your feedback about how I can be more assertive with them without going too far and please tell me if the way I intend to handle these issues seems to aggressive or not assertive enough.  I hope to be able to address things as they come up rather than waiting until I feel angry. 
Other than that I feel like I will need to detach, lower my expectations and not force myself to spend too much time with them and pay attention to my own needs. 
In case you are wondering where my husband is in all this:  He is not a passive person but he has been quite passive with his parents.  He's been well aware of the problems but like me, he has avoided dealing with them.  However since the big confrontation, he has been completely supportive of me and I think he will have my back.  ( I hope).  He has even told me that I don't ever have to join him for a visit with his parents unless I want to.  Well I don't really want to but I'm not going to feel good about just writing them completely off.  I feel like they would be hurt by that and I feel like we all deserve another chance to do things differently. 
I have been married for 28 years.  When I first met my husband and his parents I thought they seemed like the perfect family.  His parents were both college educated professionals and their two sons were headed in that direction.   They seemed close and did a lot of things together and I never saw any of them get angry.  I grew up in a household full of  people with tempers so I found this refreshing.  His parents seemed so nice and yet I still felt very uncomfortable with them.

After we had been married a few years, my MIL made a point of telling me that she had a terrible relationship with her MIL and she wanted very much not to be like her.  She said that her MIL never loved her so she made a point of telling me that she loved me.  I was touched and I thought she would be like another mother to me.  My relationship with my own mother was not bad, but my parents were not very demonstrative.  However I knew that they loved me. 

My inlaws used to take their two sons, even after they were in college and they would all go camping in their small camper.  When I came along (and I had a young child already), they thought we could also stay in those small quarters with them.  I went along with that because I wanted their approval and I concluded that if I was not comfortable with that it was because of something wrong with me.  There was a week on a houseboat with absolutely no privacy and no escape with inlaws, my husband daughter and I and BIL and his girlfriend.  I could tell BIL's girlfriend was uncomfortable too and I could not wait to get off that boat.  I told myself then that I would never agree to that again.  When we traveled together we shared hotel rooms too.  Eventually I said no to those kind of things.  My inlaws never express anger, but I could tell FIL was angry when he wanted us all to do something and I declined.  And I remember MIL saying "What's wrong with DIL?  Why doesn't she want to stay with us?"   But they got used to the fact that I didn't like close quarters like that.

My inlaws moved closer to us about 15 years ago and that's when the problems seemed to become worse.  When we would invite them over for parties or family gatherings they would insist on bringing all this food.  I was passive again and went along with that for awhile and then began to object.  There was an incident where FIL wouldn't let me serve the bread I had purchased at the bakery for a meal at my own home and he had brought bread and wanted me to serve it instead.... Not in addition to.  I literally pushed him out of the way and put my bread out with his.  It was a territorial thing and it made me mad.  That was sort of a last straw and I decided it was time to sit them down and have a talk.

There were a couple of other issues with my MIL that I was struggling with that I also talked with them about at that time.  The biggest issues I have with my MIL is that she visually examines me and comments out loud about my appearance.  She tries to make it complimentary, but it is often back handed compliments and she also expresses disapproval sometimes about the way I am wearing my hair or whatever.  The other thing is that she tries to hard to compliment me and it comes across as insincere.  Then sometimes she blurts things out that are insulting.  This particular behavior has been very confusing to me.  Which one does she mean.  Well, I know sometimes I blurt things out and it's usually something I was thinking but didn't want to say.  I recently read something about a defense mechanism called reaction formation where someone says and behaves the opposite way of how they are feeling because the negative feelings cause them anxiety.  So they over- compensate by behaving and saying just the opposite.  I am beginning to wonder if that was true for my MIL.

So when we sat and had our first talk about 12 years ago, things seemed to go pretty well.  There was no yelling, or ugliness and I felt pretty proud of myself for being about to talk to them about these things without losing my temper.  They seemed to react pretty well.  I addressed the issues of the food and MILs commentary on my appearance.  I didn't address the over-complimenting and the blurted out insults because I was simply confused by it and didn't know how to address it with her.  They nodded their heads and said they loved me and wanted to do whatever it took to make things right.    But they didn't

I had to fight every time to keep them from trying to bring tons of  food when we invited them over and I eventually wouldn't even let them in the kitchen..  Even recently when we had invited them for dinner they asked if they could bring prime rib.  I did stand firm though even though they kept trying.  When they asked about the prime rib, I said they could bring a salad.  Well they brought an entire salad bar that took them 30 minutes to set up and took up my entire counter top, so there was barely any room to put the main meal.  And there was enough salad bar for an army and it could have been an entire meal in itself. 
I decided after that I would just tell them no don't bring a thing and I mean it.

MIL continued with the commentary about my appearance, as if I had never said anything to her about it  Why didn't I continue to confront her about it?  I wish I had.  I wimped out.  I experienced  a lot of anxiety  when confronting them the first time and I thought it didn't do any good the first time so why put myself through that again.  Bad way to think!

So as time went on over the next several years I became more and more resentful.  Menopause hit, then my mother got cancer, then she died and that changed me.  I just feel like I don't want to tolerate things like I used to .  One thing I have realized is that I never had to tolerate things that I wasn't comfortable with and never should have.  I should have taken better care of my own needs.

About 1 ½ years ago I wrote a letter to my MIL addressing her scrutiny and commentary about my appearance again and how uncomfortable it made me.  I also brought up about how she gushes with compliments but then blurts out insults and that when she does that I question her sincerity (with the compliments)  I wrote the letter because I knew I was angry and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to say it all without losing my temper.  My husband and my grown daughter read the letter and thought it was fine to send.  My daughter even said it was a nice letter and compared to how I was feeling it was nice. 

Then inlaws came over to talk and it did not go well.  MIL was crying and saying "You called me insincere and that hurt me to the core"   FIL was defending his wife and turned it all back on me.  You think she compliments you too much and tries to do to much for you, I think you are the one with the problem.  I lost my temper then and they left.  I feel horrible about the way I behaved that day.  My husband just sat there in shock at their reaction and said hardly anything the whole time

After that I sought out the therapist who had helped me when my Mom was dying.  MIL eventually had a session with her in which I apologized for my behavior and tried town my part of it..  She cried through the entire session about how I had hurt her and how she didn't understand what she had done wrong., that she loved me and meant every compliment.  The session ended up being one to make her feel better, but I didn't feel better. 

Since then my inlaws have moved to be near their other son and be at a lower altitude for their health. My husband has visited twice without me and from what I hear he spend many hours trying to get them to understand where I was coming from. 

The way I feel now is that I have no desire to spend time with them.  I feel like they are not horrible people, but they have given me the message with their behavior that they don't care about how I feel.  The first time I told them how I was feeling, they just gave me lip service but continued doing the same things that I had said I wasn't comfortable with.  The second time they acted like they had never heard any of it before and put all on me as the one with the problem.

After my husband's first visit, which was almost a year after the confrontation they wrote a letter to me apologizing for causing me pain in the past.  I responded saying the apology surprised me and that they left me with the impression they thought they had done nothing wrong and that I was the one with the problem. MIL responded saying she was working on listening better and practicing not commenting on people's appearance.  I told her I didn't understand why they continued to do those things after the first conversation and she said she was trained as a teacher that one someone said she was wrong to let it go floating by.   (seriously!)

I left it this way. I said I appreciated the apology and expressed intent to do things differently, but that there was a lot of water under the bridge and I needed time. 

I still feel very hurt and angry and sad with the realization that this woman who claimed to love me so much really hasn't shown much consideration for my feelings. 

I feel like I do need to join my husband for a visit to them at some point but not exactly sure what to do at this point.  Right now I am just waiting hoping that my anger will subside and that I will feel strong enough to visit them without giving up my power to them.

Any insight or advice would be appreciated.  And please don't hesitate to tell me where you think my thinking in this situation is wrong.