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What approach to take when a DIL is distant?

Started by Lilly, June 19, 2009, 11:07:09 am

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I found this forum after searching for advice about my DIL problems.   I'm glad there's a place to discuss these problems!

Our story:

Our son was married to his HS sweetheart last August.  We were aware before he married her that she's controlling and distant, but the problem has multiplied since they were married.  I think we've been clueless because they three hours away until this Jan.  Our problem is much the same as ya'll have posted.  Our Son and DIL haven't made a place in their lives for us.  They spend a lot of time with her family and we end up getting leftover time.

We've always been very close to our son.  He was an only child for 8 years and now has three younger siblings.  Our family is loving and we share almost everything with each other.  I can't say that my son has changed (yet), but like I said, we don't get much time with him at all.  He visited (without DIL) last friday and we sat up until 2AM talking and catching up.  It made me happy and sad at the same time.  When DIL isn't around, he's the man we all know.. when she's around he's different.  I'll also say that we raised him to love his wife and put her first.  I don't want to be the source of bad feelings or problems in their marriage. 

So.. I'm wondering just how to deal with the distance from our son and DIL and do it in a way that's loving.  I've told him that we feel like we're no longer a part of his life.  He said he's sorry and he knows he hasn't made time for us and wants to change that.  We agreed to have dinner together every other Sunday so that we'll at least have a set time to get together regularly.  Well, I cooked on Sunday and he "forgot".  He called and apologize profusely and I wasn't angry at him.  I just told him that I'm afraid he's going to look back and regret not making time for his family.  He's dropped by the house a couple of times this week and my husband invited S and DIL to go to the auction tonight.  Son accepted the invitation, but said DIL wasn't excited about going, and isn't going. 

Today I learned that they're planning on taking a weekend trip to the beach with DIL's mother.  I think that's great, but.. for 6 years our families have celebrated the 4th together.  We have barely seen our son in two months.. they see her family daily.. and now are planning a trip with them after planning nothing with us for weeks even though we've extended invitations.  Also, DIL will not talk to us about anything.  Our son shares what's going on in his life.  He also says that DIL won't talk to him and isn't open to discussing a lot.  It makes me sad to think that my son is married to someone that shuts people out of her life like that.

Anyway.. I'm extremely sad about this.  I'm trying not to make waves, but I'm tired of being hurt too.  It's all I can do to bite my tongue at times.  Everyone sees how she treats us.  Her sister's husband told us not long ago that her sister is the same way and that he rarely sees his family.  If he mentions it, she just gets mad and they have a big fight.   

What do I do?  Gracefully back off and let go?  Talk to them nicely?  Maybe if I was willing to accept the scraps when they show up because they want something or have nothing better to do? 

As far as expectations.. we discussed this before they got married.  I told my son that the only fear I had about him marrying her is that we wouldn't be able to be close to him anymore.  He said he understood and that he had talked to her about it and she was going to work on it.  She did and made it until the wedding day before she went back to not caring how she treats us.  Maybe if my son was saying for us to back off, or that we expect too much, I'd feel differently.  He doesn't though.. he says he understands and that he missed spending time with his family too.  He doesn't dare upset his wife though. 

Thanks for listening,



Thank you Prissy.  It helps to know that we're not alone and to talk about it. 


Hi Lilly, welcome! What a sad situation and it's all too common. The insecure bride clings to her family and takes the guy with her. I doubt that talking with them is going to do anything except make things worse. That's how she is. That's who he picked. That's what you've got. No one can make her into a warm, caring, generous person who is willing to extend her boundaries.

The thing about Sunday dinner is doubly sad. Sometimes "forgetting" is a sign of resistance. Your DIL probably hit the roof over that and you son "forgot" because the conflict was/is killing him.

And wasn't she great up until the wedding?! That was a pretty obvious move on her part whether she even realized it or not. Single/cooperate...married/dictate.  Brutal. 

To me, it looks like you and your son need to see what you can salvage in the way of  one-on-one visits and a mutual respect for each others' position. He can't change her. Start from there. He is probably embarrassed and sad but may also become distant and resentful, if pressured. Then you will lose both of them.

We all had a picture of welcoming our DILs with open arms. (Well, there are exceptions out there, but not in your case or mine.) Being treated like second rate citizens at best and like someone with the plague at worst was something we never anticipated or deserved. Adjusting to it is like adjusting to Hell for most of us. My heart goes out to you.

Blessings, Luise 
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Good Morning Ladies!!

Hi Lilly!  I feel for you, not all MILs deserve this type of treatment.

My mom told me something a while ago and it stuck with me.  She said 'Some women don't mature until their thirties and even then they still have issues that may never be resolved.'  Maybe his wife has issues of her own, feeling like her significant other may leave her so she has to control.  Maybe she even feels like you are a threat to the relationship (you will still be number 1 in his life) or whatever it could be.  I'm in no way trying to excuse her for her behavior, but I have learned from this site that the MILs here just want understanding and I'm a FDIL and I wanted understanding too.  You might have to understand this is just who she is and leave her alone.  Try to spend as much time with your son as you can, don't expect her to come, who cares anyway??  She might be missing something great with you and vice versa, but you shouldn't allow her to dictate your feelings. 

As far as the holiday, I changed plans too.  My fiancee and I have spent every 4th of July with his mother for the last 6 years and I wanted to try something new.  So this year we are driving to Chicago with our kids, my sisters and their kids for 4th of July festivities.  His mom was a little sad and tried to run a guilt trip but she had to except that not everything will go her way.  I wasn't trying to purposely spite her but I wanted to do something different.

I really hope you son continues to spend time with you.  I think it's wrong to ask anyone not to see their family especially if the family is of no harm to the relationship.  I would not and have not asked my fiance to stop seeing his mother as much simply because it would start an argument and I don't want to end of relationship over his mother.

I wish you the best!!!


Hey, Bride2Be! I wonder if there are men who don't mature until their 30s as well. To tell you the truth...I think some people never mature. I'm serious. I see people  in the retirement center where we live that have never addressed growing up and becoming responsible adults. There are so many places to hide! Blessings, Luise
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Prissy and All,

How do we make a new subject with that? Seems like an interesting topic? And I bet you will never stop being funny as long as you draw breath.

We love to joke around, too. Yesterday our wonderful former DIL and her hubby were leaving after coming to dinner on Father's Day...and I was acting silly and started to leave with them. I was holding our little dog, (so they could hug my husband without getting growled at)...and I turned to my husband and said something like..."Goodbye, nice to have seen you. Let's keep in touch." And my 97 year-old sweetie dead-panned his reply...."The dog stays! LOL!

Blessings, Luise
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Oh, Prissy! I remember when I toured my elder son's "mansion" and I couldn't resist saying, as we toured yet another huge area...something like" Oh, this is really great! When I get old and come and live with you, this will d very nicely!" LOL!
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Hi Lilly!

Being distant can often be a mask or a defense mechanism. It is easier to stay "out of reach" and "cold" than taking the risk of getting intimate which makes a person vulnerable. It could be that your DIL just feels tense or anxious with people she doesn't know that well. So it might have nothing to do with you per se, she is just insecure about herself really. Perhaps she finds it hard to trust people. Do not take that personally though. It is not your fault. It is natural that she feels more at ease with her family - and it would not be fair to blame her for that. I am sure most females know that mothers and daughters do share a strong bond. 

Another point to keep in mind is that when our children do get married and start their own life, it is a big change for everyone related. And inevitably the time spent with mothers and fathers does grow less. Because on top of the time your child spends with their spouse's family, they also want to spend time on their own just the two of them.

However, I do agree that the time that your son and dil spend with each other's families should be roughly equal.

How is it for the Holidays? Perhaps an arrangement could be made by which your son and DIL spend a holiday one year at your place and then the next year at her family's? Or maybe lets say thanksgiving with you and Xmas with her side or vica versa. It all takes just sitting down and discussing it openly in a warm and nonjudgmental manner. Nobody likes to be demanded of anything.

You could start by letting you DIL know that you appreciate her very much and that you would like to come up with some solution that would get both of your needs met. You can even try to address a fears and let her know it is not an issue of control. I have found in many occasions, that something that often works is showing compassion. When you show compassion even to the most angry and abusive person, something often clicks inside them, they feel heard. And when a person feels heard and understood, it is much easier to ask them for  something and to win them over.

I hope all works out fot the best for you!


Alicev, I 'think' I know what you're saying...where you are coming from but all of us have different people we're dealing with. Ones who can't be put in a category like in a book.

Like the Holidays: I feel like one of those people who have no one and just dread them like death. I wish they would go away and never come back. I wish Christmas could be a day where we send a card, that's it.

I used to love Christmas and Thanksgiving so much. They were wonderful holidays where loved ruled and people, dysfunctional but funny people, gathered and made memories.

Now, it's a battle that I'm sick of.  I'm sick of worrying about them. I'm sick of DILs ruining them. Both of mine in reality are control freaks. One of them is so tight with her money that my feelings are hurt to the core that she doesn't think it's necessary to buy us a gift.  "it's about the kids", she says.

The other one acts like an A** when she has to do something she has not thought of herself. She must be in charge or she won't play.

Both of them detest each other and play like they don't. I'm sitting there in fear thinking "what is going to happen next?"

I want the entire month gone.  The end of November till the end of December.  Erase the month. It's not worth it to me. Here it is July and I'm dreading the holidays.  There's nothing jolly about them.

I wouldn't mind dysfunctional but I don't "do" weird, control, walking on eggshells, hateful looks.  We end up spending money we shouldn't and get zero in return.  No return for our investment at all.

Both my sons are co-dependent.  Good Lord!  What have I created here?


Oh, wow! We are talking the holidays in July? For me, it is about the energy it takes and doing less every year. But I still decorate!  :D
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


But Luise, they're coming. The holidays are coming. You can't stop them...they're hanging out there like a flu virus with the amino acid to start a worldwide plague. (I have a tendency to be overly dramatic, I know but if a story is worth telling, let's hear it.)