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Please help me move past this old row that is eating me up

(15 Posts)
maudlin Wed 22-Jun-11 20:24:36

Hello lovely MNers - I've changed my name

DP is wonderful - great partner, great dad, soul mate. Nobody's perfect -I'm not, he's not - and we've had our ups and downs. I think for the most part we've always done our best, in our own ways, to keep things working in the relationship.

But when it comes to the 'soul mate,' I wonder whether it's still true.

Potted summary. MIL has had a tough, tragic life, and, further, played the part of good cop parent to DP. So he's very protective of her, and believes that she is extremely nice.

When PIL came from overseas to visit us when our first DC was two months old, MIL decided she was going to let the hussy (me) know who was boss (her) and gave it to me with both barrels with her bitter, snide passive-aggressive manipulation, with a good dose of more blatant nasty remarks behind closed doors, and emotional blackmail on DP. Several of DP's relatives have hinted to me that they know what she is like and that they sympathise. So it's not just me having anti-MIL sentiments, ha!.

Now, I tried to be as gracious as possible to MIL, and not to mention it to DP, partly to keep the peace, and partly out of respect for DP. To this day, he probably has no idea of some of her meaner remarks. But I thought he must have known about it because so much of it went on right under his nose and he even remarked on some of it (though later claimed to have no recollection of it).

I could put up with this as long as I believed I had DP's support, and I thought I did.

But there was one incident where in a minor misunderstanding (my fault, but with obviously good motives and utterly resolvable peacefully), MIL turned to DP with damp eye and quivering lip. And in a heartbeat, he sided against me with a sarcastic comment. Didn't stay neutral or try to mediate, or even try to mollify MIL. No, actively sided against me.

I guess he hadn't known that just minutes earlier, that poor teary woman had been screaming in my face in the kitchen over the way I did the laundry, while I tried to keep calm and carry on. But never mind that - it hurt like hell that he would automatically side against me. Just like that.

So after PIL's visit (five weeks, though they stayed elsewhere) had ended, I raised this with DP. He didn't want to know. Now at that stage, I wanted an apology, or at least some acknowlegement that he could have handled it in a way that showed some more loyalty to me.

But he stonewalled, so in a desperate bid to get some communication out of him, I pointed out some things his mother had done. Cue, 'It sounds as though my mother behaved badly'.

And whenever I raised this since, I would get stonewalling along the lines of 'we've discussed this'. I would point out that we haven't as we never went into the details of why he behaved that way, so it was raised but never properly discussed.

So initially I wanted an apology or even just an acknowledgement that he could have handled it better. But it escalated into my needing him to stop stonewalling, and to acknowledge that he had been stonewalling.

When I was about three months pregnant with DC2 and another visit was imminent, the topic came up again and I told him, with tears streaming, that it had been eating me up that he wouldn't discuss this properly. And he said something then, I completely forget what, which I decided to acknowledge as sufficient acknowledgement from him.

And then, bless him, he took his parents aside and had a discussion with them. I gather he told them that they had upset me and they must try not to. Incidentally, FIL has his own little ways and I think it irks DP that it is his mother that I have the most trouble with. But as I pointed out to DP, a) FIL doesn't see or treat me as the enemy and actively target me, and b) plenty more people will give me sympathy over one of FIL's strops than over MIL's snideyness.

Now that should have been enough. And I think in the most recent visit, though DP will never admit it to me, he could see some of his mother's behaviour in new light. When she tried to insinuate that the duvet I'd used to have an afternoon nap (when four months pregnant and alone home with a toddler) were a sign that I was having an affair, FFS. Or the way she completely disregarded his requests.

But somehow, it's still not enough. I still feel that DP withdrew affection for me by stonewalling for all that time, and that he's still doing so because I'm still not aloud to say a word against his mother.

I think he feels the topic is done to death and he won't have another discussion. He recently acknowledged that he tends to get defensive, as a by-product of the way he was raised.

So I feel I have three options open to me:

Option 1 - Withdraw emotionally from my beloved DP.

Option 2 - View him as a victim of his mother's emotional manipulation, so that I can move on. I try to do this but I can't help feeling that he is a grown man who ought to be able to see past this.

Option 3 - Find a way to view what he has done as his own special way of having given me the acknowledgement and apology that I am so desperately crying out for, so that I can move on.

Or perhaps option 4 - breastfed DC2 has now moved onto solids and maybe my hormones are playing silly buggers with my head.

In fact, I have been withdrawing emotionally, and when I don't do that, I find myself a mess of tears. This can't go on - just crying in front of my children all day.

So please, please, give me mechanisms to sort my head out and follow option 3. Or even 2 or 4. Anything but 1, where I'm withdrawn and/or crying all day.

maudlin Wed 22-Jun-11 20:25:55

BTW, sorry about rambling and poor editing. Unwell DCs woke up and I'm desperate to submit the post before DP gets home. The baby is puking on me and the preschooler is trying to cut my hair (sadly, not a MN haircut!)

hobbgoblin Wed 22-Jun-11 20:30:37

I am marking this for my reply later. Don't feel bad about the hurt you feel though. Your empathy for dp is important here but it must undermine your needs. More later.

hobbgoblin Wed 22-Jun-11 20:31:23


gapants Wed 22-Jun-11 20:35:22

So he has acknowledged that his mum has been and continues to be off with you. He has spoken to his parents about their behaviour and told them to lay off you, be nicer.

How does he behave when you are all together?

Unless he is still visibly siding with his mum when you are altogether than I think you are going over old ground which has been discussed and accounted for. I am not sure what more you want out of your DH. He has
1- acknowledged that his mum behaved very badly to you
2- spoke to his parents about it
3- acknowledged that he gets defensive

Is he working on his communication skills with you?

If I were you I would be very reluctant to spend any time with MIL without DH being there as a result of her past actions. How are things now?

maudlin Wed 22-Jun-11 20:39:52

Oh, thankyou so much smile

I think I have to disappear as the baby found something to choke on and the preschooler wants my attention (a bit ironic) and DP will be home any minute

But I think the advice is wise already - I'm glad I asked smile

cadifflur Sat 25-Jun-11 22:23:36

Hi Maudlin, when you say you are withdrawing emotionally and crying in front of the children, I was just wondering if you might have a bit of depression? - forgive me for asking, but I wondered if maybe that might be why you do keep going over and over this again, and that might also be making you feel so low about it? - I only ask, as we had a major falling out with MIL when DS (DC1) was 3 weeks old - it was mother's day and she ranted on the phone to DH for 40mins about what a crap DIL I was, my family were cold, had turned him against her and that must be why he hadn't bought her a present or wasn't taking him out for lunch... it went on and on, 10 yrs worth of how crap I was. I did indeed progress to PND, and didn't recognise it for ages (sleep deeprived, BF hormones etc.) but have struggled with MIL to this day after all that and still go over it all in my head now. I hope you're not offended with me asking this, I'm just going on my own experience. - The MIL rant and my depression were 2 separate things, but the depression most definitely didn't help me with trying to move on and to this day I don't think I'll ever get over it. -Am not trying to be an amateur psychoanalyst here grin, as what you've been through with her is pretty crap, apologies if I've caused offence.

maudlin Mon 04-Jul-11 20:09:25

Gosh and goodness me, sorry for running away from the thread! I did come back to post again a couple of times, but never managed to finish.

Thanks, all of you - everything you have said has been constructive and helpful.

cadifflur I think you are partly right (and I'm not offended). And huge un-MN-ey hugs to you for your situation!

I do think that unhappiness with a rubbish situation can fuel or mask underlying depression, and I did wonder about that, but on the other hand, a rubbish situation can be the cause of depression. I suppose it's not always easy to differentiate between those (especially if, as in your case, both are going on concurrently).

And I have always found that I get down in the dumps if I feel, er, unresolved betrayal (unloving or withdrawn BF, feeling turned on by a friend, bullying boss, and so on), and I become pretty chirpy again once the issue is resolved one way or another. So, as I think I've taken this as far as I can with DP without this going down a potentially catastrophic route, I do think that what I need is to have a good hard think about it, or a watershed change in attitude.

I have to say that browsing MN chat on my way to finding this thread cheered me up considerably. I haven't been here much lately because just-turned-3yo DD has been dropping her naps in the past few months (I'm here because she napping today). Maybe I just need more 'me' time. As the baby is still breastfed and evenings are tricky, this could amount to a need to get DD to nap more so I can mess around on MN all afternoon! grin

We do have a few stressful things happening (on top of young kids! smile) - we are in the process of packing up our lives to move back to our home country, which is logistically stressful. And once there, we will be seeing much more of PIL, as well as my own family, a few of whom can be rather toxic and demanding (at least I admit this to my DP though, and I slag them off more than he does, so he knows he has my support! and I have developed mechanisms to deal with them).

Also, MIL has actually recently had a health scare, (she'll be ok but we didn't know that at first, and she'll need a lot of medicalisation for a while). So I really need to back away from pushing this issue with DP for now. And I think he's rather stressed by everything else going on in our lives, which, I suppose, is fuelling his defensive behaviour.

gapants based on what I said, I think you make very good points and ask very reasonable and pertinent questions! He did, indeed, tell his parents to lay off and so forth.

And I think in the visit when he did this, he started to notice behaviour in his mum that he hadn't seen before. I think this is partly because I'd pointed it out to him and perhaps he bore my points in mind (that someone who has always been nice to him may not be so with someone else, or that just because he is acccustomed to and accepting of someone's behaviour, doesn't mean everyone will be).

And it's partly because after he had given his parents the talk about not upsetting me and about respecting differences in our lifestyles/household management/parenting, MIL was firmly pushing the boundaries with both of us, to the point where even DP noticed and had words with her, (or at least left us to it rather than siding with her).

I think that with all the points you made, with the acknowlegements and apology, and asking his parents to lay off, and evidence that he must now be aware of his mother's behaviour, that ought to be sufficient.

Only it's not.

Partly because the apology he gave seemed forced, grudging and more 'sorry that whatever I've done has upset you so that we've got to this point'.

Not sorry for any of the behaviour in the first place, or for stonewalling, or for emotionally withdrawing from me over it (which, now I realise or recall, he did). Or for doing sod all to sort the thing out and leaving me to have to try to put all the bits together and do all the analysis and so on. I had to carefully explain that I wasn't trying to get him to take sides but it had been very hurtful that he'd first sided against me, then gone into denial, then stonewalled, and withdrawn. Though, actually, we've never discussed the withdrawn bit.

It almost felt as though I was apologising to him for upsetting him by being upset and bursting his bubble! So, yes, he apologised, but it didn't really feel real and I still felt betrayed in the first instance and then betrayed by his withdrawal.

The talk with his parents made up for a lot, and, frankly, saved us from having to to to counselling. And it would have been enough. It would have drawn a line under the past.

Except that I felt his behaviour was going back over old ground when he continued to flatly deny having seen many things his mother had done under his nose. Or when he called his father out over certain issues, but got huffy when I said his mother had done the same thing.

Much as I try to rationalise this as protectiveness of his mother that he can't help and even something admirable, I do feel betrayed by his behaviour. After all, I think I have made clear that I don't expect hiim to take sides or slate his mother - just be open and acknowledging of her behaviour and validate my reasonableness in being unhappy with it (and hurt when he stonewalls).

And if he can't admit that he sees anything wrong with her behaviour, then I am left with no reassurance that he doesn't believe the things she insinuates or doesn't actually take her side (and remains silent to keep the peace with me rather than call me out and rock the boat).

Much of this forces me to consider whether he's just in pursuit of the easiest path, and whether, because of this, he's actually gone into a long-term state of withdrawal against me. In which case, taking any of this further with him is hardly going to be productive, and I need to decide whether I want to know this or not, and how I feel about him over doing this, and what I want to do about it. Big part of why I find myself crying about it when I am already having a down day (it's not every day! smile)

Of course, if he hasn't, then, great, I'd love to know as much - but some of the above makes me think that he has, that he privately agrees with his mum, and that he'll clam up around me rather than call me out, in order to keep the peace, but that's as far as he'll go. Period.

Perhaps the recent acknowledgement on his part that he gets defensive is the start of something new -and perhaps I need to see where this goes.

Um, so. I think I need to bear all your cogent points in mind. And find a way to rationalise to myself that I can be OK with things the way they are (such as 'he's got some block that he can't move past but clearly he's trying to protect me in his own special way').

I mean, I really have to find a way to forget about wanting anything more from DP - either having it pointed out that I am B.U. for wanting it, or seeing that I am just being unrealistic in thinking that it can happen.

And I need to find mechanisms to say 'that's as far as I'm going to get down that route; let it go and focus on being happy in myself'.

And maybe try to get back to MNing! smile

Anyone who has read to this point is a star - and again, sorry for all the rambling - I've edited this but I'm sure I could precis more if not being jumped on!

SpringchickenGoldBrass Mon 04-Jul-11 20:16:27

I think you have to accept that actually, you are asking for too much from your DP. He has apologised, he has worked to amend the situation, and yet it sounds like you will be satisfied with nothing less than him on his knees admitting that his own mother is a cow, he hates her and that nothing compares to your perfect saintliness.
I appreciate that you may be in a state with your hormones at the moment: would it help to remind yourself that holding onto grudges hurts you more than anyone else, and that you can just tell yourself each time your thoughts drift in this direction ';I'm over it, because I'm the better person'.

TheFarSideOfFuck Tue 05-Jul-11 08:50:06

I think he feels the topic is done to death and he won't have another discussion.

I tend to agree with him, I am afraid

I just don't know what else you expect from him, other than better support for you in the future during dealings with his parents.

Yes, he was weak and spineless. That would irritate me beyond belief and I would make it clear how I expected him to behave now. But he can't change the past, and like sgb said, you are holding on to the resentment for no good reason that I can see.

mummytime Tue 05-Jul-11 09:06:39

I think you need to see a doctor about possible depression, ADs short term may help. You definitely need to get some counselling.

Good luck!

sloggies Tue 05-Jul-11 09:18:54

You have my every MIL is a witch too. I could write similar tales of where dh has sided with her, which I still find upsetting if I think about it too much. Most of the time though, he realises how she is, and I think there comes a point where you just have to leave it, otherwise That Way Madness Lies. It is also easier to deal with if I am not a bit depressed (have had long-term depression probs). Hth x

SarahLundsredJumper Tue 05-Jul-11 09:53:05

I think that your DP is probably struggling with the idea that his DM is less than perfect.
I doubt you are the first person she has done this to and Im sure they have minimised her behaviour /excused it in the past.
She sounds very toxic and has probably manipulated DP FIL with her tears etc and dont forget for your DP this is "normal" within his family.

In my family it was my DM-I realised a long time ago when my DD was born that her behaviour was not healthy and I had to protect myself and my DD.
It has taken a long time however for my DB to understand how distructive and toxic her behaviour was.

I would avoid being alone with her at all.
Try to arrange to see her in public places-less likely to behave badly if others are watching.
Find some strategies to deal with her- if she is awful to you and you retaliate she will immediately be the injured party-turn on the tears, poor me -nasty DIL -am I right ?
If this is so the best way is to "neutralize her behaviour " ie think of some stock neutral phrases to use
Reply to her snide comments with "thats interesting"(my favorite !) "oh really" -this in effect will stop her in her tracks ! repeat until she gets the message.This means you are neither agreeing nor disagreeing with her nonsense - you are then in control.
Dont engage in over explanation of your reasons for doing anything -just ignore her !
Sorry I have gone on a bit . Good luck OP

cottonreels Tue 05-Jul-11 15:34:20

My symapthies - she sounds awful. I agree that youre going to have to let bygones be bygones. BUT next time youre alone with her, Id quietly switch the divctaphone on, I really would blush.

maudlin Tue 05-Jul-11 19:24:58

Aw, thanks - you are lovely, all of you - and even when ticking me off or telling me I am B.U., doing so constructively! smile Tricky to avoid being alone with her at all times as it's amazing how she will seek me out in a part of the house that I am alone in, or what can be said privately even in a full room. But it is a good suggestion and I shall do my best, and I am sorely tempted by the dictaphone suggestion grin

mummytime thanks! I won't dismiss ADs or counselling as a long-term possibility, but based only on people I've known who have had ADs or counselling or both, personally I think that ADs can be prescribed a little too readily and are a drastic measure which can create as many problems as they solve in some cases (unless there is a long-term clinical imbalance or irresolvable situation), and can be very hard to get off, and shouldn't be a first resort (I'm not saying that you were suggesting they are) - I would vastly prefer to go down the counselling route first. I do see that ADs can clear the head so that one is amenable to counselling, but equally, they can create a false sense of wellbeing so that necessary counselling or introspection is not pursued.

I do think counselling can be very helpful and again, I won't dismiss it, but in many ways, I think that what counselling can do is provide a person with the insight that is the key to letting go and moving on, which is what I'm hoping this thread will provide. If that doesn't work, then certainly I will seek counselling, and consider ADs thereafter!

SarahLundredsjumper you are spot-on! Although I have only seen the actual tears the once that I can think of. Her preferred method is Sulking while Causing No Trouble; that is what has everyone tippy-toeing around her ensuring that she has attention and gets what she wants. Also completely disregarding people and knowing she won't be called out for it (actually, now I think of it, calling-out leads to quivering lip). And somehow managing to be at the eye of every storm, doing something completely uncalled-for but almost innocuous, that she must know will provoke one of FIL's hair-trigger strops or throw DP into a huff - or, oh yes, play her husband and son off against each other. Or doing something that, on the face of it, is just the acceptable side of snide or back-handed, which is sure to get my back up.

And now I think of it, at times when I have cried during a discussion or argument with DP, which certainly is something I try not to do, he's responded pretty dismally. He's said he doesn't like to see it and doesn't know what to do. Well, a hug would be a good start! I expect that he's used to it being used as emotional blackmail. Which explains rather a lot, actually.

Some while ago, I read a heart-rending blog account of a woman who had led a dreary childhood as a middle child of a large, grindingly poor family, and had been brought up to believe that a compliant, uncomplaining girl was a good girl. So in middle age, this woman had a great deal emotionally invested in believing that by being passive and suppressing her emotions, she was a good person. But she was repressed and enraged and just couldn't help the meanness and toxicity from leaking out. When read that, I thought of MIL. I can't find that account, but it linked to this, which, I think, describes her behaviour pretty well. And part of it is, I think, simply that she has very poor communication skills. I do like the idea of neutralising her behaviour - I think that way lies the line between letting her remarks stand and allowing her to get my back up (which is what she wants). Perhaps the MN mantra of 'smile and say nothing' could work rather well, too.

Well, lovely MNers, I think from all your suggestions, I can see the way forward to rationalising that -

DP is struggling with the idea that his mum isn't perfect

He is prone to seeing things in black-and-white so is struggling with the idea that he doesn't have to take sides completely, and is struggling with understanding that I am not pressuring him to do this. Just possibly, he is being pressured by his mother to take sides, which is going pile the barriers higher.

He struggles with the notion that you can step back and see the shades of grey and say 'my mother's had a tough life and some of her attitudes as a result of this and the ways she deals with that are going to be hard going on you, but please, for my sake, try to grin and bear it - and please be reassured that you have my love and support'. He probably thinks that his curt silence amounted to his having said that, when I thought that, y'know, he had to say the words and not just think them and then expect me to have psychic powers. Also, he may have learned that an apology is a bigger deal than it is.

Example - I had watered the garden and accidentally watered MIL's trouser leg into the bargain. I was completely unaware that I had done so. MIL didn't tell me what had happened (she may or may not have thought it self-evident or deliberate), and she made some snide remark about my watering the garden rather than simply saying 'oi, you watered me!' Then she charged after me into the house to mumble about something having made her wet. It took a while for me to work out what on earth she was driving at, but when it dawned on me that she was trying to say that I had got her with the watering can, I said, 'Oh, did I wet you? I didn't mean to. I'm very sorry if I did.' She went pop-eyed and her jaw nearly hit the ground. So it seems that in her household, a simple expression of the problem and a simple apology, even for just a frickin' slip of the hand with a watering can, are excruciatingly hard to come by. OK, so in light of this, perhaps I need to consider that this is harder for DP to do than I thought it ought to be. Also, he probably views seeking an apology as part of a manipulative strategy.

I think a bit part of the problem I have with all of this is that I think he has been emotionally dishonest in refusing to talk about things - why people behave as they do, how we can all work together to resolve things. I think the crux of this is that I consider that this emotional dishonesty amounts to a betrayal and to being unloving - but it's not something he's used to thinking about or doing, he probably does struggle to shake off some of his learned habits and attitudes, and, as he said, he gets defensive, and it's not entirely his fault.

Yep, he probably actually thinks he said more than he did, or what he said or did was quite a big deal for him, so I need to draw a line. And yes, it's the past, and we've all done things we're not proud of. And as long as he's trying to improve his communication skills, I ought to give him credit for it.

As for MIL - annoyed though I am by her behaviour, I can live with it if I think that DP supports me, and I think, with the above rationales, I can learn to believe that. But I do like the advice about staying away from her where pos, and neutralising her behaviour. And if all else fails, I can splash her with the watering-can and then shock her into silence by apologising for it!

I think if I work through all of this, it will be OK. I feel much better already - there is a rationale and a way forward.

Thankyou, all of you. Counselling MN-style rocks! smile

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