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Seeking strategies to better cope with MIL (long!)

(21 Posts)
1charlie1 Sun 04-Nov-12 16:27:28

I am a bit at my wits' end with my MIL. I would love some advice on how to help my DH and I cope better with her passive agressive, generally unpleasant behaviour. I am of the opinion that she can't change the way she is, but we can - and must - take charge of our responses.

DH and I invited PILs to go to a nice pub near them for lunch on Christmas Day. She said no. DH and I were both a bit surprised at this, as his DB and family are spending Christmas at his inlaws, which means that PILs will be alone on the day. DH said he thinks we might be being 'punished' for something, but we're not sure what... this is all so alien to my experience of family life.

As it will be my first Christmas with DH (yay!), and we have no other family to spend Christmas Day with (mine live in another country), we subsequently organised a holiday to a romantic B & B. Last night, MIL called and said we were invited to BILs for Christmas Eve. (I always find it odd that BIL doesn't ring himself and invite us, and everything has to come through the medium of MIL. In two years, I have been with B&SIL without MIL only once.) DH said to her that after our conversation about Christmas on the weekend, and because it will just be the two of us on Christmas Day, that we had booked to go away. She is furious. Said, 'But you've just been away!' (one night in the Cotswalds at half term!), that Christmas Eve was the only night that BIL could do in the whole week (this is untrue - DH called them straight away (at my insistence) and sorted out a visit later Christmas week.

I did insist that DH call his DB afterwards (he didn't want to), to tell him that we had invited PILs to have lunch at a local pub on Christmas Day, that she had demurred, and that we had therefore organised to go away. I don't want MIL playing the martyr to my BIL and SIL, and she will try. DH also said MIL will be angry that he called his DB to organise an alternative date (DH is 40, btw, and his brother is 38!), because it means she's been caught out fibbing about them being unavailable. DH has also asked me not to mention, and that he would not be mentioning, that our holiday is a Christmas gift from my lovely DPs, because MIL 'will be angry at your parents.'

DH is now 'waiting' for an angry call from her (he has mentioned it twice that she is going to be angry that he called his brother.) I am at a loss. Why doesn't he just call her and tell her we're seeing BIL on such and such date, and can see her then, if she would like? DH is awesome, wise, brave, fab supportive husband etc - I don't recognise him when we're with his mum. How can I help him? (He wants some help!!)

Floralnomad Sun 04-Nov-12 16:39:17

He doesn't want help ,you want him to want help. All he has to do is stop pussyfooting around his mother and tell her the truth about things . BTW has he been married / in a long term relationship before or as he been at his mothers beck and call until now ? I would say ,as one one who has experience of awful Inlaws, that you need to sort this kind of thing out now and not just hope it goes away ,it probably will only get worse.

PotteringAlong Sun 04-Nov-12 16:44:32

You're wrong about one thing - you shouldn't describe your DH as brave if he's behaving like that around his mother...

1charlie1 Sun 04-Nov-12 16:52:22

Floralnomad, you're right about him being at her beck and call until being with me. He knows he is crap at dealing with her, and he really does want help - he said to me he doesn't know what 'normal' is, and has brought up himself the idea of getting some counselling. He is a great communicator - just not with his mum. When you say 'tell her the truth about things', even I don't know what that truth is. She makes commonsense, mundane things into a massive psychodrama. She has plans, we made plans based on her plans, now the plans don't gel. Why is it such a bloody drama?? Is that what you need to say to people like her: 'Get over it'? I've not had anybody in my life like her before, and find it hard not to get drawn into her bullshit.

WinkyWinkola Sun 04-Nov-12 16:54:50

She's extremely controlling and domineering.

Your dh and bil are sh*t scared of crossing her. They've been programmed to do as she commands.

Good luck with that one.

WinkyWinkola Sun 04-Nov-12 16:58:16

One important step would be for your dh to communicate directly with his brother rather than letting their mother act as a conduit. That way she cannot control their relationship and communication.

As for her angry calls, strips etc. Let her. You tried, she said no, that's it. Don't ever give in to one of her moods. You're dealing with a bully.

My mil used to have 'nervous breakdowns' regularly over sil refusing to bow to her demands.

mutny Sun 04-Nov-12 16:59:05

But your dh doesn't went help coping with her. He is enabling her.

Firstly I would refuse to lie. I may not directly point out that your parents are paying for the trip but is she asks I would tell the truth. I would bro enable her too. That is something you can change.

Until he wants to make the bream and change his enabling then nothing will change. Trust me my mum was lime this. But myself and dbro keep in contact alot to avoid this kind of thing. When my mum has kicked off because I phoned dbro and discovered her lying, I let her rant and then say 'but you lied' then she would rant and then i would say 'but if you lie this is what happens' eventually she got the hint. And if she didn't contact me for a while as 'punishment' so be it.
I learnt not to rise to at all ever. Its much better now.

1charlie1 Sun 04-Nov-12 17:11:13

Thank you for your replies.
mutny: yes, DH is enabling her. I don't think he sees it like that. I am going to show him this thread. I will absolutely not lie about anything. It does piss me off that he isn't more pro-active regarding contact with his brother. Your post is helpful, thanks.
winky your first post made me laugh! Bloody hell. And again, I agree that DH needs to be less passive about sorting things with his DB.

cocolepew Sun 04-Nov-12 17:18:55

You shouldn't lie about your present from your DPs just because she will be cross . She's an adult , she chooses to act like a spoilt brat.
Do not make the mistake of tip toeing around her. Say what you think. I have a MIL who always got her own way by being nasty or sulking and therefore her family did what she wanted for an easy life. There was no way I was pandering to her and she hates me for it. I could care less.

The difference with me was my DH stod up to her, your DH needs to do the same.

Kundry Sun 04-Nov-12 17:22:37

Firstly - limit the info you give her. Why should she know your holiday is a present from your parents? (Unless she'll get all competitive and buy you another holiday grin) Why should she know what your finances are or why you made decisions? Communicate with her on a need to know basis and stop giving her ammunition.

Secondly - presumably your DH wants to see his brother more than his mother? Well start communicating direct with the BIL. Make plans that don't involve MIL organizing it and controlling the communication. If DH won't do it, do it with your SIL - she'll prob be overjoyed and having as many probs with MIL as you.

After that - well it's hard and would depend on how much your DH is able to see his mother is not behaving normal. But if you can do the first two and help him see that he is now creating his new family with you, there's hope he will start to see what a manipulative cow she is and separate from her.

Brycie Sun 04-Nov-12 17:25:15

We have this type of matriarch: occasionally the sons and daughters see each other - without mentioning it - if she is not invited- for exactly the reasons you describe. So long as everyone understands it's for a quiet life it seems to work. It's hard to know what to say because it's opening Pandora's box trying to confront a problem like this. There's tears, martyr conversations, passive aggressive mentioning of the left out occasion for months, and the idea of having some kind of family conflab where it's all brought out in the open is ghastly. It's just easier for all the offspring to recognise it, nod, wink, smile, ignore, tolerate, work round. That's in our situation. Luckily my parents are very understanding.

Brycie Sun 04-Nov-12 17:27:13

I think Kundry gives good advice on how to deal without having The Conversation.

Yes to limiting the information. What she doesn't know won't upset her. Yes to direct contact between the siblings. Understanding that everyone is in the same boat helps. A LOT! And yes - your sister in law is probably having exactly the same problems and you can eye-roll together.

Brycie Sun 04-Nov-12 17:29:39

On the limiting information. Do be careful. People like this are very clever with piecing together bits of info - a snatch from a grandchild, half a sentence about leaving something at someone's house - a date when someone couldn't come round and check MIL's electricity meter - whatever - and can pick away until The Truth Is Out and they have something to be upset about.

1charlie1 Sun 04-Nov-12 19:41:26

Thanks again for your replies. It is a fine line to tread: she is in her 70s and not in good health. Thanks Brycie and Kundry, lots of common sense here. I don't really want DH to have a showdown with her - she is a sad woman. But I would love my DH to say (kindly!), 'Mum, you're not telling the truth' or 'Mum, you're being silly, I will speak to you when you're feeling more sensible.' She DOES know how to behave with friends, I want her to extend this same courtesy to her family. Being more pro-active in communcation with BIL and SIL is clearly a first step. I will show this thread to DH, even if just to let him know we're not alone!

Brycie Sun 04-Nov-12 19:44:09

It is a fine line, and I sometimes wonder how realistic is the advice to "sit down and explain carefully to her how this makes you all feel" etc etc. With an elderly grandparent it could all go so terribly wrong and there's no real way to repair things if it does.

Salbertina Sun 04-Nov-12 19:48:35

Sadly , yes, i think they can be too old and stuck in their ways to change. My parents not dissimilar to yr Mil, my sympathies, Op.

BerthaTheBogBurglar Sun 04-Nov-12 19:58:19

So:
You invited them out for Christmas, they said no.
You made other plans
She's pissed off because you're now unavailable
She lied to you about BIL's situation and you've uncovered the lie
She's angry because your DH phoned his brother
DH is waiting for her to phone and yell at him again about the above

Is that right? Can your DH see how mad that is?

Can you practice some responses with him, things to say to her on the phone if she kicks off? Even if its "You're overwrought. We'll talk another time when you're calmer" and put the phone straight down (and then let it go straight to answerphone for a week).

Counselling sounds good. It is hard to remember that you're an adult and you don't have to take what your parents dish out. If you had a dysfuntional childhood, having your mum get angry at you makes you feel (and behave) like the scared child you once were. My counsellor told me to look down at my shoes and remember where and when I bought them. Get grounded back in the reality of the present day. I also spent a lot of time with my ILs, which helped me to understand what 'normal' is in family relationships.

And yes to striking up a friendship with your SIL, and organising meetups without the ILs!

What's your PIL like? Another enabler?

MerlotforOne Sun 04-Nov-12 20:31:16

Try reading the 'but we took you to stately homes' thread.

My maternal gran was like this - to the point where she would stop taking her meds and go into crashing heart failure to punish my mum for not giving her enough attention. I read the thread although I aren't posted on it - they talk about FOG, 'Fear, Obligation and Guilt'. That pretty much sums up my mum's relationship with my gran. It affected us all as a family and affected her parenting of us.

In my experience, this sort of thing echoes down the generations unless the affected children (in this case your DH and BIL) choose to address it - even then, their idea of normal family relationships is so skewed that its almost impossible to not have any knock on effects. My DH and I are trying to work out all the effects of 3 generations of EA on both sides and try to raise our son to have healthy attitudes and relationships.

On a positive note - my mum did her best, as did my FIL, despite pretty awful childhoods, and you can see that each generation is getting healthier and happier in their relationships and self esteem.

MerlotforOne Sun 04-Nov-12 20:31:45

Haven't, not aren't !

1charlie1 Sun 04-Nov-12 21:14:54

This is all so helpful, thank you. Bertha, thankk for your suggestions, and DH does think it is crazy. Just not as crazy as I do! Yes, Merlot, DH and I had A LOT of couples counselling before we married, we have a fantastic relationship, and he is determined not to repeat the patterns of his parents within our relationship, as am I. He has had some counselling (alone) before we got together about his family. My childhood was at times difficult - very explosive mother, passive father. Things are much better now, as my mother acknowledged her issues (arising from her traumatic childhood), and has been a great and supportive mum to me. She did her best, and sometimes her best was great. It has been for a long time. PIL has had various serious health issues, and is completely subservient in the relationship with MIL - he sits silently by while she kicks off, so absolutely no help there. Very sad all round.
Thank you for the sympathy, salbertina! They are too old to change. DH is not.

WinkyWinkola Sun 04-Nov-12 21:29:33

Good luck, Charlie. YOu sound pretty grounded and not up for much crap from relatives. Just be firm, calm and resolved. Don't let any hysteria or emotional blackmail divert you from what is reasonable.

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