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In Law problems

(17 Posts)
marmitelovesme Wed 28-Nov-12 22:45:40

Have name changed, I don't think my DP looks on here, but if he does, I'm not ready to talk to him about this yet.

Basically, I am finding it harder and harder to get along with my ILs. I've read many many threads on here about toxic parents/ILs, and I can't quite fit them into that category. I need some advice about how to proceed, what options I have. I have a couple of RL friends that do know all the details, and I will be getting their input as well.

There's almost nothing I can put into a pithy little anecdote to illustrate why I have a problem with them, and the one or two extreme examples I do have would out me, so apologies. When I try to explain to people why I find them so difficult, I fear I come across as a stuck up, vindictive cow.

I have a dry sense of humour, so does my family, so does my DP. My FIL makes comments that he will say are a joke. I don't find them funny. He will comment about my parenting decisions to MIL when I am close enough to hear, but not in the room. Is he trying and failing to be discrete or is he saying things when he knows I'll hear ... but can't say anything because I'm not in the room. He likes to ask the DC about their other grandparents, asking how they treat them, do they do such and such with you?

MIL seems determined to keep me off-balance: she bitches about other family members to me, even when I've said I don't want to, has disclosed information to me that my DP doesn't know and I don't want to tell him ("I never wanted a third child (SIL)" said when I was pregnant with our third), makes statements of fact about what we/I fell/will do, belittles me working ("your little job") ... lots of little things that on there own are bearable/ignorable, but mount up over time. She'll also have perfectly pleasant chats to me about shopping, weather, other trivialities. And I have heard her defending me to FIL.

Over the last couple of years they have both made comments that I have had to leave the room after, because my reply would have been very hostile - I do not subtle unfortunately, and I know I tend to make sarcastic, caustic comments. Recently, I did respond. The exchange was too short to be called an argument, and I did get an apology afterwards, but the horrible things said by my FIL I cannot forgive or forget. The main outcome of this has been for me to rethink how I respond to them, and has started me thinking that I need to reply.

Any time we meet up I am very tense an find it extremely difficult to relax. My DP has noticed on occasion and asked why I ignore them - it makes me seem rude. What I can't tell him is that I'm so tense about saying something rude in reply to an IL comment that I'm saying nothing.

What I'm asking for is help with these questions:
Am I over-reacting? Is there actually anything going on for me to get upset about, or should I develop a better sense of humour?
Should I say something to DP? He knows I find visits difficult, I'm pretty certain he doesn't know how difficult.
Should I be smiling, ignoring and carrying on with the inane chit-chat?
Should I start retaliating? (I have noticed a lot of my vocabulary related to this problem is aggressive.)
Should I remove myself from the situations - go out when they visit, refuse to go there?

I need something to change, I have begun to feel physically nervous when I think about spending time with them.

quirk Wed 28-Nov-12 22:57:26

I don't think you are overreacting but definitely don't retaliate! Don't ignore either or they will carry on forever and you will get more upset. Have you tried the usual mumsnet retort: 'did you MEAN that to sound so rude?!'

I think you need to distance yourself a little from them. Can you visit a bit less often? Make them a slightly smaller part of your life so it is easier to take the digs and implied criticism?

marmitelovesme Wed 28-Nov-12 23:07:18

Thanks for reply.

I don't think the visits can be much less often, I think they'd like to see the grandchildren more often as it is.

I think I should have said "reply" rather than "retaliate" - I'm worried I'm so knotted up over this that my reply will come out as a retaliation rather than just a reply!

The "did you mean that to sound so rude?" reply is a damn good one. However, I'm 99.9% certain that FIL will say "I was just joking" and act all offended. Poor soul.

CleopatrasAsp Wed 28-Nov-12 23:49:50

It's difficult to advise properly without more detailed examples of what they've actually said or done unfortunately.

They sounds quite unpleasant but I'm not keen on sarcastic, caustic comments either so it's difficult to say who is at fault here without more information. Not much help I know.

marmitelovesme Thu 29-Nov-12 00:17:14

"They sounds quite unpleasant but I'm not keen on sarcastic, caustic comments either so it's difficult to say who is at fault here without more information." Ouch, but true. I'm not proud of myself, I think I was trying to explain why I tend to go quiet. I'm very aware that I can only give one side of this, and in some ways I would love to hear their view of the situation.

Will try and give more details, without giving it all away ....

Worst situation was FIL telling me I was effectively ruining my kids lives by the way I was parenting. That was the time I got an apology, but only because I stood up for myself then and told him that was out of order. DP agreed with me.

MIL telling me that as she had nothing in her life, the only thing she has to live for is her unborn grandchild, in front of her daughter and my son. I replied that she needed to get a hobby. I really regret that comment, it was out of my mouth without me thinking ... and is a major reason why I retreat into silence. It is the only time I can think of I have actually said what I'm thinking, rather than a non-committal "Mmmm." or "Really?" type response. Which are still slightly rude, but in a less direct way ... so still rude, just differently so.

I am very aware that I have become very/over sensitive to all and any comments, and that phrases that in other situations I would laugh off, I find offensive/hurtful. Partly I am trying to work out if this is because I am upset/on edge by the whole situation, or if it is because they make so many small digs/comments I am reacting to the accumulation. I did tell myself earlier in the year to grow up, deal with it in a more adult way, and stop over-reacting to harmless comments. The next visit was the one where FIL said what I described above.

So, CleopatrasAsp, you have helped by making me think it through some more. Thank you.
quirk, avoiding them is my preferred path at the moment. But I don't think I can do more avoiding without involving my DP (I owe him an explanation if I withdraw any more).

CleopatrasAsp Thu 29-Nov-12 00:55:53

Well I think the hobby comment was quite funny and a good way of dealing with someone prone to melodrama in that way. grin

Thanks for explaining a bit more and I'm glad I helped a little bit even if I didn't say too much in my previous post.

Criticising your parenting in that way is a big no no and anyone would be pissed off with that. I'm glad you got an apology but it shouldn't have been said in the first place so it was good that you made it clear that a boundary had been crossed.

It's possible that you've become oversensitive but I'm a great believer in trusting my gut instinct in these situations so if it feels like they are constantly making little digs (and you don't feel this way about other people) then chances are they are making little digs.

How does your DH feel about them? That is key to this whole issue really because if he finds them to be spiffing parents but you can't stand them then that is a real issue. It may be, though, that he has been so trained to put up with them that he doesn't even realise when they are doing something wrong.

NorksAreTinselly Thu 29-Nov-12 06:39:24

When people seem to make little digs at me I say "Sorry, could you say that again?"
It forces them to repeat, slightly louder, something that they might not be very proud of. It helps them to think about what they have just said and it gives you time to compose your 'nod and smile' face.

I do think you are possibly overthinking this, but if you are tense before you even go to their house, that would explain it.
Unfortunately, like most things, if you feel the fear and do it anyway, it should get easier

Good luck smile

Whocansay Thu 29-Nov-12 08:40:38

I don't think there's anything wrong with how you've reacted. I think you've under reacted if anything. If you call them on the digs, oublically, they will be less likely to say anything in future. Buillies don't like it when you stand up to them.

I've had issues with my own family for many years and have only recently realised that actualy, I don't have to put up with it. I find "it's none of your business" and "it's none of your concern" and "what the fuck has it got to do with you?" are also good phrases to use. I'm not so passive in my aggression anymore though!

I HATE it when people think its OK to make digs and then try to disguise them as humour. They are wankers.

Roastbeefandyorkshires Thu 29-Nov-12 11:24:42

I'm experiencing something very similar with my ILs

No advice sorry- I feel your pain.

LadyMercy Thu 29-Nov-12 14:05:43

Op, have you tried treating them like a well meaning bumbling idiot? I haven't tried it on my PIL but on other interfearing type people. It goes along the lines of:

MIL: Woe is me, the only good thing in my live is my unborn grandchild, I have almost nothing to live for!
You: (sympathetic smile) MIL, do you think you need to get out of the house more? A hobby perhaps? Bingo?

FIL: You're parenting is terrible, you are ruining your kids lives
You: (symapthetic smile) Now FIL, you know an awful lot of things have changed since your children were little. The world changes sooooo fast you know (sympathetic nodding with genuine concern that he might not know what year it is face). Tea?

marmitelovesme Thu 29-Nov-12 22:35:18

Thank you again for replying, it has helped me immensely just having to organise my thoughts to explain myself. Also, it helps that strangers think that their comments are at least a bit odd. For so long I have been doubting myself and my instincts, I need to listen to them.

Cleopatra DP also finds them trying, but not as much as I do. I think he can ignore it better than I can, that's more his style than mine, and also he's used to it. I also think that they don't make digs at him in the same way. So a little bit of both makes it less irritating for him.

Norks I do need to respond in some way, even if it's just so I don't become rude by silence, but more so they can see I won't just sit back and take their crap. And I need to do it sooner, so it doesn't fester inside and explode out in anger ... so more comments along the lines of needing hobbies. I need to pick them up on the less obvious comments - I shall go and practise "did you mean that to sound so rude." Or look surprised and say "did I hear that right? Did you just say ...?"

Whocan I am normally far more assertive, I think part of the problem is I have been reigning myself in so I don't offend them. But as they seem so capable of offending me then I should be a little less worried. Those replies are useful to have in mind - MIL in particular goes in for sudden, direct questioning.

Lady I can certainly treat them as bumbling idiots - is that allowed smile They are younger than my parents, but act more like a generation older - I can see my grandparents in them. So yes, treating them with polite pity at their lack of understanding of the modern world does work for me.

And scariest of all, I think I need to come clean with my DP about just how tough I find them to cope with, even in short bursts (they usually visit us for 4 hours, give or take). This is so scary because they are his parents, he loves them, and they are not monsters. But if I approach it as it being my problem and I need to work out a strategy to deal with them that should make it easier to swallow.

Roastbeef it's just horrible isn't it? So hard to explain, for me because there seems so little to explain .... please try and find a way through it before it ties you up in knots!

Thank you for your time. I'll now go and work out how to broach it with DP.

EldritchCleavage Fri 30-Nov-12 14:01:55

Well, repressing all your feelings and saying nothing clearly isn't working for you, which I can well understand. It is probably contributing to an atmosphere when they visit which is stressful and leaves no one at their best.

The key thing I think is a controlled response. It's also the hardest, of course. If your FIL says something awful to you, you could say 'FIL, that was unkind.' No more. With any luck he'd then be embarrassed into some form of retreat. If MIL refers to 'your little job', why not say neutrally, 'Oh, please don't call it that.' etc. You'd also be amazed how effective a very direct 'Why?' and then silence can be when someone is baiting you with intrusive questions.

And I agree with you that probably the most important thing is to be very honest with DH about how you feel, and come up with ways to manage the PIL together. It is hard I know (DH and I have both had to broach the 'About your parents...' conversation). It is also commonplace-navigating such a close relationship with people who aren't your parents but often parent you is tricky for a lot of people, even when the in-laws in question are perfectly nice. That's key: JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFECTLY NICE DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU AREN'T ALLOWED TO FIND THEM EXASPERATING.

elizaregina Fri 30-Nov-12 19:48:16


so hard to try and deal with this on your own - if your DP gets on well with them - do confide and ask him to help you manage them.

My Dh does not have a dialogue with his DP which has left me stranded - as I cant say anything to them, they are very hard work. His sister however can
" manage" them - tell them to f off on occasion, if they said something annoying or rude to her DH she would tell them off!

If my dad on the rare occasion has said something questionable to DH or rude - again I easily defend my DH and make him feel comfortable to also .....respond....but because we get on with my DF its all under written with more warmth and mutaual understanding...

with Dh and his DP its all more serious and fraught and up tight..and serious!

So, if you can get DP to help you - he can say things you perhaps cant which wont hurt thier feelings like you might - but will certainly ...put them back in thier box..

PurpleCrutches Fri 30-Nov-12 23:45:05

I'm a bit like this with MIL and it does help if your DP is aware of how much they bug you.

MIL says and does a lot of things without thinking - it's like she doesn't have a filter between brain and mouth! Some of the things she says are quite hurtful, and I have been getting braver and standing up for myself.

The easiest thing was to get DH involved so he could at least recognise when she upset me.

It's taking time, but it's getting better, and she knows not to "joke" as much as she did.

mameulah Sat 01-Dec-12 00:07:17

I really understand know how difficult it is.

My advice would be to think of yourself first. If you say something or react you will have to spend time after they have left your company considering your own actions and worrying about the repurcussions of what you have said.

If you say nothing then you will not have to spend one moment worrying abour your own actions afterwards. You don't have to smile or laugh, but by keeping your mouth shut you are making the whole thing easier for yourself.

bumhead Sat 01-Dec-12 00:27:44

Norks your answer is genius!! I love it. It's so simple but would be so effective! I'm going to practise that on my ILs!! grin

Phineyj Sat 01-Dec-12 22:34:27

You have my sympathy. I have this problem and think it will probably get worse when our baby comes along. But as PIL live 200 miles away visits are likely to be a few days not 4 hours! My MIL doesn't make digs but does say exactly what comes into her head, has different ideas on parenting to me/us and likes to engage in fervent debate/ranting about whatever she's just heard on R4, long long after the point where everyone else has lost interest, if they had any in the first place.

I invariably lose my temper with her 1-2 days in. I can totally sympathise with the feeling on edge thing - every time I step over her threshold (or vice versa) I remember all the previous occasions, whereas she magically forgets everything said in the past or doesn't notice stepping over any lines in the first place! I'm sure she and FIL must think that DH and I bicker all the time, too, when actually it's mostly only when we spend time with them, because we both get stressed...(DH agrees with me, for what it's worth, but reacts by going totally silent/reading the paper/disappearing).

Strategies that have worked are avoiding spending time alone with her, keeping visits as short as feasible and scheduling lots and lots of activities. I have thought about trying to do what you have described and just not responding or answering but I know I would just explode...

I do feel quite bad and guilty about it all and think it's a shame, as she would obviously like us to get together much more often but appears clueless to why we don't want to. And my MIL is perfectly nice, just exasperating, as the person said above...

You're certainly not alone.

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