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How can I repair my relationship with FIL?

(42 Posts)
lola884 Wed 03-Dec-14 10:08:08

FIL was diagnosed with a life-limiting illness about 4 years ago.

When I first met him many years ago, he was a gregarious, chatty, charming man in his late 50s who was the life of the party. He had several hobbies and interests and always had an interesting or funny anecdote to add to a conversation. I, possibly in an effort to impress in the early days, made an effort to listen and engage with him - and most of the time, I did find the chatter amusing.

The illness has affected him and the wider family in many ways. He was very reliant on MIL before anyway but has become even more reliant on her now. He is able to manage quite a few things but I guess the illness has affected his confidence, so he is quick to ask for help rather than try and have a go himself; this impacts on MIL and the rest of the family. He is able to keep up with a conversation but much of what he says now seems silly. He's not great at engaging with DS either; MIL is brilliant but DS really treats FIL like a bit of talking furniture.

DH noticed a few days ago that my demeanour towards FIL has become colder - bordering on civil. In hindsight, I think I've been like that for at least a year now - but if DH is noticing, then it's clearly becoming obvious to everyone, including FIL. We talked about it and I agreed that I need to change my behaviour towards FIL, as it will only get harder from now on as he deteriorates further.

It's taken some time for me to analyse myself and my attitude. The thing is - I have genuinely lost affection for FIL and I find it hard to fake affection. What I see now is that the charming, interesting man is gone and what's left is a mildly irritating man who isn't able/willing to contribute to running his own life (I'm big on independence and taking responsibility for one's own health).

The fact is the illness has changed his personality and in some ways has brought out the worst in him - the things that I could shake off before now really annoy me about him. What gets to me the most is how he has handled it all, which I find very disappointing. You hear of people who get ill and declare "I'm not going to let this beat me" - well, he has practically embraced being ill instead and wears it like a medal. Rather than fighting, he has given in - and I find it hard to continue to admire a man like that. If I'm being really honest, I have lost respect for him and I am forgetting the man he used to be.

With the festive season approaching and us all spending more time together, I need some practical strategies to help me get past my attitude problem. How do I get past the illness and see the man again - or the man that he used to be in any case?

CogitOIOIO Wed 03-Dec-14 10:11:13

What is the life-limiting illness?

Fudgeface123 Wed 03-Dec-14 10:13:45

Suck it up, he's dying FFS, surely you can try and be nice for his remaining time

RyanAirVeteran Wed 03-Dec-14 10:16:44

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

OttiliaVonBCup Wed 03-Dec-14 10:19:46

I hate all that talk of fighting an illness.

Who are you to decide how he should react faced with a terminal illness?

You do seem out of order.

Turquoiseblue Wed 03-Dec-14 10:20:03

Maybe you could look at it from a different viewpoint.
Is it possible your FIL has had his health and vitality and a lot of things he valued taken away from him? I don't think it s fair to blame him because he simply doesn't have the resources to deal with his illness in a way you think he should. It s quite judgemental and unfair. It s also not beyond the realms of possibility that having had some of his independence and a life limiting dx that he is depressed.
Several life limiting conditions have affect on areas of the brain that control mood, personality, facial expression, memory, cognition. (MD and NMD spring to mind) but there s lots others and even medication for some conditions can cause similar affects.
I admire your honest self exploration and description of it. It s the first step to trying to bridge your relationship and attitude.
It s possible you need to redefine your idea of independence as it comes in all shapes and forms.
Maybe there s something you can do that will help empower your FIL?
Is he depressed? Could you talk to dh and see if that first and foremost needs addressing.

Services like Physio OT speech and psychology are available and involved for lots of LTI s. Is he linked in? Are the family communicating this change and any of these difficulties?

And finally maybe he ll never be as he was bit your view and expectations of him will have to change.
Can you see if you can find some reading and information of grief diagnosis and adjustment, lots of what you describe about you FIL could be normal but he might need help working through it and overcoming it.
What about trying

Turquoiseblue Wed 03-Dec-14 10:22:17

Some counciling for your self to over come of your preconceptions,
It s understandable that your and the family have to grieve the loss of your father in law as you knew him,

Karasea Wed 03-Dec-14 10:28:26

Honestly old people and ill people can be hard to be around so can those young, fit and healthy who think accidents of age and genes make them superior.

Read your post again, be glad your dh has given you this chance. If my dh treated my dad like you have his I would have such a massive loss of respect for him it could be insurmountable.

Think about what you are modelling to your children.

Think about the reality about fighting illnesses and the heroic narrative. It's bullshit. Nothing that impacts physically and emotionally is easy to deal with- you will learn this one day.

Sunna Wed 03-Dec-14 10:29:39

Some compassion and humanity would help.

IrishBloodEnglishHeart Wed 03-Dec-14 10:59:22

My FIL has a life limiting condition (neurological), he had the dx about 6 years ago and in that 6 years he has also had a stroke. He has other health problems that require management and he takes no responsibility for managing them leaving it MIL to administer his meds etc. Poor old MIL runs round like a blue arsed fly after him. He also has the belief (and this goes way back before the diagnosis) that it is the woman's job to look after the man. He can be very nasty with my MIL and this has been getting worse as his neurological conditions slowly get worse.

So, I do find myself in a position where I find it hard to 'like' FIL sometimes, but that is generally when he is making sexist comments or telling my MIL to shut up before she has even opened her mouth.
However, I understand that me getting shirty with him or feeling angry towards him won't make the slightest bit of difference, it will just stress out my lovely MIL and DH who are already in a difficult situation. Instead, I focus on supporting my MIL when we're with them so that she gets a break. I take her out when we are both free and when I am with my FIL I generally hold my piece and I fake it. Obviously, there are times when he has said something particularly unpleasant that I will politely say, look please don't speak to MIL like that, she is only trying to help, but other than that I put on my happy face.

Your FIL doesn't seem to have that offensive component, so I can see no reason why you can't put on an act when you are with him for the sake of your DH and MIL.

LoonvanBoon Wed 03-Dec-14 11:01:19

I had some sympathy for you until the penultimate paragraph, OP. It really is not up to you to judge how another person should view or cope with their serious, life-limiting illness. Fighting talk is easy when you're not the one in that situation.

It's hard to say more without knowing what the condition is, but chronic illness is often accompanied by depression. Sometimes certain medications can cause depression / loss of interest in life. If FIL's condition is putting a lot of pressure on MIL, can you & DH not support her, rather than criticizing him?

I don't generally feign affection with people either. But if you yourself admit that your attitude to FIL is actually one of coldness / basic civility, that's another thing entirely. You can be kind, compassionate & thoughtful without putting on a show of false emotion, for goodness sake - how do you think people in caring professions manage to deal with their patients / clients? It sounds as if you're being actively unfriendly & withdrawn.

I think you need to look at yourself honestly here. Sometimes people who can't cope with others' illnesses are covering up their own fear, & guff about taking responsibility / fighting the condition can be more about their own terror of losing control than anything else.

Really, though, all you have to do is be kind - not sparkling company, not wildly affectionate, just a caring, sensitive human being. Show tolerance to your FIL, & support your MIL if you can - she's the one dealing with this on a day-to-day basis.

Littleturkish Wed 03-Dec-14 11:09:22

Do you struggle to be empathetic? How would you want to be treated by your DS's partner if something similar happened to you?

It doesn't matter how YOU think he should deal with being ill, he is dealing with it as he can.

If you are struggling with socially appropriate behaviour, look at the behaviour of your DH and MIL and copy it.

differentnameforthis Wed 03-Dec-14 11:14:56

I think you are being very harsh...until you have lived in his shoes, you have no right to dictate how he lives, or expect him to act a certain way.

And no amount of positive attitude is going to help him 'fight' a life limiting illness, to be fair.

My fil has had a series of strokes recently & he isn't the man he once was & all I feel is an ache...for my dh, for my dc, for my MIL. An ache that this is our life now, unpredictability, jumping at every phone call, aiding him to eat, to walk, to wash. A once very busy & proud man, reduced to needing an adult with him every time he eats.

I think my dh would be devastated if I treated FIL the way you seem to be treating yours! I would be trying my hardest to fake it to be honest. I think you owe it to your dh not to taint these last few years for him.

It's fucking sad & has caused me many tears. My FIL could be angry at that situation, and none of us would blame him. Thankfully, he has us to keep his spirits up & to do the things he needs. I wouldn't begrudge him one second of anger, not one.

What is the life-limiting illness? Where the illness will eventually caused the death of the person, prematurely.

Twinklestein Wed 03-Dec-14 11:15:07

Essentially, you liked FIL as long as he was well, but now he's got ill and frail you've turned against him.

In place of compassion, tolerance and understanding you give judgment, incomprehension and disdain.

I genuinely hope you never get a life-limiting illness, but if you do you may learn some valuable life lessons.

differentnameforthis Wed 03-Dec-14 11:17:21

often prematurely.

LaurieFairyCake Wed 03-Dec-14 11:20:34

You are having an existential crisis most likely, where your own fear of death is outing itself in your behaviour.

Be kind to yourself, maybe explore your fears with a therapist? If you do that then the behaviour towards frailty will change.

Windywenceslas Wed 03-Dec-14 11:26:39

Have you ever heard the phrase "don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes"? It seems fitting here. Dealing with someone who is ill is very difficult and seeing someone lose themselves to illness is heartbreaking. Everyone deals with life-limiting illnesses in different ways and you shouldn't judge him for how he is dealing with it. I'm sure everyone would like to think they'll "fight" illness, but the fact is many many people would struggle to accept the hand they've been dealt. Focus on supporting MIL and engage with FIL more, if you all made more effort to engage him in the same way you did before the diagnosis, you may find you see more of the old FIL back.

I have some sympathy as I find dealing with other people's illnesses difficult, I'm a very private person and shut people out when I'm ill (fortunately never anything serious), so I genuinely struggle to know whether people want to talk about things, or pretend everything is ok, so I can find conversation with seriously ill people difficult and become terrified that I will be insensitive or patronising, but you have to remember this is his life, you have to suck it up and try to behave as you would have before, unless he wants to open up about his condition. Nothing is more insensitive than shutting someone out.

With your DS, don't force the issue, sadly with children you only get out what you put in, so if FIL is not able to engage your DS will ignore him for the most part. However, you could gently try to bring FIL into conversations with DS, try to encourage non-physical interaction, singing, nursery rhymes etc, children can be great icebreakers, use that to your advantage. Tell FIL something that DS has done and try to encourage DS to converse with FIL about it, but honestly I'd work on your own relationship with him first.

CogitOIOIO Wed 03-Dec-14 11:26:42

The OP recognises that their attitude towards their FIL is not good.... hence the request for help. I don't think haranguing them and calling them names is helpful. I asked what the life-limiting illness was because some are more debilitating or depressing than others. My own DF suffers with Parkinsons which makes him rather tired and irritable and also affects his ability to talk. Having always been a chatty person, I know he struggles with the latter. He was also very pessimistic about the whole thing until he was 'prescribed' gym membership which a) helped him with his mobility and b) put him in touch with others who were much worse off.

TheSpottedZebra Wed 03-Dec-14 11:27:51

Fuck being kind to yourself, just be kind to him and your DH and the rest of your family.

lola884 Wed 03-Dec-14 11:31:05

Thanks everyone. There's truth in each and every one of your responses. It HAS enabled me to take a good long look at myself.

FIL is not dying nor is he disabled - as IrishBlood, he has a life-limiting neurological condition. It's not terminal and he has a good prognosis. But I think yes, depression is probably a factor. It could well explain how his personality has changed so drastically.

I support MIL and do as much as possible when I'm there (cooking, cleaning etc) so she can have a bit of a break and focus on playing with her grandson - as do the others in the family. The illness has affected MIL the hardest of course. She does run around like a blue arsed fly for him (and always did) and she's the one trying to get him out and about and doing things, so he's not sitting at home worrying about himself or focusing on the negatives.

I think what I also struggle with how things are not going to improve now. Spending all my time with DS, I can see him improving every day e.g. two months ago he couldn't feed himself with a spoon without making a huge mess and now he can - not because of anything I did, but because he's just more co-ordinated now the older he gets. Before you know it, he'll be feeding himself with a fork and knife. With FIL, it's the reverse - he's less co-ordinated now than he was before and he will never improve from that now. It's hard to see, that's all.

All this does bring up deeper issues.

So I think in terms of practical strategies, what you're all suggesting is:
a) Get some counselling
b) Try very hard to feign affection
c) Be extra helpful
d) Say to myself over and over again in my head to be kind and compassionate.

drudgetrudy Wed 03-Dec-14 11:32:37

I am going to be very honest here and admit that as my mother has reached extreme old age the less appealing aspects of her personality have come to the fore. She rarely says anything positive makes critical and rude remarks, cries all the time etc. I visit her everyday and it is frustrating.
I am not always patient.

I try to remember that she is a very old, very frightened lady. She can't hear much, can't walk and has lost many people who were important to her.

I try to distract her, focus on my breath and not react and to put myself in her shoes.

I sympathise that this is difficult but try to develop compassion for him.
Personally I think that all the stuff about fighting illness is bollocks-sometimes acceptance is what helps, everyone is different.

MardyBra Wed 03-Dec-14 11:34:24

I'm stunned at some of the replies here especially RyanAir 'Go away and have a long hard look at yourself, you sound like a hardfaced bitch.'. I would send that advice right back at you Ryan

Ffs the op has acknowledged there is a problem and wants to address it. There is good constructive advice here to OP. Ignore the rest.

Onesipmore Wed 03-Dec-14 11:38:48

Im sorry your post sounds rather selfish. I feel sorry for your Fil. I wonder how you might feel when you are older and possibly ill and you have a daughter in law who backs off because you arent behaving in the way she would like....

MorrisZapp Wed 03-Dec-14 11:40:21

Blimey. Regardless of illness, don't people generally feign a degree of happiness/ politeness around their in-laws?

I find it odd that an adult woman needs 'strategies' to be nice to her FIL. Just nod, smile, show interest etc the same as you do with any other person you are duty bound to be with over Christmas.

IrishBloodEnglishHeart Wed 03-Dec-14 11:43:35

I think faking 'affection' might be a bridge too far for me and my FIL. Although I get that my definition of affection might be different to yours. I go for a smile and a joke and a jolly conversation with FIL rather than anything else more ... tactile or emotional.

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