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MIL - how do I tackle this?

(54 Posts)
walterbenjamin Mon 16-May-16 14:50:20

I'm hoping some of you who are MILs already can help!

I find my PIL extremely difficult to deal with. They are very socially clueless, very controlling, and almost constantly rude - talking over people persistently, refusing to take 'no' for an answer when it's a question of someone's preferences (you are literally forced into a position of being rude!), responding quite inappropriately to emotional subject matter, that kind of thing. They also insist that when we are together we do absolutely everything in company - you can barely get away for 2 minutes to go to the loo between 8am and midnight. I am not alone in finding their behaviour a challenge - DH, BIL and BIL's partner also really struggle.

In my case, however, the problem is exacerbated by gender. MIL cannot stop telling me what to do. I am not exaggerating when I say that she never says anything to me that isn't an order or an instruction or a suggestion for how to improve in future. I find it upsetting, patronising, undermining and infantilising (it's often done in the tone of voice you'd use to a child). I am literally just told I'm doing everything wrong and force-fed unsolicited advice. The worst thing is, I don't think she intends to be anything other than well-meaning, but it doesn't feel that way on the receiving end. It is literally 'do this' or 'do that' constantly for 3 days non-stop.

I feel that this makes me sound really incompetent and in need of advice, but I swear I am not - my house is well-run, clean, and I am a good cook and gardener. I have my own career and I hope I'm a supportive presence to my DH. I have had a really rough time of things lately for health reasons (lots of surgery, which has resulted in permanent, heartbreaking infertility) so life isn't going as well as I had hoped at a personal level - and I probably feel more vulnerable to these critiques than a normal person.

I don't feel I can ask DH for as much support as I would like, because he also has a strained relationship with them. He's 44 and a confident, world leader in his field at work - you would never guess that at home, he just goes to pieces around them personally, to the point that he will be so overfaced that he'll physically vomit (outside a restaurant once!!) or be unable to get out of bed with stomach pains. He has had counselling about his father's bullying (he was very angry and violent growing up - MH issues), which helped but didn't entirely solve the problem. Because of this history, I don't feel it's fair to rely on him to 'have a word' or 'sort the problem' out.

I've tried to engage at a more personal level, but they are clearly very uncomfortable talking about feelings or being in any way trusting. They don't speak to us (or anyone else) as people: however long we know them they still just talk about the weather. We see them about 3-4 times a year for a long weekend (they live a long drive away).

Any advice very gratefully received.

dramatictessa Mon 16-May-16 15:09:23

Don't go and see them. Life's too short to be miserable so often. If it results in a barrage of offended phone calls etc. get caller ID and don't answer their calls. You don't have to be nice to them just because they're parents/PILS - would you go and visit anyone else who treated you this badly? Unless you are getting something good out of this relationship which justifies continuing it, take control over it and just stop it. It might make them see sense and change their behaviour, or it might not. Either way, you'll be in control of your reactions and your husband might feel a greater degree of peace.

walterbenjamin Mon 16-May-16 15:28:03

I appreciate the advice. I really want it to work better, though. I don't think DH would see them as often if I didn't come - not my choice but his!!- and I do want them to retain a relationship as I think everyone would be sad if they didn't. I just don't want the condition of that relationship to be me accepting the constant bossing/unsolicited advice.

They do love him, they are just completely oblivious to how they come over socially (and self-interested: they don't see what they don't choose to see). sad

thatbags Mon 16-May-16 16:36:57

It sounds pretty sad already! Not seeing them would at least be a more comfortable sadness (no vomiting, for instance).

Luckygirl Mon 16-May-16 16:44:49

Thank goodness they live no closer! Do they initiate the contacts that you do have?

I am sorry to hear about your surgery and resulting infertility. I do hope this couple do not keep dropping hints about babies - that would be a nightmare.

I think that you are very good to see as much of them as you do. I guess they do not deserve to be visited if FIL is so unpleasant.

I would keep it to a minimum if I were you - life is too short for this misery.

LullyDully Mon 16-May-16 16:55:47

We have talked and talked about mothers in laws. If she is vile, give her a miss and spare yourself years of heartache. You will never be good enough for her until she sees you as an equal who loves her son as much as you do. (differently of course. )

Thingmajig Mon 16-May-16 17:07:45

I am so sorry to hear about your own health problems. flowers

As for the PIL's I'm with dramatictessa, don't visit or keep visits down to once a year. Are they unaware of their behaviour/attitude or is it a deliberate ploy with them? It sounds excruciating!

It certainly doesn't sound like a healthy relationship between them and any of their family and if they (your husband and his brother) aren't able to confront their parents, or if they've tried in the past to no avail then the only way is to distance yourselves from them. Yes, it's sad for everyone concerned but they have brought it on themselves by being so unbearable.

If your husband is so affected by the thought of seeing them it's really not worth it! Life is too short.

dramatictessa Mon 16-May-16 17:54:01

Just to add - people often tell me they want a particular relationship to work or at least be maintained for so many different reasons ( just should be/would be so sad if it wasn't/they'd feel guilty if it wasn't/the other people involved will hate them if they stop the relationship). None of these are valid reasons - relationships can only really be maintained if both sides are prepared to be kind to each other, and it sounds like your PILS are not. They do not deserve your husband's unconditional love, or yours. It sounds very harsh, but life really is too short for all this misery, especially when it is making your husband ill.

Newquay Mon 16-May-16 18:53:08

A sister in law came home on a visit from Oz. Will never know what she said (permanent troublemaker sadly) but MIL was then obviously miffed with DH and I. Stuck it out for a few weeks then DH (normally so mild and loved his Mum) told her in no uncertain terms that this behaviour had to stop. If it didn't he would vote with his feet and stay away with me and DGC.
Next afternoon, while he was at work, I went to see her. We had a frank (but not unkind) exchange of views. I told her straight I had never seen DH so angry and, unless she sorted things out she would not see him again.
I told DH of my visit when he got in from work; she rang later and apologised but wouldn't say what had happened.
Normal visits were resumed. Never brilliant but not as before.
I recommend facing up to them and give them the choice.

Leticia Mon 16-May-16 19:05:00

I would recommend facing up to them and giving them the choice but I doubt your DH is up to it.
I would go for minimum contact and then let it wash over you. Smile, nod, totally ignore . If you need to to say something stick with 'really'.

Badenkate Mon 16-May-16 19:10:04

I agree with Newquay. However difficult it may be, you have to get this out into the open. If nothing changes, then avoid them as much as you can. It sounds as though both you and DH will be a lot happier! I hope you soon feel better - this is something you could certainly do without! flowers

Grannyben Mon 16-May-16 20:09:38

I know that the other gransnetters are so right but I am such a coward when dealing with problems like this, I just can't cope with confrontation and I always end up feeling like the guilty one. Is it possible to cut the long weekend's a bit shorter. For example, if you as always go Friday to Monday could you just do Saturday morning to Sunday tea time. Then, once you had that established, you could make it every 4 months instead of 3. I know it's not a solution but if it cuts the time you're in their company by half it might feel a bit more manageable.

FarNorth Mon 16-May-16 21:34:47

And/or could you stay somewhere else nearby, rather than in their home.

I can see the merit of speaking clearly to them about the problem but if neither of you can cope with that, at present, then distancing yourselves or cutting off contact may be the way to go.

Don't keep flogging a dead horse.

aggie Mon 16-May-16 21:45:07

Who is going to benefit from this horrible contact ? Not your OH , not you , and the PIL are so oblivious I don't think they would miss you ! Please look after you OH and yourself xxxxxxxxx

Tresco Mon 16-May-16 23:05:50

I can't understand how you can say your PiL love your DH. For them to induce such anxiety in him that he vomits or can't get out
of bed, the relationship must have been emotionally abusive in the past. That is not love.

Bbnan Mon 16-May-16 23:18:20

Op life is too short for all this hassle.
I too had to deal with this not from pil but my own family.
The issue of infertility is a hot topic.
We made up our mind we were now a family unit us against the world
It gave us great confidence in each other
We did adopt 2 boys and now have a precious grandaughter..
My pil were great as we did not succumb to any pressure.....
We learned to show we were a family even if it only had us
2 in it
My husband was an only son and mil adored gs

f77ms Tue 17-May-16 06:26:03

Agree with grannyben . I hate confrontation so her suggestion of cutting it short, Saturday to Sunday is a good compromise . You will never change these people no matter how much discussion there is , it would be a matter of damage limitation by seeing them less .
Sorry to hear of your health problems xx

thatbags Tue 17-May-16 06:38:45

grannyben's is a good suggestion, but I think people who are so confrontational, as the PiLs in this story clearly are, would find a shortening of visits confrontational in itself. I think I simply wouldn't visit for a while (say, a year), and I'd stop answering the phone when they rang. This isn't confrontational, it's backing away from their behaviour: simply not allowing them to 'poke' me with their verbal weapons.

When it seemed clear they'd got the message that I wasn't to be pushed so much as in the oast, I'd tentatively restart visits, but only half day visits to begin with, so that my escape route was always clear.

Newquay Tue 17-May-16 07:53:51

Yes, different points of view here of course but we all agree you can't carry on like this. So hope you find some way through this. Look after yourselves💐

walterbenjamin Tue 17-May-16 08:57:14

Thank you all so much for your advice. Much to ponder here!

I genuinely don't think NC is an option. DH would find that more difficult, I think, than the limited contact that we have. He has been better since the counselling, but he is very far from being calm and relaxed around them. I think he manages by having this rhythm of weekly phonecalls (where nothing is really discussed) and three or four yearly visits. Because he is the primary person to suffer here, I have to take my cues from what he feels most comfortable with, right? I think his sense of guilt would be overwhelming if he did cut off contact. I agree that this is a legacy of the emotional control he suffered for many years at their hands, but I can't just magic that away. I have encouraged him to seek more help, but he is now very happy and functional in every aspect of life apart from this one.

I do agree, though, that shorter visits are key. It's actually nice when we see them for the first half day - after that, the bossing and control kick in more and more. Keeping it to a two day/one night stay might work better. When we see them, it is very, very full on. They don't really relate to anyone (including us) as people - instead, what they want to do is to race around an area visiting all of the stately homes and being cooked for! If you try to talk to them at any personal level, they instantly clam up and don't know what to do. I think there is an empathy deficit behind this - they lack some kind of ability to put themselves in other peoples' shoes, or to react to an appeal for personal interaction. DH recently got a major promotion that he's been working towards for years, and their response was 'Oh, I suppose we'll see you even less now'.

I'm making them sound really bad but they are not vile or monsters. They aren't even confrontational (it would be much, much easier if they were). They are just two people who have lived in their own bubble for a very, very long time (they retired young). FIL has depression, for which he's never really had proper treatment, and is highly negative as a person - he makes Eeyore look a cheery soul. MIL's way of coping has been to ignore him and breeze through. After 50 years, the result is that they both ignore each other and everyone else! They don't mean to be nasty, but they are a bit selfish and will tend to ignore anything that doesn't play into the situation they want to exist. There is no ability there to pick up the subtle social cues that other people react to. So you know when you suggest doing something, and you're looking for a reaction and if someone seems less than enthused, you let it go and move on? Well, there's none of that! To be heard, you literally have to bellow the message at them in a way that feels so unambiguous that it is rude. Part of this is a lack of communication skills, but part of it is, I think, a bit deliberate, a way of getting their own way.

The best way I can describe it is that being with them is like being smothered. Care and solicitude are only shown in ways that feel bossy and controlling. There is no emotional space for other people!

Wendysue Tue 17-May-16 09:00:20

"I can't understand how you can say your PiL love your DH. For them to induce such anxiety in him that he vomits or can't get out
of bed, the relationship must have been emotionally abusive in the past. That is not love."


I agree with Tresco. And I bet if you pull out (tell DH you're not going anymore, but he's free to do so), he'll CO them, himself, very quickly. Try it.

Wendysue Tue 17-May-16 09:03:43

If not, then, yes, shorter visits, less often. And leave if they become insufferable. Protect yourselves.

FarNorth Tue 17-May-16 09:38:31

Does your DH understand how upsetting the whole situation is, for you?
Of course you don't want to pressure him but maybe letting him know how it affects you could give him a new viewpoint and a new reason to take control, for your good.

Leyshir Tue 17-May-16 10:17:02

Could you put your original post into a letter to them? They have to realise that their communication and interaction has repercussions. I agree that some contact is preferential as its a shame when families lose contact.

dizzygran Tue 17-May-16 10:19:25

I do feel for you walterbenjamin .. family problems are so very difficult to deal with. Why don't you reduce contact a bit - maybe two night stays rather than three and have you thought about having a short holiday with them at a hotel. This would ensure that you can get some time away from them. DH has had counselling but cannot seem to break the ties and you have to come to terms with your own issues. It sounds as though in laws also find the relationship hard to manage and seem to keep offering "advice" rather than being able to talk to you. Don't give up but take the lead sometimes - it sounds as that in laws need advice too. Good luck