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Making peace with in-laws

Hannah wrote:

My husband and I got married three and a half years after we started dating. We waited that long because his parents and I did not get along (reason: I am almost five years older than my husband), and hoped that, by waiting, some sort of relationship would develop between his family and me. During that time, I was ignored, forbidden entry to their home, my husband was told that I was a bad influence on him, and his mother went so far as to beg him to start dating his ex again because she "liked her better."

My mother, knowing that we wanted to get married sometime in the future, tried to intervene on my behalf by talking to his mother. She told my mom that, in marriage, you "marry the man, not the family." Therefore, it was not important whether we got along or not.

When we finally decided to tell them we were getting married in four months, neither of his parents said a word at first. His mother finally broke the silence by saying to my husband, "Well, I just hope you know what you're doing." That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I wanted to storm out of the restaurant and never have anything to do with his family again. But instead, I sat there like a proper fiancee and kept my mouth shut.

We are coming up on our one-year anniversary. The situation between MIL and me has not improved much. She has made small attempts to repair the damage (letting me do laundry at her house, giving me trinkets), but I have no desire to make ammends with her. I have had almost four years of anger and rage pent up inside of me from all the cutting remarks, glares, and cold shoulders I received while we were dating. I am civil and polite to MIL, but no more than that. I have hurt DH tremendously by not forming a relationship with his mother, and I hate myself for doing that to him. I want to make him happy, and I know that means I must make ammends with MIL. But the thought of being friends with the woman that caused such heartache for four years makes my stomach turn. I want to get rid of this rage, but I don't know how. I thought that if I received an apology from them for their past behavior, I would feel better about everything. But an apology is out of the question they told my husband that they didn't do anything wrong. How do I let go of my anger for my in-laws, particularly mil?

Dear Hannah

You have anger because you've been wronged, badly wronged, for a long time. In fact, this abuse has gone on so long, that you are caught in a vicious circle of hate, guilt and anger.

Let's look at the hate: You don't like your in-laws, and if half what you say is true, you have good reason not to. No problem, just avoid them. There's no law that says you need to get on with them, and, face it, it would be a boring world if we all liked everybody. You don't get on. Not your fault. Live with it. She's happy not to like you, learn from that.

Let's look at the Guilt.You've been mentally abused by these people for so long that you've taken to blaming yourself. If they want to make it up, that's absolutely fine. But it's up to them, not you. By all means welcome any genuine Olive Branches, by all means be prepared to forgive and forget. But until the Dove arrives, live your own life, and concern yourself with people whio deserve your concern. How Dare You beat yourself for "not forming a relationship with his mother" - that, as I recall, was her problem.

Which neatly brings us to the anger. Your mother in law may not be a sad old monster (who knows?) but she has chosen to act like one. Her choice, and I can understand a measure of anger ... I can't really understand why you let it paralize you, however.

I suspect, in fact, that it is not anger at The Old Bat (her choice, remember) that is worrying you. I think the anger is partly at yourself for your impotence. Well, strike that; you probably deserve a medal for not having committed a felony.

Which leaves him. Husband. The one who promised to care for you, but doesn't have the guts to stand up to his Mom. He probably saw Psycho at an early age, and lives in fear.

Either way, he is the key to this.

Forget her; but make it clear to him that enough is enough. You no longer wish to play mind games. You will be civil to her, but you will not allow the relationship to develop until she makes a genuine attempt to straighten things out. Tell him that you are sorry that he doesn't feel able to support you, but until he does, the subject is closed. Over to him.

And a final thought. While it would be good to be friends - you obviously live close by - you can survive quite nicely without. But you do not mention children; if there are any - or any planned - they will be used as levers to torture you all over again.

If you are planning a family, you must discuss with your husband how to protect them. And be clear; if you fail to sort this now, it's the children who will suffer. You may need to move away; you may need to ensure your family can provide support, you may need to deny access ... but those issues must be sorted before a child is placed in this mess.

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