What Can I Do About My Rude In-Laws?

Reader’s Question

I really appreciate your input. It means a lot to me. I have been with my husband for about 3 years now. His mom and stepdad behave strangely around me. We will all be in a conversation and everything will be going fine, and once I add something to the conversation, they both look at me like I’m out of line and stupid. They don’t comment on what I’ve said, nor are they interested in me. They change the topic and direct questions and comments to my husband. I don’t understand this. I will ask my husband about it and he says he doesn’t know. I’ve come to expect their behavior and to realize that I need only change myself. I’m tempted to start bringing cryptograms to distract myself so that I can stay busy instead of being treated like an idiot.

His Mom encouraged us to get involved with an online community and since we have, she won’t let me do anything without her. She joins everything that I do, but will not leave me be. She interacts with everyone else on the community but me. It seems like she wants to keep watch over me. I feel like I’m being babysat. What is the best response to them?

Psychologist’s Reply

From your description, you’ve obtained some very rude, controlling, and inconsiderate in-laws. They may dislike you, want to control/watch your behavior, and even dislike their son. If they are controllers, they may be angry and jealous due to your influence with their son. He may be less controllable due to your marriage. In-laws can be nasty for a variety of reasons…sometimes simply because they are “nasty”, rude, and inconsiderate people. Some thoughts:

  • Dealing with in-laws must be a team sport in a marriage. You must develop strategies with your husband, and he must accept and demand fair treatment in the presence of the in-laws. He must have the courage to discuss the unfair treatment with his mother, and if he doesn’t — at least have the courage to reduce your contact with them to avoid their misbehavior. Develop a cue or signal with your husband to use when you’ve had enough unfair or rude behavior. At the agreed-upon signal, both leave the home.
  • Most rude people are rude because they are allowed to be rude! If we imagine videotaping visits with the in-laws, we’d see their rude behavior goes unchallenged. They are rude, feelings are hurt, and nothing is said about it. Rude behavior can be decreased by social embarrassment and challenging. Rude individuals are rude because they feel they are controlling the conversation/visit. When rude, politely confronting their behavior such as “I’ve offered a couple of comments, and you seem to be ignoring me. Is this something we need to discuss?” Rude people enjoy making others uncomfortable — they don’t enjoy being uncomfortable. If we challenge rude behavior when it occurs, the rude person comes to realize that every rude behavior and comment may result in social embarrassment and confrontation. Suddenly, they learn to pay attention and be polite. Many years ago I was assigned to conduct team meetings in which one individual was consistently rude and disrespectful. After each team meeting I went to his office, closed the door, and announced “I think we need to have a long talk about your behavior in today’s meeting.” He found those “talks” very uncomfortable. While he offered multiple excuses, only two such semi-polite “long talks” were require before he corrected his behavior.
  • Develop your own online and community life apart from your in-laws. You are required to be the daughter-in-law — not the best friend or online buddy. Mothers and daughter-in-laws who have wonderful, loving friendships develop those relationships over years. If your mother-in-law wants to do everything with you — she must earn that right by being loving, considerate, and supportive.
  • This situation may be impossible to fix. You may have one of those “toxic”, Personality Disorder in-laws who will always be obnoxious, controlling, rude, hostile, and self-centered. If this is the case, emotionally withdraw to a safe distance by visiting and contacting them on a schedule, minimize personal discussions, and accepting that each brief visit will be an emotionally-exhausting event. I’d recommend reading additional responses to questions about personality disorders by selecting that topic from the list of tags in the side menu. Toxic parents, in-laws, and relatives are fairly common.

You don’t need the approval or acceptance of your in-laws to have a good marriage. It’s nice…but it’s not necessary. When a dog is growling, we keep a safe distance. We can do the same with growling and rude in-laws and still maintain a healthy and loving marriage.

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