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In(law)sanity

lessthanpilessthanpi Registered User regular
edited June 2014 in Help / Advice Forum
The Story So Far

My father-in-law grew up in New Jersey, ended up in the Air Force during Vietnam, and then met my mother-in-law while stationed in Missouri. His family basically disowned him for marrying a non-Catholic girl and he raised his kids in Iowa with little to no contact with any of his relatives.

Fast Forward to Present

My wife and I have a soon to be 3 year old. My FIL desparately wants us to go on a multi-week train trip to the East Coast to meet all his relatives.

There's plenty of issues here:
1) My wife doesn't get vacation time, if she goes, shes out 2 weeks pay.
2) My In-Laws are both retired due to disability. There's no way they can keep up with a 3 year old for 2 weeks on vacation. We never let them watch our son alone because they're not physically capable of keeping him safe.
3) Neither my wife or I have any interest in going since none of these relatives have shown any interest in us.
4) My In-Laws apparently hate each other and have as long as my wife can remember. They bicker and fight whenever they're together. Its bad enough that I've seen waitstaff duck behind potted plants to stay out of sight when they're yelling.
5) My wife has said "I love my parents, I just don't like my parents" We're just not interested in spending time with them.

The problem

No matter how many times we tell them this is a bad idea and that we don't want to go they won't drop the issue. They do their very best to guilt trip my wife and they're doing things like looking into ticket prices and booking hotels and other such insanity. They've worn down my wife enough that she's hoping they'll just die before the trip is to take place next august. She's not been able to convince them this isn't happening. My MIL is likely to throw a fit involving endless crying phone calls, emails, and appeals to everyone we know to try to talk my wife into it. It'll be messy.

So how to I get them to drop this nonsense?

FYI: We are in no way dependent on them for anything.

lessthanpi on

Posts

  • Greggy88Greggy88 Registered User regular
    It sounds like the bickering is the major issue? Honestly, I would have this out with them. Send them a calm email in which you spell out that a) you love them. b) the way they behave (bickering etc) makes you sad and not want to spend time with them. Ask them to sort it out, and not to bicker in front of you. Suggest a short visit to test this out, and that future visits will be dependent on it being fun for you. Don't be a dick about it - write it more diplomatically, but clearly.

  • HollerHoller Registered User regular
    These are grown-ass adults, so deal with them the way you would deal with all grown-ass adults: firmly state your plan (i.e., that you are not going to do this thing that you don't want to do). Don't explain all of your reasons, don't bring their shitty relationship into it, just say that you are not going. Then, tell them that you don't wish to discuss this any further.

    Every time they bring up the issue with you/your wife in the future, give them ONE warning ("I'm sorry, I told you I wasn't interested in discussing this, can we please change the subject? [insert new subject]" If they harp on the issue, stop the conversation. "I'm sorry, I already told you I don't want to talk about this, I'm going to go now. I will talk to you [tomorrow/this weekend/next week]. Bye!" Then walk away, or hang up the phone. Let all of their calls go to voicemail, but DO initiate contact when you said you would, and on a regular basis. If they continue to trample this clearly-set boundary, you continue to immediately exit the situation. Insert longer waiting periods between contact, as-needed

    You will probably get accused of all manner of shittiness by them, however, enforcing personal boundaries is one of the most important skills you can develop. If they continue to trample your boundaries, this makes it so that they are doing it at their own expense. Assuming they want to keep their child and grandchildren in their life, they have to learn that the price for this is treating your wife with the respect she deserves.

    ceresT. J. Nutty Nub QuidSkeithLostNinjaCambiataDarkewolfeknitdanJaysonFourMayabirdStranger DangerVivixenneAnzekayCaptainNemoThe EnderLiiyaShawnaseeReverend_ChaosDisco11cabsy
  • QuidQuid I don't... what... hnnng Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    Holler has it on the nose.

    As added incentive I'll point out that compared to some cold feelings from just her parents for a few months, this trip will more than likely be much worse if most of the people involved openly dislike each other and bicker constantly. I don't know your father in law's family personally but I can almost guarantee you'll soon be wishing you had stood your ground early in to the trip.

    Quid on
    Skeith
  • lessthanpilessthanpi Registered User regular
    I've been more or less trying to take those approaches.

    My MIL in particular is just awful to my wife. She still guilts her about buying a musical instrument 20 years ago that got her through a BS and MFA in performance as well as lets her conduct private lessons today. Anytime my wife does anything my MIL doesn't like she starts with the "Well you owe me $6000 for that instrument!" She's just special like that.

    I've got no real problem telling them no since they've got no power over me. If anything I've got the leverage because they'll want to see their only grandkid more than they'll want to avoid me. They just trample all over my wife and it hurts to watch.

  • JaysonFourJaysonFour Classy Monster Kitteh Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    It seems like your in-laws are acting like a bunch of silly geese.

    They're going after your wife because they know that you're the strong one, and that there's no getting you to change your mind. But if they keep running a guilt train on your wife, you're ALL going to end up fucked. The smart thing to do is just to give them a chance to back off, but then cut contact, cold turkey. If they aren't going to act their age and provide a good example to your child, then they don't need to be around the child.

    Let then know that while they are welcome to take a trip out east to see his relatives, you are financially unable to go with them, and if they keep pushing the issue, just cut contact, because it's obvious the family is tugging on your wife's strings and trying to see if they can jerk her around, because if she goes, you'll all end up miserable.

    And the thing about the instrument is just goddamn petty bullshit. It's an empty threat- if she's serious, tell the MIL to file a case and bring it.

    You're going to have to be there for your wife, but you NEED to put your foot down and take action before it gets any worse.

    JaysonFour on
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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User, __BANNED USERS regular
    lessthanpi wrote: »
    FYI: We are in no wait dependent on them for anything.

    Why do you stay in contact with them? Can't you simply not reply to their e-mails, and not answer the phone when they call?

    That is the part of your story I do not understand. Is it just your wife wanting to be a dutiful daughter? Or is something else going on?

    My dad's mom is a horrible person. After his dad died, he simply stopped interacting with her. It solved so many problems.

  • CreaganCreagan Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    If your wife feels a strong obligation to be a "good daughter" or "honor her mother and father," or feels guilty about the money spent on the instrument, it'll be very, very hard to convince her to cut contact with her parents, regardless of how toxic they are.

    Creagan on
    cabsy
  • November FifthNovember Fifth Registered User regular
    Is a compromise possible?

    Maybe you could fly out and stay for two or three days rather than the whole multi-week train ordeal.

    In my opinion, it's never a bad idea to connect with family. You never know when you might meet someone who might be useful for employment or helping your son get into a college or something down the line. At least learn a bit about where where your wife and your son come from.

    That said, the train trip should be a no-go. Train travel is unpleasant under the best of circumstances. I couldn't imagine a long train journey with a three year old and bad in-laws plus a week plus of being shown off to distant relatives, being served stuff the kid can't eat, etc.

    Kick_04
  • VivixenneVivixenne Remember your training, and we'll get through this just fine. Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    @_J_ Cutting contact with parents is easy to suggest but very hard to actually do. As the wife has said - she loves her parents, she just doesn't like them. That's a legit stance and should be respected; suggesting she cut her parents out of her life is every bit as insensitive as her parents are being, because you are asking her to justify her decisions to YOU. Doesn't make sense - it's not your business WHY she wants a relationship with these people; it's enough that she wants one.

    That said, I agree with Holler's strategy, and I think remaining firm and remembering to support your wife is the best way to go on this. If you know your in-laws are continuing to nag your wife about it, maybe you field those calls for that pre-stated period of time suggested by Holler. You're part of the family now, too, so you get to have a very legit say in how these things should play out. Your wife has made clear she still loves her parents, but does not want this vacation to happen. Work out between the two of you how to get that message across, and enforce it together. Your wife will be made to feel guilty for standing her ground - it's your job to remind her that this crap is really a reflection on her parents, not on her.

    The problem here is that when you give a little, they'll take a mile. They need to know that what they are doing is inappropriate; maybe the suggestion of alternatives you WILL be happy to do (like them coming to you guys for a few days, no train trips until your kid is older) is in order.

    Vivixenne on
    XBOX: NOVADELPHINI | DISCORD: NOVADELPHINI #7387 | TWITTER
  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User, __BANNED USERS regular
    edited June 2014
    Vivixenne wrote: »
    Cutting contact with parents is easy to suggest but very hard to actually do. As the wife has said - she loves her parents, she just doesn't like them. That's a legit stance and should be respected; suggesting she cut her parents out of her life is every bit as insensitive as her parents are being, because you are asking her to justify her decisions to YOU. Doesn't make sense - it's not your business WHY she wants a relationship with these people; it's enough that she wants one.

    The situation presented in the OP is one of conflicting desires. Someone has to change their position to resolve the conflict.

    Options
    1. The in-laws stop being insensitive and demanding.
    2. The wife cuts off contact with her parents.
    3. The husband / wife acquiesce to the desires of the in-laws.

    Given those options, these seem to be the relevant aspects of each.
    1. It is very difficult to control the actions of another. Given that "My In-Laws apparently hate each other and have as long as my wife can remember." and "anytime my wife does anything my MIL doesn't like she starts with the "Well you owe me $6000 for that instrument!", it seems unlikely that the parents will suddenly become pleasant individuals who respect their daughter, and her decisions.
    2. The wife loves, but does not like, her parents. While she may have an urge to maintain contact with them, there seem to be very few advantages to the relationship, and many problems.
    3. If they give in, then the in-laws learn that with enough pestering they can get what they want. This will likely cause further problems in the future when the in-laws have other desires.

    While I agree that Holler's strategy is sensible, it does not seem like the in-laws are reasonable people who will react well to the attempt at changing topics, or simply stating reasons for not visiting. That option is effectively to maintain the relationship, and hope that #1 occurs, which seems unlikely given that the parents have been this way for their entire lives.

    Given all of that? It seems like the easiest thing to do is cut off contact. I am not trying to casually dismiss the wife's desires. Rather, I was asking why she has those desires, given the pain they cause. If a person engages in an action that results in pain, then it is reasonable to ask why the individual engages in that action.

    All that being said. If she ultimately wants to maintain those desires? That's fine. She can do that.

    But when presented with an untenable position such as this, something has to change. And the easiest thing to change is always one's self.


    Edit: Also, this is based on the few posts we have from which to gather information about the in-laws. There may be extenuating circumstances that provide more options. If that is the case, then awesome. But given the material presented? It seems like the 3 options above are all we have. And of those, #2 has quite a few advantages, while the others seem problematic.

    _J_ on
  • QuidQuid I don't... what... hnnng Registered User regular
    lessthanpi wrote: »
    I've been more or less trying to take those approaches.

    My MIL in particular is just awful to my wife. She still guilts her about buying a musical instrument 20 years ago that got her through a BS and MFA in performance as well as lets her conduct private lessons today. Anytime my wife does anything my MIL doesn't like she starts with the "Well you owe me $6000 for that instrument!" She's just special like that.

    I've got no real problem telling them no since they've got no power over me. If anything I've got the leverage because they'll want to see their only grandkid more than they'll want to avoid me. They just trample all over my wife and it hurts to watch.

    You need to talk to her about doing the same. Walk through why it is she thinks she has to take this sort of stuff from them. Afterward try to be present for any communication to help support her whenever they decide to start getting malicious again.

  • VivixenneVivixenne Remember your training, and we'll get through this just fine. Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    I dunno man _J_ those options seem pretty limited to me. Complexity is part of relationships for most people, family doubly so. It's great that it's so clear-cut for you, but there's plenty of fuzziness between all 3 precisely because people are not robots. Sometimes, you have to be okay leaving stuff messy. In fact I'd argue that it's perfectly reasonable that as adults, you have to accept that there are plenty of situations where what's best for you is going to be navigating the gray area, rather than identifying a clear solution.

    Distilling a complex and potentially fraught situation into 3 cut-and-dry options is pretty Occam's Razor-y, which does not bode well when you're talking about human relationships.

    To the OP, I'd strongly advise giving the situation a bit of time and space. No decision made now (by either side) is going to be permanent. So perhaps the right option is doing what's best for right now (which is a spectrum of possibilities), and review later.

    Vivixenne on
    XBOX: NOVADELPHINI | DISCORD: NOVADELPHINI #7387 | TWITTER
    QuidJulius
  • lessthanpilessthanpi Registered User regular
    _J_ wrote: »

    Why do you stay in contact with them? Can't you simply not reply to their e-mails, and not answer the phone when they call?

    That is the part of your story I do not understand. Is it just your wife wanting to be a dutiful daughter? Or is something else going on?

    My dad's mom is a horrible person. After his dad died, he simply stopped interacting with her. It solved so many problems.

    Its hard to cut your parents out of your life. There's been some evolutionary biology research on it in the last few years. It's an "easier said than done" sort of thing. My wife's sibliings are both disasters, so she feels some pressure to look out for her parents especially because its getting harder for them to take care of themselves.

    If we ignore them they'll literally hop the car and drive 4 hours to show up at our house and whine in person. At that point short of having the police send them on their way they're difficult to get rid of.

  • RendRend Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    It might be a long shot, but perhaps she could try to turn their guilt trips back on them by highlighting how uncomfortable they're making her?

    "Well you owe us 6000 dollars!"
    "I didn't realize when you gave me that [instrument] that you were expecting me to pay you back in full. I thought you were just buying a musical instrument for your daughter who loves you even though you keep insisting that I owe you money. You know I love and cherish that [instrument], just like I love and cherish you. Why do you have to hold it over my head like this? Is there anything else I should be saving for to pay you back?"

    Then they either answer with some form of "yes," "no," or "no, but..."

    If they answer yes, then they've put themselves on indefensible ground and opened themselves up to an all out assault on the guilt trips they've been giving her. If she stays firmly on the moral high ground (stays respectful, calm, keeps the topic on her parents and why exactly they insist on controlling her via guilt), then she can be quite aggressive in this conversation and deal a serious blow to the unhealthy situation that this sounds like, and hopefully cause some major positive change. If they answered yes to this question, then my guess is she's going to need to be aggressive to clear things up, because they are (intentionally or not) preying on passivity at this point.

    If no, you've likely accomplished something. If "no, but..." then you rebut with something to the effect of "if I don't actually owe you money why do you keep trying to guilt trip me with this? You bring it up all the time and it makes me uncomfortable and pushes me away. Don't you realize I love you and try my best?" Make sure everything she says puts the ball back in their court and asks the question "why are you making me feel bad about something we both agree I don't actually owe," "why do you keep asking me to do things I don't want to do," "why can't you understand that I am my own person," and continuously repeating the point that "you know I love you, and I am a good daughter." If they answered some flavor of no to the original question, then they're probably being at least somewhat reasonable about the situation, and so continuously highlighting the things they're doing will hopefully be enough to dislodge whatever is alienating her parents from seeing the real effect their actions and words are having on their relationship with their daughter.

    Basically, my advice is for your wife to be aggressive in dealing with controlling, guilt tripping parents by doing exactly what they want: making it about them. Turn it back on them, and hopefully they will acquiesce. If they don't, you might have to turn from aggressive to stoic, which would be unfortunate, considering all the goals and desires present in the situation.

    Rend on
  • lessthanpilessthanpi Registered User regular
    Rend wrote: »
    It might be a long shot, but perhaps she could try to turn their guilt trips back on them by highlighting how uncomfortable they're making her?

    She actually gave it back to them once. They brought it back to her a while later. Then started with the guilt about it again.

  • RendRend Registered User regular
    lessthanpi wrote: »
    Rend wrote: »
    It might be a long shot, but perhaps she could try to turn their guilt trips back on them by highlighting how uncomfortable they're making her?

    She actually gave it back to them once. They brought it back to her a while later. Then started with the guilt about it again.

    Perhaps it could be a static defense? If she's won an argument before, using precedent whenever it gets bad can also be a powerful rhetorical tool.

  • RendRend Registered User regular
    edited June 2014
    Also I would not give the instrument back again, or threaten to. It belongs to her, and part of the healthy relationship you guys want with her parents involves them recognizing that they gave this thing to her as a gift, and you cannot, should not, and WILL NOT use gifts as leverage.

    Rend on
  • RocketSauceRocketSauce Registered User regular
    lessthanpi wrote: »
    I've got no real problem telling them no since they've got no power over me. If anything I've got the leverage because they'll want to see their only grandkid more than they'll want to avoid me. They just trample all over my wife and it hurts to watch.

    This pretty much sums up my in-laws at the moment. I don't interact with them anymore because they couldn't conduct themselves with a pretty basic standard of respect or decency. They have pulled this crap with themselves and with my wife for a long time, but I'm the only one in the family that isn't okay with it. My wife can have trouble asserting herself when it comes to family even if she is aware of their dysfunctional behavior. It was really hard at first for my wife, as she is naturally a peace-maker and just wants everyone to get along, but she's gotten used to it. She can see and understand the way they act, but she still wants them in her life. I tend to be more comfortable with making hard decisions and accepting the negative consequences. I can understand her need to have her family in her life, but it's up to me to set the standards for how I want to be treated, and to set boundaries. I've done it with my own family, and it seems to be working well. If you can't afford me the most basic levels of respect don't plan on me to go to your home base where you feel most comfortable to do whatever you want.

    If neither of you have any desire to have anything to do with them, all the better. Set really firm boundaries and stick to them. If they harass you at your home, tell them to leave or just call the police. If they continue to act in a way that is unacceptable, just cut off contact. It's hard, and it will hurt, but it's temporary and you won't be caught up in their issues.


    _J_
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