Dealing with difficult in-laws

Dear Carolyn:

I haven’t spoken to my husband’s parents since a week after our wedding. Several things happened that caused increasing tension, including: my mother-in-law blowing up at me when I articulated concern about a racially insensitive comment (I made several olive-branch attempts to reason with her on the importance of my speaking up); my father-in-law dramatically suggesting they not come to the wedding (for reasons we could not determine); and my mother-in-law uttering the morning after the wedding, “Now you don’t have to worry about me trying to convince [my son] not to marry you anymore.”

When my husband and I asked for “clarification” about this — not jumping to conclusions — my in-laws turned to gaslighting and said they did not want to speak to me until I dealt with my insecurity.

I have since opted out of interactions with them and, except for relatively transactional information-sharing, my husband has as well. Given his lifetime of being close with them, this has been very difficult for him, and I empathize.

I am now pregnant with twins, and they have — quite predictably — reframed their distance from us as “a kindness” as we went through difficult IVF procedures. My husband wants to find a path to reconcile with them, whilst they have made zero effort to reconnect. They have continued to judge me, my personality, my opinions, my family, and my past despite their son being the happiest in his life.

Am I wrong in continuing to opt out of this relationship? I’ve suggested that if one or the other of them was declining, I’d do what was necessary to ensure that my husband did not have regrets after their passing.

— Boundaries for Sanity

I don’t like any of this.

I don’t like that awful comment from your mother-in-law, of course.

Or the “not speaking.”

I don’t like that “my husband and I” asked for “clarification.” There’s value in not jumping to conclusions, yes, but there’s also a time for sons to say, “You owe us both an apology. You know where to find us.” Even if you started this whole domino-run of tension, her remark cannot stand.

I don’t like iterating “the importance of my speaking up” as an “olive branch.” This might seem minor by comparison, especially to racism, but it matters when you’re talking about mounting relationship tension. An olive branch is a concession; attempts to reason are taking a stand. When you take a stand and try to pass it off as peacemaking, you reveal yourself as at best an unwitting party to this escalation.

I don’t like “I’ll let you see them on their deathbeds” as proof of generosity of spirit.

I don’t like that babies are coming with this attention yet ungiven — happy news though they are after your difficulty conceiving.

And I don’t like your declaring a man painfully estranged from his parents “the happiest in his life.”

So please: Call in the cavalry. Find a good family therapist to help you understand yourselves, each other and his parents — and de-escalate. Whatever you possibly can.

— Washington Post Writers Group

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