Dear Dr. Respler:
I have a problem with my mother-in-law.
My in-laws and I have always had a good relationship, so this unexpected problem is really bothering me. Let me explain. Recently, my in-laws invited my husband to a baseball game; they had an extra ticket. My husband wanted to go, and it was our understanding that he would be going with my father-in-law. So I gathered the children, thinking that we were going to spend time with my mother-in-law while the men went to the ballgame. But upon arriving at my in-laws’ house, I saw that my mother-in-law was dressed to go to the game. Feeling silly staying alone in their house, I told my husband that I did not want him to go with them, but rather wanted us all to just go home. My husband agreed, and that’s what we did.
The next day my mother-in-law called my husband and insinuated that I am a very controlling wife. That evening my husband stopped by at his parents’ house and they invited him to go out with them for dinner. He called to invite me to join them. Even though I had supper prepared, I gladly accepted the invitation.
My mother-in-law screamed in the background that the invitation was meant for her son, not for me. I told my husband to go, but I was very hurt.
As I have always had a close relationship with my mother-in-law, I do not understand why she is acting this way toward me. Further, my husband and I have a very loving relationship. So why is she trying to divide us? Why would my in-laws invite only my husband to the baseball game and then invite only him to eat out with them?
I have not said anything to my in-laws about this, and we are speaking with each other as if nothing happened. But the pain in my heart is so great. I always loved my mother-in-law and was very close to her. We shared a loving relationship before all this happened. Please help me handle this situation.
I feel your pain and understand your feeling of being upset with your in-laws’ actions. But if they have always been good to you, it would be prudent to think about this situation from another perspective, namely that perhaps the baseball game incident was all a big misunderstanding. Maybe your in-laws thought that you understood that they only had one extra ticket and thus invited your husband. While it may not be the nicest thing to do, it is not terrible for your in-laws to want to spend time with their son.
In-laws should certainly treat their in-law children like their own children, with love and respect. After you and your husband went home, perhaps your in-laws felt hurt by what they perceived as a slap in the face – after offering your husband a “gift.” Maybe they did not see things from your perspective and did not understand why you were so upset that you made your husband go home. This may have led them to believe that you were controlling him.
It appears that your in-laws’ behavior was inappropriate, but we must always try to see things from the viewpoint of others and be dan l’kaf zechus (giving people the benefit of the doubt). Since you are obviously still upset about the situation, it would be best to ask your in-laws when it would be convenient for all of you to talk about what happened. When you meet, calmly tell them that you love them very much and want to have a good relationship with them. Explain to them that you felt hurt when you got to their house and realized that they were going to the game without you. Explain that maybe it was a misunderstanding, but you expected to have some company and not be left alone all day with the children. If you are really courageous you might even apologize for leaving, but clarify that you were reacting to feeling hurt and upset. You can also tell them that you felt hurt when they excluded you from joining them and your husband for dinner.
Try not to be confrontational, as that will defeat the point of the conversation and will likely make your in-laws feel defensive. If this happens, they may continue to act in the same inappropriate manner. When disagreeing with your mother-in-law, consider saying, “Is it possible, Mom…?” (Halachically, this is the correct way to speak.) Something else you might say: “We always enjoyed a close and caring relationship. I was hurt about the situations that occurred. Is something deeper bothering you? These situations never happened before and I want to understand them. They are unlike what would have taken place in our previous relationship. I want to go back to our old relationship.”
Since you seem to portray your in-laws as typically having a good relationship with you, they will likely understand and apologize to you as well. It is a shame to let a good relationship go sour over several misunderstandings. If you can be the bigger person, hopefully this rift will be repaired and you will feel some validation in the process. This will be difficult to do, but you will gain much more in the long run.
I do not know if you might have inadvertently done something to hurt your mother-in-law that she is not telling you about, but is instead acting out her frustration over this – to your detriment. If this is the case, she will hopefully feel better after you demonstrate to her during the course of your conversation that you care about her. The fact that you shared a good relationship prior to these two situations bodes well for the healing of your relationship.
Remember to use the “I feel” message and to speak in a soft tone. If you feel that you can’t do this alone, seek assistance from a competent therapist or rav. Hatzlachah!
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