Please help with MIL and my realization that I'm a selfish jerk


#1

I’ve been having some problems with my MIL over the course of two years that I really need some advice on. I’ve been married for 3 1/2 years and my MIL is the nicest person in the world. The problem is, she is too nice. She is so nice that when we go to visit or when they come visit us, she cooks everyhting, and basically serves everyone. She is so nice that she asks what you want to drink about 3 times. Then when you have it, and are drinking it she’ll say “can I fill that back up for you!”. She’s so nice that when dinner is served she’ll offer you the potatos about 5 times during dinner.

I am trying to think of simple examples, but my point is, at least to me, that she is so nice its annoying. Can ANYONE sympathize!? I always thought I had nice manners, but whenever I visit I always feel like I’m being a bad person because I don’t say thank you all the time. Basically if I acted in “good manners” I would say thank you about 50 times a day.

My problem is how do I handle this. I have two options, to just be nice back and constantly keep saying “no thank you”, “yes please” all day long (which I find annoying). Or I can be rude (which I normally come off as) because I just say “no I’m fine”, or “I’ve already got a drink” (in my head I’m saying “leave me alone for two seconds!”).

The problem is my MIL is one of those people who is very nice but will hold a grudge if you come off not thankful, or rude. She loves me and my family. She loves my kids so much I think she’s obsessed. I mean when we come to visit basically I don’t see my kids because she always has them with her (they are 2 and 4 mos).

I can’t help out around their house because she won’t let me, so I feel useless but at the same time feel like I’m just a grub by letting her do everything.

Lastly whenever we visit for some reason I get in a sour mood and ultimately when we leave my wife and I are in a big fight.

I don’t know if I’m being selfish, rude, but the bottom line is when I am around my MIL I feel like a bad husband, and a bad father, even though I know I am not when I am home with my family alone. Does anyone have any suggestions (books, tapes) on how to be polite, have good manners, or gain better social skills in situatiuons like this, because honestly I don’t know how to act.

I know this is a complicated situation so I would feel free to elaborate on specific issues if anyone needs me too, but I’m just looking for a little advice. I want to be a better person to her, but at the same time think some of her actions are excessive even though they are well intentioned.

Thank you and God Bless


#2

My general thought is to not try to get inside her head and second-guess her motivations for being so nice. She is who she is. Thank her to the level that you are comfortable and don’t worry about whether or not it is enough for her liking. If you don’t like sitting around the house and doing nothing, either find something helpful to do without asking permission, or if you get shot down, just stick around to chat. Even if I am cooking dinner and don’t want help, it is still nice to have someone hang out for conversation.

Don’t worry about her grudges either. Their hers. She can hold them or not hold them and it is pretty much up to her and not you. So, don’t worry. I find it is easier to get along with people like this if you just take them at their word. If they are being nice, then it’s probably best to assume their motivations are genuine and treat them like they are a truly good person. If in fact they are really being passive agressive nice, the best thing in the world that you can do is treat them as if they are genuinely nice. Their conscience usually gets the better of them.

There is no sense in the world though in getting all worked up about your mother-in-law being too nice and getting in a fight with your wife over it. That’s crazy, don’t you think?


#3

IT IS CRAZY!!! And that’s my point. Why do I feel like this when her intentions must be nice right? But there are things she does that I find “coniving” (sp?). Its her way or the highway when it comes to her wants and her schedules. I’m okay with that, but what that tells me is she doesn’t really care about me!? She cares about what SHE wants.

Also like you said, if she doesn’t want my help than just sit around and chat with her while she’s cooking. I’m sorry, I cannot do that. She’s what I call a chit-chatter and I can’t stand talking to her. Her idea of a good conversation is talking about all her neighbors’ and friends’ health problems and relationship problems, etc. I am a man, and I can’t stand talking about other peoples’ problems. I hope this isn’t coming off as horrible. But I really don’t enjoy that type of conversation, and that’s all she has. She never talks to me about anything else.

I acknowledge that I am being really stubborns and selfish here and I feel horrible for being such a bad person, but I can’t find Christ within me to really feel different about this. I hope I’m getting my desire for a resolution to this across on this forum.


#4

So, then it sounds like she isn’t really nice and you’re not the one who’s selfish, she is.

Still though, the same thing applies. It is best to treat people with a basic level of respect, regardless of how they treat you. However, if she really is a passive-agressive control freak, the best thing you can do is give up any expectation that she will ever change and distance yourself as much as possible. If it works to have your wife make some of the visits on her own, give that a try. If you are there and are feeling beat-up and powerless, get up and run an errand, go on a walk, or go for a drive. Try not to make long visits. Be polite, but don’t be a martyr.

Don’t take it out on your wife though. Her mom will always be her mom. Maybe at some point your wife could use some counseling.


#5

you’re right. Thank you for the nice advice. God bless you.


#6

If I had a mother in law like that, I’d move her in with us! You got nothing to complain about.

Actually, my MIL is kinda similar, but not so extreme. Problem is that she lives 1800 miles away. My own Mother lives only 2 hours away, but it’s still infrequent that we all see each other. No casual dinners or BBQ’s. Always a big function or party.

You should count your blessings. Having family around is something a lot of us can only dream about.


#7

it depends a lot on her background. I have some relatives like that (one is MIL), childen of the depression who grew up without the luxury of hospitality, so giving is a real pleasure, almost an obsessive need for them. They also were older children in large families, who lost their own mother early, and did most of the mothering for younger siblings, so it is ingrained in their characters (one is a man, but he is very “motherly”, he raised 9 brothers and sisters and did not marry until his 40s, and then it was to a disabled woman who needs constant care).

In some people it can be a type of passive aggression, but unless you see other signs of a her trying to control you both or get between you that is probably not it. If she uses this kindness as a subtle means of criticism, that is passive aggression: you are too dumb to do laundry right, let me wash it all again and re-fold it. MIL used to take all the suitcases as soon as I got to her house and wash all the kids clothes, with bleach, a lot of bleach.

Here, you can’t chop celery right, let me do it. You will leave the kitchen a mess, so let me cook. One relative does this to his son-in-law, comes over and fixes everything, takes care of daughter’s car, all home repairs, in spite of the fact that the sil is more than capable and does a great job, and enjoys doing these things. To us it looks like daddy is still in a power struggle over who loves his daughter more.

I would not spend too much time analyzing MIL. Try to spend time on thinking about your own reactions, not in general, to each specific situation. Why did it irritate you? What feelings did this arouse? Sometimes there might be a tinge of guilt, sometimes anger, for instance if she is sabotaging your diet. Work on your own feelings, your own state of mind, your own spiritual health. She is the way she is and she will not change. Your concern is your relationship with your wife, not allowing her to be caught in a middle of a battle between you and MIL. If that is MIL’s agenda, don’t let it happen, even if it means limiting visits and time together.

We got in the habit of me taking the kids to see my family, him taking the kids to see his family. We told our parents and in-laws “we want your son/daughter to have this precious time with you”. Eliminated a lot of hassle, grief, guilt and mega-stress. Also living at all times at least 300 miles away from family is the secret to success in our marriage. If we lived near either family we would be just as crazy by now.


#8

You can say that… but probably wouldn’t last too long! I do understand what the op is talking about.
Sometimes when you’re a ‘no nosense’ kind of person, (not saying he is, but I know I can be), people that fuss and ooze with niceness can get on your nerves. You can never relax because you always feel as if you are lazy if you’re not helping or nasty if you sound a bit offhanded when you say ‘no thanks’ to their hundredth question of, ‘would you like a drink… can I get you…can I get you’…and on and on they go…
You can never feel comfortable either because they always make you feel as if you should be doing something, but you’re not sure what.
To put it bluntly, it’s irritating. And it doesn’t seem like genuine ‘niceness’ or hospitality to me.
Some people do not like to be constantly ‘fussed’ over.
I find this kind of false.
You are making others feel uncomfortable at the expense of coming across as so nice!
I come from a large family and it tends to knock off all the pretentions…
If I were you, I would take dulcissima’s advice and try to go there less often. Only go when you really have to. Failing that, explain how you feel to your wife and get her to have a subtle discussion about it with her mother. It won’t sound so bad coming from her daughter.
Maybe she may tone it down a bit around you.
Anyway, I could be completely wrong…just a suggestion.


#9

Find a kind way to say, “Mom, you do so much. If I need another drink/ snack etc, I’ll be glad to get it myself so you can take a break. Please don’t feel you have to wait on me.”

Good luck! —KCT


#10

Another suggestion is that she’s just a nervous sort of person, not quite comfortable with you, yet, and this is how it comes out? That’s what it sounds like as I read your description of her.

As to her topics of conversation, this is the point at which we all have to put up with each other’s quirks. Some people desperately need or want someone to listen to them, and doing so, even when it doesn’t interest you, is a way of showing love. Listen for awhile and at some point, introduce a topic that does interest you. She may surprise you and listen. Maybe she’s just chattering on out of nervousness and fear of silence.

I do understand how frustrating this is, as both my mother and mil do the same thing. Unless I drive them back with a sledge hammer, conversation is always about what they want.


#11

I had the opposite problem. My MIL would get everyone else something to drink, then tell me that there was stuff in the kitchen. Or that she didn’t know what I wanted. She would try to talk over me, ignore me and the like.

My husband didn’t see it. Until one night I told him that every time she did something like that, I would somehow let him know. By the end of the evening, he said that he was sorry, that he had never noticed how bad she was.

My point is, that some times your spouse doesn’t see it because they have always been around their parent. Call attention to the problem, talk to your wife about it. Let her handle it, if she will. If not, have a sit down talk with your MIL. Let her know that you are uncomfortable. If she is truly a nice person, she will tone it down a bit for you. If she isn’t, you will know that she is being overly nice to make you uncomfortable. And that will put a different light on it.


#12

This is excellent advice. It may not work, because the serving behavior is so ingrained in your MIL, but you have a polite way of expressing your real needs (to be left alone for five minutes!).

Perhaps while you’re chatting with her, you might plan to steer the conversation away from people and their problems by having some interesting topics of your own to discuss. Ask her opinion on some world event or whatever interests you.

My own MIL was very much like yours. She constantly offered help, food, babysitting, and anything she had. If you gave her a gift, she would not use it. Early on, I took it personally and was offended. I would ask my husband if she thought we were just camping out at our house.

I spent years psychoanalyzing her, but after about 15 years I learned that nothing would ever change, and it was better simply to attribute good motives to her and accept it all.

About 3 or 4 years ago, she began to have signs of dementia. She would ask the same caring question every five minutes for an hour. When she was hospitalized last summer, if a meal was delivered to her, she would offer to share it with us and didn’t want to eat if we didn’t have anything. Mind you, she had a nasty, contagious case of shingles!

As you may have guessed from my use of the past tense throughout this post, she died last summer. Dozens of people visited at the funeral home and told us stories of what she had given them and how much they appreciated what she had done. At that point, rather than being annoying, it just made me proud to have been part of the family.

So, just take a deep breath, keep saying thank you, and don’t expect anything to change. It could be so much worse!

Betsy


#13

THis is exactly my point. I came from a large family and my wife is one of two that were adopted. In my faimly we were lucky to get a drink for dinner if we didn’t get it ourselves. So maybe that’s why I am bothered by this becuse my whole life I was never “fussed” over and I am not quite comfortable with that type of behavior to me. There are some really great suggestions with how to handle this nicely, and I will definately try them next time we visit.

My wife knows how I feel about it but I don’t think she actually realizes that it makes me feel like a bad person when I visit (like I’m not doing anything around the house, etc.). She just thinks its the typical “son-in-law mother-in-law” relationship.

Anyways thanks again for all the tips, and God Bless you all.

Btw, does anyone know of any good spiritual books on family matters like this? It would be interesting to read other stories and help me to evaluate my own behavior.


#14

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts by Gregory K. Popcak


#15

How to Deal with Annoying People: What to Do When You Can’t Avoid Them (Paperback)

This one is written by Christians too.


#16

I think that part of the problem of dealing with people like this in our lives…is that are “nice” so it throws-us-off base a little bit, and we don’t quite know how to react. But you should treat being with her the same way that you treat any kind of suffering in your life, you should offer it up as prayer! This is a cross for you to bear for sure. It is very difficult for you to be around her and it has even hurt your marriage, this is not trivial.

“Thank God for the blessing of our family, and each and every unique member of it - even the ones who drive you crazy. After all, they are contributing to your sanctification. They sure make us exercise virtue don’t they?” Fr. John Corapi

When you are around someone who is mean, someone who is annoying, someone who is slow, someone who is boring, someone who is manipulative…anyone who is difficult for you to be around…offer this up to Christ as a prayer. Say to him “Jesus, this is difficult for me to deal with right now, and I am very annoyed…I will offer this up to you in prayer and unite my suffering to yours on the cross.”

Trying to figure out how to change her, or yourself may not be useful. But any suffering in life can be used as an opportunity to grow in Grace and grow closer to Christ. Granted, this is not a suffering like a serious illness or death in the family but it still is a hardship for you. When you see her, embrace the opportunity to exercise virtue and thus grow closer to God.

Hope this helps.


#17

I’m kind of curious… How do your MIL’s children and husband respond to your MIL? Or does she treat them differently from you? Does the behavior of these other family members bother you too? I ask because I wonder if it is not only the strangeness of the situation that bothers you but the fact that you don’t want to be like the husband and other children.


#18

I’m guessing that part of it is her nature, part of it might be making sure that you feel welcome, and part might be her own insecurity. I know that my MIL gets a bit nervous around me at holidays, because she’s gotten it into her head somehow that my parents are very sophisticated and elegant. My parents and in-laws don’t live near each other and don’t see each other often, but as my parents are good at throwing parties and like good food, wine, and nice things, I can see how she would have gotten that impression. It probably doesn’t help that they’re from a very WASP small town, whereas my parents are a biracial couple from a big suburb. What she hasn’t seen is my father sprawled out on the sofa in sweatpants eating chips out of the bag, or mom in her bathrobe the night before an event trying to rearrange the fridge to fit everything in, without having something fall on the foot of the next unlucky soul to pull the door handle (usually me, when I lived there).

So at Thanksgiving: “This probably isn’t as fancy as what you’re used to.” “I know this cranberry sauce probably isn’t as good as your mom makes it.” “I don’t know how your parents make the stuffing, ours is just very simple.” It’s not said with any malice, and I can’t imagine my MIL being malicious. So I just respond with things like “Are you kidding, this is great. And I didn’t have to watch the Lions lose on TV before hand, so it’s even better.” “The cranberry sauce looks wonderful. I’ll put it in the glass bowl so it looks pretty” or “Sage and onion? That’s what my mom always makes, too. I think we’d revolt otherwise.” I’m just trying to put her at ease. It’s not a big deal for me, it makes her feel better, and it’s only for a short time.


#19

Haha, your MIL sounds exactly like my grandma. She fusses over everybody and if you let her think you’re hungry, you’ll gain about 20 lbs with every visit to her house. Everyone in the family is used to her and basically we just ignore her “niceness” but when my fiance first met her, he was pretty freaked out. I told him that she’s old, she’s lonely, and she wants to make sure you’re happy so you’ll come back again. All you have to do is politely decline food/drink/whatever if you don’t want it, no matter how many times she asks. Don’t let her bully you. If you don’t like her conversation topics, start a conversation with your own topic.

Have your wife talk to her if it really bothers you, but were I in your position, I would just politely accept or declilne as the case may be and be thankful she’s still alive so your kids can know and love their grandma.


#20

This reminds me of the CS Lewis quote from Screwtape Letters.

“She is the kind of person who lives for others. You can tell who they are by their hunted expression.”

There are lots of people out there, women in our culture in particular, who hold sway over others by giving.

Two can play at that game. Think of how another woman like your MIL would react to being called to a duel at the giving game. She would swoop into that kitchen and insist on helping. It would be a Minnesota-Nice-Showdown, smiles and helping hands to the death. The competitiveness of these ladies, which many of them would die before admitting, is almost comical. So no, you do not need to feel bad that you resent being out-gunned in the nice game. Chances are, though, that you are way out of your league.

The classic male reaction to the game is to act totally oblivious to it…another passive-agressive defense to a passive-agressive offense. “Oh, no, I’m just no good at conversation like you are. I’ll go out and see if there’s some job in the garage I can tackle.” or “You know, I haven’t talked to FIL for awhile…I’d better go see what he is up to.” Heaven knows, FIL will have some place staked out to hide from her while she’s cooking, which is just where he headed the minute you hit the door.

And so on. You get the picture. It is unlikely you are going to change your MIL. She is toxically nice, because really nice people do not hold other people hostages by their “nice” behavior. Humble people do not annoy by their supposed humilty. Trying to change her would be difficult to do without being unkind. A difficult errand like that is not your job. You can have your wife go to bat on your behalf, if you two would like, but otherwise, cope as best as you can and don’t apologize for finding it trying. To her, act as if it were no trial at all. To others, you can tip your hand. It is OK. They know. They suffer, too.

By the way, though, there are worse things than a MIL who forces you to say “thank you” 250 times a visit. So while you’re offering up your suffering, give a little thanks that the cross wasn’t heavier than it is. This is a toxicity, but if you give yourself permission to see it as such, it is one that a little compassion can let you have a certain affection for.


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