February 1, 2013 in Features

In laws keeping her at a distance

Washington Post
 

Hi, Carolyn! How do I renegotiate the terms on which I relate to my in-laws? I was an independent adult when I met their son; he and I have been married two years. I had hoped for a close relationship with them and put in the work to that effect, but it’s clear they’re not interested. They ask me to call them Mr. and Mrs., among other subtle things that keep me at arm’s length.

While this makes me sad, I can accept that’s the relationship we have. But … they call me “Dear,” which makes me very uncomfortable given that it’s obvious they don’t think I’m a “dear” anything. How can I dial it back to “Mrs. Lastname” without sounding snooty? – In-Law

“Dear” isn’t confusing when you treat it as a term of patronage, vs. affection. My guess is you tried to relate to them as a peer when they were more comfortable with hierarchy.

Call me cynical, but when you say “renegotiate,” I hear that you’d like to take another shot at getting the relationship with them you want. If that’s your intent, then spike it now; challenging boundaries rarely endears us to anyone, but especially not to Mr. and Mrs. Formality.

The only change I suggest is that you base your expectations on what your in-laws are willing to give, as opposed to what you’re hoping to get. Less food for resentment that way. Besides, from your brief description, it really does sound as if arm’s length is their preferred distance, not just from you.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washington post.com.


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