Carolyn: My mother and my wife aren’t getting along. We have a new child, which has just given them something else to snipe at each other over. This is giving me an ulcer. Of course, I back my wife when it comes to rules about the baby, but when she bends those rules for her family and not for my mother, it upsets me. My mother has admittedly gotten far more cantankerous over the past few years (loneliness with her children out of the house and frustration at her economic situation). But I’m tired of going to my mother to ask her to change her behavior to make my wife more comfortable. My wife’s mother never talked to me directly for 10 years, and I never complained, even laughed it off. But everything real or imagined that my mother does gets this big commotion. What’s a guy to do? – Between a Rock and a Bigger Rock
Had you complained about the silent treatment from your mother-in-law, it would have been the first such protest ever recorded. Nice try, though.
This situation conveniently demands a similar show of restraint. First, the groveling. Tell your wife you see her point, you agree, your mother is being a crank. Concede everything you did in your letter.
Then, the begging. Implore her to see your mom’s behavior for what it is – loneliness and frustration getting the better of her. i.e., implore her to stop seeing it for what it isn’t: personal.
Again, just for fun: It isn’t personal. It’s not about your wife, even if your mom uses your wife specifically to vent her frustrations, because those frustrations aren’t with your wife. A few are, I’m sure, but if your mom’s ill-tempered in general, she’s ultimately upset with herself.
Finally, pleading. You’re asking your wife to bend – “laughing it off” would be ideal, but probably asking too much – because attempts to change Mother have failed, yet her behavior nevertheless isn’t hostile enough to justify estrangement. That leaves your wife two choices: dismissing your mom’s antics as your mom’s problem or being in a perpetual snit.
Breaking the personal-offense connection is not only the first step toward group peace. It also allows your wife to give the gift of inner peace – to you, by taking the weight of diplomacy off your shoulders, and to herself, since nothing sucks out the soul like sustaining a permanent huff.
Dear Carolyn: Person I was dating had an ex–boyfriend come back into her life and apologize to her for the way he treated her. She went back to him, though she had reservations because of her strong feelings for me. How do I go about trying to have her back in my life without pushing her away? – D.T.
Apologies seem to work.
You’ve already let her know you want her back, presumably, so now any trying is pushing. You need to trust that things will work out if they’re meant to.
Trust this, too –– that things aren’t meant to work if she’s not healthy enough to heed her own doubts and blow off a guy who mistreated her. Your best chance is for her to find the strength (and the affection for you) to come back on her own. Sorry, straight from the bleepy–but–true file.
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