Dear Annie: I have a problem that many other mothers-in-law may have, but mine has a twist.
My daughter-in-law has been angry at me for nearly 20 years because I discussed her fertility problems with another family member, and word got back to her that I had done so. Occasionally, she will put her anger aside and give me a hug and tell me that she loves me when I visit her, my son and my two delightful grandchildren, which I do about six times a year for single overnight visits.
While she won’t confront me when we are together, if I have offended her, she later blasts me with emails about how I’ve “done it again.” She recently declared that she would no longer email me about anything at all, however. My problem is, I don’t know what I’ve “done again,” and she won’t tell me. She says that my not knowing is part of the problem. What?!
This is akin to calling a plumber or an electrician to come to my home, and, when the person arrives, telling them that finding out the problem is their business and I’m not going to tell them anything more.
I considered contacting my daughter-in-law’s mother, who I know and like very much. But I didn’t contact her because she is the woman who raised my daughter-in-law, and, for all I know, acts in a similar way.
I’m at my wit’s end. Last week, I broke down and cried about the situation for the first time. I give this woman thoughtful, caring gifts, even if it’s not for her birthday or a holiday. She seems to greatly appreciate them at the time. And then I go home and get blasted for something she will not tell me about because “that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?”
Since she will no longer email me, she is holding close to the supposed hurts I have inflicted on her. I simply don’t know what to do any further.
Can you help me? – Baffled Mother-in-Law
Dear Baffled Mother-in-Law: It sounds like you are walking on eggshells around your daughter-in-law and don’t know where to start with repairing the relationship. Her passive-aggressive behavior is making it challenging to have a relationship with her. Without stressing out your son too much, I’d suggest asking him for suggestions. The fact that his wife says you upset her but won’t tell you how – what does he say about that?
You are wise not to complain to her mother, but since you get along with her, maybe try to get closer to her and gain some perspective as to why her daughter is angry.
Lastly, you could give your daughter-in-law a mental hug or see her as a little girl acting out. Sometimes, that makes coping with a difficult person easier to deal with. Anger may be a form of self-protection. We all know touchy, insecure people who fly into a rage if they are criticized or feel rejected. Their anger is hiding hurt.
Send your questions for Annie Lane to email@example.com.