I previously submitted this story http://www.etiquettehell.com/?p=3754
I also took the advice from that post, but now we are back to square one. I know that this is a long post, but I really need your input. I partly need to vent but I also need some advice here. Having tried the firm but polite answers suggested in your reply to the previous submitted story, I must say that it helped a while but now it is worse than ever.
Since submission of the previous story, my boyfriend and I have married and I am now pregnant with our first child. A few months after the initial backstabbing and drama, my boyfriend brushed off his sister’s rants and it worked to some extent. And everything wound down over time, and we have lived almost two years in blissful peace. But then it started again, first at our wedding, some 14 months ago. We live in Scandinavia, and there are generally no rules on who is supposed to organize what in a wedding. I might be the couple themselves, it might be the mother of the bride, a professional wedding planner or anything in between. It was considered well within etiquette rules for me to plan the reception myself, and because I am an extremely organized person and I planned the reception down to the last minute for several reasons;
1) I did not want serving of food not interrupting the speeches (or food sitting out waiting for speeches to finish)
2) Due to legislation regarding serving of alcohol we only had access to the venue until 2 AM – therefore I wanted the actual sit-down dinner to be as short and delightful as possible for everyone. I have been through more than enough wedding dinners that drag on for hours and hours and then there is almost no time left to cut the cake, dance etc
3) As a couple, we felt that it was very important to us to actually spend the evening with our friends and family, speaking and interacting with them instead of sitting down all night
Everyone who wanted to say something or contribute in any way were given the opportunity, and was allocated 20 minutes. This was in my opinion more than enough for a speech, toast or whatever they might have planned.
Future SIL then tried to hijack the reception stating that we were “ungrateful brats” not accepting her three (!!) speeches and a song into the schedule, and that her speech(es) would last for however long she wanted it to. I said that she could have as many songs and speeches as she possibly would want, but that she would have to keep it under 20 minutes, due to the aforementioned reasons. She continued to state that her wedding reception had gone for 8 hours and no-one had complained (at least not to her face….) and that I was crazy thinking that I would get the chance to talk to everyone in person during the evening. She almost went flat out saying that I was selfish for wanting to spend time with my guests instead of accommodating her requests! There was a couple of days of mayhem where she berated my fiancé, stating that the schedule would never hold up, but when it came to it the reception was over in 5 hours on the dot, nothing was rushed and as far as I can tell people felt welcome and happy. SIL then grudgingly accepted the fact that she had to silently eat her words and apologize. The next year went by without any more arguing or complaining.
Fast forward one year, and the drama starts again. Here, I want to give a little background: My husband and I live on the farm that he has inherited through his family. Is mother is deceased and his widowed father is retired, also residing in a house on the farm. SIL and her family lives 3 hours from us. My husband and I keep a small herd of cattle and also grow grain and feed for the animals, in addition to pursuing separate careers. SIL works part time as a nurse while her husband is a full time farmer. This basically means that she has all the time in the world on her hands and is as close as a stay-at-home mom you can get while still working the occasional night shift in a nursing home, while me and hubby are fighting the clock from time to time. We travel for work and we have long hours and whenever I am traveling he has to be home with the animals and vice versa. We love the lifestyle and it works for us. Some change will have to come with the baby arriving, but we are prepared for that. I grew up on a farm myself and take part as much as I can, but there are certain physically demanding tasks (heavy lifting etc) that I cannot do and some machine operations I do not dare to do (because I don’t have the proper training yet). But in principal, I can manage the farm on my own for shorter or longer time periods if it came to that, given that there are no emergencies or extraordinary circumstances.
My beloved father- in-law is amazing to have around, and he helps out a lot and we are extremely grateful for that. He runs errands that have to be concluded during business hours (while we are in the office) and he almost always takes part in the annual harvest and daily supervision of the animals. He also has a very strong sense of responsibility, and hardly ever leaves the farm except for day-trips or the occasional weekend away because “he might be needed at home”. This is built into his behavior and it is very hard to have him change his ways and understand that he can let go if he wants to. He is also starting to get old and his memory isn’t what is was – I believe that the routine he keeps up at the farm helps gives him a purpose and a reason to get up every day. My husband and I are in no way exploiting his efforts on the farm or guilt him into contributing. We are stating over and over again that he is completely free to do whatever he wants to do with his time, that is his right and privilege, and profusely thank him every time he helps out. One of the ways we show our gratitude is to invite him to our meals. Since widowed, he haven’t put much effort into cooking for himself (his wife was the one who did the cooking) – so my husband and I try to have him for dinner as much as possible, to show our gratitude, keep him company and include him. It is my pleasure to help care for him and he is an extremely polite and graceful old man, always grateful for whatever we serve. This however, does not goes home well with the sister in law.
And here comes the actual issue:
For some reason my SIL finds it necessary to undermine my contribution on the farm and to the family, and the relationship with her father. She called up my husband one day out of the blue and had to make a point of the fact that “our father don’t eat at yours as much as you say he does”. Okay… whatever. He is an old, forgetful man, and when someone asks him on a Wednesday what he did on the Monday he might omit to mention that he had dinner at our place, he might not even remember. She then went on to say that my cooking wasn’t all that anyway, so don’t be thinking that my contribution is significant in any way. And it goes on and on and on…. statements like, “ …is not much use at the farm, because we have so much help from… ” and that I am keeping my husband under the heel of my shoe and he has become a doormat since marrying me, etc, etc, etc. And the ranting never ends! She states that my husband is a pushover/less manly for wanting to take part in caring for the baby to come, because she never made her husband do that. Meaning that her husband never changed a diaper in his life while I have been stern from the beginning saying that if we are having children my husband will have to pull his weight around the house just as much as I am contributing on the farm work. It’s a team effort!! This however makes my husband “whipped” in her eyes. By that time in the conversation my husband was fed up and said on the phone that he did not want to discuss the matter further. She just hangs up on him. The calls and arguments have been happening regularly for a couple of weeks now, concerning some variations of the themes above and now it is really starting to get to me. How do I handle this?
One time she was home visiting andstated that both my husband and I are morons for wanting to redecorate the nursery for our upcoming baby (the wallpaper was black and silver.. very stylish but not nursery style!) and picked a huge fight over this, in front of her kids! Calling names and even hitting my husband in anger. My father-in-law had to intervene and tell her to back off the subject in order to have her calm down.
Not to get ahead of myself but I sort of get the feeling that she is jealous in some way, for shortcomings in her own family life or that she feels the need to be better than me? I just don’t understand why she has the stamina to get all worked up over things that clearly has no effect on her life what so ever? I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, but come on, get over yourself already! It must be very exhausting to get so agitated over small stuff all the time… She have also tried berate my husband about baby name choices, pushing him to choose one 4 months before I am due – again none of her business!
My question to you is; what do I do? Whenever she is in vicinity of me, or know that I might be within earshot of any call she makes to my husband, she acts like the sweetest thing and that nothing have happened. If I am not present or she is talking to him without me within earshot she completely changes attitude. Him telling her that, “I will not discuss matters about persons not present in this conversation or listen to second hand rants,” should be enough to have her back down, but oh no, it gives her more fuel to the feed fire of her looking at my husband as an un-opinionated spineless wimp. The truth is that he is completely the opposite, always keeps his integrity and stands up for what is right although he tends to be very diplomatic instead of stern with people. The problem is that normal polite answers does not work with this lady! If I ever tell her, “sorry, we are unable to accommodate that request,” we are rude and inconsiderate of her. If my husband tells her that he refuses to listen to her rants he is a pushover. It annoys me more than I dare to admit that she does not respond to a stern talking-to like normal people!
I have confessed this to my mom, and she says call and confront SIL. That is in my experience completely impossible, because she will be happier than sunshine whenever I call and deny the whole thing claiming that my husband is making mountains out of insignificant molehills. I don’t care who SIL decides to talk to, she can complain all she wants to all her friend and whoever happens to be listening as far as I am concerned, but now it is hitting too close to home and it is seriously getting on my nerves! I really want to set the record straight (preferably with my husband listening) and tell her that if she has a problem she can talk directly to me, not go behind my back. I have accepted the fact that our relationship will be superficial, at best – but does it make me a bad person wanting to stand up for myself?
Do you have any advice on how to handle this? I fear that we will have to go through the rest of our life with her opinion about our doings and actions hanging over us at all times.
You are reacting like a person who cares whether someone has a good opinion of you. Everyone of us in this world will encounter persons who do not like us and often for inexplicable reasons. Some people, I am convinced, simply love having an enemy to target their aggression towards. As a semi-public figure I’ve been the recipient of people’s angst over the years and if I cared one iota about these people’s opinions of me, I’d be a mental mess. But I don’t care about the opinions of those who are not loved ones so these people never take up residence in my mind. A quick mental flush and it’s as if they never existed.
With family that is harder to accomplish since it is nigh on impossible to mentally flush these people from your thoughts. I’ve been there, too, (I think we all have at least one oddball family member) and my solution is to so diminish this person’s influence in my life that my perspective changes to being amused at the antics. Mentally step aside from the drama and analyze the situation for what it really is….drama. And either ignore the drama or enjoy the drama as comedy. In our family, we utterly and completely ignore one particular family member’s attempts to ignite drama by acting as if the bombshell comments were never said. We don’t change our conversation, we don’t acknowledge what was said , we don’t look at the person, we act as if the drama is happening on another dimension we can’t see or hear. Nothing frustrates a drama queen more than not having an appreciative audience.
Our other tactic, which my husband is very skilled at doing, is to view these dramatic situations with amusement. Isn’t it cute that so-and-so is having a meltdown? Chuckle to yourself because sometimes things are so absurd all you can do is laugh at the ludicrousness of it all. We have been known to respond to a rant with a small laugh and quirky smile and say, “If believing that makes you happy, have at it,” and then continue our conversations or whatever else we were doing thus implying that the drama queen is welcome to stew in his/her rant juices but we decline to hop in that cauldron with them.
I do admit though to being completely flustered by one incident. Years ago several of us were involved in a legal dispute that did involve a family member and I had been the calmest person (other than the lawyer) while interacting with said person. That is, until we were several hours into arbitration, I had just testified with some devastating evidence that simply could not be refuted, and the response to my evidence was the person said something that struck a deep nerve in me. We could see his attorney advising him not to do it. He did it anyway. It was a deep emotional and ad hominem knife in the back that had no relevance whatsoever to the evidence presented or even the arbitration itself. Witnesses said I looked like daggers were coming from my eyes and after arbitration was over and we were alone with our attorney at a restaurant, I collapsed into a sobbing mess. That was how profoundly I had allowed that comment to invade my mind. Meanwhile our attorney was practically dancing with joy and high fiving us because that one comment targeted at me summed up the entire reason why we had sought legal remedy and was the single most damaging thing the defendant could have done. The scene in the restaurant was interesting…there I was with my head in my hands crying and everyone else was hooting and hollering with joy. It took me about 30 minutes to readjust my perspective to match theirs …what I considered to be devastatingly hurtful, they viewed it as if it was winning goal for the Super Bowl. Our side won everything we wanted…..it was a devastating loss for the other person. And I learned several very valuable lessons that day which were that I should never allow my mental defenses to drop and allow someone who I neither respect nor love that kind of access to my mind and heart, and that while I may initially have the perspective that this is a hurtful situation, the same situation from an orthogonal perspective could be viewed quite differently. Addendum: The memory of this does not haunt me nor elicit any emotional reaction other than what I would loosely describe as “contentment”.