Author Topic: Being on the periphery of "she doesn't like me and I don't know why": IL issues  (Read 7067 times)

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EllenS

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POD that MIL should ask her son - but hopefully, not in a "oh poor me, what did i do wrong, your wife is so mean" way.

what about "hey, son, believe me I remember how overwhelming it is to have a new baby, and I want to be a help and good grandma here.  What's the best way I can help you and DIL?  Can I come do some laundry? Make a meal? Hold the baby so she can nap?  Babysit so you two can go out?  Just tell me, I want to support you."

When I had a new baby, I would have let Hannibal Lechter come over if he did laundry.

Yentush

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I can almost guarantee that cousin's Son / DIL HAS told her exactly WHY they keep her at a distance.  However, it is much easier to play the, " I don[t KNOOOOOOOOW what is wrong.  I didn't doooooooooo anything."

Lynn2000

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I think about discussing this kind of thing with a close friend, and I don't want to come off like I'm "against" my friend, or "for" the third party. Maybe I don't even know the third party (the DIL, for example)--I don't know if they're really trying to set boundaries or if they're really hostile or what. But one way I could approach it is to think about what would be good for my friend, regardless of the third party's motives. To take the subject of this thread--if my friend is saying, "She doesn't like me and I don't know why," one thing I could advise is that my friend just stop trying so hard to get "her" to like her. Back off for a while, let the other person initiate contact, and see what happens.

Like, Friend, I hate to see you putting so much effort into a relationship and not getting much back. Can you take a step back and lower that person's priority in your mind so you don't worry about them so much? Because it seems like that's what they've done to you. That way I would feel like I was really advocating for my friend's best interests, and not just obliquely trying to tell her she's being too pushy. Because really, I don't know if she's being too pushy--I know it sounds too pushy to me, but who knows what the third party is thinking? But if this person is really my friend, I would like to see her have less stress and frustration over the issue. (Of course, it's a bit trickier if she wants to see a grandchild more--you can't really say, "Make your grandchild less important to you.")

For example, my friend Amy. She is very generous in some ways and would love to buy birthday and Christmas presents for all her siblings-in-law, their SOs, and their kids. She started out doing this and quickly realized they were reciprocating only half-heartedly or not at all, which upset her. Yet she kept doing it, not because she truly wanted to, but because she thought eventually they would return the gesture (not to get gifts per se, but to reciprocate the social bond). Not only do they not return the social bond in some way, they often don't acknowledge/thank her for the gifts, and won't respond to questions about what kinds of gifts their kids would like, or how best to get the gifts to them.

Amy sees them as rude, ungrateful people who are trampling on her nice gesture. Maybe they are, I don't really know them. Maybe they are normal people who are silently screaming, "STOP SENDING US GIFTS! WE DON'T WANT TO EXCHANGE GIFTS WITH YOU!!" and Amy is trampling all over their boundaries. (In which case they should just be more direct about it, of course.) But it doesn't really matter to me. To Amy I say, "You get so frustrated about this, and these people just aren't worth it. Stop prioritizing them higher than they're prioritizing you. Save your time, money, and effort for people who will appreciate it, and just don't send them gifts anymore, and don't give it another thought. Because clearly they aren't."
~Lynn2000

TootsNYC

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Amy sees them as rude, ungrateful people who are trampling on her nice gesture. Maybe they are, I don't really know them. Maybe they are normal people who are silently screaming, "STOP SENDING US GIFTS! WE DON'T WANT TO EXCHANGE GIFTS WITH YOU!!" and Amy is trampling all over their boundaries. (In which case they should just be more direct about it, of course.) But it doesn't really matter to me. To Amy I say, "You get so frustrated about this, and these people just aren't worth it. Stop prioritizing them higher than they're prioritizing you. Save your time, money, and effort for people who will appreciate it, and just don't send them gifts anymore, and don't give it another thought. Because clearly they aren't."

I'm curious, Lynn2000--have you have said to her, "Maybe they're trying to tell you that they don't want to be in a gift exchange. Maybe they can't afford to reciprocate, in terms of time or money; maybe they like the closeness they DO have but don't want something more; maybe they really don't like having their closeness with you being tied to material things. There are lots of reasons, but it's not really a polite move for you to continue to push for a gift exchange, or a deeper relationship, if you're getting messages that they don't want you to."

Instead of "they aren't worth it," which might make her feel that she'd be devaluing them if she follow the advice for that reason.

I like your approach, a lot!

Lynn2000

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Amy sees them as rude, ungrateful people who are trampling on her nice gesture. Maybe they are, I don't really know them. Maybe they are normal people who are silently screaming, "STOP SENDING US GIFTS! WE DON'T WANT TO EXCHANGE GIFTS WITH YOU!!" and Amy is trampling all over their boundaries. (In which case they should just be more direct about it, of course.) But it doesn't really matter to me. To Amy I say, "You get so frustrated about this, and these people just aren't worth it. Stop prioritizing them higher than they're prioritizing you. Save your time, money, and effort for people who will appreciate it, and just don't send them gifts anymore, and don't give it another thought. Because clearly they aren't."

I'm curious, Lynn2000--have you have said to her, "Maybe they're trying to tell you that they don't want to be in a gift exchange. Maybe they can't afford to reciprocate, in terms of time or money; maybe they like the closeness they DO have but don't want something more; maybe they really don't like having their closeness with you being tied to material things. There are lots of reasons, but it's not really a polite move for you to continue to push for a gift exchange, or a deeper relationship, if you're getting messages that they don't want you to."

Instead of "they aren't worth it," which might make her feel that she'd be devaluing them if she follow the advice for that reason.

I like your approach, a lot!

Well, in this particular case, there's a lot of complicating factors, as there so often are in life. :) Amy talks about her in-laws frequently, so I'm familiar with much of their behavior, or at least her perception of it, and they are full of mixed messages and inconsistencies. I started out saying things like, "Maybe they can't afford gifts, maybe giving gifts isn't their thing," and she would tell me how they all spend beyond their means and give each other's toddlers iPhones and so forth. Not that she wants her toddler to have an iPhone, she just wants her toddler to have great aunts and uncles on his paternal side, the way he has great aunts and uncles on his maternal side (Amy's side). And my stance is, you just can't force that out of people.

I honestly don't know if the in-laws are "objectively" rude, or if they just do things differently than Amy does; I suspect it's a little of both. The way I see it, she could either sit down and have a serious conversation about expectations with each person--which she isn't willing to do, and probably wouldn't go well, or accomplish anything; or, she could try to change (lower) her own behavior and expectations, so that when they fail to live up to her standards she's at least not so disappointed and hurt by it. As much as I complain about Amy here, she really is a good person, and I hate to see her put so much thought and effort into people who don't return it. Doesn't necessarily make those people rude (I personally think some of her standards are unreasonably high), but I think she'd have a lot less stress if she could just lower the bar a bit for them.

I see your point about her not wanting to "devalue" them, I think that is part of the problem. But, she's not very good about understanding that people can do things differently from her, and still be doing them in a "right" way. Rather than get into THAT morass, I feel I can sincerely argue that she should "devalue" them, at least according to her value system; and then she will feel less stress over them, and who knows, maybe they will all be happier too.
~Lynn2000

Mikayla

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I think this is a really good question.  My SOP with these things is almost always the same:  Am I talking to someone who I'd expect to tell me if I had spinach in my teeth?  If the answer is yes, then I'll tell them not only that the spinach is there, but how best to remove it.

In GrammerNerd's scenario, if you substitute distant cousin for close sib/best friend/lifetime buddy, it's a very different scenario.  In fact, I have a sis who qualifies per the above and I actually gave her parenting advice! (me with no kids).  And it even went well.

In a nutshell, she has a trait that makes her well loved by everyone, but isn't necessarily a plus when it comes to parenting.  She cannot tolerate it if someone needs "help" with something and she's not dropping everything to provide it.  So both of her kids (in their early 20's) can barely function without her help.  They make dodgy choices and then she wants to help them avoid the consequences.

Others were telling her to stop enabling them, but I took a different approach.  I told her about when I was in grad school and my roomie and I were so broke we got a 1 bedroom apt.  We furnished it in KMart and used hand me down stuff from older friends who worked at the restaurant we did.  We had a plastic tablecloth on our dining table!  Anyway, while this was happening, we saved up enough money to live in Greece for a summer.  I will never forget how good I felt knowing that every penny I spent while there was based on my saving and doing without. 

She asked if I was leading up to something with that story, and I said yes.  And then I told her if she'd been my mom, she would have been finding stuff for us, lending money for a 2 bedroom, etc.  Consequently, she would have taken away my right to feel good about myself. 

Obviously, it didn't turn her into a different parent, but it was a way of pointing out an angle she hadn't considered.  And the story wasn't meant to weaken my message, either.  It was just a different approach. 

Lynn2000

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Obviously, it didn't turn her into a different parent, but it was a way of pointing out an angle she hadn't considered.  And the story wasn't meant to weaken my message, either.  It was just a different approach.

I agree, illustrative personal stories are also a good tactic. Again, regarding my friend Amy and the gifts for relatives, I've told her a story about all the years I spent sending gifts to certain relatives, while receiving nothing in return (no acknowledgment, nothing), though in my case they were perfectly pleasant whenever we got together. But it was like I was sending things into a black hole, and it made me angry every time I thought about it. Finally I just got to the point where I thought, this is stupid. These gifts are making me angry, not happy. Plus, am *I* actually being the rude one, by sending them stuff that they maybe don't want? So I stopped cold turkey, and no one ever said a word about it, and they've continued to be perfectly pleasant whenever we interact, and I'm not stressed out about it.

So again, I emphasize how *I* felt about it, and how *I* made a change to my behavior that made me happier, rather than focusing on someone else who was doing something rude and irritating. It's an approach worth trying, I think.

Although it doesn't work with everyone. My grandma, for example, will always twist things around and find a reason why my illustrative story doesn't apply to her, thus negating even the merest hint that she might try changing her behavior, because she's completely right about everything and other people should just change to suit her.  ::)
~Lynn2000

blarg314

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I see your point about her not wanting to "devalue" them, I think that is part of the problem. But, she's not very good about understanding that people can do things differently from her, and still be doing them in a "right" way. Rather than get into THAT morass, I feel I can sincerely argue that she should "devalue" them, at least according to her value system; and then she will feel less stress over them, and who knows, maybe they will all be happier too.

Unfortunately, "that morass" is probably a large part of the problem.

Telling her that they aren't worth it is also telling her that her way of doing things is the right way and she's justified in being angry/hurt when people don't do things her way.

Which is likely a good part of the problem - she means well, but is unable/unwilling to accept that people can legitimately do things differently. So when they do things in a way she doesn't, she feels totally justified in pushing her way on them against their will because she's right.  And when people get frustrated or fed up and push back (or withdraw) she's hurt, angry and puzzled, because after all, she only wants what is right.

In this case, I might go with "Well, it looks like they don't want to do gifts the way you want to, so maybe you should back off, and everyone will be less stressed and happier." Same action (backing off, not worrying about it) but the motivation is totally different. It's not "they're wrong and not worthy of you" it's "Well, that's how things go sometimes".

Lynn2000

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I see your point about her not wanting to "devalue" them, I think that is part of the problem. But, she's not very good about understanding that people can do things differently from her, and still be doing them in a "right" way. Rather than get into THAT morass, I feel I can sincerely argue that she should "devalue" them, at least according to her value system; and then she will feel less stress over them, and who knows, maybe they will all be happier too.

Unfortunately, "that morass" is probably a large part of the problem.

Telling her that they aren't worth it is also telling her that her way of doing things is the right way and she's justified in being angry/hurt when people don't do things her way.

Which is likely a good part of the problem - she means well, but is unable/unwilling to accept that people can legitimately do things differently. So when they do things in a way she doesn't, she feels totally justified in pushing her way on them against their will because she's right.  And when people get frustrated or fed up and push back (or withdraw) she's hurt, angry and puzzled, because after all, she only wants what is right.

In this case, I might go with "Well, it looks like they don't want to do gifts the way you want to, so maybe you should back off, and everyone will be less stressed and happier." Same action (backing off, not worrying about it) but the motivation is totally different. It's not "they're wrong and not worthy of you" it's "Well, that's how things go sometimes".

Oh, I totally see your point. There's a lot of things I would "like" to tell Amy sometimes, but they really aren't my hill to die on, especially over a third party like her siblings-in-law. My personal approach, that I feel I can do comfortably and politely, is to be on the "side" of my friend, and suggest things that might help her feel better, while still being within her philosophy of life.

I admit I'm not really looking at the larger, karmic picture; but I think it counts as a possible polite way to deal with a situation such as the OP described, since the end result is still a message of backing off and not stressing over it. Some people could politely and confidently tell a friend (regarding a third party), "Hey, you're being rude, you're trampling their boundaries," but between my personality and my friend's, I just don't think that would be effective. Different approaches for different people and situations.
~Lynn2000

TootsNYC

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Also, telling her "they aren't worth it" is directly criticizing her desire to be closer to them. She values them. You are telling her that *you* DEvalue them, and that she should too.

So right away she's defensive about whether she should value them or not.

I like the idea of pointing out that perhaps these wonderful people simply speak a different Love Language, or that they are uncomfortable with the material side of things.

GrammarNerd

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OP here....thanks for the examples and discussion.  And for some of those early posters who urged me to stay out of it....yes, I totally agree, and stated this a couple of times in my original post.  I know I'm not close enough to cousin to presume that she's asking for advice.

In my Cousin's case, to be honest, I don't know that I'd want her for a mother-in-law.  I could easily see where she might take over or push her way in under the auspices of being 'helpful'.  It's hard to explain; I've just known her my whole life and I guess I know how her bluntness/way of speaking or looking at things could come across to someone who wasn't used to her.
 
I worry about my nephews when they get married, which is part of the reason why I started this thread.  Of course, my BIL likes to insinuate his way into everything, and the boys are already used to that and know how to deflect pretty well.  My sister is a lot better, but after being with him so long, she is also picking up on some of those bad habits of his.  The thing is that she doesn't see it and she thinks she's being perfectly normal.  I could see her becoming the typical offended MIL.  So the boys aren't even dating anyone serious yet (LOL) but this thing with Cousin got me thinking about what I would say if this happened with her and my nephews, and also about for when my kids grow up and get married.  I don't want someone to write a nasty MIL book about ME someday!

I do agree that it hopefully won't be an issue, or will be less of an issue, just b/c I'm vigilant about the situation and want to avoid that happening.

Lynn, your situation with the friend and the gifts was interesting, because it made me think again how values or ideas about something as simple as gifts can be so different even within a family.  And I don't think your advice was necessarily devaluing them, but telling her that if all she's getting is frustration, then to save her time and money looking for gifts for them, because the small amount of goodwill that she might be feeling when she tries to pick out the perfect present for everyone is not worth the frustration that she's feeling or the time that she's wasting in doing this when it's not reciprocated or even, at the very least, appreciated (or doesn't appear to be appreciated).

It's funny how if you want to put this whole thing into a nutshell, it would be something as simple as just accepting that there are people who are different than you, and do/see things differently.  It doesn't make them wrong to do things that way, just simply different.  But if you try to impose your will/viewpoint/values on them and they push back, you either have two choices: get offended or back off and accept the differences. 

But I can see where if someone is already in the 'get offended' camp, it might be hard for the person on the periphery to be able to say, 'back off already!'   I hope I can teach that concept to my kids: Different from you isn't wrong.  It's just different.  No more, no less.  And you just have to figure out a way to work with it (in most reasonable cases) or a good deal of your energy will be spent being unhappy.

Lynn2000

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Lynn, your situation with the friend and the gifts was interesting, because it made me think again how values or ideas about something as simple as gifts can be so different even within a family.  And I don't think your advice was necessarily devaluing them, but telling her that if all she's getting is frustration, then to save her time and money looking for gifts for them, because the small amount of goodwill that she might be feeling when she tries to pick out the perfect present for everyone is not worth the frustration that she's feeling or the time that she's wasting in doing this when it's not reciprocated or even, at the very least, appreciated (or doesn't appear to be appreciated).

It's funny how if you want to put this whole thing into a nutshell, it would be something as simple as just accepting that there are people who are different than you, and do/see things differently.  It doesn't make them wrong to do things that way, just simply different.  But if you try to impose your will/viewpoint/values on them and they push back, you either have two choices: get offended or back off and accept the differences. 

But I can see where if someone is already in the 'get offended' camp, it might be hard for the person on the periphery to be able to say, 'back off already!'   I hope I can teach that concept to my kids: Different from you isn't wrong.  It's just different.  No more, no less.  And you just have to figure out a way to work with it (in most reasonable cases) or a good deal of your energy will be spent being unhappy.

Yes, exactly! :) Sounds like you have a good handle on things. I think a lot of it just comes to down to clear, polite communication, and not making assumptions about things. I think it's perfectly fine for someone to say, "I would like to do X," whether that's visit a grandchild three times a week or exchange gifts with everyone or whatever, and then see what the other parties have to say--if they're cool with it or want to negotiate a bit or don't want to do it at all.

I think the first problem comes when people just assume, "Of course X will be fine with them," without asking. And then the second problem comes when, upon X being rebuffed, the person acts on their offense or hurt, rather than looking for other explanations or solutions. I mean, you can't go through life without making some assumptions; but if you find your assumption doesn't match reality, I think it's time to back off and reassess, maybe ask some delicate questions. Continuing to bludgeon someone with your assumption isn't polite; and nursing negative feelings about a situation instead of trying to help it isn't healthy.
~Lynn2000

blarg314

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With the more general situation, what you can do (and advise) depends a lot on the nature of the person.

On one end you can have people who are blunt but can take it. You can be just as blunt in response - "Hey, maybe you should back off a bit before your DIL starts blocking your calls." - and they'll listen. You also have people who are bad at social nuances, know it, and are working on compensating, and willing to listen to advice from more astute friends or family. So pulling them aside and saying "You know, I think doing X is causing a problem" will get a response.

On the other end you have that horrible combination of blunt/pushy and extremely sensitive. They'll stomp all over people's boundaries, but the faintest hint that you don't love what they're doing and it's tears and sulks and drama. With people like that, there's no advice you can offer, and if you're dealing with someone, the only solutions are to avoid them, or be willing to enforce boundaries and accept the drama.

For someone who is well meaning but clueless, and totally oblivious to the fact that they're doing anything that could possibly be construed as wrong, it depends a lot on your relationship to them, and how blunt/repetitive you're willing to be to get the point across. It can be a lot of work, though, so it's often easier to limit your exposure when they get too annoying.