MIL is a passive aggressive victim. Is there hope?

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Registered: 10-23-2013
MIL is a passive aggressive victim. Is there hope?
Wed, 10-23-2013 - 5:32pm

So I’ve been with DH for over 15 years now. We met in college when we were both 18. In the beginning, MIL didn’t speak to me or really acknowledge me. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I thought that was just the way she was. As the years went by and this continued, it became more obvious that it was me. She would speak in a language that I don’t understand in group settings when everyone else spoke English. There’s just a pattern of behavior where while she doesn’t say anything outright mean, but she might say things to be helpful or out of concern like “oh, why are you breaking out like that?” or “oh, are you pregnant because you look like you’ve gained weight?”

Generally, we try to interact in a cordial manner. It’s a bit stressful for both DH and I when she visits because we never know whether it’s going to be a good visit or a bad visit. It’s not that she’s horrible or crazy or anything like that. It’s just that she’s a bit of a passive aggressive person and acts “sad” when she’s unhappy with something. And this unhappiness can be triggered by anything. For example, if we’re deciding where to go to dinner, we’ll ask her and she’ll say she has no preference. DH will ask me and I’ll suggest a few places. If DH says “let’s go to X because I know you’ve [meaning me] been craving that”…well, that sets off the sulking and the whole visit goes down the drain.

She doesn’t have a great relationship with DH either. They were never very close as she sent him away to live with relatives when he was very little. However, because of the “lost” time, she feels that she's the victim and she wants him (and me) to make things up to her now. When we were in college she would want to speak on the phone multiple times a day (and when they didn’t, there would be crying about how she is lonely and is he mad at her etc.). It’s impossible to communicate that he needs space because she takes it personally. He has since been able to draw some boundaries with her but it's always something that she feels he's not doing enough of.

What prompted this  post is that recently we told her that we were pregnant (4 months) for the first time and we thought (or hoped) she would react with happiness. There was no smile, no hugs, just a sulky face and “why didn’t you tell me sooner” (i.e. disappointment with us again). I really thought this time would be different. I tried to (finally) have a frank discussion with her because I want her to understand my perspective and hopefully we can move on. I asked her why she treats me differently from anyone else and told her that I felt that she didn’t even like me. She actually said that it was because other people are warm and friendly and that I am “cold”. I was stunned by this response. I was also upset because instead of taking accountability I feel like she's justified her behavior (and really believed it). I told her that our lack of closeness has much less to do with my personality and much more to do with how she never spoke to me for many years. I said that I thought that set the “tone” for how our relationship progressed. It seemed that she was surprised by what I was saying - I don't know, is it possible she thought I didn't notice her passive aggressive behavior? In any event, I think what I said did sink in a little as she said the reason for her behavior was because she was going through a tough time in her marriage as well.

I'm feeling both worried and hopeful after this conversation. Worried because I’m not sure if I was too open with my feelings and hopeful because she seemed to take some accountability for her actions. DH says he doesn’t think anything will change (because he thinks she’s a miserable person and misery loves company).

It makes me sad that we are stuck in this rut where we can’t move forward. It's not necessary for us to all feel so unhappy when we're around each other and it only benefits our child to be loved by more people. Am I being naïve by thinking that everything is going to be better with her when we have a baby? Is it possible for us to get out of this…or is it basically set in stone that she will never really give me her blessing/acceptance? How can I fix this? Thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks...