Passive-Aggressive Future Mother in Law

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-28-2003
Passive-Aggressive Future Mother in Law
Fri, 03-28-2003 - 7:31pm
Hi everyone! I'm a newbie and I've got a problem with my FMIL. FH's parents divorced when he was young. When my FH and I first dated, FMIL practically treated him like a husband (not romantically/sexually, of course) and expected him to be her best friend and therapist. It was like the parent/child roles were reversed. I felt as though I had to share FH with his mother. I tired of the threesome and started to spend less time with her. FMIL is also the most vain, materialistic, superficial snob that I have met. She has money (wealthy family) and doesn't work. Keeping her looks up seems to be her full time hobby (plastic surgery, etc.). She literally swaggers around with her nose in the air like she's a celebrity. She constantly drops names and talks about the expensive hotels and restaurants she has been to. She will brag about how great she looks and who told her she was gorgeous and wants to date her. She has never truly been on her own and still lives with relatives, who helped raise FH.

FH eventually moved out and has a successful career. We are engaged and living together. We see his family on holidays and for birthdays, etc. FMIL has always asked a lot of questions about our lives (very nosy) and tried to get more involved in our lives and our affairs. I have limited the amount of time I spend around her (w/o being too obvious about it) and am civil, but not overly friendly to her. However, in the past year and after some personal setbacks, FMIL has been trying to become closer to us and is trying to drag me into it. She's always approaching me and asking me personal questions and acts as though we are close friends, even though I don't do anything to make her think that we are buddies. I'm not very trusting because the focus had always been on FH and not me. I feel like she's trying to get close to me because she wants something for herself-like more time with FH, who doesn't call or visit much (no fault of mine-his decision).

I let FH handle communications with FMIL. I don't trust here "friendly" gestures because she has also been passive-aggressive and subtly (or not so subtly) rude to me on more than one occasion. However, if she at times is genuinely trying to be nice (?) and I don't respond, then I come out looking like the bad guy despite the fact that she can be a manipulative prima donna. My FH has not noticed much of her behavior b/c she can be subtle and because he and his family ignore much of it. I recently pointed out to him what I don't like (she puts me on the spot by asking me question after question about personal matters and awkward subjects, makes faces, and gets irritated if I just give her general answers). She literally cornered me once and started grilling me about a serious medical problem that I was having. She also asks about my family's matters, which I don't think are any of her business. FH was supportive and wants me to let him know if she does anything, but in the past he has been passive. He told her recently not to grill me about my medical problem, but she still grilled me about another topic in front of him.

I don't know how to handle this situation. I really don't want to spend more time with FMIL other than to see her occasionally at family events. I also don't want to be on bad terms with her and fear that she will become angry and make me the bad guy (I know she could make things ugly). I suspect she is already sweet to me to make me seem like the one in the wrong. FH's family and my family expect me to make conversation with her and be chummy-ugh. I'd like to keep my distance and let FH deal with her and yet keep things civil. Should I avoid her except for major holidays? Minimize my contact? Any feedback would really be appreciated! Thanks!!

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-19-2003
Sat, 03-29-2003 - 10:42am
Crlady2003, welcome to the board!!!

It is hard when your MIL is trying her best to manipulate you and make you look like the bad one in front of everyone. Even harder is when his family and your family expect you just to kiss her rearend and be completely nice to her and give in to her. Being polite is one thing, but going along with all of her little games is a bit much.

I think you should do what you feel comfortable doing. It seems that FH is on your side - or so he says. You say he's been passive in the past, but hopefully he does speak up to his mother more when it comes to you.

Talk to DH about how you are just not comfortable around her and how you only want to see her on certain occasions. Or if maybe that doesn't work, nothing says because you see her, do you have to talk to her the whole time she is there. If she corners you, let her know that you are uncomofortable with her intrusive questions. If she wants to ask nosey questions, simply say, "That is something that is very personal to me and I don't wish to discuss it with you." If she persists you could tell her that what she is asking about s not any of her concern. Of course, if she keeps up, just flat out tell her that she is being nosey and it isn't any of her dang business.

Good luck.

Avatar for psychick2002
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-29-2003
Sat, 03-29-2003 - 12:42pm
Hello there. I usually lurk on the relationship boards, but do come out of lurk-mode when my schedule lightens. I see that there is some mutual conflict occuring between you and your FMIL, but since you've only supplied just a general synopsis of what has occurred, I really don't have alot to go on, since I, and no one else on this board is truly privy to first hand knowledge. All I can comment on is what I see in your message, and please bear in mind, that I'm not a counselor, therapist, psychologist and my opinion is only that, an opinion that is free to disregard.

From the tone of your message, it sounds like you might be a bit jealous of the relationship that your FH has with his Mother, hence your comment that you felt like you had to share him with her. He will always have some sort of relationship with his mother, for the rest of his life. Granted, that when one reaches adulthood, one usually acquires one's own identity and one's relationship with one's parents changes, accordingly. Since your FH is no longer a child, his mother is not treating this as a parent/child relationship, because her son is not a child, therefore, the relationship dynamics have to change to more of an Adult Parent/Adult Child. If she is relying on her son to play therapist, she might be unconsciously seeking help from someone she feels close to, and makes her feel safe. It would be better if she sought out a counselor, or perhaps her peers to vent too, but this is something that your DH will have to contend with. If he is choosing to not set up boundaries with his mother, this is his choice, not your choice and there is little you can do about it. You can't control anyone else, you only have control over how you choose to react.

In regards to your comments of your FMIL's character (vanity, materialistic, superficial, wealthy family, plastic surgery, swaggering behavior, name-dropping, bragging, living at home, relying on her family) it sounds like this is a sore spot with you, as if this is causing great animosity for you. I find myself wondering, if what might be motivating this judgemental assessment of your FMIL might be envy. Why focus so much on your FMIL's behavior, when you do have the choice to ignore it. You are making the choice to let it bother you. If you chose to ignore her behavior, as in this is your FMIL's domain, that you have no control over, (you can't change her or make her into something that she's not, only she can do this) and focus on what you can control, your reaction to this, it might take some of the edge off of this for you. It's when you actually accept that you are never going to change this person, that this is the way they are, and all you can do is just create your boundaries, the situation will hopefully improve for you. You allow this to bother you, because you choose to let it bother you. You gain some sort of benefit when you choose to engage in your FMIL's game playing.. it enables the behavior to continue. If you stop playing the games with her, and you teach your FMIL what you will or will not tolerate, then you effectively stop the game playing. If she starts setting up a game, and you catch her in it (acting nice when their is really a not nice motive) then you should confront the behavior, without resorting to angery retorts. Such as, I do not feel comfortable answering such personal questions, in the future will you please refrain from this behavior. If she says yes, then proceeds to do this again, the best course of action is to simply state, We've discussed this before, and I will not answer any questions that I'm not comfortable with. I'd be happy to discuss other issues with you, but these topics I will not discuss. This sets up a boundary line, and if your FMIL tries to cross it, it is up to you to enforce your own boundary lines.

I'm not certain why she feels the need to cross your boundary lines, all I can do is speculate. She might be feeling cut out of her son's life and wants to be included in his life in some fashion. I understand that you said that your FH's distancing himself from his mother was his choice, but it appears to me that you are denying your role in his decision. Since you two are engaged, living together, he is most likely very aware of the relationship that has been developing between you and his mother. To claim that it is no fault of your own simply does not hold merit. I'm certain that he's observed your pattern of behavior with his mother, (as in your emotionally distancing yourself from her, limiting your time with her) and in doing so, in my opinion, you may not have directly told your FH to limit his time, but your actions, and this section of your message confirms that you are influencing your FH's distancing. "I recently pointed out to him what I don't like (she puts me on the spot by asking me question after question about personal matters and awkward subjects, makes faces, and gets irritated if I just give her general answers)." Stating that you are at no fault seems very unlikely to me."

You seem to have unreal expectations. You don't want to see your FMIL other than possibly at holidays (possibly the amount that you could count on your fingers)or special occasions for the entire year but you don't want to be on bad terms with your FMIL due to your choices of limiting contact. I don't see how you are going to obtain your goal of a seemingly barely existant relationship with your FMIL and still maintain your need to appear blameless and a nice guy. Your FMIL will feel hurt due to her feelings of your rejecting her. If you are going to be in this family, you need to learn to set up healthy boundaries and then enforce them. I'm not stating that your FMIL is blameless in development of your relationship. She is.. she should respect your right to privacy, but trying to act like everything is wonderful when you have a problem with her behavior, and not addressing it to her is hiding from the problem, not confronting it. It simply tells your FMIL that she can continue with her game playing because you are not standing up to it and telling her that you will not tolerate certain behaviors from her.

Good luck with this..


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-30-2003
Sun, 03-30-2003 - 6:06pm
You are doing your best, staying civilized but keeping a distance. Keep it up, and don't feel guilty about it! I do this with my mil and it keeps us from fighting and falling out. I could take issue with something she says everytime we are together, so keeping the visits rare is a godsend. As for her being vain, I know the type; fishing for compliments, collecting compliments like precious jewels and savoring them. That type makes me sick too. Your df sounds balanced, remember if he can't bear to hurt his mom, then likely he won't hurt you either. If a man was too quick to be hard on his mom then likely he would be hard on his wife someday too. Enjoy each other and suffer with vain, old mil occasionally, ONLY to make you df happy. He will love and respect you for the tolerance you show the old bat.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-28-2003
Mon, 03-31-2003 - 2:25pm
I would just continue to be polite to her. You don't need to seek her out, but when you do come in contact with her, be nice and polite. If she starts with the "nosiness" simply smile and say, "I'd really rather not talk about that." or change the subject, and ask her something general. Since you've described her as a self-absorbed person, you might play up to that just to keep her out of YOUR business. For example, ask her about the outfit she's wearing and/or where she got it. Ask her about the restaurant she mentioned, and what she'd suggest getting if you and DH went there. You may not give a flying flip about her answers, but we all ask people many general questions like this, not because we REALLY care, but just to make polite, pleasant conversation.

She may be rude, and somewhat obnoxious, but you're lucky in that your DH seems to be more on your side than hers. It seems like he knows what kind of person she is. Remember, we CANNOT change what people say or do to us. We can only change our reactions to what they say or do. Over time, you'll find that that's how people change what they say and do around us. You can choose to be polite. You may choke on it, LOL, but while she is trying to buy class and taste, you will show by your actions, you NATURALLY have it!

Go girl!


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iVillage Member
Registered: 04-01-2003
Wed, 04-02-2003 - 6:08am
I'd avoid her except for major holidays and when she does want to hang out, tell her you're busy. But make sure you're really busy. That way you don't look like you're purposely avoiding her.