#530: Annual Holiday Reminder: You Don’t Have to “Celebrate” With People Who Treat You Like Crap

Dear Captain Awkward.

You have advised that a person does not “owe” anyone else their time, friendship, or anything, and I agree with this.

However, I am struggling with being on the receiving end of this. My mother-in-law stopped speaking to me. And I feel SO MUCH anger and hurt over this; I have been obsessed about it for a year and a half now.

A little background: I hit it off with my MIL the first time we met, and we had a great relationship for 8 years. We spoke on the phone at least weekly, having long, fun. and close conversations, and always enjoyed seeing each other. All visits/plans/holidays were coordinated with me, and I was included in everything. We were good friends!

That ended after a visit to help them with an upcoming move. We had a bit to drink one evening, and the conversation turned a bit heated. I went to excuse myself from the table, and my FIL yelled at me, twice, “Fuck you!” My MIL was horrified and yelled at him to stop; he regretted it immediately and apologized profusely, with tears. I forgave, and thought all would be fine.

Following that, she stopped speaking to me. I thought a “cooling off” period would be good, but it never ended. It’s as if I am not in the family any more. I have made many overtures to my in-laws that I hold no grudge, and to try to get things back to normal. I have called, attempting friendly conversation (and get blown off). I have offered to travel to family events with her. I have shared pictures of trips, and sent nice holiday cards. My husband and brother in law have asked her why she no longer talks to me (her answer, “I don’t know”). Nothing changes. All the calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts, etc. that are exchanged amongst the family leave me out.

I HATE this. It makes me so angry and upset! I hate being excluded. I hate that the close relationship we had apparently meant nothing to her. I hate visiting them, where they all act friendly with each other while I sit there quietly. I hate seeing her be nice and friendly to everyone but me. And now, I hate her too. I want to punish her, and never see them again (which I won’t do, because that wouldn’t be fair to my husband). And, I hate feeling that way. I don’t want to have all this anger and hurt. Please help me deal with this. I know she has a right to do this, but I can’t seem to accept it.


Sad and Angry

Dear Sad and Angry:

I wish I had insight into your Mother-In-Law’s state of mind, or magic words to say that would make her reconsider her behavior and mend the relationship. Alas, I do not.

People have a right to not like you, but in a family, assuming you haven’t harmed anyone, I don’t think they have the right to give you the silent treatment and subject you to a constant low level of scorn and expect you to stick around for that.

You talk about how going to events where people give you the silent treatment is the “fair” thing to do for your husband, but I’d like to question that assumption quite a lot. Because if we’re talking “fairness,” I think you do not have to sit quietly and pretend that this is normal. I think you do not have to play this role called “Pleasant, Approval-Seeking Wife” and audition for good will…or basic recognition of your common humanity… from someone who mistreats you. I do not think you have to send cards or presents or remember the birthdays or do all the “wifely” social secretary stuff for people who mistreat you.

What would be the worst thing that happened if you gave your husband’s family gatherings a giant “I’ll be home with a good book drinking wine, catch you later?” He would miss you and feel bad and lonely, probably, but BOTH of you would be free of the tension. What if you gave yourself the gift of a year free of attending stuff with his family or worrying about anything to do with his family? Putting some kind of time limit or scheduling a time to review on the decision to stay away may help your husband come to terms with it and help all parties take pressure off themselves.

I realize this is an anxiety-producing prospect for a lot of people, because it means acknowledging that things are broken and not normal. It means backing out of what “the holidays” and “but we’re a faaaaaaamily!” are supposed to mean. It means putting down a socially acceptable and comforting role and stepping into the unknown, where this person hates your guts and you don’t know why. And it would mean your husband would have to make some choices about how and whether to go to bat for you, which I suspect have been put off indefinitely in the hopes that things will magically get better without him having to say “Mom, what the in the name of fuck is going on?” Your husband may also have to make some choices about whether he is comfortable spending time in places where you are not welcomed. The relationship that needs and would benefit the most from some work right now is the one with your husband, and by work I mean HIM taking care of YOU and doing his best to support and reassure YOU. And the question he needs to ask his mom isn’t “Why don’t you like her?” but “When are you going to stop treating her like garbage? Because, however you may feel, that’s when I/we’ll be back.”

That’s the abusive power dynamic contained in the silent treatment, by the way. Your husband’s mom is the one mistreating you, but by using the silent treatment everything is reframed as you having to audition for her approval and trying to win your way back into her good graces. If you reframe it as “Wow, you are being mean and unreasonable and acting like a bully” instead of “Whyyyyyy don’t you like me?” it’s not a more comforting picture, but it is a more honest one.

You may never find a new normal that feels all the way good here. You will likely never recapture the feeling of inclusion you once had with your in-laws, because even if your Mother-In-Law resumes normal relations you will never be able to trust that it will last. I am so, so sorry. “Good” outcomes here mean “being a basic amount of civil and hoping things thaw over time.” We’re a long way from there, and the work to be done is not yours to do.

The steps I know about in situations like these are 1) admit how bad it is and how broken things are 2) grieve and be really nice to yourself, which includes taking a lot of time away from the situation 3) put up a buffer between you and the badness (so you’re not looking at these Facebook posts and choking down Silent Treatment Pie and The Mashed Potatoes of Guilt and Trepidation), and 4) Reach out to and be around people who make you feel good.


155 thoughts on “#530: Annual Holiday Reminder: You Don’t Have to “Celebrate” With People Who Treat You Like Crap

  1. Just to add – LW, is it possible that she’s doing this because your FiL decided he didn’t like you for…whatever reason? ‘Cause it sounds more like he was the one who had an issue with you prior to this starting.

    Not that it excuses their behavior. That’s wrong regardless of what’s going on.

    1. I agree. I wonder what part the FIL is playing/has played in this. LW, it sounds very much as if the original incident caused him to lose face in front of the rest of the family (in his eyes) and that afterwards something has happened between him and your MIL that has caused her to harden her attitude to you.

      A similar thing happened to me when I was moving house after my separation from the Ex. An Aunt helped me move, she wasn’t home when Uncle arrived home from work, he phoned her to demand to know where she was, and from that day to this my relationship with her has never been the same. Strangely enough though, he’s fine with me, but he is and always has been abusive to her, and he’s not shy about it.

      In a way it makes sense that she “doesn’t know” why she shuns you. The reasons for it may well not be her own. But regardless of that, the situation is broken and there’s probably nothing that can be done by you to fix it. The only possibilities lie with your husband stepping up to insist that the silent treatment ends or alternatively that your MIL gets over herself. Either way, it’s out of your hands. All you can do is remove yourself from the situation.

      Do what I’m doing this Christmas. I’m going to be somewhere nice, with things to do, great food and drink and the presence of those who I give a damn about and who give a damn about me (although you perhaps won’t get to see a platypus as I hope to).

      Jedi hugs and all the best for Christmas and the New Year 🙂

      1. I totally agree with you about the losing face thing – that jumped out at me too. For several years I have been shunned by my husband’s aunt – a woman who had previously been like a surrogate MIL to me and surrogate grandma to my kids (my in-laws are both deceased.) Auntie Dearest lives with my husband’s adult alcoholic cousin.

        A few years ago, Husband and I got into an altercation with Adult Alcoholic Cousin about a mess he’d left at their grandmother’s cottage. Our altercation ended up shedding light on some of the uglier parts of Auntie’s codependent, enabling relationship with Cousin. Auntie blew up at me and we’ve never spoken since. She has spent years making up lies about me and disseminating them throughout the family. Every now and then, she will enlist someone else in the family to plead to let her have some contact with my kids (HA! AHAHAHA!) and Husband and I will tell the envoy to get packing. I think, at the end of the day, Auntie was so deeply mortified about her twisted relationship with Cousin coming to light that she took it out on me.

        It seems like LW’s MIL is doing the same. Clearly FIL started this, and the episode with LW shed light on his abusive behavior. It sounds like MIL was horrified that LW saw that aspect of him, and has chosen to freeze LW out as a result. I mean, “I don’t know?” Really??? And the whole inviting-LW-but-not-really screams of MIL trying not to lose face with the rest of the family.

        I love the suggestions that LW’s husband should start their own family gatherings at their own house, with the members of his family who treat LW well. I doubt I would ever be able to trust MIL – or FIL, for that matter – again after something like this.

    2. This jumped out at me too, partly because he was the one screaming “Fuck you” (whoa scary abusive), partly because “I don’t know” in response to “Why do you do X?” is a standard answer of someone who knows exactly why they do X but is afraid of the punishment if they speak the real reason.

      Seriously, if he’s willing to scream “Fuck you” at a family gathering, I shudder to think what MIL is getting as daily treatment.

      Add on top of that how missing the husband is from the story when he should be wading in, and I have to figure that the family dynamic might be “women carry out the family dramatics at the convenience of the men” or something of that sort.

      The FIL and husband are participating in this by standing by and watching LW be mistreated. If they’re not cool with this, they need to step up.

      1. I don’t know; I think “woah scary abusive” is a bit of a leap from screamed obscenities on one occasion. It’s certainly a possibility, but so is a temporary stressor at the time of the altercation. Not everyone who’s ever shouted at someone is persistently abusive.

        1. “Shouting” is not the same as yelling “Fuck you” multiple times. The latter is definitely in whoa scary abusive territory.

          Seriously, who does that?

          1. I can maybe imagine that there might be a situation in which shouting “fuck you” multiple times is *not* abusive, but I think it’s far more likely to be abusive than not. (It’s just that I think the counterexamples are possible.)

    3. Yeah, my cousin stopped speaking to my part of the family for about two years. We didn’t know what we’d done, and eventually it turned out we hadn’t done anything, it’s just “isolate your partner from her family” is a really common abuse strategy and her now ex-husband was good at it. Of course, it’s not a wholly analagous situation as no one person as being singled out, but if MIL’s instinct was to DEFEND LW against the FIL, it’s a possibility that was something he’s punishing her for. I hope it’s not, of course, both because I don’t want anyone to be abused and because the LW doesn’t need the second hand stress on top of what she’s already dealing with.

      In any case, the family may have the “right” to shun the LW, but that does not extend to a right to expect her to actively show up to be tormented by their treatment of her, nor trump her right to avoid people who are so unpleasant to her.

  2. You will likely never recapture the feeling of inclusion you once had with your in-laws, because even if your Mother-In-Law resumes normal relations you will never be able to trust that it will last.

    Augh. So true it hurts.

  3. Sounds like something that’d go down in my family, LW! In my case, any perceived disturbance of the family order/disturbance that forces my maternal family to acknowledge Something Is Not Right Here is taken out on the person who refuses to put up with it. It’s easier than dealing with the people who perpetuate the badwrongness in the family. I can’t say if that’s true for you of course, but it really reminded me of stuff that goes on here.

    It really isn’t your fault, LW. Take your time away and try to remind yourself that a healthy happy you is more important in the long run!

    1. This is my family dynamic too. Sigh. It was so weird for me at first when Spouse and I got together, to be introduced to the concept of disagreeing and saying one’s piece without being shamed and shunned for doing so.

  4. I don’t think you can fix a situation like this. I think the points made about just not going are well worth pursuing. The husband should see how hurtful this is. Just because it’s the silent treatment doesn’t mean it’s not an aggressive sport being played at the LW’s expense. It takes a lot of energy to keep up the silent treatment for that long, and to drag it into every single family gathering.

    Take a year off. It doesn’t make you a bad spouse to avoid family stuff for a bit. See the inlaws you like with your husband, but don’t go out of your way to enter situations where you have to sit in the corner and suffer. As a perk, seeing the family on your terms means you can have fun with people that aren’t begin terrible to you.

    1. On the note of taking a year off, LW, do you have your own family you could visit?
      If you’ve spent a lot of holidays with your husband’s family, a really good, tried-and-true excuse for you to *not* be there this year is
      “Oh, LW wanted to go and visit her Mom/Dad/Brother/Sister/Grandma whoever this year. It’s been awhile since she was in {wherever your family lives}.”
      This would save you having to be at your home alone on “the holidays” (if that means something to you) and give you a (hopefully) more supportive holiday experience than what you’ve been dealing with recently.
      (And many apologies if you don’t have that sort of family, and of course disregard this if that’s the case).

    2. We have family friends that got nicknamed The Ooper Dooper Christians by my sister. As in, they have a daily awareness of their relationship to the ten commandments sort of family.

      That’s just background, the point is, the mom in that family really has a stressful relationship to her MIL. She says it was really hard to be a 5th commandment sort of person and honor her MIL until she realized “honor and love” can mean “do her part to have a stable, civil family life by staying away from people who don’t treat her particularly well. And, managing expectations for the relationship going forward.”

      That’s not a suggestion to get all Christian Theology about the situation. It’s just an observation that these sorts of broken relationships happen all the time. They happen to all kinds of people. But that idea, that you are doing due diligence to your family relationships by taking care of your own needs and not going where you are treated badly, really works well across the board.

      And in a non-5th-commandment-ey sort of way… you don’t owe your MIL that due diligence. It’s something you can do if you want to, if it helps you. But you don’t owe anyone that.

      I am really sorry your In-Law situation is so stressful. I hope you are getting a lot of support from your spouse because this sounds like a mega suck situation.

  5. Your husband and BIL have asked her why she no longer talks to you and she claims, “I don’t know”. Well, yes, she certainly does know why she has chosen to shun you. And your husband needs to have your back here, because it’s not okay. She doesn’t get to keep torturing you AND pretend that everything’s fine.

    1. If I were the husband, I’d follow up on that “I don’t know” with, “Well then why don’t you stop?”

  6. LW the Captain is so right! You can’t make her like you again, but you don’t have to be present for her to silently shun you. That’s so unpleasant to experience, and makes everything freshly painful each time it happens. If you just don’t go to any of their events and block the appropriate people on Facebook or other social media it becomes a horrible thing that happened in the past, that you can move on from and get over.

    I would suggest being super clear with husband about this too – you don’t need to attend his family events if his family is horrible to you. It would be unfair of him to insist you go – you’ve tried very hard to make amends and his mother wasn’t interested, that ball is now firmly in her court. The only thing to decide now is if you can live with him going without you, or if you would feel like he didn’t have your back if he did that. I’m not saying either of those is the right choice – that one is a personal decision only you and your husband can make.

    Also – when you shift from trying to appease to just walking away it’s possible there will be drama, and people may blame you for it (because you’re the one who stopped ignoring the problem). Such people are wrong, but it can be hard to deal with. Good luck, and I hope you can get to a place where holidays are not so fraught. :-/

  7. I am all for reading a good book and drinking wine instead of attending family events. In fact, I will be doing something very similar this holidays when my family gets together.

    My family are wonderful: they are kind and long-suffering and have been super supportive since I separated from my husband. However this is a lot of them and I find family events quite stressful and exhausting (introverts FTW!) and on top of that I am not a fan of Christmas. Therefore, this year I have decided not to attend the family Christmas function and you know what? My family are OK with that. Why? Because they love and they don’t want to inflict stress and exhaustion upon me.

    It is 100% OK to say, “I am taking some time for myself these holidays to relax and recharge” and if your/your husband’s family aren’t OK with that then they are arseholes.

    Attending these family events is stressful for you, and painful and hurtful and downright crappy. If they were not family would you still hang out with them? If they were colleagues from work would you still attend a social function? I’m betting “no” and I do not believe that having a biological or legal connection to somebody entitles them to treating you poorly and hurting you. Even if you had not made overtures to reconcile, this behaviour is Not Cool.

    I think a discussion with your husband is in order to explain your feelings and choices, but I don’t think he should try to convince you to go. He also does not have to explain your reasons to his family. If they ask where you are/why you aren’t attending he can reply, “[partner] is taking some solo time to relax and recharge. Now where’s that pudding? Can we set it on fire?!” Repeat ad nauseam. If people push for further information he can choose to take them aside and explain that you do not like being treated as an outcast and have chosen to do something fun for yourself, or he can repeat the line above.

    Your inlaws are acting like jerks – and you don’t deserve being subjected to their jerkiness.

    As for wine: I recommend a good Shiraz Viognier 😉

    1. He doesn’t *have* to explain the reason, no. But also this doesn’t have to be hidden away like a shameful secret either. If he says “LW isn’t going to attend because she’s being shunned” or even “I’m sorry, neither of us will attend until my wife is being respected and included” it gives his family the chance to react to the actual situation rather than keep sweeping it under the rug. It makes it clear that this is a direct consequence of MIL’s behaviour and not some weird decision of the LWs entirely unrelated to how she’s treated.

      It might not actually be desirable to keep up a polite face in this circumstance.

      1. I don’t think not explaining is “sweeping it under the rug”. LW’s husband can say whatever he likes, however I think it’s obvious what the situation is within the family and if anybody claims they don’t then they are lying or in denial. LW, her husband and her BIL have all spoken to MIL about the situation to no avail. I don’t think further explanation will help. In the end, the family as a whole has already reacted to the situation and LW should not feel at all obligated to justify her response.

        1. Oh absolutely she doesn’t have to explain or justify to anyone. I just think that husband (who’s job it is to tell family she won’t be coming) can very definitely say “wife is not coming because she doesn’t feel welcome” or “we’re not coming because you’ve made my wife unwelcome”. Sure everyone knows the dynamic behind the scenes, but sometimes stating it bluntly and letting it be awkward as hell is useful.

          Note – I don’t think anyone *has* to do this if it’s not something they are comfortable with, just that it would be OK and justified under the circumstances.

          1. Yeah, I think there’s value in being upfront about the reason. Or at least in not fabricating an “acceptable” reason for her to not attend. It affects how the family is able to present LW to others. “She just suddenly started avoiding family events!” “She refused to come to Christmas and she didn’t even say why!” The situation may be obvious to the people inside the situation but the people may not be admitting to it to each other or to people outside of the situation. As long as LW comes to family events they can pretend to the world that everything is okay. When she doesn’t come anymore something must be wrong, so the easiest way out is to say that something is wrong with LW.
            LW isn’t responsible for managing that shit and I hope the family doesn’t have access to LW’s non-family people, but she can hopefully avoid some misdirection of “she’s avoiding us but she didn’t say whyyyyyyyy” nonsense if the reason is clear. They can still lie about it but LW-husband can respond with “no, we told them/you why.”
            In the end it’s up to LW.

    1. I’m not really comfortable with that framing. It’s very hard not to feel inferior, or in some way wrong when multiple other people are behaving as if the only stumbling block in the system is you. And this is where Captain Awkward has brought out something important – by framing this as “Why isn’t MiL forgiving you/talking to you?” instead of “Why is MiL being an ass about this?”, the LW’s husband and his relatives are buying into the idea that the problem is largely on the LW’s side.

      Human beings are heavily social creatures. If your society, even just the smaller society that is a hunk of your family, repeatedly and loudly says “You are bad/wrong/awful.” – and very little says this more loudly than shunning – we’re somewhat wired to start believing them. It’s not just a matter of deciding to disbelieve them.

    2. Yeah, no. Without your consent, people can very much hurt your feelings, manipulate you, and make you feel small and lonely – especially someone that you used to trust and be close to. Sometimes (not always) you have the option to walk away from the situation, but it’s really damn hard and there are often social and emotional consequences for doing so.

    3. Not sure what the intent was here, so would just note that when Eleanor Roosevelt said this, she meant “Don’t let people put you down, you’re worth more than that,” not “If your mother-in-law treats you like crap, it’s probably your own fault for letting her.”

    4. I find platitudes to be singularly unhelpful.

      In this specific case, the LW has a lot to deal with. Shunning is a powerful tool–so powerful that some religions, like the Amish and Scientology, use it as both a threat and punishment for members who leave the religion. It’s not just something you can shrug off and feel good about.

    5. What? Do you know how consent works? It’s this thing where you agree to something. The LW didn’t agree to the silent treatment in the first place, this reasoning doesn’t make any sense at all. You don’t give consent to feel any one way. You just feel. In other words, please stop your victim blaming.

    6. That is neither true nor does it apply to this situation. In what way has LW given her consent to be shunned by her in laws, and what would the withdrawl of that consent look like in a practical sense? The LW has not mentioned feeling inferior, she has mentioned being hurt and confused by her treatment at the hands of people she loves who, prior to one incident, had welcomed and embraced her, but who now treat her en masse like she doesn’t exist. I am pretty sure the LW didn’t give her consent to that.

    7. No, but they can do their level best to making it clear that they think you are inferior. And they can treat you as inferior. So no matter what you feel the social reality is you are experiencing the social role of inferiority.

      And that fucking sucks, no matter what. And no one has to voluntarily go through that when they can stay at home.

      Also, I love Elanor Roosevelt with her whole UNDHR supporting jam and all. But I really, really hate the privileged victim blamey chow chow that underpins this particular gem from her inspirational quote archive.

    8. I’ve interpreted this to mean, “Just because other people tell you you’re inferior doesn’t mean you should start telling yourself you are.” It’s about negative self-talk, IMO, not about feelings. Of course people experience negative feelings from this situation.

  8. I totes agree with the Cap’n. I think you might feel better if you peaced out of these events. I’m not accusing you of being passive aggressive, but I old think continuing to subject yourself to these silent-treatment-athons might be setting up an “oh you will deal with me” dynamic. Which is probably what you aren’t doing on purpose. But you still get the silent treatment and they don’t have to deal with the obvious brokenness that your lack of presence would highlight.

    I would be very hurt if someone I was once close to withdrew like that but I still had to keep seeing them. But you don’t. You probably won’t get that level of closeness back and that’s sad. But things have changed and you get to change your part in that dynamic by not going anymore. Or switching off holiday so every other one is just you and spouse

  9. I think the absence of the husband in this letter is notable. I think the Captain is right to bring him back into the conversation. He needs to have LW’s back.

  10. Agree to everything here. You have no obligation to be around people who make you feel sad and left out and angry, in-laws or not. Let your husband go to family functions by himself for a while; it’s not going to kill him.

  11. Ugh, LW, this sounds so frustrating. I feel for you and I think your feelings are valid.

    That said, of course, your MIL DOES have the right to not have contact with you if she doesn’t want to, full stop. I think any attempt to wheedle the reasons out of her is misguided–the reasons don’t matter. Clearly, she doesn’t want to, and “I don’t want to” is a good enough reason. And that hurts! Let it hurt. It’s hurtful.

    BUT, if she doesn’t want to speak to you, I’m with everyone else–you shouldn’t have to be around her. The way I see it, there are two options here:

    1) She wants you around, because faaaamily or some other reason, but she wants the freedom to shun you whenever she feels like it.
    2) She doesn’t want you around, and giving yourself a break would be a relief for both of you.

    In the case of #2, the solution is obvious. In the case of #1, I’d say the solution is actually pretty much the same, because she can’t have it both ways. If she’s going to shun you, start skipping these family gatherings that are so fun for everyone else but so miserable for you. Lay down a boundary: you will not attend events in which you are unceremoniously ignored. If your MIL has a problem with that, she needs to stop shunning you. If not, win/win.

    1. Yes to all of that. Furthermore, while your MIL has the right to abstain from contact with you, she shouldn’t do it by forcing you out of every family event.* The proper way to do this is have some things (she hosts?) that you don’t come to, and some things (someone else hosts) that she doesn’t go to but you do.

      *this doesn’t apply where actual abuse has occurred. Abusers can be excluded in good conscience!

  12. I got to the part where LW is still going to her in-laws’ family events and just sitting there while everyone else talks around her, and was utterly shocked. I assumed the silent treatment would go along with being uninvited. Yes, of course MIL has the right to not talk to you. But you are under no obligation to stick around while she makes a point of ignoring you over and over. That’s painful for you, and it has to be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone else, too. They’re not *welcoming* you, not really, so it doesn’t matter if they would technically let you in the door. There’s no reason why you should go.
    As far as I’m concerned, MIL/the parents-in-law *should* have stopped inviting you if MIL isn’t going to talk to you. It’s ridiculous to expect you to act like everything is fine. I sort of wonder why you weren’t explicitly uninvited, but spending more time and energy on this is probably exactly the opposite of what you want to do. Like the Captain says, be nice to yourself. Spend more time with people who actually want you to be there.

    1. Yep, bang on. This bit pissed me off too. I hate it when people won’t own their behaviour. It’s like no matter how horribly they act, as long as you aren’t explicitly not invited, then it’s all on you if you feel upset because of course they aren’t mean, they invited you into their home. And then when you finally decide that enough is enough and you don’t come, they get to turn around and be all hurt and rejected about it. ><

      1. This! Exactly. Explicitly not inviting me would force the issue, and make her to own up to what she is doing. She also makes a big show about getting us Christmas presents, which I suspect is her way of looking like the caring MIL, so I will be to blame when I am not grateful enough…or something. And if I don’t act super happy to be staying at their house and hanging out with them, I am “the problem” with a bad attitude, they can all act like I am an evil DIL.

    2. I think the only reason she wasn’t explicitly uninvited is because of the husband.

      I say this as someone who only got technically invited to my dad’s sister’s family events because of my dad–otherwise they have never liked me pretty much from birth as far as I can tell. Welcomed? Nope. Technically allowed in? Yes. They stopped inviting my mother and I the year after my dad died because they no longer “had” to. Heck, I found out my grandma died three days ago. Did we find that out from my beloved family? Nope! Found that out when my grandma’s old neighbor read it in the newspaper and sent us a condolence e-mail.

      Hell with it, they don’t want her. So don’t go. Husband can go alone.

    3. This is speculation on my part, but I’m guessing she’s *not* being invited. The husband is probably being invited to family gatherings, and he’s bringing the LW because, well, it’s pretty normal to bring your spouse to family gatherings. But they very well may not want her there, but are too cowardly to actually state that.

  13. LW, your MIL does have the right to stop talking to you, but she does *not* have the right to give you the cut direct and expect you to put up with it. She can express what she wants, but *you* can do the same.

  14. Speaking as someone whose parents mistreated his chosen life partner, Sad And Angry’s husband needs to step up. I cut my parents off from contact until they could treat her with dignity and respect, and I don’t have any respect for someone who can’t follow that example.

  15. Wait, has everyone else started shunning LW, too? “All the calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts, etc. that are exchanged amongst the family leave me out.” So brother-in-law has stopped sending LW pics of the nephews because MIL is now chilly to her? Although: formerly all family plans made through LW. Holiday cards sent by LW. Is this a family in which The Ladies are in charge of social/emotional everything? That’s a dynamic that is currently biting you in the ass.

    You want to be ‘fair’ to husband? Tell him to organize some family related events with his brother and other members of family who will speak to you. Pleasantly agree to have them in your space, so long as he organizes everything, because you are done with that particular chore. Otherwise, you’ll be over here, with this bottle of wine and and a very big burlap sack, empty, marked ‘fucks’.

    1. I like that empty burlap sack. I think if a lot of people had one of those and they whipped them out when it was beneficial for their peace of mind, the world would be a better place 🙂

      Mine’s been overused in the relationship (or lack of) with my dad after my parents’ messy divorce. When your own parents guilt trip you for whatever their ex-spouse did or did not do, you know it’s time to keep a good distance.

      1. I love that sack too. Someone started a thread in the forum for my feminism paper talking about how we’re studying all these forward thinking ladies of the past while doing all the work and the guys just turn up with a present bought at the last minute. So I started talking about how society enforces those messages so hard and it’s rarely going to get fixed unless you get that “hey, I deserve better” realisation and actually demand it. You know, give the guys some jobs to do and see how they react.

      2. Thirding the love of the “fucks” sack. I’m picturing some sort of heathy boundaries enforcing Santa Claus who brings YOU bourbon and cookies and travels around with that magnificent sack, full to the brim of the gift of not putting yourself in shitty social situations.

    2. Frequently jerk families have Queen Bees. If you do not want to offend the Queen Bee and end up on her bad side being punished too, you go along with the Queen Bee’s behavior. So yes, everyone else is shunning her because it would piss MIL off to do otherwise.

    3. Some families have Queen Bees, and if you offend the Queen Bee, you end up like this. If you go against the Queen Bee’s wishes, you will also end up in the shithouse. So it doesn’t shock me that everyone else is shunning LW as well–they don’t want to end up like her.

  16. LW, I’ve eaten more batches of the Mashed Potatoes of Guilt and Trepidation then I know what to do with, and you know what?
    Please remember that it’s okay to put down the fork and spit out the gross, nasty Feast Of Awkward Holiday Suck that this situation is right now and go get some delicious, delicious Solitude Shortcake or Nice Friend Flan.

    1. The original mashed potatoes line made me smile, and your riffing on it made me smile even bigger. I ❤ Nice Friend Flan!

  17. If you sit things out from now on, and your husband doesn’t, I feel like it might be a show of support if he deliberately declines some invitations. “Sorry mom, but I’ve made plans to spend Christmas with my wife. But I’m really looking forward to seeing you at Susan’s birthday party.” When they start in about how they’re faaaamily and you should just both come, he should be blunt, “I love you guys, but I will not take my wife someplace she’s not welcome. You sure don’t treat her like she’s welcome here.” Maybe you guys could also make plans independently with some subgroups of the family? Go hang out with his cousins, or visit his aunt, etc. Mom doesn’t have to run the show on all family events; leave her off the list for once.

    I feel like it might be unfair to expect him to cut ties with his family, when he has relationships with them that are independent of you and go back his entire life…but a lot of people may feel differently. At the same time…just standing by and letting them mistreat you? By keeping silent, he’s unintentionally giving his approval–he’s saying that making you, a person he loves, feel miserable and shunned, is not a big enough deal for him to get mad about. You’re his family, too. He should be mad.

    1. I totally agree with this. Honestly, I am the most mad at the husband. He should have done something about this a long time ago.

      1. Yep, the conspicuous absence of the husband from all of this is possibly the most disturbing part. Dude, your father told your spouse ‘fuck you’, TWICE. And you were where, exactly, whilst this was going on? And when you heard of it later, perhaps, why were you not outraged on your spouse’s behalf? Not cool, and not okay. He needs to remember who he’s chosen to make his family with, and step up and act accordingly.

    2. I like this solution because it gives consequences to MIL’s actions without making it “choose your mother or your wife!” time for Husband. It seems from the LW’s description, that there’s a lot of Not Talking happening in Husband’s family and the move from avoidance of the underlying problems to cutting ties altogether is a drastic one.

      That said, Husband does need to take steps on behalf of his wife, regardless of his own personal family dynamic. What’s happening to her is not okay, and he needs to do something about it.

    3. Yeah, I don’t think the husband needs to completely cut ties to support the LW. One approach might be to attend stuff sometimes but draw the line at major events like holidays. My friend’s parents don’t want to see his partner cause they’re not that okay with him being in a same sex relationship. He still sees them for a meal here and there and calls them, but he told them he won’t come home for Christmas or other major occasions if his partner’s not welcome. After a couple of years they’re slowing coming around.

  18. I so much agree with this answer.

    I have a step mother who thinks she can criticise me and my husband and our choices and decisions, and makes the most rude and nasty comments whenever we visit.

    After she upset my lovely MIL at our house four Christmases ago, my husband stopped visiting with me and I tolerated the nastiness alone. Until about five months ago when she nastily accused me of saying something nasty to her 6 months and several visits before. My objection that I’d said no such thing was shouted down. so I did the only decent thing. I left and haven’t been back since. I miss seeing my dad but will no longer tolerate being spoken to like a naughty six year old. I’m 51 and have helped them out in so many ways over the years, I think I’m entitled to a little respect.

    My first visit since then will be the Christmas visit on Sunday. If she’s not pleasant and polite it’ll be a very short one.

    You don’t have to tolerate this unpleasantness. Be as kind to yourself as you deserve and do something elsewhen your husband visits. You’ve done nothing wrong so don’t let her mistreat you.

  19. As a member of an extended family that has been racked with feuds and schisms since the beginning of damn time (right now we are in detente, but best believe I will be holding my breath until Dec. 26), it’s always fascinated and frustrated me how little it sometimes takes, and how all too often when you ask people why they haven’t spoken to so-and-so in X number of years, they can no longer even tell you because it’s shrouded in the mists of time and/or denial — probably mostly the latter.

    LW, so very sympathetic to this tough spot you find yourself in, wanting to support your husband, not wanting to feel trampled on and feeling that you can’t have both. I think it’s time for a loving but serious talk about this with your husband because no, of course you should not have to attend events where everyone is deliberately leaving you out of the conversation (whether it is out of meanness or just to placate your missing stair of a mother-in-law). Because that is BONKERS. Imagine if the events in question didn’t involve faaaaamily and then ask yourself if you’d repeatedly subject yourself to that treatment. Everything else — including worrying about how to fix it — should come second to that.

  20. I usually don’t bother commenting when my response is “What everybody else said,” but it sounds like you could use all the validation you can get. So, what everybody else said.

    She has a right not to want to talk to you. I suppose she has a right to be rude about it. You have a corresponding right not to put yourself in the line of fire.

    1. I said something similar regarding a toxic relationship earlier this year, I’ve since blocked said person out of my life. ‘She’s not obligated to treat us like worthwhile human beings, but we’re not obligated to tolerate it.’

  21. “Your husband would have to make some choices about how and whether to go to bat for you, which I suspect have been put off indefinitely”

    YES. Your husband should have been stepping up from the minute things got bad and didn’t seem like they were getting any better. You can’t ask him to cut off contact with them or anything but there are plenty of things he can be doing to support you (like agreeing to cut awkward family visits short, or declining their invites every once in a while). A good relationship means not letting your spouse get treated like dirt, even if it’s from your own family.

  22. I’m not psychic or anything, but it seems likely to me that your MIL is ignoring you because she feels ashamed about the argument you had. For your FIL to swear at you like that, when you had previously had a good relationship with the in-laws for so long, reflects badly on your in-laws and I’m sure she knows this. Maybe she also feels she has to take her husband’s side as that is her primary loyalty, even if she doesn’t agree with him. I have been in situations where I or someone close to me has behaved so badly that I would rather hide than apologise. I know it’s a terrible way of dealing and I’m not endorsing it, but the context might help.

    Curious whether your FIL is also not speaking to you? Does this bother you as much? What was your relationship like with him before?

    1. I know that happens sometimes, but I kind of doubt it’s the case here. For one thing, it isn’t just the MIL. It’s everyone in the family – and like another commenter said, that truly is BONKERS. It sounds like a French farce. Or like a hazing ritual. Or one of those ego-destruction exercises they do in cults – and they’re pointedly shunning her, not just avoiding her.

      For another, she and her partner have already made attempts to reach out, and have asked why LW is being shunned. If this were just MIL’s embarrassment, she probably would have gotten over it. It would be mortifying, in that case, to learn that your daughter-in-law thought you despised her. You wouldn’t let that stand.

      And she wouldn’t be leaving LW out of mass emails or conversations on Facebook etc.

      I think MIL/FIL have somehow managed to turn the entire family into their personal Synchronized Ritual Cruelty Squad, and it sounds horrible. I’m impressed (mordantly impressed?) that they’ve managed to keep it up for this long. They must be really nasty people.

      1. Sorry for being unclear, but it’s just the MIL leaving me out, not the rest of the family. On facebook, for example, I was thinking of how MIL “likes” every single thing other family members post, makes positive comments to them, etc. But never to me. Other family “like” my photos, etc. MIL sends group info texts or emails, but excludes me. If the text or email originates from another family member, they don’t usually exclude me. Hope that makes sense. And thanks for your thoughts!

        PS – I did end up making it so I can’t see her page, and she can’t see mine. It helps a little.

        1. I understand, thanks. And, good. I mean, that would be one terrible family.

          And yeah, good for you for making it so that you can’t see her on Facebook. That’s the worst. Can you block her comments as well, so you can’t see her *hugs*ing everyone else?

  23. I agree with most of the above, so I’m piling on with the validation: marrying doesn’t require you to put up with abusive inlaws, regardless of the history – and MIL is definitely mistreating you.

    I got hung up on an earlier piece of the story: in the original post by LW, I understood the events as: MIL and LW had a lovely relationship for several years. Then there was a situation in which LW and husband helped MIL and FIL with an unspecified situation, after which a gathering with alcohol led to raised voices. We don’t know what FIL was responding to when he shouted ‘F you!’ at LW – was he upset about something LW said that he considered unacceptable? was he upset that LW wasn’t staying in the conversation now that it had become heated? was he upset that LW wasn’t staying to be (perhaps further) abused?

    Quite possibly LW doesn’t know what FIL was upset about, either – heated conversation plus alcohol rarely equals clear understanding, as we know.

    What strikes me, though, is that it’s now MIL who is creating the shunning behavior, even though it was FIL who did the original shouting. So I’m wondering: is MIL using shunning as a way to protect FIL? or even, at the request of FIL? was FIL shouting in defense of MIL, who had the original grievance and won’t let it go?

    Please understand, I do NOT think LW is ‘at fault’ for the current situation. Period.

    In my own family we have had a couple of things like this. Resolution began with a third party patiently explaining, in words of one syllable and over an extended time, that it seemed clear that something was seriously amiss and that it was no good pretending there wasn’t and waiting for it to blow over, or for someone to change behavior they didn’t remember doing or didn’t know was upsetting, or for someone to apologize, or whatever. And patiently explaining how much this third party values members of both sides of the issue, and how important it is to third party that the split be healed by open communication. From the original post by LW, I’m betting that person is the husband or the brother-in-law … and I hope one of them will step up.

    But whether he does or not … lots of Jedi hugs to LW for the good selfcare shown in writing this letter and in seeking another way beyond ‘holidays in hell forever.’

  24. Something fairly similar happened to me (less close to begin with). The back story turned out to be that my husband’s sister had started a loud “everybody hates your wife” argument with my husband (out of the blue), with their mother as witness, and MIL just sort of followed her lead (MIL and SIL are very close and logistically dependent on each other). Husband had not told me that the argument had occurred until I started asking relevant questions, and it took me a matter of months (of trying every week or two) to realise that my MIL wasn’t taking my phone calls on purpose.

    What helped (other than stepping away from it all, which is right on) was to talk to my husband and come to an armchair analysis of the dynamics within his family. His sister had always used my husband as her punching bag in various senses, and has a forceful personality; as far as I can tell my relationship with the family was just a convenient hostage for her to shoot. When I finally understood that it’s not about me, I stopped obsessing about it, but that took a long time to sink in.

    Five years later, relations with all parties have thawed at the surface level; I neither trust them nor go to much effort for them, but visiting for the sake of the kids is not painful. What’s weird is that MIL is so nice in person that I have to constantly remind myself that she’s not my friend.

    1. I could have written this exact thing, except it isn’t my husband’s sister, it’s my husband’s first wife. She pulls all the strings in the family, and my in-laws have stayed much closer to her than to us. We dealt with it by moving far enough away that we don’t see them very often. She definitely uses my husband as a punching bag, though!

      “What’s weird is that MIL is so nice in person that I have to constantly remind myself that she’s not my friend.” This line chilled me to the bone. Very much the same in my case. It’s dangerous for me to warm to her too much. It always leads to badness.

  25. I have 2 kinda similar stories to share. First, when I was living abroad for a couple of years where English was not spoken, my host family’s home was the central gathering place for the extended family. I was friends with a host cousin who was about my age, and he was the person I felt closest and most connected to, maybe even developing some romantic feelings.

    Well, one day we were hanging out and I said something he took the wrong way. He got mad at me for reasons I didn’t understand and subjected me to the silent treatment. I admit, I reacted poorly at first. I mean, he was pouty and everything, and so I laughed at the ridiculousness of a grown-ass man acting like a toddler. Well, that didn’t help.

    I tried to talk to him, got the turned back. I talked to my host mother, who tried to talk to him and got silence on the issue. It hurt. A lot. Especially when a younger cousin followed his lead, and I felt the most isolated and alone I’d ever been in my life. It went on for many, many months.

    My closest friends in a strange country were treating me as if I didn’t exist, and I didn’t even know why. It was something that I had absolutely no control over or understanding of. I felt so betrayed and wounded and as if there was something wrong with me. They had been my local support system, so I was left desolate. I became depressed, and my immune system was so weakened that even the most minor scratches became infected.

    And then, one day he got over his mad, strolled up to me and tried to make conversation as if nothing happened. Well, that didn’t work so well. Trust had been broken. His explanation was too little and way too late. We were superficially polite but were no longer friends from my perspective.

    In that situation, I couldn’t just decide not to attend family events, because the gatherings were always where I lived, and so his shunning was always in my face. But being able to get away, to choose not to be there to receive it, would have helped. That is most excellent advice.

    The second situation was far less drastic. My mom remarried while I was out of the country. I was an adult living on my own (and far away) by that point. But I would come home for the holidays and was willing to get to know her in-laws, though I didn’t really feel much direct connection since they were not my in-laws. Anyway, they would have family Christmas parties with round-robin gift exchanges, where each person would get someone else’s name as drawn from a hat, and there was a dollar limit on the gift value as I understood it. So I found myself buying presents for strangers. Well, my mom helped me out with suggestions.

    Anyway, the last time I went to one of those family Christmas parties, I gave a present to an “aunt” who I actually felt some connection with (having stayed with her briefly while checking out graduate school in the area), and she was always very pleasant and friendly. She certainly seemed to like the earrings. I left the party fairly early as I was tired, and the next morning I heard that after I was gone, she complained about how awful my gift had been. I can’t remember if other family members had jumped on board with attacking me. My stepfather defended me against his sister, which was appropriate. And I decided I didn’t need to go to anymore of their family gatherings. Life was too short to play nice with people who were mean behind my back. Don’t regret it at all. Again, superficial politeness when we should happen to meet, but no investment on my part.

    I guess all I’m saying is that I feel your pain and loss, and the captain’s advice is good. Take care of yourself; don’t go where you’re not wanted; you deserve better.

    And your husband should be your advocate, not some sort of silent (and complicit) bystander/participant in this psychological abuse. Yes, she can choose not to want your company, but not okay for the entire group to ostracize you, and not okay for both of you to keep attending as if there isn’t something seriously wrong.

    Take time to grieve for that relationship with MIL you had, and the person you thought you knew. The loss is real. I’m sorry.

  26. It would be pretty incredible if it were just your MIL pointedly shunning you in every venue (including family gatherings at her home!) forever, but getting everyone else to do it is above and beyond. I can’t imagine how you’ve put up with it for so long. I’d be sobbing in the bathroom.

    Like CA said, you aren’t obligated to put up with any of this. And you don’t have to accept it as simply her right, either. I mean, we have the right to associate with whomever we please, but if she were shunning you because you were her daughter’s wife, you’d be right to call her a homophobic jerk. She’s being a jerk, and you should call her behavior what it is, even just for your own sake.

    I don’t think you should subject yourself to any more of this either, and I also think you should stop trying to pretend – or letting them pretend – it isn’t happening.

  27. Ugh. This is awful. My immediate family was estranged from both sides of my extended family before I was even born (long story) so this hasn’t happened to me with relatives, but my family is full of champion grudge-holders and everyone isn’t speaking to everyone else for various reasons that have mostly been forgotten but have calcified so much that no one is willing to be the first person to reach out. And I’m talking people who are in their nineties, so they don’t have a hell of a lot of time to make up.

    I have had friends randomly stop speaking to me/responding to calls, etc. in the past. It’s really painful, but for what it’s worth, I think if you make one or two good-faith efforts to reach out, you’ve done what you can, and you can leave it at “I’d like to hear from you when you’re ready” and then move on with your life. In situations where you really don’t have any idea what you’ve done to offend the other person, the onus is on them to explain why they’re mad.

    In this case, you’ve done about all a person could be expected to do, and frankly I think you should give yourself a break. If you want to make One Token Short Visit a year before GTFOing, sure, but I don’t think you even need to feel obligated to spend any time around these people.

    And re: your husband, seriously. When my parents got married my father was basically disowned by his mother, and he didn’t see or really talk to her for years, because he was told he had a choice between his family or my mom and he picked my mom, and although my dad and I have had a rather uneven relationship, I have to say I respect the hell out of him for sticking to his guns and sticking up for my mom, who isn’t the world’s most pleasant person either. We’ve only visited my grandmother once as a family since then, and whenever she starts in on my mom or me, my father firmly tells her that it’s not something he’s going to discuss, and she can kindly STFU.

    I don’t know what sort of relationship your husband has with his family, but it might be time to sit him down, tell him how much this is hurting you, and tell him specifically what you need him to do to back you up.

    1. “I have had friends randomly stop speaking to me/responding to calls, etc. in the past. It’s really painful, but for what it’s worth, I think if you make one or two good-faith efforts to reach out, you’ve done what you can, and you can leave it at “I’d like to hear from you when you’re ready” and then move on with your life. In situations where you really don’t have any idea what you’ve done to offend the other person, the onus is on them to explain why they’re mad.”

      I agree completely. The point is that you tried and the ball is in their court. If they want to salvage the relationship, they will reach out to you. If they do not, they won’t.

      I was on the opposite end of this recently: I have a friend that I stopped speaking to/responding to texts/etc. We were friends when I was in graduate school with her. Towards the end of the program, she started getting involved with a guy who was Just Not That Into Her – he would sleep with her, then go radio silence for 7-10 days, apologize, rinse & repeat. She would come crying to me about it, then get angry and rant and rave for the next few days, then be overjoyed when he slept with her again. It was emotionally exhausting for me to be the “supportive” friend after about 6 months of this cycle. Then you can throw in the part where she stopped talking to me for 3 days and finally accused me of trying to “steal” this prize from her. You can also include how she abandoned me at a bar after promising to drive me home because she was “tired” and “had to go to bed” but left without telling me. And then she did that to her other friend K, whom I had to go pick up in the middle of the night (and thank heavens I did because a creeper was trying to take her home with him despite her obvious drunkenness and inability to stand, let alone consent). [I am not trying to say she is our keeper, but she promised me both times that she would take me home and that she would take K home since I left earlier.]

      I let the relationship start cooling when we were still in school together, i.e., I stopped hanging out with her every weekend, going out on surprise outings, going shopping with her, etc. Then when I graduated, I started taking several hours to days to respond to texts to eventually no response. She never asked why, but she did stop contacting me.

      I am sure she does not realize why I stopped talking to her. I am also sure it hurt her feelings that I stopped talking to her. But she never asked why, and I did not feel there was any need to explain because I feel like it would hurt her further and for no purpose, because I do not want to fix it. The relationship would take more time, energy, and emotion than I want to spend to salvage it, so I decided to let it die. I do not know if this was really the best way to do it, but considering her reactions to me in the past, I would do it this way again if I had to.

      1. Out of curiosity, if she did contact you again to explicitly ask you what was wrong, would you tell her, or would you continue not responding?

        1. I would respond and tell her if she did contact me to explicitly ask why.

          The main reason I never initiated the “why” conversation is because we are colleagues. At the time, she was planning on moving to the same state as me just a few towns over, so I wanted to be able to maintain at least a cool relationship. I was afraid that she would explode at me like she has before (and at other colleagues), and I did not want that affected us professionally, especially in such close proximity. She ended up moving to a different state though.

  28. Oy LW, I am so sorry about all of this; it sounds dreadful. I want to emphasize to the nth degree that you are totally allowed to take a break from all of this awful. Feel free to hide in-laws’ feeds on Facebook if that will make you happier. And also, it’s probably a good idea for you and your husband to work together and make a plan for how he can support you best. I can’t emphasize enough that it’s HIS family and HE’S the one who should be running interference here.

  29. You have every right to be angry about this. Losing a friend, and even worse, a family member over nothing, with no opportunity to repair the breach is a horrible feeling.

    Not only does it make you sad, and feel loss, but when it happened to me it made me question everything about myself. It made me mistrust that people I thought were my friends were really my friends. I basically spent three years like “Does anyone really like me? No.”

    It’s been 10 years almost since that happened, and only within the last year or so have I felt like I could forgive him. Or that we could ever have even a friendly relationship. But I would never trust him again.

    That’s the thing, this choice that she’s made is irreparable. She chose to throw away your friendship without even giving you a real reason. You have every right to hate her, and you SHOULD. Don’t feel bad about that. She did this, it’s her fault, she deserves your hate. No matter what her “reason” is, nothing is good enough to justify this behavior.

    Even if you had done something horrible, her decision to not confront you, to freeze you out would be unacceptable.

    You should say, in your heart, to her, what her husband said to you. “Fuck you.”

    I hope you can find the space to grieve. Maybe you can spend holidays with your family of choice, instead of your family in law.

  30. Dear LW,

    I know you feel angry and hurt, but you don’t have to spend time with people who hurt you, deliberately or otherwise. It’s probably not even about you, even if you are totally feeling Your MIL may still be mortified over your FIL’s blowup and unconsciously she feels if she blames or excludes you, then your FIL will never act badly again.

    My story is not as frustrating as yours, but I think it is a good example of drawing boundaries and how my partner is backing me up.

    My partner and I visit his parents for the Christmas holidays. So does his older sister. The problem lies in there only being one spare bedroom at the parents house. There are other rooms that could be used as bedrooms, but they are full of stuff. We can’t leave for our visit until the last minute, because we run a little store that wants to sell Christmas gifts until late on Christmas Eve. This means that partners’s sister beats us there every time and gets the bedroom. They live in a rural area, so there is no convenient access to hotel or motel rooms. So, we end up sleeping in a tent, on the ground, in December. We’re not in a seriously cold place, but I have, for example, woken up with ice on my pillow from my breath.

    I am not doing that this year. Maybe I will next year, but I am just not doing it this year. I am tired of being in pain for hours in the morning after waking up because my back does not like me sleeping on the hard ground. I am tired of being inconvenienced because partner’s family isn’t interested in making space for us to sleep in the house (other than the living room floor). Partner is telling his parents that I’m going to visit my grandparents for Christmas this year (as they live a short trip away, as opposed to my mom, who lives a much longer trip away). Yes, it is a lie; however, it lets everyone save face and keeps partner from being harangued while he is there. They visit us at Thanksgiving (and they get to sleep in a bed), so they get to visit with me then. Actually, us hosting Thanksgiving was another negotiating of boundaries – it was not easy for partner’s mom to let go of hosting. I wish she’d let me host Christmas (she’s in her 70’s, plus we have beds for everyone!!) but she just won’t let go of that one.

    1. ugh, Sorry, seem to have lost some words. Should be: “even if you are totally feeling the Great Wall of Isolation.”

    2. Your story left me speechless for a moment. Literally. I just can’t fathom how a tent is okay for family in December.

      On the other hand, I did have to tell my mother that I would no longer be staying at her house until her bathroom had walls–a remodeling project that stalled left her without bathroom walls just exposed insulation for *years*–so I suppose I can fathom it, actually. I hope that your absence inspires them to take steps on this as mine did for my mother.

      A tent on the ground in December. smh.

      1. Before it sounds like we are utterly abused, let me emphasize that it is relatively warm here in December. At night it is unlikely to get much below freezing. So at worst -5 C or 23 F. It’s not -40 and blizzarding! 🙂

        1. You’re clearly a wonderful person, but I think the important thing to remember is “tent.” Also that they have spare bedrooms but they’re full…of junk. I support you not sleeping in a tent for Christmas ever again.

        2. i kind of feel like it doesn’t matter? i actually think that’s really cold, but just the fact that you don’t want to should be reason enough not to 🙂

          and if you felt like actually saying that to them, that would be ok too!

        3. …no no no no. Below freezing, freezing, close to freezing or just plain “well above freezing but still really uncomfortably cold” are not acceptable conditions in which to leave guests! Putting healthy young people outside to camp is something you can do in the SUMMER. MAYBE. If they’re OKAY with it.

          1. I agree, the person who says ‘tent, on ground in December, not all that cold just sometimes around freezing” is a damn saint. I can also sympathize with the struggling to get holidays out of the hands of elderly relatives who are no longer really all that up to the task. My family has been risking food poisoning for years rather than deal with that problem head-on.

        4. I live in one of those rare parts of Canada that bottom out at -5C. Christmas is when all the local shelters really start to worry about people sleeping on the streets, because -5 with good old Pacific Ocean humidity can absolutely kill you. I come from a -40 and blizzarding province, and after a few years in Vancouver, I find the prairie cold easier to deal with.

          Tl;dr: STILL NOT OKAY.

      2. Hah. I knew a pregnant teenage couple who was living in a tent in December because that’s where the relatives stuck them. In the middle of California, but still.

        1. Well, I’d be smh at those relatives! Long-term living in a tent in winter is much, much worse than a voluntary short-term stint of one or two nights. Sure, there are plenty of people who have it worse, but speaking as someone who has had a relative move in long-term unexpectedly, I expect family to step up to care for each other better than that!

    3. I am utterly flabbergasted. Not, perhaps, at your in laws – but at your husband for going along with it. I just cannot understand why he wouldn’t have insisted that a) they get a sofa-bed for you to sleep on in the living room; or b) you all do Christmas somewhere else. And then for him to turn up to Christmas on his own and go along with the whole thing… Do.Not.Understand.

      1. My partner has totally backed me on the “trying to move Christmas to our house” play, but he is not prepared to not see his parents at Christmas because they are old and he sees them so infrequently. I absolutely support him in that decision. I do not mind at all that I have the house to myself for Christmas, in fact, I am looking forward to it. (Yes, I am a bit of an introvert.) My plans are: drinking, reading, DR WHO MARATHON ON SPACE (Canadian TV channel), and stuffing my face with things that are delicious. It is going to be awesome. It would also be awesome if partner was with me, but it is not less awesome that he is not. (did that make sense?)

        1. Where on earth do you live in Canada where the weather only goes to -5 in December. And more importantly, can I join you there.

          I’d also like to reiterate that TENT NOT REALLY OKAY (even as a relatively young, healthy person I can’t even manage to do sleeping on the ground without pain) no matter the temperature. Really glad you have your partner backing you up in this, and sounds like you’re in for a fantastic Christmas!

          1. I’d say that sounds like British Columbia. I hear the winters on the west coast there are much milder than they are elsewhere, including here in St. John’s on the other end of the country — we also get milder winters than the mainland, but we can’t compare at all to BC, snuggled right up to the warmer Pacific like it is. Or at least like some cities there are. Cities in BC make up almost half the list of hottest winter climates in Canada on this site (http://www.currentresults.com/Weather-Extremes/Canada/hottest-cities-winter.php).

            That being said though, I’d like to reiterate what everyone before me has said — shoving you outdoors in a tent for Christmas is total bullshit and not cool at all (no pun intended).

          2. This is why I love my Albertan family very much, but I am dead set on settling on an island on the BC coast, even though I find the prospect of building a local social network from scratch very daunting. This whole “snow max 2wks/yr” concept is very deeply magical.

        2. I don’t know if there’s a diplomatic way to suggest this, or if this is something you want to bother with, but is there any way you could clear out one or two of those bedrooms? If your in-laws are elderly, they might be coming up on those watersheds anyway, and you all may need to truck over there for some emergency. I think that since you’re bowing out of Christmas (and maybe other visits?) it would not be impolite to make the ultimatum explicit.

        3. As someone who opted out of hols with my (perfectly lovely but very far away) in-laws this year, I toast you with my glass of alone wine!

    4. What. The. Frak.

      Seriously? On the ground?

      Your partner’s mom “can’t let go of hosting” but has no problem letting loved ones sleep on the GROUND? A big part of hosting is making sure your guests are comfortable and feel that their needs are being tended to. NOT making them feel that they are less important than stuff that is being hoarded in potential sleeping spaces. Partner’s mom seems way more interested in the convenience/bragging rights of having the holidays at her home. I hope you’re able to break out of this cycle soon.

    5. A fucking TENT? When there are BEDROOMS? Why not put the “stuff” in the tent? Jesus. I can’t even.

      (This is like a way more dysfunctional version of the other recent CA letter about sleeping situations.)

  31. I’m so sorry, LW. What an awful thing to endure. I’m glad you’ve decided you no longer have to subject yourself to that.

    The point where I got most ragey on your behalf was when your husband and BiL tried to address it with MiL and said she didn’t know why she refused to speak with you. My fiction writer’s imagination kicked in, and I thought of something that might: a) be a shock for MiL and therefore useful or b) just another example of my evil genius for passive aggressive moves that I never make 99% of the time but amuse me while I stew. I’m not the best judge of which at the moment, sitting here with a freshly broken hand.

    Now that I’ve disclaimered, here’s the idea: What if husband or BiL asks again why MiL is shunning you, and when she says she doesn’t know, he says, “Mom, this total change in your treatment of LW and the fact you don’t even know why really concern me. I’d like you to see a doctor to see if you might be facing a case of early-onset dementia.” It’s kind of an awful thing to put out there, but might bring home the fact that the way she is behaving is not normal and claiming she doesn’t have any knowledge of why she’s acting this way just makes it worse.

    It is probably a terrible idea, and this isn’t Captain Passive-Aggression, after all, but it’s clear that MiL does speak fluent passive-aggressive.

    1. That sounds extremely not cool :/
      Making light of dementia as a tactic in passive-agressiveness is just ICKY.
      Do not recommend.

      1. My Mom has pretty severe brain damage, and so, as a result, any behavioral quirk is constantly put down to her having some new brain deterioration. (I’m the one arguing that it is probably just depression or stress, my dad is always going on about “mini strokes” when she starts to get argumentative. Ugh, Parents.)

        So as a result, I guess I don’t think this is really that bad? It IS actually a legitimate concern, if she can’t articulate why she’s decided to shun one member of the family to the rest of the family? Especially if she’s had other behavioral changes it’s actually a fairly rational response. Dementia as well as some other brain related diseases can start out with behaviors that just look like someone being kind of a bitch.

        If nothing else her family taking her at her word that she just suddenly hates one family member for no apparent reason, is a great reason to push someone into therapy. If she continues to refuse to articulate a reason they can badger her about her mental health because that’s “not normal” until she either admits to the problem, stops doing it, or goes to see a therapist.

        1. Don’t confuse “can’t” and “doesn’t want to”.

          Also there is no indication that the MIL has changed how she treats anyone else; also, dammit, even LW accepts that she has a right to cut off contact, even if she’s doing it cruelly.

          For the love, if you discovered that a friend you’d previously liked and trusted and felt comfortable with said something you thought was shockingly unacceptable to both you and your life partner, and you decided that you simply couldn’t stand to deal with them, how okay do you think it would be for people to start badgering (badgering! seriously!) you with the “you’re doing something I don’t understand, let’s check you for being mentally ill” line?

          1. I’m not confused. I’m like 95% sure she doesn’t want to say, because she knows that it’s probably a stupid reason and that everyone is going to be like “mom, really?”

            And while YES, it is totally the MIL’s right to not be BFFs anymore, it is not okay for her to freeze out her daughter in law at family events, or even expect her to be at family events anymore. For her to just arbitrarily end this relationship, with no warning, no chance to redeem herself, no absolveing her of family obligations, it’s cruel.

            If someone that I liked said something I didn’t like and we stopped being friends (which has happened) and people asked me why, I would say “Because they said something I thought showed a weakness of character I could not tolerate and now we try to minimize our contact with them.” Or whatever. I may not repeat it word for word if I didn’t want to cause drama, but I would be perfectly capable of providing a cogent reason for my coolness.

            So people would have no REASON to badger me, because I wouldn’t be holding some imaginary unspecified slight over someone’s head and cutting them out of not just my friendship but my family.

            Members of my family say things I do not like literally all the time. (ALL THE TIME) And while I will redirect the conversation or call out their behavior, I don’t actually drop them. My cousin really dislikes my father, and she still manages to be polite at family events. And if you ask her why she can tell you the precise moment she decided to have as little to do with him as possible. (and you’ll be like, yeah man, dick move.)

            Family is not the same as friends. Yes, people can and do and totally have a right to not spend time with their family. But singling out one family member for a freeze out treatment and taking none of the burden of that decision onto yourself?

            I think treating a family member, especially an in law with sudden rudeness deserves and explanation. When your explanation is something like “I don’t really know why, we just don’t talk anymore” you are choosing to behave irrationally, lying, or have a mental illness.

            At the bare minimum I would be badgering her to see a counselor. (Because as my family notes I think therapy is the solution for everything. Though that is not true, I just think it is the solution for acting like you need therapy.) She is the one with the problem here, and yet the LW suffers because we don’t want to hurt the MIL’s feelings about her sudden decision to be a bitch?

            I guess I’m just not that nice. (I take after my dad.)

          2. Damn nesting, but:

            The freezing out is different from the explanation.

            Seriously, hasn’t this blog covered enough about “closure is not something someone else gives you” and “breakups get to happen when one person wants them to happen” (and, additionally, “yes, someone repeatedly digging for explanations for you freezing them out is understandable but not [em]de facto[/em] okay”)?

            I think the MIL’s behaviour deserves an explanation. (I’m pretty sure an explanation would not make the LW feel better–I mean, the least possibly devaluing one is “your FIL screams at me in private every time I talk to you and I just cannot handle it and please don’t tell anyone because I am trying to deal with this without him tearing into me any more, no you can’t help, go away” and everything else just gets more into the “you’re right, I really didn’t value you that much” territory–but I think it deserves an explanation.) However, an explanation is not forthcoming.

            When an explanation is not forthcoming for a breakup, it does not mean you get to bully for one.

            “No.” is a complete sentence that answers a question of whether you want to do something. “I don’t know” is a complete sentence that answers a question of why you want to do something. It might be a lie. That happens. It`s a shitty former sentence to deliver to a former friend, but it is still a complete sentence, and using the hammer of “well prove you’re not mentally ill” in response is more than a “not that nice” thing to do.

      2. I left a reply to this yesterday, but it never appeared. I was not making light of dementia, but it came off like I was, and I apologize. I actually do think there could be an possibility of some physical element in such a drastic change (in absence of no known family dynamic) but I was trying to avoid the diagnosis-by-internet. It happened in my extended family after an uncle had a stroke, which I’d forgotten until after I made the original post.

        Bottom line, though, is that despite my intentions I came off as making light of a terrible disease, and I apologize.

    2. Finding the courage to face the discussion of the possibility of dementia is an incredibly painful and often-grief filled process that my family has had to undergo twice in the last six years with very close relatives – my grandmother, who actually passed away last week, and my great-aunt. It involves coming to the realization that you will slowly lose this person to a fog of mental confusion.

      I find it really sickening and horrifying that you think this is something that could be lightly tossed into a nasty familial situation as a way to jar someone out of their purposeful nastiness. Please, please don’t make light of a life-altering illness that affects entire families.

      1. My apologies. I didn’t intend to make light of dementia but it came off as if I did. It just struck me that this kind of cruel behavior without reason seems terribly not normal. I didn’t want to be diagnosing-by-internet, but it did occur to me as I wrote this that her behavior could be a symptom. And since then I remembered it happened in my own family, when an uncle who had a stroke became very cruel to his grandson, after years of closeness.

        I have had beloved family members lost to this disease also, and it is a terrible thing. I’m very sorry that I caused you distress, and I am sorry to hear of your grandmother’s death.

  32. This happened to me. Very early in my relationship with my ex my in-laws started shunning me and giving me the silent treatment, ignoring me, talking around me, not responding when I spoke. It was particularly awkward because it began when we were visiting them in their home.

    There are a couple of things I want to share with the LW from my experience in case they are relevant to hers.

    It was very frustrating to me not to understand why it was happening. I understand how very upsetting that can be. When I did get an explanation several weeks later, it didn’t make any sense. Over time I came to understand that it wasn’t about me at all. It was something my FIL did when he felt he wasn’t getting enough attention. The script was that everyone else in the family then had to cluster around him listening to his grievances and soothing and supporting and cajoling him until he “forgave” whoever he had singled out to be ostracized. Until next time.

    Over the years I watched him do it many times, to many different family members on various flimsy pretexts. It was never about any real offense, it was one of a number of family scripts that were about the FIL needing to be the center of attention.

    So the first thing I want to share with you is that it may not be about you at all. It may be about some other family member needing to have the power to include or exclude people.

    The second thing is that when I decided (very early on) that I wasn’t putting up with being randomly excluded from family life with maximum drama whenever my FIL was feeling unappreciated, I got a LOT of pushback from the rest of the family for not playing along. Because it was an old and established pattern. They all knew their steps in the dance and why couldn’t I just learn the dang steps and dance along?

    If this is what is happening to you, be prepared for some pressure to play along, and get some Team You support lined up to help you deal with that.

    Best of luck!

  33. I find it curious that the contents of the argument were left out of the story. I would have to wonder if they are somehow relevant. People don’t usually yell “Fuck you” at other people for no real reason. Maybe the LW gave an opinion about something or someone that was not well received? Maybe Mother-In-Law learned something about the LW that changed the relationship for her in some way? It would have been nice if the LW had provided more details because I think they are the key the story.

    1. At best, such context could make MIL’s silent treatment more understandable or sympathetic. It still wouldn’t explain why she won’t tell LW what the problem is.

      And honestly, I don’t think it’s likely that the context justifies the behavior. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that LW did something truly awful. Let’s say she screamed racial epithets at FIL. If that were the case, would MIL say “I don’t know” when asked why she was freezing LW out? No. She would say, “Because LW screamed racial epithets at my husband. Was that not painfully obvious?”

    2. Well, the LW didn’t want to go into that part of the story and I respect that. I assume it’s because it’s not really relevant. Even if they said something that ticked FIL off, no one’s resolved this with LW for over a year. So even if they did fuck up (which I don’t really think), no one is prepared to talk to LW about it. That means, the Captain’s advice still stands. LW even said they tried every way to get in contact again and MIL was asked what the problem was. MIL could’ve easily said “The way you treated FIL was not okay.” (which I am pretty sure was not the case b/c MIL defended LW in front of FIL). So.

    3. Fair enough. I would be curious about that myself, if I had read this about someone else. Long story short, FIL expressed some racist opinions (while I just kinda sat there stunned), and then later, a controversial topic came up, and the in laws expressed a very odd, uninformed opinion about said topic. So I was asking questions, like “what do you mean by that?” and “there is a long history about why we have laws about this now” etc. The conversation became frustrating, so I got up, stacked up a bunch of glasses, and said I needed to go to bed. And that is when FIL yelled the cuss words at me. It was totally shocking, as he had never shown even a hint of temper before. And he was immediately sorry, and he cried and apologized.

      1. Okay, this is more and more sounding to me what I described in another comment, where FIL is at the root of this, MIL is acting out what she believes to be his wishes out of fear, and that’s why she says things like, “I don’t know,” in response to being asked why.

        “I don’t know,” is a frequent response of people who do know the exact answer to the question, but are afraid of the consequences if they say so.

        FIL behaved really appallingly in more ways than one, but the dynamic here is that you are absolutely not allowed to be angry at FIL in any way or to think he looks bad in any way. Hence the insta-tears apology once he realized you weren’t going to take what he was dishing out (good for you).

        It’s not uncommon for such a person to have an anger proxy — someone else to act out their aggression — so they can go on being the “good guy” and appear perfectly amiable while still having their temper rule.

        The whole thing was a test — he was testing to see what nastiness on his part you would accept. It didn’t go the way he wanted — you were supposed to listen to his bigotry and ignorance with an appearance of respect for how right he must be. You didn’t.

        He tried a temper tantrum to scare you back into line. It didn’t take.

        So the big wailing apology. And look — it worked. You were right back to being fine with him.

        Except there were two problems: 1) You have to be punished for questioning his rightness and not backing down to his temper, and 2) You have to be kept off-balance, confused, and distracted so you don’t notice any more ugliness on his part, since you can’t be kept from questioning it if you notice it. But since you’ll notice and question it if he goes after you further, someone else has to do it.

        And MIL has to live with this guy. There are undoubtedly a thousand ways for him to get at her if she doesn’t make this all better and comfortable for him, and what makes him comfortable is everyone seeing him as the good guy while you still get punished and kept distracted by obvious hostility.

        That doesn’t make MIL’s behavior okay or in any way suggest that you put up with it. It just means reasoning with her or asking her why cannot possibly work.

        1. THIS.

          It’s a dynamic you see a lot, like with the Aunt and Uncle I mentioned upthread. Your FIL wants to have his way in all things, but at the same time seem to be the Good Guy.

          If repair work is possible it needs to be with him and not her since he’s the one who is maintaining the rage. And if it is achieved her hostility to you may well vanish overnight. Having said that, I doubt that it can be.

        2. The scenario that’s been running through my head (no way to tell if it’s true or not) is the FIL saying privately to MIL, “I bet you like DIL way more than me. I bet you’re on her side, you both think I’m an awful person. The two of you are such good friends you’re going to get together and shut me out completely.” So the MIL’s behaviour is her way of demonstrating her “loyalty” to her husband, to say, “No, of course not! See, I’m not even speaking to her at all! That proves I still love you (and there’s no need to get upset or abusive again).”

          1. That could be dead on, sadly. MIL smiles and says hello to LW == MIL has to hear weeks of sarcasm in private about her “BEST FRIEND” every time she says anything at all.

            MIL: “I went grocery shopping today.” FIL: “Oh is that what your BEST FRIEND told you to do? Did you go to a –approved store that your BEST FRIEND told you about?”

            And so on.

            The person who does this does it not only if the person in MIL’s position speaks to the person in LW’s position, but if the person in LW’s position speaks to the person in MIL’s position. At all. It may take the form of sarcasm, or suspicion, or any other form that allows the person in FIL’s position to harp endlessly on the topic in order to simply wear down the person in MIL’s position.

            My mother tried this stunt on me once when I was a teenager. My aunt came to my graduation, and said something like, “Oh hi Hel.”

            At home afterwards, I had to endure a very long grilling over that one snippet of speech. Did my aunt always call me by that nickname? Was that her secret name for me? How was it that we were in so much contact that my aunt had a secret code name for me? How was this all going on behind my mother’s back since we hadn’t been telling her about all this secret contact with secret code names? And on. And on. And on.

            Reality: The only times I had seen my aunt in the last few years were for the couple of graduation events she came to. I hadn’t noticed that she’d called me by a shortened form of my name, because she did that with everybody.

            I’m sure my mother knew that — she was neither crazy nor stupid. She just didn’t want me talking to my aunt, so she was going to dish out stalking/harping if I so much as spoke to her or even if she spoke to me.

            (It didn’t work. Two weeks later my aunt suggested I could live in her basement for the summer. I jumped at the chance.)

        3. Yeah. I was thinking this. When someone you are close to makes you miserable about maintaining a relationship with someone [em]else[/em] you are close to, oh dear god, freezing up and having the “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t want to think about this” reaction is not unheard of.

          (Bonus points if the two someones are doing it at the same time. Which is not, I hasten to add, apparently the case here.)

      2. OK…that makes what I thought might have happened more plausible. My suspicion would be that MIL and FIL thought that you were on the same page as them regarding a topic that is Very Important to them, perhaps more important to them than it is to you. I think MIL and FIL were initially embarrassed that he reacted in that manner, so the apology was because he blew up at you. However, I would wonder if once the dust settled, one or perhaps both of them may have realized there was a large gulf between their beliefs and your beliefs. To me, this treatment of you smacks of a “this person is not who I thought they were” sort of response. Maybe MIL also felt betrayed and disrespected because someone she felt close to judged and/or questioned her or her husband’s beliefs. Maybe that is not “done” in their family. It is possible that she’s not even in touch with what she is upset about, hence the “I don’t know” response. I mean, who is going to admit, “I’m angry with her because she dared to question me?” or, “I’m angry with her because she made me feel wrong and stupid?”

        If they are not willing to talk about it with you, I don’t think you have any choice but to not visit. If it were me, I would probably make a last-ditch effort by extending an “I’m sorry this ugliness happened” type of apology. My guess is that they feel as though FIL was provoked and disrespected in some way. They may have felt that when he apologized, you should have apologized in return because your behavior was equally wrong. Not because it really was, but because that’s how things work in their world.

  34. My family has this problem…my Mom’s side of the family treats everyone like crap. My Aunt started snarling and making passive aggressive comments about me when I was 10. Sadly, because of this feeling of duty and familial responsibility we carried on doing holidays for another 12 years. My Dad did try to get of stuff, but it took a long time for my mom to be able to realize that he didn’t have to accept that sort of treatment and even longer for her to realize she didn’t either. Our holidays are SO MUCH better now that we don’t spend them with that part of the family.
    Family who treat you like total crap are unlikely to change. My family had my entire life and never did. And they certainly won’t change if you sit quietly and take whatever they throw at you because you think you “have” to. You don’t. You deserve to be treated with respect and have the right to leave situations in which you don’t. Don’t put yourself through years of misery.
    HOWEVER- be careful of how you phrase this to your husband. It’s the “they are awful but they are FAMILY” syndrome and I know with my mom, even when she recognized how awful they were, she got really angry and defensive when anyone else mentioned it. I am not sure what the best way to broach it is though….in our family it only stopped causing tension when my mom’s family was so awful to her even she couldn’t stand it anymore, and she realized she shouldn’t expect the rest of us to either.
    So while it is nice to say that your husband should be your advocate…it may feel like pitting him against his family to him. So while I would change what you do, I would be hesitant to ask him to jump in and try to change things right away…see if he volunteers, and if e doesn’t, give him some time.

  35. before taking leave of the family, i might have the urge to spend just one gathering sitting next to the MIL and doing my best impression of miss bates from emma (continuous talker; doesn’t stop for breath). probably a bad idea, but would amuse me and feed my need for vengeance if i was in this situation.

    1. i love that idea. i would also add the possibility of going in costume, just to see if they can ignore an evil clown, princess leia, a zombie or other fanastical creature.

  36. I also have a rather fraught relationship with my in-laws for a variety of reasons, and there are times when I just can’t deal with their particular brand of awfulness. On those occasions, I find that I have other things to do when my husband goes to visit them, or I take the opportunity to visit my family, or friends I don’t see often.

    Personally, I think that solo visits to family (and friends!) are really healthy, even when there isn’t drama. It gives each person a chance to connect (or reconnect) with parents or other family members on a solo basis. Maybe reframing your husband’s upcoming solo visits with his family in this way can help you feel more comfortable with the idea?

    But I agree with the Captain and everyone else. Shunning is considered very potent punishment in a lot of cultures for a reason, and your MIL is being very hurtful. Take some time away for yourself, and take care of yourself. I would also be very clear with your husband about what you need for yourself, what you need from him, and what you will be doing in the future. My husband is a people-pleaser, and he hates conflict, so while he wants to protect me, he also wants his parents to be happy, and sometimes those two goals do not work well together. I had to frame it partly as, “For my own sanity, I cannot go anywhere this weekend. If I don’t get some alone time, I will not be responsible for my actions,” and partly as, “I think you should go bond with your parents solo. I will be doing this other thing (like work).”

    It also helped for me to state it in terms of what I needed. You’re not punishing your husband or your in-laws; you’re acting in your own best interests. You can’t make your MIL like you, or speak to you, but you also don’t have to subject yourself to her silent treatment.

    *jedi hugs* Good luck.

  37. I am going to agree with the many posters who wonder where your husband is in all of this. I think that we have socialized men to be oblivious (or to pretend to be oblivious) to the “woman stuff” that happens “behind the scenes”. Maybe you need to be a “squeaky wheel” so this stuff isn’t happening where he can’t see it (or where he can pretend to not see it).

    I am going to make a suggestion from my perspective as a person who dislikes my BiL (my sister’s husband). My BiL is one of those people who cannot have a conversation. He will lecture. At length. On any subject. Especially those he knows nothing about. Gentle redirection doesn’t work. The only thing that works is getting up and leaving the room. We had a party at our parents’ lakehouse this summer. The conversation turned to insurance. My sister works in insurance, and a man at the party had undergone treatment for cancer, so he had a lot of experience with dealing with hospitals and insurance. So they were discussing the issue. My BiL, who knows nothing about insurance and in fact only has insurance b/c of my sister’s job, interupts to pontificate at length about a topic he knows nothing about. So people one by one get up and leave. He keeps talking. Until out of 20 people who were initially sitting around enjoying the conversation, there is just him and the poor sucker who failed to jump ship fast enough. At one point my sister mentioned that this bothered her, and we asked her what we should do. We don’t shun him – we talk to him, greet him, etc. But when he enters “lecture mode” we just leave the room, or we tune him out and talk to other people. We asked her if there was a polite way we could let him know he was lecturing, and she admitted that he got really mad when she did it, so there was no way we could do it.

    So, after that long story, my suggestion is that you ask your husband about your MiL’s behavior. Ask him if you think that you have done something to warrant her being upset with you, and try to listen calmly and with an open mind. From your post, I don’t think this is the case – you sound loving and pleasant. But it sounds like you would like to return to a warm relationship with your MiL, so I think perhaps such a discussion with your hsuband might be helpful.

    And if he says, “No, you have always been nice to my mom and my family” then he needs to be prepared to support you.

  38. I agree with the Captain. I recently set some boundaries in a situation with my family that had some similarities to this one. And as CA suggested might happen, the end results are not… ideal, but they are better than all the hand-wringing and second-guessing and stepping around the missing stair that I’d been doing (which wasn’t actually helping anyway, as seems to be the case with you as well).

    There’s one question I have about your situation that I don’t think anyone else has asked. For me, there was a strong feeling of “If I can make this person like me, I have Won Something” going on in my head. What the something was, who knows. But I felt strongly that *I* was somehow a failure for “allowing” this person to feel disdain for me and utter indifference for my feelings. Do you have something similar going on here?

    It took a therapist to finally get me to realize that even if I could “make” this person like me and treat me like a human, it wouldn’t actually make me… anything, really. It wouldn’t mean I was a better or worthier person. *It would only mean that I had successfully molded myself to this person’s expectations.* This person I didn’t particularly like anyway. Ain’t that some shit? Once I had that breakthrough, it became a lot easier to write off all hope of that person’s love and approval, cut my losses, and opt for civility. And that’s what I’ve got. Like I said, it’s not ideal. Family gatherings are still wicked uncomfortable. But I cannot stress enough how much more peaceful I feel now that I don’t feel as though this person’s approval would actually *mean* something to me and to my life. You could twist yourself into knots trying to please this woman, and all it would mean is that you’re more comfortable twisting yourself into knots to please a person who’s not very nice to you than you are with demanding the respect you deserve.

    *hugs* LW. I really sympathize with what you’re going through and I hope you come to some kind of resolution soon.

  39. I’m not keen on the husband going off to family events, leaving the LW, who has been transformed into a goat, behind.

    If LW’s husband does not back her 100%, 100% of the time, in this, he is consenting to his family’s appalling treatment. Condoning it, and even helping out if he goes off to family events without her and leaves her home alone. This is utterly unacceptable behavior for adults.

    If LW stays home from the family events, husband ought also to be absent until MiL and whoever else is playing these head games explicitly invites LW.

    This sounds like a really ugly, cowed crowd of not-actually-nice in-laws. Fake nice, sure, but don’t presume to disagree with the patriarch. I suspect that FiL is an abusive piece of work who has actually engineered the whole thing, and LW and her husband will be better off severely limiting their contact.

    1. I agree with you. I disagree very strongly with the comments that say “well, she can’t ask her husband not to go”. The bare minimum that I would expect from a partner is that they neither abuse me nor tolerate other people abusing me.

      1. YES! That is a baseline decent common courtesy request, that your partner neither abuses you personally, nor stands idly by letting other people do it. That’s actually on my ‘list’ of non-negotiables if I ever dare to date (much less marry!) ever again. Thanks for pointing that out, Zee.

    2. I am far more comfortable with suggestion that both spouses avoid contact when the sticking points are sins of commission, rather than sins of omission. (I think “silent treatment” does qualify as an active thing, but it’s not clear to me that the LW’s real problem isn’t “loss of friendship”.)

      If you run a cost/benefit on the options, there’s some fairly steep costs associated with both halves of the couple making a clean break – not least of all that you then trash your credibility if you reverse the decision prematurely. In my life, the cost of sending husband alone is pretty low – I enjoy having the house to myself, and he isn’t visiting them often in any case. I can see that it swings the other way for some couples, but I think it’s only a betrayal if you make it one.

  40. One of the best things I’ve done for myself in recent years was give myself permission not to interact with people who make me feel like crap.

    And that sounds like such a simple thing, that people shouldn’t need permission FOR, but oh, we so often deny it to ourselves. There’s been a rift between my siblings and I for many years, and an even bigger rift between myself and a certain cousin. But I was constantly pressured to attend gatherings because, you know, faaaaaamilly. I was also constantly told that if I did react and say something to them about their behavior, that meant I was letting them ‘win.’

    Writing it down, it’s so easy to see it for the bullshit nonsense it is. But it’s different when you’re living it, and when you feel that your ability to put up with abusive is somehow noble because it keeps things comfortable for others.

    It’s not noble…it’s just sad and cruel and if people want to use faaaaamilly as a battle cry, then they’re obligated to treat you like you are family. They can’t have it both ways.

  41. LW, I’m sorry. That sucks.

    A thing that I found exceptionally useful in a vaguely analogous situation was to frame it like this: It isn’t my job to fix this woman/situation. In fact, when I thought about it that way, I realizing it was kinda arrogant of me to have spent fifteen years trying to fix my mom. I felt a giddy rush of relief on the day when I said, “I quit.”

    So what I did was accept the situation and arrange my life so that the emotional damage to me was minimized. The Cap’s excellent advice seem like excellent steps towards that.

    That said, since I’m from a passive-aggressive family in which nothing is ever dealt with directly, I can offer one other note: When/if you stop going to family things, if this was my family, someone (the MIL) would say to your spouse, “But where is [LW] today?” in this shocked or concerned tone. As if she was truly surprised that you weren’t there. Or even outraged.

    And if that’s the case, you may want to practice scripts with your spouse as responses. Depending on a wide variety of factors, those scripts might range from “She had other obligations,” (you know, like not getting emotionally battered) to “Well, you treat her very badly and don’t talk to her when she’s here, so she decided not to come.”

    I am really sorry your in-laws are treating you badly and I hope you find some resolution that helps you heal.

    1. “When/if you stop going to family things, if this was my family, someone (the MIL) would say to your spouse, “But where is [LW] today?” in this shocked or concerned tone. As if she was truly surprised that you weren’t there. Or even outraged.”

      This is very true and the reaction is based on two problems:

      1) You’re breaking the faaaaamily script, which is, “It doesn’t matter how mean I am to you, you have no right to object or prevent it. This is the way it is.” All of their operating systems are based on this principle.

      2) You’re taking away their scapegoat. They’ve spent so much time believing that their family relationships/gatherings would be perfect if you weren’t around. And when you remove yourself from the situation, they’re left with nothing to blame the tension and dysfunction on. They can’t admit that there’s something wrong with the way they interact with each other, so they blame you again for removing yourself and disrupting the norm.

      They’re going to be mad at you no matter what you do, so you might as well do what makes you happy and comfortable.

  42. this situation is truly horrible, from my experience I would add that you can drive yourself nuts trying to figure out the motivations of MIL FIL and the whole loony mob. Spare yourself the angst, if you can, it would be more productive if you devoted some (or all?) of that energy into finding ways in which you can protect yourself from their shunning. As the Captain says, you are not obligated to spend time with them, good boundaries would help, hiding their status etc on FB may give you peace of mind.

    but one thing chimes with me (and this could be just my projections) when I was married, I never felt that my ex-husband had my back, that always felt like a small betrayal (at times it felt like a big betrayal). It seems to me that while it is bad enough to have shitty treatment from his family, his apparent acceptance the shunning is the toxic cherry on the shitheap.

    Some of the ‘what is going on with them’ analysis energy could perhaps be directed into finding ways to sit down with your husband and tell him what you need from him, I don’t mean an ‘it’s them or me’ ultimatum, but some ways in which he can demonstrate that he has your back.

  43. LW, unlike you, I’ve never had a good relationship with my husband’s parents. I felt sorry for MIL, being married to FIL for 50 years (he’s a narcissist, and he’s mean), but she doesn’t like me, and now she has dementia so she doesn’t know what’s going on (which may actually be a blessing in disguise). FIL reminds me of my (Darth Vader) mother, so needless to say, we don’t get along.

    My in-laws live 600 miles away, so any visit is a very long drive. About 2 yrs ago, I started letting Spouse go without me. Because the drive is so unpleasant (and he can’t switch off with me), and because he doesn’t really enjoy spending time with them either, the visits are getting shorter. Meanwhile, I’m home enjoying myself.

    I don’t miss any of the drama or getting ignored or being made fun of for having PTSD, as we now celebrate quiet Thanksgivings *and* Christmases.

    Stay home, and don’t feel guilty. Take care of YOU.

  44. “1) admit how bad it is and how broken things are 2) grieve and be really nice to yourself, which includes taking a lot of time away from the situation 3) put up a buffer between you and the badness (so you’re not looking at these Facebook posts and choking down Silent Treatment Pie and The Mashed Potatoes of Guilt and Trepidation), and 4) Reach out to and be around people who make you feel good.”

    BRB, tattooing that on my forehead.

    I am not personally a fan of developing close relationships with the parents of partners or friends because it’s been my experience that those relationships can get into icky territory (like my MIL asking about our sex life/telling me about hers, yikes). I am sure that the LW’s relationship with her MIL was not originally weird and boundary-crossing, but I wanted to reassure her that in the future if things cool off and MIL starts acting like a proper human again, that keeping a bit of distance doesn’t have to hurt or be a bad thing. You probably won’t be able to get back to where you were before, but you may be able to achieve a new normal that everyone can live with. Best of luck, LW, this sounds like a really painful situation, one that I am unfortunately familiar with myself 😦

  45. I don’t think the MiL is under any obligation to have a nice, happy, friendly relationship with the LW if she doesn’t want to. Much advice given on this very blog suggests cutting off relationships with people who are making us unhappy.

    But of course the LW has no obligation to attempt to create a happy, friendly relationship with someone who clearly has no interest in being in one. I think it is good advice to give up on trying on that score.

    I know it hurts lots to have people decide to cut you out of their lives. But I think it goes easier if you reciprocate the “cutting out” and move on, rather than struggle to “make it better”.

    if we’re playing “mind read the MiL over the internet” I’d take a stab in the dark and say that whatever it was the LW said to provoke being yelled at to “fuck off” was something that was very hurtful to the FiL (I’m not saying it was a bad thing, I have no idea, maybe the FiL is a horrid bigot and the LW was just standing up for the rights of gay people to marry… for an example from my own family life) for whatever reason. The FiL apologised for the swearing; perhaps they are awaiting an apology for the sentiment that provoked it (“oh, I’m so sorry I implied gay people were worthy of rights FiL; in future I will keep my politics out of your house” …. words that will never pass my lips for sure). I don’t suggest apologising unless you are actually sorry; but if you work out what it was that was so offensive to them maybe you might either a)be sorry about it or b)discover that they hold views incompatible with your own and that you are better off cutting them out of your life.

  46. From my own experience, I think it’s important that LW feel like her husband is on the same page with her. This kind of thing can wear down a relationship over time.

    When I was still married, I liked my in-laws, but they had ironclad rituals that everyone was expected to participate in that I didn’t enjoy, which had begun when their offspring were still children and which they expected to continue forever, even through the addition of new inlaws and grandchildren. Everyone must go on vacation together once a year, location to be determined by that year’s host family and activities to be participated in consisting of swimming and tennis (I don’t play tennis, so I wrangled twin toddlers for hours while everyone else played). Everyone must get together every Christmas, even if that means flying across the country every year at great expense and half the time getting stuck in distant airports and losing luggage. Everyone must sing religious carols around the piano, even those who aren’t Christian and don’t much enjoy singing. My husband must play the piano for everyone to sing carols, even if that means I have to wrangle twin toddlers for two hours on my own (because none of the other parents present ever helped out with anyone else’s children other than their own, all of whom were older). Everyone also must visit the aged neighbors’ house for carol singing, where again husband will play the piano for hours and I will wrangle twin toddlers by myself in an unchildproofed house filled with ceramic knickknacks. And, everyone must eat at my former MIL’s favorite German restaurant every year, even if German food shreds my digestive tract.

    As an outsider, I didn’t feel like I had the power to negotiate any changes to this cherished lineup of family activities. And I felt hamstrung because everyone was so nice — who can complain about carol singing, or family dinners, or get-togethers? Any requests to my ex on how we might change these situations to make them tolerable to me were met with, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go.” I was the one with the problem, as far as he saw it, and that’s a big reason we’re not together anymore. And whenever the family vacation comes around, or the big Christmas get-together comes around, I’m glad not to have to be there.

  47. As someone who has been on the receiving end of sudden silent treatment for no reason I have this to say: That is supremely bad behaviour to which you have responded admirably LW and you have every right to stop trying. People have the right to stop liking you, but not to act like children about it. It’s damaging, immature behaviour and it’s just plain rude. You don’t deserve it, and they don’t deserve you.

  48. Dear LW:

    I am so, so sorry for you. I had a friend that I’d been seeing a little less, and then we had an awkward conversation face-to-face one day, and then I found out when I went to reread one of her LJ posts–a funny, silly, happy thing that the rereading of had been a touchstone for me for a while–that she’d unfriended me, and then I cried for three days, and we basically haven’t talked since.

    That was nearly two years ago.

    I cried a lot, for a while. I felt dumb and ashamed and stupid, and embarrassed that I hadn’t… hadn’t been worth even having a fight with, if that makes sense. That I’d just been quietly given up on, and I wasn’t sure why.

    I didn’t try the overtures; I was afraid to. You’re braver than me, and I’m sorry that wasn’t enough to make things better. You don’t deserve this hurt.

    I don’t know how you can come to accept it. For me, honestly, it took a while. Part of it was reading this blog. Part of it was going through another friend-breakup nearly a year later, and thinking a lot that if I could get through this (because the second one hurt less, afterwards, although not in the moment), I could get through that.

    (Part of the second friend-breakup was occasional spiteful fantasies about knitting them an African Violet and sending it to them and getting to explain what it meant. That would have been a horrible thing to do. I am glad I never did. I would like myself much less.)

    None of that is useful, maybe. For getting over grudges (which if you feel obsessed is maybe what this is), what I have found helps, sometimes, is to get the feelings out. Not get them to the person that caused the feelings, but get them out. Cry into a pillow. Ask a friend if you can bend their ear for half an hour (making sure they understand this is not “please help me solve this” it is “I have to say this is not right”.) Write a letter saying your MIL is being mean to you and you hate it and then put it in an envelope and address it to Nowhere Woman at 000 Nowhere Street, Fictional Place, Different Country and then drop it in a mailbox with no stamp.

    Sometimes if you do a Solid Thing with your anger, it helps.

    For getting over the hurt: the Captain is right, about grieving. It is not fair or good, how you are being treated by these people. I am sorry, and I hope you have more and other and better people around you who treat you kindly, as you deserve. I hope you can live with and around them, they will support you and be honest with you, and you will feel better, and you will not be picked and torn at by the people who are shunning you this way.

  49. I have a few ideas as to what might have happened, the primary one being that maybe the in – laws are just very, very ashamed/embarrassed about what happened and are handling it by unfairly excluding you. If they pretend you’re not there, they don’t have that reminder of what they did.

    It’s not fair that you have to pay for their misdeeds, but I think the Captain’s advice is pretty spot on for how to handle it.

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