Fed up.
November 22, 2010 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand/deal with my in law's

I need some perspective on my situation here. I’ve found myself uncomfortable several times when dealing with my in-laws, and especially with my husband’s sister. I honestly feel like they are a bit batty, but since I’m just one person, I need your opinion and advice. This is a long story. Apologies.
First of all, we’re both mid-twenties. Husband’s dad is the center of his family and the decision maker, and as such, coaxed husband to buy a house right next to his, which is where we’re living. I am so in love with husband, and husband is so drastic when it comes to privacy, that I thought it would not be as bad as one would think. In some ways, it wasn’t, but in some, it definitely looks like a bad decision. They have the horrible habit of opening our front door as if it was their home, and twice they have actually walked into the house while we were having sex. These both have been traumatic experiences for me (they didn’t see anything, but they heard, or suspected, and it was horrible for husband and me). What boggles my mind, is that both times THEY have been offended by it, saying that we should learn to lock the door (how about, don’t enter someone else’s house without being invited in?) I feel like it’s incredible that I have to defend my right to have sex at peace with my husband in my house. It’s completely surreal to me. They also love to call our house
But this is not the worst part. I feel in love with husband and, even though I had a career and a decent standard of living, decided to move to the US with him, because I speak English and have possibilities here. So I moved here, got a job and my relationship is simply great…with my husband. The neighbors (parents-in-law, plus sister), think it’s OK to have little conventions about me where they invite husband and put him through inquisition about my faults. They invite him, and I await at home knowing what’s happening all along. They speak an eastern European language, which means that even if I’m there, they can discuss me without me knowing. Sometimes I feel very lonely while they speak for long intervals in a language I don’t understand. Husband is between the sword and a hard place on this one. On the weeks before our wedding, sister in law filled our tiny place with pictures of her. This is no joke. Our place is tiny, but we had at least ten pictures of her, all over the house, which had no other pictures except for one of us together. Anyway, among the issues that sister in law has brought up for discussion are:

Since my parents are wealthy and have maids, I won’t be able to clean the house properly.

Since I come from a religious background, I will try to proselytize on husband and drive him away from his family (I come from a religious family, but I’m actually an atheist, like husband)

Since I decided to use an implant, and she thinks we should we having babies yesterday, she disapproves.

I organized a new year trip with sister in law and sister in law’s boyfriend. In 4 days, they did not speak 3 times in English. When I did small talk, they interrupted me in their own language, and reduced me to the point in which I spent New Year’s day alone crying in the bath. Husband thought he had to be nice to them because they were guests, so he didn’t say anything.

I know these seem like tiny things, but these issues are talked about behind my back, with husband trapped next door, and with two hour long rants from sister in law, who’s quite the hysterical type. She screams cries and moans and complains. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even invited to my trials. Husband listens to them and decides to not speak to them for a month to show them they cannot manipulate him into submission, but things eventually end up just like before. Sister in law loves to talk about our house as "her brother's house" even though I make decent money and contribute to our lovely tiny household, too. This seems like a trifle but on top of everything else, it pisses me off.

What happened recently and really, really killed me, was that I decided I would teach English to mother in law so she could pass her American citizenship test. I also work at an immigration related nonprofit, so I could get awesome material, and being a qualified ESL teacher, was really willing to give it a go. I had a couple of lessons, during which sister in law would show up and be perfectly friendly, until one day she calls husband and tells him I’m using their mother to get paid at work. She even told him how much they were supposedly paying me (this was not true at all). She also told him I was a liar, he could never trust me, and that I was doing the lessons so I would have something to manipulate him with in the future. I was devastated. I could not help it and confronted her. She cried as if I had slapped her and killed her puppies, and made her mom take time off from work to check on her (everybody thought she had had an accident). When husband and I confronted her, she said she had never said those things, and that she just felt guilty about not being the one who was teaching English to her mother. I was so furious I didn’t even know how to react. Father in law is after 6 months, still mad about this, not because sister in law lied, but because husband told me the lies she had said, father in law is actually mad at me, for intruding.

I don’t know what to do. I hate living close to them, and husband has a nightmare trying to balance what everybody demands from him. I am hurt and frankly mad that sister in law never got what she deserved, especially because she has this talent at pretending she cares for people. She is a social worker and loves to talk about how she cares for people, she has “love” quotations all over her facebook profile, but the only things I’ve received from her are duplicity, hypocrisy and downright evil. I came here alone and needed a friend. I had nobody except husband with me, and their family treat me like I’m this second rate person, just because I’m not from their country, or like a rich kid who is not “simple” like they are. I hate the situations they create for husband, who suffers for me, fights with them and doesn’t know what else to do in order to fix things.

Am I crazy? Am I doing something wrong? What should I do to deal with these issues, get on their good side? Ignore them? I feel quite lonely.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get your husband to tell them to back off, to start standing up for himself (and for you) and doing things like leaving if they start badmouthing you, or talking about you in a language you don't understand. And start looking for a new house.

Seriously. I'm sorry, but you as grown adults should not be living your lives to suit them, or under their magnifying glass.
posted by Stormfeather at 7:40 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

your husband needs to stand up for you. he needs to create boundaries to keep you safe. he probably needs to sell the house and move you guys across town. when his family calls him over to talk about you, he needs to refuse/leave when they start. if they start speaking their shared language to talk about you, your husband needs to repeat everything in english and include you in the conversation. if/when they get mad, he needs to put his foot down and say "it is not acceptable to me for you to disrespect my wife."

you can not make him do these things. he has to love you enough and respect you enough to not let anyone, blood related or not, treat you in this way.

and lock your doors.
posted by nadawi at 7:44 PM on November 22, 2010 [31 favorites]

It is time to get fierce, and it is time to start repeating to yourself, "I am not under the control of my in-laws. I will fight their stupidity, and I will fight for my right to be treated decently. They have no power over me."

First, I would do everything that I possibly can to move at least a city away from the family. Do not tell the relatives. Just do it. Then, when they balk at what's happened, say, "Oh my goodness, we thought you knew. Isn't it lovely? Of course, it's only going to fit us for now so we must insist that if you ever want to visit us, we would be honored to put you up in a hotel so that you can be as comfortable as possible." And stick to it. Tell your husband that it is time for him to step up to the plate and do battle with his family. He is letting you down each and every time he does not CHOOSE (yes, CHOOSE) to truly and consistently fight his family over the way they treat you. I know that you love your husband, and I am sure he is wonderful and exactly the best husband in private, but from what you have told us, he is WILLINGLY allowing his family to walk all over the two of you. And that is a crying shame.

I believe that you and your husband would benefit from getting some back up training in communication, as I believe, from what I've read, your husband is not currently capable of drawing effective boundaries with his parents and sister, and without good boundaries, you will not be married to him, but to his entire extended family. You must set boundaries about:

• Personal Space (your house is YOUR HOUSE, and they are not allowed there unless they are invited)
• Speaking to One Another (wherein your husband must man up and insist on speaking a common language when in the presence of you AND your in laws, PERIOD)
• and Common Decency (wherein your husband must say to his parents and sister, "Excuse me, you are not allowed to talk to or about my wife in this way. You have a choice - accept her and treat her with the same love and respect you do to me, or disavow me as your son, because I will no longer tolerate your insolence and unkindness toward my wife.")

Having a third party (ie a therapist) will bolster your ability to communicate your needs to each other, and to your in-laws.

Change your number. Change your address. Put distance between you and them. Insist upon it. And encourage your husband to break the cycle of cowtowing with you. You can do it.
posted by patronuscharms at 7:48 PM on November 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

You need to not live next door to your in-laws, you need to lock your doors, and you need to make a real effort at getting your own set of social acquaintances, through hobbies or charity work or something. These people are not going to change how they behave, in large part because you and your husband aren't giving them any reason to feel like they have to.

And de-friend them (or block/hide them) on Facebook.
posted by SMPA at 7:53 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

WTF is wrong with your husband?

MOVE. As soon as humanly possible.

He'd better be incredible.
posted by k8t at 7:54 PM on November 22, 2010 [13 favorites]

I agree with all of the comments so far about communicating with your husband that he needs to stand up for your relationship to his family. But I also just want to directly answer your last several questions.

You are not crazy.

You are not doing anything wrong. (At least, not anything you've described here. I suppose it's possible that something else is going on that you're not aware of or haven't chosen to share, but absolutely nothing that you've said here indicates that any of this is your fault.)

There is probably nothing you can do to get on their good side. It sounds as though they haven't bothered to get to know you, but they dislike the idea of you for some reason. That's not about you, it's about them, and there may very well not be anything you can do to change their opinion of you.

Ignoring them may very well be the best route to happiness for you. But that means that your husband has to stick up for you by reinforcing the boundaries that you set. It means that if they come into your house uninvited, he has to agree with you that it's unacceptable. It means that if they're rude to you and you want to leave, he has to leave with you, or at the very least, defend you for choosing to leave. You should absolutely stick up for yourself and refuse to let them treat you this way. But if your husband continues to choose them over you (and that's what he's doing by listening to them say mean things about you and telling you about it), it's going to destroy your marriage. He needs to understand that, and if he's having trouble understanding that, marriage counseling may be the best thing for you.

I wish you all the best!
posted by decathecting at 7:58 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like it would be really tough being alone dealing with that situation. Do you have any friends besides your husband? If you recently moved to the US, is there a way you could try to make some friends? maybe people from work? or meet up with other people from your country? It might be easier to ignore his family if you had some support.

Honestly I don't think trying to get on their good side will do much good. From what you have written here, you have made the effort (for example the New Year trip).

Unfortunately, it is really on your husband to step up and deal with his family. He needs to tell them that he will not tolerate them disrespecting you. He needs to be willing stop contact with them in the event they do not stop belittling you. I suspect this will be very difficult for him given that he allowed himself to be coerced into buying a home right next to them.

Good luck.
posted by seesom at 8:02 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My lord, start looking for a new house, asap.

About the sister-in-law, completely scratch the idea of being her friend for now (you would not want such an irrational friend anyway), but be the bigger person and always be courteous. Smile and nod.

About the language: although it was utterly and completely out of line for sister-in-law and bf to be speaking so much in another language during the holiday trip, try not to take it personally when your in-laws are speaking it. My significant other cannot speak my parents' language. Although my parents have never purposely excluded him, it's very difficult for them not to speak their own language to anyone who can understand them. Most of the time it's just for mundane things (pass me the milk, did you pay the cellphone bill, etc), so please don't assume that what they are saying is bad (although there's a fair chance it might be, but for your well-being assume it's not).

However, your husband really should put his foot down and say that you are part of the family and they really should make an effort to include you (or the very least not exclude you), no ifs and or buts. Maybe show him this thread.

About your father in law.... just ignore. Smile and nod. People can be completely irrational about their kids, even if that kid is completely irrational themselves. Plus it's easier for him to believe the outsider is wrong than his own daughter is adult and still lying.

Have you considered starting to learn their language? although it will take a while for you to be able to follow their conversations, it still will be very much appreciated (if not mildly annoying if they are purposefully trying to exclude you), and useful for you. Like if Mohammed doesn't go to the mountain kind of thing...
posted by Neekee at 8:04 PM on November 22, 2010

You are not insane. The in-laws are passive-agressive nutjobs, and as a person who comes from a family full of nutjobs I speak from experience.

This should be your husband's fight. He chose you. He didn't chose the family he was born into, but he chose you. Now he needs to stand up and defend that choice. At every opportunity he needs to defend that choice. EVERY OPPORTUNITY! That means he needs to leave if they start badmouthing you when you aren't there. He needs to insist on English being spoken. He needs to let his family know that even if you were to burn the freakin' house down that he would support you and your decisions. He needs to tell them that your (you and his) home is completely off limits unless there has been a specific invitation. An unlocked door is not an invitation.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:06 PM on November 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

"They speak an eastern European language, which means that even if I’m there, they can discuss me without me knowing. Sometimes I feel very lonely while they speak for long intervals in a language I don’t understand."

This alone is incredibly rude, even if they aren't talking about you. Jeez. What nadawi said above is right: your husband needs to make it clear to his family that it's unacceptable to exclude you from their conversations in this fashion.

Is it possible for you to move? If not, immediately start setting boundaries with your husband's family. Make a practice of locking your doors. Stop engaging your sister-in-law. Be civil, but don't go out of your way to socialize. It sounds to me as though they've already decided what they think of you, for whatever reason, you're not going to be able to change their minds, and your efforts to do so are just giving them ammunition. I find it very unlikely that they are unaware that their behavior is hurtful to you.

Further, I think it's important to let your husband know that he needs to stick up for you, even if it's difficult for him. He's your husband, and if he knows it hurts you when he appears to side with them over you, he should stop doing it.

I'm really sorry you've found yourself in this situation. Good luck.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:17 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, they are batty. Please explain all of these concerns (even if you have already, do it again) to your husband. As these are his family members, and you are his spouse, it seems that it is primarily his responsibility to set the boundaries. I, too, am sorry you are going through this.

posted by klausman at 9:21 PM on November 22, 2010

Your husband's family is waging a war against you and against your marriage. You can not fight this war. In a way, your husband can not fight it either because folks who go as far as your in-laws are willing to go can not be reasoned with, will not respect boundaries, and will not EVER suddenly become normal.

I think you have a slow and possibly painful process ahead of you. I think either your marriage is doomed, or your husband's relationship with his family is doomed. The two can not co-exist.

Does your husband realize what is going on here?

I know you love your husband dearly, and you trust he loves you. And I still think you should be willing to pack up, move home, and get divorced if he doesn't decide on his own to move house and cut waaaay back on his interactions with these toxic people. I think you can suggest the solution once or twice. I think you can discuss seriously with him how sick, sad, and unsustainable this living/family situation is, and what a threat it is to your personal well being and your marriage... and then you must let him figure it out.

If he does nothing, you have an answer. If he chooses them, you have an answer. If he chooses you, then he is a man worth staying married to.

They are pushing him so hard to do truly ugly things where you are concerned, this alone should convince him to cut ties and move. Once you indicate your willingness to pack and move, I don't know what else you can do. He has to make the right choice on his own.

Whatever you do, cease actively initiating contact with the crazy people next door. That way lies more drama and danger than you can afford until this is resolved.
posted by jbenben at 9:23 PM on November 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

Hubby needs to grow a pair or you need to get out of the marriage.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:24 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know you said your husband is wonderful, but he has been derelict in his duty to you as a husband by letting this continue. He needs to tell his folks to back off, and on no uncertain terms. He has his parents and siblings, yes, but he has a new family now - you - and that family is his primary responsibility, and where his loyalties must lay.

Frankly, it sounds like he's in over his head - you might have to put your foot down and insist that you move.
posted by sid at 9:43 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your husband needs to stop attending their "conventions". He's allowing them to manipulate him and he needs to stop. They can only do what he allows them to do.
posted by iconomy at 9:53 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

twice they have actually walked into the house while we were having sex.

How on earth does this happen twice? I am trying to imagine a scenario where this happens once, and immediate changes in lock-habits, plus actual locks, does not happen. If your husband did not take action (in which case, I'm in agreement with at least the first part of Ironmouth's assessment), why didn't you? The two of you have given them some crazy insane (meaning non-existent) boundaries. Yeah, they'll be mad when you guys start drawing some lines. Do it anyway.
posted by sageleaf at 10:21 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, my sympathies; that sounds like hell.

I am not your therapist (but you should get one, just you or both of you if he balks), but some things came to mind:

1. Where is your family in all this...are you close/estranged?
2. How long have you been married? How long did you date?
3. How well did you know his family before you were married, and did they or he treat you differently then?

I ask because you might want to give some thought about how your background, and your impressions of him and his family, may have contributed to this situation. That's not a criticism, but it might help you figure out how you got where you are and maybe point to how to change it.

The problems you are describing sound like cultural ones, and are not going to change. The real question is, will your husband be able to give up those aspects of his culture (namely doing what his dad says/not establishing firm boundaries/moving away) to keep your marriage working?

That is not an easy thing to do, and even harder, he has to do it without resenting you for making him do it. Has he mentioned moving away, and what do you think he would say?

If he can't make the changes you need to keep your relationship working, you are going to have to make some difficult choices, namely leaving him or deciding to take his family on (possibly with him sometimes siding against you) and refuse to give in, neither of which is going to be easy.

In top-down patriarchal family setups like you describe, those not at the top can get extremely vicious about defending their small territory; quite likely this has something to do with your sister-in-law's behavior. Not excusing her, but living in a setup like that can cause a lot of crazy behavior just because it is oppressive as hell. But she's the only person who can try to change that, and she may never do it.
posted by emjaybee at 11:03 PM on November 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

As much as you love your husband, I think you need to see his behaviour as not just witnessing their diatribes, but by participating in it. He provides consent in this situation rather than standing up for you and with you. You have a right to feel loved, safe, secure, defended and wanted by your lover/husband, whatever his family thinks of his choice of partner. The idea of you sitting on one side of a fence whilst your husband sits with his family listening to them crap on about you is unbelievably sad, as well as ridiculous, un-individuated and fucking insane.

I would be deeply questioning his love if I was in your situation. You both need to take on adult identities, and leave infantile behaviours like those in this dysfunctional milieu behind. Moving house is one option. But I don't think it's entirely necessary if your partner does the work he should be doing to separate/differentiate from their control. You seem to be an unfortunate by-product of the dysfunction - any gal he brought into that family would experience the same thing. But I wonder how many would stay? [What is your family of origin like that you would put up with this crap? might be a question to ponder, as mentioned above]

Siblings can have weird dynamics and your sister in law's territorial behaviour and infantilising of her brother is deeply neurotic. Possibly even to be pitied as she is clearly jealous of you. Maybe for your skills and personality, but especially for transplanting her place in her brother's affections.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:18 AM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

First, I really feel for you and I am sure this is heartbreaking. But I do not think your focus should be on them, but rather on your husband. You spent a day crying in the bathroom because of your sister in law's horrific behavior towards you and your husband thought he had to be nice to them? Your husband went along with speaking in another language for the whole weekend? Your husband freely participates in "conventions" to bash you? WHAT THE HELL?

I hate to say this, but despite your love for your husband, we is a Grade A Certified Wimp who puts his family of origins' feelings before yours. This is completely unacceptable and IMO, worse behavior than theirs becuase they did not vow to love, cherish and protect you and to foresake all others. Your wimpy husband did.

Your in-laws indeed fail to be decent human beings on many levels, but as hard as it might be, you have no control over them. Given the complete and utter lack of respect your husband has shown you, I am not optimistic that he will be able to man up and be a remotely decent husband. But, your focus should be on him and his ridiculous failings as a husband, not on them.
posted by murrey at 6:15 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with others that your husband, great guy though he may in be in some respects, is the real problem here. He's responding to your in-laws' inappropriate behavior in ways that encourage more of it. He's failing to defend you. It might be more comfortable to imagine that he's being "forced" to buy a house next to his parents, to entertain their criticisms of you, to speak with people who don't like you, in a language you can't understand, in your presence, but none of this is being forced on him. These are choices he is making.

He is, no doubt, in a tough spot. With such a family background, really standing up to his parents and siblings may seem inconceivable to him. It can be extraordinarily, mind-bendingly difficult to break such patterns of relationships and behaviors. But break them he must, if your marriage is going to hold together.

About all you can do is make sure he understands that the status quo is absolutely not acceptable to you. You can love him and sympathize with him, and still refuse to live like this. So far, you've been absorbing the consequences of his failure to break away from his family and stand by you, under the pretense that he has no power to change the situation. As long as you pretend that he's a powerless victim he will continue to act like one, because doing so saves him from having to establish boundaries that he is unsure he has the right to draw.
posted by jon1270 at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our friend has this relationship with her parents, who are from Poland. I'm not sure if it's a culture thing but they are exactly like this--very, very intrusive to their private life, very controlling, and the unfortunate thing is she believes their crazy ways are ok.

1. set boundaries
3. your husband needs to tell them to deal. Warning, they'll overblow this and blame you. Ignore them. Let them be babies over their inability to set their own boundaries. THey feel it's their son and until they die, he will be viewed and treated as a CHILD.

He may need to cut ties all togther to teach them to chill out or at least establish that he's in control and they need to follow suit--not the other way around. This helped somewhat in my own crazy family life with my parents.

Good luck. I don't envy you w/ this relationship.
posted by stormpooper at 6:51 AM on November 23, 2010

It seems like you've been operating under the (reasonable) assumption that if you're a kind, decent person, others will treat you with kindness and decency in return. I bet your husband has the same type of belief--that if you and he just keep trying with his family, eventually they'll come around. You both need to accept that this isn't going to happen. In all likelihood, that family is going to hate and judge you for the rest of your life. What you and your husband need to do is detemine how to change your approach based on that reality.

I think the thing to do is to sit down with him and say some variation of the following:

"[Husband], because I love you so much, I care about your family, but you need to know something: they don't like me, and they're never going to like me. I don't know why they don't like me, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is that they've been mistreating me for as long as we've been married.

I know it stresses you out to feel like you're caught between me and them. We've both been hoping that they would change, that they would stop their campaign against our marriage and more specifically against me. We've done our best to stand up for ourselves while still reaching out to them with love and kindness. It hasn't worked. It's not going to work. It's time for us to make some decisions.

Here is what I need in order to feel loved, safe, and happy: 1) I need distance from them; we need to find a new place to live. 2) I need for you to put your foot down with them, and anytime they start criticizing me or making fun of me or anything like that, whether I'm there or not, you say, "We're done here" and leave. 3) I need for us to develop friendships with people outside of your family. [etc.]"

In fact, I'd write it out before I sat down with him. What would make you feel safe? What do you need in order to feel loved and supported? You could also consider doing this with a therapist present to mediate and keep your conversation on track, if that's something your husband would be receptive to.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:53 AM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

I want to reiterate the idea that you start learning their language. Even if your husband cannot follow all the advice above to set boundaries and put you first, if you speak the language you can stand up for yourself.
posted by CathyG at 7:20 AM on November 23, 2010

I’ve found myself uncomfortable several times
I know these seem like tiny things
Am I crazy? Am I doing something wrong? What should I do to deal with these issues, get on their good side? Ignore them? I feel quite lonely.

They treat you appallingly, and you are exerting enormous effort to accommodate them. You aren't going to win by being nice, so stop trying so hard. Be polite, but make your own life without them.

Lock your doors.
You sound really smart; learn their language. This would really help a lot.
Be really polite to them, but if they continue to speak a language you don't understand, leave. Seriously, after 15 minutes, politely say "I'll be next door" and go home to read a book, watch tv, whatever. Husband should come with you, and just say "I want to go be with my wife."
Don't plan trips with them.
Replace the pics of sister-n-law with art of your choosing.
Plan a trip to visit your family, with husband.
If they say hurtful things about you, husband should leave. If they say hurtful things about you in your home, husband should ask them to leave. If he is, as I suspect, from a male-dominated culture, he can say, "She's my wife; I will not tolerate insults to her" and they will respect him more.
Build a social life without them. Ask people at work to dinner, go out to concerts, etc.

You and your husband sound so in love; don't let them ruin it.
posted by theora55 at 7:30 AM on November 23, 2010

From the OP:
Thank you so much for your responses. By giving you a condensed version of the facts it may have looked as if husband hasn't been doing enough, but he has. He adopted the get up and leave tactic whenever they brought up the "your wife is a snake" subject. And he didn't speak to his family for weeks at a time because of this issue. He eventually made up with them because sister in law was getting married and he didn't want such a huge event to be ruined. I supported that decision. My problem is he suffers so much about this. He comes from a violent war and I think that is what makes his family so defensive towards outsiders. We got along perfectly fine until they found out we were getting married. That's when everything changed. Husband also says that me coming from a perfect pinky life, having a very extroverted personality may have rubbed sister in law the wrong way.

Anyway, emjaybee's questions...
1. Where is your family in all this...are you close/estranged?

They are very close to me, but live in a different country. My parents are the complete opossite of his (they believe in leaving us alone and meeting us once a year to have fun together only), and mi sister is very, very respectful. I don't like giving them bad news over the ohone and worrying them, so I try not to tell them about these issues.

2. How long have you been married? How long did you date?

We knew eachother for 3 years, dated for another 3 and have been married for two. I must say, husband is really worth this. I would give anything for him to be happy, and for us to be together. He is an extremely wonderful, serious person, but a little bit naive.

3. How well did you know his family before you were married, and did they or he treat you differently then?

They treated me like a queen, like uncomfortably so. They have this weird attitude towards strangers, like they are superior, and they kept being a bit officious towards me. As soon as I became part of the family, everything changed!
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 AM on November 23, 2010

Coming from Eastern Europe myself and being married to a Westerner, I totally recognize the clash of cultures. I think your husband's family is misjudging your desire for privacy as a wish to push them out of his life (thus you are seen as a snake). The fact that they had you buy a house next door to them is indicative of how important extended family is in his culture. Your in-laws fully expect to take on some of the responsibilities of raising your future children, particularly in the early years, and living next door is almost essential to that arrangement. I imagine they’d be horrified if you were to put your babies in daycare before the age of two. Instead, you’d be expected to drop the little ones off with the grandparents in the morning and pick them up when you return from work. Your mother-in-law probably expects to be cooking dinner for you at least some days of the week, to ease your burden in those difficult first years when the kids take so much of your time.

Certainly, cutting all ties with them is going to make your husband completely miserable.

It’s a very difficult situation, made more difficult by the fact that you are not the meek, submissive wife that this type of close-knit familial setup requires. If I were you I would talk to my husband to try to really understand his perspective. I hope you will find, once the cultural assumptions and misunderstandings are clarified between you, that your in-laws are not as evil as they appear right now.
posted by Dragonness at 9:04 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think talking to your family might help. This isn't going to solve any of your problem, but I think having a sympathetic ear would have a positive effect. I have the same tendency to not discuss things I feel ashamed or weak about to my parents, but I have been starting to open up more to them and it's really nice to hear your mom say things like "That girl is a bitch."
posted by spec80 at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2010

Sorry! Tough situation.

1. I think your husband needs to call a meeting - without you - to discuss their treatment of you. There he needs to make clear to them that he loves them and you both really want a good relationship with them, BUT that they will lose him if they don't start treating you with respect. Then he needs to lay out some rules: 1. no calls before 10 or after 10, no visits without calling first, no smack talking about you, etc. You figure out with him in advance what those rules should be. And if they do anything else that is disrespectful to you, they will have to deal with him.

2. You need to: Lock your doors. And learn their language. For one thing, you'll be more comfortable if you can follow the conversation, or at least know the gist of it. And if/when you have kids, you'll be able to share that with them too. For another thing, I don't actually think it's reasonable to expect them to speak English all the time you are around. It's tiring to speak in a foreign language and you chose to marry their son, they didn't choose to have you marry into the family. So some level of accomodation for you is reasonable, but I don't think they should have to speak English all the time you are with them.
posted by semacd at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

RE: "He adopted the get up and leave tactic whenever they brought up the "your wife is a snake" subject."

That is not confrontation. That is passive-aggression, and passive-aggression from you does not cancel out passive-aggression from your in-laws. Only confrontation can nip this in the bud. Your husband needs to actually fight back verbally FIRST when his parents degrade you. Then, he can say, "If you continue to do this, we are going to leave and cut off contact with you."
posted by patronuscharms at 12:59 PM on November 23, 2010

This is going to sound harsh, but it can't be helped, because it's the truth.

I have no doubt that your husband is a wonderful person.

But, he is a weak man. I repeat: he is a weak man. There are no excuses re: different culture, or anything else. Your husband's #1 loyalty is to you. Not to his family, his friends, his dog or his neighbor. If he puts any of them ahead of you - you know where you stand, and if you stick around, you have no right to complain. If he puts you ahead of everyone, but still cannot control their actions toward you - then he's either weak, or feeble-minded. Oh, and one important point: there is no such thing as "good effort", or "I tried". The only word you want to hear is: "DONE!".

I cannot imagine - not for one second - anyone treating my wife badly, and my not doing everything in my power to make it a one-time-only occurrence.

It doesn't matter if it's the family, the pope or Jesus Christ himself. If they were to treat my wife badly - even once - I'd stop everything, confront them immediately and issue a single no-negotiations ultimatum: "you treat my wife with utter respect, or I will never see you again as long as I live". Then you stick to it.

I cannot imagine hours - let alone days or months and multiple episodes of the kind of outrage perpetrated against you, and his not putting a permanent stop to it.

It is ridiculous to claim "family" - what, is he 5 years old? Or "culture" - is he a slave? Bullshit.

As happens, my wife and I have excellent - and warm - relations with our respective in-laws. But there is no doubt, for either of us where our priorities lie. I cannot imagine, if I had a problem with my wife's in-laws, that she would say anything else other than "I'll take care of it, period" - and the same for me. There would be no long talks about complex family or cultural mechanics. I don't want to hear anything at all about anything else - just take care of the problem. The problem has no right to re-occur.

If the problem reoccurs, it's because your husband allowed it to. He has allowed his family to think they can control him. There is no such question for anybody about me - when I say something, I mean it. You agree, or we part ways. Simple and efficient. In turn your obligation is to be reasonable. That buys you the right to simply say: "take care of it". And it shall be done.

All the crap talk about culture and family and friends and the energy of the universe is just a distraction from a fundamental fact: you are treated badly, and it is not stopping.

You say to your husband: "your family is treating me badly, I want it to stop, now and forever". If he starts saying anything other than "I'll take care of it. It will never happen again.", just lift your hand and say: "Stop. I don't care if it's the fault of little goblins in the fabric of space and time. Make it stop and do it now. That's all. Don't let it happen again. Ever."

I repeat: there are no excuses - NONE. Not culture, not family, not his having missed out on a hot lunch when he was 12. If he is financially dependent on them, he needs to get a job. But whatever it is, there is ZERO excuse for not taking care of it. If not, he's weak, and not worthy of your loyalty. You may still love him, but then be aware of who he is - he'll always be that - and ask yourself if you are willing to bear that cross for the rest of your life.
posted by VikingSword at 1:47 PM on November 23, 2010 [8 favorites]

Unfortunately it sounds like you married into a traditional Eastern European family. The kind where the new daughter-in-law needs to be taught a lesson in humility and servitude. And she is taught that until the old mother-in-law is dead, and her own children marry and she gets to wreck the same treatment on her own daughter-in-law, thus sealing the cycle. I heard a story about a young woman coming for dinner to her boyfriend's house to meet his parents for the first time. When she comes dressed up nicely, the future mother-in-law sends her to the kitchen to prepare dinner for the entire family. A quick test to see if the prospective wife can feed the beloved son. Another story of a woman meeting the parents for the first time and given a full glass of vodka to drink to show she's not too soft "for their boy". But in the end it's all about humiliation and teaching the new member of the family her place in the world. There are endless stories and jokes about it.

This type of behavior drives me nuts. The women who perpetuate it never see how their own servitude to the husbands, sons and brothers makes them terrible harpies to other women. They just feel that other women should suffer, like they do. Men of course also contribute to this dynamic, and that's why there are so many answers above mentioning foot rugs and growing a pair.

Usually the drama in such families never goes away. My suggestions: Take up hobbies. Make other friends. Volunteer. Take fun classes with your spouse. Ignore in-laws as much as you can. Don't be passive-aggressive or try to be nice to them, you'll be the snake regardless of niceness or meanness. Remember: this has nothing to do with you and everything with the place you are occupying. The best scenario is for the two of you to sell the house and move away, and cut down the abuse to couple of weeks a month when the in-laws visit. If that is at all possible I would try for it, because in my personal experience nothing else can be changed.

Oh, and lock the doors! (When I moved ten-minute drive away from my parents I had nightmares about my mother showing up at my door night and day. And your house is just next door to theirs!)
posted by Shusha at 7:45 PM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

You mention that you briefly gave your MIL ESL lessons. Are you closer to her than to the other in-laws? Is it possible you could have a talk with her about any of this? I notice that you don't mention specific things she alone has said/done, but do mention things your FIL and SIL have done.
posted by epj at 2:18 PM on November 24, 2010

You and your husband need to repeat to them, often, this mantra: "Attacking our family and marriage is not the loving thing to do, and we will not accept it." Say it out loud whenever necessary, and hold them accountable when they violate it.
posted by anildash at 11:59 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

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