I will not let this cycle of stupid behavior continue.
July 6, 2011 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Met the parents. They're crazy. Need to develop strategies to cope and set clear and unavoidable bondaries NOW before the cycle of stupid and exploitative behavior continues.

This past weekend I traveled to the Midwest to meet my boyfriend's parents for the first time. The trip was great, except that when he told me his folks were crazy and sometimes a little out to lunch, I didn't really believe him till we got there and their demands on him started.

Basically they're a rancorous divorced couple who is much older than the average parent of a 24 year old adult, and though I'm thrilled they like and approve of me, the thought of spending any length of time with them makes me ill.

The main issues are these: I have never had to mediate between two divorced people when they're forced to be in each other's presence (or even when they inexplicably choose to spend time with each other) and their barbs to each other are harsh; and I don't know how to deal with the fact that his mother is histrionic, infantile, and a hoarder (to the point of lunacy despite clearly being brilliant) and makes huge demands of my SO and myself while there. 

Worst of all I don't have any experience with supporting a SO in the face of parents like this, and I want to be able to help him cope whenever we go to visit the folks because he a) has a very terrible attitude about his mother that he knows is unhealthy and b) because we want to get married and I don't want to upset things by suddenly handling a situation my way, which would be to hit this head on by setting clear ground rules about the way I am treated and what is asked of me even if I am 1300 miles away and not in their presence. His mother in particular feels entitled to being catered to and made wild demands of us when we visited (ie insisting we set up her TV, sound system, computer and printer when we really only had 20 minutes to spend with her at her house;  spending huge amounts of money on antiques but having a huge fuss over her cell phone bill) His father exhibits the same behavior.

I plan to marry this guy. We're in this for the long haul, and honestly we both know that his parents, being so much older, aren't long for this world beyond 10 years. I don't want to change them. I just want a functional relationship right off the bat that does not include either him or me being taken advantage of, and I am in need of help in that way. I am especially likely to try and accommodate their requests immediately and I don't want to get stuck doing so very resentfully.

If you met your in laws to be and discovered that with a firm set of standards their invasive and inappropriate behavior could be mitigated, how would you go about setting those standards without making too many waves? My SO is on board with this and with gentle coaxing will help me set such standards. Not visiting them and/or waiting till they die is not an option.

Tips and tricks for dealing with in laws who mean well but have no idea they're being rude are also appreciated. Bonus points for ideas about how to be a supportive SO and not make my BF feel any worse about his loving but insane parents. His parents are great people minus their bickering, exploitative ways.

If you need more info just ask. There are a few specific behaviors I want to curb through whatever means necessary because they have the potential to explode in severity the next time we visit them.
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Human Relations (42 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How does HE deal with it?

If he has a good handle on managing his folks' cray cray (which sounds annoying but isn't violent), then this is totally doable.

In my eyes, infrequent visits, good management of behavior, and other family on board with management would be enough.

What's his plan for dealing with any health issues though?

Any siblings in the picture?
posted by k8t at 5:25 AM on July 6, 2011

Make your visits short.
Never again be in the same room with both of them at the same time. That was a huge error in judgment that should not be repeated. That's too much to take at once.
Make it clear how much time you have to spend with each of them. Stick to that hard out. So when you say you have to leave at 8, leave at 8.
Don't make the assumption that you likely only have 10 more years of them. Unless they're both in their 80s, one or both could very well live far longer than you expect.

But I do urge you to speak up when you're asked to do something you find uncomfortable. Otherwise you'll be doing this until the day they actually die.
posted by inturnaround at 5:28 AM on July 6, 2011

Ration out the visits so that you can prepare yourself to visit without the judgment. Once or twice a year? Or invite them to your space where you can establish better boundaries, model appropriate behaviour, an where you have opportunities to retreat to another space in your home when the going gets rough. Don't take baits, don't engage in bickering, and probably most importantly, take cues from your partner. If you can keep his best interests in mind without escalating drama about what you need, (it's really stressful taking a partner into a difficult family-of-origin dynamic) that would be the best thing you can do for HIM.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:31 AM on July 6, 2011

Do less.

When they bicker, do not mediate. Nobody is making you mediate.

When they pressure you to do stuff you're unwilling or unable to do, say no and stick to it. If you cave, the pressure will only increase and be more enduring the next time around.

When they whine about the consequences of their own poor choices, do not engage them. Do not argue. Do not reason. Do nothing.

When they behave well around you, reward that good behavior profusely, however you can.

There's no magic to this. Boundaries are agreements you have with yourself and your S.O. about what you will and won't do. You don't have to get the parents to acknowledge the problems or agree to solutions. You just need to set your own ground rules and stick to them.
posted by jon1270 at 5:41 AM on July 6, 2011 [28 favorites]

That is the big question k8t asked - how does your boyfriend handle it? And is he ok with how he handles it?

If so, follow his direction. Don't argue with his choices and don't get upset if he caters to his insane parents, or for some reason does something you think is illogical.

My parents are crazy. My wife never believed me. I told her they were dysfunctional. For years. "Oh, but your mother is so nice. She's just trying to keep the family together. She's being thoughtful."

Cut to ten years later when she finally has a realization that my mother has been manipulating her all the time. Now *I* have to try and cater to both of them and manage how they deal with eachother! Ha!

Anyway, I digress. Smile and nod. What is the big deal, anyway? If she wants to have you spend the 20 minutes you have setting up her electronics - be happy to do it.

You're in a good position. 1300 miles away. One, maybe two visits a year. One probably around a holiday.

on preview - yes, what jon1270 is saying. Don't argue. Don't try to reason. Just go with the flow for the 48, 72, or 96 hours you are around them a couple times a year. Some of us have to deal with the crazies weekly.
posted by rich at 5:44 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

What others have said above. Keep your visits to as few as possible, with each parent on their own, and for an appropriate amount of time. Or learn to see the hilarity in the dysfunction and laugh it off. Do both if possible.

I think you're assuming that you need to mediate. Don't. They've bickered for years, and they'll do it when you're not there, and they'd do it if you were never part of the picture. Your x minutes of mediation every 6-8 months is not going to be what makes a difference in their lives, so either follow your BFs model or ignore the whole situation, but don't try to mediate, you'll just drive yourself crazy. Also, perhaps their personalities are that way, and your attempts come across as annoying.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:51 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I echo jon1270and rich - just politely disengage and try not to get invested. If you are in this for the long haul that may take awhile to really understand. Also, although how your BF handles it is important, you will have your own relationship with them. Since they are not your parents you may have a little more emotional distance from them to just be polite go with the flow and don't get involved or invested in the crazy. This may or may not be possible for your SO the way it may be for you.

For me the important factor is whether they try and get you involved with the crazy when you don't visit. If so, make sure to set boundaries. But if their crazy is only during visits and the visits are infrequent then just go with the flow and indulge them.
posted by Tallguy at 5:51 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

And +1 to what Rich said: If she wants to have you spend the 20 minutes you have setting up her electronics - be happy to do it.

Make her understand that means you can't hang out as long since you guys have to leave to go hang out with the dad. Her: "But why can't you hang out with both of us?" You: "Because you two together make the visit tense and I want to look at these visits in a positive sense".
posted by zombieApoc at 5:53 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend is your partner not your child. You can set boundaries for yourself; you cannot set boundaries for him, or indeed for his parents. You cannot mediate other people's parents. It is not your job and frankly not your place.

made wild demands of us when we visited (ie insisting we set up her TV, sound system, computer and printer when we really only had 20 minutes to spend with her at her house;

This is not crazy. It clearly isn't the way your family rolls, but it isn't nuts and it isn't "huge."

spending huge amounts of money on antiques but having a huge fuss over her cell phone bill

Also not crazy. Also absolutely none of your business.

You have a couple of options here. One, simply decline to go on future visits. Two, plan for and manage what you consider to be "the crazy" better, now that you know. For example: 20 minutes at either parents house is never going to be enough. There is no need to see them together if it's too difficult.

Announce a schedule in advance that works for you guys and take their needs into account and stick to it. "We're arriving Thursday and we'd love to have dinner with you; we're thinking of going to XYZ Friday if you're interested, and can spend time with you at the house that morning. If you need anything done, let Jim know and we'll push XYZ back. Saturday we're with Jim's dad."

Then discover Miss Manners and the wonderful phrase that is "I'm sorry, that won't be possible."
posted by DarlingBri at 6:12 AM on July 6, 2011 [30 favorites]

Setting up the TV for his elderly mother is a "wild demand"? Look, this may not be how you operate but you're coming off as not only controlling, but drama mongering too.

Set up boundaries for yourself, only do what you're comfortable doing, but don't expect to change anything, don't call their behavior stupid or crazy in front of your BF. If his parents bicker, it's none of your business. If his parents exploit their son by... asking him to set up their electronic equipment, well, I'm not sure it's as big of a problem as you've painted here.

If he calls them crazy, minimize. If he is uncomfortable because he thinks you're uncomfortable, minimize and remind him you're only visiting for a short time and everything will be fine. If you truly think his parents' health will decline dramatically in the next ten years to the point where they won't be around anymore, this all goes double. Again, I'm not saying you should do anything you don't want to do, or allow them to insult you or your BF, but you should be understanding of both their age, their family dynamic, and their habits. Don't make this your battle to fight.
posted by lydhre at 6:34 AM on July 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

There are a few specific behaviors I want to curb through whatever means necessary because they have the potential to explode in severity the next time we visit them.

I think you need to tell us specifically what these are, because asking you to set up electronics and complaining about phone bills are not crazy behaviors. Bickering with one's ex is also not crazy, though it's rude to do it in front of other people. Hoarding is crazy, but since you don't live there I'm not sure how it affects you.
posted by desjardins at 6:53 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Seconding lydhre. And, we must not delude ourselves about drawing boundaries here when we are the outsider. As son or daughter inlaws, we like to believe we have the permanent loyalty of their son or daughter to leverage, but it just never pans out that way when the family can point to us being a wedge over and over.
posted by Brian B. at 6:56 AM on July 6, 2011

If by "head on" you mean setting rules and presenting them to the parents, I would not do that, as they may actively focus on fighting your boundaries, and that gets tiring. Define your boundaries by your actions. This is a much longer-term strategy, but it worked with my very difficult mother. Leave the room if they get ugly to you. Tune out if they are ugly to each other. Disengage from behaviors you dislike, and try to find ways to encourage the good behaviors.

If the Mom is brilliant, take her to concerts, museums, lectures, plays, etc. That would be quality time with less potential for the crazy. Make separate plans with the Dad. If they make a plan that will involve being with both of them, say at a restaurant, ask Fiancee to suggest that he'd prefer to see them separately, as it's more fun for him to get time with them individually. Schedule time with each parent to fix stuff; that's just part of being a dutiful son, and given their age, not a bad thing. Always have a list of topics to redirect conversations that are getting sketchy. "Blah, blah, crap from the past, anger, blame" "Oh that's such a shame; speaking of old times, tell me what Fiancee was like as a grades-chooler?"

It took years for my Mom to realize I wouldn't play manipulative games, and years for me to learn good strategies, but it was the only way I could survive initially, and the only way I could have any sort of relationship, which we eventually did.
posted by theora55 at 7:16 AM on July 6, 2011

Setting up the TV for his elderly mother is a "wild demand"?

No, but setting up "her TV, sound system, computer and printer" in 20 minutes is. It reads to me like a time manipulation strategy to me. I think getting our new TV hooked up to all its input streams took 45 minutes, and that's just the TV. If someone wanted me to "set up" all those components, I would budget a full afternoon to get it done right.
posted by endless_forms at 7:21 AM on July 6, 2011

endless_forms, sure, but if they traveled to the Midwest specifically to see his parents, why are they only spending 20 minutes at his mother's house? As other people have pointed out, this is a time budgeting problem, not a "wild demands" problem.
posted by lydhre at 7:30 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who has actual crazy parents, these people don't sound so crazy. Why only 20 minutes when traveling to see someone far away?


It sort of actually sounds like you are not exactly a people person (hey, neither am I), and you might have some control issues. Are you threatened by the idea that there is someone else (or even two people) who can command your boyfriend to do things besides yourself, or am I completely off here?

To be honest, it's really not that uncommon. That's why there's a mother-in-law stereotype.

And hey, it could be worse!
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 7:41 AM on July 6, 2011

It sounds like a large part of the problem is that you dislike them, which is fine. You need to separate out this dislike from the actual "crazy," because your boyfriend loves them and seems to want to keep a relationship with them. Since nothing you described here seems to merit actual estrangement, part of your job is going to be to support your boyfriend's relationship with them, while not driving yourself crazy (either because you can't stand them, or because they are, indeed, crazy). You're going to have to work hard to distinguish between the parts you just dislike, but can suck up out of obligation, and the parts that you draw a firm line around.

No matter how you approach this, it's clear that these people are going to be in your life and demand a lot of care as they get older. Try to see yourself as a partner to your boyfriend in fulfilling his obligations towards them, rather than getting caught up in your own dislike for them.
posted by yarly at 7:47 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also? Give up this desire: I just want a functional relationship right off the bat. You'll drive yourself crazy if you try to hold the relationship up to some standard of "functional." It sounds like these folks are never going to be the sort of Ozzy and Harriet in-laws you may have dreamed of. The sooner you accept that, the better.
posted by yarly at 7:49 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have that family, and I've told everyone in my life who ever has to deal with them due to being near me the same thing: do not engage. Managing to be pleasant and small talking is appreciated by me because it makes the few times a year I have to deal with them easier, but being quiet and aloof is still much better than attempting to get involved because that will end badly. There's a reason I only see my family a few times a year, after all.

But there's often been someone too stubborn to listen because they know better and will fix everything... and all they ever accomplish is stirring up worse drama (which I get to clean up). Saying "I will not let this cycle continue" makes me worry that you're leaning that way yourself -- if you love this man, please, do not do that.
posted by Pufferish at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

endless_forms, sure, but if they traveled to the Midwest specifically to see his parents, why are they only spending 20 minutes at his mother's house? As other people have pointed out, this is a time budgeting problem, not a "wild demands" problem.

Y'know, I can come up with a whole bunch of scenarios off the top of my head -- "time budgeting" and "time manipulation" are not entirely separate issues -- but I'm sure the OP can clarify if they like.
posted by endless_forms at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2011

Presumably the OP and her boyfriend didn't drive all the way there, spend 20 minutes with the parents, and drive all the way back. I take this anecdote to mean that they were meeting at the mother's house and then were planning to go somewhere (with her) 20 minutes later.

(Frankly, even if the OP and her boyfriend were on there way to see friends or do something else, happened to be near his mom and so stopped by to see her for only that short amount of time, that's not manipulative or weird.)

It would help to know what those specific behaviors are that you allude to in the last paragraph. That said, this is always true: you can only control your own behavior and your own responses. If his mother is demanding something, you control the choice you make: say yes, suggest an alternative, or say no. All can be done respectfully (even if she might still react poorly).

Personally, I would have gone with something like, "We only have 20 minutes before our reservation, and this is definitely an hour-long job. Let's work on this tomorrow." It's not a hard "no" but it does set a limit.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:17 AM on July 6, 2011

It could all be in how you wrote the question, but...

You sound judgmental and unkind towards these people. Sorry.

Unless you can explain more in depth and there is some really egregious stuff you left out, these folks don't sound that bad. You described some stuff that maybe wasn't fun, but you did not describe either parent taking advantage of either you or your boyfriend.

It sounds like you want to control these people - WHY?

Um, you come off as kinda spoiled or entitled or something, and your boyfriend sounds wishy washy around you.

I think you should worry about the dynamic in your own relationship. You're not showing a lot of respect towards your boyfriend here. Presumably his loves his eccentric parents, yes? Be a good person and honor that.

I dunno. Maybe you need to explain more. I didn't see a problem except for the bickering, which is easily avoided.
posted by jbenben at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing "follow your boyfriend's lead" - first, because he has survived with them this long, and second, because you don't want to put your boyfriend in the position of mediator between his parents' demands and your firm stance of "no." There is some existing family dynamic, and you don't want to be pinned as the one who made it change for the worse, even if it's better for the sanity of you and your boyfriend.

Along with setting dates and events ahead of any visit, if you wanted to help them somewhat (they're older, you're the young ones who can fix anything, and it'll only cost you time in their presence), call them when you're on your way and ask if there is anything they'd like help with. If the requests are beyond what you and your boyfriend agreed, politely say that's not possible.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:36 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The specific strategies have been outlined in the first few posts. So I'll focus on the most critical high-level strategy: whatever you do, you and your SO must be partners in it. You and he must talk about it and agree on acceptable boundaries. Not general statements like "they crazy," but specifics like "SO will help around the house if asked beforehand, not if ambushed with requests at the door." And these boundaries DO NO come from you by fiat; boundaries must come from a compromise between you and your SO, even if you don't get all the boundaries you want.

Why do I say this? Because your post scares the crap out of me. You have met your potential in-laws ONCE and you are already thinking fondly of their death? That's mean, spiteful, and batshit crazy. You don't know these people. Even if your SO was the one who started that talk, you should be cautious when judging strangers. He can say things like that (well, it's creepy for him to say it, but more excusable than you), because he has a history with these people and there's probably a lot of love hidden under his distasteful veneer. But it is really, seriously crazy for you to already be waiting for the death of basically strangers.

So how do you be a supportive SO? Be ready to work with your partner to come up with boundaries you both can stick with. There are things that are absolutely unacceptable. But you haven't listed any behaviors that are truly unacceptable. You've only listed things that make you uncomfortable like parental bickering. You may find out that your SO is willing to see both parents at once despite the bickering and you two just won't engage when it starts. You may have to find a middle ground, like allowing time with both but making that time limited.

Finally, this post says "I" a lot: makes me ill... I have never had to mediate... I don't know how to deal... I want to be able to help him cope... I don't want to change them. I just want a functional relationship. Okay, we know how you feel How does he feel? What if he doesn't want to "cope," but would rather just love his parents?

You barely mention what your SO wants, other to put down his attitude: has a very terrible attitude about his mother that he knows is unhealthy... . Your very first step is to fix your own attitude. His relationship with his mother is his, not yours. You are entitled to be concerned about how his attitude impacts you, but be very careful about judging his attitude towards the people who raised him.

Bonus points for ideas about how to be a supportive SO and not make my BF feel any worse about his loving but insane parents. Step 1: realize that if you ever make him feel "bad" about his parents, you are in the wrong. You can certainly advocate for how his parents impact you - if you two get married he is responsible for putting your relationship first. But as long as he treats you fairly, you have to stop judging his relationship with his parents. That's a boundary you're going to have to set for yourself.
posted by Tehhund at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's not your job to fix your BF's parents, or your job to fix their relationship. Follow your BF's lead. The fact that a) the parents live far away b) you didn't know about this situation until you visited tells me that your BF isn't "suffering" on a day to day basis.

I have a similar situation except I'm in the position of your BF. The fact that my spouse stays out of my family's drama is very comforting. She supports me during our visits by being calm and unflappable. And she's never, ever judgmental about my parent's mental issues and general dysfunction.
posted by foggy out there now at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Along with what everyone else has said - the fact that your header text is "I will not let this cycle of stupid behavior continue." is a huge red flag about your perspective on this. It's not yours to stop or forbid - like many people above, this is something you need to talk to your SO about, and HE needs to be the one to make final decisions about how to handle it. If you want to work on boundaries, it sounds like you need to start with the one where you don't try to put your foot down about someone else's relationship.
posted by brilliantine at 8:54 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

b) because we want to get married and I don't want to upset things by suddenly handling a situation my way, which would be to hit this head on by setting clear ground rules about the way I am treated and what is asked of me even if I am 1300 miles away and not in their presence

You can't demand things of people like this. I know you say you won't do this, but just thinking that you want to go in and establish ground rules, that would really rub me the wrong way. Sometimes when you visit family you have to deal with really annoying stuff. *Really* annoying stuff. If you want to marry this guy, that's something you need to understand.

Also, how do you know they're going to die in ten years? If and when they do get ill, that's even more times you'll have to visit, and more behavior you might not like.
posted by sweetkid at 9:23 AM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: If my boyfriend had the option, he would not visit his parents at all. He feels obligated to do so because of their age and because, as he puts it, they guilt him into visiting, and he is very drained by it. The behavior examples I gave are a micro example of situations that happen every day all the time. I had never met these people before and his mother asked me to drive across the state to get objects from a farm that was 300 miles in the opposite direction of where we were heading in the first place. When we told her we'd try but could not promise anything, and when we obviously weren't able to make the drive, she bitingly "thanked" us for getting what she asked. We ended up being late for our flight because she threw such a pout when she started piling on last minute requests -- which she admitted where to get us to stay longer and miss the trip home! She is a multimillionaire. She has the means to hire help but doesn't because she's a hoarder who is deeply unhappy and lonely and doesn't like people in her space. She's a loving lady, but she treated us as though we were servants. Where my boyfriend does tasks for her grudgingly, I was cheerful but firm: we had a time limit, and could only do so much in that time. She was so stunned that she didn't ask anything else of us until the next day. My boyfriend was astonished. That's all I want to be able to do, especially since his folks like me and honestly, I want to have a really good relationship with them.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:31 AM on July 6, 2011

Wow, the "worst" my in-laws did was try to feed me more beer. I'm very lucky, apparently.

Anyway, I think some key pieces of information that you've left out is: how does your SO deal with his parents and what, in particular, is unhealthy about the way that he engages with his mother.

Answering those two points will help to shed some light on what might be the best way to handle the situation (and on what to change, if necessary, about the way in which it is currently being handled by your SO).
posted by asnider at 9:35 AM on July 6, 2011

I'm 32, my SO 36, and his parents are near 80. Do NOT look forward to their death-you seem like a giant bitch. Plus they could last way longer, so be prepared for that. They might have only 10 years of caring for themselves, and a couple of years past that needing round the clock care. If his Mom called and said she is unable to care for herself what would you do? Take her into your home? Pay for a Home? Do either w/o making your SO feel like shit for imposing his crazy parents on you? If you 2 are in it for the long haul then you need to have these conversations because time WILL keep marching on.

As for me? I tend to my elderly in-laws and their crazy old people ideas with a smile (even if its fake) on my face and remind myself they were the ones to raise him and now its our turn to help them-as a RESPECTFUL child would do.

Would YOU be ok with him deciding to 'set limits' with YOUR parents? Doubtful-you'd be offended because even if they are 'crazy' they are YOUR crazy parents. Stop trying to control everything
posted by Frosted Cactus at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They are in their late 70s. The time estimate was from my boyfriend. I just don't agree that I should just put up with their behavior.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:44 AM on July 6, 2011

These Birds of a FeatherPoster: I just don't agree that I should just put up with their behavior

Then don't subject yourself to it. You are not required to visit these people. You cannot control the actions of other people. If their actions are intolerable to you, spare yourself and them a series of unpleasant encounters.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:49 AM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: My SO grudgingly complies with most requests unless they are physically impossible (like "fly here and do this") or he says no. The way he says no offends his parents who apparently see this behavior as appropriate. His only sibling is an older male who moved across the world to avoid them.

And for the record, I did not once state that I was personally waiting for them to die. My boyfriend was the one who suggested that they may not be around much longer. I know why they are the way they are and just want harmony - but not at the extreme expense of our time or money. I spent an hour gladly helping his folks around the house and did so with love. My
Boyfriend and his friends told me that that hour was apparently just the beginning. :(
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:50 AM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: DarlingBri, that is not an option, and not something I want to resort to, but thank you for the suggestion anyway.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:51 AM on July 6, 2011

You're not hearing what you want to hear, but I think posters are telling you what you need to hear.

Also, they probably are crazy. But underestimating the time it takes to set up electronics is only a hallmark of being an Old.
posted by cyndigo at 10:01 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

My SO grudgingly complies with most requests unless they are physically impossible (like "fly here and do this") or he says no. The way he says no offends his parents who apparently see this behavior as appropriate. His only sibling is an older male who moved across the world to avoid them.

Unless they are financially supporting him, he has the upper hand here. Since his brother has flown the coop, your SO is it. They want access to him. HE HAS THE CONTROL HERE. It doesn't matter that they don't like the way he says no. Who cares? He just has to keep reinforcing his boundaries, and if they don't like that, they don't get access to him. That will sort them out quickly after the first few rounds of outlandish requests. He just has to stay strong and keep doing what's right for him.
posted by crankylex at 10:04 AM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: Fair enough. Thanks for everyone's input.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:05 AM on July 6, 2011

Best answer: You need to accept that your SO chooses not to set boundaries with his parents. If he wants to learn, you might recommend therapy. You can't change people, and there is definitely NOTHING you can do to change someone in their late 70s, so just forget about that right now. Seriously, put it out of your head. His parents will be the same until they die.

What you can do is set your own boundaries with your SO... allow a certain amount of time for griping about his mother's unreasonable demands, and then no more griping unless he does something about it. And you can certainly refuse his parents' unreasonable demands. Just don't expect it to bring about harmony.
posted by desjardins at 10:10 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Forget about their money and move on.
posted by jbenben at 10:15 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your cheerful but firm, cooperative response was not only appropriate and respectful--it also worked! The real problem is, even if you can successfully respond to rudeness, demanding behavior, and untreated mental illness, it's still maddening. I suspect that's what's fueling this question. You get through one interaction successfully, and the next day she's back to the same thing: she hasn't changed, you still have to state and restate and restate your limits.

Setting limits can feel a lot like putting up with bad behavior, because unless your limit is, "Change your behavior completely or I'm leaving," you'll probably still have to stomach some amount of frustrating, irritating, or obnoxious behavior from the other person.

I know that your boyfriend says that an hour is "just the beginning" but it doesn't have to be. His relationship with his parents is no longer just his own burden: as you and he decide to become a family, that burden becomes yours as well (even if it's still his job to deal directly with his parents on the big issues, and even if it's asking for trouble if you step in and try to do that yourself). You and he need to work out a good way to relate to each other around this issue even while he's still struggling to have a healthy adult relationship with his parents. If you're in (or will be in) premarital counseling, that would be an excellent place to discuss this.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:19 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That's a really good point, Rope-Rider. My boyfriend does a lot of complaining, but I've yet to see him do anything drastic ON HIS OWN to mitigate the way his parents treat him. However, I am a firm believer in spouses being partners on all issues (even if it's just to agree to disagree) and given that this behavior will impact our ability to do a lot of things whenever we go home to visit his family, I wanted to help myself prepare so that I don't end up blowing up at them some day for their unrealistic expectations. You can call me a bitch for calling them crazy; I really don't care. The fact of the matter is that there's something dysfunctional here, and yes, if my boyfriend notices something similar between me and my parents, I would want him to talk to me about it so that I too can continue to develop an adult relationship with my folks. I really appreciate all the input everyone's provided. Much obliged to those who addressed the questions in my OP.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:58 AM on July 6, 2011

Best answer: The "You can call me a bitch for calling them crazy; I really don't care" is probably a good armour to adopt actually. I know from experience that when you change the dynamic of child-like compliance of your SO to these demands, that you will be blamed and bitched about when the results of your boundary setting behaviour become reality. But it can be done - I've done it in my relationship which is also long distance [think antipodean] between us and SO's family of origin.

We had to change the dynamic of functioning-for-others gradually, mainly by increasingly acting like guests visiting from our own home, rather than as children returning 'home'. It is a tricky thing to show that he has in fact left behind as he stepped out into adult life, and it can initially cause resentment. Persevere as you already changed a dynamic by 'othering' his mother's demands - she was shocked but compliant when you politely refused to serve her. You showed her in a small and effective way that adults don't treat guests like servants. It may not be transferable but we gradually made the family home visit part of larger travels elsewhere; we took his family out for dinner/wrote thank you notes after being guests, and gave sincere invitations for them to visit us in our home - to see us as adults with our own lives, not as children still attached to old dynamics.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:05 PM on July 6, 2011

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