How to cope with being hated by in-laws?
August 10, 2011 6:58 PM   Subscribe

How to cope with being hated by in-laws?

SO and I have been together for three years, and for the past year we have been living together, renting a house from his parents. The arrangement has been nightmarish, and we have had to deal with them not just walking into the house whenever they like, but into our bedroom in the morning while still asleep. His mother especially has complained bitterly about our cats and has without remorse stepped on them several times, by "accident."

When we first agreed to this arrangement (the buying of a foreclosed house that SO and I would rent, that MIL would then flip in a few years), we were told it was being done to help us out and save us money. But it has not saved us money. It has been a fixer-upper that we labored over, while paying the same monthly fee as we would be in an apartment.

Anyway, in the past week, things have gotten much worse. SO told me his mother told him I have been demanding, that I am trying to take him away from his family, and that I am a narcissist.

Apparently I am demanding because both SO and I said it was unreasonable not to provide any kind of cold food storage (we are broke college students, and every other apartment we looked at came with a fridge). She lied directly to my SO saying that I called her and left her voicemails to complain about the house.

Her reasons for calling me a narcissist are that we don't have pictures of family in the house (we actually have one large montage of all of his family, and quite honestly, we both just have not gotten around to printing photos and framing them).

The lies and misconceptions go on and on, but I was shocked when yesterday SO received a message from his brother telling him that I am a sociopath, that I keep him home all the time (do they even know him? He is a total homebody), that he should break up with me. His mother has gone so far as to include both of his siblings AND my mother who have amazingly believed all of her lies about me. His sister apparently is spreading these lies to all of her friends as well.

My SO has been very unhappy with how they are behaving and is incredibly supportive, so I am very grateful. He disagrees with what they are saying and sees that all of it is a lie.

But the problem is that I am miserable with all of this conflict. I am so hurt by everything they are saying, and it is so embarrassing to know that they are all talking about me, hating me, trying to break us up. If this continues, SO and I will be moving out of this house.

Basically my question is, how do I deal knowing I am so despised, and how do I protect myself and my relationship in this situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have an easy out - I live 2000 miles away.

You can't deal with this - you need to move out, and you need to get away. This is a toxic environment, and if I didn't live 2000 miles away, I'd be dealing with the same thing. In my case, I'm uncaring, manipulative, and a godless heathen. But it doesn't matter - they've decided they don't like you, and it's not really your job to try to fix it.

Move out, move away, and see them for 3 days a year. If they want you (and your SO) in their life more, they'll behave. If not, stay away.
posted by SNWidget at 7:03 PM on August 10, 2011 [14 favorites]

Your SO needs to put an absolute halt to all of this and refuse to accept it anymore. No more "disagreeing with what they are saying." He needs to straighten his spine and tell his family members that he won't tolerate another word against you, and then follow through with that.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [45 favorites]

You will find some kindred spirits here:
posted by bq at 7:05 PM on August 10, 2011

This isn't really your problem, this is your SO's problem. Read AskMe. The consensus is that it is the burden of the owner of nutso parents to deal with nutso parents.

If he is not willing to stand up to them, you may need to DTMFA.
posted by k8t at 7:06 PM on August 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

My SO has been very unhappy with how they are behaving and is incredibly supportive, so I am very grateful. He disagrees with what they are saying and sees that all of it is a lie.

Great! Let's move!
posted by ian1977 at 7:06 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

For a start, you need to present a united front. I think you should move out of the house now, there's no benefits and a lot of downside. Then you should ask your SO to stand up for you if he's not already (you've said he disagrees with them but not if he actually says this to their face). It sounds like they get away with this behaviour because they're allowed to. That shit needs to stop. Then, if none of this works, I would drastically cut down contact with them and let them know that it's due to their behaviour. If your SO doesn't want to get onboard or won't stand up for you, your life won't improve much. Both of you need to start laying down ground rules for how you'll be treated and not putting up with anything less.

I speak from experience here (My ex's mother hated me, after having had barely one conversation with me, refused to acknowledge I existed and I got blamed for her brain tumour - even though they refused to see me for 3 years!). My ex never said a word about it and let them walk all over me. I stayed with him but I never should have, it was miserable. Best of luck, you have my sympathies.
posted by Jubey at 7:08 PM on August 10, 2011

By the way.... If this has all been going on for a year... And I recall previous questions with more fun details.... Whatever you are doing now to deal with the situation is not working. You need to change your behavior if you want to see a change in return. If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get what you always get.
posted by bq at 7:10 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

They have the upper hand as long as you're renting from them. You need to get out of the house, whether that's with your SO or not. It's not healthy for an adult to walk into another adult's home (and bedroom!) without express prior permission. It's not a good situation to live in the house of someone who doesn't like you.

You can only adjust your own behavior. The main thing is to protect yourself. If your SO agrees, he'll come along with you. If not, it's time to take a long, hard look at your relationship.
posted by xingcat at 7:27 PM on August 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

You move. Dear god and not "if this continues" right now get on craigslist and start looking. You can worry about how to handle what limited contact you'll have with them once you move out.

It's August 10, you got three weeks! Get to it!
posted by whoaali at 7:36 PM on August 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Time to move to another state!

I suggest getting at least 1000 miles away.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:37 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Move. Then they have nothing over you, and they'll be easier to ignore. Do what you have to, to cut the idiots from your life as much as possible. Forget about 'family obligations'; these people are being awful to you, you owe them absolutely nothing, least of all your company.

Remember, the opinions of idiot assholes are worth less than nothing. Forget about what they think of you - it's inconsequential.

It's good that your SO is supportive, but he needs to do more. Your SO needs to tell his family to back off, and to stop badmouthing you to him. He needs to protect you. If he can't or won't do that, you may need to consider whether this is the right relationship for you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:47 PM on August 10, 2011

She lied directly to my SO saying that I called her and left her voicemails to complain about the house.

i stopped reading at that point. my ex in-laws did stuff like that. it ended up with them doing it when i was on trial for domestic battery. i suggest whatever steps you take be drastic, like the 1k miles suggestion.
posted by lester at 7:53 PM on August 10, 2011

I have issues with my inlaws and they can be incredible assholes to me, and sometimes to my kids. But they understand that it's reasonable for a person to have a refrigerator.

Your inlaws are crazy people and not to be reasoned with. Don't live in a house they own.

However, don't ever expect them to come around, either. It may be a matter of your SO choosing between them and you, and often people have to choose their families a few times before they realize they're never going to be happy unless they choose their partner. I really feel for him, and for you, but you at least have the easier out.
posted by padraigin at 7:55 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Don't retaliate; don't escalate. When you want to, just think of what a bitch it's going to be for them to get another tenant, and what a foolhardy thing it was for all those amateurs to think they could flip houses just because they saw it on cable. Things will be better for ALL concerned when you get some healthy distance and don't let them engage you in dysfunctional power struggles.
posted by lily_bart at 7:57 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Everyone else has given fabulous advice about the practical aspects of protecting and distancing yourself. The thornier part is the first thing you asked: "how do I deal knowing I am so despised?"

I really don't give a shit if people like me, but few things in my life have been as difficult as feeling really hated and misjudged and having no way to correct the record or defend myself. That's incredibly painful and disruptive to daily life.

If I were you, one thing that would help me is asking the SO to refrain from telling me the nitty-gritty details of the rotten shit his mother/family were saying about me. Y'know? You've got the idea now; hearing every specific vicious comment is neither necessary nor productive. It just puts more hurtful nonsense into your mind.

The most important ways you cope with people unfairly disliking you are a) reminding yourself often of your many excellent qualities, b) doing kind and healthy things for yourself and your SO, and c) hanging out as much as you can with people who like and appreciate you. All that helps to drown out the crazy mean crap.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:06 PM on August 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

Oh, and the same goes for any other people (his family? your family?) who helpfully want to tell you about the MIL's character assassination. "Yeah, I don't want to discuss that, thanks" can shut it down. Plus it lets you feel good for taking the high road and tuning it out.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:09 PM on August 10, 2011

Wow. There was a similar anon question a while back, and even without the craziness of the inlaws actively trying to sabotage the relationship, the asker got solid advice that said to find a way to move out.

If this continues, SO and I will be moving out of this house.

Sounds like a good idea -- getting some space between you/bf and the haters is a good answer to both of your questions.
posted by headnsouth at 8:19 PM on August 10, 2011

Wait, so let me get this straight...

You're living in a run-down, refrigeratorless house and working your butt off to renovate that they can (maybe) make a profit in a few years? And you're paying as much rent as a decent apartment for the privilege? And in the meantime they waltz into your bedroom in the morning and stomp on your poor defenseless cats?

Move. Move, move, move, move, move. Don't worry about moving 1000 miles away right now -- that sounds like a bit of a logistical hassle, which might delay the thing that needs to happen by or on September 1st: you moving out of their house.

Once you've moved out, you can work on dealing with the emotional fallout of having inlaws who hate you. But in this insane situation, I can't imagine it being anything but a huge and neverending uphill battle. I feel like you're asking "I broke my leg really badly. How can I numb the pain?" Yes, it hurts. Yes, even after the bone is set it will still hurt. But you can't expect it to ever truly stop hurting until you deal with the big central broken bone issue. Ok this is not the greatest metaphor I've ever come up with. But you see where I'm going. Kinda?

Seriously. Move.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:20 PM on August 10, 2011 [20 favorites]

You really should reconsider this relationship for your own well-being. Respectfully, I was worried about you when I read the question the last time, and it doesn't sound like it's gotten better.
posted by winna at 8:21 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ashley801 is so right! I've been there with the MIL. When the big poop hit the fan with them having a sit-down talk with my ex-husband and me about how they couldn't stand me, he sat there in shock. For years I told him how it really was, that she didn't like me, but he was disbelieving. It's part of the reason we divorced. SO needs to shut this down immediately and firmly. The longer SO lets this go on, the more damage that is being done to your relationship with both SO and SO's family.
posted by hipaa_chik at 8:21 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Move. Make it an absolute condition for continuing the relationship. And make it clear that in-laws are not welcome in the new place without an invitation from both of you.
posted by maxwelton at 8:34 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Need more details about the SO, because right now I'm trying not to scream DTMFA. If my mom stepped on our cat and called my husband a sociopath to our other family members and made me pay to upgrade their house... ! One thing is for goddamn sure, and that is that my husband would not be posting an Ask Me question wondering how he should deal with my family's hatred, because I would have dealt with this swiftly and harshly myself. Thankfully my parents are wonderful, fabulous, loving people who also love my husband... but I've yelled at my mom for far, far, far, far less than this sort of shit.

I mean seriously.. she steps on your cat?!?! How the fuck doesn't your SO tell her off? Something is seriously wrong.
posted by gatorae at 8:37 PM on August 10, 2011 [16 favorites]

It's possible to cope with in-laws who don't like you. It's not possible to do so when your SO won't stand up for you, for himself, or for your relationship when his parents say and do horrible things.

You're a broke college student. OK. That doesn't mean you can't save up a little money and rent or sublet a room in someone's apartment. Seriously, you need to start socking away money somehow so that you can move out. This is not going to get better. It was bad last year and it's still bad. Don't wait. Make a plan and get out of that awful house.

You cannot cope with all of this at once. The house, the intrusions, the hateful comments. You just can't. There aren't tricks or techniques for this other than moving away from that toxic environment.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:41 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I went back and read the previous question, and if that was you, then you need to take your cats and get the fuck out of that house and away from that family as soon as possible. If the SO wants to come along, fine, but if he drags his feet for one second, then you go stay with a cat-loving friend until you find a place of your own. These people have been exploiting you for a year, and now they start defaming your character? Screw 'em.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:43 PM on August 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think the only way of really dealing with this is to set super firm boundaries and I don't think its possible to do while you're living in your MIL's house. Living there is not a gift and you have no obligation to the MIL to stay considering the way she is treating you. Don't feel guilty about leaving.

The relief you'll feel by living in a place where you're not hated, you cats aren't being abused, and where you can have some privacy will be immense. No one should have a home they don't feel welcome in.

Once you've moved out, which I know will be hard, you need to take FelliniBlank's advice and ask your friends and family to not pass on hurtful comments. Its simply not helpful.

Good luck!
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:53 PM on August 10, 2011

In general, these things do not get better. You do need to cut yourselves off from them. Of course, you will be proving their point (from their perspective) but really life is too short for this.
posted by mleigh at 9:06 PM on August 10, 2011

Wait, your own mother isn't on your side? I feel like you've been terribly abused growing up. You don't have to take this. Your partner needs to stand up for you and the two of you need to start making the life you want to have. Move. Get counseling if you need it. Start cutting out the cancer.

Sorry you're dealing with this. My MIL can be a real pill but the big difference is my husband won't put up with it and draws strict boundaries. It doesn't work any other way.
posted by amanda at 9:39 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

By the way, if this is true:

My SO has been very unhappy with how they are behaving and is incredibly supportive, so I am very grateful. He disagrees with what they are saying and sees that all of it is a lie.

Then he will pack up and move with you. His family is forcing him to choose between them and you. I don't envy that position, and I'm not saying it's an easy choice to make, but his actions show which side he's choosing. No matter what he says, if what he does is stay (and expect you to stay) in this situation, he's accepting his family's treatment of you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:52 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Move away, save the money, and don't have contact with them outside of strict boundaries of behavior. For instance, father-in-law who was a fierce republican (and now a teabagger, yay) would insist on discussing politics for the sake of starting arguments, because he loved the excuse to be abusive. The boundary set was: when we travel across the country to visit, don't mention politics, not even once, or we turn around and leave. The first visit after that, he brought up politics, and we turned around and left. He never did it again.

I'm glad your guy is supporting you. Get yourselves out from under the MIL and live your own lives, and make sure you support him and make him aware how much you appreciate him supporting you against his own parents...I'm sure at times it isn't easy.
posted by davejay at 9:57 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Y'know, abusing me is one thing. Abusing a cat/other animal under my care?

No. Fuck that.

posted by sinnesloeschen at 11:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

You are in a world-class DTMFA situation. You can waste your time making an ultimatum to your husband to stand up for you, but if he had a spine to do that you would have never gotten to this situation to begin with.

If you however stay with him, you must move FAR FAR AWAY. Basically, these inlaws are radioactive and there is no way in heaven or earth that you will stay healthy near them. Someone might say Oooh but they got us the shit house and blah blah blah. That is like saying Oooh but I really liked Chernobyl and its gardens, I really don't want to leave.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:01 AM on August 11, 2011

Move asap!
posted by Melsky at 2:41 AM on August 11, 2011

Two things leap out at me: your partner's "support", and your mum's siding with in-laws. This is a really, really shitty situation to be in, with your own family not being murderously outraged at what is happening to you, and your husbands support amounting to him conceding that hey, maybe you did't leave all those messages, or maybe you're not a narcissist, or sociopath etc. The only form of support of lasting value is him taking a firm stand against his family and associated gossipers/harassers. Moving out, telling them in no unclear terms that he is breaking contact with them unless they can be civil towards you. Anything less, and he has no backbone. Doesn't mean he is a nasty person, but it means he is too afraid/apathetic/ clueless to prevent others to walk all over you, destroy your peace of mind and ultimately your relationship.

Cause unless you are the picture book image of meekness and submission, this is going to erode your love for him and your faith in your relationship. It might take years of deep unhappiness, possibly even clinical depression, but there will come a point where you are going to have only contempt for him, and despise yourself for having trotted along.

I'd also make sure I clear the air with your mother. How can she possibly lend an ear to the defamations of strangers? Aren't you her daughter, does she not know you? Has she any idea what your life is like? How come she hasn't actually insisted you move out of there? How come she isn't offering you any assitance?

As is maybe obvious, your post struck a very sensitive cord. It was like reading and autobiography (slightly milder version). This is how it played out for me: after about three years, I broke up with my partner, after many attempts to get him to stand up for me. At the end, I could not be physically in the same room with him, it made me sick (he didn't want to break up). His mum turned around and tried to intimidate/cajole me into taking her son back. My parents advised him to try coercion, if I wasn't to be convinced (I found out, but never confronted them about this). It is now 16 years later, I still have no respect for him, and in my relationship with my parents, which has improved, I am still filled with suspicion and mistrust.

Hope you find a way to make it all work better for you. What I wish I had done differently then is: break the isolation which I chose because of the shame and constant frustration and impotence - make friends, cultivate people who like and respect you, and who could help you. It is quite possible you will need active support from outside at some point.

Create options for yourself. Firstly psychological: truly accept that an unfortunate outcome is possible: either that you and your SO drastically restrict interaction with his family and everyone who has bought into their bad-mouthing and harassement, or else that it might come to a break-up with your SO over this.

Secondly, make speedy alternative living arrangements, either with your SO or without (as someone has said upstream, this is actually a good test for your relationship - is he willing to come along? Does he put up a fight? Does he want you to just close your eyes to what is happening, cause that is more comfortable for him? Does he take action, or is content to issue the occasional "There, there"?).

Thirdly, invest your time differently: every moment you would normally have given to the in-laws, including by repairing things about the house, take it and do something you like with it: go for walks, to the cinema, dancing, reading, do your nails, hair, cook, learn a language, whatever, but just make sure it is for YOU (and your SO, if it turns out he has a backbone).

And fourthly, think about your life long term - how do you want it to be? In terms of the prevalent atmosphere (free, exciting, peaceful, harmonious, etc)? What do you want career-wise? What about your relationship? Leave your partner's face blank - how do you want it to play out, predominantly? Where do you want to live with him, how many kids, how do you want to interact in any given situation? etc. Allow the future help you in your present.

Really, really thinking about you, and hoping your SO is truly by your side, and that your mum turns around. But don't take things lying down, and don't think circumstances are more inescapable than they are. If you want to talk things out, or compare notes, or just let off steam, now or at any point, please don't hesitate to mail me.
posted by miorita at 4:47 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

It sounds like your SO's "supportiveness" is limited to "there, there, (pat, pat), I know my parents are nightmares. Too bad we're stuck. Sigh." That's not really "supportiveness," that's enabling.

Constructive supportiveness would mean "Let's make a plan to move, ASAP." Unless his parents are holding you hostage with a gun at your heads, there is NOTHING keeping you from moving. Surely there are SOME housing options for you? If necessary, board the cats temporarily with a friend or relative, or sneak them in some place (yes, I know I'll get a chorus of OMGNODON'T but I've had illicit pets, a lot of people I know have had illicit pets, it's really doable if management is lax), live in a tent in the park, something, anything!

You seem to be spending more money on fixing up that house as you would be living in a place of your own. What is holding you hostage? Move, ove-may, vamos, scram, get out of there, ASAP.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:14 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Move out this month. With or without the boy. There is nothing you can do to make this any better without escaping their crazy-pants nonsense.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:16 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have to make sure that your SO is on the same page as you with all of the things you outlined above. Then strategize with him on how to deal with the parents. You will both have to find out the limits of your area of control and how to enforce those. An example would be to change the locks. You don't have to try and control how they feel about you - that is up to them but you absolutely need to have complete control on how they interact with both of you.

Then when you entirely agree on what needs to be done have a pow-wow with the parents and let them know your demands. Be united, which means you will have to take an active part in the demands and discussion and not just let the SO run the discussion. Again, keep personal feelings and issues of manipulation out of the discussion. Keep it real and about economics, privacy, and independence. If they don't give in then use the nuclear option which is moving out and away. Be absolutely sure that the SO is willing to commit to this option.
posted by JJ86 at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2011

Until you move out, have your SO enforce a policy that his parents must give 24 hours' notice and good reason before they enter your home. If your SO cannot or will not do that, take it as an indicator for the future that you will always have to be the "bad guy" with them and that he won't adequately defend you.
posted by callmejay at 10:12 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

The mother is a very scary person.

I would be very wary of involving myself with this family. Unless your SO can straight up shut down his mom -- and it doesn't sound like he can -- or you need to get out of her sphere of influence. It would not be overreacting to end the relationship.
posted by grobstein at 11:11 AM on August 11, 2011

Nthing SO needs to stand up to mother. If he does not, she will get worse and worse. She'll get worse until someone DOES stand up to her. She is clearly batshitinsane* in addition to being cruel to animals. It's not a big step to go from hurting animals to hurting people.

My similar experience ended with 340 lb MIL ramming 100lb me into the fridge handle until my shoulder blade chipped. (Over 10 years later, that part of my back hurts first when I'm overdoing it.) She then beat her face with a cooking spoon and got out all her old Rx bottles to display on table for the cops I called, telling them I hurt poor-sick-disabled her (they didn't buy it, she had the only different story).

The family therapist my SO and I saw made it very clear that "the burden of the owner of nutso parents to deal with nutso parents". Therapist said he had to choose his previous family or the one he chose to create. We had no willing contact with MIL after the violence (much worse than mentioned, in front of my children!), had to take legal steps to keep her away, and she died alone.

If your MIL is willing to be like this NOW, imagine how she'll be after more years or if you had children together.

*This is not a medical diagnosis.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:06 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this thread today. I just wanted to say that you deserve to be treated with respect. I hope you can start to believe that. Not just to want to be treated with respect but to really believe that you deserve respect and to act on that belief.

I'm not saying you deserve for your in-laws to like you. I'm saying even if they dislike you, you deserve to be treated decently and with respect. Disliking someone and mistreating someone are two different things. I wonder if some of your acceptance of this situation is due to thinking that if people don't like you, it's understandable and acceptable that they would mistreat you. It's not. You don't need to earn the right to be treated like a person--even if you were every bad thing they've called you, you'd still deserve to be treated with respect.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:58 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow. This question really bothered me (on your behalf) last time, and now it's only become worse, which is, sadly, not at all surprising. You shouldn't have moved in there; you knew you didn't want to live there, and you were right. Now you have to leave.

If money is the problem, I would put off school if I had to, sell everything I own, borrow, get two jobs, do whatever on earth it took to get out of Hell House.

If you have a friend or family member (not your mom, obviously. gah.) who could put you up until you find a place, I'd be out of there tonight. Right now. Yesterday.

You're going to have to do this for yourself. If your partner will come, or join you later, great... but I wouldn't be totally shocked if he fails to choose you over his family. I hope he does, but he hasn't made this abuse stop, he didn't listen to you when you said you didn't want to move in, and has been willing to let his mom do and say whatever she wants. Not promising.

You. Need. To. Leave. Because I can promise you beyond any shadow of a doubt one thing: this will not get better, this will get worse.

Your MIL and others are still gauging how far they can push you, how much abuse you will suck up, and every time you take it, it will increase.

If the problem is not primarily money, then please listen to us when we tell you that you deserve to live where you want to live (and to have a refrigerator). You deserve not to be slandered and abused and have your privacy invaded. You deserve to live in peace and not worry if someone might "accidentally" kill your pets. Can I just mention again that this will not get better, this will get worse.

Talk to your SO; tell him you have to go, and you'd like to go together. I predict he will try to stall you. Don't let this happen. I hope he comes through for you, but so far he hasn't, so you can't make that part of the plan. The plan is, you leave. Don't let anything stop you. You leave.

posted by taz at 3:40 AM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

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