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September 2, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

How do I move on after a big argument with my father-in-law?

A couple days ago, I had a knock down argument with my father-in-law. The subject of the discussion wasn't entirely his business except for the fact that he cares about his daughter, but, to be perfectly honest, he was right. I ended up following his very loud and obnoxious advice.

My problem is with the big time, hurtful things he said me. I think I hate him, now.

But, he's my wife's dad. After a day or two to think about it, I'm willing to be around him from time to time, even pretend a bit to make things easier for everybody. As long as he never, ever tries to give me advice again.

So. How the hell do i deal with this? My wife thinks he should apologize to me, but I don't want to have to forgive him. If ( at this moment, it's only an if ) he tries to apologize to me, how can I manage to deal with it in a way in which I can feel good about myself that doesn't just drive a further wedge between my wife and her family? 
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Almost a year ago now, a friend of mine blew up a minor misunderstanding between us into a big fight, during which she said some very hurtful things to me. It took six months, maybe, for me to forgive her, and another month after that for her to apologize, and that kind of obliquely. In the meantime, we saw each other, but less often, and it was often somewhat awkward. But it seems like it just took that much time. During that time, I often talked about it with my partner and other friends, and sought advice about what I should do, and also felt that I did not want to forgive her. My heart softened in its own time, I guess, since I never did figure out what to do, I just kept lurching along and eventually my feelings resolved themselves.
posted by not that girl at 1:17 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are in the first stage of anger -- you're mad because he did something. That will last for a few days.

The next stage is being mad at how he responds to your anger. If he doesn't apologize, you'll be mad at that; if he does apologize, you can find some reason to be mad at the apology. That can last for a few weeks.

The third stage is when you're mad at him because you're mad at him. There is no way he can affect that, and it can easily last forever.

Do not let it get to that point. Which is more important -- your relationship with him (and the people around him, up to and including your wife) or your ego?
posted by Etrigan at 1:22 PM on September 2, 2011 [9 favorites]

Some of this is time.

But if you can find a way to put yourself in his shoes, that will help.

Not knowing the topic of the argument, I can just suggest that parents can get crazy aggressive when they feel like their child's welfare is at stake.

That doesn't make it okay to be a jerk, but if you can reframe it as "he really wants his daughter to be happy, he went too far and he would have never done so if it weren't for his concern for my wife" then that might help you forgive.

I am occasionally even able to be grateful to my in-laws when they say something obnoxious in "defense" of my partner. I think about how great it is that so many people care so much about his well-being. It really helps me be patient.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:24 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm willing to be around him from time to time, even pretend a bit to make things easier for everybody. As long as he never, ever tries to give me advice again.

Is that really going to happen though? I don't think you can dictate what anyone can or can't ever do again, unless it's about hitting or stealing or something egregious like that. Giving advice doesn't follow in that category.

Also, you won't feel good about yourself if you're driving a wedge between your wife and her family. So it seems like that's what's important right now, making sure things stay on an even keel. I DON'T think you should ask for an apology or bring up what he said -- he was probably speaking in the heat of the moment. I think you're on the high road by not mentioning it.
posted by sweetkid at 1:26 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, you are really really angry. It's okay to be angry and it's okay to not forgive.

I'm willing to be around him from time to time, even pretend a bit to make things easier for everybody.

I'm in a similar situation, and I do this. That hateful feeling? It grows. It festers and roots deep in your mind and suddenly you see every tiny microscopic flaw you were willing to overlook before. It eats at you and makes you snarky. A ton of things will annoy you that never did before.

The internet, blogs, twitter, etc are all fantastic outlets to yell the things you want to say to his face but can't. Just make sure it's not tied to your name or any other way that can be linked back to you.

Time passes, and your hate will transform itself. You won't be seething angry anymore, but smolder. This makes you hate them even more. It frustrates you because you feel trapped. You really really wish you could tell this person exactly how you feel.. but if you do that, you'll hurt the people around you. They'll be times when he doesn't bother you in the slightest ("oh, her dad is just being himself again, haha") and there will be times when this new anger you're currently feeling returns.

The things that were said to me cross a line. There is no forgiving. If I had my choice I would not associate with this person ever. I don't have that choice. I have to interact with this person on a daily to weekly basis.

I strongly encourage you to try and see if this is something you can forgive. Because I tell you what, I don't like the person I am deep down inside that only I and the anonymous depths of twitter know. I'm lucky, the person I hate is not a family member. My person is not my SO's parent. You will be hurting your wife if you do not forgive her father and you make it known to her even in the slightest sense ("Oh, I am so glad the family fourth of july picnic is over") that you hate him.
posted by royalsong at 1:34 PM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

...he was right. I ended up following his very loud and obnoxious advice.

Does that give you a clue about how to act? After some time passes, perhaps you can say something about "we are wrong foot, let's rethink", shake hands and get on with life for the sake of your wife if for no other reason. Don't let this fester.
posted by Cranberry at 1:34 PM on September 2, 2011 [17 favorites]

Jinx. royalsong and I both seem to worry about festering.
posted by Cranberry at 1:35 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're an adult, and adults can say mean things to each other, especially family, and then they let it go and move on, because they are not teenagers. So, let it go, accept the apology and move on. Be an adult.
posted by xmutex at 1:38 PM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Next time you see him, tell him "hey, I followed that advice. You were right." Be an adult about it and you will almost surely find that your seething childish anger just evaporates. Bonus - once you acknowledge he was right, he'll probably apologize for having been a dick about it. Double bonus - your wife will appreciate and respect this more than you can imagine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:38 PM on September 2, 2011 [42 favorites]

Aaah yes, father in-law's. Both my wife and I have fathers with strong arrogant personalities. And while her father is not quite as forceful with his opinion as mine is, they both freely voice their opinions and show little to no respect to their children in-law's. But make no mistake, there is a lot at stake here. You can make the choice to let it go, move on, and try to get along. Or you can hold it against him for a long time possibly changing the face of your relationship with him forever. Since I don't know what he said to you it's hard to give definitive advice. If he was just really strong and forceful in the way he gave you his advice...well you need to perhaps try taking what he says with a grain of salt. At the end of the day you said he was right. I'm not saying it means he should be able to go at you with such a strong tone, but if you can do your best to not let it get to you that will help. On the flip side if he said truly nasty things...i.e. "I've never thought you were good enough for my daughter", "you're just a loser", "you'll never acomplish anything", etc. then it's up to you as to how you wanna take it from here. But know this...your father in-law....like him or not isn't going away. Do you wanna spend your future time being in a battle with him and making every meet up uncomfortable, always having the risk of a blow up fight? Or do you wanna try getting along? You could go so far as to just have a low key man to man with him. Make the move to say, "Hey we both let things get out of hand. But let's let it go and be friends". It's up to you.
posted by ljs30 at 1:50 PM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think you're getting caught up with how your feel - like slapping him upside the head with a bag o' nickels - and how you behave, which is 'with civility'.

If he apologizes, thank him for his apology. Acknowledgement isn't the same as acceptance. You can say that you appreciate that apologies can be difficult but you appreciate him making the effort, if for no other reason for the sake of his daughter. That doesn't mean you like him, or forgive him, but it does mean that you get to say your piece: that you appreciated what he said, but was also surprised (and I do mean surprised. Whenever someone is yelling at you, it is reasonable to be taken aback and think....wait, you're actually yelling/belittling, etc.) about how he said it (by yelling, or dripping sarcasm, or whatever). You can request alternative behavior. You can say, "so if you could lay off the chucklehead references , I'd appreciate it."

In short, you can say your piece, and suggest alternative behaviors, and acknowledge his apology without feeling as if you have to feel any different about him. Also,cyou can't stop him from wanting to give you advice, but you can just repeatedly end the conversation with something non committal if he offers it: thanks, I'll think about it, or some such.

Finally, I know there is all this bite your tongue for the sake of your partner stuff, but honestly, sometimes family members who came along with the package deal think and then say or do some messed up shit, and it's not your job to put up with abusive behavior just so your wife doesn't feel some static. The whole idea is to aim up towards healthy behavior, not to contort yourself so the least healthy person in the room is calling the shots, and everyone else is just biting their tongue to let the unhealthiness reign. Unless both of you are tag teaming it, with internal jokes about the crazy, then that just sounds maddening.
posted by anitanita at 2:16 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wish I could favorite ljs30 comment multiple times. This is really important:

Do you wanna spend your future time being in a battle with him and making every meet up uncomfortable, always having the risk of a blow up fight? Or do you wanna try getting along? You could go so far as to just have a low key man to man with him. Make the move to say, "Hey we both let things get out of hand. But let's let it go and be friends". It's up to you.

If you are in this marriage for the long haul, and your FIL is someone who is actively involved in his daughter's life, it's best if you can find a healthy way to move past this. That's probably a mix of letting him know he was right (in a low key way) while also emphasizing that the two of you need healthier ways of handling your disagreements. Because I guarantee that you will continue to disagree with your FIL on various issues, big and small, over the course of your marriage. Establish some ground rules so you can disagree but still remain on speaking terms when it's over.
posted by mosk at 2:22 PM on September 2, 2011

If you and your wife have children or ever plan on having children, please do them a favor and fix this situation before it escalates. My mother miraculously burned every bridge she could with both sides of the family, which was not only a total embarrassment out of sheer immediate relation, but frustrating because this made it impossible for me to know my roots, my family -- people who could and would have helped me during hard times living with her crazy.

You don't mention anything about what your wife thinks about this, or her opinions on driving "a further wedge between [your] wife and her family". You also say that the father was right and that it regarded the well-being of his daughter, so I guess I'm a little confused as to why you're not taking her feelings about this more seriously and using that as motivation to make the right decision, as opposed to being vague and pointing a finger at the FIL.

Regardless of the emotion he felt he had to convey to get it across to you, if he was right about the woman both of you love, what are you mad at him for?
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:02 PM on September 2, 2011

I'm going to do something I rarely do, and can't remember ever doing on metafilter. I'm going to quote a scripture. If you're not religious, just take it for what I think it is - ancient wisdom literature. Ready? Here goes:

Ezekiel 25:17 "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of..."

hold up, wrong quote. Here it is:

Ecclesiastes 7:20-22 "Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others."

In short:
a) everyone screws up
b) everyone says things they shouldn't
c) including you, so

posted by randomkeystrike at 3:02 PM on September 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think the best option would be to be the first person to say, "hey, we had an argument, we said some harsh things, let's get move on." If he disagrees with you about both of you saying things you shouldn't have said or if he doesn't think you should try to move past it, that's a different problem entirely.

A key sentence I noticed in your question was that you said he was right. The way he said it to you was probably shitty in the extreme, but he was right. I think if you talk to him, you need to clearly express that. "Look FIL, you had a valid point. I know you're concerned about my wife's well-being, and you only want the best for her. I only want the best for her, too. So, even though we argued and we both said things we shouldn't have (I'm assuming you did) we're still working towards the same goals and we need to treat each other accordingly. I didn't like it when you bashed my character/called me that name/screamed in my face. I understand that you were upset - but this can't happen again. I'm a grown man, and you need to trust me to handle things in life, for my wife and I. Can you do that? Can you control yourself in the future, and talk to me if you're concerned? Because I think that you're an intelligent guy with good instincts, and I want to be able to trust you to control yourself."

Good luck - I think what I put may be too strongly worded in spots, but I'm on a time deadline before I get locked in my office. So, best of luck.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 3:06 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is were politeness comes to your help. The briefest greeting is followed by active evading of the hated person, specially if the dodging follows a "excuse me for a minute". You will be surprised by how little direct contact and talk you actually have to do if you set your mind to a course of chilly politeness.

It works especially well during family meals: instead of joining in to watch football, go help with the dishes. If he corners you, a "I'll be right back, I'm heading for the bathroom" always works. If he says mean things, a "I beg you pardon?" followed by you walking away might work.

Please, don't bring it up with your wife: there is nothing that she can do to improve the situation and she is probably hurting already, seeing the two men in her life not liking each other. Feelings are feelings, beyond our control. Give yourself permission to hate him for a long time: feelings have nothing to do with courtesy.
posted by francesca too at 3:12 PM on September 2, 2011

I had an altercation like this with someone recently. They were a total asshole to me, but the thing that inspired them to be that way was something I could have done better which unintentionally hurt someone's feelings. And the altercation was sort of bad, really weird hate mail from someone I don't know. And I was mad. And scared. And I asked some friends about the best way to proceed. And I got advice from a MeFite friend of mine who said that if I wanted to solve the problem [i.e. to make nice with the person even if I despised them and thought they were an asshole and lalala] to just do the "I'm sorry I was ever born" maneuver which involved me calling the guy on the phone and saying "I think I owe you an apology" and apologized for the initial accidental thing that I did that caused offense, but acknowledging that it had hurt some feelings, however inadvertently. Everyone was sort of surprised and even a little amazed because

1) it was clear that the guy was out of line, way out of line
2) my family is known a little for holding grudges which is probably one of the reasons what I did pissed this guy off so much
3) it's the mature thing to do and I'm not known for being mature.

However I am known now for being more mature and doing the right thing even as other people are not. So I'd have a private talk with your wife about how you're feeling bad. I'd have a public talk with your f-i-l that goes along the lines of how many people are suggesting. Basic apology, refuse to engage if he wants to engage, and then basically give it one more shot. If it happens again, walk away and feel okay about it, but I'd give it one shot to do the right thing for your wife [despite her asshole dad] and have a plan with her moving forward in how to deal with this sort of thing if it comes up again. You and she are a team and should have a team approach to this. If her dad is causing trouble there, you and she should deal with it, moving forward.

I wish you the best. I feel sort of weird apologizing to someone who I think is a total freaking asshole, but it solved the problem and got me some brownie points and at the end of the day, I know me and I know him and it was the right thing to do.
posted by jessamyn at 3:32 PM on September 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

Jessamyn, lovely words. But I take issue with point number three. You are one of the most mature and considered people I have ever encountered. Anywhere. Truly.

As is frequently the case, I agree with your advice.
posted by taff at 3:50 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask yourself "If my father-in-law died tomorrow, how would I feel?"

Really think about what him being gone, forever, would mean for you and for your wife. Ask yourself if you would be sad that he died with things left the way they are between the two of you now. Think how your wife would feel, obviously sad at the loss of her father but hurting silently inside about the fight you two had and the unresolved nature of it all.

If you feel OK with things like this in this hypothetical situation, then fine. If you think you'd like to mend fences, perhaps even forgive each other, then make haste and do so! Because its a hypothetical now, but if it becomes reality tomorrow, you may never forgive yourself.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:52 PM on September 2, 2011

I don't want to have to forgive him

No, you have to want to forgive him. And the only way you're going to be able to talk yourself into that is with frequent self-reminders that failure to do so amounts to ongoing self-infliction of totally optional pain.

The fact that the prick was right makes forgiving him both harder and more worthwhile.
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

He will always be your wife's father, so that makes him a parental figure to you, whether you like it or not. Do the right thing for your wife and let it go, especially if he gave you good advice, delivery notwithstanding.
posted by brownrd at 4:52 PM on September 2, 2011

My problem is with the big time, hurtful things he said me.

So a couple years ago I was accidentally cc'd on an email that I was not meant to see, where the people closest to me said things about me that gutted me. I literally sucked in a breath and clutched my abdomen as I read it, it was that painful. They weren't totally wrong in some of the things they said.

I never wanted to talk to any of them again. This was difficult because the people involved in the conversation were my two sisters, my brother-in-law, and one of my sister's longtime friends. It was this huge big awkward thing between us for a long time, but I've mostly forgiven everyone. Except for my sister's friend, she's dead to me.

Is this a pattern of behavior from him? If he doesn't as a habit say these types of things to you, I personally would work on letting it go for my partner's sake.
posted by crankylex at 5:06 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can only control your own reactions and actions. You and your wife can't control his (as long as he never gives me advice again, or that he must apologize to you), but you can choose how you respond to him. As flabdablet points out, you can choose to nurture that anger, or you can choose to say something like "Thanks for the advice - I did what you suggested and it worked out" and go from there.

Figure out the likely outcomes of your various options here. Does ignoring him or pretending you like him work to support the harmony of your marriage? Does it put your wife in a tough spot between you and her father? How do/will you interact with him if children are involved?
posted by catlet at 7:39 PM on September 2, 2011

fingersandtoes has got it, especially because your father-in-law was right.

But honestly? That doesn't even matter. Be an adult and don't put your wife in the position of being stuck between two stubborn jerks. Do what will make things simplest and happiest for her. And count your blessings: My sometimes exasperating father in law's certainly said things that annoyed me. But I'd still give anything to let my wife have a few more years with him, which unfortunately I can't make happen.
posted by anildash at 8:08 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Forgive your enemies. But remember their names. JFK
I'm forgiving everything / that forgiveness will allow Willie

Forgiving him, it's for you, more than for him, though it's good for him, too. Not forgiving someone, hey, that's a fools game, hurts you way more than him. No matter if you decide to keep him actively in your life, or to what level, you still can forgive him, and I think you'd best. Forgive him for yourself, for your wife, for him.

A leather sack is great for holding gold -- coins, dust, flakes, whatever. Perfectly suited for it. But it's not at all suited for containing acid -- go ahead, pour some acid into that beautiful leather sack, watch it get eaten to nothing, rotted, destroyed.

You hold that bile in your heart, it'll eat you alive.

So there's that.

Part 2. How far do you let him into your life. Your call. And it depends on how far over the line he went -- the types of things he said, the way he said them -- if it can be salvaged or not. How do you wish to respond, what's the healthy way to respond, the intelligent way. What Would Willie Do? There are about 7,845,084,326.93 different responses between totally rolling over in submission like a cold, wet, broken dog or calling him down to his face, totally cutting him out of your life, and burning his house down. It's up to you to figure out where you are here.

Something you may not realize -- you are in a position of power here, once you tell him that he was absolutely correct, and thank him for that, and tell him you've followed it down. Now he's stuck out there, stuck out there with the things he's said and the way he's said them, and he knows it as well as everybody else -- he's got to make right for stepping so far over the lines of decency.

If he's a total jerk he'll try to stonewall it, or, worse, run you over some more, jump out at you or toward you with more aggression. You can then either stand tall and force it, or just give up on having a relationship with him. I absolutely hope that you'll stand up and say "Hey, you were right, you called it right, but the things you said, the way you said them -- nunh-unh. Never again. I'm a man, I am not willing to accept this." It's hard to do that. I know. Sometimes I've been able to do it, sometimes not; when I haven't, it's always been cause for grief, unless the person is completely cut from my life. Which I've done, more than once, too. But it'd be difficult with your father-in-law.

But if he's like most of us, he's hearing in the depths of his heart the things he said to you, and the words he used, and the intonations and inflections, and would want to make it right. You will help him, actually, if you can/will tell him that he was right but the method was not; he might not be able to get there without your help. Sometimes some steel in the spine is needed, and helpful.


Honestly, as I've re-read what I've written here, and thought about it, and thought about your situation, and what everyone else has suggested, you know what has come to my mind? A letter. A letter. Write him a letter. You can say things in a letter that cannot be said in conversation, not real easily anyway, and he will not be able to try to run you over, he'll be forced to consider your words, unless he's just a total jerk and tosses it aside.

Letters are great.

And not email. Too easy to dodge, to blow off the sincerity. A letter is best.

My father could never tell me, in conversation, that he loved me, it was hard -- hard -- for him to speak the language of the heart. You could see it happening, he'd ache for wanting to say things, but they wouldn't come out, couldn't. He could do it on the page though. And he did. Those letters were the best.

If you do write him, make sure you run it past at least two emotionally sharp people --- your wife, too, but not just her; she'll have WAY too much invested in all different directions to read it clearly -- to skim all the scuzz which your ego will almost certainly get in there, even if you are totally intent on having it totally clean. When I send an important letter, it's gone past more than just my eyes. Hell, even knowing that I'm going to have someone else see it helps me get some of it before it hits the page. But always, some of my sleaze sneaks in sideways, and good friends can help clean it.


I think this is important. You wouldn't have written this here if you'd wanted to cut this man out of your life; you know our consensus here is to build, not break. It could easy go either way, but you do have a huge influence upon it, depending upon how you play it. All his cards are face up on the table, you've got a very good hand and you've got everyone else's input on how to play it and you've got the time to play it slow, play it cool.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:52 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree about apologizing as jessamyn notes.

With the additional advice that if you do this, it is important to maintain very firm boundaries in the future to make sure the behavior is not seen as acceptable. That will breed resentment.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:01 AM on September 3, 2011

I can't believe nobody suggested this, but:

1) He was right.
2) He said hurtful things that hit a nerve, probably because they were right too.

I suggest serious introspection, and not underestimating the value of experience here. You are an adult, he shouldn't have to be telling you what to do, specially with regards to the care of his daughter.

It is very unproductive to take your toys and go home just because you got some advice that was not in handled as smoothly as one's mother (hopefully) would.

After some soul-searching, you will know how to talk to him, by addressing his criticisms with rebuttals, or with plans for improvement.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 7:50 AM on September 5, 2011

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