SO and I are at an impasse regarding his parents' behavior towards me.
October 2, 2011 8:35 AM   Subscribe

SO and I are at an impasse regarding his parents' behavior towards me.

His family, specifically his mother, brother, and sister all really dislike me. Without going into details, they have deleted me from all social media, talked badly (lied) behind my back to him and others, and tonight at a wedding, ignored me. We sat at the same table and I didn't even get a hello, even after trying to make eye contact and smile.

He has defended me against his parents and has also told them that he does not want to hear them talking badly about me to him anymore. At home, he supports me so long as I don't get too stuck on it and keep talking about it (I tend to ruminate) because he feels it is not making anything better and it stresses him out.

What also stresses him out is conflict, and even though he tells me that he doesn't take them seriously and doesn't care what they think, he is very opposed to either of us confronting them about their treatment. He specifically said "If you say anything to them, I will not support you."

I have confronted them before, well both of us together, and he was on board but all it did was make the situation worse by "stirring the pot," as he says and they escalated the situation, which is why he doesn't want to go and do it again.

But tonight, I WAS SO UPSET. I couldn't believe they were ignoring me completely, as they made fun chit chat with my SO. I sat there like an idiot while they all talked. My SO did not ignore me, he paid a lot of attention to me and we danced, but it was still infuriating to watch his sister and mother be all la-di-da, joking around with him, and sitting two feet from me, pretending that I'm not even there.

My SO thinks that I can either be the bigger person and try and talk to them more and pretend nothing happened, or just let it go and stop caring how they treat me (really, why do I give a damn?) I asked him what he would do if the situation were reversed, and he said he would just stop caring.

The thing is I really wish that we got along, and that they respected me, and loved me, but they really hate me, and I guess I'm one of those people that really care about the opinions of others. So I guess my question is, what should I do? What would you do in my situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
See a marriage counselor and get on the same page. It doesn't seem like the 2 of you can get on the same page without one.
posted by TheBones at 8:37 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

My SO thinks that I can either be the bigger person

You being the "bigger person" doesn't enter into this because it's not a conflict where each party bears some fault. Your SO needs to man the fuck up and straighten out his family. Why are you still with a guy that won't intervene on your behalf with the people over whom he has the most leverage in the world?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:38 AM on October 2, 2011 [68 favorites]

It's his job to deal with this, not yours. It's his family who is treating you like shit. He needs to step up to the plate and tell them that this is unacceptable.

My wife's mother has a rather large chip on her shoulder about me (not nearly as bad as your situation, but still), and my wife has gone to bat against her on my behalf many times. She has told her several times that that kind of shit isn't going to stand.

Why isn't he doing that for you?

He specifically said "If you say anything to them, I will not support you."

This is all you need to know. He's not on your side.
posted by SNWidget at 8:41 AM on October 2, 2011 [24 favorites]

Why are you still with a guy that won't intervene on your behalf with the people over whom he has the most leverage in the world?

OP here. That's the rub, he doesn't have leverage over them, at all. They really are incredibly stubborn and he believes that by confronting them, they will not change and it will only entrench them more. I have found this to be true in the years of knowing them.
posted by DeltaForce at 8:43 AM on October 2, 2011

They really are incredibly stubborn and he believes that by confronting them, they will not change and it will only entrench them more. I have found this to be true in the years of knowing them.

My mother-in-law went on a semi-hunger strike and imploded a family reunion event when she found out we were living together before we got married. My wife's sisters were calling us, begging for us to move out because they didn't want to deal with her mother (they were living at home at the time).

My wife didn't put up with it, and basically said she didn't get to make that choice. They can entrench, fine - but you two are living a life together. If you see any future with your SO, then this needs to be resolved and faced. Otherwise, it's going to get worse before it gets better.
posted by SNWidget at 8:48 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is he dependent on them for anything? Is there any reason he shouldn't simply not interact with them?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:49 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why do you have to interact with them at all? I mean, you need your husband's support too, but I don't see why you cannot just stop seeing them.
posted by jeather at 8:49 AM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is he dependent on them for anything? Is there any reason he shouldn't simply not interact with them?

No, he isn't. But they're family and he loves them, so I'm sure he doesn't want to never see them.

I don't see why you cannot just stop seeing them.

Yes, I could, and I probably should. There is still the issue of him not standing up for me though. I think counseling is what we are going to have to do.
posted by DeltaForce at 8:53 AM on October 2, 2011

Of course he has leverage over them; it's up to him whether or not they get to have a relationship with them. He gets to decide whether they are a part of his life, whether they know what's going on with him, and whether they get to see him. He is willing to make you miserable to avoid making them choose between being civil and losing him. That should tell you where you stand.

The two of you need marriage counseling. If I were you, I would refuse to interact with them. That means that he goes to family weddings and such alone. That's your leverage. You get to choose whether or not he gets his SO by his side as he pretends his family isn't a bunch of assholes. But frankly, if my SO chose people who were actively mean to me over me, I'd leave him.
posted by decathecting at 8:53 AM on October 2, 2011 [21 favorites]

I'd say he has to choose what he wants. If I where you I'd stop attending these events. Encourage him to do so if he wants, but there is no reason for you to assuage his ego and theirs by being shat on from them.

If my family treated my SO this way I would give them an earful, if they did not relent I'd see them at their funerals.
posted by Max Power at 8:54 AM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, I would point out to him that while he may love them, they clearly don't love him very much. If they loved him, they would care about his happiness. The fact that they are attempting to make his SO miserable, putting him in an impossible situation, means that they don't much care whether he's happy. They only care whether they get their own way. That's not love.
posted by decathecting at 8:55 AM on October 2, 2011 [31 favorites]

Does he tend to kowtow to his family in general? Growing up was he constantly trying to please his parents? His behavior is really strange.
posted by timsneezed at 9:04 AM on October 2, 2011

A couple of thoughts:
First, the freeze-out thing is ridiculously childish, and I can't believe that actual adults are participating in it.
Secondly, hell yes your SO needs to get on their case about this. If he's going to fold on this, what else will he fold on? It doesn't matter if they decide to double down or not - he should at least let them know where he stands on the issue.
Finally, though it might be tempting to try to taunt them into responding to you (that would be my usual tack), stay classy. It's they that are being the poor actors here, and it should be left that way. Don't give them an actual reason to act like asses toward you.
posted by Gilbert at 9:04 AM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

If he didn't change his ways, I'd have to leave. The family is bullying you, and he's not doing all he can to protect you.

Because what your partner doesn't realize is that in disrespecting you, his family is disrespecting him. Repeatedly. Disrespecting his choice in a partner. Perhaps he feels that they are just disrespecting you, but they are disrespecting both of you if you are a team. Are you guys a team?

It's not that you 'care' how they are treating you, it's how he's treating you. Which is that he is treating this like an 'unfortunate evil', and one that he 'can't do anything about'. And he can. You know it. He could stand with you, and tell his family that ignoring you, is ignoring him. He could not just sit around for four hours or whatever at that table, and pretend they aren't bullying you. Or realize that the response to that bullying isn't to try to appease them. It's to call them on their bullshit, every time.

Yeah, the family wants you to break up. But that's not the problem. The problem is "If you say anything to them, I will not support you". He's breaking you up. Not them. He's decided that rather than do the work he needs to do (handle his parents), he'd rather you do the work, by 'pretending it isn't happening'.

There are men out there who wouldn't put the burden on you to handle their shit for them. Him paying attention to you isn't enough. He can also quietly explain that if they are going to ignore you, then he can't sit at the table. He can't sit at a table, watch a table full of people freeze you out for hours, and decide that the best response is for you to modify your behavior. You're the only one acting like an adult.

Whenever the strategy from a group conflict is that everyone modeling unhealthy behavior wants the one person modeling healthy behavior to 'buck up' or 'not take it personally', etc., it's a flag that there is something is seriously, seriously wrong.

I don't know if it's relevant, but if you ever have kids, will he let them see you being disrespected like that by his family? If not, then find a guy who is willing to protect you, and not mind game you with language like "why do you care so much?" The question I have isn't why do you care so much, but why does he care so little?

But the most important question here is why are you with someone who, for whatever reason, will literally sit by and let others treat you so poorly? Because that's really the only question that you can do anything about. That's what's really worrisome. Stop focusing on them. Stop focusing on getting him to do something differently. Fix you. Adhere to your values, and take the action that protects you. The rest will work itself out.
posted by anitanita at 9:05 AM on October 2, 2011 [54 favorites]

I don't say this often but I think you should probably just break up. His family will never like you or accept you no matter what he says (unless there is a specific issue that can be addressed). It sucks that he wont support you in this but even if he did, all that confronting them would do would be to keep them quiet (in front of you and him), it wont change how they feel about you and you'll (or more specifically they'll) be essentially making him choose between you and his family... and that's just a recipe for resentment.
posted by missmagenta at 9:05 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

all really dislike me. Without going into details

Maybe you should, as it sounds like the backstory could be pretty significant here? I mean, it is not that common that sane people go around doling out a "cut direct" without having previously taken some substantial offence.

"I have confronted them before...make the situation worse by "stirring the pot"" hints at the drama not being entirely one-sided, if you see what I mean. Are there actual specific objections to you, do you know what they are?

I cannot help but wonder if Boyfriend is also somewhat offended by whatever Mom and Siblings took offence to, and is trying to keep the peace and keep the girlfriend in a rather lazy fashion...?
posted by kmennie at 9:05 AM on October 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

Stop going to ANY events where they will be in attendance. Stop agreeing to interact with them AT ALL. Don't ever bring anything up with him about them, and when they treat you badly on the phone or you overhear something, ignore it completely.

Don't let him talk to you AT ALL about his family. No news, no updates, nothing. This is the stand you need to take. The family is shutting you out, so you have to act as if they don't exist. Eventually, this will force your SO to take action in one way or another, because the discomfort will be shifted onto him instead of you. Right now, he's sitting pretty, with both parties trying to get his attention. He has to be the one to fix this, but he won't until he has enough pain to do so. Put that pain on his shoulders, and you'll be amazed how quickly he'll try to reach a conclusion.
posted by xingcat at 9:05 AM on October 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

I can't believe your husband would seriously tell you to "just stop caring what they think". That may work with coworkers, neighbors, etc., but with family, that advice is simplistic and unrealistic. And it's not about being hungry for approval--normal people do care what their inlaws think, and would rather get along with them and be liked by them, than not. Please don't feel that you're wrong for wishing they liked you or at least treated you civilly.

Sadly in this case it looks like your inlaws may be a lost cause. I think the best solution with things as they stand right now, is to tell your husband that if he wants to attend these family functions, he'll be going alone from now on. BUT, if he takes you up on this offer and actually goes to these events without you....let's just say this is not behavior that I would ever tolerate from a husband. We don't choose our family but we do choose our spouses, and we make a commitment to them to stand by them 'forsaking all others'. Sounds like your husband could use a reminder of this, preferably from a marriage counselor.
posted by mhm407 at 9:06 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stop going to ANY events where they will be in attendance. Stop agreeing to interact with them AT ALL.

I disagree with this, if you do this then they win. They get, not ever seeing you again and get to continue pretending you don't exist, while you get to sit at home alone any time he attends a family event.
posted by missmagenta at 9:12 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

You can take yourself out of the situation where you will be treated that way. No more family gatherings for you. You can go do something you would find pleasure in while he goes to his family functions.

They will never change. NEVER.

They ignored you at someone else's wedding. Imagine being ignored by them at YOUR wedding. Yes, that is much more interesting. I experienced that. Some years later, I had a child with that man. Things only got worse. It is awkward and with every passing day, holiday, birthday, etc, it just showed how much they hated me and then smiled and pretended everything was wonderful. To make matters worse, I was made out to be the crazy person and it was all me because EVERYONE "LOVES" me. I am not an idiot.

Maybe it is a bit better for you, but he has to do more than just back you up verbally. He has to stop putting you in the position where you will be disrespected, hurt and made uncomfortable.

It would be a lot to ask, but he could just not go to family functions too.
posted by Yellow at 9:15 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, maybe you're not married. Still, it doesn't change my advice much. Part of being in *any* committed relationship is sticking by your SO first and foremost. If he won't do that now, you may want to rethink things, and please don't ever marry him unless this behavior changes.
posted by mhm407 at 9:19 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband's family doesn't particularly like me and after a couple years of trying to spend time with people who were passive-aggressively nasty to me I decided that it was not worth the stress and upset to be around them. They are his family though, so I fully support and encourage him to spend time with them whenever he likes. I refuse to put myself in the position to have to deal with them though. I also told him he may not lie for me (that only feeds passive-aggressiveness)--if they ask him where I am etc, the answer is that they make me uncomfortable and I prefer not to spend time with them. Over the years (we've been together for 9 years) things have mellowed out a little bit and the nasty behavior was so long ago I'm willing to give them another chance on a few occasions. And when his grandmother fell ill and was in the hospital I went with him to support him so I have made exceptions.

Now, this arrangement works because he fully supports me and understands why I choose to not spend time with them and does not make it hard for me to bow out of his family commitments. I think it also works because I really do not want to come between him and his family. I am more or less successful at this, but I really do try. Really it's not about his family, it's about how we respect each other: I respect his relationship with his family, and he respects my decision to not be around people who make me feel like crap.
posted by Kimberly at 9:26 AM on October 2, 2011 [13 favorites]

Think long and hard about what you want, especially about what you want that is achievable. It sounds like you accept that you may have had some part in creating the problem. Have you made whatever amends you can make? Do you have kids? Because this could really make your marriage difficult. If you bend over backwards and do everything you can to make things right, and your husband won't back you up, the 2 of you should get marriage counseling. It sounds like you don't have kids. Imagine how much more complicated life would be if the grandparents won't talk to the Mom.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 AM on October 2, 2011

So, you confronted them before and he had your back and all that did was make them worse? I don't see how more confrontation is going to accomplish anything. He can't force them to respect you and love you, which is what you want. If it were me, I'd try to just accept the fact that they're dicks, try to limit interaction with them, be polite and have no expectation of warmth or kindness from them ever.

But, what's the backstory here? Why do they hate you? I'm not saying their reason is good - in fact, I'm sure it's not - but more context might help us understand the situation more fully.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:32 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your biggest problem is your SO, not the inlaws. InspectorGadget has this absolutely right... your SO needs to "man the fuck up".
posted by murrey at 9:33 AM on October 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

How old is your SO, and what exactly precipitated this feud?

If he's relatively young (I dunno, mid-20's or younger), then he may still be experimenting with conflict management strategies, in which case it's more forgiveable that he thinks he can solve this by making everyone shut up about it. In which case, make it explicitly clear to him how hurt you feel, and make it clear that ignoring the conflict is not going to be a solution.

If you were initially in the wrong, or if he thinks you have not done enough to defuse the situation, then washing his hands of it may be the only move he feels is available to him -- because he thinks it would be futile to intervene and simplistic to take sideĀ§. (Of course, he should still have had the courtesy and maturity to explain this to you.) In this case, discuss with him why you feel you're blameless, or discuss with him what you could do to remediate whatever role you have played in the conflict. He may be able to offer you reasonable steps you could take to calm the situation, and once he feels you're genuinely trying to take those steps and calm the situation, he's more likely to defend you to people who are not.
posted by foursentences at 9:36 AM on October 2, 2011

I have to agree that "Without going into details..." is likely to handicap the helpfulness of this thread. You posted a very, very one-sided account that makes you look innocent and your boyfriend's family look petty and cruel. And maybe that's accurate, but it's hard to know from an account that flat-out says, "Here's all the bad stuff they do to me, nevermind the backstory."

If you just want to be patted on the back (as many comments above have done) and told that you're right, then so be it. If you want helpful advice, it's worth considering whether you have provided enough detail. It's not necessary to write a treatise like some RelationshipFilter questions include, but you do need to make some effort to balance the story. What would their side be?
posted by red clover at 10:16 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is one of those situations where he's going to have to support you just out of solidarity to make a point, not because it will help. The family is enjoying seeing that he won't stick up for you with them.

He is going to have to, in as low-key a way as he can, say something. Introduce you again, as if he forgot. Bring you into a conversation in progress, by asking you a relevant question. Then, when their behavior is obvious, say something. "hey, you guys are being really rude to my wife. That's offensive to ME. Are you trying to offend me? You can't be civil for one afternoon for my benefit?"

He's refusing to see it that way, because he doesn't want to believe that his family is disrespecting HIM by being rude to you. But they are. He should act as if they were being overtly insulting to HIM. Because they are and they know it.
posted by ctmf at 10:19 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, your prior questions under your non-anonymous username indicate you guys are pretty young (early 20s) and have been through some tough times already. Is part of the issues with his family because they resent your involvement in these tough times?

I think foursentences is correct that his age may be contributing to his lack of effective communication with his family here, and I would guess that your age makes it difficult to manage this conflict with his family yourself. Do you know why, specifically, they dislike you and are there ways you can address these issues?

It would be helpful to use to figure out why they're so upset with you. Aside from any bad behavior on your part that has precipitated their vendetta that your SO can't mediate, your SO needs to lay it down that in order for them to have a relationship with him, they need to treat you civilly.

(Note: Honestly, even if they dislike you they should be treating you civilly, this middle-school bullshit is just that, bullshit)
posted by schroedinger at 10:20 AM on October 2, 2011

Frankly it sounds like you need a new partner. By refusing to do anything at all, he's actively taking his parents' side against you. If he's young, he may just not get that, but it seems to indicate that on an instinctive level he's not willing to go to bat for you. I would bail.
posted by facetious at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2011

The thing is I really wish that we got along, and that they respected me, and loved me, but they really hate me, and I guess I'm one of those people that really care about the opinions of others. So I guess my question is, what should I do? What would you do in my situation?

So, you don't get along. People don't have to get along, but they ought to be polite. They don't respect you, because one earns respect, and commands respect - but it's not just given. You may have lost theirs, somehow. But again, people ought to behave respectfully. Love may never come, but love doesn't guarantee good behaviour even when it does.

Everyone cares about the opinions of others, to some extent, and by using this sort of passive "I guess I'm just one of those people..." you're not really setting a boundary that people can respect. It's like saying "Their opinion of me determines how I feel about myself." You are not helpless in the face of their being jerks, and that includes your SO. People will do things as long as they can. His family is being churlish not because he's letting them, but because you're letting them. And until you let him know that not only will you now suffer under their uncivil behaviour, that further, he no longer can sit by and let them treat you that way, he will.

It's not even that you're "just one of those people that cares about the opinions of others" - that doesn't mean what you think it means. Caring about the opinions of others would mean that you have a conversation where you hear their side, really listen to what their issues with you are, and then work on a resolution from both sides. Seems that it's that you're one of those people that suffers the consequences of others' childish behaviour and takes it to heart - and that's a whole different thing.

What should you do? You should not let how other people are be the measure of the person you want to be even if you decide to keep on with this. This includes him. If you are a person with integrity who is polite to all, kind by default, and trying her best to work through a bunch of difficult stuff without making anything worse, than continue on as you are and their behaviour will look petty in the face of your grace. You're probably not feeling it, because yes, you are young and have personal issues and yes, your posting history really does affect the answers to this question. You're not feeling secure; communication is an issue. He's not your protector; he doesn't deal with things; and But my advice stands - if, over time, you become more self-assured and mature, his, and their, truly silly behaviour that you may never be able to fix will either become something that you can keep your true self apart from - or you'll feel strong enough to leave it behind.
posted by peagood at 10:49 AM on October 2, 2011

Nthing "we need more details". Giving a one-sided account like this is in my experience a really good sign that the person who can't give at least a token nod to the perspective of the other side is usually the biggest part of the problem. Your boyfriend's strategy doesn't really seem like a bad one, as long as he doesn't try to pressure you into contact with him, and keeps his interaction with them at a level you're both comfortable with. You seem to be devoting a lot of psychic energy to a lost cause, here, and regardless of who is at fault, that's never a good coping strategy and it doesn't ever go good places. Also, saying you wished that they "loved you" is a bit odd. That's not necessarily normal for an in-law relationship. I have a friendly and respectful relationship with my "mother in law", and I'm always happy to see her, but it would actually be very strange if she decided she loved me.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:50 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Contact with them. Oy.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:52 AM on October 2, 2011

Don't ever think you're weak or overly sensitive for feeling upset when someone treats you this way. What your SO's family is doing to you is childish, cruel, and hurtful, and simply not how mature respectful adults treat one another. They are either making a deliberate effort to hurt you, or they just don't give a fuck if you're miserable. Most people in your situation would be rightfully upset.

Your SO's advice to stop caring isn't useful here, and in giving that advice he's trying to ignore/minimize your feelings.

On top of that, it sounds like he actually does care, and he recognizes his family's behaving like a gang of middle-school bullies, but he feels powerless to change the dynamic, so he grits his teeth. It's not working. And it's not going to change unless he does something different. And if it doesn't change, you would be justified in leaving.

Does he think their behavior towards you is appropriate? Does he think it's reasonable for you to have to put up with this behavior for years or decades? And is he just going to take whatever his family throws at him, no matter how unreasonable or bullying?
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:31 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

"If you say anything to them, I will not support you."

This is not someone who has your back, which is huge in any relationship. You might want to think very hard about the long-term implications of this: Suppose they're one day nasty to your kids, too? Are you prepared to field that on your own? Because his guy doesn't look likely to stand up to his pack of overgrown schoolyard bullies anytime soon.

My family would they get a blistering earful on the spot if they ever treated my husband like that. In fact, interacting with them would probably go on hold until they got counseling, because that is not normal adult behavior.

Unless there's a lot more to the story, I would consider this a deal-breaker.
posted by bunji at 12:28 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

this may or may not be helpful, but the next time you find yourself in that wedding-type scenario, being *blatantly* ignored, engage them. not "be the bigger person" engagement..."hey (moms name, sisters name), do you have the guts to tell me why youre pretending im not here? hello?"

either they'll respond and at least they'll have to wallow in their own filth, or they'll continue to ignore which case you turn to your SO, you say "this is your choice: stand up for the woman you love, or tell me you dont love me. either way i will be leaving this room tonight, but only one waylets you come with me."

because honestly, hes got to deal with this, and if he wont do it by taking your side against such *blatant* behavior, then what kind of partner is he?
posted by davejay at 12:46 PM on October 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

I disagree with this, if you do this then they win. They get, not ever seeing you again and get to continue pretending you don't exist, while you get to sit at home alone any time he attends a family event.

This kind of "I deserve to be here even though you treat me badly" is how people get stuck in abusive dynamics.

I can't speak to your entire situation, but I can tell you that when people are mean to you, it's more important to spend time with people who are not mean to you than it is to stand your ground and insist on spending time with mean people, on principle.

Here's the thing---you always want to have someplace better to be, or at least give that impression.

Sometimes, that means you don't go to the gathering, because you're "working on an important chapter of your book" or you "have a good friend in town this weekend, whom you haven't seen in a long time".

Sometimes it means you go to the event, but you arrive last and leave first.,..because you're "volunteering at the nursing home and it's Miss Ellie's 90th birthday." Or because you're "finishing up a quilt" that you're donating to a charity auction.

Sometimes it means you go to the event and they ignore you at the table and you get up and introduce yourself to the most interesting person in the room and have a great conversation.

This all works even better if you really do lead an interesting life and have better places to be. But even if you don't, until you create one, you let them think you do. Then, it doesn't matter if his family ignores you at the table, because you have better places to be. And it doesn't matter if you husband fails to entertain you at the table, because you just introduced yourself to the bride's mother and did you know she survived breast cancer? She's so interesting! And when you return to the table, you smile at The Grumplesteins and say "I'm so glad I came, I'm having a really good time!"

You will never get a tearful apology from the family--they'll never admit they've been "wrong all along"--nobody wants to lose face. But by becoming someone with someplace better to be, they'll be drawn to you. They'll express interest. When they do that, reward them for it.

If they started treating you nicely right now, you'd probably resent it, thinking "why are you being nice now? You can't just change your tune!" That would be a big mistake. You want to reward good behavior--even if it doesn't come with an apology. If they ask how you've been, for example, tell them and then thank them for asking. (People are surprisingly trainable.)
posted by vitabellosi at 1:04 PM on October 2, 2011 [14 favorites]

My DH's family didn't like me. The grandmother would make snippy comments right to my face and my MIL told my DH that I was going to ruin his life. They would be passive agressive and unpleasant to me at family holidays. For years.
And I was the bigger person and ignored IT ALL. And we made visits brief. And infrequent.
Then, when we had kids, my MIL finally realized that the only way she would have a relationship with the grandkids was if she had a decent relationship with me -- so she started being nice to me and finding things to like about me. And I just let our whole past go and moved on. Now, 20 years on, we have a decent relationship. She came and stayed with me and the kids (dh was away on business) this summer and we had a nice time going antiquing and sharing a glass of wine.

Yes. 10 years of our relationship really, REALLY sucked. And I was angry at my DH for never standing up for me (he is conflict averse and didn't want to stir the pot). But I knew I was stuck with these people for the REST of my life so I made the decision to be a bigger person and I am glad I did. It was a lot easier to let go of the past when there were no overt conflicts between us.
posted by LittleMy at 1:35 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

My parents did this to my girlfriend, and I did the only thing possible -- I cut off contact with them. This is what your SO should do.

After many years I did cross paths with them again (I still saw my grandparents, and ran into them at the hospital). I saw that they no longer had the power over me to be as dangerous as they had been 17 years before, and they expressed great sorrow and had obviously mellowed a lot, so I agreed to keep in touch.

My wife was unthrilled, and we agreed that she would not meet them and I would only see them when it did not take time from us. What happens nowadays is every few months they drive down and take me out for lunch on a workday. Makes them happy and doesn't seem to bother the wife to get family news this way.

The bottom line is I couldn't live with them forever (although I think in a nutty kind of way they wanted me to) and they weren't my future, and I had to choose in favor of the person I did want to live with and who was. Anything else would have disrespected not only my wife, but myself.

If your SO isn't willing to do this then you should do it yourself unilaterally, and see how much of his attention they are able to steal from you before deciding whether the relationship can stable in their presence.
posted by localroger at 2:12 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

No, he isn't. But they're family and he loves them, so I'm sure he doesn't want to never see them.

But he's willing to let you suffer so that he can continue to see these bullies?

Here's my take on it. I think their treatment of you is more about him. They're questioning his ability to choose a partner and/or live as an adult. They're criticizing him in a very roundabout way. But it takes the direct pressure off of him (or whoever in the family was the target before) and puts it onto you. I can see that being a relief for him, because now he's got a degree of separation from the snottiness and the cold shoulder.

Except that he doesn't, really. Or maybe I mean, I'm disappointed if he thinks he does.

So. I don't think that you have the power to fix this by yourself, but I agree with your assessment that couples' therapy is the direction you're headed in.

Take this with a grain of salt though, I'm pretty pro-leave your family in the dust if they're abusive. Granted, my own parents beat the ever loving snot out of us kids on a regular basis, but this emotional blackmail and turmoil was also incredibly common.
posted by bilabial at 3:05 PM on October 2, 2011

If you are as young as you seem to be, and your relationship is not of terribly long standing (almost inevitably so at your apparent age) I'm going to hazard a guess that they are trying to get rid of you. Maybe they have their reasons based on something you did or maybe they just want to exert power. If this is the case, it could be a long road for you. You may not ever be accepted at all. Couples have certainly come through this kind of thing but if my picture is right, you really, really need your SO's assurance that he is in the relationship for keeps, whatever they may do. Once you have that assurance you can decide how best to deal with his family.
posted by BibiRose at 4:52 PM on October 2, 2011

I also think the issue is between him and his parents over who can control his life and both of them are using you as a proxy target to avoid the real issue. He should not tolerate their treatment of you and the fact that he does shows you exactly what priority he places on you in his life. That his parents, grown ass adults, treat you so poorly and tell lies about you behind your backs speaks to the dysfunction he must have been raised in. Unless you have done something truly heinous (I'm thinking sleeping with his brother kind of thing) his parents should have the maturity to accept that at twenty you may make a social faux pas now and then. Unless you SO decides to be an adult in your relationship you will not be able to have a healthy, loving relationship with him.
posted by saucysault at 4:58 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was in my early 20s, I was you. Non confrontational boyfriend, domineering mother, interfering sisters. They made my life a living hell and he refused to stand up for me so they acted like I didn't exist or were simply vile to me. I could tell you stories that would make your toes curl. The mother later admitted that it had nothing to do with me, she just didn't like to see her only son being 'stolen' away by another woman. Creepy. I should have broken up with him over that but instead did it later for many other reasons (this was not a nice guy). The mother then told him he should do whatever it takes to get back together with me. Guess she missed her punching bag. Cue my jaw dropping, one of the major upsides to being out of that relationship was never having to deal with her again.

Anyway fast forward 8 years later, I'm married to a wonderful man, we're expecting our first child and his family have done nothing but welcome me with open arms, in fact I have a better relationship with some of them than my own family. What I'm trying to say is that things can work out, just not always in the way you think they will. Someone who loves you will never let you get treated that way.

And sometimes there is poetic justice. For what it's worth, the man in question has never moved on. He hasn't had a proper relationship since, his mother is probably still running women out of town, and honestly, for the sake of any of these future ladies, I hope he doesn't get into another relationship until he sorts out these issues because I'd hate for someone else to go through the 8 years of hell they put me through. If the price is that these people are single until they learn how to treat their OH better, oh well.

In short, break up. They won't change, the only thing that will change is the way you react. I wish someone had told me this.
posted by Jubey at 6:16 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have relatives who are guaranteed to not like anyone I date, so I'm coming at it from that angle.

(a) I second the "what is the point in forcing him to confront them when it didn't work the first time." I can totally see why he doesn't want to if it doesn't help and doesn't change anything. And you said it made it WORSE. It sounds like he HAS tried to defend you ("He has defended me against his parents and has also told them that he does not want to hear them talking badly about me to him anymore.") and it hasn't made anything better. Clearly him telling them what for didn't help a thing, eh? Other than saying he won't support you if you insist on confronting them again-- I repeat, because it didn't work and made things worse-- he doesn't sound THAT bad to me.

(b) Haters gonna hate. If they insist on being assholes, then that's what they're gonna do. You can't change that.

(c) You can't do anything about anyone else's behavior, you can only do something about your own.

(d) On your part, I would say to never have contact with them again, or avoid them as much as possible. They're not going to like you no matter what (unless you have a kid, and that might change it, but who knows), so why force yourself to be around assholes trying to change their minds? Some of us have relatives that just can't fucking cope with SO's, and short of breaking up with them, it might just be best for everyone to stay in their separate worlds.

(e) You can certainly break up with him over this. It's an option. If you really need someone whose relatives love you (to which I say good luck, that's luck of the draw), then you can't get that from him. And it adds stress to his life-- though I don't know for sure that they would only have a problem with YOU, some folks will just hate anyone their precious baby dates on default. And those poor bastards, like me, probably will end up single forever. But if he's good otherwise except for his shitty family, well... that's gonna be up to you.

(f) As far as I can tell, your SO has tried to do the reasonable thing and stood up for you. It just didn't work. At this point, his options kinda boil down to "tolerate it" or "cut them off." He may not be strong enough to cut off his family, jerks though they may be. Not everybody can pull it off, and god knows I can't so I can't judge. Unfortunately, he only gets the one family and if he loses them, he can't get another one so easily. I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing, just an understandable one. It's a hard thing to do.

I don't know what to tell you to do here, really. Other than give up on anyone else changing their behaviors, and modifying yours to do whatever it is you CAN do to make the situation less shitty, without help from anyone else.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:26 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

You should try to have more sympathy towards your boyfriend. He's being pulled in two directions, and unlike many posters here I don't think it's obvious that he needs to support you over his family just because you want him to. If he helps you ignore their behavior and treats you well, that may be the best he can do at this stage in your relationship. And maybe that's enough? Up to you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:41 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

If any of my relations treated my wife like that they would be out of my fucking life. Zero contact, no grandkid fun for them. They would be welcome to come crawling back when they were ready to stop acting like shitty little spoiled children.
posted by nanojath at 9:26 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding Patomac in that if your SO loves his family, and loves you, it puts him smack in an ugly middle. The fact that he paid a lot of attention to you and you danced together (hopefully held hands at the table and included you with comments directed to you) while you were quietly gracious means that you both 'won' by looking like normal polite people while his family acted like jackasses.

Talk to a counselor. Take the high road. Ask your husband to be extra affectionate while you're all together (holding hands, arm around you, maybe a sort sweet kiss on the knuckles or the cheek--not a tongue in mouth makeout session)

My in-laws were somewhat like this, and I learned the less I mandated that my husband 'choose sides' the more likely he would present a united front with me. I wouldn't get all up in their faces, and I wouldn't expect him to do it, either. Take the high road, or if you're feeling cranky, dig out the cell phone or the Ipod. Ignoring them might make them aggravated enough to talk to you. Then you can bat your eyes and apologize for inadvertently ignoring them like the high roader you are. ;)
posted by BlueHorse at 9:28 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was in my early 20's and in the same situation as you, I found that the whole issue boiled down to control.

My non-confrontational boyfriend it turns out (it was not obvious at first) was under total emotional control by his parents. They had a long family history of exerting full influence over all of their children's major life decisions. From degree to career to home, it was all subject to their strong "suggestions" that were to be followed with a smile and without question.

Anyone who threatened them by potentially having influence over their children (aka: me and possibly you) were treated like incompetent dirt, or worse subject to attempts by them to try and control their children's partners in the same way that they controlled their children.

If you are sure that their ire is not a result of your own actions towards them, then consider the possibility that they many not want to be welcoming. They may just want to control in the same way that they were raised and thus how they raised their children. If they cant control you, and if you seem to have some sway over their son, then they may just want you to disappear, no matter how nice you are.

I left my boyfriend over this. I have no desire to be with someone who sees this as an acceptable family dynamic (which his silent compliance repeatedly confermed).
posted by Shouraku at 9:13 AM on October 3, 2011 [9 favorites]

mhm407 imparts great wisdom

Your husband really ought to be so thoroughly disgusted by his family's behavior towards you that he stops acknowledging them until they all apologize to both of you!

I think your husband might not realize that he's a grown-up in a marriage, and instead is still thinking of himself as a minor child on some levels? I can't believe he socializd with you like nothing was wrong while they openly snubbed you. The whole thing sounds juvenile, high school.

I hope he gets it and steps up.
posted by jbenben at 3:24 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

This does not bode well for you, you will really have to accept that they dont like you and not try to change their mind. Treat them as you would strangers, not family. There will always be others who don't like you, you cant change that and dont even try it.
posted by pakora1 at 3:04 PM on February 17, 2012

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