Seeking long term advice for dealing with "asker" in-laws as a life-long "guesser."
November 22, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Seeking long term advice for dealing with "asker" in-laws as a life-long "guesser."

She did it again. THIS Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law invited herself and the rest of her family on my annual, already booked, week-long vacation with my family (mom, dad, siblings, spouses). This time, all parties in question are flying distance from the vacation spot, a very small place, and MIL has decided that they'll be going the same week and husband and I can either spend time with them or not. I like my in-laws. I like to vacation with them. I don't like the passive-aggressive intrusion on an already-planned trip. Nor do my parents, who are gifting us the vacation for Christmas.

So the current situation is being handled by husband and I (and my parents as well, whom she has already contacted with her intentions) as best we can for now, so my question, I suppose, is really about how to move forward knowing that I come from a "guess" family and my husband comes from an "ask" family. This appears to be a pretty solid trend now, so how do I more effectively deal with this issue NEXT Thanksgiving?

What kind of communication styles or attitudes will help me in dealing with these issues in the future? Do "askers" simply take no for an answer? As a guesser, I feel like I'm going to hurt her if I say no. I'm so wrought with anxiety at having to tell her no that I cannot concentrate on my work for the week. Can I anticipate these things or head them off in a better way?

Thank you MeFi.
posted by anony moose to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, as an asker, let me say that asking requires, well, ASKING. If she asked, if she said "what do you think about us joining you, would that be OK?", then she's an asker, and, if she's an asker, she's expecting you to say no if it's not OK, and will rightfully consider you rude if you say yes and then resent her for it.

HOWEVER, that doesn't sound like what happened here. It sounds like she decided on her own and then TOLD you she was doing these things. That is NOT being an asker. That is imposing herself on you. And regardless, it's still TOTALLY OK for you to say "oh that won't work for us." or "We're doing this one just us, but we'll let you know when we want to do a bigger trip" (and then not) or "Sorry, that won't be possible." or "we'll let you know if we have time to see you on this trip" (and then not).

Things to keep in mind: you do not ever have to have a reason to say no. Saying no because you feel like saying no is 100% OK, and you don't owe anyone an explanation, ever. If they ask, you can say "I'm sorry, it just won't be possible." "Why not!" "It doesn't work for us" "Why not!" "I'm sorry, it's just not possible"
posted by brainmouse at 11:23 AM on November 22, 2011 [74 favorites]

You're not going to get a better answer than that.
posted by spicynuts at 11:25 AM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

My understanding was that the deal with askers was that they come right out and ask for things, with the expectation that they might be refused, and can cope with hearing "no." What you are describing doesn't sound particularly like ask or guess to me; it just sounds clueless and rude. Saying "no" is a fine thing to do, regardless of which party is what kind of communicator.
posted by little cow make small moo at 11:25 AM on November 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

To me, this isn't "Ask vs. Guess" in any way. Because she's not asking anything!! "Ask" would be more, "What do you think about us joining you on your trip," rather than just pushily deciding that she's going to and then passive-aggressively telling you that you "could spend time with them or not." Passive-aggressiveness isn't very "Ask." To me, rather than Ask vs. Guess, this is way more Passive-Aggressive/Pushy/Inconsiderate vs. Normal.

How to deal wtih this:

I couldn't tell if this had been resolved since your previous question. But if not, *your husband* needs to straighten his spine and tell his mother that he's happy to work out holidays among all of you, but she needs to ASK you guys *before* making decisions. Period. Let the fallout be what it may, I think she will get over it.
posted by cairdeas at 11:26 AM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I like what Miss Manners has to say about situations like this.

When MIL does this, simply say pleasantly, "Oh, I'm sorry, we won't be able to get together with you."

When she asks why, say, "Because I'm afraid it's just impossible."

It might not work long-term, but it will give you a classy out from having to spend time with anyone other than those who were originally part of the plans.
posted by Amy NM at 11:27 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm so wrought with anxiety at having to tell her no that I cannot concentrate on my work for the week.

That's why you do it first thing. Really. How much of your life are you going to let her invade?
posted by hermitosis at 11:28 AM on November 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

Like others, I think this is less about asking and guessing, and more about people with no filters. At least, this is what I call them. There is no filter in their heads that says "maybe this is a bad idea", they just go right ahead and do or say whatever. Clueless, like little cow says.

I have an acquaintance like this that will talk your ear off at the drop of a hat. Like, follow you to the parking lot, so as to continue her one-sided conversation with you. As a guesser myself, I would smile and nod and appear interested, so as to not offend her. One night, I was really in a rush, and just flat out said, "Sorry, I can't stay, gotta go!.

Her reaction? A bright "OK then!", and off she went.

Don't feel bad about saying no to your MIL. Assume that she has no filters, and that you need to tell her, using small words, when she's crossed the line.
posted by LN at 11:29 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I realize this isn't quite what you asked, but:

MIL has decided that they'll be going the same week and husband and I can either spend time with them or not.

Then don't? That's one of the nice things about passive aggression. There's always that other choice, even if it's not the one you're supposed to make.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:31 AM on November 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

How does she find out where you're going for Thanksgiving? When she asks your plans, you say "We'll be spending it with my mom" "We'll be spending Thanksgiving with each other, what a great chance to be alone together!". And then she'll say, "Where are you going?"
Vague information is fine: "the Poconos", "sometime in June", "Well, we're just going to fly into X and tour around from there... or maybe we'll fly in Y and fly out X."
Prevarication is also good:
"Oh, Mom's handling that, I think it's a suprise." (i.e. I don't know)
"I can't tell you, it's our secret get-away!" (i.e. pass it off as fun)
"It's somewhere in Pennsylvania, I'm not really sure." (i.e. the gritty details aren't really important to our conversation, which is definitely not about telling you all our vacation plans)
The key here is that everyone involved (your husband, your mom, etc, not just you) has to not give her the information.

It's not just ask/guess - she's being tactless, and assuming that when someone tells me a date, time, location, and activity that they're doing, it must mean they're telling me so I can come along. That kind of thing can happen much more easily with daily things than large-scale vacations, (i.e. she's extra-tactless) but it's got to be nipped in the bud: "Oh, whoops! I meant N and I are going to [X], and I was mentioning to you because you're always talking about [bed and breakfasts] and I'm looking forward to reporting back when we come home. This trip is kind of our [date-night, sister-time, mom-daughter time, getting hubby some time with my family] so we've set it aside. But we've been wanting to do something with just you, let's talk about when might be good." Assume that she honestly has no idea she's doing something you might not want, and tell her you don't want that.
posted by aimedwander at 11:41 AM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Since you linked to your past question, I find you left out a lot of details...

- Did she end up going on the last trip or not? Did you handle it effectively??

- What's up between you and your husband, what's up between him and his parents??

I can't imagine how/why your husband is unwilling to lay down the law for his mother. He's (a) allowing her to embarrass herself, and (b) allowing her to bully all of you.

Why is he abdicating his responsibility and agency in this situation?

You don't have an Ask/Guess problem, and you don't have a MIL problem. You have an issue with your husband, who needed to tell his mom this was not at all an option the nanosecond she mentioned the possibility of joining you on this trip.

I'm not trying to create problems between you and your husband - I simply see few ways for you to have handled this that he couldn't do far far better from his role as her son.

In effect, he is accidentally(?) putting you into conflict with his mother. I mean, is he doing that? Because it sure looks like it, right?

I think you and your guy need a counselor. Not sure why he's missing the bigger picture here and his direct role in it, but there it is.
posted by jbenben at 11:44 AM on November 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

I was going to say essentially the same thing as brainmouse: did she ask you if she could join your vacation, or did she inform you that she intended to? "Ask culture" really requires that you give the other person an honest opportunity to say no. If she didn't give you that, then she's not an Ask, she's a steamroller.

That said, if she insists on visiting Small Place the same week that you and your family are vacationing there, I don't think you can tell her not to go. (Assuming she books her own flights and accommodations. If she's trying to horn in on a shared rental house, for example, then you absolutely can refuse.) But you can take her at her word and choose to spend little or no time with her, and do your best to forget she's there.

In the future, knowing that the group vacations are an issue, you might be able to head off the intrusion by being very explicit up front when telling her about your vacation plans: "We're planning a retreat for just the four of us, and husband and I would like to plan a separate occasion to spend time with you and the rest of the in-laws." As in LN's example, some people just need to have these things spelled out for them.
posted by Orinda at 11:46 AM on November 22, 2011


Unless you update differently, I'm with everyone else here that it will probably be just fine if you (or her son) politely told your MIL "no" whenever stuff like this comes up.

Pushy people are used to hearing "no." Not sure how to get out of this now (unless husband steps in) just for the future.

Yes. You can be direct with pushy people. It's kinda refreshing when you are, feels good!
posted by jbenben at 11:51 AM on November 22, 2011

I don't see how this is passive-agressive. It's just aggressive. So she shows up on the same tiny island, and you don't see her. What's the worst that could happen?
Or she shows up, you all have 1 meal together and that's that. What's the worst outcome there?

Does she know that this trip is a present from your parents? If the situation was reversed, would she feel miffed if your family shoe-horned themselves in on her time?

What did your parents say when she contacted them?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2011

For what it's worth, I'm the pushiest motherfucker around and "No" is always a good answer. But what she's doing is beyond pushy and into WTF.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:02 PM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

You really need to get everyone on the same page (yourself, your spouse, and your family) and tell her no, and you should do it immediately, unequivocally, and without feeling guilty. She's steamrolling you, but you're also letting her. Stop. Set boundaries. Stick to them.

Say "oh, [vacation spot] is lovely, I'm sure you'll enjoy it! It's too bad you planned to come the week we've already made plans, or we'd have been able to spend some time with you. However, you'll probably enjoy [X activity] and [Y activity]. I hope you have a great time!". And then (and this is very important) don't see them. If you run across them in passing, wave and say "Hi! Looks like you're having fun!" and continue whatever you're doing. You need to make it totally clear that if your MIL tries to shoehorn herself into plans, she will not be accommodated-- otherwise she'll just keep doing it to get her way.

It's not going to be easy, but, really, the only way to deal with people like this is to set clear boundaries and stick to them, every single time. Even parents, even in-laws. (Personal anecdote: my parents once visited on a weekend I told them I was busy, because that's the weekend that 'worked best' for them. I said "oh, too bad, I'd love to see you but, as I told you when you asked, I'm booked all weekend!" and didn't see them. They do not visit on weekends I am busy any longer.)
posted by Kpele at 12:46 PM on November 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Your husband (not you) needs to explain that this is a gift from your parents. However, if this is a public place you're going to, and they're not actually traveling with you, you can hope they don't come, but you can't actually stop them. People are allowed to take vacations the same week you do, in the same place you'll be.

You have a right to be miffed. The shoehorning should stop. But they see that you enjoy vacationing with family, and that's what they are. They almost certainly see it as adding to the fun, not as an intrusion.

It might be time to end the group vacations. If they invite themselves along on a second honeymoon, permission granted to jump down their throats with both feet.
posted by sageleaf at 1:10 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This isn't so much ask vs guess as "I'm going to be swinging my arms like this, and if any part of you should happen to get in the way, that's YOUR problem".

Unfortunately, you can't stop her from taking her vacation whenever and wherever she likes. Askers can come across as rude to guessers but its not really rudeness, they're just being direct and a true asker has no problem saying or hearing "no". It sounds like she's just being rude and pushy but if she really is just an asker then you take her at her word. She says "husband and I can either spend time with them or not" then you choose "not". If you want to be nice about it, I would say to her "MIL, we really like to vacation with you but on this particular occasion we just wont be able to spend any time with you. We're only away for a week and all my family will be there, we have lots of catching up to do and there just wont be any time to get together with you." Any 'oh I'm sure you've room for 2 more at dinner' or 'oh we wont be in the way' or 'we'd love to meet/catch up with your family too' will be responded to with 'I'm sorry, that wont be possible'. Repeat until she gets the message.

And in the future, do as your husband suggested and don't tell her about any plans where you don't want to intrude.
posted by missmagenta at 1:19 PM on November 22, 2011

My mother-in-common-law makes remarks like those sometimes ("Oh you're buying a new house? Make sure there's a room for me!", etc.) and I just laugh. REALLY LOUD like it is SO HILARIOUS and she eventually gets it. After that, I try "NOPE".
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

brainmouse is 100% correct.
posted by devymetal at 2:33 PM on November 22, 2011

I would have my husband tell his mother that she's being rude and imposing and this is not the first time she's done this, and it was rude and imposing the first time too. If he doesn't, I'm taking his ticket and giving it to a friend.

He is a guest on this trip and should be so lucky to have your parents offer such an opportunity, and he needs to show some respect.

And if your parents aren't happy about it, and they're in communication with them -- what did they say? Why isn't anyone just being honest? This will become some sort of trend if you let it -- she'll just start assuming every holiday season is ripe for the group vacationing.

re: "Just don't tell her!"

You shouldn't have to stress over conversations with her in fear that you'll accidentally mention a trip you are naturally excited about. That's not healthy, and it's bad advice. Your husband is responsible for telling his mother she's being out of line outside of you making up some excuse right on the spot when she asks about it. If he wants you and your in-laws to remain cordial, anyway.

This was a family trip, on the family dime. They have no place in it. The world is vast, and quality family time is important and nigh impossible to come by these days. I can't even fathom inviting myself to what is obviously an immediate-family gathering.

And I'm sorry, but what kind of husband is okay with his parents doing this psychological warfare crap to his wife? My partner and I are very much on the same page re: our parents and how much involvement they should and will have in our lives. His passive attitude regarding letting other people take control of a situation probably stems from her aggression.

If he doesn't put his foot down, you or your parents will, and it might not be pretty, so he can handle it off to the side and let them down easy, or someone on your side can speak up and possibly offend them (the irony, right?). One of them needs to be done.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:31 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The answer for this current trip is "or not," as mentioned above. Do not reward behavior that you do not want to see in the future.

"Just say no" is about your level of confidence. That's why they kept saying it over and over again in DARE, to get kids used to the idea that they had the right to refuse a pushy person who wanted them to do something that maybe they weren't so comfortable with, and to help them realize that the problem wasn't nearly as complex as it looked at first. Assertiveness is hard for me, too - take strength from the fact that your MIL clearly will not take anything short of "no" for an answer, and just start being blunt. Because frankly, your sanity is at stake here (not to mention your marriage.)

You and your husband might both benefit from some counseling oriented towards assertiveness, healthy communication styles, boundary setting, and comfort with interpersonal conflict, by the way. This all - your MIL's behavior, your freaking out about it, his avoidance response - is patently ridiculous. You might also find some books helpful.
posted by SMPA at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think she just skipped ask and went straight to tell. She's a bully and you need to draw the line. Otherwise she's going to keep invading your life without permission. This isn't about communication styles or attitudes. It's about her getting what she wants.
posted by smokingmonkey at 6:52 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had (have!) two couples, dear friends whom I love, but they were "let's do everything together" and lo and behold, they magically canceled their cruise and booked the same island resort at the same time beloved and I were vacationing there. We met them for one (one!) drink in the overlapping period, held our boundaries, gaily waving goodbye as we headed out for OUR vacay. They got over it.

posted by cyndigo at 8:18 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how helpful this is to you, ultimately, but are there cultural differences here? I can thinking of some cultures of Jews (some coming from certain Eastern European or Northern African countries) where the assumption would be either that they are desired there or that even if there is "ambivalence," ultimately it will be such a nice time that all will be forgotten.

The thing that's so baffling is that you say you like them and enjoy traveling with them, so I wonder if this is a case of total social deafness, or of cultural misunderstanding.
posted by namesarehard at 9:51 AM on November 23, 2011

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