My fiancé dislikes my mother..,
October 30, 2013 3:00 PM   Subscribe

My fiancé dislikes my mother. How big an issue will this be? What can I do to mitigate any future issues regarding this?

Longer version: we have been together 2 years, living together for one and a bit. In an otherwise extremely compatible relationship, this has been the one issue. At first, I chalked it up to some special snowflake stuff---his ex's mother treated him horribly and she has some demographic similarities to my mom, and he had one family dinner with my parents that didn't go so well, and I think he never really got over it.

But it recently came up again and he confessed that, while the snowflake issues are part of it, they are not all of it; he just plain does not like her. what? I am disappointed that it is a problem for him as I had thought things were getting better. But I am also not sure how much of a problem this really has to be. She goes south for the winter and isn't even here for six months. When she is, I see her every other week or so, but not excessively. I love her, but she has her own life, as I do mine, and as long as he is prepared to suck it up once in awhile (he says he is) I should be fine. Shouldn't I be? Or am I being very naive about this?

I continue to hope it will improve with time, but I am prepared (I think) for it not to. I'd just like some advice on how to deal with this effectively. For example, I continue to say stuff like 'X can't make it' if I see her on my own; I have not actually told my mother yet that he doesn't like her...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Don't tell your mother he doesn't like her.

This may be fine. It may also be a shitshow. There's no real way to predict feelings.

The way to mitigate future issues is to avoid making him be around her unless it's absolutely necessary.

But here's something to consider: If he's prepared to suck it up once in a while, that's great, but if you have kids, your mom is very likely to be around a lot more. That's a conversation you should have with him, and soon.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:03 PM on October 30, 2013 [19 favorites]

One thing is for sure: in a disagreement between your spouse and your parent, you have to choose your spouse.
posted by KathrynT at 3:06 PM on October 30, 2013 [74 favorites]

Don't tell your mother he doesn't like her.

You are not obligated to like your significant other's relatives. You are, however, obligated to be polite to them (barring outright hostility from them; you don't need to be a doormat) at family gatherings and holidays. If he can do that, it's probably fine--so long as you're not super attached to the idea of everyone becoming one big happy family who is over the moon enamored with one another. Only you can decide if that's a deal breaker for you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:09 PM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

In theory: you see her every other week for six months a year; he picks you up or drops by for dessert or whatever once or twice in that six month period; everyone sucks it up on holidays and alternated families.

In reality: this works unless you plan to have kids, in which case it all goes to shit.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:10 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do not tell her, ever, that he doesn't like her. That kind of bell can't be unrung.

The real question, for me, is how much is he willing to fake it for the sake of harmony? Famous Monster is correct that babies bring a lot more attention from in-laws, and can shake loose some lingering tensions. Part of being a grown up is occasionally sucking things up for your partner, and that goes both ways.
posted by ambrosia at 3:10 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like he hasn't spent that much time with her, true? So maybe you can just sort of contain this a bit, reframe it as "He doesn't know her and hasn't had an chance to process her." I guess I'm coming from your mom's perspective. I would be devastated if my kid's prospective spouse just flat out didn't like me, with no prospects for future harmony.

I guess as in so many things, dial down and give it time.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:15 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

If he says he's willing to work on it, let him. If he visibly can't handle it, stop letting him come along when you visit, and find other things for him to do when she visits: "Mom! So nice of you to come by and help with the baby while Hubby goes and runs those errands that need doing."

Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances tell her anything negative about him, up to and including "He doesn't like you."
posted by Etrigan at 3:17 PM on October 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's going to be an issue.

How big of an issue? Well, how much do you like your mother? I don't mean, do you love her because you're her daughter, I mean do you like her as a person and enjoy being around her? If you do, I predict this will become a growing point of contention in your marriage.

All families are different and have different amounts of contact (and if you don't much like your mother and are fine with limited contact with your family, this may not be a huge deal). However, you should keep in mind that as people get older and particularly if they have kids, they often end up spending more and more time with their parents. For many families, this ends up being a beautiful thing. For yours, it sounds like that won't happen. Keep in mind that you may grow to resent this, and/or push for more familial time, which he might resent. Definitely something to discuss now.

Your description is brief, but it did also raise a couple of red flags that I think you should at least think about:

1. He stated outright that he just plain doesn't like her (most people who have issues with their partner's family are at least a bit more tactful) - it concerns me that he seems to be using a blunt "I don't like her" to convince you that you need to do something differently (see her less) rather than him doing something differently (suck it up, like everybody else does).

2. He's partially blaming this on his ex's mother - How old is he?

3. Often as people get older they become or appear more like their parents. What specifically doesn't he like about your mom? Are there any habits, ideas, quirks, etc. that she has that you might pick up or might come out more over time? If so, how will that impact your relationship?

4. Your fiance is making an argument (I don't like her / therefore I shouldn't have to see her often) and the premise of that argument is flawed. We all see people we don't like all the time (bosses, coworkers, family member, exes, friends of friends, etc.). We see these people even though we don't like them for a whole host of reasons (we need our jobs, we care about our family members even when they're annoying, etc.). Why doesn't he apply this same line of thinking to your family?
posted by leitmotif at 3:19 PM on October 30, 2013 [40 favorites]

Hi there, your fiance sounds a lot exactly like my sister's husband!

And, guess what? Even if you offer some convenient excuse for him not being around when you visit Mom -- every single time -- she's going to figure it out unless she's exceptionally gregarious/Zen or truly oblivious.

If you're going to get married, she's going to be your fiance's mom, too. This is his issue to solve. He doesn't have to love her but he does have to treat her like family. Please don't let it slide, it's really ugly and unpleasant to leave the rest of the family hanging. Trust me.
posted by trunk muffins at 3:22 PM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

As long as he can keep it to himself forever, always be gracious and kind to her, never let on to anyone - including you - that he just doesn't like her, and she never, ever finds out, then everything should be fine.
posted by The World Famous at 3:35 PM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anon:
My husband doesn't like my mom at all. He has some legitimate gripes and some more personality centered gripes, but they aren't going to go away. He will likely always dislike her. This has caused zero friction between us for two reasons - he has never acted anything but excited to be in my mother's presence and I have never, ever even hinted to my mother that he doesn't like her. This includes a lot of polite fictions ("Oh, we're so glad you're coming! Husband has been really excited!" "Husband says hi and that he misses all of you!" etc) and it involves me realizing just how many hours he can spend in the car with her and the like. Honestly, it's been a breeze. I put that down to him acting like an adult about it all.
posted by jessamyn at 3:43 PM on October 30, 2013 [32 favorites]

Don't tell your mom ever that he doesn't like her. It would only make things harder between them. A few questions I'd ask yourself are what is it exactly that he doesn't like about your mom? Are these things even accurate about your mom and how do you feel about these things? Are you at all like your mom in those areas in your own life? If so that would be troubling. Has he really given your mom a fair chance or is he being a bit rigid or judgemental? Is he willing to still show up and be kind to her at family gatherings both occasionally now and more frequently if you have kids? I think a big part of it is if he's willing to be kind and show up occasionally despite his feelings. If he is going to turn this into a battle between him and your mom then that wouldn't be great for the future.
posted by wildflower at 3:44 PM on October 30, 2013

It's not clear to me whether your mother/parents have been rude or inconsiderate of him in the past (the didn't go so well dinner you mentioned) or whether your partner has decided he doesn't like her for reasons that are all his own and not influenced by her behavior.

If it's the former, he gets a bit of a pass on it. If he can be civil and courteous during the periodic visits you two agree on, then I don't see a problem with the overall situation. If he's arbitrarily decided that he doesn't like her and it's not rooted in anything in particular, that seems a bit strange. I'd only register it if it's clear he does this to others in his life.

If you have children, you'll have to agree on what both of you can live with when it comes to grandma and be prepared to put his concerns first as you two are a unit above all else.

Of course, don't ever tell her or anyone else that he feels this way. If she questions why he doesn't come along on every visit, tell her that you value the mother/daughter time and that he's busy with his own activities.
posted by quince at 3:55 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, this little bit of advice has helped me immensely in my life – you can't manage other people's relationships for them. If your husband doesn't want to like your mom that's his prerogative. He will miss out on her awesomeness. If she wants to act however and it's off-putting then she will put off people, even ones who are supposed to love her.

I had a very rocky start with my mother-in-law and I continue to not have a super close relationship with her. However, now she's been so long in my life (15 years) that it's not a matter of liking or not liking, she's family. She is what she is.

But, I have always been respectful of her and kind and polite in her presence. That's how my mama raised me. However, I have also, in recent years, been very direct with her when she has stepped over the line. In these recent cases, my husband doing the boundary-setting wasn't enough to get through to her.

And that last part is really key. I don't need to like or even love my mother-in-law as long as I behave appropriately (don't try to get people on my side or create some other weird drama). And as long as my husband always has my back. Which he unfailingly has. My MIL is a boundary pusher and my husband doesn't budge. If he allowed her steamrolling to take over our lives, yeah, I really wouldn't like her. And I probably wouldn't like my husband either. So the relationship would have never worked.

Always take your husband's side. Always encourage your husband to take the high road (if he needs encouragement). Don't try to make their relationship happen. Their relationship is really none of your business. Allow yourself this freedom.

Also, at his mother's most infuriating times, I try to remember that there is something great inside of her, something great that contributed to how awesome my husband is and that always helps. Maybe you could remind your fiance of this and then let it go....
posted by amanda at 4:22 PM on October 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

If your mom did something to deserve this "dislike", that's one thing, but if it's just a difference in communication styles (rather than values such as politics), he's being totally immature.

My mom can be a challenging personality. My sister's husband avoided her for years and years (never visiting, ever). He eventually came around after my mom tried to change her challenging behaviour.

Remember, you back your spouse up *after* you are married. You don't have to now - he is not your husband - and you should really consider what your fiance is going to be like 5 years from now.

Will he still be immature?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:31 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

As long as she is civil to him, all he has to do is put his big boy pants on when she is around and be an adult. And that applies even if children are in the picture. This only has to be a big deal if he wants to make it a big deal. Again--I am assuming that your mother is not doing/saying anything that could be viewed as hostile toward your fiance. If that ever did happen, it is your job--not his--to tell her to back off.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:37 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is it possible for him to be more specific about what he doesn't like - if he can,is it something in her behaviour / demeanour that is putting him off (on preview, as per KoKuRyu above)? If it's something that could be worked out with a bit of good will then you get to play at shuttle diplomacy until things settle down. If not, then it's still a matter of diplomacy - if there's no egregious personal flaws at work on either side then it's going to be a matter of managing expectations.
One thing to bear in mind- she's not around all the time now but what about when she's a bit older and perhaps becomes infirm - how will your fiance feel about possibly having to get more involved in helping/supporting you in taking care of your mom?
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:50 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's very common to privately dislike your in-laws. It's just one of those things you never, ever say. You have to suck it up. So my concern here isn't that your fiance dislikes your mom; but that he told you so. Did he volunteer this information? Or did you probe and he told you because it was the truth and you asked?

If you probed, you can't fault him for being truthful. As long as he doesn't expect you to limit your time with her; and as long as it's not going to be an issue when you have kids. Kids change things... It can go either way... sometimes they bring people closer who love the kid and now have something in common (you should see my once-bitterly-divorced parents sharing grandkid photos); but it can also be extra maddening when boundaries aren't observed.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:11 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Echoing others above, there isn't enough to go on. In my former MIL's case, she was kind of in her own world, self-involved but nice enough--just not someone whom I would ever confide in. My former FIL was much warmer. In that case, my ex-husband did not have a terrific relationship with his mother, either, so it was not a big deal. We went to family gatherings, smiled through everything, with some of her foibles becoming memes during our marriage.

On the other hand, a very good friend of mine most decidedly does not get along with his MIL (not to mention other members of the wife's family). Any time I see him (which is 95% of the time without his wife's being present), there is almost always a new MIL story. And oh, she is a challenge, to put it mildly. However, the wife and MIL are rather close, and maybe that should have been a hint of things to come: my friend and his wife are about to separate.

So yeah, does your mom do or say really off-putting things to your fiance? Is it a basic personality conflict? Or have they not spent enough time together? What is your relationship to your mom? Are you really close? Does it bother you that your fiance doesn't like him? How have previous boyfriends gotten along with her?

If I were him, I would not have come out and said, "I don't like your mom" unless under direct cross-examination in a court of law. Say it tactfully! "She's interesting!" or "She is a handful!"
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:23 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Personally, I find this quite rude towards you, and it would give me serious pause. Not because I'd find it terribly surprising to learn that someone doesn't like my mum, cause god knows... I don't know, I'd hope that whoever comes to love me and wants to share their life with me would find it in their heart to allow a glimmer of that radiance to fall a little bit on things and people around me. Like, if I were to come from a shitty industrial town, I'd kind of expect at least a bit of curiosity about it and some sort of "whatever else it is, this is where YOU come from".

Also, whilst I can understand how past bad experiences with parents/ mothers of exes can make you a bit apprehensive, even a bit frightened and defensive, I can't quite wrap my head around the idea that a mature person DISLIKES someone just because they are in a similar position as someone else who treated them badly.

So I'd be quite taken aback if someone told me bluntly that they didn't like my mother, even if it is said after prodding on my part (it's not like you get a free ticket for tactlessness just because someone asks something more than once). Unless you have a very distant relationship with your mother, and/or unless she was/ is a monster towards you or others, you may really miss the warmth which comes from having your whole family come together once in a blue moon, and being naturally cordial and affectionate towards each other, if only for your sake. But, as I said, to me the most worrisome thing is that he feels so absolutely about this that even consideration/ love for you didn't impel him to tone it down (really easily done - he could have made it clear that he is not up for chumming it with your mum on a regular basis without being so inconsiderate towards you).

Here's also where my own projection starts (even more than in the above): I'd also be worried that this is the start of him either beginning to isolate me from my environment, or else to isolate himself from my life and have his tastes and likes and dislikes be the most important thing in our relationship.
posted by miorita at 5:26 PM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

I can't tell from your post whether he volunteered this information or you asked him, but if he just volunteered this information then that seems pretty crappy. I wouldn't appreciate it if my boyfriend told me he didn't like my mother. I think that's stuff you generally keep to yourself.
posted by hazel79 at 5:44 PM on October 30, 2013

This has caused zero friction between us for two reasons - he has never acted anything but excited to be in my mother's presence and I have never, ever even hinted to my mother that he doesn't like her.

Awesome! It's great when the people you love like each other, but that's not always possible. It's sounds like you're both handling this well. Sometimes the most you can ask of someone is to keep their feelings to themselves around that person and not put you in some middle, intermediary position.

I think it's a good sign that like he has enough self-awareness to acknowledge where feelings are coming from. It doesn't sound like he's asking you to 'do something about mom' or (if I'm reading this right) putting all of the blame for not liking your mom squarely on your mom. I also think it's good that he was able to tell point in letting it fester or do the song and dance of trying to figure out what's up.

All and all, plenty to work with here.

People are allowed to have their feelings about others, even visceral feelings that don't make much sense and are more about the disliker than the dislikee. How to manage those feelings is the nitty-gritty stuff of maturity. As long has he has a good poker face with her, doesn't gripe about her to you ad nauseam and doesn't try to intervene in your relationship with her, it doesn't sound like this needs to escalate to a Big Thing.

On his end. You could ask him to try put some effort into trying to find something to like about her. For the most part, likeable things aren't hard to find once you start looking. The key is to ask, don't expect. If he's a reasonable guy he'll do his best for he sake of family harmony, his own comfort levels around mom, and because looking for something to like is a better use of brain real-estate than pretending to like someone when you don't.

On your end. It might help, as others have suggested, to try on a neutral view of your mom to see what he might see. You don't have to agree and you have no obligation to do so, but with couples it's good practice to try to see things from the other's point of view anyway.

If your mom is behaving in ways that are off putting, perhaps you and fiance can work out some strategies for addressing those behaviors individually. Same with him. This isn't to manage everyone else, but to problem solve what you can reasonably improve and leave what can't alone.

Try not to take his dislike of her personally and try not to change his mind about her...that's the most respectful thing you can do for him and will go along way towards this not escalating to a Big Thing.

If you get tired of the chipper excuse making, talk to him about it and see what you can come up with. There are good arguments for the couples rule of you-deal-with-your-folks-I'll- deal-with-mine. There are also good arguments for 'hey, this is your deal, you deal with it.'
posted by space_cookie at 5:47 PM on October 30, 2013

I'm just adding to the chorus to say, please don't tell your mother that he doesn't like her. At the very least, the two natural human responses are for her to go into overdrive to try to make him like her, or for her to start defensively disliking him. Neither of these is desirable from your perspective.

I admit to relying on denial a bit too much as a coping mechanism, but there are times when it's the best strategy of a bad lot. This might be one of those times. My suggestions: Don't have deep conversations with your fiance about his feelings about your mom. Don't dwell on it. It's his problem and the more you make it your problem, the more of a problem it'll be. If he needs to vent, send him elsewhere; above all else, do not take sides unless it's necessary (at which point, if you're going to continue the relationship at this intensity, you have to take his.) Lengthy examinations of your fiance's negative feelings about your mom are likely to intensify those feelings, not dispel them (cf things that taste bad taste worse the more you think about eating them), and they will put you even more firmly into the contradictory intermediary roles of fiance-confidant and mom-defender.
posted by gingerest at 7:33 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and just a thought: even if you never have kids, people often need to make sacrifices (mostly small but occasionally big) to help care for aging parents. This is sometimes a source of tension and conflict even when everyone loves everyone else in the extended family, but it takes a pretty giving perspective to put the needs of an in-law you don't like before your own.
posted by gingerest at 7:38 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd wager exactly how/why "it recently came up again" is pretty pivotal in whether this is an issue. It came up again because he's shit at hiding his dislike? Because he raised the issue? Or because you probed at it or... something?

He doesn't have to like her; honestly I'm not sure most people expect to necessarily like their kid's partner or be liked by them. They expect to be able to pass the time in their presence pleasantly, because they're going to have to at holidays and family functions. They expect to be treated like family. Which doesn't always mean being thrilled by each other, but it means behaving in a way that recognizes the binds between them.

I like my in-laws okay, though there's ways the behave that I find distasteful and/or annoying. At which times I tune it out, or I change the subject, or just grit my teeth. I'm not sure how well that would work if there was something about them I found pretty detestable, but getting along with them and occasionally making conversation that maybe wouldn't be my first choice of ways to spend my time isn't exactly a skill I haven't needed and used in other aspects of my life.

If your partner doesn't much care for your mom because she's not his type of person then it's likely a mutual thing. So mom isn't going to expect to be fast friends with the guy. The question is whether this is something more petty than that and whether your guy is someone who can put that sort of pettiness aside. If the answer is no then this is a problem and not just with your mom.

I'd look to how he deals with being in bleh situations elsewhere in his life. Is this a person who can't just suck it up and deal as needed? Or are you going to be spending the rest of this relationship unable to go out with couples he doesn't like, no matter how important they are to your or your career? Immediately leaving parties where you're having a great time and he's not, rather than him sometimes "taking one for the team?"
posted by phearlez at 7:39 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

What are his reasons for not liking her? Did she actually do anything to offend him, or is it just "she's not my kind of person" or "moms all freak me out?" How does she feel about him? And how did she feel about all of your exes, and how did all of your exes feel about her? Because if she's genuinely difficult to deal with, then that's different than "I just don't like her." If you have a difficult mom (I do!), in my experience, there will be Problems with any guy I am ever with by default, and I just have to suck that up. But if every other dude loved your mom and vice versa and it's just this one dude, well...that's a point against him in the "this is the man to marry" column. That's a stress factor that will never go away, and he really needs to be worth it, and find you worth it, to put up with that. And as others said, he needs to fake liking her his entire life, and if he can't, it's baaaaaaad.

I come from families where everyone hates the in-laws by default and have to pretend that they are "family," so I kind of know how this goes.

But yeah, if you have kids, and when your mother eventually gets sick (note: are you an only child, or is there some other sibling who lives closest to your mom? Because the nearest living female child is the one who almost always gets stuck with the caregiving), he WILL have to deal with your mom up close and personal and far more often. And if he can't stomach can't marry him.

I think you and we need more information to figure out this problem, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:18 PM on October 30, 2013

Mr. Arnicae is not a fan of my Mom. She really likes him. He doesn't like her for a variety of reasons which I respect and understand. He is always kind and cordial to her, and though he doesn't seek out her company, he listens attentively and is pleasant to her when she is around.

Honestly I'm pretty comfortable with this state of affairs - Mr. Arnicae has a real connection with my Dad, and my Mom is happy and Mr. Arnicae is fine. I wouldn't ever try to force some kind of friendship on Mr. Arnicae with my Mom - we do do things together, and he has never asked to be excluded.

So, some ground rules:
1) Don't tell your Mom
2) Ask your partner not to tell her either, unless he would actually like to see some resolution that results in an improved relationship.
3) Ask your partner attend a reasonable amount of events. I see my parents regularly by myself, but also regularly do things with him and them. Seems like a decent compromise.
posted by arnicae at 7:32 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

For some people, this may not be an issue. I have no way of determining whether that applies to your relationship.

However, you are already dealing with this, you have been dealing with this for a while, and it sounds like it's fine for you. Is it?
posted by sm1tten at 9:20 AM on October 31, 2013

File me under this being is an issue, potentially a very big one.

Whether or not this explodes in your face depends entirely on:
1) His ability to fake it when necessary, and fake it believeably. (If he has to see her every other week during the stretches that she is local, that runs the risk of being a LOT of contact with someone he doesn't like. This is a major danger zone.)
2) The likelihood of his feeling towards her improving (or at least not worsening)
3) How likely your mother is to pick up on his not liking her
4) how much of her presence he feels he can reasonably tolerate before it starts to really grate on him. There will be times when she is around a LOT (like when/if you have kids), and he needs to be aware of that and prepared for that. And the solution cannot be to always leave and be unavailable whenever she visits.

For what it is worth, I really love and enjoy my husband's parents, but seeing them every 2 weeks would be a LOT for me. Hell, seeing my own parents every two weeks would be more than I would want.

Here is what I think (and is why I think this is a big deal). In many cases, our parents are a sort of weird projection of how we'll be (to a degree) when we're older. This isn't true for everyone, some people end up nothing like their parents. Usually, but again not always, the better the relationship with the parent the more likely they are to end up like them. Where you say you love your mom and see her often, I'm going to guess that you and she have a pretty good relationship. So if he doesn't like HER, I would be a little concerned over how his feelings towards you may change as you age and possibly become more like her.

I guess I just think this situation requires a serious conversation with him. He needs to know what you expect of him, and you need to know what he is prepared for and willing to do. And you both need to acknowledge that his not liking her is going to be a stressor and complicator and a Thing To Deal With from here on out.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:40 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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