Misophonia with brother-in-law
May 30, 2014 3:37 PM   Subscribe

My sister has a very nice husband who is a loud and emphatic chewer, who smacks his lips and says "mmmmm" upon putting anything in his mouth ever, and who always seems to be eating or drinking something he wants to share the experience of (I recognize this is not actually true, but it feels true). I have mild misophonia that centers around chewing sounds, and kind of want to throttle him or myself when this happens. I love my sister and her kid and even this guy when he's not having these table manners, but I find it really unpleasant to be around him during those times and it's very hard for me to actually enjoy a meal when we're eating it together. What should I do?

This is making me short-tempered around mealtimes and I think may be starting to give him the impression that I don't like him, when really it's his table habits I just can't deal with. We're currently all on vacation together with my parents, and are eating at least one big meal together a day which is our major opportunity to hang out as a family. Most of the time, we're across the country from one another and this isn't an issue!

We're here for a few more days, and I'm wondering what I should do. My sister and I can have pretty emotionally honest conversations but I haven't brought this up, in no small part because I know it's not his problem really: not only is he about 15 years older than me (I'm in my late 20s) and unlikely to change, it's my reaction, not his behavior, that is the problem. Have you dealt with this? What should I do to reduce my reactions or cope with the situation better? I don't want to be rude or snappish but I'm struggling to improve the situation. This is not really a problem that has arisen on this level with anyone else in my life ever.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Not useful in the short term, but Prozac (or another SSRI) seems to help.

Otherwise, sit further away, suggest a loud restaurant, or put on music. Is it the sort of vacation where you can eat outside?

The one thing almost guaranteed to make things worse is mentioning it to him or your sister. You have my sympathy; I feel the same way about eating with much of my extended family.
posted by supercres at 3:46 PM on May 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ugh. I feel you. My husband has gotten worse about chewing with his mouth open and it makes me so cranky. I can hear him eating chips in the next room! I generally turn up the TV when we are eating. Are you able to turn on music at mealtime? It might give your ears something else to focus on. And maybe if you can arrange the seating so you are closer to the stereo than to him. Good luck.
posted by Beti at 3:46 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Or a single earplug (on the side where he's sitting) if you can find one that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb.
posted by supercres at 3:47 PM on May 30, 2014

I feel your pain. I once worked in a place with a customer whose laugh could stop a parade. It was almost unbearable to listen to. I think we all run into situations like this sometimes that just grate on us for whatever reason. And that's harder to reconcile when it's somebody who is otherwise nice and good.

Can you talk to your sister about this? Your parents? Might be one of those situations where everybody is thinking it but nobody wants to say it.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:53 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel you. Ugh. So what I've found is that you want to sit on the SAME side of the table as him; but as far down it as you can. Because then you cut out the visual part of it.

Be strategic in sitting down. Like if you know that his kid likes to sit by him, and your kid likes to sit by his kid, then pop YOUR kid down in a spot where you can then say "how about right here Bobby? Then cousin Sam can sit by you, and brother in law can sit on Sam's other side, and I'll sit right by you here." Voila you are at least two away from BIL, and can't see him, which will make you less on edge. Good luck. And don't tell your sister, she can't do anything about it and it will hurt her feelings even if it bugs her too.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:54 PM on May 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

I was also going to suggest an earplug on the side he's sitting. Perhaps get those silicone ball ones where you can tear off only a small piece and put that in your ear, like this. Then hopefully no one will notice that you have an ear plug on. I use them at movie theaters in case I end up next to a loud breather.

Also, thanks for introducing me to the term misophonia. I guess this is what I have, but for many other kinds of sounds as well. Every day is a huge trial.
posted by Blitz at 3:54 PM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Take a lesson from countless generations of people stuck having dinner with relatives of vaguely irritating habits, and have an extra drink or three with the meal.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:14 PM on May 30, 2014 [21 favorites]

Music is a good idea. I have misophonia and cannot eat around other people at all without music. Earplugs are no-go for me as they amplify my own chewing/swallowing in my head and make me annoyed at myself. Ha.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:26 PM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Does your family know you have misophonia? If you frame it as a psychological disorder so they know it's a "real thing" and that you're not being bitchy for the heck of it, you might be able to have a good discussion with them and gently get the dude to modify his behavior. This site may help: http://www.sound-rage.com/
posted by phoenix_rising at 4:28 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

@joan_holloway Oh yeah, I can't stand the sound when I eat with earplugs on either! I hadn't thought of that. I also can't stand how I can hear every movement I make, amplified, not just chewing, though that's the worst. Mostly I can only stand earplugs when I'm perfectly still or sleeping. Though one is less intense than two and preferable to an emphatic chewer.
posted by Blitz at 4:33 PM on May 30, 2014

My husband has your issue and he says that it's better in loud restaurants or anywhere else where there is enough background noise to drowning out people's eating noises.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:39 PM on May 30, 2014

I have this problem with a family member; it's horrific. The solution is that we never, ever, ever eat a meal together without music playing.

I would sooner eat in the car.

I enlisted my mother and husband in this, they're both understanding and want to both accommodate my problem and preserve The Chewer's feelings, who in no way deserves my beating him to death with the leg from a Thanksgiving turkey.

I can't handle that from anyone, and we have music going while we eat as a matter of course when we're home, but visits from The Chewer get uptempo music and the volume up three clicks.

I didn't even know there was a word for this.

Take a lesson from countless generations of people stuck having dinner with relatives of vaguely irritating habits, and have an extra drink or three with the meal.

That too.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:02 PM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

My short term fix, as someone with misophonia, is to always sit as far away from the person as possible.

Noisy restaurants and lots of dinner conversation is also helpful. I've had the worst experiences with roommates and coworkers in breakrooms. Meanwhile, my family of origin is so boisterous at meals I don't even notice how loud any of them chew.

Turning to someone else sitting closer to me at the table and starting a one-on-one conversation with them also helps.
posted by Sara C. at 5:57 PM on May 30, 2014

I can totally relate to the OP. I also suffer from misophonia.

When I was a child, I would appear calm, but I'd have visions of murder and evisceration when hearing certain people chew. The sounds that get to me are chewing pasta, noisy moving food about the mouth, sucking, etc. I learned to excuse myself and eat alone, being that I was an introvert anyway it did not look strange to anyone.

I did not discover that this was a condition till 3 years ago (I'm 33). It is due to a misfiring in the brain. I don't think medication will help. Sure, the medication may reduce the irrational rage, but that rage is not the problem. These days I just use headphones.
posted by squirbel at 6:20 PM on May 30, 2014

I have this! My boyfriend and I eat in different rooms. Or eat places where it's a bit louder, in most any of the ways mentioned above. People do not understand. For instance my coworker, who eats a bag of potato chips at least a couple days a week, despite my trying to explain it set my teeth on edge. Sometimes I'll play simplynoise (which I think I heard about on AskMe).
posted by Glinn at 6:40 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't sit near him. It's not reasonable to expect someone to stop being annoying to an issue that exists solely in your head. He's not doing anything wrong. You might talk to a doctor about it to see if something like Xanax before meals might help. Like you said, he's not doing anything wrong. You can't help how you're wired but you can work to handle it better. Have an extra wine/cocktail and really engage the person sitting next to you.
posted by shoesietart at 7:06 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

My sister-in-law is like this and her kids are too (complete with mouth open chewing). My partner is worse than me with it, but mine is about my existing emotional state and there have been meals that as soon as I am finished, I find something else to do (washing up, whatever) and often busy myself in the kitchen. In general we try and face away, actively talk, get up and down for things (freshen drinks, get salt, add meal components). Anything other than sit, and listen, to the noise.

Playing with my hair sometimes helps - I think it shields a bit, but also there's a different noise.

(he has asked her to either stop chewing gum or leave the room, it didn't go down well).
posted by geek anachronism at 7:14 PM on May 30, 2014

I have this, and I find that when I am also eating, other people's chewing is much more tolerable, partially because my own chewing masks the sounds. Can you time your own bites to match his? Also agree with the usefulness of background noise.
posted by jpdoane at 9:06 PM on May 30, 2014

I don't understand why you can't talk to him about it. I have a friend who chews with their mouth open, and when I'm sitting beside them I'm just like "Sorry, lip smacking noises and chewing sounds get to me, could you please chew with your mouth closed." Then they chew with their mouth closed. It's not WW3.
posted by Dynex at 9:28 PM on May 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

The problem isn't you, it's the rude person. There's not a darn thing wrong with asking him to be considerate of other people, or choosing to eat elsewhere and explaining why.
posted by stormyteal at 1:08 AM on May 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Don't sit near him. It's not reasonable to expect someone to stop being annoying to an issue that exists solely in your head

His poor table manners are not solely in OPs head. OP might get more annoyed by it than other people but that doesn't mean she's imagining it. The OP has already said that they don't have this issue (at least to this extent) with anyone else.

If being as far as way from him at the table doesn't help, I would eat in another room for the remainder of the trip, if you don't want to bring it up with him, just say you've got a headache and want to eat in peace.
posted by missmagenta at 1:48 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

My oldest son and I have the same reaction. Two very close members of my family have always been loud, sloppy eaters. If I have to eat at the same table as them I avert my eyes and place one hand on my ear and quietly hum to myself as often as possible. If I can't do this then I will talk loudly to someone who isn't them whenever they start chewing, slurping and dribbling grease down their respective chins. It's an issue!
posted by h00py at 6:06 AM on May 31, 2014

I knew a guy like this so I chewed with my mouth open like him and he saw how disgusting it was and stopped.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:09 AM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's a vacation. The only thing worse than being miserable about a sloppy eater and his noises is having to train him out of it in only a few days. Even if he were willing to change and not butthurt.
You say you recognise that your reaction is the problem - I'm afraid the only way to get your peace is to eat somewhere else. You could couch it as "my misophonia is acting up - hearing anyone else eat is currently messing me up. I'm really sorry guys. I'll come join you for after dinner drinks."
The sad thing is that you'll miss out on the main socialising that way.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:13 PM on May 31, 2014

My father was the noisiest eater I have ever known, and it used to drive me crazy.

Weirdly, he's been gone 19 years, and I kind of miss it now.
posted by welovelife at 2:57 PM on June 1, 2014

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