interesting family composition.
April 21, 2016 4:28 AM   Subscribe

So my partner has an interesting family that we cannot, sort of, steer around or clear of since they live practically next door (small village) and the father in law is ticking me off something extreme.

He treats my partner and mother of one, like a .. child? whenever there's a social function, and this is the boondocks so there are a lot of them, both the mother and father in law act very passive aggressively towards one another, there's a tangible animosity between them. the father in law complains about not having had sex for .. years with you-can-guess-who, then brags about his work, puts down me and my partner (she's studying system theory and computer science) and complaining about my job (technical infrastructure architect) and that neither of those are good jobs (i work from home which is perfect for us) or will get us anywhere and yada yada. and in my case the complaint is that he never sees me work, like its some mythical creature.
on top of this, he's a kid of the fifties and has seldom been outside the county limits, which means he's very sexist and yeah all of that.
but what got me pissed off is that now that the mother in law is away on a vacation he has the gall to complain about her to us, and in front of our child as well as telling my partner that she wont inherit anything but the house she grew up in and his son will inherit the land deeds, biz and everything else.
a) i'm not comfortable sitting in on that latter part of the discussion.
b) i think its sexist and classist.
c) whenever he needs help around the farm, or social functions or anything else like bday its us that do that, we congratulate him and bring cakes on his bday. his son? doesnt even call that day.

and to add insult to injury as the saying goes, his son is also a co-owner of the business whereas my partner who's an educated economist (not sure if its the right term) is told there's nothing she can help out with at the family bussiness.

thinking that the son in question will carry on the farm and family bussiness is a pipedream, because the last time he tried running the farm, he sold off most of my father in laws belongings and farm equipment etc. so the logic is to me.. broken AF.

and whenever i do something hands on, like my woodworking sidebiz he has a lot of very vocal opinions to the point of talking directly to My clients.
the opinions vary from "are you sure you can do this" to "you dont know how to do this" which are so very off the mark, because i wouldnt be doing it if i didnt know how, on top of that talking to my clients is infuriating me.

and i've wracked myself over the head thinking about this and its not about entitlement on our part, because as my partner said at the table when the discussion occured "i dont want anything." because we dont.

but what i dont understand is his attitude and how to deal with it, because im not.
posted by xcasex to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
That sounds exhausting. Just drop the rope. See him less, and when you do, be civil and distant. Stop with the cakes and visits. He's a grown man; you can't change him. If he has any sense of self-awareness, he may ask why you're withdrawing from him; you can tell him if he does. But honestly you'll find him much easier to tolerate if you limit contact.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:35 AM on April 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


If he leaves the bulk of his estate to his son, that's his prerogative. Let that part of it go. He'll be dead and won't care if Son makes a mess of it.

Here's a phrase I find very useful in these situations, "If I want any shit from you, I'll squeeze your head." If he starts in about your work, employ the phrase.

If you think this guy is full of shit, chances are those who know him think so too. When he slags your MIL, just say, "I'm very fond of Tilly and I'd appreciate it if you'd stop saying terrible things about her in front of my family."

These guys go on and on because no one challenges them. Don't make a bfd, and don't get angry, just stop letting him go on and on. Enforce your boundaries. If he doesn't stop, and instead continues, collect everyone and leave. After all, you live close by, it's not that big a deal.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:47 AM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


yeah.. i've tried enforcing my boundaries, but he laughs it off, and yes i've tried following it up with "so its a laughing matter to you?" at which point he's even more joyful about it.

but i'll try the other things as well, and like you said, picking up the tent is easy-peasy :)
posted by xcasex at 4:54 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


repeated for emphasis "... collect everyone and leave...." yep, yep, yep.
posted by HuronBob at 4:54 AM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


you don't say anything really about how your wife feels. it's good to have strong consensus on how to deal with in-laws. so before you attempt to gather everyone up and leave, be sure that your wife is cool with that.

personally, if the hints don't work, i would be (and have been) more in his face - openly aggressive. it's unpleasant for a time but it buys you more freedom in the long run. but, again, my partner was ok with that, and i imagine many wouldn't be.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:01 AM on April 21, 2016


Firstly your partner should be dealing with this, as it's her father. You should step back, as any pushback from you will be written off as "daughter's unreasonable partner" and completely ignored.

There are a lot of older people, my parents and in-laws included, who don't believe that anything involving "computers" is a real job. I have no idea why, my dad even worked "in computers" himself, but it's a thing and there's no point arguing about it. To this day my mother is firmly convinced that I have been financially supporting my husband for the past twenty years, although he has actually significantly out-earned me for all of that time. She just will not be told and I've given up trying to convince her. It doesn't fit her narrative of "being a doctor is a good, secure job and working in computers is a pretend job". Just ignore any comments. You don't want anything from him, so who cares what he thinks of your job?

I would also give up on trying to get your partner more involved in the family firm. He has made it clear he doesn't want his daughter involved. It is hard to hear that your own father is a sexist who favours his son, but not uncommon and he is very unlikely to change at this stage. Just step back from the firm, and financial talk. He may even prefer this, as it isn't "women's business". Talk about the grandchild, or about something else suitably womanly. Yes that does mean you have a limited and false relationship with him, but that is apparently what he wants from her.

The part about him interfering with your clients is a different matter. Why on earth does he know who your clients are? Tell him much, much less about your daily lives. Much less. And tell him to talk less about his sex life. Pull a girlish "that kind of talk isn't suitable for the dinner table" if she needs to.

You note that this man's son has withdrawn a lot. You've accepted your father in law's perspective on why that happened (selfishness on the son's part). Actually from my point of view he's very sensibly withdrawn from a toxic father. And despite that, he is still the golden boy. I would recommend you to do the same as far as you are able.

Your partner should probably also speak to her brother directly - when I spoke to my brother in person instead of hearing things secondhand via my mum, we both discovered that there had been "omissions" in what was being passed on. Very illuminating.
posted by tinkletown at 5:08 AM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


you don't say anything really about how your wife feels
oh we're of a single mind on this :) but yeah, we're pretty good at communicating needs/thoughts/desires to one another so we're already discussing the tips in the thread :)

hmmm thing is, if im openly aggressive towards him, and my partner is okay with it, its going to open another can of worms to deal with.
posted by xcasex at 5:09 AM on April 21, 2016


So first and foremost: don't take the inheritance shit personally. What he seems to be doing is ensuring the undivided transfer of wealth, which is something a lot of people do if The Family is important to them. This way, the family as a whole gets wealthier and wealthier, rather than the power of his wealth being divided.

You mention your partner rather than your wife, but also mention she has a kid - this kind of guy may feel like she doesn't have the stability for the dynastic concerns he seems to have. (Like, he's wrong, but this is a common thing, I've been disinherited for this before)

While it seems sexist AF, a lot of people transfer shit to sons because this way The Family Name is passed. Just ignore this, you're not going to change his mind.

Is the son married?
posted by corb at 5:12 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


and as to why he's talking to my clients, this is a village of 600 people who all do bussiness with him, outside of a town of 6000 who most do bussiness with him. so yeah, long shadows etc etc. :/
posted by xcasex at 5:12 AM on April 21, 2016


"(...) Is the son married? (...)"


I see what you're saying, but neither the father in law is married or has ever been because "religion is a way to fool the workin' man!" and the son isnt either, but we are engaged to be married.

and as I mentioned, We and -- i cant put this strongly enough -- I, do not care for the inheritance, but its the whole act of presentation he gave that makes me feel very uncomfortable since my view on inheritance is that I want something tangible as inheritance, something that brings back memories of the person, photographies, mementos etc.
posted by xcasex at 5:16 AM on April 21, 2016


I can't help wondering if his name is Marty, because I worked for someone just like this guy almost 20 years ago.

he laughs it off, and yes i've tried following it up with "so its a laughing matter to you?" at which point he's even more joyful about it.

This sounds very familiar to me, and it makes me think that direct confrontation will backfire because he grooves on it. He likes asserting his dominance, and conflict gives him the opportunity. What he won't like is feeling that you're unimpressed by his antics. Roll your eyes at the tiresome crap. Mutter something like, "Gosh, I can't wait until you're dead," and then continue your polite conversation with someone else. It might not be a great idea with kids around, but any signal you give him that you are affected by what he's saying will only confirm to him that he's hitting his target.
posted by jon1270 at 5:20 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why do you chose to live next door to him? Can you move? If you can't move right now, why not make a long-term plan. Your child will grow up in the shadow of this man's influence.

When I was growing up we lived about an hour from my grandparents. As an adult, realizing that my grandfather was an abusive jerk, I believe this was on some level deliberate and am grateful for it.

I'm sure there are a lot of practical difficulties around moving, but seriously - it would probably help even if you were in the next town instead of right next door.
posted by bunderful at 5:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [25 favorites]


I think you have to separate his really practical take on inheritance from the fact that he sounds like an asshole. The former has sensible reasons and can be understood, the latter, you're just fucked.

Have you considered moving?
posted by corb at 5:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


You don't *have* to go to all the social functions. Pick and choose. Become very busy on weekends and evenings.

he has the gall to complain about her to us, and in front of our child

"Please don't speak like that about your wife in front of our child"
"I'll say whatever I want haha!"
"OK, see you next time then" *Leaves*
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


I wouldn't ever act openly aggressive if I could avoid it. You likely need a combination of

1) broken-record behavior (if he talks about your job, reassure him "It's okay, and it's going to be okay later, too, I'm sure of it." If he doubts your skills in woodworking say something like "I'm pretty darn positive I can do this," or "just don't worry, will you." If he interacts with your clients, first ask yourself how he knows about your clients, and otherwise just tell him "don't do that, will you"), and

2) distancing. Do NOT begin to argue with him about his communication habits, try to avoid to be on the receiving end of his communication as much as possible, and if it isn't possible, try to ignore it as much as possible, brush his stuff off, or go to another room or whatnot. it's not about you, it's obviously about him. You can't change people. You can ask them to stop if they go too far, but most of all you can change your own attitudes toward them. Work on that.


Ultimately, 3), work on an exit plan in concord with your spouse and kids. Like, far far away.
posted by Namlit at 5:24 AM on April 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Thanks! Many years of personal experience, unfortunately. I actually found Mumsnet really helpful - it isn't all car seat reviews and penis beakers. The Stately Homes thread is more for survivors of actual abuse, but practically any of the AIBU mother in law threads will cover this sort of thing. Mostly UK perspective but there are a few Americans on there.
posted by tinkletown at 5:31 AM on April 21, 2016


I'd move seriously, just move. It's not worth the stress to confront him it's not going to change anything. Yippy wouldn't have to move far, yippy said so yourself he's never left the county. Move a couple of towns over at least, though I'd suggest far enough that going to visit either way is some effort. Familiarity breeds contempt, stop being so familiar to him. You'd be surprised just how little area of effect people like him have, even with his business if you move. I've done it myself, just half an hours drive and I went from being so and sos sister, jumping ever time I went out because everything I did got back to the family, to just another person and no one had even heard of my family. This all feels bigger than it is because you are in the middle of it.
posted by wwax at 5:33 AM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


The earlier responses are good. Essentially there's the inner work of protecting your own moods and mind against influence from his behavior, and the outer work of avoiding or deflecting him in person. Ideally, these operate synergistically - avoiding him in person protects your own sanity, while developing techniques to prevent him from "getting to you" means that he gets less payoff from needling and antagonizing.

One thing that might be useful would be to develop algorithmic scripts for common scenarios, e.g.:

"I was talking with [your client] Bob and do you know what he said about ..."

"Oh, I'd prefer that you not talk to my clients about my work because X,Y,Z"

"Yeah, and Bob said ..."

"I'd prefer that you not talk to my clients about my work because X,Y,Z"

etc.

Like Namlit said: broken record. If he presses the same button, he gets the same low-information response.

It may take some discipline for both you and your wife, but it sounds like he thrives on drama and antagonism. The less he gets, the more it protects you.

Also, you write:

whenever he needs help around the farm, or social functions or anything else like bday its us that do that, we congratulate him and bring cakes on his bday. his son? doesnt even call that day.

Yes, it's not fair that the neglectful son will get the inheritance. Nobody can control that but the man himself.

However, is it possible for you (in alliance with your wife) to dial back social interactions to the bare minimum? Can you make (e.g.) help on the farm conditional on his good behavior? "OK, we can help you out with the hay baling, but we're going to have to leave if you talk about X,Y,Z." - and then make good on the promise if he starts talking about X,Y,Z.

It sounds like he takes your good will and assistance for granted. If you withdraw that, in strategic ways, as a consequence for his obnoxious behavior, you're less exposed to such behavior. Either he acts differently around you, and you spend equal time around him, or he acts the same way but you spend less and less time around him.
posted by theorique at 5:59 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I learned this lesson first with my father, then with with my sister, and now I am struggling to get my husband to learn this about his mother. And the lesson is: crazy people say crazy sh--. The fatal mistake is in personalizing it and thinking it's about you. My husband does this all the time: why would she say such a thing? What is she hoping to achieve by saying that about him? And the answer is: nothing. It is false to assume that there is a motive or an explanation. It just all has to be put into the box of 'crazy people say crazy sh--.' That's all it is. That's the explanation.

I have been able to make my MIL behave around me, and she has actually apologized to me for things she would not apologize to her kids for. But it's because I don't care. I have no emotional investment in this game. If she says something inappropriate, I just say 'wow, that is inappropriate' and then I say it's time to leave. I am gradually training her in how to not say certain things in front of me. But she is who she is. I just have to say well, that's what crazy people say, and then go on with my life.
posted by JoannaC at 6:02 AM on April 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


I agree with the long-term solution of moving as soon as you guys can, and the more immediate approach of limiting your time with him (and leaving as soon as he starts acting inappropriately, each and every time). During those limited times when you are around him, try to minimize how much you give him to respond to or bait you with. Be boring as hell, give minimal answers, be disengaged - you don't owe him reactions or responses, especially since it seems that he'll only use them to flex his nuts at you some more.

Him: "Blah blah, crap jobs! Sitting in front of a computer all day, that's just typing! A monkey could do that!"

You/Your Wife: "Uh-huh."

Him: "How's the woodworking coming, xcasex? You still making splinters and sawdust?"

You: "Uh-huh."

Him: "Don't forget I'm passing along my business to my son!"

Your Wife: "Uh-huh."

In your head, be doing whatever you do when you're in a boring situation - start mentally decorating the new house in the new village you'll be moving to, come up with a suitable playlist for this dude ("Asshole" may be low-hanging fruit), think of anagrams for your favorite curse words; if there's a cause you support that he hates, maybe commit to donating $X for every time he vexes you - whatever it takes to mentally turn down the volume on this guy. You're really not going to change what he does or how he thinks, and any attempt at engaging him is only fueling his jerkitude, so feel free to check out as fully as you can.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:06 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


This guy is on a power trip and his attitudes are incredibly sexist and retrograde. As long as you live in that area, you're going to be exposed to it. Do you have financial ties to these people aside from projected inheritance of a house? This always gives people the idea that they can make judgments. The whole inheritance situation sounds typical enough, but framed in a way that is designed to humiliate your partner, as is the whole thing of pointedly denying her employment in the family business. I think you have to do whatever you can to detach from this, geographically, economically and mentally. It's an awful example to set for your child.
posted by BibiRose at 6:07 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I know the inheritance itself isn't the point, but nevertheless: if you are living in Sweden (as your profile says), the rule of laglott may apply. This means that your partner may be automatically entitled to 50% of the amount that she would receive if the whole inheritance were divided equally by the children. (Unlike in some other places, I think in most Nordic countries it is impossible to completely disinherit one's children.) So, depending on the size and division of the inheritance she may end up owning a part of the business anyway. Don't take my word for it though, as I don't know the specifics of Swedish inheritance law, so consult a lawyer to know more.

And then let it go. It's a blessing in disguise that you partner has been kept out of the family business, otherwise your lives might be even more enmeshed with his. He sounds like a right pain to be dealing with.

It's unclear to me whether your father in law is just an old-fashioned sexist jerk or actually abusive. It may sound like there'd be little difference, but one of them is that abusers are good at creating sick systems, and in that case your partner's family may be one. Get informed about them, and read up on toxic people and emotional enmeshment. The reason I'm suggesting that this might be the case is that you (both?) seem to find it difficult to create more distance - physically and psychologically - between your little family and your FIL, whereas to outsiders (like people in this thread) the solution seems obvious: take a step back. And then another one. Stop interacting with him as much. Put up boundaries. Tell him clearly when he is saying things you don't want to hear, then be prepared to leave if he ignores you.

And emotionally, stop wanting things from him. I mean things like approval, acknowledgement, respect, consideration, fairness. You can't squeeze water from a stone, you'll just hurt yourself. Your partner may have done this all her life, so the process of letting go may make her sad for some time. He is wrong about her - and you - and that really sucks, and yet his being wrong is only about him, it doesn't say anything about either of you or diminish you in any way. You don't have to keep carrying that weight as anger or bitterness. And make an effort to not let it impact your partner's child.
posted by sively at 6:08 AM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the advice you're getting is all good, but I want to lean on the current state of his business. Apparently he needs help periodically to run it and you and your partner provide that help when called.
For god's sake stop that! When he calls for help, respectfully decline and suggest he call the future owner of said business for that help. Stick to your guns. Your partner has been explicitly excluded from that business. Act like it!
posted by txmon at 6:19 AM on April 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


[OP, please limit your followup comments to essential updates or clarifications. Ask Metafilter doesn't lend itself all that well to a back-and-forth style. Thanks!]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:45 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the advice you're getting is all good, but I want to lean on the current state of his business. Apparently he needs help periodically to run it and you and your partner provide that help when called.
For god's sake stop that! When he calls for help, respectfully decline and suggest he call the future owner of said business for that help. Stick to your guns. Your partner has been explicitly excluded from that business. Act like it!


Yeah, this guy sounds like the sort of person who takes for granted (and doesn't respect) anyone who gives help freely (you know, as a family member ideally does). I suspect the son is the golden child partly because he is the son, but also partly because he's withdrawn from the game. It's a sign of a fundamentally weak character--arrogant to those he feels superior to, but easily cowed by displays of strength. So, start acting like your help and friendship are valuable and he can lose them by not acting accordingly. It's really stupid to have to act this way rather than just live as a family, but that's what happens when a person reads normal human generosity and kindness as an invitation to exploitation.
posted by praemunire at 7:51 AM on April 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


The fatal mistake is in personalizing it and thinking it's about you. My husband does this all the time: why would she say such a thing? What is she hoping to achieve by saying that about him? And the answer is: nothing. It is false to assume that there is a motive or an explanation. It just all has to be put into the box of 'crazy people say crazy sh--.' That's all it is. That's the explanation.

This, a thousand times. The hardest best thing you can do is understand you'll never change the man and there's no point in trying. Stop trying to interact with this person as if there is hope. Come up with a set of basic necessary stock responses - not to try to manipulate him into being less awful, not to try to win, just literally to fill the space with as little provocation as possible. So:

- Okay. (Repeat 100 times if necessary every time he stops to see what kind of reaction he's going to get. Okay. Okay. You should do this that and the other. "Okay." Then don't do it. Let it flow straight out your other ear.)
- This isn't an appropriate subject for family. [Exit, with child.]
- We have to go, bye. [Leave.]

Seriously, every time he goes on about this inheritance, say "okay." Don't be baited. If you don't care, then actively don't care.

Stop seeking out this person's company. I know a lot of people think they have to because family, but when that family is abusive and sexually inappropriate and you're still exposing your child to it, why? Because your wife suffered and now it's tradition? It's wrong and you should stop. Your child is already old enough to start to understand it, and if that's not reason enough for you to do something then consider what'll happen the first time he tells a stranger or a teacher about his grandparents' sex life.

Your wife should have probably one big exchange of information with her brother, come to an agreement about how to deal with the asshole in the future, and then follow his lead and stop begging for pain. Start working on what you're going to do to actually physically get away, but in the meantime you need to step up your shunning game.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:31 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The next time your mother in law goes on vacation . . . see if she would be interested in company. Leave him at home.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:51 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


c) whenever he needs help around the farm, or social functions or anything else like bday its us that do that, we congratulate him and bring cakes on his bday. his son? doesnt even call that day.

First and foremost, you two need to stop doing so much for this man. He feels zero obligation to reciprocate. He doesn't even feel obligated to be civil. Stop bringing cakes, helping around the farm, etc. The son who isn't calling has the right idea.

If you can move, do so, even it involves long term planning and cannot happen quickly.

You continuing to hold up some imagined social contract based on his blood relationship to her just reinforces this man's entitled assholery. Do the world a favor and stop. A bad father does not deserve a good and dutiful daughter. A relationship has to be a two way street. What is in it for you two? If the answer is "Absolutely nothing but eating shit" then you need to stop making excuses -- "It's a small town." -- and start making other choices.
posted by Michele in California at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


You say you've tried enforcing your boundaries, but have you done it consistently for a long period of time?

People in general change slowly, and people who are stomping all over your boundaries generally do not want to change, so they change even more slowly. They will usually resist whatever attempts you make to get them to back off, because the status quo works pretty well for them.

So you have to be consistent, and you just have to keep at it. Every time this guy tries to talk crap about your MIL, say something like, "I really like Samantha and don't want to hear that," and leave the conversation if he keeps going. Eventually he'll get the idea.
posted by colfax at 12:38 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


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