Will my in-laws to be ever like me?
August 15, 2016 1:55 PM   Subscribe

My in-laws to be don't like me and never have. I would very much like to have cordial relations with them. After 3 years, however, neither my fiancee nor I are sure they will ever accept me.

Our situation reminds me of the 1997 film Titanic. A wealthy, attractive woman, desperate to escape her current life situation, inadvertently falls in love with a poor, relatively uneducated but very wise man that is able to understand her and respect her. Her mother, however, sees the man her daughter is in love with as an "insect, a dangerous insect, that must be squashed quickly."

My wife-to-be comes from a wealthy, upper middle class background. She completed her Master's Degree at an elite university. Her parents have a fully paid 5 bedroom house, a 2 bedroom condo, and travel a lot.

I have been poor (or considerably less well off than her) for most of my adult life. My dad committed suicide when I turned 18 (practically on my 18th birthday), and my mom and I have struggled with homelessness and poverty since that time. I couldn't afford university. Instead I worked as a truck driver until 2015 when I completed a 1-year diploma in software development.

Despite her education my wife-to-be couldn't find stable employment. Her parents used to abuse her mercilessly for this, calling her incompetent, lazy, fat, hitting her, etc. The abuse became too much for her; she came to live with me in another city (we were living in different cities at the time).

The moment she told her parents about me they have disliked me. For years they claimed that I was a "Native American welfare bum" for living where I do (a lot of Native Americans live in this city of 800, 000, but I am actually Polish and pale white), they claimed I was a drug dealer because I like to wear a sterling silver chain, they claimed I was a drug abuser because I have an acne problem (their logic is that drug abusers have "breakouts" of some kind on their faces).

Everything about me they dislike: the car I drive, the work I've done, my interests, what I look like, the clothes I wear (like wearing a hat backwards), where I live, where I'm from, etc.

Once they even threatened to go to the police and threaten me of planning a terrorist attack, citing that I am "anti-government." I write political analyses, mostly on foreign policy issues, I'm currently working on writing my first book, and I have run as a candidate in local elections. Yes, I am politically active, and I do not like the current government we have here, but to accuse me of terrorism is an extreme thing to do. The reason they did it, they said, was because my wife-to-be didn't return their phone calls or emails for about 3 weeks, ergo they rationalized this lack of communication as evidence of plans to carry out a terrorist attack. They did not attribute it to how they are incessantly insulting and belittling my wife-to-be.

Relations are less tense now but they still don't like me. They treat me like I am a bad, albeit temporary, phase in their daughter's life, and that I will eventually disappear and my fiancee will marry a rich, educated, Catholic man. Any plans for Christmas are to exclude me (they want her to visit but not me), any time they visit they don't want to see me, they really try hard to pretend I don't exist.

I want to have a respectful and warm relationship with my in-laws. Is there anything I can do to encourage such a relationship?
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Human Relations (42 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
They sound awful. Why would you want a relationship with them?
posted by hazel79 at 1:59 PM on August 15, 2016 [99 favorites]

You don't mention why in the world either one of you want anything at all to do with these human turdstains.
posted by cmoj at 2:00 PM on August 15, 2016 [24 favorites]

But the answer is no. These people will never learn to like or respect anyone at all.
posted by cmoj at 2:00 PM on August 15, 2016 [20 favorites]

Relations are less tense now but they still don't like me.
You're missing the point. This isn't about you, it's about the fact that they are raging arseholes. They treat their daughter like shit, why on earth do you think they will like you or treat you any different? You're just an excuse to be more mad at her for whatever perceived slight she has don't *this* time.

They don't care about you, because they don't care about her. HER relationship with her parents is more important and until she has a genuine relationship with them, not only does it not matter if you do, but it also won't be fixable.

I want to have a respectful and warm relationship with my in-laws.

You can't have a respectful and warm relationship with totally unpleasant arseholes as these people seem to be, from your representation of them. Support your wife to be. Don't waste effort on them.
posted by Brockles at 2:02 PM on August 15, 2016 [36 favorites]

You can encourage a respectful relationship by not engaging in the conversation in which you're painted incorrectly and by not responding to their ridiculous conclusions about you and your life.

It's really up to your fiancée to draw that boundary with her family and say, "8LeggedFriend is my partner, and I won't listen to your abuse of him. If you want to exclude him from family gatherings, you'll be excluding me too."

You can look at an old question of mine regarding my in-laws. They were very much opposed to me on sight. It was difficult, but thanks to my now-husband's loyalty, my relationship with my in-laws has greatly improved and we enjoy each other's company now.

Good luck, and rely on your partner to handle her family. Let the rest of it roll off your back as best you can.
posted by redfishbluefish at 2:03 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Given what you've described, I don't think there is anything you can do. Obviously, continue to be a good partner to your fiancée. There's a slight chance they'll come around on their own after enough years go by, but don't count on it or do anything particular to court them. They have deep-seated issues that you, a potential son-in-law, have even less ability to resolve than anyone else in the family.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 2:03 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is on your fiancee to stand up for herself and for you. If she feels she cannot stand up for herself due to the past abuse then going no contact (or very, very limited contact such as giving them ONLY an email address for contact that she uses exclusively with them and having a very good, stable friend monitor the emails for her) while she explores therapy and develops self-advocacy skills would be prudent. This has nothing to do with you, she is probably distraught enough that carrying your emotional pain is too much for her right now. If you have to vent about her parents, vent to your friends/therapist while giving her space and time to grieve the parental relationship she would have liked to have.

Since her role models are so dysfunctional, you would both benefit from couples counselling to identify skills needed to build healthy relationship. Again, no need to make these into "bitching about her parents" sessions (although she can bring them up). You need to take the high road and focus on positive thing while her parents monopolise negativity.
posted by saucysault at 2:09 PM on August 15, 2016 [18 favorites]

They might in the long run. Someone who treats their own daughter like this, most likely, will have no decency to treat you otherwise. However, things happen, people face different situations in life and that changes them. Add old age to that and there is always a possibility of change. I think you should cease to expect any change in them, i.e.. manage your expectations realistically so you are not disappointed.
posted by metajim at 2:10 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you and your fiancée build and maintain a stable, caring relationship in which you both thrive, there is a small chance that your in-laws will recognize that you're good for her and become more accepting. From your description, though, it doesn't seem likely. They're not rejecting you because of who you are; they're rejecting you because you are not what they dreamed of in a perfect son-in-law, and they seem to have trouble dealing with the fact that they can't always get what they want and that the world doesn't owe them anything. (I bet they treat waiters and other service employees poorly too if things aren't perfect.)

The fact that they abused their own daughter because she didn't live up to their expectations tells you everything you need to know.

Maybe they'll mellow with age, or maybe they'll see the light when you have children. But don't hold your breath. As Carolyn Hax, my favorite advice columnist, often writes, you can't change other people, you can only change how you react to them. I know it's hard, but try not to respond in kind to their provocations. And have a good conversation with your fiancée about what kind of relationship she wants, both for herself individually and for you as a couple, with her parents, to make sure you're both on the same page.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:14 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I want to have a respectful and warm relationship with my in-laws. Is there anything I can do to encourage such a relationship?

You could marry someone else. Or magically transform into someone else. Or, perhaps, your fiancée could arrange to be adopted by some nice couple.

Other than that, I'm not really seeing anything. It doesn't sound like something you can fix. The best you can do is continue to not be the problem. Be a great boyfriend and a good husband and all those things and let her parents continue to be a crazy pain in the ass. At some point they will either get it or they won't.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:24 PM on August 15, 2016 [11 favorites]

You probably can't ever get them to like you, no. They will probably always be assholes, even if the parameters of their assholery change over time. Your wife knows this, I am certain.

The tricky part in cases like these can be that while your spouse understands the situation, most likely she still loves her folks, however begrudgingly. And the weird thing about parents sometimes is that a person can forgive all kinds of terrible stuff their mom and dad do and say, even as he/she will not always forgive and forget the things you might say about their folks. Even if your criticism comes in the form of statements you know he/she agrees with. Even if you are literally repeating the criticism they just finished saying themselves.

So basically: you have a long, thankless road of being the bigger person. The payoff is keeping your wife, though.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:30 PM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

They're awful people. They abused your partner and are wildly disrespectful of you. The only way for you to have a nice relationship with them is if they magically turned into different people. If your partner wants to have a life with you, she should probably get some therapy and learn how to create strong boundaries with them or restrict her relationship with them. There isn't anything you can do. And, its' really up to your partner to manage her hateful parents and protect you from them. They're her family, it's her job to manage them.
posted by quince at 2:32 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

I want to have a respectful and warm relationship with my in-laws. Is there anything I can do to encourage such a relationship?

This won't happen until they, at least, have a respectful relationship with their own daughter. And to the extent that it is in either of your power to build that, all of that power is with your fiancee, not you.

That being said, your fiancee also needs to make it clear (both to you and her parents) that you are more important to her now than their approval. This kind of thing:

Any plans for Christmas are to exclude me (they want her to visit but not me), any time they visit they don't want to see me, they really try hard to pretend I don't exist.

is unacceptable. And she should refuse to visit, or host them, if you are not to be fully included. If your fiancee feels that she can't do that yet (and, I do kind of feel her on that -- it's hard to do things that you think will disappoint your parents) then she is not ready to get married yet.

I did a quick scroll of your question history, and your discomfort with your own background is definitely a theme, and something that you need to work through before you are ready to get married. It might mean individual counselling for you, and/or maybe couple's counselling for you both if there is something that your fiancee does/says that reinforces your "I'm not good enough" concerns.

Like, I wonder if your fiancee is actually acquiescing to her parent's desires to exclude you. If she isn't, she is affirmatively choosing you, and unless you think she's stupid or can't look out for her own interests, maybe you can work on finding strength in the fact that someone who you deem worthy deems you worthy.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:32 PM on August 15, 2016 [21 favorites]

As long as you're desperate for their approval, it will put them in the power position of refusing to give it to you and making you feel like you lack something. The key for both of you is to not care and cut them off. Once they realise that you've set a boundary and they'll lose her, then both of you have the power and can start asking for the treatment you want. Now I don't understand why you'd want them in your life, regardless, but that's what you need to do. It's a power struggle.
posted by Jubey at 2:34 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I remember your name from other questions and you seem to have a theme of failure, struggling with the expectations of others but especially struggling with your interpretation of other people.

You had issues with co-workers, random drivers, family and especially your own sense of self-worth.

In another question where you struggled with your perception that other students were smarter than you, I said:

I strongly stick with the advice given to you in earlier questions. This is not about other students, this is a much deeper and more pervasive issue. Focusing on other students will not help. If you're not in therapy, you need to start. If you're in therapy now, you should switch to someone else, because your issues do not seem to be improving, you are just moving your emotions from one target to another.

Substitute your in-laws to be for other students; the answer remains the same. I think you need a new therapist because this is a pattern.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:43 PM on August 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

calling her incompetent, lazy, fat, hitting her, etc.
If you can't find the strength to refuse them a friendship for yourself yet, please do it for your fiancee.

Start your marriage on the principle that you will both do your best to protect each other from harm, and create a loving, gentle space for each other, and go from there. You will not regret it, and neither will any children you may have.
posted by chapps at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

The family you are related to by blood or marriage does not have to define family for you. There is no set standard or definition for what a family looks like. It is what you—and to a lesser degree, society—make of it. To me, friends and blood relations I can count on are what matter. You and your fiancee cannot count on these people, it sounds like, so are they family, according to your definition of the concept? They may or may not be.

You should do your best to be courteous, mainly to protect yourself, but I would not go out of my way to be in contact. In fact, I would do what I could to limit all interaction with people this toxic. (And, as jaded as it is, please make sure the apple has fallen far, far, far from the tree before you walk down the aisle.) You do not owe them anything, nor they you, and it sounds like your fiancee needs to get away from them as well. Hopefully she is not financially dependent on them, as abusive control through money is a common theme in wealthy families.

Life might be easier if you could get along with these folks, but the only way people get along respectfully is if all parties are at least moderately reasonable and tolerant, if not wholly accepting. Anyone who abuses or harasses other humans needlessly is not any of those things. They are not people you can build respectful relationships with.

I wonder if this is something you and your partner should talk about with a couple's therapist. I say this because your fiancee should really explore the things they've done to her (and to you) and how she's responded to them. She should consider how she wants to approach her relationship with them as she moves forward with you. Maybe she can explore that with you alone, but chances are a third person, an outsider, would help.
posted by iamfantastikate at 2:49 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is nothing you can do to get asshole in-laws to like you. Probably the more you try the more annoyed/hostile they will be. You can't change other people. The only thing to do is to set a hard boundary, as in if they continue to abuse you guys, you cut them off. You and she don't owe them a goddamn thing, so why not just cut them out of your life if they continue to be douchebags? There's no good reason to put up with this kind of abuse.

My parents aren't quite this abusive but they've taken no active interest in mine or my husbands lives and can be emotionally abusive and manipulative. We've effectively cut them out and moved away and it has been fantastic. You can only change your behavior so work on that.
posted by FireFountain at 2:51 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your fiancee's family sucks. Why would you even want them to like you?

I get that probably your fiancee doesn't want to cut them out of her life, which means that you will have to interact with them during holidays, at your wedding, etc. And if you have children, all of this becomes a lot more complicated.

But... honestly? I think your best bet here is to stop giving a fuck what these awful shit helmets think of you.
posted by Sara C. at 3:10 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yes, but why do you care? I think it will take about 10 years and them getting even older to recognize and appreciate their daughter is happy and thriving in your relationship. Evidence cannot be ignored over the long run. They will likely still be assholes, but they will be your supportive assholes.

I would start by finding some common ground. Do you like any of the same foods? Do you watch any of the same TV shows? Do you root for their favorite sports teams? When you find common ground no matter how small that ground may be, go there. Ask if she has a recipe for whatever common food you both like. Ask about last night's Yankee game if that is their team. Keep the conversation superficial and on things that they already are known to like.
posted by AugustWest at 3:18 PM on August 15, 2016

I feel I should point out that your in-laws' attitude toward you may have less to do with you, and more to do with their panic over being unable to maintain their control over your fiancée's life. That is, they want to decide who your fiancée marries, and quite likely rather a lot of other details of her life as well, rather than allowing her to make such decisions herself. Of course, she is not yielding that control to them, because she is an adult and adults run their own lives, so they have been trying harder and harder to gain that control back.

In behavioral psychology, this is called an extinction burst: what they are doing isn't yielding the desired results any more, so they will try more and more extreme versions of the same behavior before giving up. That they are mistreating you is only a lever they are trying to use on their daughter. From outside their heads this is insane: why would you have anything to do with someone who treats you that way? From inside their heads, their daughter is dangerously out of control and virtually anything is fair game to save her from the utter chaos that is the life beyond what they have conceived for her.

What you need is a united front. She needs to make it clear to her parents that in any conflict between them and you, she will choose you every time, because you are her future and they are her past. When they insult you, she must tell them, she will take it as an insult of her. When they threaten to withhold things from her (e.g. inheritance) if she does not do what she wants, she must tell them that she would rather be poor and living her own life than well-to-do but under their thumb. She also needs to make it clear that their behavior is driving her away, not bringing her back, and that if they want to have any contact at all with her ("contact with her" being code for "opportunity to influence her") then it needs to stop. It won't stop, but now they are on notice and she can in good conscience end contact with them when the ridiculous overstepping of her boundaries continues. In the meantime, you two need to be on the same page about what to do. This may include restraining orders and the like in extreme cases. They will either stop, or you will need to cut them out of your lives.

If you and she cannot agree to make and enforce boundaries, then you should end the engagement, because clearly she is not ready to stand with you against all comers. (I hasten to add that you must also be ready to stand with her equally!) Bottom line, if you two do not do something to check their behavior now, it will likely only get worse after you are married, and God forbid you ever have a child.

You will very likely never have a cordial relationship with these people. A cordial relationship requires cordiality from both parties in the relationship. They are bringing the exact opposite of that. They are showing you what kind of people they are; take them at their word.
posted by kindall at 3:23 PM on August 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

Why on earth are you working on "improving" a relationship with unrepentant abusers?

The correct improvement is to end the relationship until they stop being terrible people.
posted by pearshaped at 3:53 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not surprised that most of the responses here are just as callous as your in-laws.

Yes, people can come to like--or at least tolerate--the company of their new family members. This is such a common issue that it's a mainstay of family practice psychology and psychiatry (see one of a million articles written about this by a psychologist).

In our family, the question "why would you want to be friends with these people?" is moot, because they're my in laws, people, not my mortal enemies. They had very different upbringings than I did, and their only son came out of the closet to tell them about our relationship. My partner's visited a counselor to help him sort out a path forward, and honestly the strategies we've tried to learn are pretty decently covered in that linked article.

It may be deflating to hear so, but I don't expect I'll ever have a rosy relationship with the in-laws. But I'm confident asserting myself, and they seem to have a grudging respect for that now. A big part of their awfulness was to imagine me some sort of untrained, expertise-free rube (I have a deep southern accent and a low-paying job, a low-paying job I cherish and chose after many unfulfilling years making more money in a highly technical medical field). They used to cut me off in conversations by saying to the nearest available ear, "He's not a doctor, so don't listen" and rolling their eyes. I used to let that go... but one day I slammed my hand down on the table in one of these moments and called them out on their bullshit. In my momentary rage, I challenged dear old dad to an online MCAT practice test. That reaaaalllly capped the bullshit, although I don't think "humiliating someone with their own ignorance" is a widely sanctioned way to "practice a healthy selfishness."

Good luck, though. At the end of the day, it's more important that you make sure your spouse is comfortable with the middle-person role between you and the in-laws. And that might be a good thing to take to a counselor.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:58 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

They have lost control over their daughter and are using you as leverage.

Accusing you of being a terrorist is no joke. Talk to a competent therapist and a lawyer for advice about dealing with these dangerous people, long story short, they will escalate. You need insight and protection.

No. You can not have a cordial relationship with them. Your wife needs to cut them out of her life -OR- go back to living with them under their thumb.

Neither one of you is safe. I hope she makes the right choice to preserve her marriage to you and your safety together.
posted by jbenben at 4:05 PM on August 15, 2016 [16 favorites]

People who do stuff like this:

Once they even threatened to go to the police and threaten me of planning a terrorist attack, citing that I am "anti-government."

Should not be kept. Full stop, that is not acceptable behavior, and it is not right to treat that sort of behavior in the same manner you might treat 'well, they're cold' or 'they make snide remarks.' You really ought not be around people like that - it's not a harmless foible to give people space about.

Upon preview:
What jbenben said.
posted by mordax at 4:12 PM on August 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

OP, I want to appreciate all the great answers pointing to issues you may have with perception of others.

That said, your in-laws are abusive and dangerous and they are waging a war of control. This is not the day and social atmosphere to downplay serious criminal accusations during family disharmony. What they have shown themselves capable of is not to be ignored or under-reacted to. I urge you to seek professional guidance. If/when they escalate, you need to have diplomatic interpersonal tools AND know your legal rights and options.

Does this woman love you? Is she mature enough to help you both handle this issue? Or will she collapse under pressure from her parents who have conditioned her to abuse??

I have also had a tough road in life. I urge you consider if this situation is right for you to continue on this path. These inlaws will not magically transform, this will put a lot of pressure on your marital relationship. It might be a road too difficult to attempt. Put on your own oxygen mask first and consider each step carefully. You're already a hero and a survivor. Your wife's parents don't get to define you. Or harm you. You can always opt for something different, including adopting gentle indifference.

Best to you.
posted by jbenben at 4:24 PM on August 15, 2016 [11 favorites]

Yes, people can come to like--or at least tolerate--the company of their new family members. This is such a common issue that it's a mainstay of family practice psychology and psychiatry

Threatening to go to the police to make a false accusation of planning a terrorist attack can not be said by any reasonable metric to fall into that category.

OP, you say that you want "a respectful and warm relationship" with these people. Unfortunately, this is impossible, because they are clearly such damaged people that they are incapable of having a respectful and warm relationship with anyone. There is literally nothing, nothing, nothing you can do to make them into entirely different people, but them becoming entirely different people is literally the necessary precondition for your wish to come to pass. This is not your failing, but theirs.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 4:33 PM on August 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

I hate to be the one to say this, but this is not an issue with your future in-laws; it is an issue with your future wife. She needs to draw boundaries. She needs to tell them they cannot speak to her or to you that way. She needs to tell them to take their money and shove it.

And she needs to do it now. She has to do this before you get married because if she doesn't, the wedding will be a nightmare. And if the two of you are planning to have children, the grandparent relationship will be even worse unless the two of you have demarcated your own camp.

And for the love of all that is holy, pay for your own wedding.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:50 PM on August 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

Nobody can have a relationship with people who think that falsely accusing someone of terrorism is a reasonable or acceptable thing to do. It's not possible. You couldn't do it even if you were their dream son-in-law, because they are not nice or reasonable people. That kind of behavior isn't even in the same galaxy as reasonable. I just hope your wife realizes how far from normal or reasonable their behavior is.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:13 PM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

If they are not warm and respectful to their own progeny, how can they be warm and respectful to you?
posted by molasses at 6:30 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

There is a specific problem here, where you mentioned: "...because my wife-to-be didn't return their phone calls or emails for about 3 weeks, ergo they rationalized this lack of communication as evidence of plans..."

This is can be a big deal in some families. Most normal in-laws would be very worried and upset if this happened, and your in-laws are more paranoid and agitated than usual, so they will jump to bad conclusions.

If your wife-to-be doesn't really want to talk to her parents, then she has to set her own boundaries, and this means that she has to tell them clearly that she's not answering their calls... And also probably tell them why, and then leave it at that. Just going silent for a few weeks might seem kinda weird to them if it happens suddenly.
posted by ovvl at 7:09 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I nth everybody else that these people are psycho and generally incapable of good behavior to give you. Seriously, that terrorist crap is enough for ME to want to cut them off. Also nthing the comments about this being about their control issues and nobody would be good enough for them. They might cave a little after a grandchild, but you can't count on that.

However, this is gonna depend on your fiancee. Honestly, these folks sound bad enough to cut off, and maaaaybe they'd behave a little better if she cut them off for at least a few years before deigning to speak to them again. But if she's not willing to cut them off (after all, you usually only get one set of parents and you can't get adopted in your 20's and up) or is too cowed to do it...there's gonna be problems. She may or may not be strong enough to protect and defend you from them and put you first over them. Think about how she deals with them and how that's going to affect you in a marital relationship. (Or a martial one, as I just typo'd.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:20 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's only going to get uglier when you guys have kids. And your kids having no relationship, or a very not-nice relationship with their grandparents will break your heart.
posted by vignettist at 8:33 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I want to have a respectful and warm relationship with my in-laws. Is there anything I can do to encourage such a relationship?

No. Your in-laws are assholes. Toxic, abusive, racist, classist assholes. They only way for them to like you is for you to be just like them, and that's not really practically possible.

late afternoon dreaming hotel: In our family, the question "why would you want to be friends with these people?" is moot, because they're my in laws, people, not my mortal enemies.

Well, that's nice for late afternoon dreaming hotel, but, OP, these people are in fact your motal enemies. They abused and continue to abuse your fiance. They make up lies about you being a criminal and a terrorist. They threatened to make false reports about you to the police.

Not only can you not have a good relationship with these people, you and your fiance should, ideally, cut them out of your lives and never look back. And if that isn't possible (ie, your fiance wants to maintin a relationship with them), then your fiance needs to protect you from them. You don't have to see them, ever. If they can't keep a civil tongue in their heads, they can't come visit - that's the boundary she has to draw. If your fiance wants to see them, she can go out to lunch with them, or go visit them without you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:37 PM on August 15, 2016 [11 favorites]

Either they honestly do believe you're Native American, involved with drugs, capable of plotting a terror attack, et cetera, or they don't. If they don't, then they're terrible people who think it's OK to falsely accuse someone of terrorism. If they do, then they're totally out of touch with reality. Either way, not looking good for a relationship.

Yes, normal parents might worry if their grown child didn't communicate for a while. Normal ways of dealing with that might include attempting to contact the child in other ways, asking friends or other family members what's going on, or even having the police do a welfare check. Not accusing their child's SO of plotting a terrorist attack. Even most anxious people who might think something like that could be happening would find a way to deal without threatening to make a probably false accusation of terrorism.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:52 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

As others have said, they sound like people you wouldn't want to have a relationship with. Still, if your fiancee doesn't plan to break off with her family, you will have a relationship whether you want it or not.

Do not engage with them more than you have to. BUT when you do, take the upper road and relish that it will give you control over them. For example, if they give you a gift, send them a hand-written thank you note. Be on your best behavior around them. Countering their obnoxiousness with civility will either bring them around or make them look like even bigger assholes.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:48 AM on August 16, 2016

Nthing these are not people you want to have a warm, cordial relationship. Or even much of a relationship at all, but a lot of that will depend on your wife.

I just want to add an important addition to the advice for your wife to set boundaries with her parents: it is entirely possible that she has, and that they are walking all over them and pretending she hasn't said anything. People who are capable of accusing someone their own daughter trusts, of terrorism, are capable of inventing crap. Thus, they are capable of inventing crap about their daughter as well. What I'm getting at is, while there is a responsibility for your wife to tell her parents to knock it off, just because she tells them to, doesn't mean they will. She CANNOT be held responsible for the actions of others (in which she is not participating; if she's participating, it's different, of course).

I want to repeat that as an example so you can see why it's so important to recognize, because OP, your own potential marriage could be at risk if you put too much responsibility on your wife: I told my parents to knock it the fuck off with their anti-France bullshit well before they spoke to my then-boyfriend, who was French. I told them that if they mentioned any BS, and I gave examples they themselves had said so they couldn't deny it, they would not meet him. I then told them that if they came out with any anti-France BS when meeting him, they would not see me again. I got their agreement after long, drawn-out resistance; we're talking months. Well. What did they do when they met him? "Hello, Boyfriend. We hear our daugher has told you all sorts of horrible things about us. We just want you to know that we've always loved France and would never say anything bad about it, because look! Our daughter speaks French and lives in France! We inspired that love in her! But of course our daughter badmouths us all the time and has tried to turn you against us."

Yeeeeaaaaah. How. The fuck. Was I supposed to predict that. So of course when I took my parents aside (without creating drama for my bf because he had nothing to do with their wacko behavior) and said, paraphrasing, "what the fuck?" they said, "well, you didn't tell us we couldn't say THAT!" It only happened once, because I did not allow them near my boyfriend again after that. With which he agreed, btw. He'd heard how they spoke to me at other times.

So, wife setting boundaries with her family: yes, of course she should. Expecting your wife to thus CONTROL her family's behavior: hahahahahahaha haha ha no. You need to have her back on this. Ideally you know her well enough to trust that if she's said she has set boundaries, then she has. And so if their family goes "Well you said you didn't like hydrogen bombs! So we set landmines! You didn't say anything about landmines! HA!" then uh yeah the crazy is their crazy, not hers. Exception only being if she keeps up a sort of vicious circle.

Also, I second the recommendation to speak with a lawyer about the terrorism accusations. To add to the wonderful fun of my family, they accused me of being a terrorist because I speak a foreign language. No really. They actually told everyone they knew, police acquaintances included, that I was a terrorist. And they were fucking serious. The totally hilarious world-is-small, chance-is-funny thing was that I had in fact made friends with an anti-terrorist researcher who, y'know, actually knew terrorist networks. And so he went to bat for me. Which is, yeah, this... is not a story I, uh, ever thought I'd tell. Anyway. So yeah. Don't underestimate the crazy, okay. There are people who see their children as objects, and you CANNOT underestimate just how far they will go to destroy the lives of their children. Because they see it as saving their own egos. Their kids don't exist as people to them.

Repeat: their daughter does not exist as a person in her own right to them. You don't know if she ever will. Given that she's courageous enough to have followed her own heart, there's a good chance she knows this too. Talk to her about it. This is how you'll get to know each other and defend each other with these people. It may come to cutting them off, given the level of wack. Just start by talking openly, about what she and you want. Not what her parents want. Focus on your relationship. And cover your back with the terrorism thing.
posted by fraula at 6:26 AM on August 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

If they think it would be a bad thing if you were Native American, that is of course another piece of evidence in support of the "they're terrible people" theory.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:40 AM on August 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Something else I wanted to point out is that you're not missing out by not having a relationship of any kind with them either.

I have been close to some awful people in my time, and the thing about them is: some of them will exclude you from their asshole behavior for whatever reason, (being in-group can be enough, depending on who you're talking about - this seems common in my anecdotal experience with racists), but you still have to be around them being horrible to *other* people in front of you.

Speaking from personal experience, it's a deeply uncomfortable place to be: you're constantly torn between doing the right thing and just... sitting with it. Looking the other way. Maybe even making excuses to people they mistreat to avoid 'causing problems.'

I really didn't like it, and I don't think most people would either. So... take heart. Even if you got your wish and managed to get the 'kick me' sign off your back with these people, they'd still be awful right in front of you. All you're missing out on is being complicit in at least some of their actions.
posted by mordax at 11:01 AM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's completely ok to want to have a warm relationship with your in-laws, and for that to be important to you, as a general desire in life. As others have certainly said, it's unlikely to happen with these in-laws. It's important to take time to mourn the hypothetical relationship you thought you'd have with your eventual partner's family, because not having that relationship is a loss. Often, people find that taking the time and space to mourn the desired-but-unachievable relationship gives them more energy and clarity in dealing with the actual relationship in front of them.
posted by lazuli at 12:33 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Has your wife considered doing family therapy with her parents, to disentangle their bullshit behavior and attitudes towards you and her? Not sure if they'd be willing based on how irrational they seem to be, but it seems like the ball is in your wife's court, since she cans say, "attend therapy together/with me in order to iron out some pretty awful feelings I have about our relationship, or I won't contact you further or accept your calls."

Also, don't defend yourself to them- if they think you're a terrorist or what have you, there's no need for you to say "I do participate in politics that they view as unconventional, XYZ etc" because defending yourself, IMHO, only validates their claims against you. How easy would it be for you to ignore those absolutely insane comments?

I'm sorry about all the awful things that have happened to you. I really hope things stay on track for you both, and I think they will, given your love for each other =)
posted by erattacorrige at 3:45 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you should not be in a relationship with your fiancee. She has so much work to do to accept that she's been abused (I'm guessing) her entire life, undoing that damage, unlearning all the coping strategies that work just fine now but will blow up your marriage in 5-10 years, relearning healthy behaviors, setting and maintaining boundaries, and an engagement isn't going to do anything to help her. Planning for a wedding can take on a patina that gives you the impression that the stress in your life is just from the upcoming wedding, and once you get past that hurdle it's smooth sailing.

If you want to stay in a relationship with her, it can't be therapeutic in nature. You can't get her to feel better; you're not a trained therapist (and if you were you'd know why therapists can't have relationships with their clients). You can certainly support her emotionally and intellectually, and one of the best things I think you could do would be to model boundaries for her. You actually don't have to have a relationship with these toxic people, you just have to have a relationship with your fiancee. If your relationship is causing stress to either of you (e.g. you feel you need to interact with her toxic family but loathe that you have to do it, or she feels she needs to acquiesce to her parents' abusive actions but is angry that they're still abusing her), over time, that stress will kill your relationship.

I repeat: I think you shouldn't be in a relationship with this person at this point in her life. I understand this relationship is bringing you both joy, and that's awesome and worth fighting for. But make sure you understand who and what you're fighting, and that you're both on the same side.
posted by disconnect at 8:45 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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