How do I deal with hurt feelings towards my future in-laws?
January 7, 2017 10:44 AM   Subscribe

My fiancé's parents were against our marriage at first, but have now come around. I still feel hurt by the way the reacted when we first told them, but am not sure how to act when I next meet them. Help, please?

To get the obvious out of the way: Fiancé and I are both in our mid-twenties (I am 27, he is 26) and have been together for about three and a half years now, so this is not a problem of our ages or shortness of relationship. We are from different countries, though, with him being Japanese and my being German, but I speak Japanese fluently and have lived in Japan even before we met, and my foreign nationality does not seem to be the problem. In fact, whenever I visited his family in Japan, I got along fabulously with his mother (his father doesn't talk much), I went out with her and the younger sister, the sister and brother came to visit fiancé and me when we were still just living together... They even assured me that none of their objections had anything to do with me and that they liked me.

I guess his parents are just very conservative. They were against us living together in Europe when fianće was in grad school, seemingly because they were afraid he'd focus more on me than his studies, but the fact that we lived together meant that he could focus on his studies more because I worked and paid our rent, which also didn't fit their traditional view. They were pretty against him going to grad school in the first place and just wanted him to find permanent employement in Japan, not so much because they want him around, but more because permanent employment is still the most highly regarded form of employment in Japan, and there has been much hand-wringing about our generation only finding short-term contracts and thus not getting married because Japanese women my age want to be housewives again but can't when their men don't earn enough or don't have stable employment. Again, my future mother-in-law specifically told me that she finds young women with good educations staying at home weird, so it's not even as if she wants me to become a housewife. But she and his father are also very against our getting married while he, after graduating, only has a contract job - which is illogical, because the father had a permanent contract and was still somehow let go, so nothing is ever guaranteed.
I definitely understand that financial troubles are a big source of anxiety and may erode a marriage, but I'm not sure what the alternative is. Nod and say "you're right, let me leave your son to find someone richer"? It's not like he has poor work ethic, it's just that we're young and the job market sucks, thanks to our parents' generation, by the way - and that we both think two incomes combined are better than one, even if one of us will end up in between jobs at some point. I guess my going back to grad school instead of keeping my contract where I work now is making them anxious, but I cannot stand working here anymore (see my previous question) and it's also halfway around the world from Japan. I need that degree to get a better job next, and I can fully pay for it on my own with fiancé covering rent for us and me either working a bit or dipping into my savings (I have quite a bit) when I'm too busy to work. I don't think money should keep us from getting married. His mother said she understands the economy is bad, but before we get married, shouldn't two smart and well-educated young people try to change the world for their own and everyone's sakes? (Yes, she really said that, and the more I think about it, the madder I get. It's their generation that screwed us over! I'm not allowed to share my burden with the man I love, but I should shoulder a whole generation's weight?) She also said no one could be happy for us if we got married like this and she just doesn't want me to be unhappy.

They were also upset by the fact that fiancé did not ask my parents for their blessing, and she just could not believe that they had absolutely no problem with our wedding plans. I tried to explain in vain that we don't do that here, that I am an adult etc. My parents, when I told them, were actually kind of insulted because they felt like they had raised an adult. I was also hurt because I had told MIL at some point about the complicated relationship I have with my parents, who can be loving one minute and emotionally abusive the next, so her making fiancé grovel to them really hurt me. Fiancé himself said if it helped the situation, he'd do it, but only if I was not against it, so he flew here over the holidays. I was glad to see him, of course, and my family as well because they all like him, and we skyped with his parents once, but not much came out of it because of a lack of a mutual language. In the end, his mother said she was looking forward to seeing me in Japan in March.

My question is: How do I proceed here? After initially throwing him out of the house when we first announced our wedding plans, fiancé's father has calmed down a lot and even said I could stay there as well until we found an apartment, but I'm not sure I want to. I realise these people will be my family, but I still feel hurt that they could not treat me as an adult. Of course cultural issues come into play here, and I know I have to adapt to a certain degree, but if my parents had pulled this same crap, I would have gone low contact for quite a while until they apologised. My fiancé is willing to put me first here, and is generally not too close with his parents although he lives with them for the moment because it made sense to only move out once I join him in Japan.
posted by LoonyLovegood to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Forgot to say we're not planning a wedding for now.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:49 AM on January 7, 2017

I would ignore the parents' bad attitude. You are adults. You aren't even getting married immediately. You have a plan for your finances and education. They seem to be able to come around on things, given the time to do so.

I would make a plan NOT to live with them in Japan, though, unless you absolutely have to.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:54 AM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

I promise I won't threadsit, but I seem to have expressed myself poorly: We WILL get married in March, we just won't have a wedding (ceremoney, reception, whatever) until later or never, so the question of whom to invite does not present itself (yet.).
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:57 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, I see. I mean, that's your choice, but I do wonder if the not having a wedding is bothering his parents as part of the problem.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:06 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

it's just that we're young and the job market sucks

Sounds like
1) they think you're both young, not children but not yet established in a way that is important culturally in their family

2) maybe they were hoping that he would end up in Japan in their old age and marrying a European makes that seem less likely or more difficult

3) maybe they just don't like you that much and you weren't aware

None of these things are particularly uncommon and for you they seem to be moving in a positive direction, so I'd just be patient and try to put yourself in their shoes. You may feel similarly about your own childrens' choices in the future.
posted by vunder at 11:19 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I want to preface this by saying I ran into communication and interpersonal issues with a close friend from Japan in college, and in his view they were issues because of cultural differences, so my interpretation might be WILDLY off the mark. only (somewhat bewildered) thought was that they seem to be finding reasons to object, over and over again. Sometimes people do that when they're not willing to state the real reason they object to something, even (sometimes) to themselves.

I don't know what's going on here, but I can't make any sense of it otherwise.

Anyway, if it were me, I don't think I'd feel comfortable staying with them either. I think the only way forward would be to accept, emotionally, that they didn't want us to get married for whatever reason, and then proceed from there. You might not be close with them. I would suggest talking to your fiancé about the (possible, likely?) scenario in which they are always dissatisfied about something, creating a baseline tension in your interactions and relationship with them. But at this point I'm not sure it's on you to forgive them and pretend they haven't hurt you. That's a lot of emotional labor that everyone is demanding of you.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:25 AM on January 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

My husband does not like one of my parents. I am not codependent with this parent by any means and they live in another country for half the year, but it has still managed to be the single most difficult aspect of marriage for me. So I would err on the side of figuring this out now if I were you.
posted by ficbot at 11:25 AM on January 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

This is more for the answerers than the asker:

I know someone who went through something similar (US & S. Korea). Having a master's degree and a contract job wasn't enough and her parents didn't want her to marry him without a Permanent Job. After several years of trying to make it work, they broke up.

I think for the parents it really is about the future husband not having a Permanent Job.
posted by aniola at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

[I] am not sure how to act when I next meet them.

Seriously, for your sanity and your relationship, let the hard feelings stop with you.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:28 AM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

I know I promised not to threadsit, but since someone replied with "graciously": What does that mean in practice? What kind of relationship will I have with them? Do I pretend they were never against the marriage?

(Also, I really don't think they dislike. We got along fabulously before, his grandparents liked me... It might be about the lack of wedding, but his mother seriously just said days before that if parents expext big weddings, they need to pay for them.)
posted by LoonyLovegood at 11:53 AM on January 7, 2017

They have envisioned their child's marriage for 20-some years as him marrying a Japanese woman. They are also dealing with the fact that by having a foreign daughter in law, they are less likely to have their son and grandchildren around them. Their grandkids will have a different relationship with them than they had expected. Give them some time to adjust to all of this.
Their relationship with you is going to be different form what they expected too. There are probably a million little rules of in law relationships that you don't understand. And that is okay, but it is just the way it is.
Also, in Japan, are marriages a way of expanding one's network and social capital? If so, you're doing nothing for them and that is a loss they must mourn. Maybe they envisioned a traditional Japanese ceremony and had plans to invite all of their colleagues and now it will be different.

It is awesome that you speak Japanese and everything, but you are not what they imagined. They'll work through this but in the meantime, hang back and let your fiance guide you. I'd also strongly suggest talking to some close Japanese girlfriends for some wisdom here. If he has any female cousins or sisters around your age, it might be worth working on your relationships with them.
posted by k8t at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2017 [17 favorites]

Do I pretend they were never against the marriage?

I would say yes. They will either come around with time, or you can make them not a part of your life, that is their choice, but there's no way to create a confrontation that will magically make them change their attitude. And calling people out on their confused feelings and imperfect behavior isn't easy to do at the best of time. For now, I'd say let your fiance take the lead, since it is his family. If things get worse, then face it as a partnership -- they are not your problem to solve.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:05 PM on January 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

I think the key to this is to try to assume that your partner's parents had their offspring's best interests at heart but were misguided in how to achieve that goal.

In my marriage I aim to stay somewhere between amused and bemused with the in-laws.
posted by srboisvert at 12:09 PM on January 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

I tried to explain in vain that we don't do that here, that I am an adult etc.

Trying to convince them to see things your way will always be in vain. They will remain resolute even if they like you, and you will go from hopeful to frustrated to angry to contemptuous to bitter. It will affect your relationship with your fiancé/spouse, but it will not change their relationship with him at all. Stop trying.

her making fiancé grovel to them really hurt me.

Nobody made your fiancé grovel to anyone. He is an adult and he chose to do his mother's bidding. Even though you said it isn't done that way. Even though your parents didn't want it that way. If your fiancé isn't in your corner - if he isn't the one leading the charge - the problem is not with your inlaws.
posted by headnsouth at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

This wasn't directly addressed in your question, but I get a sense from your question that it may not have come up before. There are a ton of common issues in cross-cultural marriages - and your question is about in-law relations. Another big one is money and family. If it is the case that you haven't talked about this, something that you should discuss with your fiance is how he and his parents currently and in the future deal with money together and how you two are going to manage your own cross-cultural international money.
All families differ in how they manage money, but there are also huge cultural differences, norms, and expectations. His parents' interest in him having a more stable job may not only be about him, but about them. It is entirely possible that they (they = his parents OR they = him and his parents) plan on son (and/or other children) financially supporting the parents (or perhaps physically caring for them too). This may be different from your own cultural norms. Better to come to an agreement about/understand how much they are expecting and/or how much it will cost for them to exist every month. Also determine how much control he will have over his parents' spending. This is possibly non-negotiable for him. Are you okay with his mom buying a Louis Vuitton purse while you deny yourself a vacation because money is too tight? If his dad smokes and won't quit, but needs extensive health treatment for a smoking-related disease, how are you going to deal with that?
You two should also discuss what you envision for your own retirements. I know that you two are in your mid-20s, but as someone a smidge older than you, I can say that concerns about retirement creep up on you. Where you choose to retire will impact your lives a lot -- will you both be eligible for government-sponsored pensions and medical care in the country where you end up? Find out now what the deal is in all of the possible countries where you may live. And the place where you save your own money for retirement matters too. Educate yourself about you ability to access both government and private pension savings.
Better to do all of this well before you are married.
posted by k8t at 12:46 PM on January 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

It sounds like you really want them to accept you immediately, with open arms, and be super-enthusiastic about your plans. That's probably not going to happen. The best you can do is to forge ahead, do well with marriage and employment, and win them over in due time.

Consider that for 20+ years they dedicated their lives to raising their son. They've nourished hopes and dreams about his success in life. They can only envision success in the terms that they understand - a nice permanent job, a nice Japanese daughter-in-law from a good family, lovely grandchildren, and all living at home with them to support them in their old age.

He has chosen a different life. He has chosen you. He wants to blaze his own path, and in time they will celebrate that. Allow them to mourn their loss, their loss of a particular dream.

In time, as your relationship grows, and especially if you have children, they will realize that to see him and their grandchildren, they have to be nice to you.


His mother said she understands the economy is bad, but before we get married, shouldn't two smart and well-educated young people try to change the world for their own and everyone's sakes?

She's grasping at straws. Of course it makes no sense. In my view, you two are already making the world better just by being together - you are bridging the divide between nations and cultures.

I still feel hurt that they could not treat me as an adult.

This seems important to you. If either of you are accepting money or support from your parents, then no, you are not fully independent. Otherwise, you are an adult no matter how they treat you.

...the job market sucks, thanks to our parents' generation, by the way...
It's their generation that screwed us over!

You also seem to feel strongly about this. Maybe they did. Then again, the generation before them really screwed up with WWII. So what?

if my parents had pulled this same crap, I would have gone low contact for quite a while until they apologised

It will be difficult to understand each other if you frame things as them pulling crap. Your potential in-laws will sense your disdain and respond to that, however subconsciously.

I was also hurt because I had told MIL at some point about the complicated relationship I have with my parents, who can be loving one minute and emotionally abusive the next, so her making fiancé grovel to them really hurt me.

This may well be the crux of the matter. It sounds like you didn't fully get the love and support from your parents that you needed. In some way, you might be looking for affirmation from other people that come into your life, and then feeling doubly hurt and abandoned. It may help you a lot in the long run to explore this with a therapist to gain some self-care and insight.

The important thing is that you and your fiance are committed to each other, and you have a strong relationship. You are young, educated, and you have a strong work ethic and moral compass. You have your whole lives ahead of you! My best wishes to you for a long and flourishing marriage, and much love and joy along the way.
posted by metaseeker at 1:40 PM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don't want to tell you something you may have already considered and dismissed, but it is not unknown for older or more conservative Japanese people to... be kinda racist (perhaps xenophobic is more accurate), especially when it comes to foreigners marrying Japanese people.

Even if overt racism doesn't play a role, it could be wrapped up in broader conservative-style ideas of the life they had in mind for their son, and what the actual reality is.

But take heart! Parents, both east and west, have been dealing with feelings of disappointment and frustration about choices their children make for decades, they will (And it sounds like they have already started) reconcile themselves to your marriage.

I would urge you to be the most charitable line when and where possible. I know your feelings are hurt, but if you want this marriage to last investments you make with the in-laws now will pay rich dividends for years to come. For example, I wouldn't stay with them - not because you feel awkward, but because it will heighten the stress and tension for everyone most likely. I would get a separate place if I could afford it, but make sure to see them regularly so they know it's not a slight.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Since I'm the one who offered "graciously," here's what I do/n't mean.

I do NOT mean ignoring that they were against the marriage, or just caving into their beliefs. I mean being gracious in the knowledge that even though they were originally opposed to it, they have by your account come around. That was probably a long journey for them. I know it was hurtful to you, and that's shitty and not cool, but they did make that journey. That's awesome, so grant them a little credit on that score.

I also mean that so far as I can see, nursing this wound does you no good. Letting go of the hurt feelings is going to be healthier for you, and for your partner. [I have a personal story I had typed out and then deleted here which I'll share privately if you really want it.]

Consider, as well, that having revised their opinion of the relationship and all that entailed, they may not look at their previous position as their finest parenting moment. You do them a favor by being gracious in the extent to which you elide their past "error" and move forward as fellow members of a complicated, messy family-in-the-offing.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:40 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a success story. Shortly after my husband and I eloped, I was sitting in a kitchen in a foreign country having coffee with my new husband and his mom. When he left to use the loo, his mom looked at me and said, "I wish you had never met my son." I was terrified. After we left I told hubby what had happened and begged him to never leave me alone with him. Despite this gloomy beginning, my MIL came to love me and I came to love her. My in-laws gave us the downpayment for a house we bought. Several times my MIL came to visit us in the US, and we visited her. She knit me a sweater, bought me gifts, was kind to me, and adored our kid. And when my MIL began to disappear into dementia, I was the last person she trusted. Of course she was sad at the time that her beloved son would spend 20+ years living far away. But in the end, I became a part of the family. And I never discussed that first scary comment she made to me. I pretended it never happened and it all worked out in the end.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:39 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Do I pretend they were never against the marriage?

Yes. Or, rather, you don't belabor that point with them. What could possibly be gained by that? Decide instead to be happy about the fact that people change and that they think more positively about the marriage now. Plenty of people don't like a situation or a person at first, and then come to love it. Heck, sometimes people who didn't like each other at first end up getting married and living happily ever after. This is a good thing.

That said, as you no doubt know, Japanese culture is a thing unto itself and challenges such as this will likely continue to arise from time to time as a result of cultural and generational differences. You had better get used to shrugging it off and figuring out how to deal with it without getting your feelings hurt every time it comes up. And, for what it's worth, there are plenty of people and plenty of cultures that don't necessarily view 20somethings who are still in school as "full-fledged mature adults" in the same sense they might be likely to view you in five years when you've embarked upon your respective fields of pursuit, etc.
posted by slkinsey at 7:18 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just an added note that I am familiar with a similar situation and the issue had nothing to do with the new in-law and everything to do with the family member. This very well could have nothing to do with you and everything to do with longstanding issues between your future in laws and their son.
posted by Toddles at 10:06 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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