Hi bees! We see the issue of the passive-aggressive in-law come up all the time on the blog & boards. Navigating a new relationship with your spouse and MIL is sometimes super rough! So we asked an expert Deanna Brann, Ph.D. to give us some tips on dealing with passive aggressiveness in relationships. Her advice is below!
Do you have a mother-in-law who says she is “fine” or who says nothing at all, but then starts in with obvious pouts; loud, heavy sighs; and those undermining “accidental” oversights? No matter what she says or doesn’t say, her actions are screaming the real truth: She is not happy with you. This is called passive aggressive behavior, and it’s not your imagination—it’s very real!
Dealing with this behavior (passive and unassuming on the surface, but nastily aggressive toward you underneath) can be incredibly difficult, draining, and frustrating. Fortunately, I have some specific strategies for dealing with passive-aggressive mothers-in-law—and even with passive-aggressive spouses. So read on to get the tools you need for the results you want.
Even though it doesn’t feel like it, you really do have an advantage. I tell you this not so you can best your in-law, but so you can feel less helpless and start to see the situation in a different light.
The following two tips work because they allow you to both alter her behavior and feel better in spite of her actions. After all, it takes two to play, so if you change the rules on your mother-in-law, it’s impossible for her to keep up her frustrating behavior.
Here’s how to shake things up:
Here’s how to create a more balanced sense of power:
Spouses can certainly use passive-aggressive behavior to add fuel to the fire of a stressful mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. They allow things to happen and can even set it up to some degree, yet when it is brought up to them, they act as though they are helpless to change anything.
An example is when a mother tries to talk to her son or daughter about how her daughter-in-law shuts her out of their family life. The typical passive-aggressive response is, “What do you want me to say?” or “I don’t know what to say,” which only makes the mother feel more helpless. When you try to talk to your spouse about your frustration with what you see as your mother-in-law’s lack of respect for you and your family, all they say is, “I don’t know what to say to my mom. You know how she can be.” Because you are protective of your spouse and tired of the drama your mother-in-law’s visits seem to create, you decide to handle the situation yourself by shunning your mother-in-law—and your spouse just goes along for the ride.
The passive-aggressive “helplessness” of the spouse here is setting up an ugly situation between you and your mother-in-law. Instead of saying something, your spouse allows the drama and tension to continue. The worst part of this is that both women see the spouse as the victim!
Here’s how to put the responsibility where it belongs:
It’s vital that spouses and mothers make sure that the person in the middle is always part of the equation. As helpless as they appear, believe me, they are not! Of course, talk with them from a place of love, compassion, and even confusion instead of a place of anger or frustration. This will prod your spouse toward having more honest and real relationships.
The more you practice these tips, the easier it will get, and the faster your passive-aggressive in-law relationship will turn to one of mutual respect—and who knows, maybe even affection.
Have you had to deal with a difficult in-law or passive aggressiveness in your relationship with your spouse? How did you (or they) turn the relationship around?
Deanna Brann, Ph.D., is a leading expert in the field of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships. She has over 25 years experience as a clinical psychotherapist and ran her own private practice for more than 18 years. Based in Knoxville, TN, Dr. Brann is a sought after speaker, author, and seminar leader. She is the two time author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law and Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law Say the Darndest Things. You can find more info on her website.