The Difficult Daughter-in-Law, Part 4: Where’s Her Husband?

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The Difficult Daughter-in-Law (DDIL) is the bane of many parents of grown offspring. From the comments on our website and the huge number of clicks this topic gets on the Internet, it’s obviously an open sore that may scab over but never heals. I looked at the DDIL’s behavior in three earlier articles, The Difficult Daughter-in-Law: What’s her Problem?, How She Wreaks Havoc, and How Not to Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Daughter-in-Law. Now I’m turning my attention to her husband-your son. According to the literature, parents who have written in, and experts in the field, generally speaking if your son is married to a DDIL, he’s at best missing in action and at worst breaking your heart.
This comment posted to the POGO website is representative:

“It’s such a painful situation to be in. My DIL has managed to paint me as a monster and has the ability to get my son to ignore everything I have done for him and her as well has forgiving all the hurt she has caused, all the trouble she has stirred in the family and all the bile she has vomited over us all. I put up with her for his sake, but she tells him such lies about me and plays the victim and he believes her. She comes from a confrontational and argumentative background. She sees weakness in compromise and forgiveness and strength in aggression and manipulation. The really sad thing about all this is that my son believes her every lie and deception and cannot see her for the divisive, duplicitous person she is. I have cried buckets over this. I hope I am now coming to terms with the reality that the son I raised is no longer a part of my life and I have zero control over that. My love for him has and will never change, but the dynamic that once existed between us is no longer there, and sometimes I even hear her words and her arrogance come from my son’s mouth. It’s like I don’t really know him anymore.”

According to Deborah Levinson, a licensed clinical social worker who frequently deals with these situations in her private practice, “The DDIL married your son because she could control him, and if she has the power in the family, she rules the roost. It’s too dangerous to try to realign the husband/wife relationship. Besides which, if you get into a power struggle with your son’s toxic wife, you will lose.”
Ms. Levinson suggests taking a step back and asking yourself these questions:

  1. Who has the power in the family?

  2. How is your son doing outside the marriage? If his self-esteem is low, he may be more prone to acquiesce to his wife’s antics.

  3. Where are the boundaries between generations and between husband and wife?

  4. What are the rules of the family?

  5. Where are the triangles? Are you being used as a wedge to defuse tension between your son and his wife?

  6. Are there ways your son can get some of your needs met without rocking the boat in his marriage?

“You are playing a sophisticated game of chess here,” Ms. Levinson says. “You need to try to find ways to have a relationship with your son that doesn’t threaten his wife. She advises:

  • Take a fresh look at the situation.

  • Check your ego at the door. One grandfather even agreed to supervised visits with his grandsons because that was the only way he could get access to them.

  • Keep your eyes on the prize—access and normality.

  • Let go of any expectations.

  • If your son has children, ask him to make sure they know you have value. Keep communicating with the kids in any way you can, because each contact is an imprint.

  • Look for small ways to make inroads. Ask your son for input as to how you can give his wife what she needs so she will open the door just a smidgeon.

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The worst scenario, of course, is when the DDIL weaponizes her children, either keeping her husband’s parents away and/or turning the kids against them. This was the case with one of our readers who was barred from seeing her grandchildren for a decade. She posted: “At the end (of their marriage) my daughter-in-law tried to forbid us from attending the children’s college graduations, and she PUT THAT INTO THE DIVORCE AGREEMENT! Thank God, our son refused, he’s now marrying a lovely, wonderful, sweet woman, and we’re back in touch with our grandchildren. To all of you I say: Hang in there!”   

See also in the POGO archives:

Difficult Daughter-in-Law, Part 1: What’s Her Problem?

Difficult Daughter-in-Law, Part 2: How She Wreaks Havoc

Difficult Daughter-in-Law, Part 3: How Not to Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Daughter-in-Law

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