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


In our first post on this topic, The Difficult Daughter-in-Law: What is Her Problem?, we examined the many reasons why the difficult daughter-in-law (DDIL) makes life so miserable, especially for her mother-in-law (MIL). In this sequel we’ll look at some specific ways she creates tension and dissension throughout the extended family.

She can be passive-aggressive

     The DDIL may appear pleasant and even meek on the surface, but her hostile actions belie this accommodating posture. She may agree to the restaurant you’ve picked out but spend the whole dinner pouting or playing with her food. She can be hard to make plans with and then, when she finally gives you a definite date to visit the grandchildren, she “forgets” the appointment, sometimes after you’ve changed your own plans to accommodate her or traveled a good distance to get there. Psychologists refer to this behavior as passive-aggressive, and it is frustrating and draining for those on the receiving end.  It’s also insidious and perversely effective: the DDIL who engages in this kind of guerrilla warfare is adept at setting up her in-laws so she doesn’t have to take responsibility for her own behavior. She is always the injured party.
     If she doesn’t want to see her husband’s family over the holidays, for example, she will not say anything directly. Rather, she will put them in the humiliating position of trying to make arrangements through their son, who will have to deliver the news that it’s not going to happen. Unfortunately, speaking up against her shabby treatment doesn’t seem to work very well, because it gives the DDIL ammo to revert to her default mode, which is “put upon.” 
     One of the DDIL’s stealth moves is being unavailable. Some parents say they practically have to serve her with a subpoena to have her show up for a family event. Either she has a convenient scheduling conflict or, if she does put in an appearance, she quickly scurries off or stays on her tablet the whole time – even during Thanksgiving dinner! The excuse is often that she has a BIG JOB. Puhleeze . . .even the president of General Motors doesn’t work 24/7. I’ve been told of DDILs who go into their bedroom after saying hello or never even come out. I also know of a family where the son has to bring the children to his parents’ hotel when they’re visiting from out of town. But the topper is the understanding that the in-laws can only come over when the DDIL is off somewhere, competing in a marathon.

She can be a bully

     Too often with the DDIL it’s her way or the highway, and everyone caves to keep peace in the family.  She may roll her eyes when her in-laws offer a suggestion, so they quickly learn to nod and agree with everything she says. Or she might throw in a zinger out of nowhere, which throws them off balance and leads them to become even more guarded in their speech. But the worst is when she makes snide comments about them in front of others, even the grandchildren, which is both humiliating and destructive.
     According to Dr. Deanna Brann, author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets of Getting Along with your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law,  “Unlike bullying between children and adolescents, a DIL who bullies her MIL is really involving the whole family. And this is where things get complicated. As a rule the family dynamic is set up in such a way that no one deals directly with the bullying problem. The MIL (and her side of the family) is afraid to do or say anything for fear of retribution; the DIL’s husband doesn’t see it, doesn’t want to see it, or doesn’t know what to do when he does see it; the DIL’s side of the family is either in collusion knowingly or not, or they are afraid of her as well.” 

She uses weapons of mass destruction


     The DDIL’s husband will often adopt a helpless, and self-protective, stance in the midst of all the drama. Either he’ll brush it off with such remarks as, “Oh, you know how she is. That’s just Sandy being Sandy.” Or he’ll play the exasperated victim,  “What do you want me to do? You handle it!” According to Dr. Brann, “If the MIL talks to her son, she puts him in the middle, and often times, he gets upset with her because he doesn’t know what to do either, and he doesn’t want to create problems at home.”  Parents will rationalize their son’s acceptance of his wife’s outrageous behavior toward them by saying: “Oh, well, he’s happy; that’s all that counts.”
     The worst, of course, is when the DDIL plays games with the grandparent/grandchild relationship. Whether it’s insisting that her mother-in-law can only visit if she or her husband is around—and only if they’re not busy with other, more important matters—or imposing strict (and even off-the-wall) guidelines, what should be a cozy visit can feel like a recon mission through a mine field. Although Grandma might not have fed her son strictly organic, and she let him watch TV, and made him put his napkin on his lap, somehow he grew up and the DDIL married him. But that’s neither here nor there to someone bent on asserting her power. 
     While these scenarios are bleak, there is hope. In my next post on this topic, I’ll pass along advice from the experts on how to make things better with a difficult daughter-in-law.

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