Dear Ask Alina:
My father-in-law has two daughters-in-law and one son-in-law and over the past few years he has started to treat us differently. Many times, he won’t even acknowledge us. We try to say “hi” and he pretends as if he doesn’t hear us. Just the other day when he couldn’t get hold of my husband, he had my mother-in-law call my cell because he won’t call me himself. None of us know what we did for him to start treating us this way. Any help on how to deal with this would be great.
Hurt & Confused
Dear Hurt & Confused,
Relationships with the in-laws can be tricky. The best way to combat the friction is to get you and your husband on the same page. Is he aware of his father’s behavior? How does he feel about this behavior? Does he know that you are hurt?
I recommend that you share with your husband how his father’s lack of communication makes you feel. Talk from the place of your feelings, not putting blame on your husband or his dad, not showing anger, or giving ultimatums. Also, I recommend leaving the feelings of your siblings-in-law out of this conversation. This is about your relationship with your father-in-law. Ask your husband to approach his dad with firm expectations of treating his wife (you) with respect and kindness.
Some couples have a tough time navigating relationships with their in-laws. Couples Counseling is always a good alternative to help you through this challenge.
An alternative is for you to sit down with your father-in-law directly. Come from a place of love, curiosity, and compassion. Ask to understand what has changed or occurred that brought on the change. Share with him your desire to have a relationship with him, and the discomfort that you have been feeling. Listen to his verbal messages, pay attention to his nonverbal cues and refrain from being defensive. When the conversation comes to an end, ask for time to think about what you heard and make plans to meet and talk again in the very near future.
On your own time, process what you have heard and learned. Determine what your personal boundaries may need to be, what boundaries he may need to have, and enlist support from your husband to help to rebuild a relationship between you and your father-in-law. Once you have clarity on your needs and his needs, you can meet again to set clear boundaries, expectations, and line of open communication.
Alina Baugh is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with offices in Alameda and Burlingame. Alina specializes in working with adult individuals and couples around topics of relationships, co-parenting, infertility, and addiction. She also spent over 15 years in Corporate Human Resources and loves working with clients on topics of their career. Submit your questions to [email protected] and visit alinabaugh.com.
Ask Alina is for informational purposes only. This article does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.