Stand united in handling domineering mother-in-law

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Stand united in handling domineering mother-in-law

Newlywedsville: I'm at a loss. I've been married not even six weeks and my mother-in-law already dislikes me. In short, she completely ignored my husband's and my requests about photography during the ceremony, going so far as to tell the photographers (friends of hers) to do whatever it took to get the shots. They ended up being very distracting during the ceremony, and I actually had to tell them to stop moving around halfway through!

Matt, my husband, and I tried several times to talk to her about what happened, but she wouldn't call back. We finally spoke with the photographers themselves; they told us that she gave them permission to ignore our requests. Now she is livid at both Matt and me, but especially me. (She called Matt yesterday and yelled at him for an hour.)

I've been thinking about what I would consider a good resolution, and to me it would be an apology for completely ignoring everything we agreed upon ahead of time, and for essentially ruining the ceremony. Matt thinks this probably won't ever happen. So I guess my question is, what do I do now? How do I interact with her from here on out? I'd be fine never seeing or talking to her again, but don't want to pressure Matt to feel the same.

Carolyn: Obviously this isn't about pictures. It's about her staking out her territory at your wedding and now, with her outsize anger at you, in your marriage. This is true even if his mom paid for the photography; no amount of ownership gave her the right to go behind your backs.

Since Matt apparently agrees with you, it's on him to take the pressure off you. He needs to nudge his mom back to her side of the line, point out where that line is, and make it clear that everything on his side of the line isn't just his, but his and yours together. Commandeering the wedding photographers crossed that line, as entitled as she may have felt at the time, or as minor as it all may seem now.

Then he needs to explain to his mom that she will be welcome as long as she respects that line.

If she resists, then he can also say it would make him very sad if she chose not to show him that basic respect, but that if she continues to antagonize him and, worse, to antagonize you, then she leaves him no choice but to limit his contact with her.

If Matt balks at this, then ask him what else he has in mind — and hear him out. Some children of domineering parents are groomed to surrender, but many develop, over the years, resistance tactics that are tailored to a parent's particular form of control. Matt may know better than anyone how to keep his mother's meddlesome impulses in check.

However you and Matt ultimately decide to handle this incident in particular and his mom in general, it won't work unless you're both in agreement on how you will approach her, what things you'll let go and where you'll dig in, and what your response will be, as a couple, if she continues to barge in where she doesn't belong.

Stand united in handling domineering mother-in-law 06/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 28, 2010 7:23pm]

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