In the last post (February 25) I talked about passive-aggressive behavior and how difficult it can be to deal with, often to the point that we just give up trying. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, as a daughter-in-law you really do have an advantage. Now, that does not mean you should use this advantage to hurt your mother-in-law or to make the situation worse. The reason I tell you this is so you can feel less helpless in the situation and to start to see the situation in a different light.There are two very simple ways to handle a passive-aggressive mother-in-law. These methods 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 continue behaving in the same way that she always has before. She will have to change what she does, even if it’s just a little bit. And that “little bit” can be just enough to make the difference.
So the next time your mother-in-law starts in with her passive-aggressive act, here’s what to do:
- Shift the power from her to you with humor. When your mother-in-law tells you she is “fine” or has one of those “accidental” oversight moments, give a chuckle or laugh in that inside-joke kind of way. Use a chuckle that tells her (and her alone) that you know exactly what she’s doing, but you’re going to ignore the behavior. This allows you to give her a message without outwardly challenging her—and yet she gets the message loud and clear.
- Play naïve. Take your mother-in-law at face value. If she says she is fine, then act accordingly (as though you don’t notice her contradictory behavior – pouting, sighing, and the list goes on). Assume that unless she says something directly, she really is fine with whatever it is you said or did. After all, she can’t assume you’re a mind reader, right
If you follow this advice, then your mother-in-law’s manipulative behaviors will no longer work. In the past, these behaviors may have enabled her to make her point without taking responsibility for her actions and without dealing directly with the person she’s doing battle with. But when you change your reaction to her antics, well, let’s just say the game is up! When she can no longer count on her behavior to get her way, she will be forced to either admit how she feels or to sit back and do nothing about her contrary views.
It takes practice, but the more you do it, the better at it you will become. In fact, these techniques can become quite entertaining! First, you will get to witness her confused expression when you don’t play your usual role. Then she’ll go from trying not to be so obvious about her dislikes to feeling as though she actually has to exaggerate them to get you to see them. And you keep your cool in the process. So have fun with it!
Passive-aggressive behavior is not one-sided so remember to check back Friday. DILs can be just as passive-aggressive as MILs. The difference is how one deals with it. So stay tuned!