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How to Deal With a Passive Aggressive Daughter-in-Law (Part 3)

March 1, 2013

Passive Aggressive behaviorLast post (Feb 27) I talked about passive aggressive mothers-in-law. But as mothers-in-law know daughters-in-law can be passive aggressive too. Interestingly daughters-in-law don’t show this behavior the same way mothers-in-law do.

Typically daughters-in-law show this behavior not by sighs, or pouts, but instead, they sometimes throw out comments that are hard to defend against, yet are hurtful and sting.  More times than not, though, they use the malicious subterfuge of the undermining “accidental” oversights. You know what I’m referring to – not letting you know about special family events that are planned and you find out from other family members, or whenever you come around she goes into the other room, or never comes out of the other room when you show up. On top of all this your daughter-in-law may shut down any chance for you to discuss what is going on – she may say that nothing is wrong, she’s fine, put it back on you in some way, or she may just set things up so she is not available to talk about it.

So what can a mother-in-law do? The struggle for mothers-in-law is that they have no power in this relationship. If the daughter-in-law walks out of the room, doesn’t invite you, or if she doesn’t give you a chance to talk with her, you feel you have no recourse.

But there are some things you can do to shake things up. The goal is to neutralize the situation and create a more balanced sense of power. Once you have done that, you are in a place to create a significant change in your daughter-in-law, in yourself, AND in your relationship with her. Here are some steps you can take to get you moving in the right direction.

  • Take a few emotional steps back and realize what she is doing to you is not personal – I know this is difficult to do because to some degree it is personal, but try to remember that this way of behaving is something she does with other people as well because she feels she has no power. She does not feel capable of or confident enough to deal with people directly and so using a passive-aggressive style feels (to her) like her only option.
  • Be a role model – instead of slinking away or showing your anger, help her see that having feelings are OK. Help her learn how to express her feelings and get results that are a win-win for the two people involved.
  • Acknowledge her feelings even when she won’t – Your DIL doesn’t feel it is OK to verbally express “bad” feelings (although it comes out in her behavior). But feelings are just feelings, right? By stating to her in a calm, compassionate way what she’s feeling brings those feelings out into the open.
  • Help her see you really do want to understand – when you show her she matters enough to listen to her feelings you will start to shift the power and create a more neutral environment. It is this environment that will allow you to build a stronger relationship with your DIL.

** Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to do to create this neutralizing kind of environment. The Listening and Learning skill is a great way to teach her that you want to be in relationship with her – that you want to deal with whatever comes up between the two of you because you care. This 4-step skill will teach you exactly what to do to create a win-win and build her trust. Your DIL will start to see you in a completely different way and her passive aggressive behaviors will fade away.

I know it’s scary. I know it is easier to say your situation – your daughter-in-law – is different. Believe me, I’ve been in your shoes. But I do know you are in a perfect place as the mother-in-law to kindly, gently show your daughter-in-law not everyone is the same – that you are different. The two of you can have a relationship based on respect.

Don’t think for a minute your husband/son is an innocent bystander when it comes to the MIL/DIL relationship. My post on Monday will address how his passive-aggressive behavior contributes to the struggles the two of you face. So, check back on Monday!

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