I’ve talked a lot about mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law and how they affect each other in their relationship. My current research is expanding this by exploring some specifics regarding how they affect the other people in the family. A father-in-law, for example, is often silent, saying little to no one, regardless of what he sees, hears or feels. His initial response is silence. His initial response is to emotionally pull back.
He is however, in a precarious position. He sees what is going on. He has his thoughts, opinions, and feelings about it, but he remains quiet. On the other hand he sees how his daughter-in-law’s words and behavior deeply affect his wife. Where he often struggles is what to do with what he sees. It is hard for him to watch his wife in pain of any kind, especially emotional pain. When she struggles with their daughter-in-law, he struggles too. Not because he is impacted in the same way as his wife, but more because he feels helpless to fix something he cannot fix.
Watching his wife in pain, when she has such heavy sadness or is in agony by what has happened is often too much for him to bear, and so he may at that point speak up. He speaks up because he desperately wants his wife not to hurt. The way he does it, though, is usually by yelling. Yelling at his daughter-in-law. Yelling at his son. He shows anger because he is frustrated. He shows anger because he feels helpless and he doesn’t know what to do.
A father-in-law is often baffled by:
- what he sees each person doing to the other
- how his wife seems to let their daughter-in-law’s word have so much power
- how his wife cannot create emotional distance to help herself feel less pain
- how their son treats or responds to his mother (and to him)
It is not easy for a father-in-law because he loves his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law. He views things so differently from the way his wife views them, from the way his daughter-in-law views them, and from the way his son views them. When problems arise to the point that the family starts to breakdown it makes no sense to him. “Why can’t everyone get along? Why can’t we all just respect each other?” That is what fathers-in-law say across the board.
I know you have your own story about your husband or father-in-law. I would love help understanding more about the father-in-law’s place in the family. Email me – firstname.lastname@example.org – with your thoughts, experiences, and opinions regarding the role the father-in-law plays in your family. Or, if your husband is willing, it would be great if I could talk to him directly. Ask him if he’d be willing to talk with me, and if he is, email me – email@example.com.