Question: Dear Luise: I think my mother-in-law likes me, alright, and I think she was hoping that I’d be the daughter she never had. But she is an outgoing woman while I am a very private person who takes time to develop relationships. We are so very different on many levels. Because she and I are so different in personality and because I’m such a private person, it will probably take me many years to develop a close relationship with her. I do try to inch our relationship along: superficial things such as shopping with her and also deeper things like letting her in on some of the things that very few people know about me. A few months ago, I found out that she has been writing letters to my mother. I found out when my mom awkwardly told me one day and asked if my mother-in-law would be upset if my mom responded late with only pictures of me and my husband. My mother-in-law hasn’t mentioned writing letters to my mom even though she talks about everything and everyone else whenever she talks to my husband. Through a series of embarrassing tantrums a few years ago on my part, my in-laws would be really insensitive if they didn’t learn then that I would be highly uncomfortable with them developing a relationship with my parents on their own. I think she’s doing it just to add another friend to her long list of friends as she is a very social person, but I can’t help but feel that she intruded on my life through the back door. Even though she probably sees my mom as another potential friend and not back-door access to my childhood and open invitations to my intimate time with my family, it still feels like she’s being intrusive and selfishly demanding more of me than I’m ready to give and not acknowledging how much work it has been for me to come out of my private shell a little bit faster just for her. I’ve come such a long way to have empathy for her and room to accept her despite our many personality differences, and now I feel like she can’t even acknowledge and honor my basic need for personal space. I really dread the possibility that our families will be spending Christmas together soon enough; I’m happy to spend some time with the in-laws, but to spend them alongside my family would be suffocating. I don’t know if I’m being hyper-sensitive and crazy. And I don’t know if I should talk to my mother-in-law about this. Would it be wrong for me to talk to my mom about this and just have my mom stop responding, hoping my mother-in-law will eventually just back off? I feel so childish telling two adults that they can’t be friends, but on the other hand, it would have been unwelcome and worthy of a break-up if my husband had started writing letters to my parents after meeting them a few times. J
Answer: Dear J.: There’s very little chance that you can control your mother-in-law’s behavior. She’s an outgoing person and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You also have no control over how your mother responds to others and there’s nothing wrong with her, either. And if you are hyper-sensitive, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. You are all just fine.
Bringing everyone together and mixing behavior patterns is where the difficulties lie. My suggestion would be to get some counseling so you can learn to let other people be the way they are and do what they do. Wanting them to be different and reacting so painfully to their actions is costing you a great deal and taking way too much energy.
Counseling can help you to acquire the skills to protect, expand and cherish every opportunity you have to experience peace and joy, personally, no matter what others do. At present you are letting them take that away from you. Blessings, Luise