When your in-laws yell at you

“Kelly, do you have a minute to talk?” Said husband’s aunt on the phone yesterday.

An hour and a half later, we hung up – and I burst into tears.

She called me because a remark I made at her house on Christmas Eve was still bothering her, more than two weeks later. As we were sitting down to a (lovely, delicious) meal made up mostly of pre-made items from the local supermarket, she proclaimed with a mischievous smile, “Everyone into the dining room for our home-cooked meal!”

Thinking I was joining her in the joke, I replied, “Come on, I don’t think I’ve ever had a home-cooked meal in your house!”

Looking back, that was definitely an insensitive, bone-headed thing to say to my husband’s aunt who was graciously hosting us for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and hadn’t asked us to bring anything but ourselves.

“You really hurt me!” she continued. “I try my best to make everyone feel welcome and to provide a great Christmas for everyone, and I had NO help from ANYONE this year. I work full-time, I manage five properties, my stepdaughter was slated to have major surgery five days later, I take care of my parents, and you have the gall to make a remark that I am still not being a good enough hostess by not providing a home-cooked meal?!”

Of course I apologized immediately. I meant no harm. I promised never to make a comment like that again.

Then she chastised me for ignoring my sister-in-law. Why can’t I be nicer, this aunt asked? She is family. She’s hurting. She needs love.

Learning to navigate my husband’s family has been one of the most difficult parts of this marriage. Does anyone else have a similar story?

Munich (62)
I fell off my balance board when it came to my husband’s family. So far, the landing has not been pretty.

Six weeks after we got engaged, my future father-in-law died suddenly of a heart attack. He left behind my mother-in-law who suffers from Alzheimer’s and is legally blind. She still lives in their home with my sister-in-law, who moved back home from Florida to take care of Mom. She’s not taking care of Mom, and she stymies almost all of my husband’s attempts to help with the daily and financial care of their mom while skimming her social security income. My mother-in-law showed up to Christmas in dirty clothes, with oily hair, and starving. It broke my heart.

She developed Alzheimer’s disease five to seven years before I met her. It has been difficult to feel compassion and love for her because we’ve never known each other as two fully functioning adults, and the decision power she is still allowed doesn’t make life easier for my husband and me. She already had serious memory problems when we met. She knows who I am, but she doesn’t know the names of my parents, or my brother. She has never asked me about my background, my family, my work or my interests, and I can’t tell if that’s because she’s unable to, or because she just doesn’t care. She can reminisce about the good times, but I can’t help her piece together those good times. She’ll never call me on my birthday, and there’s no use in me asking how her day went because she can’t remember.

My sister-in-law has an extreme resentment for my husband. I don’t fully understand why, but she doesn’t like me either, and I’m pretty sure it’s simply because I’m affiliated with her brother. When we got engaged, I invited her to be a bridesmaid. She agreed, then proceeded to ignore every text or email I sent her regarding wedding plans. Before my bridal shower, which was held in another state, I texted her to ask if she was coming and if I could work with her to bring her mom down. It was important to me to have my future mother-in-law at my bridal shower. I offered to fly her mom down and have her stay with me and my mom. She told me to f*** off, and that she was tired of planning her life around me and my fiance.

I had known her for about a year at that point, and had only seen her in person two or three times. Besides asking her to be a bridesmaid, help with bringing my mother-in-law to my shower was the only request I’d ever made to her.

She needs love, but she constantly, completely destroys any goodwill anyone in the family might still have toward her.

There are various aunts and uncles in the picture, but some have exited stage left since my father-in-law’s death, some enjoy spending time with us (and vice versa), and some only want to know when I’m going to get pregnant.

I’m afraid it’s going to take a major accident or my mother-in-law’s death or for someone to notice that things in our family aren’t right.

I say “our family” because despite these shortcomings, they are my family. The aunt who called me told me she yelled at me because she cares about me, and she wants to have a good relationship with me. But she had to air this grievance first, make sure I knew how deeply I’d cut her, and hear me assure her I won’t do it again before she could move forward.

A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping
    of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;
restraining her is like restraining the wind
    or grasping oil with the hand.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:15-17

I understand that, and I’m grateful that she cares enough about our relationship to bring the things we need to work on to light. But her call hurt, and at the moment I am still stung by its length and vehemency. If she played any other role in my life, I’d cut her off, thinking, “I don’t need that kind of sensitivity and attitude in my life.” However, she’s some of the only family we can rely upon.

And, she was right to be hurt.

I’m not sure how to move forward from this point with my husband’s family. I finally broke down about it last night, and unleashed all my anger and hurt in front of my poor husband. What do you do when one of the only family members you like and trust blows up at you? He reiterated his support of me, and pointed out that I apologized and would like to move on. Now it’s time to follow through with my intentions, and rebuild with this aunt.

He does not believe I need to make friends with his sister. That’s reassuring to know because I have no plans to get involved in her hot mess in any way.

Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off. Titus 3:9-11

Maybe this is one of those times where you cling to your husband, and let the world go on without you for a bit. I read once that dogs will hide away when they are injured and will only come back out when they have let themselves heal. Maybe it’s time to hide away and let myself heal for a bit.

If you’ve had an experience with an angry in-law, I’d love to know how you handled it.

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