Tag Archive | offenses

Taking Up Another’s Offense

I feel so privileged and humbled when a woman entrusts me with her MIL/DIL story. This warm, Spring afternoon was no exception. Avery traded seats with me so that I could enjoy a gorgeous view of the mountains of the Pacific Coast Range. Things were quiet at the moment in a household with two teenagers and we were taking advantage of a lull in activity to enjoy a cup of tea together on her back patio.

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Avery is the mother of one son and one daughter and has been married to Quentin for 19 years. I asked her to tell me about how she met Quentin and his family and how their relationship had changed over time, what she had been through and what advice she would give.

Here’s just a part of her story.

“In hindsight, your relationship with your MIL begins before you get married”.

Avery and Quentin met when both of their fathers were ill. They would travel most weekends from Washington, DC to New York City in her car because he didn’t have one, dropping him at Penn Station where he would take the train out to Long Island to visit his Dad. She would visit her Dad in Westchester County and then go pick up Quentin on Long Island on Sunday and they would drive back home to DC.

“And so it was this amazing kind of courtship that really involved our families and in a very tender time. I only knew Quentin’s Dad for six months before he died. So, my relationship with Quentin’s mom, with my MIL, started in the midst of this very kind of “sped-up” getting to know each other because, really, his Dad was dying.

“I was really close with his mom. His mom was a real “girly girl” and I wasn’t … and she just loved going to get her nails done and I’d never done that before. It was a very sweet, familial, loving beginning relationship. So close, even, that …….. I would often, when we visited, stay the night with her in her bed, if there were a lot of people visiting and we needed to ‘bunk up’. She and I would often be the ones ‘bunking up’. So, we were really, really close.

And then Quentin’s father passed away.

It was then that Avery heard about ” this crazy family story” about Quentin’s mom having had an affair with the same man since Quentin was five years old. Turns out that it wasn’t just a “crazy family story.” It was true and Quentin’s Mom had shared that information with her two children when they were in their early twenties before their father died.

“It was like this unspoken, spoken thing. But, the kids were grown and out of the house and I think Quentin was in law school. So, this was like something he was supposed to accept and deal with. So, along I come in the midst of all this sadness around Quentin’s Dad having cancer and dying. It didn’t come up and when it did, I was absolutely mortified. I just couldn’t believe it. It was so far out of my experience of what someone would do, let alone talk about, let alone ask the children to endure.

“And I think what happened over the next, you know, five years, ten years, is that because of my husband’s choice and reality of how he could deal with those facts … I reacted to that. So, in other words, he felt like there wasn’t much he could do but accept it. …. I wasn’t okay and so I became really angry at her for hurting him, for hurting my husband, for hurting her husband, for presuming that her behavior was … whatever. I had a lot of judgment and I got angrier and angrier.

“You know, we’d go and visit, but I just tried to endure it, and, you know. …. It was hard. It was very, very hard. When Quentin and I, as a couple, grew older and learned to do things differently in our own lives, with each other – we needed to grow and be better about taking care of ourselves, our well-being, our mental well-being – we started to change.  As a result, Quentin, probably six or seven years ago, started to finally deal with that relationship – he and his Mom – and allowed himself to at least express to me and I think also to her, tremendous sadness and misgiving about how that all happened. And what I noticed – which was a miracle – is that the minute my husband, could say what was for me the truth about what had happened, I didn’t need to do it anymore! And my ability to see her as really a part of my family – she’s my MIL, she’s family, she’s as damaged as any of the rest of us or anyone in my own family or me, … no different – no better, no worse – I could really love her again.”

Avery recognized that she had felt the need to protect her husband from someone who had hurt him deeply. When Quentin realized his pain, where it came from and how he needed to address it – and then acted on that – something changed inside Avery. Something significant.

“It allowed me to actually do something better for my husband which is love him and his family … I thought I was protecting him, being mad at her. And really, if I want to protect and love him, I need to let him take care of himself and I need to love his family. And so all of that happened and I could just feel the relationship come back together … in terms of me and my MIL. It’s okay. It’s okay.

“It’s certainly been great for me as a DIL to not be so angry with her for what I perceived that I needed to be angry with her about because of my husband and I think that’s the interesting thing about the MIL/DIL relationship is that it’s all about the spouse.”

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That’s hard-earned wisdom.

What are  your “take-aways” from this story?

Is it about honesty and love and truth and forgiveness and acceptance and brokenness and family? Is it about letting go of offenses against someone other than ourselves … or perhaps, even better, not taking them up in the first place?

Challenging when “the two become one”, don’t you think? But, what Avery figured out – does she suggest providentially? – is that loving our husbands can often be expressed by leaving them the room to maneuver through life’s obstacles and trusting that they will find a way to address the issues that face them. Didn’t we marry them because we believed they were able?

For me, another “take-away” from this is that we don’t love our MILs or DILs because they deserve our love. We love them because we love our sons and our husbands.

More from Avery in a future post

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Sometimes It’s a Package Deal

Jeanie and I sat together in my living room over steaming mugs of hot tea.  Outside it was a January day in New England.  Now, January is one of my favorite months of the year.  But, you can pretty much bet that the weather will be very cold.  Our conversation, however, was anything but.  Jeanie is a delightful woman who carefully considers things and chooses her words carefully.  When she speaks up, I listen.

We spoke of many facets of the MIL/DIL relationship.  I asked her if she felt that her relationship with her MIL changed from dating to engaged to married.  She began to look back and reflect ……

My relationship with Damien’s mom is sort of non-existent.  I settled into the rocking chair, ready to hear her story.  There’s a chasm.  So, we never even get to the point of seeing quirkiness or ….  I think because of Damien’s wounds with his family that … that has amplified in our marriage relationship.

“Were the walls up before you married or did they develop?”

“They developed.  When Damien & I started dating … So, Damien has been married before.  (And Jeanie brought her daughter into her marriage with Damien.)  When Damien and I started dating, we were around his family – his mom & his dad – a lot more than he’s ever been in his adult life.  And they really liked that.  They liked having him around and I could see that they enjoyed my company and then, I started to learn a little bit about the dysfunction between parents and siblings.  And it sort of evolved from there.  I think that the places where the walls became thicker were in regards to my daughter and her sense of belonging as a child of their son’s wife.  There was acceptance, but it had limitations.  Yeah.”

“So, when you were dating, they enjoyed your company.  When you married, you said something changed.  Was it sudden?”

“I think it was very subtle.  In the beginning, it was like a honeymoon all over the place.  But, the more we got to know them, the more I saw beyond that superficial “getting to know” and I just think that,  relationally, they have their own barriers.  They have very strict boundaries with their kids and their kids have felt hurt by them and they kind of jest & joke with each other when they’re together to cope with it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

“So, the whole situation where two people who have been married before and they join in marriage and they bring into it, maybe children, and certainly, I guess “history” might be a good word for it.”

“I do take some responsibility for the walls.  When my daughter would experience hurt, when she recognized that there was a difference in the relationship between their natural grandchildren and her, there would be pain in her heart and back then I wasn’t necessarily … I didn’t have the skill-set to be separate from her experience .  And so when she hurt, I would hurt with her.  Seeking counsel outside of that family dynamic … understanding a third party’s point of view – someone looking in – that was helpful.  But, still, how could I rescue my daughter from the hurt that she’s feeling?  That was my limitation back then.”

So, you joined with her in feeling hurt.

Yes, it put up a wall.

“Were you ever able to talk with your MIL about that?”

“No.  I don’t think I ever considered it.”

“Like saying “Why don’t you treat my daughter the same as your other grandchildren?”

“Never even considered it.”

Wasn’t it obvious, I thought, that one should address important issues promptly and they would be resolved?   Easier said than done.  I regretfully remembered that it took me 15 years to talk with my MIL about something that was blocking our relationship.   15 years!

You’re trying to be so careful not to offend, not to step on the other person’s toes, not to speak to them in a way that they wouldn’t like, that you just don’t deal with issue. It just sort of gets swept under the rug.  That’s what happened, in my case.

I think that the type of people that Damien’s parent are .. um, things are cut and dry, black & white.  I have not yet seen any open door any desire to have conversation any more than “How are you doing?” on the surface. …..  I’ve never felt welcome to have a conversation and, quite frankly, sort of afraid of the response.

I wonder if there’s a hesitancy, a feeling like “So, what if I talk to her/them and it makes things worse?  What if they blow up and say ‘Well, if you feel like that, then you really don’t need to come around here anymore!’”  Or something like that.  When I finally talked with my MIL about that issue, it could have gone very differently!

Sure.  And now we are at the point where my daughter is grown.  So things are changed anyway.  And we have a granddaughter and they enjoy seeing her as well.  But, there’s not a lot of effort on their part to connect with us and they do put in a lot of effort with Damien’s other siblings.  So, I’m not sure what it’s all about.

“That hurts!”

Sure!  Sure!   I hurt more for Damien than myself.  Relationships are hard enough for me. To consider trying to maneuver through this other one where they don’t want to connect would take a lot more thought and effort on my part.

“I guess one only has so much emotional energy and time that one has to choose where one’s going to invest it.”

Right.

And there’s a time for every purpose under heaven.  Sometimes you just have to wait until someone opens a door.  Sometimes you need to go knock on a door.  Sometimes you need to knock on the door and just walk right in!  It takes a lot of discernment to know when to do which or whether to do any.   It’s probably true of many in-law relationships that it takes so much energy and effort and it’s so challenging, that we choose to keep in-laws at arm’s length.  We’ll come for holidays, we’ll come for birthdays or whatever seems to be important, and we’ll be polite and then we’ll go home.

Jeanie nodded.

Sounds like a good argument for the fact that healthy relationships don’t just “happen”!

“How about another cup of tea?”  So much more to talk about!

14 Things Your Daughter-In-Law Wants to Tell You

Interesting article by Family Life

Okay, mothers-in-law, there’s the list. What are we going to do about it?   —   GinnyLiz

http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/life-issues/relationships/inlaws-and-others/14-things-your-daughter-in-law-wants-to-tell-you#.UX0WG0oYS-o

Be Careful Not to Take Offense Easily

On a cold January morning, Cherie and I planned to meet at a Dunkin Donuts, but the place was packed! and there wasn’t even room to park.  So, we ventured a couple of miles further to check out a small place at the corner of N. Lowell and Windham Depot Roads.  I had passed the place numerous times on my way to visit friend and to attend a small group which gathers weekly at Nellie’s home.

We were delightfully surprised that no other patrons were present and we could have the place to ourselves to talk at length.  We settled in at a table as far from the front as possible and grabbed two mugs of hot coffee and cocoa (with whipped cream on top!)

Even as we began our conversation about in-law relationships, I could tell that Cherie had wisdom to share that she had learned over the years.  She is analytical and had prepared in advance some thoughts to convey.

When asked what makes for a great MIL/DIL relationship, one of the first things she related was the following:  “Be careful not to take offense at first words because I have found myself a couple of times doing that not knowing where Meagan was coming from.  And I found it was a lot better …  It took me a while to ask her ‘Do you remember when you said such and such?  Did you mean …. ?”   And she said ‘Oh, no.  I didn’t mean that at all.  This is what I meant.’  It clears the air.   If there’s a misunderstanding, clear it up”. 

Before much time goes by? 

“Absolutely.  And that goes for any relationship.”

Our conversation took a turn at that point when  Cherie mentioned that her DIL said about her relationship with her husband “We have disagreements, but we never have arguments.  John actually listens to me and my opinion and how I feel about something.”

Maybe that’s the difference between discussing and arguing? – whether both parties actually listen to one another.  (Bonus thought!)

Great insights, Cherie.  Going to put those on my mirror.  Be careful not to take offense easily.  Make a point of clearing up any misunderstandings  as soon as possible.  Listen – really listen.