Then Jack Happened


Dear Jack,
I have been married about a year and a half to my husband. We recently moved a few hours away from our home state for his graduate school. I found a job and things are going well. The issue is my father-in-law. He has emailed me several times criticizing interactions I’ve had with him. For example, we had a family dinner at his home that afterwards he called me ‘ungrateful’ because I didn’t thank him to his liking. I am on a group text with his family and if I don’t respond within a short period of time to the mostly unimportant texts, while I’m at work no less, he calls me rude or distant and says this solidifies his opinion of me that I am ungrateful (for what I don’t know). It has become borderline harassment. He overheard me talking to my sister about a problem she was having at college and rolled his eyes and said ‘Typical.’ Recently he criticized my father for similar issues about distance, aloofness etc. My husband tells me he will ‘deal with it’ once the semester is over, but in the meantime the father-in-law refuses to go to counseling or do anything about his behaviors. He says he is just telling the truth and it’s not his fault I don’t like it or gets defensive and says “Fine, no one talk to me.” My mother-in-law has been apologetic and extremely stressed out particularly due to the father-in-law’s recent retirement because she is dealing with him too. I don’t know what to do.
Stressed Out Daughter-in-Law
It isn’t your job to manage your FIL’s behavior. Initial it is important to avoid falling for FIL’s little power traps when he says: “I’m just telling it how it is” which is a classic go to line for rude people that believe their opinions are facts and facts are always appropriate. The “Fine, no more contact at all,” tactic is a juvenile response that is likely a bluff you should call him on by taking him up on his offer. He’s trying to control everything and obfuscate the real issue: his poor behaviors and lack of effort to resolve them.
My first reaction to the ‘resolution’ aspect of this problem is that your husband needs to get involved. I’m not buying his excuse that he is waiting for school to end to speak to his dad. He’s punting on a stressful situation not a twenty-minute conversation. He needs to put his foot down and tell the FIL to stop communicating with you in this manner, and if that is not possible, then to stop communicating with you completely.
Difficult? Yes. Uncomfortable? Yes. But it is not your business to resolve your in-laws’ family problems. Maybe retirement has been hard on FIL, maybe the distance between he and his son, maybe he is having some mental health issues that have recently appeared as he has aged. But that’s not up to you to figure out. The fact that MIL is also being put through the ringer indicates that the problem is likely going on with FIL himself rather than him having specific issues toward you or your family. He’ll lash out at anyone. It’s up to him to change.
I feel for the MIL because the hardest step in resolving these behaviors is getting the person to realize they need to change. Your husband and MIL need to ask for FIL to go to counseling or find some other positive outlet for his stress. If FIL refuses then there must be consequences. Consequences are tough, ignoring him or otherwise creating distance are the main options and they stink. If he tries to change but can’t that is troublesome because it might indicate a deeper mental problem that requires more thorough professional involvement. You’re going to need some of your father’s so-called ‘aloofness’ to deal with this, distance yourself, support those dealing with FIL and accept these aren’t your problems. Waiting for an apology before you reengage with FIL isn’t a bad idea either.
God, in-laws, amIright? I know you have problems with your in-laws, siblings, loved ones and strangers send your problems to