DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law is a bully. For many years, I tried everything to make this relationship work. I attempted to ingratiate myself, politely stood up to her, and let the tears fall as she insulted me. According to her, it is not her fault that I am too stupid to do anything right and am so ridiculously hypersensitive -- two of many things she cannot stand about me.
I try to manage the situation by encouraging my husband to visit her alone, and to call her with reasonable frequency. Our adult kids refuse to see her because of the way she treats me, which is not my wish, nor do I want to be the cause of a rift between my husband and his mother.
However, her tongue is getting sharper with age, and I am becoming more resentful -- both of the way she treats me, and the fact that my husband ignores the outrageous behavior and demands that I do the same. I believe that he can care about his mom, be a good son and still tell her firmly that she must not speak to his wife in an abusive manner.
He says she will never change, there is no point to confronting her, and I should just be grateful she does not live next door. I feel his silence gives her permission to be unkind, and tells me that I don’t matter to him at all. After so long, I have come to realize that “Mom” is not the only one who will never change, but I am deeply hurt every time.
This has been a particularly bad year for me, far beyond the COVID-induced stress that we are all feeling. I am dreading an upcoming visit, and am not sure I can handle myself in a way that I would not later be ashamed of. Under the circumstances, would it ever be OK to just walk out and not return until her visit is over?
GENTLE READER: The dictate to “turn the other cheek” is catchy, which may explain the popular misconception that it is a rule of etiquette as well as of religion. It is not.
If your husband is unable, or unwilling, to modify his mother’s unacceptable behavior, then it is time to absent yourself when she is present. Walking out in a huff would be rude, which is why you will be discovering unavoidable conflicts, for which you will apologize on your way out the door.