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Dilemmas: My father-in-law is no joke

Dear Virginia, I got married two years ago and everything was perfect, until last year when my wife's father came to live near us.

He took an instant dislike to me and has not tried to hide the fact, calling me a "little creep" behind my back. He even had a birthday party and didn't ask me. I came back from a business trip to find he'd been redecorating our house without consulting me. I feel I can't go on, as my wife always puts his feelings above mine. What can I do? Best wishes, Eoin

In a marriage it's usually the mother-in-law who's seen to be the culprit, but you seem to have got trapped in an identical situation except that it's the wicked father-in-law who's causing the problems.

You don't say what your wife says about all this. Is she perhaps too frightened of her father to refuse his interference and requests? It sounds as if he's a controlling tyrant, not used to being the No 2 male in his daughter's life. It might be useful to you to find out how he behaved to his wife when they were married. Is it old age that's turned him into this curmudgeonly monster or was he always like this?

I'd suggest you first try the charm offensive, with the emphasis on the "offensive". Ask him to have a drink with you alone and, in the unlikely event of his accepting, admit that you realise he doesn't like you and ask if there is any way, in his eyes, that you could improve your relationship. Putting him in a position of power, by asking him a question -- because most bullies are terrified at heart -- might help him to see you as less of a threat and more as an ally. Try to find out what is at the bottom of all this.

When this approach doesn't work -- and I doubt that it will, but it's certainly worth a try -- I'd move to strategy two, which is simply to stand up to him. One thing I really loathe about bullies is that they love people who stand up to them. They admire people who behave as badly as they do. Tell him in no uncertain terms that you've had it up to here with his behaviour, that he's to stay away, never to come into your house without your permission, that unless he shapes up you'll make sure he never sees his daughter again (empty threats I know, but he's not to know it) and that he's got one more chance and that's it.

He'll either continue to grumble away or, like a lot of bullies, he'll slap you on the back and say: "Good man! I admire your courage!" or something just as sickening, and you can then have a better relationship with him.

Obviously your wife's got to be party to all these tactics and without her support you're done for. But without her support in this matter, your marriage is done for anyway, I'm afraid. It may be that at some point you're going to have to ask her whether she's married to you or her father. If she dithers for a moment you'll know your marriage is, sadly, over.

Put him on the spot

It seems obvious that your father-in-law can't stand the fact that his daughter has left his life and entered a new one with you. By the looks of things, your marriage is solid and your wife loves you. What you could do is arrange an informal discussion with your wife and her father. In this conversation, you must influence your wife's father to give you reasons for the unrest and the name-calling as his behaviour is obsessive and unnecessary. All he needs to do is to appreciate that you're there and you and your wife love each other. It might take days, months or even years but this conversation will help.

>John, by email

Talk to your wife

I have a similar problem. When my wife's parents visit (which can be for months at a time), if I start talking to my wife I immediately get cut off mid-sentence by her parents. Just to compound the situation they can't speak English and I can speak very little of their language.

Mother-in-law reorganises the cupboards so I can't find anything, scrubs the house from top to bottom, insists on cooking for me, and gets up every day at 4.30am. Recently she killed my fish when she decided we should save power by switching off their water filter. On the plus side she does like me and is trying to be helpful.

Father-in-law hogs the sofa and TV remote all day long. It's worse when they visit at the same time since he abandoned the family when my wife was a young child and only appeared a few years ago to sponge money from his offspring. Mother-in-law won't disrespect him, and although my wife hates her father she feels she must respect him (demanded by their culture). This colours my view of him, which he knows.

Based on my experience I suggest you have a frank discussion with your wife. It might result in an argument but if you talk openly you have the chance to find a solution together. Let her know how you feel. You will also find out how she feels. How does she feel about not having enough time alone with you? If nothing else you might be able to establish some ground rules. Or find some kind of escape valve to give you some relief.

In my case, we solve it by spending some time with her parents but also going out for some meals, walks or events with just the two of us. We make sure we find some time alone every day.

> Dave, by email

Stand up for yourself

You may feel your wife is putting her father before you but if you told her how you feel she might see how much it's affecting you. After that, you both have to face your father-in-law. He has to realise that your wife is not only a daughter anymore, she is a wife as well. Don't place your wife in a situation where she has to choose between you, as she loves you both.

> Naomi, Dublin 8


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