My Mother-in-Law Refuses To Speak to Me

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My mother-in-law wont accept my apology. My in-laws came to visit the kids right before Halloween, I had a sign hanging that said “I wanted to be a witch for Halloween but my mother-in-law wouldn’t loan me a dress”. When I hung it I meant no ill feelings towards her, I just thought it was a funny saying. After she saw it and went home she was offended. She talked to my husband and said she couldn’t believe we felt that way about her and she wouldn’t feel comfortable in our house any more. She also told him she couldn’t believe he would allow me to hang it in the house.

Once he told me, I felt awful. Once I looked at it in a new light and could see how she may get offended. She doesn’t know me that well and we all have a different sense of humor. Her and I also have not always gotten along in the past, but we had come to a better point in our relationship.

I wanted to call her right then but my husband said she was upset, that I should probably wait until the next day. Feeling horrible that I could have hurt her I sent an apologetic e-mail. Then the next day I tried to call her and her voicemail was full of messages, so I sent her a little text saying I was sorry from the bottom of my heart. It has been a week and I haven’t gotten any response and she will not take my calls. This has put stress on my relationship with my husband and I’m not sure there is any more I can do. I am starting to get upset because I feel this has gotten out of hand.

A: One of my wise teachers had a saying I’ve always kept in mind: “Never attribute malice to what is merely stupid.” Yes, you did something that was thoughtless. But your mother-in-law’s reaction is way over the top, especially since you’ve apologized. Your husband is caught it the middle, poor thing. My guess is that this is an old pattern with his mother and he’s done his best to avoid getting into this kind of situation with her. Unfortunately, you walked into it. He probably doesn’t know how to support both of you.

So — my suggestion is that you apologize to your husband for inadvertently putting him in a tough spot. Ask him to tell his mother that he is not responsible for your slips, that you’ve made your apologies and now she needs to deal with you. Ask him what he thinks of this suggestion. (He does know his mother well, after all.) — Take the sign down. Send mother-in-law flowers, let her know that you now understand how the sign could be insulting and you’re sorry. Then add that it would be sad if she didn’t want to get past this but you’ll respect her decision and will wait for when she feels comfortable talking to you again. Then wait. To make more of this only makes things worse. My guess is that in a week or two, things will calm down and she’ll act as if nothing ever happened since she doesn’t seem to be the type to talk things out.

I wish you luck with this. If she insists on staying mad, there’s really nothing more you can do except hope that time will heal.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Nov 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). My Mother-in-Law Refuses To Speak to Me. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/11/25/my-mother-in-law-refuses-to-speak-to-me/