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Posted on Thu, Nov 24, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Getting to know in-laws has been disappointing

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

I was really looking forward to getting to know my in-laws (who just moved back to the States after spending several years in Germany), but to my disappointment, they are standoffish, judgmental, unfriendly people who, when they do visit, are only interested in the company of my husband and our infant. I could not begin to guess why they are so lukewarm about me. Whatever the reason, their snubs are just subtle enough that I can't actually call them out, but just obvious enough to really hurt. What should I do?

-- Philly

The first stop always is to look at the situation from another angle. Theirs, for one, and your husband's, and even your baby's. Take in what you know about your husband and his parents, and consider the possibility that they just have an emotional makeup that isn't familiar to you. They might be lousy with new people, for example, but wonderful when they've grown to know and trust someone. Watch how they are with your husband, reflect on how your husband is with new people, consider the culture of their home. Really put in the effort to take in the scene from many angles.

If that bit of investigation just confirms to you that you're dealing with judgmental and unfriendly people, then the next step is to talk to your husband. What has he noticed, how receptive is he to the idea that you're being subtly frozen out, and how would he suggest approaching it? A self-aware adult child is often the best interpreter out there of his parents' behavior.

Unfortunately, a non-self-aware adult child can be his parents' most passionate and irrational defender, so raising your concerns could touch off a difficult argument.

That, too, will tell you something about your in-laws, though. If your husband is willing to hear you out despite not liking what you say, then that points to giving your in-laws the benefit of the doubt and granting them time for things to thaw. If your husband goes into this (and other difficult topics) with his dukes up, then you're not only onto something with the in-laws, but also staring at a problem that's best approached as a family-pattern issue and not just a my-in-laws-are-frosty issue.


A detail I should have added is that they have another son, also married, and they seem to get along quite well with that daughter-in-law. But your suggestion about talking to my husband is a good one, and a step I was nervous about taking. Thanks.

-- Philly again

His parents might be nervous, too. Maybe they know the other daughter-in-law better, or, more subtly, her nature is similar to theirs.

Also consider that some people marry for resemblance to family traits, and some marry for contrast with family traits. Since you clash with your in-laws, it can be helpful to weigh whether your husband married you as a form of relief from his parents.

I don't say this to fuel antagonism; on the contrary, I see it as a path to peace. If you can tell yourself, "OK, he married me for the warmth he never got from them," then you'll stop banging your head against the wall wondering why they aren't warm to you.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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