My in-laws are quiet people. They mostly keep to themselves. They don’t share much or get emotional. They also don’t really go out of their way for anyone — which was something I learned about them in the very beginning.
The first time I introduced myself to them, they barely batted an eyelash. I kept waiting for them to ask me a question or two about myself, but they just smiled (kind of) and pretty much ignored me. Coming from a chatty, talkative family, I was completely taken aback, but I told myself that people are different. Perhaps, it would just take them some time to warm up to me.
Yet, as time went on, they didn’t exactly warm up. When my husband and I got engaged, they didn’t call. They didn’t send a card, or even say “welcome to the family.”
Not only that, but when I had my first baby, they didn’t offer to babysit. Part of me had expected that giving birth to their grandchild would help the relationship to move forward and encourage them to get to know me — but sadly, I was wrong. Nothing changed about the relationship except that I started to feel a small but undeniable sense of bitterness about their lack of interest.
Still, I felt obligated to do things for them anyway. They were my family, after all, and I had been taught to reach out and connect. So even though I was trying hard to adjust to motherhood and learn a “new normal,” I did my best to make time to visit them, hoping to forge a connection. I invited them to every family gathering that I hosted, wrote them cards with kind messages, and set aside time for them to spend with my children (though the babysitting offers were still slim to none).
Sometimes, I got the feeling they just didn’t like me. My husband assured me that wasn’t the case. It’s just how they are, he said often. I tried hard to believe him, yet somehow, I always felt as if I was never doing enough. They never seemed content or happy.
The relationship was also one-sided — sometimes they barely acknowledged me. I’d cook a meal and not get a “thank you.” I’d ask a question and hardly get a response; maybe a nod or a head tilt.
To me, it seemed like they had become comfortable with the situation. However, as the months and years went on, I became increasingly uncomfortable. “Not taking it personally” started to feel like an impossible task. I had learned not to expect a lot from them, but some days, when I wasn’t even given normal pleasantries despite trying hard to keep giving them out, I’d end up in tears.
Later, after I had my second child, life got exponentially busier. I was working and caring for two kids, so I had less time to singlehandedly maintain the relationship with my in-laws. At that point, they starting making remarks to my husband about how they didn’t see their grandchildren enough. When my husband would then asked them to babysit, they often backed out at the last minute, however. It seemed like there was always an excuse for why they couldn’t come, often leaving me in a bind.
I suspected they were angry — and that they were aiming their anger at me. The relationship had shifted and I wasn’t sure whose fault it was. Perhaps it was mine? I had tried for years to please them, only that never worked, and slowly, after two kids, I found myself trying less and less.
“They’ve always treated me like a roadblock,” I complained to my husband one day. “Like I was in the way of their relationships with their grandkids. Why haven’t they ever seen me as a bridge instead?”
My husband just shook his head in sadness. He had watched the relationship fail to develop for years. He had witnessed his parents be rude or disrespectful to me. We had gone to therapy to talk about how to better navigate the relationship, but nothing seemed to help.
My husband understood my anger. After all, he was angry himself. Yet, he loved his parents and understood them more than I did. He wanted them to be a part of our lives, but at the same time didn’t want them to hurt me anymore, either. He was truly in between a rock and a hard place, and deep down, I think he probably wanted me to just bite the bullet and keep doing the same thing I’d been doing all along — to keep reaching out so that some semblance of a relationship would exist.
Unfortunately, I felt too much had happened, and that they’d been careless with my feelings. I was angry and I had enough on my plate. Honestly, I had given up. After years of being the sole person who maintained the relationship, I couldn’t do it anymore.
It didn’t help that at home, my marriage had been struggling in other ways, and the constant talking about the relationship with my in-laws only put more strain on us. I just wanted to be done with it. I told myself I needed to focus on the problems in my own house, not constantly trying to find ways to cater to people who had never catered to me, even in times of need.
So I didn’t. I put the work into my own family — caring for my children, managing my work schedule, my home, and trying to maintain peace between me and my husband. If my in-laws didn’t pick up the phone to make a plan for anything (which they never did) then neither did I. If they didn’t respond when I greeted them, I went about my business, and didn’t try to force conversation.
After I stopped giving it any attention, the relationship deteriorated further, and my husband and I were both tired of talking about it. Countless conversations, which sometimes turned into arguments, had put a lot of unnecessary pressure on our marriage, which both of us resented. Not only that, but perhaps we resented one another — just a little — because we couldn’t find a way to make it work.
Now, my husband and I are separated. Of course, it’s not because of my lack of relationship with my in-laws, but it surely didn’t help. While I could never express to them how much they hurt me, sometimes I wish they knew how much their uncaring attitudes drained my marriage.
Here’s something I know now. The age-old cliche, “When you marry a man, you marry his family,” is far more true than I ever wanted to believe. I always knew that my husband’s parents weren’t going to be easy people to get along with. They had shown me that right from the start. I chose to look the other way. I told myself it wouldn’t affect my marriage, but I was wrong. It affected my marriage almost constantly, for nearly 10 years — and now that I’m on the other side, I see that so clearly. It was a massive strain, from the beginning to the bitter end.
I’m not sure what I’d do differently if I could go back in time, because the truth is, I had tried approaching the issue from all angles. I worked hard, talked through the problems with therapists, and when nothing worked, I ignored it. None of those things really helped.
I do wish I could’ve taken it all a little less personally, though. I wish I could’ve believed my husband when he told me, “It’s not about you.” Because to me, it was personal. It was my life, my family, my marriage. These people, who I wanted to see me, simply didn’t.
Relationships are hard, and they can’t be forced, either. No matter how badly you want to bridge the gap, fostering a connection is a two-way street. It doesn’t happen from one person’s efforts; it has to come from both. Sometimes you have to just accept people for who they are. If I could’ve mastered that, maybe I would’ve skirted a lot of heartache.