Dear Dr. Bill,
My in-laws love to talk. If I want to get a word in, I have to interrupt and cut them off. But when I start talking, they always interrupt me! This frustrates me and I often say something I shouldn't.
Lately, I’ve decided not to say anything when they come over — instead, I spend time with our kids or help my wife with the meal or cleaning up. But this makes my wife mad because she wants me to be more social. So I can’t win, no matter what I do! Can you give me some advice?
It seems clear that your in-laws are clueless about how to carry on a two-way conversation, and your wife is pressuring you to do the impossible—get a word in edgewise when they are droning on and on.
Whenever I counsel couples about conflict with in-laws, I remind them that it’s up to the spouse who has the biological relationship with the in-laws to take the lead in confronting the problem. In this case, that would be your wife.
Without criticizing your in-laws, explain to your wife that you feel caught between a rock and hard place. Let her know that it’s up to her to lovingly confront her parents about this behavior, and that it needs to be a conversation between her and them, without your involvement.
If she expresses anxiety about this, empathize with her. But make it clear that if she doesn’t address this issue, you’re going to get really good at taking care of the kids and doing the dishes every time they visit. In other words, she can’t expect you to “be social” with her parents if they continue to selfishly dominate every conversation.
Thanks for writing Kevin.
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