BYH, they are paving Dickinson Avenue!!! I thought I would not live long enough to see that street get paved. Thank you!...

Dealing with a mother-in-law who encourages secret-keeping

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax


Carolyn Hax

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Q My in-laws live out of state, and visit about once every six to eight weeks for long weekends.

Before their most recent visit, my mother-in-law asked my husband to buy weed gummies for his sister, who is dealing with a chronic illness, because it is legal here. She plans to carry them with her on the plane back to their home state.

My mother-in-law, when asking my husband to do this, said he didn’t have to tell me if he didn’t want to. My husband responded saying of course he was going to tell me.

I find her suggestion that her son lie to his wife offensive and divisive. She has always been manipulative, and it has always put a strain on our relationship. I often get upset with things she says. Unlike in years past, I have recently taken the approach of letting her comments roll off my back because I don’t think she’s worth the worry. However, I feel like this is an attack on my marriage and my family. We don’t keep secrets and I don’t want her to encourage our young children to keep secrets.

Am I overreacting because of our history, or is this worth addressing? — Colorado

A It was an attack on your marriage that your husband cleanly and swiftly put to a stop. Yay!

Seriously. Yay.

His simple rebuff was not merely a one-skirmish victory. It told your mother-in-law with two words — “of course” — that she’s the outlier in encouraging secrets, and it told both you and your mother-in-law that he has your back (not hers). Those both carry forward.

It also says your husband is still being transparent with you about his conversations with his mom, which is arguably the most significant point. Nothing says more clearly that you are your husband’s priority.

Such transparency also is the biggest thing you stand to lose by reacting, again, to your mother-in-law.

At present, your husband feels he can share with you what he talks about with his mom. If you continue to behave as you did “in years past,” getting upset and feeding and feeling the strain, then at some point he might decide it’s easier just to keep this or that exchange to himself — not the right thing to do, but a common one, and much worse for your marriage than Gummygate.

Deep breaths. Deep rolling off back. Your openness with your husband is the source of encouragement your children will witness the most.


Q My mother-in-law has many, many wonderful traits, but also a tendency to keep secrets while letting you know there is a secret being kept. For example, an aunt is struggling with her relationship to her teenage kid. My mother-in-law says, “Well, I can’t tell you about it, but Teen did something really bad.” The implication is that the listener should take her word on this and come to the same opinion she has.

Without the information, my input is likely to be more, “That sounds hard for all involved.” For one thing, I often doubt her interpretations of events and I am skeptical of her sense of scale, which might be a separate issue — she discusses one cousin’s drug addiction as if it’s identical to another’s sneaking out to meet friends for a movie — but I also am not sure how to deal with information I don’t actually have!

I think having these secrets makes her feel powerful, and I don’t think I’m entitled to know everything, but then when she and the family discuss things and expect me to have an opinion, I’m at a loss. Any ideas? — In-Law

A It can be awkward when people discuss things around you that you only partly understand.

In this case it’s also ironic. Your mother-in-law’s attempts to exercise power — I agree that’s what she’s doing — are exactly what render her silly and inconsequential.

Fortunately for you, her using secrets as leverage is so transparent that she can only do so much damage beyond the awkwardness.

I offer this more as reassurance than advice because you’ve got this figured out already. “That sounds hard for all involved” is the perfect response; it’s empathetic, yet it feeds her not a crumb of interest in learning the secret. Plus, you remain mindful, it seems, of her “many, many wonderful traits.”

That combination of kindness and calm denies her the power she seeks. A secret that you express zero interest in knowing has exactly zero value.

Emotional power-players are more dangerous when they’re covert, and working to persuade you of one thing while they actively work toward another — yet they too can be foiled by empathy and restraint.

As for the awkwardness of “deal[ing] with information I don’t actually have” and people who “expect me to have an opinion,” you need only to close the circle of impermeability. “I don’t know enough about this to have an opinion, but it does sound hard for all involved.” Think of it as drawing a merciful blank.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.


May 23, 2018

Sometimes presentation is overrated. Eton Mess is a British dessert that’s an unapologetic mishmash of fruit, cream and crumbled meringues folded together and plunked in a glass or bowl. It’s the kind of mix that appeals to kids and adults alike. While you might call it messy,…


May 20, 2018

Weeks after college graduations and weeks before high school ceremonies, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is having what the Rev. Bob Hudak calls a “commencement” today.

It is not a commencement in which diplomas will be conferred but a commencement in the sense of the beginning of…


May 20, 2018

I read recently about a mama raccoon and her four babies falling through the ceiling and onto the living room couch of a Michigan home.

The closest I ever came to that was a lone dead squirrel that wormed its way around the uncompleted mounting of a new ceiling light fixture, was apparently…

Bob Garner

May 20, 2018


Dear Short Answers: There is a woman in town who is a stay-at-home mom with three children. Every year (actually, three times a year), she throws the most lavish birthday parties for her kids. It makes the rest of us moms look like slackers. Every year, our own kids ask why…

Short Answers

May 19, 2018


■ Burning Bush United Holy Church, 610 N.C. 43 North, Vanceboro, will have quarterly meeting at 11 a.m. Sunday.

■ Carson Memorial Pentecostal Holiness Church, 1710 Pactolus Highway, will have its annual homecoming service at 11 a.m. Sunday. The group Unshackled will be musical guests.…

May 18, 2018

Capsules of movies playing locally. New releases are indicated with an asterisk.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR — The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe. (2…


May 18, 2018

Diners at Oklahoma’s Tulsa Club must have thought there was something funny going on that spring evening when more than two dozen men met on the roof and spent several hours singing old songs.

Customer complaints about the noise caused the next meeting to be moved to the Hotel Tulsa, but the…


May 18, 2018


Art from Pitt County Schools high school students will be on exhibit from today through June 10 in the Commons Gallery. An opening reception will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. today.

The Greenville Museum of Art is at 802 Evans St. Call 758-1946 or visit gmoa.org.

Gray Gallery

The exhibit “110…


May 16, 2018

Wingstop is a new restaurant at 1885 E. Fire Tower Road next to Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. Enjoy ample seating at artfully decorated tables with an aviation theme, listen to upbeat music and order an array of items from wings to sides from the easy-to-navigate menu.

Wingstop offers three styles of…


May 16, 2018

Q Is there anything new about healthy eating for people with diabetes? — G.H., Greenville

A Every January since 1989, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has published an update to the Standards of Care for people with diabetes based on the results of new studies. Sometimes the changes in…

339 stories in Look. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 34
        Next Page»   Last Page»