How To Confront a Passive-Aggressive Mother-in-Law

Your Question  How to confront my mother-in-law on the spot with her passive aggressive comments?

advice on families

the advicist  It’s hard to confront a passive-aggressive person.

They will pretend they were only joking! They will apologise for touching a sore spot! They will carry on putting you down – under the guise of being nice – as is their way.

So you need to be prepared for that, I have a few stock answers ready.

Call Her Out

I would start with just calling her out on the nasty stuff she says. So a simple:

“Was there any need for that?”, or “What did you mean by that?”.

She will probably reply, “Nothing! But, I’ve obviously hit a nerve!”, to which can you say, “Well, I’d rather you just didn’t comment on my weight / housekeeping / childrearing skills in future, thank you”.

If she says she was only joking, you can say, “Well, it felt like a joke at my expense, so I’d prefer if you didn’t make those kind of jokes anymore, thank you”.

Be clear, be polite, but lay out what is unacceptable to you.

Hold the Line

And then be prepared to enforce it, with gentle reminders. So next time she says something:

“Remember, Margie, we said we weren’t going to talk about my weight / housekeeping / child-rearing skills anymore?”

Rinse. Repeat.


And expect they’ll keep commenting anyway. Sorry.

Anyone else got any tips?

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7 Responses to 'How To Confront a Passive-Aggressive Mother-in-Law'

  1. Kat says:

    I read a good book on sticking up for yourself, once. In the work section it tackled hecklers, like during your presentations. Instead of assuming you know what they meant and explaining yourself (as getting defensive) they suggested asking what exactly they mean by it. And have them clarify until it’s boiled down to the basics. By being forced to spell out their insult, they’ll either back down or give it to you rudely. With luck you’ll have a witness.

    A good passive aggressive fighter however, will always compliment you in a nasty tone or underhanded manner. Try proving to a man that, “Great top, I wish I could have your weight and carry it so well” wasn’t a nice thing to say. Especially if you’re talking about his mother :(
    In which case I would stick to our Gentle Advicist’s suggestion of firmly stating that certain issues will not be discussed. Again. And again. And if possible, within hearing of your husband.

    Pleasantly, of course. That’s part of the passive aggressive game, you know.

  2. Keep Smiling says:

    Great advice from Kat too.

    What I’ve found with people who are repeatedly passive aggressive is for some reason they just can’t help themselves! This is after you’ve told them about it, and then they will find another way to do it. They can be quite cunning.

    For instance my sister in-law will bring her other sister in on the act so the other sister will do something passive aggressive.

    A few of my in-laws are like that and looking at the situation they are even like that to one another, perhaps more so to some than others.

    I pulled one up on it once or twice and the response was either a red face on their part or I was met with silence but they still did it later on. Personally, I think people like this have a big problem whether it’s down to deep insecurities or just plain nastiness or even to control and getting their own way, we may never know what really motivates them.

    My guess is jealousy a lot of time.

    Also, because some are constantly passive aggressive, if you pull them up on it they may try to turn it around to make it look like you want to start an argument with them, they can be very manipulative people. They see you as a competitor not a friend, they want to get the upper hand.

    Can you imagine the horror if you told your mother in-law she was over weight? These kind can dish it out but can’t take it.

    So if she keeps doing it, I would be inclined to see less of her.

    • The Advicist says:

      Great points, Keep Smiling, especially about the cunningness. Sadly, I think you’re right, and limiting contact is sometimes the only way.

  3. My MIL is Evil and Manipulative says:

    My advice: passive-aggressive MILs will never change. The best way to deal (if you have to) with her is to NEVER be alone with them in the same room. If she follows you (most likely corner you) or pretends that she wants some “girl time” with you, walk away and find a room with another person in it and have the discussion there.

    Another advice: never let your MIL “divide and conquer” you and your partner. If your passive-aggressive MIL tries to manipulate you into doing something, always respond with, “I’ll check with my husband/wife and see what OUR schedule is like.”

Do you have any advice to give? We always love to hear different ideas.

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