Q My problem is my father-in-law. When we go over to visit him and my mother-in-law, I dread it. I feel he doesn't respect me. I know we have totally different value systems, and I know he comes from a different generation, but it doesn't help.
His typical response is to chuckle and dismiss me when I voice an opinion. He has the attention span of a flea. This is nothing physical; we know that. Conversations about anything always come around to the same thing. He ends up giving a lecture about how to be better in business or how to be more successful. He is a broken record.
I am more of a people person and evaluate people on how kind and nice they are. My idea of a successful person is not based on money, importance, or power. My father-in-law looks more to the surface and how much money a person makes. If someone is successful or important, he hangs on their every word.
What I do is spend more time with my mother-in-law. My other strategy is, if he asks me a question, to answer with a yes or no since he tends to dismiss me when I talk. Last week I was just fuming after a visit.
This is frustrating. I don’t have this reaction from anyone else I know except maybe my brother-in-law. Surprise, Surprise! Thank goodness my husband is like his mother.
A Gretchen, there is no point in talking back to the television or expressing your opinion to a dial tone. There is no point in fuming over a television commercial. You're not buying, so don't fume. Besides, commercials are there so you can go to the bathroom or make a sandwich without missing anything.
Listening to your father-in-law is like listening to a small child discuss his invisible friend. It’s all very real to him, even though it is not real to you. With some people you are never going to break through and have a genuine conversation. You’ve found two good strategies: spending time with your mother-in-law and limiting answers to yes and no. There is another strategy to consider.
Imagine you work next to a woman who says “God bless you” each time you sneeze. If you grew up with this practice and enjoy it, you say “Thank you.” This encourages her and she continues. But perhaps you think this practice is a medieval superstition that has no place in the modern world. In that case, if you meet her expression with silence, you will find she soon stops.
A variation on this principle is called “shaping behavior by its absence.” In other words, you respond favorably to everything which is not the undesirable behavior. If your father-in-law remarks on the beautiful day or how nice it is to see you, respond in kind. If he starts playing his broken record, greet it with silence and make this your unvarying rule.
As a people person, you may find this difficult and perhaps offensive. It smacks of dog training. But it is likely to be the best thing you can do to set a positive tone with your father-in-law so perhaps, one day, you can share genuine, two-way conversation.
Wayne & Tamara
Send your question: DirectAnswer@WayneAndTamara.com
Invade – to enter as if to take possession, to intrude upon.