Do you have someone in your life who is only too happy to point out the areas that are less than perfect – ‘this lasagne has a tad too much salt’, ‘that child has a snotty nose’ or ‘My, what big ears you have my dear’.
I have a few, but significant people, like this in my life and if I play their game of discontent, my marriage suffers.
Take for example my mother, who on a recent visit home suddenly blurted out that I must find my wallpaper very distressing, she would never be able to relax and feel calm with wallpaper like ours. What she was trying to say was ‘stop renting and buy your own house’ but she opted for the technique of planting discontent in my heart to reach that goal. She did the same in our old house – this time going on about the small size ‘but we don’t have a mortgage and to move to a bigger house would mean borrowing about £100,000’ I said. ‘Well, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes’ came the reply. And I (to my eternal shame) put pressure on DH to borrow a huge sum of money so we could move to a bigger house – our marriage went downhill till I gave up.
I have learnt my lesson. We are living in this house (wallpaper and all) because it suits us, no one else is expected to share with us – they can go to their own houses and stare at the walls they are relaxed with.
So for those of you who have anyone in your life who is pointing out the flaws, indicating the glass is half empty or just plain old criticising, I am going to share the lessons I have learnt over the years:
1) Do not try to prove to the other person that they are wrong and you are right. For example, MIL has told you in public that your breastmilk is too weak and you should switch to formula. DO NOT start explaining that breastfed babies have greater success in life and, on average, a higher IQ. She may well ask if you think DH is a failure or stupid as he was bottle-fed after the first week. It could turn nasty, depending on how angry you are “he’s as thick as two short planks and can’t even mend a puncture!” may be your unfortunate way out of the corner you worked yourself into.
Best just to smile sweetly and say “I want to breastfeed as it makes me feel so close to my baby! She looks kind of hungry now, pass her here and I’ll be back in a while!”
2) Do not stoop to their level, no matter how tempted you are. The person who spends half an hour telling you how attractive they are and how unattractive you are (just pluck those brows and put some mascara on, and lipstick, and foundation, and perfume – my husband is so smitten by me, but your husband must be miserable blah blah blah (my sister did this to me)). DO NOT point out their plucked brows make them look permanently astonished and their makeup is probably made of human placenta. Keep the moral high ground “that wasn’t a nice thing to say” and walk away. Point made.
3) Do not expect them to change. Once you can identify someone as a pain in the butt, do not be amazed when they keep paining you. Aunty came over and spent half an hour saying you can’t cook for toffee? She is more than likely to do the same every time she visits, don’t let each visit sting you afresh but put on the emotional armour, next time she bites into that vol-au-vent and pulls a face you can just enjoy your own delicious cooking (or admire the skill of the factory that provides your ready meals).
4) Recognise what is going on. The person who is yanking your chain is playing a game, the game of making themselves feel better by making you feel worse. The MIL who dragged her newly married son around the house to show him where his wife had missed bits of dust was really saying “I took better care of you than she does – I am more important than she is” and she is doing this because she is scared that she isn’t as important as she wants to be. Once you can see the game that is being played you can opt-out totally, turn down the invitation to play the game and leave the person to stew in whatever juices they have chosen to make for themselves.
5) Distance helps. You don’t have to invite people into your life if they are going to be downright horrid. Stay in touch with people if you must, but you don’t have to go on holiday with them. If you really have no choice at all and you have to be in close, regular contact with them – emotional distance is called for. If your mother is going to put down your wallpaper, your house, your husband – then don’t phone her to tell her every intimate detail of your life and ask her opinion on it, most importantly do not listen to her or take things to heart.