My Mother-in-Law Won't Apologize!

3 years ago

Dear Mouthy Housewives,

I've recently had some upset with my MIL.  Although I have apologized for my part of the disagreement, she is incapable of saying the words, "I'm sorry." What's the deal with people who can't say I'm sorry—like ever?!  And how do I restore good family relations when she won't do her part to smooth things over and move forward?

Credit Image: Andrew Yee on Flickr

Dear Abby (hey!),

Without knowing the source of the upset with your mother-in-law, it's hard for me to sit as judge and jury as to whether she should apologize to you or not.  For example, if you took some twenties out of her wallet, I'm firmly on the side of "your mother-in-law doesn't owe you an apology." But if the disagreement had been more subtle, along the lines of "whose casserole is more delicious" and disintegrated into a slugfest over three-bean vs. three-cheese potato with ham, then I can understand why you are holding out for an "I'm sorry" with a side of self-flagellation. Especially if you were Team Three-Cheese.

But maybe the problem is one of intent and expectations, and that's where you have the greatest insight. Specifically, what was behind your apology? Was it to admit a wrong and take responsibility? Was it to end the disagreement? Was it to elicit an apology from her so that everyone can move on with their lives, casseroles be damned?

I suspect that your answer will fall towards the "admit a wrong and take responsibility" end of the spectrum. You apologized to her because you wanted to smooth things over, stop the argument, move on with your life. You apologized because you thought the point of contention wasn't important and family harmony took precedence. You apologized because you expected her to say "I'm sorry, too."

And you may have been completely reasonable in what you anticipated, absolutely. After all, the mutual apology is part of the social contract. Everyone apologizes, laughs at the misunderstanding and the next thing you know, canapés are served. Except in those cases where the mother-in-law won't play along. Because then it becomes a hanging apology. You apologize, and she says nothing. (Which is on the spectrum, BUT MUCH BETTER than telling someone "I love you" and getting a "thank you!" in return. Let's agree to trust me on this one.)

You have a choice. You can bring it up with your mother-in-law. Assuming that you were both at fault, say something along the lines of, "Boy, did we get carried away the other day!" and see where she takes it. Or you can let it go. Know that apologies have different meanings to different people and the fact that she did not utter the magic words doesn't mean that she is right and you are wrong. So long as she says "I love you, too!" when you tell her how you feel about her.

Marinka, TMH

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