Ask Amy: Mother-in-law can't get a word in edgewise
DEAR AMY: I have a wonderful daughter-in-law. She is a great match for my son and a great mom to their daughter. We all have faults, and I accept that. I know I may sound like a "typical" mother-in- law complaining about my son's wife, but I'll risk it in order to get your advice. She's a talker. She doesn't know how to have a conversation. She is wonderful about keeping me in the loop (we live in separate states), but she calls several times a week and talks for 45 minutes to an hour each time. I can hardly get a word in, and when I do try to tell her something, I can tell she is just waiting for me to finish so she can talk again. She often doesn't respond to my inquiries. Additionally, most of her conversation consists of complaints about my son. I have asked her not to do this, but her response is, "You know him and so you understand." I have asked her how she would feel if someone did nothing but complained about her daughter. This didn't help at all — and the next call was again littered with complaints. When she is with my son, she doesn't dominate the conversation as much, but if he's not around — she takes over. How can I approach this without hurting her feelings? She has a big heart and I would never want to damage our relationship. — TIRED EARS DEAR TIRED: Realistically, you will not be able to change your daughter-in-law's overall behavior, but you should establish some healthy boundaries — always making sure to convey your affection for her. The one aspect of this that you should shut down thoroughly is her complaining about your son. Not only because he is your son, but because in doing so, she is involving you in her marriage. I take it as a given that she is venting, and is not seeking (nor would she listen to) any feedback, advice or suggested solutions from you. When this starts, you should tell her, "I've asked you before, and you don't seem to have heard me. You know I'm very fond of you. But I simply CANNOT handle venting about my son. It is affecting the way I feel about both of you. You're going to have to find another way to deal with your problems with him. Do you understand my need here?" (Wait for her answer.) "Will you respect this?" (Wait for her answer.) If she vents during the next call, you will have to interrupt: "Oops. Maybe you forgot our last conversation so let's change the subject." And yes — otherwise, only talk to her when you have the energy for a lengthy update. Let her leave a message and you can call her back when you're ready, relaxed, and hydrated. DEAR AMY: Before we all went on "pause" due to the COVID-19 emergency, I needed a haircut, so I checked in at the counter of a local chain. They required my phone number. Because I get a number of unknown calls, I told them I can't give them my number. They called the manager. After holding steadfast, they put in some other number. A few days later at a restaurant, my wife and I went to put our names on the waiting list and again they asked for my number. I said, "I will just sit right here and wait — you don't need to call me." What should I do? I don't want to make up a number where some person in Iowa gets telemarketing calls intended for me. Maybe we should all start refusing to give out our phone numbers to random businesses. — PAUL DEAR PAUL: You should ask why they need your phone number. If this is to add you to their database, then you should say "no." But if the reason is to call you when the stylist (or your table) is ready for you, then in my opinion — you should give it. DEAR AMY: "Hurting Husband" described the sudden change in his wife's behavior, describing her "DEFCON" reactions. My dear partner of many years had a similar event happen, which actually caused us to separate (amicably) for a while. We then found that the issue was a brain tumor that was causing pressure on the parts of the brain that cause anger! Thankfully, today he is doing well and is clear of cancer, and our relationship is closer and better than ever. — NO LONGER HURTING DEAR NO LONGER: Any time there is an extreme change in behavior, we should consider a medical cause. You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.