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Passive-Aggressive Example
Mother-in-law Wants to be Center of Attention

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. The suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. Also, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. For more, read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People and 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Question:My soon-to-be mother-in-law always wants to be the center of attention. The last straw is she wants to wear a dress to MY wedding that is fancier than my wedding dress! I think this is a deliberate passive-aggressive attempt to make me look bad on my wedding day. She didn't do this at her daughter's wedding! How can I stop her?

Response: What appears to be passive-aggressive may not always be passive-aggressive (PA). It is often important not to assume PA behavior. Otherwise, you will frequently find yourself angry and distressed when it may not be intentional PA behavior. Maybe this mother-in-law (MIL) wants to be the center of attention, but it seems to be an assumption to conclude "this is a deliberate passive-aggressive attempt to make me look bad."

The bride is over-reacting here for a couple of reasons. No matter what the MIL wears she is not going to get more attention than the bride (unless maybe she goes naked). If she does overdo it, she will just make herself look silly which is no reflection on the bride or the wedding. Everybody has embarrassing relatives at weddings so other people empathize and it is not going to detract from the bride's day. The more gracious the bride can be in the face of embarrassing relatives, the better she is perceived by others. This means not confronting, not getting upset, and not talking behind the MIL's back.

Secondly, assumptions are dangerous and can have a cascading negative effect on what is going to be a long-term relationship with the MIL. If she continues to be angry, it is likely to lead to confrontation or retaliatory PA behavior on the part of the bride which will only lead to a deterioration of the relationship. It is up to the bride to determine how she wants this relationship to be. Also, as I have said before, if this is PA behavior, the PA person wins if they can get the other to lose control and look bad.

This doesn't mean there is nothing she can do about the situation. But first, she needs to let go of the assumptions so that she can deal with it more directly. Once she does that, she could talk with her MIL but do it in a clear and assertive way. For instance: "The dress you've chosen is SO lovely! But I'm afraid it is so beautiful it will outshine me on my wedding day. Do you have another possible choice? I understand, though, if you really want to wear it."

This may not stop the MIL from wearing the dress, but it is more likely to establish a relationship in which the bride can discuss future problems with her directly. If the MIL does tend to be PA, knowing that her behavior will be discussed assertively and won't achieve the intended outcome of PA behavior (to make the other person lose control and look bad), tends to decrease it in the future.

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