Captain, Road Crew 36: “What we have here…is a failure to communicate” – Cool Hand Luke
I’ve come to realize, that when it comes to extended family issues, so many times it comes down to communication breakdown. A failure to communicate…at least so all the parties involved understand what’s going on.
Specifically, I’m referring to passive-aggressive, or manipulative comments. Or, as more commonly known, ‘bitch speak’. (I know, I know, I don’t normally swear here, but as creative as I can be, I just can’t think of another term that fits it so clearly and so well)
Let’s face it, more women than men are masters at the passive aggressive comments. We just are. The tone of voice, raise of an eyebrow, pursing of the lips, it’s so, so much about how something as said, more often than what is actually said. I’ve sat there, in bug-eyed, slack-jawed stunned amazement at comments that have been made, while Wolf was blissfully oblivious. Because comments are made in a nice tone, with a smile, they fly under his radar. It’s not until later, when I break it down for him and explain why what was said was so offensive, that he realized the undercurrents of the conversation.
Let me explain what I mean:
Mother-in-law comes for a visit. She gazes around the home, lips pursed, and then says to her daughter-in-law in a snarky tone, “Well, I know what to get you for Christmas. A gift card for housekeeping services. That way you’d be ready for guests.”
DIL is offended. She’s just spent hours making sure the house is perfect for her MIL. Her husband, however, thinks, “Wow, that’s a great idea! That would give my wife some time to take it easy and relax!”
Later, husband and wife argue over what his mother meant. Hubby thinks his mom is trying to help, and wife thinks her MIL was employing bitch speak.
MIL complains about her health, aches and pains, and that she has a hard time managing her grocery shopping, or managing her usual household chores. MIL suggests that her son and DIL could drop off their eight month old, crawling baby for her to baby sit, and go run errands for her, and even go out for lunch while she babysits.
DIL replies, “No thank you, MIL. If you’re having so much trouble around the house, I don’t think you could manage a busy baby.”
MIL is offended, demanding to know why DIL doesn’t trust her.
Was DIL using bitch speak?
MIL likes to drop in, without warning, when she’s in the area.
DIL hates uninvited visitors, and has asked that everyone call ahead, to ensure that it’s a good time.
MIL is offended that she ‘has to make an appointment to see my own grandchild!’
DIL refuses to answer the door if she’s not expecting visitors.
MIL calls from twenty minutes away, to announce she’s coming over.
DIL tells her, “I’m sorry, that doesn’t work for me.”
MIL calls her son, upset, “I did what she asked! I called, and she told me no!”
“Oh, DIL! My friend, Zsa Zsa? She just lost 200 lbs on this wonderful diet! She ate nothing but chicken broth and watermelon! I brought you her book, because I know it could help you too!”
DIL refuses the book, and when she discovers the book on her counter after MIL leaves, tosses it in the garbage.
DIL is angry, but MIL claims she was just trying to help.
“My kids were potty trained by their first birthday.” “My kids knew their alphabet by the time they were two.” “My kids were reading at three.”
No matter what her baby is doing, MIL’s children did it sooner, faster, better.
DIL feels like this is a competition that she’s forever doomed to lose, that she not only didn’t want to be competing in, but didn’t know she was expected to compete in, and feels like MIL is insulting her as a mother.
MIL says she’s just sharing her children’s milestones.
Is DIL just being oversensitive, or is MIL using bitch speak?
Being able to recognize, decode, and call out bitch speak as it happens is probably the most effective, if not the only effective way of dealing with it. One of the most commonly recommended reactions is, “Interesting. What did you mean by that?” and wait for the other person to explain. Too often, those that are used to being able to fly under the radar with their passive aggressive, or manipulative comments are completely unprepared to have them commented on, or put on the spot to expain them.
I would love to have your answers to the scenarios in the comments! What do you think?
Have you used bitch speak? Have you had it used on you? What was your reaction?