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I know I am close to OCD about being averse to clutter. I put things away in their designated drawer or shelf, or throw (or give) them away if we are unlikely to use them again. That is, I am a neatnik to extremes, I admit it.

I have a couple of in-laws who repeatedly say things like

Your house is so sterile!

I like a house to look lived in!

Poor (name of my husband), everything gets picked up as soon as it is put down! (This is an exaggeration. The pick-up happens after something has been lying there, unused, for several days.) How does he ever find things!?!

My husband comes from a family of -- there is no other word -- slobs. Their houses may be clean, I don't know, because I have never disturbed, or commented on, their clutter.

How do I shut these people up? I don't much like them to begin with, so if I offend them, I don't care. I repeat, if I offend them, I don't care. They have been offending me for years on this topic, and I am fed up. I tried once saying I preferred a house that look died in, but they have no sense of humor about themselves.

The answers so far, have me starting off by being pleasant, apologetic, saying I am sorry if they feel unwelcome by the "sterility" of my house, advising me not to be defensive or get into a "my way vs your way discussion" and even to say that they are hurting my feelings! What I am in search of is an answer/retort that falls a few notches short of saying "If you don't like my house, you know where the door is" and is preferably cutting and witty. As for their motivation, they criticize (almost) everyone, not just me; it's their favorite sport. What I have done is say "Really!" in an incredulous tone of voice and quickly change the subject. That works, for that visit, but I am fed up with this obligatory prelude. I thank the answerers for the thought they have put into this, but their end points, which are good, are about where my start point is.

Clarification: People are assuming I am much younger than I am, and am talking about my MIL. The in-laws are of my and my husband's generation.

(Culture: middle class, everyone is highly educated, US, BosWash Corridor).

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    How does your husband feel about this? You seem to define it as "your" house and take pride in the possibility of confrontation with his family. Where does he fit in? – Baracus Mar 25 '18 at 18:40
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    Does your SO have an opinion on this? After all, they come to see you because of him. Have you discussed it with him? If your actions push him into a position of split loyalty, is it worth it? – spender Mar 25 '18 at 20:06
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    @Džuris - it isn't a common phrase but it is a play on words. 'A house that looks lived in' is one that has clear signs of being used; generally meaning it is messy, with shoes, toys and other things all over the place. 'A house that looks died in' flips the word lived to the opposite but also flips the imagery, when the owner of a house has died it is normally emptied out of all its contents, leaving it spotlessly tidy (as there is nothing in it to cause a mess!). A very clever turn of phrase! – RyanfaeScotland Mar 25 '18 at 21:56
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Kaspar Scherrer Mar 26 '18 at 9:31
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    I'm concerned you're going after the wrong objective. The goal should not be to shut the people up. The goal should be to reduce the tension and the keep the conversation civil. If you start hating the person instead of the behavior, you're gonna have a bad time =( – corsiKa Mar 29 '18 at 17:20

17 Answers 17

56

Ask a pointed rhetorical question

"When do I ever tell you how to organize your house?"

or

"I'm happy when you come over, but do you really have to constantly criticize our home?"

I like rhetorical questions, because it's a way of expressing something without explicitly doing so. Also, there's a large variety of styles of delivery in making them, you can be tongue-in-cheek, slightly sarcastic, etc. Even if delivered in a good-natured way the receiver will still get the message of the content. I think light-hearted but stern assertions will get the message across, and hopefully be taken in good spirits by all parties.

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    This answer is the most useful for me. I like the strategy of asking question (after question after question if need be.) It is the right level of aggression, and it puts the onus of explanation on them -- as well as the choice of whether to escalate or capitulate. As an aside, another reason this answer appeals to me is that it does not make erroneous assumptions that I am hurt, or in pain, or have problems with my own neatness or need help from my husband or should try to understand them. (I understand them all too well.) I am simply fed up with putting up with rudeness – user1760 Mar 26 '18 at 18:26
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    @ab2 keep in mind that if you use this strategy, your questions may be met with some sort of denial ("... do you really have to constantly criticize our home?" , "Oh, I'm not criticizing, I'm surprised at how clean it is."). Be ready for that. If you weren't expecting it, you're kinda back at square one except now you have some obligation to respond. – Lord Farquaad Mar 26 '18 at 21:29
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    @LordFarquaad There is a simple answer to that. They: "Oh, I'm not criticizing, I'm surprised at how clean it is." You: "Thank you for the compliment," and change the subject, "please make yourself comfortable, I'll make the coffee." Again, quite passive-aggressive (their comment was obviously not a compliment and you take it as one), but this seems to be the goal here. – yo' Mar 28 '18 at 10:06
  • @zebrafish isn't that a bit passive aggressive? – Luca Gibelli Mar 28 '18 at 10:45
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    @Zebrafish In my experience passive-aggressive responses typically generate an escalation of reactions rather than settling an argument. – Luca Gibelli Mar 28 '18 at 15:15
92

I think your end goal is to get these comments to stop. So I'd start there. it doesn't need to get into a comparison with others; it's about making this stop.

Take pride in your house. Don't be defensive.

Yes, this is our house. We like it this way.

And be confident in that.

Them: It's sterile...

You: It's our house. I'm sorry you feel that way.

If it really gets bad, I'd suggest maybe adding.

This is how we live and we like it. I don't comment on your housekeeping; I'd appreciate it if you don't comment on mine.

There's no need to engage in arguments. I'd suggest just letting people know you've had enough.

And, if that doesn't work, then roll up the welcome mat. Quit inviting ingracious guests into to your house.

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    +1 for the next to last paragraph. With regard to your first two suggestions, I am not going to apologize to these people for anything. Nor am I going to be defensive. I am looking for an aggressive response that is not as aggressive as "if you don't like it, get out", which I have had to bite my tongue several times not to say. As for never inviting them, it is only once every year or so, and they are my husband's close relatives. – user1760 Mar 25 '18 at 15:05
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    Surely "This is our house. We like it this way." and "This is how we live and we like it." are statements defending their actions. How can you say that and advise "Don't be defensive." at the same time? Perhaps you could clarify what you mean? – RyanfaeScotland Mar 25 '18 at 20:30
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    @RyanfaeScotland I see the point here. I see defensive statements as being more on the line of "Really?" or "We want it this way because..." or something that justifies the statement. "We like it this way" to me, isn't defensive because it doesn't defend anything. It merely states with confidence that's how things are and offers nothing to argue against. – baldPrussian Mar 26 '18 at 0:56
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    @ab2 This apology is what I call the "non-apology". Note what you apologize for - nothing that you did or will do. You apologize for them - and the way that they feel. You give up no ground by doing this; you basically say "I'm sorry for something you did/do". Watch how politicians apologize for things -they virtually never say "I'm sorry I did this". They instead say "I'm sorry that some people were hurt". That puts the onus on the people they hurt, not the actions they took. – baldPrussian Mar 26 '18 at 0:58
  • @ab2, to add on to that last paragraph, you don't mention whether these are out-of-town guests or locals just coming for an evening. If the former you can always recommend some hotels on the next stay. When they question why, you can say "Well you always mention you don't like the state of my house, so I thought you might prefer to stay elsewhere." That might be enough to get them to take a hint. – David K Mar 27 '18 at 23:02
83

Finally, an IPS question with some balls!

It's time for the best in-law insults of them all: passive-aggressive backhanded compliments*!

Your house is so sterile!

Haha, yes, I guess compared to yours it would look that way!

What do you mean by that!?

Oh nothing, just that you seem to have a much more "free range" policy going on, I imagine Basra would look pretty sterile by comparison.

Moving on

I like a house to look lived in!

Yes, I like mine to look lived in as well, although I like it to look like actual people live in it, not a herd of wildebeests.

What? My house doesn't look like that!

Oh no, I don't mean yours of course, but you see some people's and it is like they don't even care.

Next up

...How does he ever find things!?!

Well, it's rather easy really, it's either where he left it or it's where it is kept. I bet if you name a single thing in this house I could tell you where it is?

[Hopefully she'll pick something, if she does either tell her where it is or make it up, she won't know anyway]

Ok, my turn! Do you know where your hairbrush / ironing board / mirror / breath mints are? I'm willing to bet you don't!

What are you implying?

What? Oh nothing, just that these are things I've found if not kept tidied away tend to grow legs and disappear!

*Ok, so these aren't all strictly compliments.

The trick is to insult her without being directly insulting. You do this by implying things, as obviously as possible, and then shrugging it off with an "Oh no, not you of course" if you get called out on them.

Turn it into a game, see just how much you can get away with before they throw a strop, it sounds like she is already playing and she is winning.

If they do get really annoyed and stop visiting then I get the impression they won't be missed! Declare yourself the winner and pour yourself an extra large Prosecco to celebrate.


Bonus Content!

This post, and the people who upvoted it, have helped me achieve my first ever Mortarboard achievement. As thanks, here are some additional tips on how to insult your in-laws, nicely:

As mentioned, implying things, not saying them, is at the core of it.

In the comments someone has suggested following through with a sarcastic "Oh gee, I'm already glad we invited you over" since we're halfway there anyway, however, this misses the subtle nuances needed to be insulting yet friendly at the same time. It is too direct, leaves no wiggle room and no space for the in-laws to fill in the blanks.

Like a wily temptress, you must lean in with your insult, close enough for them to feel it prickling up the hairs on the back of their neck, building an angry passion inside of them, but you must leave them to make the final move of connecting what you are saying to them. And when they do, when the passion inside them is too much for them to handle, and they start to lean back, that is when you whip it away, leaving them spurned and unsatisfied!

It needs 2 parts to work:

  • The blatantly obvious implied insult,
  • The deflection to less obviously implied targets (which is them and your plausible ‘intended’ meaning).

Take my examples thus far: "compared to yours it would look that way."

We aren’t saying that one is better than the other, we are just saying that they are comparably different. Then we compare their place to Basra, just in case they didn’t get it the first time. However, we also say "you seem to have a much more "free range" policy going on", we take the focus away from them and place it on something else, the policy, we aren’t attacking them, we are attacking the policy, they aren’t untidy slobs who wouldn’t know a Dust Buster if you busted them over the head with it, THE POLICY is an untidy one which they could change if they wanted.

Same with the wildebeest and meaning other people; same with the breath mints and small objects being hard to find.

A sarcastic "Oh gee, I'm already glad we invited you over" doesn’t have that crucial second part, they’ll make the connection on the first part, that you aren’t actually glad, but it can only be targeted at them, you’ve leaned in and planted it directly on their lips and now you can’t get out of it.

So just remember: imply and deflect, imply and deflect, eventually they may grow weary of it and properly ‘have it out’ with you. This is your opportunity to get things off your chest and tell them what you don’t like about their behaviour during their visits. Or you could continue to insult them. Both are good choices.

  • 1
    Since we're halfway there, you can (sarcastically) remark on how glad you are to have them there. "Oh gee I'm already glad we invited you over", but I suspect being more direct may help. Your answer also seems to assume only a mother-in-law is making those comments, whereas OP only asked about in-laws. – Tas Mar 26 '18 at 1:07
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    what is "Basra" ? – Juan Carlos Oropeza Mar 26 '18 at 13:56
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    @JuanCarlosOropeza It's a city in Iraq, known for being hard-hit in the 2003 invasion. – Brian Mar 26 '18 at 15:34
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    This sure will match their tone. Very humorous answer. Not really advisable, but funny. – Wildcard Mar 26 '18 at 23:56
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    "get things off your chest... or you could continue to insult them. Both are good choices." Finally, an IPS answer with some balls. – AgapwIesu Mar 28 '18 at 21:13
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In order to know how to reply, it helps to know the motivation behind the comments.

They might be saying "I feel unwelcome, that I am disturbing this environment by putting my purse on your table or setting down this glass of water I haven't finished drinking." If that's the way you think they feel, you can reply with reassuring things like

I know it can look empty at times; I'm happy to have you and your stuff here today.

They might be saying "I bet when you come to my house you judge me like crazy and you think my house should be like this and I am lazy, but I'm not, I like my house". Here you can (if it's true) reveal some of your struggle,

I actually like that too, in other people's houses, but here I can't let things stay for more than a day or two. You know, it's my issue, I have to put things away and I can't get to that lived-in look that's so welcoming at your house.

They might be saying "I think your weirdness is a form of mistreatment towards our relative". You can nip that in the bud,

[Husband] never complains - after all, he never has to tidy, and no matter where he leaves things, by the time he's forgotten where he left them, he doesn't have to remember, because they are where they belong! [Laugh, as though this is a joke or exaggeration, even though it isn't.]

They might be trying to change you by showing a "bad" side of your habits, as though it had not yet occurred to you. You can argue with that if you like, or push back,

I wouldn't say sterile exactly, but I know it's my own style. This is how I have to have things, and while some days I wish I could relax and leave things where they fall, I just can't. It's not a choice or a judgement, it's just how I am.

After you have tried several of these on different visits and nothing is happening, then go meta,

It hurts my feelings when you criticize my house. I know I am different from most people in this way. I never judge anyone who is able to keep a more relaxed house, or tell them to be more like me. I would really like you to stop commenting on the way I keep my house. It hurts me.

At this point you still haven't been offensive, you haven't said anything unpleasant about them or their house or the way your husband was raised, but you've been direct.

From then on, comments like that can either get no response at all, or if they are phrased as a question and can't be ignored, or are repeated,

I've told you before that the way I keep my house isn't something I'm ok with being criticized about or discussing. [Change subject firmly.]

Habits will take a long time to overcome. That's why I want you to start by thinking about where they are coming from, which is almost certainly a place of mild fear or shame about their own clutter and mess, to help you feel less attacked and be able to respond serenely to comments that are quite clearly inappropriate and wrong.

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    Thank you for trying to help. I know very well where they are coming from: They criticize eveyone, not just me. Their way is the right way, period. I'm not going to make apologies about my house, especially in my own house, nor am I going to soft pedal my utter fed-up-ness. Thus your last suggestion is the only one I would use -- the others are, excuse me, I don't mean to be offensive to you, too mealey-mouthed. I really am on the verge of saying: If you don't like it, get out and don't come back. +1 for your last suggestion. – user1760 Mar 25 '18 at 18:12
  • I don't see any apologies being suggested there. And you implied that your extreme need for neatness is a bit of an issue for you. If it's not, and you have no desire to relax about neatness, then the "if it's true" disclaimer above is "it's not" so don't do that part. – Kate Gregory Mar 25 '18 at 18:24
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    You can also change "hurts my feelings" to "offends me" or "pisses me off" or "gets on my nerves" or "wears out your welcome" or "crosses the line of appropriate family chitchat" as appropriate. – Kate Gregory Mar 25 '18 at 18:26
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    I like this answer the best. Oftentimes, their statements will be an indication of their own insecurity. It feels like they are making fun of your house to feel better about theirs. The easiest way to take someone out of a defensive or offensive state is to be humble. This is just a game of who's better, and nothing kills that game faster than having an opponent who refuses to play. – azoundria Mar 28 '18 at 1:17
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    @KateGregory I would take all the 'me' out of that. I would say only 'is offensive', 'wears out your welcome', etc. – user207421 Mar 28 '18 at 2:19
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How do I shut these people up? I don't much like them to begin with, so if I offend them, I don't care. I repeat, if I offend them, I don't care.

They are not going to shut up.

You also said they seem to live to criticize, I think that that reinforces that they are not going to shut up. Other answers suggested that they are trying to deflect from their own messy place, and that is very true. Indeed I would guess we could take that to another level and say they criticize lots of people and things because of general insecurity about themselves in the same type of context that they do with you.

Some others suggested that they are uncomfortable in the super clean environment that they are not used to. Might be true, but I am not reading that in your question, I am getting they're little people trying to feel better about themselves by bringing others down.

My answer here is on the premise that they are generally insecure about some things, and that their general compulsion is to be critical of behaviors that they do not share with people so they do not feel bad about some parts of themselves. It BTW does not make these people bad people, it is something we all do at one level or the other. And while it makes people kind of irritating and hard to get along with at times, the real downside is that this behavior really keeps some people from owning their own problems, and when you don't own a problem you're never going to be able to fix it.

I would like to suggest that when they come and start in with their passive aggressive remarks about your home, with a dismayed, angry, offended look on your face you simply convey "whatever" in all its absolute glory and nuanced meaning. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Don't appease them, don't apologize to them, don't engage them with their criticism. You own your space here, it is a good space, you are proud of it, it is a reflection of a good quality in you. If they don't like your space nobody should care, especially you. In other words you simply refuse to let your in-laws deflect their problems onto you. You know deflection as the favorite tool of alcoholics and others to avoid owning up to their problems.

Now this may or may not solve your problem of getting them to shut up. But I would suggest that if they are not getting anything out of their critique that it may slow down or stop entirely, at least as far as your clean house goes. They will likely find some other thing to critique with you. And your response should likely be the same. Eventually they may stop talking to you altogether, that might be good I don't know. But whatever, you don't own the in-laws problems, you can't fix them, you're not obligated to enable them, you own your space, and if they don't like it, whatever, it's not your problem. Your response should convey this if you want them to eventually shut up.

Also there is an alternate tactic as demonstrated in this video.

  • It is worth trying this strategy. It doesn't always work, but it is worth a try and you don't lose much (a bit of time and nerves). I would add that they might actually be in it for the conflict as much as the criticism, and not giving them an answer will a) make them escalate and then (when they reach the limit of their comfort with escalation) b) shut up. – Tom Mar 26 '18 at 8:23
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    The 'alternate tactic' is the one I would use, but not as in the video. Just one 'shut up', or 'shut the hell up' if you wish. Nothing more. It will at least shock them, which is what is required. A discussion may or may not ensue, depending largely on whether you care to have it. It doesn't need to consist of anything more than 'I'm not interested in your opinion.' – user207421 Mar 28 '18 at 2:12
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Is your husband able to answer in your stead? Still something strong enough to make them realise that their comments have been offensive, but this time not from you. The point being that if he shows that the two of you are on the same page with respect to the house and criticisms of it, then maybe his relatives will stop complaining?

Just a thought. The comments would be bad enough, but not having support from your husband in this matter would simply be adding insult to injury.

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    This is something that I completely missed in my answer. they're the husband's relatives and he needs to step up and say something. If my relatives were doing something that really bothered my wife, I think I should be the one to tell my family, "hey, knock that crap off". It carries more weight from a family member and doesn't paint the spouse as being combative. – baldPrussian Mar 26 '18 at 14:23
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    @ab2 Thank you - I guess that the important point isn't that he fights your battle, but that his relatives understand that he agrees with you in this matter. – Peter Abolins Mar 26 '18 at 18:50
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One thing I noted is that all of your examples are more statements than questions. Have you tried just not responding when there are no questions?

MIL: It looks so sterile!

You: ...

To add to the lack of comfort for the person I am not answering, I like to just look at them completely neutral faced without blinking. As if I'm studying them to see if they're breathing. It makes people uncomfortable.

And then if they ask a question, answer it in as few words as possible:

MIL: How does he ever find things?!

You: He looks where they are kept.

The staring works here as well. Perhaps they will understand how absurd the comments and question are in retrospect.

Either way, nothing makes people as uncomfortable as silence and staring. If they take the hint and ask what your problem is:

MIL: Are you upset about something?

You: Your criticism of my housekeeping is unwelcome.

Keep it short, simple, and direct.

6

Ok, so another way if you have the stomach for it, is going for awkwardness with some gorish and gritty "jokes" :

"The house looks so sterile"
"I actually like it, that way whenever we torture someone infection won't set in for a loooong time and we can keep going for longer."

Of course you're just joking. See how many awkward silences are they willing to endure.

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    +1 "Or, we are in the black market kidney business. We'll give you a good price for a healthy kidney." I like it. – user1760 Mar 26 '18 at 18:55
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    "And the kitchen floor is so clean, you could eat off it! If you keep bringing up my housekeeping, I might make you." – cactus_pardner Mar 27 '18 at 0:22
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We've got a couple good answers based on your intentions, so I'm throwing this out there as an addendum.

First off, I can say from experience that I sympathize and know the exact situation you're talking about. Sure, a non-confrontational solution might be ideal, but sometimes it's okay to get offended. You're allowed to feel however you want to feel about the situation, and they can't respect how you feel, that's their fault. As long as you and your husband are happy with the arrangement, no one should be criticizing you for it.

I'm not the greatest with witty retorts but it seems like we have at least a few people here who are, so hats off to their creativity. I'd like to consider your strategy beyond just the conversation, because one key element could sabotage any progress you make: your husband.

Nothing you do or say is going to make any difference if he doesn't support you. You can put his parents in their place, but if he reacts sheepishly or discreetly apologizes for your behavior, it will undercut your message. So you need to be on the same page with him before the next encounter. You don't mention discussing this much with him, other than you have both come to a compromise on how the house is kept (which is great), so just sit down and have a frank discussion about your plan and being fed up with their comments. He may have to suffer through some embarrassment, but he needs to at least be ready to back you up if they look to him.

All he needs to do is believe that you're allowed to feel the way you do, and then he can just shrug at his parents and say "Well, you were asking for it" (or words to that effect). If you don't have his support, if he reinforces their views instead of conceding to yours, you won't get anywhere. He doesn't necessarily have to agree with you, but he has to support you and the way you feel.

6

I like the direct approach. Since you're not that concerned with keeping good relations with the in-laws, it only makes it easier to say this with the right tone. The next time they make a thinly-veiled insult:

Your comments about my housekeeping are getting really tiresome...

If they start to look like they are not taking you seriously:

...No, really. I've tried to be nice. I've tried to give you the benefit of the doubt that you're not making underhanded insults. But I'm at the point where I really can't take it any more.

Now put them on the spot for an answer:

Can I rely on you to stop making these sort of comments about my housekeeping?

At this point they are likely to backpedal and comment that they were only joking, etc. That's fine. But don't let them avoid the question:

That's all well and good. Thank you for telling me. Can I rely on you to stop insulting my housekeeping?

Repeat the last sentence as often as needed until they provide an answer that indicates they have taken you seriously.

5

Chances are they truly don't realize the pain they're causing you. They're completely blind to what you're feeling, and they might even think that they're being funny, which they aren't obviously. So the way to make them realize is to communicate it to them.

Here's what you could say:

Guys, I don't know if you realize it, but everytime you say a comment like that, it really hurts me because that's the way I am, and I don't know if you realize that you're criticizing me by criticizing my house. I don't find it funny at all, and I would really appreciate if you don't make comments of this nature anymore.

If they are decent human beings, they will answer:

We really didn't realize it bothered you this way, and we're really sorry. We're going to keep an eye on this and try to avoid making more comments like these. We thought it was funny. Sorry again, appreciate you telling us.

If not, they will undermine what you said, make a joke out of it, ignore it, continue the comments. In that case, then you simply have to be more assertive. Here's how you can take it up a notch:

I don't know if I was clear last time when I said I really felt disrespected everytime you made jokes on my house. We must have better things to talk about than making fun of my house and habits. As I said I won't tolerate that, I don't find it funny at all. Those comments and jokes have to stop, otherwise I don't want to say that, but you guys really don't need to come if you don't like it here. I hope I'm being clear.

  • This is the best answer. Give them this information before taking other steps. – axsvl77 Mar 29 '18 at 18:13
4

You say in a comment to another answer that

I am looking for an aggressive response that is not as aggressive as "if you don't like it, get out", which I have had to bite my tongue several times not to say.

Since you say that it's a US setting, I expect that the following response will be understood clearly:

Strike one!

It's aggressive, it threatens that "If you don't like it, get out" is coming, but it doesn't go as far. If they ask what you mean, the explanation is simple: three strikes and you're out.

This works to some extent in other cultures too. In fact, this answer is prompted by my brother having used it to me when I commented on some imperfection in his DIY, and we're both British.

  • +1 Good idea! The conversation would go: "Strr-rike One!" "What do you mean?" "You figure it out!" But they wouldn't and I'd have to explain. They live on a plane far, far above popular culture. – user1760 Mar 26 '18 at 18:46
2

Their criticism is indicative that your house is not up to their standards. You can take that seriously and encourage them to stay elsewhere. Of course you want them to be comfortable! It's reasonable to suggest that they find accommodation elsewhere if your place is not good enough.

"I didn't realise my house was not up to your standards. You're welcome to find accommodation somewhere else in town that meets your needs".

You can sugar coat it to any extent you want.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realise our accomodation wasn't adequate enough for you! We want you to be happy/comfortable here! If this isn't good enough, you're welcome to find accommodation somewhere else in town that meets your needs".

Then, you can follow through with it next time if they don't shut up about it.

"Can we come to stay?"

"Unfortunately, last time you mentioned that our house wasn't adequate enough for your needs. We want you to be comfortable so perhaps it would be better if you stayed somewhere else. You're welcome to come over to visit us for tea/coffee/dinner while you're in town!"

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    +1 but not applicable to my situation. I've never have them as houseguests. – user1760 Mar 26 '18 at 18:54
  • "I didn't realize my house was not up to your standards. If you would prefer, we could visit at the Wawa Market or the Dunkin' Donuts in [the next town]." (Or Papaya King, if you happen to live in NYC.) – cactus_pardner Mar 27 '18 at 0:26
2

As for their motivation, they criticize (almost) everyone, not just me; it's their favorite sport.

Accept

The quote above means tells us they will criticise you no matter what. So accept that they will invariably criticise you in one way or another. You don't have to like it, but you can't change them. What you can change is your own reaction.

Deflate

Since you're happy with your living situation and would be unhappy living in their mess, they're actually giving you a compliment! So graciously accept it and move on.

"Why, thank you. Would you like a cup of tea?"

That way, they don't get the satisfaction of seeing you getting riled up by their nagging.

1

The Bible says "Better to meet a mother bear robbed of her cubs than a fool bent on folly." (Proverbs 17:12)

You have absolutely no good options. People who want to hurt you, will hurt you.

The Bible advises: "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him." That means you should really not get involved in mud-slinging. But wait, the very next verse says: "Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes." (Proverbs 26:4-5)

This is "Choose your own adventure." If you choose to fight, now that's what you do together with your in-laws. If you bear it, now that's what your in-laws expect from you.

If you minimize the opportunities for this situation to arise in whatever way you can, you may get more peace. But you may get a different kind of criticism, especially if they therefore aren't seeing their grandkids.

Have you let your husband know that this bothers you? If so, why isn't he taking your side? He's the one who invited you into this family after all... only a crummy host would knowingly allow harm to come on his own guest.

Lastly, is this criticism the fair response to criticism that you leveled at them in the past? If you are the first mud-slinger, it's fairplay for them to sling mud at you. The question of which house is superior is actually irrelevant to this question... having a clean house doesn't make it OK to insult somebody, just like you wouldn't want somebody with a bigger house to insult you for having one that's small.

1

There is the old retort when people complain about untidyness/dirtyness: "You are welcome to clean it/tidy it up".

Humorously reversing it into "You are welcome to make a mess if you need one" should get the point across memorably while still giving you the plausible deniability of you just having made a joke in case someone makes ample use of their right to be offended. Also, you can fine tune the "if you need one" into even more of an underhanded accusation of inferior taste/requirements, in order to keep the ball in the other court for a while.

  • But if the person is borderline OCD, and the visitors do make a mess because they can't understand sarcasm, it'd be a problem. Personally, if someone complained of a place being too sterile, I'd just offer to cough (spit, lick, lick your hand and wipe it on them, etc, whatever you're willing to go through with if they call you on it.) on them so they feel more at home. if you don't want to be quite so gross, you can offer them some dirty laundry to hold onto while they're there. But again, it can be a fine line with how far you're willing to go if you're OCD. – Joe Mar 28 '18 at 3:04
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If you want to shut them up via a possibly heated situation then you could just bark at them

At least my house doesn't look like slobs live in it!

This would perhaps shut them up in the short term (as in the Finbarr cycle), but in the long term may completely crush any relationship you may have had with them.

alternatively you could say

Your house is a pig sty and you are awful!

The result would be the same, IMO