Holding accountable vs not controlling the other person’s behavior


I just finished the live coaching call, and had a follow up question.

What’s the difference between holding someone accountable for their behavior and setting a boundary in a way to try to manipulate someone’s behavior?

The issue is with (what in my mind was) a boundary I set with my mother-in-law. In the call, the coach pointed out I may have been using it to try to control her behavior.

I realized I do need to do some work on my thinking, and owning the idea that my mother-in-law’s actions don’t hurt me—my thinking does.

But beyond that, how does a boundary work? Is it appropriate to hold another adult “accountable”?

My mother-in-law likes to ask leading questions, and say dramatic things, and then wait for an emotionally charged reaction. This is something all 5 of her kids have confronted her on. When challenged, she will give one of her kids the silent treatment, sometimes for years. To my knowledge, she’s never admitted to her children or their spouses she was wrong about anything.

Obviously, I can’t change her behavior.

But I have this desire to express to her that I’m not ignoring it, and I know what she’s doing. I didn’t feel that way until her behavior was directed at me. I mostly just thought it was funny that she’s 65 and so emotionally immature. But now the emotional immaturity feels threatening.

Here’s a model before and after
C- MIL says, “You and your husband don’t talk throughout the day over phone or text? Isn’t it hard being in a marriage like that? I can’t imagine being in a marriage like that!”
T-Ha! That’s funny… I love being focused on work during the day, and then reconnecting with my husband later.
F- humor
A- give some vague answer, and the laugh about it later with my husband
R – My husband and I have a laugh, and shake our heads.

C- MIL says I’m a dangerous person and refuses to speak to me for 6 months.
T- I don’t deserve to be treated like this
F- anger
A-spend time thinking and journaling about how wrong she is
R-my peace is disturbed

C- same as above
T- what if she treats my children like this?
F- fear/anger
A- Tell her I won’t brush this under the table and pretend like everything is okay in 6 months. If she wants a relationship with me, she will have to have an honest conversation about this.
R- I keep reviewing the “boundary” and worry about what will happen if she refuses.

I recognize I’m trying to control her behavior. But I also have a desire to not go back to being close without there being some kind of honesty.

I’m okay with never being close again. My husband doesn’t care, and has gone years without speaking to his mom. I’m not concerned about my kids not having a relationship with her—I experienced something similar with a grandmother when I was 15, and honestly it was just a relief not to play her games anymore when she decided to stop speaking to my mother.

So I guess here’s my struggle….

How can I be true to what I want to show up for, while not trying to make her follow my model for her?