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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Do you know much about sister-in-law relationships?  I am marrying my fiancé soon, and his sister has been very rude to me since the beginning of our relationship, yet I have always been kind to her.  I think it may be jealousy, but I am not sure.  I cannot see a whole lot of reason for her to be jealous of me.  I am so uncomfortable around her, because I am always waiting for her criticism, and I am not looking forward to her presence for my wedding (she lives in another state, so she will be visiting for a while).  How should I deal with her, and what can I do to make myself feel more comfortable?  If you need background info, I have submitted a topic in the "sister-in-law" message board called "In Great Need of SIL Advice".

Thank you for listening.

Dr Apter's reply:
Sister-in-law relationships are often troubled.  Sometimes a woman picks a friend as just perfect for her brother - only to feel hostile and critical when the friend becomes her sister-in-law.  There are many possible reasons.  Perhaps the sister feels that her brother's wife is replacing her as the woman he is closest to as a female friend.  Perhaps she is protective of her brother, or idealizes him, and refuses to believe that anyone is good enough for him.  Perhaps she has her own reasons for feeling left out, or envious of your relationship.  Whatever the problem is, her criticisms should not be taken as pointing to any real fault of yours - though they inevitably hurt.  You could try pointing out to her that she is being critical - not by accusing her, but by explaining that her criticisms hurt and confuse you.  If she sees she cannot get away with them - without explaining herself, she may stop.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Am I being selfish?  We've been married 7 years, and been together 23.  We live 4 hours from his MIL.  Since we have been together, she has always placed great emphasis on "family get-to-gethers" ... of which we can make about 75% of them.  Since my husband travels for a living, all (at her house) are not possible.  Christmas is, and always has been, hard because of the tremendous pressure to go to her house ...  I would like to stay home AND have my husband not feel guilty.  Every year it is the same thing ... we talk about not going ... until either the guilt sets in automatically, or he has "one of those" conversations with her and THEN he feels guilty.  I see absolutely no solution.  I have tried it all ... vacationing at Christmas, going to her house, and staying home.  One of us is not happy any-which way it goes.  I would like a Christmas with my husband (guilt-free) and at our home.

Dr Apter's reply:
There is no easy way to obliterate the guilt someone may be made to feel by his mother.  The best compromise might be to tell your mother-in-law that you would be happy to see her at Christmas but that you really do not want to travel.  Invite her to do the traveling.  You can support your husband if he tries to resist her persistent invitations and expectations.  You can tell him that he should not feel guilty for not doing everything his mother asks of him.  But only he can resolve this problem - and then you have to weigh up your needs 
as a couple against his guilt or his mother's displeasure.  There is no easy solution - as you have already discovered.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband reveals personal information to his mother about us.  I was quite upset when he recently told his mother that he isn't happy with our pregnancy.  Now, every time she calls to see how I am, I have trouble believing that she is being sincere.  Also, because he tells her personal things, I am very reluctant to form any kind of bond with her.  I don't want any stress interfering with my pregnancy.  Should I tell her that, "Because your son revealed his feelings about this pregnancy, I will not discuss my pregnancy with you,"?  It sickens me, because she has probably told other family members, which makes me not want to have much to do with his family.  Please help

Dr Apter's reply:
I suggest you tell your husband (rather than your mother-in-law) how you feel.  Perhaps you could assure him that you understand he may want to speak about very personal things with his mother, but that when these topics concern you, you need privacy and confidentiality.  You could tell him just what you've told me: that you want to forge a good relationship with your mother-in-law, but that you feel her knowledge of very private things as intrusive.  Ask his help in dealing with this problem (but not by minimizing it).  He should respect your feelings, and he can talk to his mother about many things - but not things that you consider private.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for a year and a half.  My husband's relationship with her is a bit unusual, as he was raised in Foster Care and didn't really see his mother from a young age until adulthood.  She is currently living in a foreign country, but has plans to move to the US with my husband's sponsorship.  At first, her visits were tolerable, as they were only 2-3 weeks in length.  But I just learned that her latest visit will be for 7 months!  I really need some advice on how to handle this.  Here are the facts ...

1. She doesn't speak English, so we can't really communicate.  Our moments together are extremely awkward.
2. She is obsessive-compulsive - which leads to numerous confrontations between her and my husband.  I have found her spraying our furniture with alcohol - some of which she has ruined.
3. She smokes, which we don't allow in our house.  While we are there, she goes outside to smoke.  But when we return from a long weekend, the house will smell terribly like smoke.
4. She is extremely high maintenance.  She wants her room rearranged the instant she gets to our house.  The storage that we provide her is never good enough.  She is particular to a point of embarrassing us in public, and literally driving me nuts at home!
5. She lies to us so frequently that we don't know what to believe anymore.  It is apparent that she manipulates other people to get what she needs to survive.
6. She stays at home all day and doesn't lift a finger to help.  She sleeps and eats - that's about it.  Doesn't do dishes, laundry, cleaning, etc.  Then, when we come home from work and have to do all these chores, she is hoping we can all go out.

My husband does not enjoy having her at our house, but he definitely feels a sense of duty, and is torn between making me and his mom happy.  I feel that I need to speak up more if I am to have a happy marriage.  If I don't, and my husband doesn't take action, she will probably live with us 'til as long as she is kicked out.  What I want him to do is give her a choice ... if she chooses to live in America, she needs to learn how to live in America - get a job, insurance, learn to drive, and live in her own apartment.  She's only 45 - its not like she's sick and elderly!  If she can't, or won't, take those steps, then she needs to stay in her native country.  I'd say give her six months to make up her mind.  There is no way that I can live under the same roof as her while being pregnant.  The stress takes over my body and would certainly harm a baby - not to mention the smoke.  Please advise.  Is taking that stance going to make my husband feel like he is given an ultimatum?  Am I being unreasonable?

Dr Apter's reply:
You have already identified a way of addressing this difficult problem: you need to speak up more.  Stating your needs and looking out for yourself is not "being unreasonable".  I suggest you discuss with your husband how deeply you will be affected by his mother's arrival.  You can express appreciation for all he is doing for his mother, but remind him that he has to look out for your well-being, for the well-being of any children you may have, and for your happiness as a couple.  Your suggestion of a six months' trial period seems generous.  But make sure that you and your husband and mother-in-law are truly willing to act accordingly, if the trial does not work out.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband is overly protective of his mother who, for a time, was having some serious health problems because of her heart surgery.  She's way out of the woods now, and is doing better than she has for years.  I have spent a lot of time and effort in helping her, even though it's not really appreciated.  Instead, she and my husband have expected me to devote myself to her, and I'm drawing the line now that she is doing so much better.  It's time for me to be treated as my husband's spouse and not just the girl who runs around meeting everyone else's needs without any thought for herself (I'm so exhausted after two months of this that I think I'm going to drop).  The problem is that he does not care about what's going on with me. 

My husband has been a workaholic for years, and I have come to expect to have very little time and attention from him. (By the way, I work very long hours myself, but always make time to be with him, even though he'll just sit in the same room with me without talking with me or even letting me hold his hand.)  When I see how much time and attention he continues to give to his mother, even though she is no longer in need of such "mothering" from him, it makes me wonder whether he ever thought of me as a priority, or if I'm just there to meet his needs (and now, the "needs" of his mother).

I just confronted him about how I feel being last on his list of priorities (way behind his mother, his grown children, people at work, etc.), and he did not react well.  He said I was a snake and a self-centered person and that he will never forgive me for saying that he cares more about his mother than he cares about me at a time that she had by-pass surgery -- it's been a few months since her surgery, and, as I said before, she is out of the woods (not only in my eyes, but also according to her doctors).

What should I do?  We're talking divorce, and we're sleeping in separate bedrooms (not that this should matter much, since he barely touches me anyway).

Lot's of other men apparently find me attractive (so why doesn't my husband?), but I would never, never, never have an affair.  Should I divorce so that I can find someone who really loves me, or is what I have the most I can expect after several years of marriage?

Dr Apter's reply:
I never advise people whether or not to divorce.  This is something only the individual can decide after much heart-searching.  Whatever you decide, however, I hope you and your husband will accept that you should be able to make claims for yourself and your needs without being abused (by terms such as "snake" and "self-centered").  If there is some way you could work on having an open discussion about your needs, and gain your husband's respect for those needs, then many of your problems could be resolved.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My future MIL is horrendous.  She gossips and complains and is never happy with anything.  Last Christmas she gave me a sweater set which was an extra large size (she asked my fiancé what size I wear and he accurately told her a small).  When I unwrapped it I commented on how nice it was and thanked her for it but told her that unfortunately it would not fit (it was enormous).  She said (in front of my fiancé, my future FIL, and another guest) that she figured that I needed a larger size because she knows I wear padded bras.  Of course I was mortified.  I think she really doesn't like me and that she planned this out, but my fiancé thinks it was just a mistake.  She frequently insults me in a subliminal way and when I tell my fiancé about it he suggests that I just misinterpreted her comments.  I don't know what to do!  I really like my fiancé's father, but his mom is out of control.  I really try to have a good relationship with them because my fiancé really cares about them & has become quite close to them since his sister died.  My parents just adore him and include him in everything.  The last time she said something rude to me we were having dinner in an expensive restaurant and I freaked out.  I walked out of the restaurant and they were really embarrassed.  S0 - how can I deal with her obnoxious comments in an appropriate manner?  She usually acts really nice to me for a while and then springs one on me, catching me by surprise.  I used to ignore it and just smile, but I can't take it anymore!  I want revenge but don't want to ruin my relationship
with her forever.

Dr Apter's reply:
It is common for a woman to pick up on a mother-in-law's insults - while the men in the family do not notice them.  I think the revenge you would like (because you feel both angry and powerless) won't be easy to come by - and isn't really what you need.  Instead, I suggest you ask her, as neutrally and clearly as possible, to spell out what she is saying when she delivers a "subliminal insult".  She will probably feel challenged.  She may become hostile and sulky - but she may also ease up if she sees she has to explain herself.  This tactic will be far more effective if you have your husband's support.  At the very least, he should agree not to side with his mother, if she does take offence.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been together for 7 years now, and married for more than 3 of those years.  During this time, my MIL has always presented a "welcoming, caring" approach towards me - but only up to a point.  You see, although my husband and I are only in our early 30's, I am my husband's 2nd wife.  And from the very beginning, my MIL has deliberately made absolutely clear that the ex (who is much older) is not to be excluded in any way.  In fact, there are so many times when the ex has been given precedence.  My husband's attitude has been to ignore it, but it has really gotten to me, as I have tried to fit into his family, and am always been made to feel like an interloper or outsider next to his ex (something which the insecure ex has played on and fostered).  There is a child from this first marriage, and I wondered if MIL's attitude could be due to the desire to hang on to the grandchild.  But this has never been in question.  We all live in the same town, and my husband and his ex have made sure that they have remained on good terms for the sake of the child.  There has always been frequent, ready access.  We tried taking the child to visit MIL ourselves, but she still engineered things so that ex continued to visit and receive invitations to all family events, as well as ex & child continuing to visit MIL every Sunday.  It seemed like we could never visit without finding ex there.  Everything came to a head nearly 2 years ago when we invited MIL to our house for tea on Mothering Sunday (we had a baby ourselves by that time).  She refused to come as, "Sunday is ex & child's day," and she did not wish to change that, Mothering Sunday or not.  My husband shrugged this off and said fine, but it really bothered me - the final straw.  She likes to portray herself as so caring and understanding (although she is also strongly opinionated, and quick to speak her mind, no matter what) so I decided to try appealing to her better nature.  I thought that if I explained how upsetting and hurtful it was to have her continually putting ex & child before son, DIL & child, maybe it would halt the rapidly growing store of resentment and improve the relationship between MIL and myself.  However, it all went badly wrong.  As soon as I tentatively raised the issue, MIL became hostile and aggressive, calling me a troublemaker.  Shocked by her vehemence, I burst into tears, prompting MIL to smile coldly and accuse me of being a "Drama Queen."  I desperately tried to explain, hoping that she would understand, but she only became more intent on tearing me to shreds.  In the end, I could not take any more, and scooping up my baby, I ran from her house in floods of tears.  That evening, my husband's brother (also local) came around to demand why I had been "attacking" his mother, who was in a dreadful state.  It was clear he had received a heavily edited account of the incident.  Although he admitted to my husband (I was too upset to face him) that they all know what MIL is like, and privately the brother agreed that MIL's behavior has not been fair, "That is just MIL,".  They accept it and so should I.  He bitterly blames me for confronting MIL when that is, "not your place to do so."  The fallout has been immense.  My husband agreed with me completely, but did nothing.  He waited a couple of days "for the dust to settle" before visiting MIL, when they both acted as if nothing had happened.  This felt like a betrayal to me, and so feeling completely isolated and in the face of so much castigation, I did go to MIL's house, apologized on the doorstep for any part I may have had in causing distress, then left.  This made me feel worse, and did not appear to do any obvious good.  BIL seems to find it very hard to forgive me or relate to me (all the more hurtful, as relationships between BIL & his wife and us were good before).  MIL only contacts us when she wants my husband to go around to do some trivial job for her.  We hear from the 1st child that ex & child now visit MIL several times a week, and child is often receiving gifts from MIL as if she is the only grandchild.  We try issuing invitations to BIL & wife & child, but there are usually excuses.  We wish us and our child to have a relationship with them, but it is proving difficult, and it seems as though the in-laws have ceased to care about us, and more puzzling, about my husband and his 2nd child.  Equally, my husband's attitude is to dismiss it, saying that if they all wish to be like that, then so be it.  But I still find the whole thing incredibly upsetting, and although I do not feel I did anything wrong, I cannot help but feel very guilty for somehow blowing the family apart?  Where do we go from here?

Dr Apter's reply:
From what you say, you did no more than fairly assert your right to state your feelings and to make a request - and therefore you need not feel guilty.  Your husband clearly feels torn between his sensitivity to you and loyalty to his mother.  If he cannot stand up to his mother, then perhaps he can stand up to his brother, and ask him not to attack you on the basis of the mother-in-law's story alone.  You may have to accept that there is no easy way to give your own child a fair position in her affections.  Perhaps if you can accept this, you will be less badly hurt by it. 



The Sister Knot, Apter
The Sister Knot
Why We Fight, Why We're Jealous, and Why We'll Love Each Other No Matter What

Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
Secret Paths
Women in the New Midlife

Working Women Don't Have Wives, Dr. Terri Apter Working Women Don't Have Wives
Professional Success in the 1990'S

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