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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Please tell me you have advice for those of us married to men who are only children.  My husband is wonderful, but he is an only child, and my mil's main focus.  And to top it off, when she married my fil his mother had passed away by then, and she never had to deal with in-laws of her own.  Everything has always revolved around how she wanted things done.

Dr. Apter's reply:
There is no easy way to handle this.  Your husband probably sees his mother as weak or needy, and she may use this to gain power over him.  Suggest that your husband draw up with you a list of areas or activities or times that you want private, or full control over. One of you (preferably your husband) should talk to her if she interferes, but be positive: I suggest saying, "This is something we want to decide on our own" (rather than "Can't you get a life of your own and stop interfering with ours.")

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter,

When I first met my MIL, she was on vacation with her daughter and son-in-law, and I was dating my husband then.  She was very cold to me.  I thought then that she was just shy, and since we just met, we don't know each other.  One day, after I arrived at their vacation home, she took my boyfriend (now husband) for the whole day hiking without me.  I had to go to the beach with her daughter.  I took that as a sign from her that she is afraid to share her son (mind you, I was visiting them just for two days then).  When I visited her in her country, six months after that, she started making plans for us, and was feeling very uncomfortable whenever my boyfriend and I went by ourselves somewhere, such as downtown.  When he wanted to take me to a city two hours away, she said no.  One time she wanted to go hiking with him, and she suggested that I stay home if I don't want to come with "them".  Each time we go out, the three of us together, she takes the front seat of the car (she did it even after we got married), and I had to sit in the back.  Last summer, when I got married, she told me I want to see too much in her country, and that there will always be times when I come back and see new things.  Basically, she wants us just to stay with her all the time, and follow her bossy orders.  I wanted to take a bath in her bathtub, and she gave me an attitude, letting me know that she did not like it.  Each time we sat at the dinner table, she gave me dirty, nasty looks.  Now I am scared of her; she might be prejudiced of me, since I am from a different culture than hers, different religion and different race.

Dr Apter's reply:
Make sure your husband knows how you feel.  He may not notice the ways your mother-in-law tries to put you down.  You might explain to him that while you are going to try to learn to assert yourself with her, and maintain your self respect, you will need him, sometimes, to back you up, and to avoid, always, taking her side against you.  I suggest that when she does something that puts you down (taking the front seat in the car, for example, and telling you to sit in the back) you could say: "That's fine for now, but next time I'll sit in the front."  And make sure you do take the front seat on the next occasion, explaining: "This is what we agreed."  If she complains about your going out when you visit her, you could say, "I want to spend time with you, but I also want to see new things."  After all, you have made a journey and should have some control over your own actions.  I suggest you simply ignore her "looks" if they make you uneasy.  Try smiling back, to show her you refuse to read her hostile messages.  You are her son's wife, and she has to accept that.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Is my husband the one with the problem?  Is it me?  Or, is it the MIL?
I will make this story as short as possible.  My husband and I have been married for 6 months.  Our wedding was planned since June.  My husband and I have been together for four years, and until now have rarely had any arguments.  In October, we found out that we were having a child.  Since the day that we began planning our wedding, and we announced that we were pregnant, she just became a B!!!!.  2 weeks after our wedding I had a miscarriage.  She never once was nice and asked how I was.  She called the day that I had a D&C, and I answered the phone.  I was still groggy from the medications, and she said, "I need to check on my baby boy, and oh yeah, when they took the baby out did they tell you if it was a boy or girl?"  I lost the baby a week before Christmas.  She still gave me maternity clothes and baby items for Christmas.  I was so upset.  When my husband and I were coming home from his parents, I said, "I cannot believe your mother gave me those maternity clothes & baby stuff in front of your entire family."  He said, "Well, at least we will have stuff for next time."  I will give you a few examples:  She calls our home every morning at 7:30.  We have caller ID, and her call is the same time every day.  She knows I have to be at work @ 7:30.  I didn't go to work the other day, and she called.  When I answered the phone, she stuttered for a minute, and finally asked for my husband.  My husband and I normally meet for lunch.  If she knows that I am not going to be with him, she always comes to eat with him.  She continually calls to invite us to do things with her, and if we tell her that we have other plans, she always becomes so sick that my husband feels bad, and we end up having to go & spend the day with her.  One time we went to see her, when she was soooo sick, and later on after we left, I realized that I left my glasses.  We turned around, about 15 minutes away, and when I walked back into the house she was on a step ladder painting an extra bedroom.  She has told his family that we are having troubles.  Every time that I speak with my husband's grandmother she tells me, "Put your marriage in God's hands and everything will be ok.  I asked my husband where his mother was getting this info, and he responded with, "You know how momma is."  If she and I are alone, she will actually be mean.  If my husband or FIL is around, she is sooo nice.  She will compliment me, and try and do everything to be nice.  As soon as my husband or FIL is out of the room, she will just stare at me and stomp into another room after making a comment like, "At least you let my son come & see me for a couple of hours this week."  We both work long hours during the week.  We, at least, go & spend a couple of hours with them on Sundays.  The last straw was last week.  My aunt saw her in a department store, and his mom actually told my aunt, "She is soo controlling, she won't let (my husband) come & see me."  She also told her, "She doesn't take very good care of (my husband) and they surely do not need children.  That is why God took that baby."  My aunt called both of us that afternoon and told us of the conversation.  My husband's reaction, "Well, she probably misunderstood momma."  She has a past of mental problems.  Last year she tried to commit suicide after my husband walked in on her having an affair, and the hospital recommended a "stay".  She checked herself out of the hospital (after 2 nights in ICU) and hasn't been for help since.  WHAT TO DO?????????????????????

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law has a problem.  She does not want you to feel secure as her son's wife.  Your husband is inclined to protect her.  After all, he loves her and is used to her.  He probably does not realize how outrageous her behavior is.  It may help you to consider how insecure she is in her son's love.  She was clearly unsettled by her son's discovery of her sexuality (you say she tried to commit suicide after your husband walked in on her) and she is still trying to find ways of securing her position as a beloved mother.  She has so little confidence in his love, that she has to feign illness to gain his attention.  Perhaps she is concerned that if you were seen to be worthy of sympathy (because of the miscarriage), then she would have nothing at all from him.  I believe this fear may be the root of her bizarre insensitivity to your loss of the baby.  Try to explain to your husband how you feel and why you need his protection in her presence.  He could start by telling his mother that he sees her when he wants to - not when you "let" him.  It is possible that he himself may be using you as an excuse for seeing less of his mother.  This would be understandable and forgivable, but you should not take the blame from her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I started dating over two years ago.  About a year into it he joined the military and left for boot camp.  Everything had been fine up until that point with my MIL.  She started to show her true colors when I received more letters from my husband (then boyfriend) than she, and when he wrote her and told her I would be the mother of her grandchildren.  She immediately called and asked me how serious we were.  I told her he wrote often about us getting married, and to basically start picking out wedding dresses, etc.  Well, she had planned a trip to the beach immediately following his graduation.  This trip was to be totally paid for.  Then, about two weeks before the trip, she told me she needed $250 for me to go.  I thought about it, and wrote to my husband (then boyfriend) to tell him I decided not to go.  To be honest, money was tight since he had left.  We lived together at the time, and I was left with all the bills, etc.  She knew this but didn't care.  I then went to her and her husband and explained I was not going and why.  Her husband immediately said they were canceling the trip, since he knew my husband would not go without me.  She did not believe he would not go.  He wrote to her, offering to pay my part of the trip as soon as he got with us if she would go ahead and take care of it.  She called me at work telling me what he wanted to do.  I knew he could not afford this anymore than I, and she would not let him do that anyway.  Instead, she wanted me to pay her back at a later date, or in payments, in order for me to go.  I declined.  She then went on to tell me that my husband would not go without me, and that she needed to make the reservations.  I told her that was something she needed to discuss with him.  He, of course, would not go.

We were engaged one week after he returned home.  I immediately started plans for the wedding for four months later.  She immediately started picking out bridesmaid's dresses, accessories, etc.  She had a problem with everything from my gold bridesmaid's dresses (she wanted red), to my invitations and napkins, which listed my name first instead of his, and used the shorter version of his name, even though everyone calls by that name except for her, and her husband, and his two sisters (who aren't allowed to call him by his shorter name).  She had problems with the fact that my Mom was wearing black (she felt they should dress alike, and that my wedding was not formal enough for black);  the fact my wedding was at 6p.m., which was the only time I could get the church;  the fact that my grandmother did all the flower arrangements;  the fact that I did not have a unity candle.  She even went to my husband behind my back offering to pay for a unity candle if we would do it.  I just chose not to have a unity candle.  But she felt that, since she and my husband's deceased Dad had a unity candle, we should.  Most of all, the biggest issue was the reception, being light foods instead of a sit down dinner.  The reason I chose not to have a sit down dinner was because we had such a short time in the reception hall.  She decided one week before the wedding to take it upon herself the change the food to a sit down dinner.  I had to go behind her and change it back.  Once I called to let her know this, she then went on tell me that since we wanted to be that way, she would not pay for my aunt and uncle at the rehearsal dinner, who were coming from several states away at Christmas time.  These were the only two people in my family who were not directly a part of the reception.  I then told her no one would be there.  We got into a heated argument, where she told me my family was as strange as my husband has supposedly said, and that my wedding would be an embarrassment.  And, that my huband and I did not know what we were doing, and refused any help from them.  The reason I refused help is because my MIL has hideous taste

The next big problem was two weeks later for Christmas.  Steve had promised, since we had stayed with his family for Christmas the year before, that we could go to be with my family this time (which is in another state).  She knew this months in advance, and continued in front of me to make him feel guilty for leaving, since her Dad had died that same year, and now he was leaving for Christmas.  We still went.  She planned a dinner for us on the 26th.  My husband was having so much fun going hunting with my Dad and brother he decided to stay another day.  He called her on Christmas Day to tell her we were coming back on the 27th instead.  She went crazy, said horrible things to him, and of course blamed me.  When we did arrive back on the 27th, we went over to her house, where my husband then told her we were going back to my family on New Year's Eve since I would be staying with my family for the last month of his training.  She once again went crazy.  She asked him what was so great about where my family lived that made him want to be there.  And she told him that when she and his Dad married, they married specifically because both of them were from the same city, and no one's family would be without them on holidays, and that he should have made that consideration before marrying me.  That is not even rational.  She then said he had thrown away his family for me.  I didn't know what to do.  I just began to cry.  I told him it was not fair for him to expect me to take such abuse, and that I was leaving with our without him.  When he started to let me leave, I refused, and told him, he was my husband and he should stand by me.  We both left.  She called after we got home.  They argued even more.  She wanted us to stay in town until New Year's day, and for me to travel alone to my parents, which is a nine hour drive.  My husband, of course, did not want me traveling alone, most husbands would not.  We left without even saying goodbye.  She tried to call me at my parent's house.  I refused the calls.  All I asked was to be left alone.  We went back to my parent's.

We have been here almost two months.  Within the first two weeks, we got so many nasty messages and emails from her concerning my husband being a good boy and coming home this Christmas, and how he never calls or writes.  Her husband even wrote a nasty note to my husband saying that he tormented his Mother, and that he needed to learn to balance being a husband with being a son.  When we asked why he wrote this, he said she seems depressed every time she talks to my husband.  What can we do about her not letting go?  We actually closed out our e-mail account and start a new one she doesn't know about.  We didn't hear from her for about a month, because she told his sister she was waiting for him to call and make sure she was still alive.  She finally did call and continued with him about how he never calls and never talks to anyone from back home.  She puts his grade school aged sister on the line to ask him why he never sends cards or letters.  My husband can hear her asking her Mom what to say.  Yet he keeps a very active relationship with his other sister (a young teen), who had just called the day before, and also with his his aunt.  She doesn't understand that he dreads her calls because all she does is complain about him not talking to family and friends in his home town.  She is trying so desperately to keep him connected to his home town.  She tells everyone we are moving back in three years, which we aren't.  She is now calling and writing to tell us that she can't wait to come out here.  We haven't even been gone for two months.  I do not want her out here.  Things are bad enough, but I will not be mistreated by her in my own home.  I mean, her husband doesn't even speak to me.  They are not going on vacation this year so they can come out here.  My husband and I need some time to ourselves.  We don't want them to come.  We decided that he needs to tell them it is not a good time, especially since things are so bad between her and me.  I also don't think it is fair for her to just tell us she is coming.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law is trying to maintain control over her son and you.  I wish there were therapy sessions for in-law problems.  It would help if your mother-in-law could gain awareness of the meaning of her own actions, and if she could realize how destructive they could be.  In all probability, without any therapy, she will go on feeling only her pain, and therefore thinking that her actions are fully justified.  Your description of her behavior over the wedding preparations is almost comical (though I am sure no one involved experienced it as funny).  Her inconsistent and inconsiderate behavior over money is an attempt to show her power, and to unsettle you.  Her nasty emails are abuse to both of you, and should not be tolerated.  Somehow, you and your husband have to tell her clearly and forcefully: We want to remain bonded to you, but we are finding it increasingly difficult under these circumstances.  Perhaps you could also frame this positively: say that you value her opinion, so her criticisms of you are too painful.  You could also say that you show her respect, and that you need her to show you respect.  Start with obvious ground rules (and it is far better if your husband can state these, though you can work them out together): no verbal abuse; visits by invitation only. Offer hope that these rules may be relaxed when things improve.  Be prepared for sulking, but keep your resolve.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am at my wits end.  My father-in-law is my main problem, but my other in-laws make things worse.  The problem is, he doesn't accept me for who I am.  My A.D.D. is "a crutch" and an "excuse for screw ups".  My dry humor is insulting.  My hurt feelings are me "holding a grudge", "being negative", or "starting a fight".  I have tried all I can think of, i.e.. ignoring the slights, calm discussion, outright fighting, etc.  My husband is supportive and has stuck up for me, but naturally he wants to spend time with his loved ones.  The thought of another visit makes me ill.  I've been told he will never understand.  This I don't doubt, since every argument we've had has ended with him getting an apology (translation: he's proven right).  The only reason that it ends that way is because he pulls the (we both love his son) trump card.  My husband even used that once.  I honestly don't know what else to do.  If I could, I would avoid most/all contact with the whole lot of them.  When I think of all the stuff they've done to me (and my husband before we met) I want to just tell them off and get them out of my life.  I think I could have a relationship with them if we could all be honest instead of constantly having to dance to my F-I-L's tune then Maybe we Might get somewhere.  As it stands, I'm left daydreaming about disappearing to an undisclosed location during their next visit (I wish that I was joking).

Dr Apter's reply:
Your in-laws are clearly a great source of misery.  You are generous enough to understand that your husband wants to spend time with them.  One solution could be that he spends time with them on his own.  You could say, "I don't want to step between you and your family, but at this stage, their visits cause me too much distress."  If, in some circumstances, visits cannot be avoided, then keep them short, don't spend all your time with them, and do spend time doing something you really enjoy.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for almost two years, and my husband and I have a wonderful relationship.  I have very supportive parents and come from a close family, and my parents have become good friends to my husband as well.  The only problem in our family life has to do with his mother:  she has a history of not getting along with people, including other family members.  When the family members discuss the situation, the end result is, "That's just how she is.  We try to keep quiet, and stay on her good side."  I am not used to putting up with someone (especially family, as long as they are mentally competent) who treats people with such disrespect and plain meanness.  She has had a self-proclaimed (and yes, it is true) "hard life", having two husbands die, and she is just entering her 50s.  She is, however, rude and nosy.  She asks my husband about our monetary affairs when he calls.  She never phones us (we live in another state and it is long distance) and we call her each time -- when we call she keeps the phone line tied up for at least an hour to two hours with depressing stories and negative talk, saying things about how she never loved my husband's father, that my husband's youngest brother was unwanted, and that she sometimes thinks she wouldn't care if she ever saw her "second set" of kids again.  She has sent us nasty emails, did not help my family out with any of the wedding payments, and has not, since we were married (including the wedding gift) been generous or a giving person.  She is cinchy with her money, but then gets "offended" when we send her gifts that she thinks are not good enough, like catnip tea for her birthday (she actually got offended over this).  I am fed up with my sisters-in-law telling me, "That's just her, and we try to keep quiet to stay on her good side."  I am sick of the hurt look on my young, wonderful husband's face each time he has any conversation with her.  It causes problems in our relationship b/c he does not stand up to her, and it forces me to pick up the ball.

I basically have put up with this woman and tried to have a working relationship with her since I have met her, but she is still at her old tricks, apparently tricks she had since before I was in the family.  I wrote a letter to her last week explaining my concern for her depression and her unreasonable acts and unkind words -- how I will not allow this sort of thing to interfere in our peaceful household, that I wanted to be honest with her and let her know up front how I feel about her behavior, that I am here to help, talk or be her friend.  But it is up to her to decide if that is what she wants or not.  I basically treated her the same way I treat other family members, and I have not heard from her since writing the letter.  This is not unusual, as she has never reciprocated very much with me or anyone else.  But, I am worried she has, again, like the birthday gift of tea, taken things the wrong way (anything is possible with this woman, she thinks the world is out to get her).  To make matters worse, she revels in slandering people behind their back.  And many times, other family members are the center of her negativity and biting remarks, including my husband's father, who died when my husband was a child.  I have let her know I do not condone this kind of talk, especially when the person is someone I do not know well enough to form an opinion about/take sides, or they are dead and unable to defend themselves.

I am just at a loss here as to how to handle this person.  She seems very unhappy, perhaps even in need of medication or a psychologist for some of the personal trauma that has forced her to react so callously to those who try to love her.  What should I do?  I feel that she is, at this very moment, plotting my demise.  It is a good thing that my husband completely agrees with me, and backs me up as do any other family members who know her well enough to see straight through her.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.  I'm in my mid twenties, and this is not at all what I had expected.  I wanted so much to have a good friend in my mother-in-law.  It is the way things are in my own family, and I am so totally baffled by this type of dysfunction!

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law may be too set in her ways to change.  After all, her family allows her to continue her offensive behavior (by saying "That's just her way.")  You could tell them that you have more faith in her than they do, and that if you all set reasonable boundaries, she may actually improve.  In the meantime, you could take steps to manage her as she is.  For example, when your husband phones her, make sure there is something pressing which will make it imperative to end the conversation long before two hours is up.  When she slanders someone, change the subject to show such talk does not interest you.  When she describes her past sorrows, you could try saying, "I can see you've been through a lot, and it's very impressive that you've overcome it."  This could be a standard response which you repeat every time. This has the advantage of giving you something to say which will not offend her, but which does not encourage her either.  I wish I could offer some magic formula, but in all probability, you will have to keep up your defenses throughout her life.  Make sure your husband knows how much you value his support.  A good woman friend will have to found elsewhere.

My question for Dr. Apter is: 
My husband and in-laws are South American.  My MIL's children are the center of her universe, even though they are adults.  She grew up in a very wealthy family and has never worked.  This is very difficult for me, as I feel as though she competes with me for his attention.  The night before our wedding, she gave him a large framed picture of herself, my husband, and my SIL.  I got her message loud and clear.  She constantly insults me and lectures me on having an open mind, and how to be a successful wife (even though she has had 2 failed marriages).  She is rude to me (and also to waiters and waitresses, which I cannot stand).  She is also terribly small minded and bored, and can spend hours talking about nothing ... i.e., her neighbor's relationship, her friend's dog, her maid, etc.  My husband and I are both educated people with great jobs, and enjoy discussing current events, politics, languages, travel, work, etc., but she cannot tolerate anything beyond mundane gossip.  She was recently visiting (she insists on staying for 10 days at a time in our tiny apartment, even though I have tactfully suggested she might be more comfortable/have privacy staying in a hotel ... AND I have offered to pay for it, even though she is very wealthy) and is reading a self help book, which she told me she was reading to learn to deal with all of the righteous people in her life.  Ouch!  The bottom line is that she makes me feel inadequate around her husband.  I have taken pains to find common ground ... from taking language lessons, to going to lunch with her ... but I think she wants so desperately for her son to need her that she will do whatever it takes ... from a temper tantrum (I'm serious, and mortified ... tears and yelling from a 58 year old woman) in a restaurant, to spending 2 days buying him the "right" toothbrush b/c the one I bought doesn't suit his needs.  He has suggested volunteer work where she can pour her generosity into a cause that actually needs it, and her response was that, "Being a mother is a 24 hour a day job.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law can be told that parenting a healthy and active adult is not a 24-hour job.  Try to be as insistent as she is.  If she "insists" on visiting, you can counter insist.  You could say, "We are pleased to have you visit, but ten days is really too long to stay with us."  You can keep saying this, and if you are able and willing to pay for a hotel, simply tell her that's where she is staying.  Of course, this may not be easy.  She may sulk, or criticize, but I hope that if you just hold your ground and remain calm and unruffled by her protests, she will accept the situation.  As for boring conversation - well, try to give yourself a reprieve.  Sit down and talk to her for an hour, and then phone a friend, or read a book.  Inviting friends around can also dilute boring family conversation.  And I would give up trying to please her.  It sounds as though she does not want to be pleased by you.  You may be encouraging her criticism if you try to please her.  She may give up if you show you are indifferent to it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I do not have any kids yet, but when we do, I do not want my MIL to take part in their lives (maybe see them on major holidays, and that's it).  She has mental problems, she has a roommate that has drug problems, and she is very politically incorrect.  Am I wrong in thinking that way?  I just don't want my kids exposed to drugs and racism and all, especially from a family member.

Dr Apter's reply:
You have every right to limit your children's exposure to people you feel would not be good for them.  The drug use of her partner is a very good reason for keeping them away.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Is it possible to cut the (umbilical) cord after 36 years?  Sad as it is to say, I've got a 36 year old MAMMA'S BOY, and it's driving me nuts.  She makes it her business to stick her unwanted nose into all of her (3) kids personal (and very private) lives.  To the point of telling us "in-laws" that we don't know how to do things the "RIGHT' way, according to her.  Her own daughter told me, "She only hears what she wants to hear, so just ignore her if she oversteps her bounds".  Knowing this, is there any way, (short of using duct tape) to get her to mind her own business, and shut up about "our" flaws?

Dr Apter's reply:
Her own daughter has had many years to come up with ways of tolerating her mother's interference.  You have to find your own ways of managing her.  Try making it very difficult for her to hear only what she wants to hear.  Keep saying what you want over and over again.  A broken record tone (repeating the same thing in the same way, whatever her attempts to deny or ignore it) can be effective.  You could say, repeatedly, "I've already decided how I'm going to do it."  When she speaks about your "flaws", just say, "That's how I am.  It may be different, but it's not wrong."  Avoid defending yourself in any greater detail, because it will just offer her points for further criticism. 

 


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