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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I are in therapy together to work on our relationship issues, mother-in-law being one of the big one's.  I'm beginning to feel pretty uncomfortable with the therapy, after 4 sessions of me sobbing out of frustration with the therapist.  He, the therapist, rarely speaks or asks my husband questions, and mainly focuses on me.  I finally said to him that I guess I need individual counseling, since I'm the only one he speaks to.  I find this unfair, since one of the frustrations between my husband and I is my husband's unwillingness to share his feelings with me at all, whether it be something I need to change, or something he wants to change.  I feel like the therapist is being the husband for him in the sessions.  He, the therapist, also refers to my frustrations as "The List Again".  When it comes to ANYTHING at all, this is what the therapist says to me, and laughs.  I find it offensive.  And, finally, we cannot afford to fork out this money too much longer, especially since I am pregnant, and should be on bed rest ordered by my doctor, which the therapist considers "The List Again".  I said one of my frustrations was that my husband doesn't help me, now that I'm on bed rest, at all.  Anyway, he deals with the mother-in-law issue in the same manner.  I was put through quite a bit of unnecessary cruelties from my husband's mother in the past, and was able to work out my husband going to see her once a week on the same day.  Well, my husband decided to cancel one day with her, for no reason, and make it for the day we went to our session.  The therapist saw nothing wrong with this, and used the term "The List Again".  Meanwhile, my husband is loving this, because he throws in my face all the things the counselor says, just to upset me at home.  The therapist also saw nothing wrong with my husband doing that, "As long as it's accurate,(laughing)".  It has only been four sessions, and I feel this therapist is doing the opposite of what we need, having a negative affect that my ignorant husband can't seem to see.  This therapist also thinks my husband needs no reason to help me stand up to his mother (she is always introducing or speaking of single women to him, and being offensive to me to my face in my own home).  The therapist says that if I just give in, everything will fall into place with my husband.  Well, I have a huge problem with that.  I still agreed with him going to his mother's (who is racist, to top it off), and I get nothing.  We have had 4 sessions, and I seem to be the only one concerned about this relationship.  Doesn't the therapist have some responsibility in speaking with my husband at all?  Thank you for your time.

Dr. Apter's reply:
The most favorable guess I can make on your therapist's behalf is that he is floating unacceptable proposals by you to goad you into standing up for yourself.  Giving in to your husband may lead to less quarrels, but it won't improve your life.  Any use of the therapy sessions to ridicule or demean you is misuse of therapy.  If you wish to continue with this therapist, then I suggest you confront him with your sense of what is unacceptable.  You should also trust your own judgment as to whether to continue.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am married to my second husband.  My MIL shows up unannounced several times a week, 4-5 times per week on average, and sometimes twice a day.  My husband feels this is ok.  I have one child from each marriage.  I have endured comments from my MIL like, "How can these women have children by different fathers?"  I feel like I am constantly in a tug of war with my husband, and with my child.  She literally yanked my one year old from my arms so she could show her off to one of her friends at a wedding reception recently!  She is in a verbally abusive relationship, and has been for several years now (not her husband, coincidentally) and I truly believe she is unhappy.  What can I do to GET HER A LIFE! and stop being so intrusive in mine?  The latest straw to break the camel's back is, she came to visit, and while here, washed, dried and folded all of my husband's clothes only!!!

Dr. Apter's reply:
There is probably little you can do to persuade your mother-in-law to "get a life".  However, you can set boundaries to protect your own.  You have every right to limit her visits and to insist that she give you some kind of warning that she plans to visit.  And you can ask her gently but firmly not to do something in your home that bothers you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I will be married for 15 years in July.  We also are expecting our third child the same month.  We are very devoted to our children, and have a very strong relationship.  The problem is my in-laws.  They have very little to do with either one of my other two children.  They seldom visit, go to ball games, or call.  They only live about 20 minutes away.  Anyway, my husband and I decided we wanted another child over the summer, and were overjoyed when I got pregnant in October.  The minute we found out, he called his family to tell them.  All his mother said was that she didn't think we would have another child so soon.  This made no sense, since my sons are 5 and 10 yrs old.  During the first several months of my pregnancy, she never even acknowledged that I was pregnant.  Then, one evening, when a good friend of mine asked her if she was excited about us having another baby, she said, "No, not really!"  When I heard that she had said this to my friend, even though I expected it, it really upset me.  I decided I was going to tell my husband.  He was also very upset, and called his dad to talk to him about it in private, but my mother-in-law overheard.  Before it was all over, she was crying and throwing up, and taking her heart medicine.  My husband ended up getting angry at me, because he thought his mother was going to have a heart attack, and he would be blamed for it.  She did have open heart surgery 3 years ago, but hasn't had any other occurrences.  She also is a diabetic.  She did apologize to my husband, but never to me.  I am having a hard time getting over this, but can't talk to her about it for fear of what if something did happen to her.  My father-in-law was also upset with me, and said she is very frail, and, "What do you want us to do?  Stand on the street corner and jump up and down because you are having a baby?"  He then said, "We do have 6 other grandchildren, you know."  Please help me.  As of yet, I have not talked to her, or gone around her, nor do I want to.  What should I do?  How do I ever get over this?  She has such a way of playing on my husband's sympathy!  She says she is always so sick, but yet feels like going shopping, and redoing her immaculate house all the time.  She has much more energy than I do.

Dr. Apter's reply:
People often use their weakness or illness to gain power over others.  I suggest that you resist this.  (Though it would be much easier if your husband supported you.  I suggest that you explain to your husband that you are concerned for your mother-in-law's health, but you cannot let this concern rule your behavior.  Point out to him what she can do.)  It seems, also, that it is time to lower your expectations of her.  There are many people who will be thrilled for you, but she will not be one of them.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mother-in-law has a passive aggressive way of expressing her disapproval, and she disapproves very often.  The difficulty is, usually her remarks are subtle enough that I feel silly trying to call her on it, as if it would be petty.  She'll say things like, "I can see your dusting lady hasn't come in a while," (I have no cleaning lady, and she knows this); or, when I called her, excitedly, to tell her that our son, her oldest grandchild, had tested into our school district's very competitive gifted program, she replied, "Well, I'm sure the questions on the test were very easy.  His father was reading at age three, and (the grandchild) didn't read until 5!"; or, "American women have no self respect, with the way they dress in jeans and sneakers," (I am American, she is British, my husband had been in the USA since he was 3; they've lived here 35 years!  And she hates it!).  As she sits down to dinner at our table, and one of us reaches for the salt, "I never had a salt shaker on our dinner table, it encourages poor eating habits."  When we visited her home with our toddler, who liked to try and place things in electric sockets, we asked if we could put the removable outlet cover in the sockets he could reach, just temporarily while we were there, she replied, "What makes you think I would want those in my electrical outlets?  They look ridiculous.  And why can't you just watch him?"  She puts up a big fuss when we visit her home, because she has an extensive collection of expensive hand-blown glass pieces (over $500 a piece, and there are dozens), and we ask her if we can please move some of them to higher places, so the children don't accidentally knock one over ("This one costs more than your car payment!" she tells me when she gets a new one, or, "This one is nearly a weeks salary!"); she'll pout and say that her house is being torn apart.  I think you probably get the idea.  Any suggestions on how to point out that some of her comments can be hurtful or insulting, without starting WW3?  My husband and my father-in-law insist that trying to talk to her about this would only result in a huge ordeal/fight, and that she'll never admit she's wrong, that nothing will change.  But, I actually believe that they helped create this monster, since they never told her when she was being out-of-line.  I do need some suggestions, because after a day with her, I feel positively beaten down mentally, and I am sure my negative emotions towards her are becoming evident to my children.  However, even they will occasionally observe, "Why does Grandma say such mean things to you/Daddy/Grandpa/etc., sometimes?"  Help, please?!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your question to me provides an excellent description of typical mother-in-law behavior.  Many women list comments of this sort to indicate a mother-in-law's indirect tactics to undermine them.  In all probability, you are much more acute at picking them up than is your husband.  I suggest you deflect them either with humor or by ignoring them.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Do you think it is fair for a mother-in-law to ask only one son for money when she has 4 others, and 2 daughters as well?  Especially when he, out of them all, is struggling the most financially, and I, his wife to be in 5 mos, am carrying more of the financial burden at this time (we moved in together recently to save for our wedding) and SHE HAS BEEN MADE AWARE OF THIS AND KNOWS IT!!???  And, how could I handle this, especially after hearing that she thinks I am trying to control what he does with his money?  (He and I are fine with one another, and, so far, are on the same page with this issue, basically he doesn't have money to give her, unless he were to not pay me his 1/2 of the mortgage and bills.)

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suggest that you and your husband together speak to her.  Perhaps you could set out clearly on paper how much you have given her, and explain that you cannot afford more.  Tell her that you are sure she does not want to burden you financially.  Remind her how fortunate she is that she has other children who can all work together to help support her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for more than 3 years.  My husband and I live away from home in another country.  My problem started soon after we left our home country & came to live where my hubby is working.  We would call our in-laws every week.  At first, I would speak to my MIL regularly, but soon I noticed that she has nothing to tell me.  The moment I pick up the phone and ask how she & everyone else are, she would answer, "Uh, uh, ok," & immediately she would ask for my husband, even though she spoke to him before me.  Even my husband noticed this, but he wouldn't say anything about his mother.  She started sending letters to my husband saying that he has changed after marriage, & he doesn't care for his parents now.  The truth is that my husband sent all his money to his parents & never saved anything for himself.  Then, the reality struck that we don't have enough money to make ends meet.  My husband tried to send money to his parents for a few months, taking loans.  I never knew about this, in the beginning.  At last, it became unbearable for my husband to send money to his parents & pay the rent & repay loans (some from our wedding).  When he told me, I was shocked.  My husband told his parents that he won't be able to send money as often like before.  Then, my real torture started.  My MIL began writing these horrible letters, saying that my husband is acting like this after marriage, pointing to me that all this was my doing.  Even my SIL would write horrible letters to her brother, how her dear brother was transformed after marriage.  My husband would dismiss this as silly, but it was such a torture to me when they ignored me & said nasty things.  Even when I was terribly ill, they never asked how I was doing.  My MIL even wrote my husband how much money they spent for his upbringing, and now he is abandoning them.  My husband had done so much for them, that now, when we are in trouble, they wouldn't understand.  Even though I sent them everything they asked for, they keep on making me miserable.  Even after 3 years, my MIL never asked about me in any of the letters.  According to her, it seems that I don't exist at all.  I always behave well with her, thinking of the fact that she is my dear husband's mother, without whom I wouldn't have this wonderful guy in my life.  I remember seeing the special bond my mother & her MIL (my grandma) shared.  So I always dreamed of having the same kind of relationship with my own MIL.  My husband would never tell anything against his mom, & I don't want him to have friction between them.  But the tension and misery she is causing me is becoming unbearable.  What should I do?  When I told my mom, she told me everyone cannot be like my grandma.  I dread the thought of going to my in-law's place to stay, 'cause when I was there last time, my SIL would always come & accuse me of transforming her brother.  I never dared to say a word, since I was staying there only for a few weeks.  My SIL would accuse me of many things, in front of their relatives, which I felt were like insults.  When I told this to my hubby, he asked me to ignore it.  I want to go to my home country to stay with my mother, but the thought of my in-laws makes me terrified, since I will have to stay with them for half the period of my stay.  Please tell me how to behave with my MIL.  If this goes on, I will become a nervous wreck.  Imagine what it does to me, even though we live far away.  Your advice is appreciated.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Abuse and abusive letters are extremely difficult to manage.  They should be ignored - though they do tend to get under one's skin.  I suggest that you avoid visits when you know you will be subject to unfair criticism.  Perhaps you could explain to your husband that you do find this deeply wounding (it may not be obvious to him).

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My future MIL is visiting from Japan for the second time since I've been with my boyfriend.  She came to help with our new home we just purchased together.  She's been here for three weeks, and will be here for another four weeks.  My problem is this, she has taken over my kitchen!  It may sound innocent enough, and a lot of people may not find any issue with this.  For the last three weeks, I've let her do all the cooking, because she loves to cook, and it keeps her busy.  My boyfriend says it is the Japanese culture for the visitor to do housework when they visit so they feel useful.  My problem is this, yesterday we purchased a whole bunch of strawberries.  As soon as I entered the kitchen and started working with the strawberries she started getting all upset, and told her son, in Japanese, that she was feeling stressed out about me being in the kitchen, and went outside to smoke.  Not knowing what to do, I finished what I was doing, and let it go.  I'm feeling really uneasy about her reaction to me being in my own kitchen.  We are moving at the end of the week, and I think we will have some issues of where things are going to be unpacked to in the new kitchen.  Any ideas how I can handle this?  This is why I am so concerned.  About two weeks ago, she packed up our roommate's kitchen items in with our kitchen items.  Our roommate and I had to go through the boxes to separate them out so he could store his permanently.  She had a huge fit about it, saying that she had done all this work packing them, etc.  The roommate and I tried to explain to her that, although it was really helpful, we just were putting them in different boxes, as his things were not to be unpacked in the new house.  She wouldn't listen, and packed her things, and demanded we take her to the airport immediately for her to return to Japan.  After a seven hour ordeal, and her spending the night in a hotel, we finally got her to change her mind, and things have been going well since then.  I just want to handle this situation properly, as I want to set a precedence for future visits.  Thank You.

Dr. Apter's reply:
You have a difficult situation on your hands.  Your mother-in-law seems both unpredictable and touchy.  At the moment you are trying to manage her touchiness by walking on egg shells.  I suggest you do the opposite.  That is, you could behave according to your own sense of decency without worrying about her response.  She may sulk, but if you cajole her, she will learn that sulking is a successful tactic.  If you avoid falling into a pattern of fear and placation, your future with her will be much easier.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My relationship with my MIL is very strained due to many years of emotional suffering inflicted by her need to impose her beliefs and values onto me.  Many issues revolved around her co-dependencies and enabling behavior of her sons, including my DH who has put alcohol and drugs behind him since he and I became serious.  That was ten years ago.  She continues to enable her other son, who still has a drug and alcohol problem (he is 39).  After years of standing my ground, and constant arguments over everything, from what my wifely duties should be, to how I should raise my children, she has backed off considerably.  However, I still have a lot of bitter feelings over many unresolved conflicts.  I basically have an aversion towards her.  She still says a lot of things that I find offensive, but instead of outright attacking me like she used to, she presents her ideas in a more respectable manner.  My problem is that I can't let my guard down when I'm around her, even when I can see that she is trying really hard to relate to me.  What do you do when you just can't forgive or forget because there's just too much water under the bridge?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Can you perhaps offer some warmth without dropping your guard altogether?  To forgive her, you do not have to forget that she can be dangerous.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I gave up my son for adoption as a baby, and found him about 5 years ago.  He is getting ready to be married.  He and his wife-to-be have become very dear to us, and he has asked my two boys living with me (his full brothers) to be in the wedding.  He has also asked if he could escort me down the aisle as a mother.  His mother who raised him is now deceased.  His father is remarried.  We are living in Alaska, and the wedding is in Michigan where my son lives.  We won't be to Michigan until about a week before the wedding.  What are my obligations at this point?  I want to fulfill my duties, yet not be presumptive.  Should I offer to help his adoptive father pay for the rehearsal dinner?  What other mother-in-law etiquette is important for my future daughter-in-law?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems that you are being offered a wonderful opportunity to establish a good and close relationship with your son.  Your diffidence may stem from your concern that you do not deserve this opportunity.  So I suggest you see that your luck is well deserved, and that you should enjoy it.  If you follow your own sensitive judgment, you will avoid being "presumptive".  There are no clear rules in this case - just responsiveness to the individual situation.

 


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