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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter:
I have been married for 5 years to the woman I truly believe is my soul-mate.  Her father and brother are the best in-laws a guy could ask for.  Many times they treated me better than my own family, and I love them dearly.  The problem is my MIL.  She has always been outspoken and controlling, and she truly believes that her way is the best way for everything in life.  This behavior has gotten steadily worse since our daughter was born (almost a year ago).  No matter how hard I work, she is NEVER satisfied with the way I do things, or the timetable by which I complete tasks, etc.  Her family (including my wife) have the same attitude I have read up and down this column, which is, "that's just how she is, just ignore her." ... I cannot, and I will not, primarily because I don't feel that anyone should have to put up with disrespect from anyone else, and abuse (even if it's "only" verbal) is just plain wrong.  My wife has made repeated efforts to handle this situation, since we agree that anything coming from her daughter will be easier to swallow, rather than having me try to approach her with any of my thoughts (and I'm ready to explode).  I would love to see some semi-normal relationship between my MIL and I, but I feel it's just too far gone.  I have no patience with her anymore, and I just can't understand why I should have to justify MY actions in MY own house.  Also, her attitude is causing more hurt with my wife than "the way I do things", and my wife and my new daughter's well being now comes before anything, and anyone, including my darling MIL.

I believe life is about dealing with that which you cannot control, that which is necessary.  The MIL abuse is completely unnecessary.  I'm on the brink of changing my marital status over this.  What are my options?

Thanks in advance,
If you cannot post my response, could you at least email back?  Thank you again.  Reading your column, it feels better to know I'm definitely NOT alone.  It's encouraging to read your responses.

Dr Apter's reply:
I think your mother-in-law may have become more intrusive and controlling since the birth of your daughter because she feels more attached to your family.  Unfortunately, this attachment is expressed in ways that actually threaten the closeness - by trying to force you to do things her way.  It's often hard to allow a non-blood relative (such as a son-in-law) to bring up her grandchild (a blood relative) in his own way.  One can be sympathetic towards someone who loves a child as much as a grandparent does, but who has to keep at arm's length because he or she is not the parent.  But it's something most grandparents try to learn.  Verbal abuse is insulting and enraging, but I doubt that your mother-in-law is even aware that she is using it.  I suggest you and your wife sit down with her and tell her how much you value a positive relationship with her.  Because of this, you would like to improve the relationship, and you think this could be done by role playing a few common domestic scenes where you feel you have disappointed her and she has upset you.  Explain that you often need to go about your normal business without being questioned or criticized.  You could explain that you understand her comments are well meant, but you perceive them as indicating she does not trust your judgment.  The point of this is to make her more aware (and perhaps ashamed) of her behavior without accusing her of anything: an accusation would prevent her from listening to what you want to say.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL drives me absolutely nuts.  She arrives at our home without ever seeing if it is a good time, helps herself to whatever, making fruit salads, etc.  But the worst is how she treats me!  She makes comments about me constantly - but only when my husband isn't around.  If I tell him, and he confronts her - she denies it!  She also tries to take over my daughter, giving her food I don't allow, and roughhousing with her in a way I don't think is appropriate ... plus, she is scatterbrained, which makes her dangerous.  She crosses the street on a red light with the stroller, etc.  How can I not offend her or my husband (a mamma's boy) but make it clear that she can't be alone with the baby?  Right now, I "take her grand-daughter" away from her ...  She is driving me nuts ... HELP.

Dr Apter's reply:
I think you have to take the risk of offending her.  But you can lower this risk by being tactful.  You can ask her to call before she comes.  Repeat this calmly but firmly.  If she ignores it, you may have to refuse her entry, saying, "You didn't phone first, and that's something I really need you to do."  When she makes comments that hurt you, point this out to her.  You could say something like, "What you said was really hurtful. Did you really mean to say that?  Why?"  If you call her on this, she will either admit (to herself) that she is trying to hurt you, or she will be more careful.  As for your child: stand firm.  Say, "I don't permit my daughter to eat that" or "Please don't play with her like that" and, if necessary, simply take the child away from her.  If your mother-in-law sulks, explain that ultimately the responsibility for the child is yours, and you have to act according to your judgment.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I wrote you a while back about my MIL, the present-day Blanche DuBois;  your reply was very wise and helpful.  I am now writing with another aspect of the problems I have relating to my MIL.  Because of her skewed sense of reality and appropriateness, and the childish self-centeredness she manifests due to her psychological limitations, she can be very emotionally destructive towards her own children, even as adults.  A year ago, my husband had a profound experience that brought to the surface certain psychological problems of his own.  He very nobly, and with fierce perseverance, has picked himself up, faced his problems, and has struggled, daily, to move on.  It has not been an easy year.  He has embraced professional help, and is working with touching and admirable determination to resolve his problems, and to be the best husband, father, and self he can be.  We did not share the incident with his mother until months later, when he was less vulnerable, but he did want to tell her, and I supported him.  Recently, she called me while I was at a very vulnerable moment with this business, and I unwisely opened up to her and told her how worried I've been about her son.  I know she wanted to be supportive, but being herself, she just couldn't rise to the occasion.  Predictably, she intimated that I was the cause of her son's problems, if in fact he has any, and she blasted me with a series of double-entendres that were designed to undermine my confidence as a wife and daughter-in-law, and ultimately, to absolve her of any sense of her own guilt by deflecting it onto me.  I told my husband what had happened, and asked for his support.  He confronted his mother in a very open, gentle and non-attacking way, telling her kindly but decisively that he felt she was in the wrong for what happened between her and me.  She went loco, and hung up on him.  Since then, believe it or not, she and I have made our peace (mostly because I deftly avoid her), but, there has been a chilly distance between us.

Dr Apter's reply:
I think your husband's support of you (probably linked to his gratitude of your support of him) has been a shock to her.  As long as there is some communication between you, a thaw will gradually occur.  At the moment she is probably just getting used to the changed family dynamics.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband has always been very close with his mother.  Although he and I have now been married for three years, it has been a very difficult transition for my mother-in-law in accepting me into their family.  She says she loves me, but because of many of her actions, I can't help but feel that she is just saying that for her son's sake.  I really do not care for her at all.  I hate visiting my in-laws, and all this frustration has led to numerous fights between my husband and I.  I've been so frustrated by it that I even considered leaving him at one time.  I love my husband very much, and I think we've been able to work through a lot of this in the three years we've been married, but it still drives me crazy

I did finally confront her after a year of marriage, and we had a fight, and she was pretty freaked out about it (so was my father-in-law).  At first I thought it helped, but now I just feel like more of an outsider.  My husband now sees some of the inappropriate behavior from her, but NEVER says anything to her.  I think he is afraid to confront her for fear of hurting her feelings, but that only makes me feel like he doesn't care about mine!

We would like to eventually have children, but I am so afraid of what things would be like then!  Is it wrong for me to ask him to put his mother in her place?  I feel like his parents (especially her) often come between our marriage!  How can we avoid this?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Dr Apter's reply:
Your husband seems to assume that you are the stronger person, so he protects his mother and asks you to take what punishment she deals out.  This is flattering (because he sees you as strong) but also frustrating because you feel your own needs are ignored.  It seems that you have to consider whether you would be more comfortable letting your husband visit his parents without you.  He is clearly suffering from divided loyalties.  I think it is unlikely that he would be willing to put his mother in her place, as you say, but he might be willing to set boundaries so that she does not come between you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you adapt when your Mother-In-Law moves into your neighborhood after living thousands of miles away for the first eight years of your marriage (which was wonderful)?  Mother-in-law seems to forget her son is married, and enjoys having her and her husband exclude me from every conversation.  Mother-in-law and her husband also take great pleasure in criticizing every relative they have, and spending hours picking apart their faults.  They never have a nice thing to say.

This is getting old, and the newness of her moving to the area her has worn off for both my husband and me.  My husband is the apple of her eye (because he pretends to be the perfect child around her) and he really does well (even being in his late 30's) to hide his true self from her.

I told him that he must insist that I be included in things (including any decisions that should involve both of us) and that he should discourage them from keeping me out of the conversation by controlling it.  I even told him to have her send all e-mail to our joint account.  She has a way of convincing him to accommodate visits without my input whatsoever.

Please lend me any advice you can add.

Dr Apter's reply:
This is a complicated triangle.  Your husband does not want to challenge his mother's image of him as the perfect son, and that image is inconsistent with being a good husband - or even with being himself.  Try to address one issue at a time.  Make sure he understands that each and every visit should be cleared by you.  Make sure you sometimes say "yes", but also that you can really say, "No, this is not a good time to visit."  If you feel you are being rudely excluded from a conversation, you could try asking, "Do you want me here, or would you be more comfortable if I left the room?'  This will help them realize what they are doing.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Like many others who write you, I am at the end of my rope.  Yes, I have a textbook example of a horrible future MIL.  But, after 3 years of enduring her thinly veiled criticisms, manipulations (forcing my bf to choose between us), refusals to speak to me, etc., I am managing to carve out a workable relationship with her.  I've found a combination of killing her with kindness and setting boundaries when appropriate to be pretty effective, and slooooowwwwly things are getting better.

My problem lies with my (live-in) BF who is his mother's oldest child and only son, and who she turned into a surrogate husband when her marriage to my boyfriend's father was on the wane.  As I have learned to stick up for myself in her presence, I find myself growing impatient with him, because he has such difficulty both standing up for himself/me/us when he's challenged by his mother to do so (and, trust me, there are many such challenges).  She criticizes him, both to his face, and to me.  She is always after him to visit (admittedly, he has GREATLY limited our visits to her because of her behavior, but he's afraid to tell her why).  I am doing my best to be patient with him, as I assume that pressuring him could make things worse, and he needs to come up with a workable solution to the problem by himself.  But I sense when the three of us are together, he is blinded to considering anyone's needs but hers.  He turns the other cheek when she digs at him, and seems oblivious to her rude behavior towards me (yes, I have told him that her comments/tendency to ignore me is hurtful, but he says the situation "stresses him out" so much that he is unable to respond).  He realizes when she is guilt-tripping him, but he still gives in to her manipulations. 

He is in therapy, and he is aware of the problem, and has made a few stabs at addressing it.  But his attempts fall short of actually directly confronting her.  He freezes, or gets frustrated, or hints that he doesn't want to confront her, "because she just has so many problems that it wouldn't do any good."  (When he says this, I believe he is protecting her in some sense.)  I definitely think confronting her would do HIM some good, if nothing else.  But the deeper problem is that I fear he is psychologically more wedded to her than he'll (ever??) be to me.  He is pulled into her orbit when we do manage to visit her, to the point where he isn't capable of leaving the house when she is abusive, though he can acknowledge it.  I don't see how we can have a healthy relationship, to say nothing of marriage, if he is permitting his mother to interfere with us.  He says that he is working as hard as he can on the issue, and that he wants to be married, but nonetheless seems unable to make good on his intentions by setting limits with her.  (For example, he'll promise me that we will leave at a certain time when we visit her, but allow himself to be coerced into staying past the "deadline" -- even when, on some level, staying means we're both subjected to more bad behavior.)  I want to give him the time he needs, but I don't want to waste my time with someone who ultimately will not be able to commit to me.  By the way, I've never tried to block him from seeing her or any other member of his family, and I get along well with everyone, and can be, at the very least, civil with his mother.  Any counsel you can give me would be very much appreciated.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your husband's bond to his mother seems to be fear as much as love, so I don't think you need to feel he is more "wedded" to her than he will be to you.  This fear, as you already seem to understand, has deep childhood roots.  He is probably afraid of some primitive abandonment if he opposes her.  I cannot predict how long this will last or how it could affect your marriage.  A good discussion with him could be useful.  When he feels you really do want to understand and work with his fear, he may be more inclined to let you take charge of dealing with his mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do we handle a bratty sister in law?  There are six brothers in my husband's family, and one of them is married to a bratty working-class "princess".  She is a killer on brother in law's bank account, and their credit rating is the worst you could see.  She takes the money he gives her for bills and pays half on the bills and half for herself.  The result is frequent interruption of service and, ultimately, money-borrowing.  This, however, is not the problem the rest of us have with her.  The problem is that she insists on being a major part of the family business, and loudly objects when she is not accommodated in every way.  They have to pay her, and she tries her darndest to get into the company funds.  We are all weary of watching her to make sure her hand is not in the till.  The worst is her low class mouthing off and gimme-gimme attitude.  All the brothers are afraid to cross her because she is so confrontational.  She lies, and they give her what she wants to shut her up.  Naturally, the rest of us bring it up, and all we get is "uh huh, you're right," but no one tries to de-throne our princess.  Whenever one of us tries to get involved with the business, she complains so terribly that the brothers give the chore back to her.  How do we fight this beastly behavior and eliminate her drain on our resources?  Can we ever shut her up?  She is apt to apply yelling, tears, or violence to get her way.  She tries to turn the rest of us against each other constantly.  How do we cope with her without sinking to her level?  We all consider her a sociopath and a monster.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your only hope is to put forward a united front.  If that's impossible, then make sure she has no hold over your husband's finances.  Take each claim as it comes, and discuss its merits.  Try to have a clear policy on what she is given and what she is refused.  Try to refer to that policy and ignore her anger.  But I know this will not be easy.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mil is, most of the time, pleasant.  But she makes some comments that drive me nuts.  She does not like the fact that I have quit work to care for our newborn.  She thinks I should work and put both my kids in daycare.  I have explained to her that daycare would cost us most of my salary, and I am breastfeeding to save money on formula.  We are also remodeling our home, and she thinks most of the extras we are adding are stupid.  Like our Jacuzzi, etc. ... And she thinks that we will not be able to sell our house because of this.  She talked us into buying a boat last year, and now says we have way too much money in it and should buy a bigger one anyway.  She can be really sweet, but when she throws out these comments, they really get to me!!!  Also, she has started dating a guy about a month ago who is now living with her; and she is talking marriage!!!  He has no job, never been married, no kids, and goes to college on a grant.  She is well off and widowed for 8 years now.  He also drinks constantly, and is so rude to me and my husband that we recently got in a verbal fight with him because he called my 6 year old a baby to her face because she can't swim and wears water wings.  My mil took his side and is not speaking to us now.  My husband loves his mom dearly, as she is his only family, but she seems to think we are not giving her boyfriend a fair shot, because she says my husband will not be happy no matter who she chooses to be with.  This is not true, but we both feel she is going to get taken advantage of ... what can we do to repair the damage???

Dr Apter's reply:
I think you have to let your mother-in-law manage her own life.  You could use this, then, to remind her that she has to let you manage yours.  While your advice may be excellent, it is unlikely she would listen to it.  For the time being, she is trying to create some distance from you.  Perhaps that is a good strategy for the moment.  Be wary, however, of having to pick up the pieces when her relationship with her current boyfriend turns sour.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My future mother-in-law is saying I've hurt her so bad because I've left her out of wedding plans.  She has come with me to see my dress, she's helped me pick out flowers, we go through magazines looking for shoes, accessories, etc.  She came with me to register, she's picking out our cake, she picked out the flower girl dress, is making the flower girl basket and veil, and she picked out our limousine, toasting glasses, cake topper, and helped redecorate our new home.  What can I do to change her mind, or make her feel better, or shut her up?  How do I let things go that she says to hurt me?

Dr Apter's reply:
Show that you take her pain seriously.  You could say something like, "I'm sorry to hear I have hurt you.  I didn't mean to, and I don't understand what I did.  Please explain it to me."  Direct questions are a good way of avoiding sulking and having complaints aired behind your back.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I met my mother-in-law about less than two months total, during separate visits, since I met my husband (she lives abroad, and we live in the US).  I am lucky, in that we are very far away; but she still haunts me, in spite of her absence, because of the many rude things she said and did to me during the few times I saw her.  She never made me comfortable.  Just to give you one example, at the dinner table, just after my husband and I got married, she made me sit at the end of the dinner table, and gestured to my husband's nephew to come and sit next to him.  She did subtle things to make me feel that I am not part of the family.  She acted like I was a threat to her and her family.  She would put her hands over the shoulders of her daughter and son and cry her heart out, which I thought was a gesture to them to bond even more, because of my threatening presence.  What made the interaction worse was the fact that I don't speak her language, and she speaks only a little bit of English.  She comes from a European country, where there are problems with immigrants.  So the first time I visited, she asked me point blank: Why do all your countrymen want to come to my country (note: I am not American)?  She probably thought that I am marrying her son, because I need a transit visa to stay in her country.  Mind you, I have no interest in living in her country.  Now I even dread visiting, after my two dreadful visits.  I love my husband dearly, and I don't want to hurt him by not visiting with him, when he wants to go and visit his mother over the summer or Christmas.  She also seems very demanding in him coming to visit her often, without any consideration of my family, and my need to visit my family, who live abroad as well.  Do you think it would be strategically better with this woman if I let my husband visit her alone? (we have been married for a little less than a year).  She will definitely feel happy if I don't visit with him, because she was very successful at alienating me, and not making me feel comfortable.

Dr Apter's reply:
I think you have to decide what it is you want: Would you feel more isolated if your husband were to visit her alone, or would you prefer to come along even though you can expect some kind of rejection?  Perhaps a frank, and calm, discussion with your husband could clarify things.  And would it be possible for him to make special gestures to include you in her presence?  This could make you feel much less isolated, and could send his mother a strong message that she should value you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have a minor problem.  I hate my very soon to be husband's brother's girlfriend.  Reason:  She lies to his brother and his mother, she accused me of cheating on my fiancé (she is relatively younger than I am).  She told me that it was my fiancé's fault that his last wife ended up cheating on him and doing drugs.  I have never been as close to my fiancé's family as she has, but I have always tried to be polite ... even to her.  I don't try to start conversations, nor call her on the phone, and this is her complaint to his family ... that I don't talk to her and I'm being a snob.  I thought being polite was enough!  The bad part ... my soon to be brother-in-law and mil have turned on my fiancé and may not go to the already paid for wedding.  One sentence keeps going through my head ... "The rest of my life."  Help.

Dr Apter's reply:
I think you need your fiancé's help here.  If family members complain about you, he could tactfully but firmly defend you.  If his mother does not want to come to the wedding, then he should take steps to mend the rift.  But dealing with those strange alliances that spring up in families (your brother-in-law and his and your mother-in-law against you) is very difficult because so many people are involved, and so many of the justifications are made behind the scenes, making it difficult to know what the real problem is.  The best way is to hold a family meeting, saying you are disturbed by the problem and want to solve it together.


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