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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My relationship with my husband's mother has hit rock bottom.  I am relieved that I haven't seen her in a long time.  Unfortunately for my husband, it makes everything worse.  Although he does not get along with her, she blames everything on me (like their relationship was ruined because of my existence), and he is totally stressed out.  She has done many wrongs and I do not want to talk to her, but for my husband's sake, I would like to bring the relationship back to the "CIVIL" level.  Only problem is that I know, if I am civil to her, she is going to PUSH PUSH AND PUSH, and take total advantage of it.  She just doesn't know when to back off.  What should I do?

Dr Apter's reply:
You seem to have a clear sense of what this relationship costs you - in terms of effort and anxiety.  If you do want to put this difficult relationship on the civil level, then further work lies ahead.  You will have to practice being both polite and firm.  Perhaps you could set certain boundaries in your own mind beforehand, and take a strong stand if your mother-in-law tries to cross them.

My question for Dr. Apter is: 
My husband and I were just married two months ago.  His mother is visiting here from Iran, so she has been living with us since our return from the honeymoon.  When we married, it was my understanding that she would only stay 6-8 weeks.  Now she wants to extend her visit another 8 months.  She has relatives in California as well, but is set on living with her son and letting him support her.  I have tried to be understanding because of the cultural differences.  We have had several fights over this already because we never have any privacy or time alone together, also she acts as if our home is her own and moves things around after I have arranged them the way I want them.  Any time that I get angry, my husband takes her side, and it becomes them against me.  The mature-man that I married has turned into a little boy controlled by his "mommy."  He will not even make purchases for our home unless she approves and likes what we are buying.  I have told him that I feel like she is his wife sometimes, that just makes him angry.  He can't seem to understand how I feel and how damaging I believe this situation is to our new marriage.  He has even said that he could never "divorce" his mommy or do anything to hurt her, even if he had to live his life in misery.  He believes he would be cursed by God if he ever went against her in any way.  I love him very much, he is a wonderful husband in all other respects, very loving and giving and kind.  He is my best friend and a wonderful companion.  He feels this situation is fair because he has become a step-parent to my 6 year-old from a prior marriage.  It just is not the same, but he can't understand that.  Please help, I am afraid I am going to eventually have a nervous break-down or something because I can't even let down in my own home or ever have a moment alone.  Please Help!!!!  Sincerely, Desperate Wife

Dr Apter's reply:
At present your husband seems unable to respond both to his mother's needs and to yours.  He may be afraid of her - not because he is a coward, but because he cannot square his loyalty to her with any kind of criticism.  Perhaps you could help assure him that protecting you and your privacy is not being disloyal to his mother.  Try to find a way of explaining calmly that you feel that an extensive and unplanned visit from his mother will put your happiness in jeopardy.  Discuss alternative arrangements in a positive way.  Suggest that at some later time a longer visit would be appropriate - but not now.  Do not give in to any attempt to minimize what you say ("She isn't really so bad") or protect her on the grounds of weakness ("She needs us").  Your needs, too, should also be acknowledged.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I live in the UK, so I was very pleased to find this page.  My problem is not that my mother in law is too involved in my life, but that, however much I try to make her like me, she has never shown me any affection.  Don't get me wrong, she is polite and kind, but I feel as if this is out of a sense of family duty rather than love.  I am convinced that if I were to die tomorrow it would be a relief to her, as she would stop having to put on an act with me.  We have had several rows in the past, mostly as she always likes to think the worst of me, these normally result in her not speaking to me for months.  I cant just face her and ask what the problem is, as she hates confrontation.  My husband says she is like that with a lot of people, but I watch her and that's not true.  It has gotten to the stage now where I get upset daily.  I wish I could just dismiss her and get on with my life, but the bottom line is that it is so important to me that she likes me.  What can I do??

Dr Apter's reply:
There are two possible approaches.  You could make special efforts to show your wish to be friends by suggesting individual outings (to lunch, to a movie, or a girls' night out).  This may help her warm to you - or it may confirm that she does not feel any friendship towards you.  The second suggestion is to coach yourself not to care so much about how she sees you.  In all probability, your wish for your mother-in-law's approval is based on your feelings for your own mother.  Perhaps you feel somehow dissatisfied with your own mother's warmth and approval?  It may be more effective to address these needs.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My wife seems to not be able to cut the apron strings.  Any time that I mention something about her parents it ends up in a fight.  Like our wedding night when she asked me if I enjoyed everything, and I told her "yes" with the exception of her mom telling me to take good care of her for she would be watching at all times and checking.  We stayed up 'til sunrise, and never did get the damn issue resolved; for to this day my wife says that her mom would never say anything like that.  I have many more examples like that, but need advice on what to do about a mother or father in law that touches little children  inappropriately.  When the kids told me what was happening and I conveyed this to my wife she got defensive and shut down.  There have been doctor visits for the kids where I was questioned about inappropriate touching.  Something you don't want to think about happening to your children.  The kids do not really seem to want to sit on the in-law's laps unless they have candy.  Is this normal?  Or am I overreacting?  My spouse is telling the kids that it didn't happen.  Could it be she was molested as a child and is afraid of her parents?  At times I have seen her mother turn her into a little girl with just a look.  I know the end of  the marriage is coming, but I do not know how to help my wife see what is happening to our kids, or how to protect the kids, for the wife will take them and go out whenever she wants to see her folks without me.

Dr Apter's reply:
This is a very serious case and you should take immediate steps to protect your children from your in-laws.  They should not have further contact with them until you explain the situation to a doctor or social worker - one who truly listens to your descriptions of their behavior.  Perhaps you could show someone your letter and my response.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Well, looking at the many complaints about MIL's, I haven't found a problem like mine.  Basically, I get along w/ my MIL, she doesn't give me a hard time like my husband's brother's wife.  But what she does do is complain to me about the "other" DIL.  Always claiming that we are close, but she has definite problems w/ them.  She is very rude to them, but never to me.  I will admit that my BIL's ex-wife and I had major problems, but I don't see anything wrong w/ his new beau.  So now my MIL confides in me about everything she can't stand about the new girl.  I've tried to change the subject, and other tactics to get out of this trap, but she finds ways to gossip about them to me.  I don't want to be involved, and I am tired of talking about them.  I'm not very good about confronting people, especially her.  She can be very controlling and manipulating.

I do feel bad for the new DIL, my MIL does treat her badly.  One other thing that upsets me is my MIL tries to make a competition between me and the other DIL, by deliberately telling me things to upset me about her.  I'm not really friends w/ the new girlfriend, but I don't dislike her either.  HELP!

Dr Apter's reply:
I think there is a way of avoiding these difficult conversations without direct confrontation.  When your mother-in-law talks about your sister-in-law or your brother-in-law's new girlfriend, stand on neutral ground.  You could tell her you have no interest in what she's saying, or no view, or that the subject really doesn't interest you.  For some reason, your mother-in-law wants you as an ally in her criticism of another daughter-in-law.  If you refuse to engage with her hostility, she may soon give up.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I had a great relationship with my MIL until my husband's brother (her youngest and favorite son) married.  At that point, and now, she has lost all interest in our family, including my three children.  She constantly compares everything in our home/family/life with that of her favorite son, making it clear we fail to make the grade.  I had planned on just suffering through all this during their visits (3-4x/yr) until I received a call from one of my son's teachers that helped make me aware of how damaging this situation has been for my children.

Great anecdote:  we all go to visit (her 3 sons, 2 DIL, and my child - the only one at that point), their home, 1000 miles away.  She has made up beds, borrowed/rented supplies, etc. for everyone but me.  I get to sleep on the wood floor.  When one of her sons complains about being cold and uncomfortable, I lose my blanket and pillow and end up curling up under my coat for a week (my son was in bed with my husband).  So I'm being a trooper through all this, I'm trying to catch a nap in a chair when she comes in and wakes me and tells me to get off the (best) chair so one of her sons can sit down, when I move to an empty chair, she stops me and indicates I'm to sit on the floor.  Now she and I are both good Midwestern (US) women, and I was in my late 30's and just not all that used to living on the floor.  By the end of the week, I've done most the dishes, all the laundry (by "request") and still not earned a place on any piece of furniture, like the other adults.  She made it very very clear that the comfort of her sons and other DIL was paramount, and I just didn't warrant the same concerns.  My husband was appalled, but pleaded that I not make a scene.  He was as supportive as he could be.  In the numerous times she has visited my home, I have continued to give her the best of everything (though our best is "never as good as ...").  She now complains we never visit.  I've encouraged my husband to take the kids and go without me, but he has no interest in doing that.  The favorite son is pleased with these developments. 

So how do I best walk the thin line between love for my husband, and duty to his family, and protect my wonderful children from people who care little for their well-being.  This problem worries me more than it should.

Dr Apter's reply:
I think you have good grounds to insist that visits stop - at least temporarily.  There comes a time when being a "trooper" in face of someone's bad behavior turns into being an underdog.  This may be what is upsetting your children.  You could explain to your in-laws that you look forward to future visits when they accept you in their home, and accept your status in your own home.  If they show surprise or outrage at this implied criticism, be as specific as possible
in outlining how you felt about specific behavior on their part.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been having marital problems because of his mother.  We have been married for three years and dated for four.  Everything is wonderful in our marriage except for the strain we have allowed his mother to cause.  We used to never argue, but lately we argued quite frequently about his mother.  In the beginning she was very nice to me.  Slowly she became involved in our lives more and more until she was living next door to us.  In the beginning she stayed out of our business and seemed to respect our privacy.  I would go out of my way to include her in our lives.  My husband rarely thought to invite her.  We would invite her to the movies, take her to dinner, and bring her along on weekend trips.  She was always appreciative.  She would go out of her way to do favors for us.  In the beginning I let her do things for us because I thought it made her feel good.  It did make us feel uncomfortable at times, because she always did too much.  My husband told her to cut back on the gifts and favors.  He told her we appreciated everything she did for us, but she really needed to stop.  It was a constant and exhausting exchange of gifts and favors.  We couldn't afford it and neither could she.  Slowly
things begin to change.  She would say rude things to me when my husband wasn't in the room, or things that I wasn't sure were intentionally rude.  I would blow them off and give her the benefit of the doubt. I thought that she was a good person and knew her boundaries.  She then started to invite herself to things we had planned to do together.  I would tell her "no" and then she would go behind my back and ask my husband if she could come along.  He would then tell her "yes" without making sure if it was OK with me.  I blew it off a few times and then finally told him to never invite her without making sure it was OK with me first.  She then started to get upset whenever we spent holidays with my family even though we lived next door to her and saw her all the time.

Dr Apter's reply:
It seems that it is high time to set firm boundaries.  Apparently this was previously unnecessary, so it is not part of your habitual relationship.  Changing one's interactions is always a bit tricky at first, but it can be done without destroying the relationship.  Your mother-in-law may initially be upset or even rude, but if you stand firm and don't take her rudeness personally, her expectations will eventually be lowered.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mil & I used to get along great until I became pregnant.  I am having the first grandchild on both sides.  Ever since I became pregnant she has called this "her" baby & has even gone out & bought all kinds of things for her home (which is right next door to mine) like: a high chair, baby crib, infant medicine dispensers, sippy cups, diapers, etc. She seems to even be "nesting"!  She is not going to be a "sole" babysitter because she works full time, so why would she need all this stuff?  Also, she seems to be fantasizing about doing mother/child things with my baby in which I am clearly left out. For instance, she has plans already about which outfits would be best for baby pictures that she is going to have taken.  She is always telling me that I'm just going to have to share this baby with her.  I think she has her roles confused.  What do you think is going on?  One more thing, I feel so threatened by her that i have totally withdrawn myself from her.  I have tried to talk to her but I get no where.  She has made it perfectly clear that she just does not have the patience for me & my hormones!!!!

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law is clearly delighted about having a grandchild.  At the moment, her only intimate experience of a family birth is as a mother.  She is in denial that this new baby is not her own.  Perhaps you could begin to praise her as a prospective grandmother.  Then, when the baby is born, you could give her some time alone with the baby - but not too much.  Make sure your husband agrees to this and supports you.  As she sees you grow in your confidence as a mother, she may be gently lowered to reality.


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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