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10/05/00
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married three years.  One or both of us have been in college at any given point during our marriage while we both work as RN's at a nearby hospital.  We are both in our mid 20's, and have been working very hard to make ends meet.  Last year we purchased a home.  My mother-in-law is a very needy but nice person who is on her fourth marriage and is in and out of debt constantly.  When my husband graduated high school, she and his father convinced him to sign his name to several student loans which they verbally promised to pay.  After the divorce, his dad paid half the debt and his mom tried to say she couldn't pay since she hadn't planned on the expense of getting divorced for the 3rd time.  This was one month before our wedding.  My husband freaked, and she agreed to pay.  Behind our backs, she has been deferring the loans while he has been in school.  She hasn't paid at all.  Meanwhile, she takes trips to Europe, buys furniture, and whatever other luxury feels good to her at the time.  I just received a balance that the original loan amount is now 70% higher due to interest.  My husband, who is very non-confrontational, wished to start paying the loan.  I am furious and do not wish to, since she promised seven years ago, and I think it will further worsen her problems with money.  She steals from her elderly mother who lives on social security, and uses her credit cards, etc.  I don't trust her, and I think she'll be coming after us for money if we pay this.  I am also upset since we live so Amish-like and scrimp and save.  We are still pursuing degrees (graduate now) and we want to have a baby in the next year or so.  I also think that this wouldn't be an issue for us to pay it if she didn't postpone payment for seven years.  I don't think the fact that we make more money than her has anything to do with it.  This was a promise between her and her 18 year old son.  As you can see, I am pretty angry at her.  It doesn't help that she tries to lavish expensive gifts on us.

Dr. Apter's reply:
You are facing a difficult situation, and one which is unlikely to be easily solved.  What I would suggest is that you accept that your mother-in-law cannot be trusted.  The best course may be to start repaying the loan yourself.  It may be worthwhile consulting a lawyer to assess your legal position.  A verbal agreement is legally binding - but very difficult to prove.  Her actual signature may put you in a strong position, but without seeing the document, it is difficult to know what precisely she is legally bound to pay.  So my suggestion is to look forward.  Manage the loan payments yourself, and never give her any money or have any further financial dealings with her.  This may be an expensive experience, but you can make it a useful one

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have known my mother-in-law since I was 17 yrs old.  I admired her then as a dynamic woman in her forties.  She is now widowed and over 80, and I admire her still.  She is determined to be self-sufficient, maintains a network of friends, still drives her car, keeps a neat house, and last year recovered from open heart surgery.  She likes to see her sons, and loves to see my sons and their children, especially since they put their arms around her and make a fuss over her, which is the only physical demonstration of love and affectionate touching she receives.

I have always acknowledged that she is, as one of her relatives put it, a woman of strong opinions.  She has obstinate views on almost everything, most of them ill-informed, and many politically very incorrect, and she is determined that we hear them.  More and more she is critical of other people, and critical of her friends.  She has never been tactful.  She also interferes without asking.

I have coped, and can cope with this.  She has three sons, and I am the daughter-in-law who has cared for her when she has been ill, who rings her, asks her over for the weekend when my grandchildren are staying, and gave her 80th party.  She says she is glad to have me, and that I am kind to her, and my husband believes she is fond of me.  Yet she is so unkind to me.  When I haven't seen her for a few days I begin to think how, if she gets ill, I would like to have her here so I can care for her, and then when I see her, she makes such nasty, disparaging remarks.

I am now a middle-aged, plump woman, and she takes every available
opportunity to make remarks about my looks, fatness, my hairstyle, my clothes ...  If I attempt to diffuse this by making remarks about myself, she snorts "Well, you said it!"  Almost any comment I make, whether it is about a horoscope, a recalled event, my sister, her friends, or what we shall have for dinner, is used to make unnecessary and spiteful comments about me.  If I pick up on these, however gently, she says "Well! Pardon me, I'm sure."  She takes offence and is doubly ready to pick on me again.  I am a good driver.  If I drive her anywhere she is constantly critical, and occasionally panics and shouts, "Stop! Stop! Stop!"  Great when I'm negotiating off a slip road into heavy traffic.

When she went home from a weekend visit three weeks ago, I actually cried with relief and I told my husband that I was very much afraid that I no longer liked his mother.  His response was that I needn't see her so often, nor ask her over.  Well, I didn't ring her for a while.  He did, and I soon got back to normal.

She has just left after another weekend and I have have just had another little cry.  It seems I just can't cope when the extra comments and behaviors are added on to what was already a difficult woman.  Yet I know she needs someone to care, and I feel as if I'm failing.

I wonder if the beta-blockers I am now taking for high blood pressure, which do make me weary, or perhaps hormone problems as I come through the menopause, are making me less resilient.  I know that I had to work hard for approval from my own mother, and I suspect I am working quite hard for my MIL's approval.  I certainly don't like constant criticism, but I don't feel that is unusual!

Is there anything I can do without hurting her which will help?  I am afraid that she couldn't cope with the kind of criticism that she hands out.

Dr. Apter's reply:
You are feeling the problem from two different angles:  your own needs, and your awareness of the needs of your mother-in-law.  If only your mother-in-law were similarly sensitive, you would have no such problem!  But, as you yourself seem well aware, your longing for your mother-in-law's approval makes the relationship particularly painful.  She wants you to care for her, but she is not willing to make this easy for you.  Perhaps she senses your vulnerability.  The fact that you are so good to her, even when she criticizes and rejects you, may make her feel her own power.  I think your best option is to see her, and behave decently (even considerately), but try to keep the visits short, don't expect her to behave considerately towards you - but when she does speak unkindly, withdraw from her.  Don't bother sulking (as she does), but try going stone-faced and silent, and disengage from the conversation.  Wait a moment or two, and then start another topic.  In that way you avoid an argument, but you show you are not going to join her in putting you down.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married to my husband for 12 years.  He is the only child of a woman who is very manipulative and self-centered.  My husband and I met when we were very young children, and have only ever been with each other.  I had an excellent relationship with my MIL until I got pregnant with my daughter, at 19, and my husband and I got married.  That is when the downhill slide started.  She tried to run the whole wedding, and when I got scared and freaked out with all that was going on, I decided to postpone the wedding until things seemed more settled.  When she heard, she asked me to her house and called me horrible names, and I walked out and left.  Eventually, she called me and apologized, and I forgave her, etc.  However, we have had MANY very ugly fights since then.  She is mentally ill, and I have tried to be understanding towards this, but sometimes she can be so abusive to me I feel I can't let it go.  My husband is the classic loyal son who has heard all his life how she raised him alone, (another long story, she refused to let his father see him when he didn't leave his wife, and she told my husband he had died, she even changed her name and gave my husband a fake name to seem as though they had been married).  The last incident was on my husband's birthday.  We had all attended a wedding out of state, and my husband and I came home, (we were living with them at their request because they needed financial help) and found his birthday caked smashed.  Then she backed her car behind mine and refused to move it or let me leave with my children.  We got into a terrible screaming match, which resulted in her calling the police and telling them that I threatened to kill her, which I absolutely did not do.  I was arrested, and to make a long story short, the charges were dropped once she found out I got a lawyer to fight the charges.  My problem is, I can't seem to get past this, I know she doesn't like me, although she acts like it around people, and she wants to be number one in my husband's life.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Most people reading about your situation would agree that anyone would find it difficult to see past your mother-in-law's behavior.  It seems that your mother-in-law is so possessive that she wants to destroy you because you are so important to her son.  Her envy of you is such that it is highly unlikely you will ever have a comfortable relationship with her.  I suggest that you try to persuade your husband to visit her, and be as loyal a son as he wants, but that you do not join him in these visits (unless you really want to).  Try to open up a conversation about how you see her effect on him.  Explain that you want to describe your take on this - and ask him how he sees the situation.  Also assure him that he can be a loyal son without giving in to his mother every time.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Fasten your seatbelt I have a real issue!  3 years ago I met a wonderful, caring man.  We instantly hit it off, and first became friends, then love bloomed.  Before long we were spending every spare second together - meeting each other's friends - cooking for each other ... all the things a couple in love does.  Except for one thing - he wouldn't tell his family we were dating.

We are of two different ethnicities.  I am your typical all-American girl.  His family is from the Philippines.  His parents wanted him to marry someone from their community who they introduce him to.  A few years back he'd been on the verge of proposing to his long term girlfriend at the time (also not Filipino) and they gave him the squeeze to such a large extent, he couldn't take it anymore and broke up with her.  He vowed that the next time he met the right person, he'd only tell his parents on his own terms.  His parents knew me as just a friend, and were always nice whenever we met.  They suspected our relationship was more than just friends, but he would always deny it.

As our relationship deepened, he decided it was time to tell them of his intentions.  We have been talking about marriage and are ready for this next step.  He has spent time with my family and gets along great with them.  So, he told his parents, all the while assuring me that they would take well to the news and be happy for us.

Wrong!!!  Not only are they very upset to hear their favorite son is marrying outside their religion, they are shocked that he has not been honest with them all this time.  They blame me for his deceitfulness and think I'm a jerk to have gone along with all this.  His mother, in particular, has made comments that she doesn't want me for a daughter in law, and that Americans don't have the same family values.  They are clearly opposed to our marriage, and while they aren't forbidding it, they are not giving us their blessing either.  They said they will attend our marriage as guests, but wish to play no part in the planning, as they have no desire for us to marry according to their traditions or customs.  When they see me they are civil but never ask me how I am or make any attempt to get to know me.  They get along great with his brother's wives and treat them like gold - but they all married "right".

Help!  I don't know what they possibly could expect from me.  I don't know how they could dislike me so much when they don't even know me.  But at the same time I'm not sure I like them very much either!  Is it possible to turn my relationship with them around??  Or am I doomed to have the in-law relationship from hell??

Dr. Apter's reply:
The most important (and difficult) thing is not to take your in-laws' rejections personally.  They hate you because they do not know you.  This is potentially a tragic situation for them because their prejudice could lead them to lose their son.  Your only option is to be patient - and possibly forgiving.  If you behave decently towards them when you have the chance, but don't go out of your way to get them to change their views, they will (if they have any sense) relent.  Eventually they will come to appreciate and love you as an individual.  They may even lose their prejudice.  I really hope this happens!

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My in-laws tell serious lies and manipulate divisiveness between my husband and I.  Today I learned that my husband and his mother/parents have persisted in having "secret" rendezvous without me.  They live abroad, but by coincidence or conspiracy, somehow managed to spend 6 calendar weeks with us in our first year of marriage.  For every hour we spend with them, in which they routinely reject my values, career, volunteer work, homemade meals and birthday cakes (which aren't bad) and gifts, insist we take them out to dinner, leave me out of "family portraits", and blame their behavior on my family (who love my husband, live 2 time zones away in the opposite direction, and leave us alone), my husband and I argue for 6 hours.  He travels for work (or maternal affairs) and lately has spent an average of 24 hours a week at home.  When it got to the crisis point and we "agreed" he had to leave the nest and be my husband -- or not -- his parents' emotional hardball became so intense that my husband suggested marriage counseling (for us, not them).  To my surprise, and contrary to the prevailing wisdom of books, family members and friends (including one in the counseling profession, who had warned me that generally, they give men a "high five" and women medication), our counselor did not teach us the tools to create lives independent of our parents, but created problems I didn't know we had.  She encouraged my husband to go home to Mama, "even if she were a murderer".  The counselor, not a psychiatrist, implied that I should consider a psychiatric hospital instead of a vacation to deal with her conclusion that my husband does not want anything to do with having a wife, home or starting a family (which did not seem to be the case when we started "counseling").  At $1000/month, I can get better advice for free.  However, my husband agreed to see her alone a few more times.  Today he mentioned that he wants to quit his job (our only source of income) and take a 3rd rate film class.

If the emotional incest isn't enough, today his mother told us his grandmother has terminal cancer.  Let the games begin.  Instead of my husband and I planning our visit between the two of us and his grandparents, this is cause for another immediate, mandatory, centrally-coordinated "family event".  According to my sister-in-law, my in-laws have decided not to tell my husband's grandparents that she has between 2 weeks and 2 months to live.  How do I find out if she truly does have terminal cancer?  Is it a normal denial phase not to have the courage to tell someone the bad news?  Isn't that the doctor's responsibility anyway?  If she does have cancer and they are within their rights to withhold the truth from her, I'm not willing to participate.  My husband finds this upsetting because he wants me to "respect their wishes."  I respect their wishes.  Everybody has a right to wish whatever they want.  That doesn't mean I have to join the lie-squad.  This puts me in the awkward and inappropriate position of being the messenger, if the news doesn't leak first.  My grandmother-in-law is the only one who hasn't offended me.  She is the only straight-talker in the group.  She has lived through so much, I'd give her a fighting chance at being in the 10% survivor class.  Why would I break that trust on her death bed?  What possible good could it do to deny them a chance to say goodbye and make THEIR final wishes known?

Dr. Apter's reply:
A number of very difficult problems are all wrapped up here.  The question about what to tell your grandmother-in-law may be the easiest - however difficult it may seem.  I suggest you follow your own sense of what is best, and be as honest as you see fit.  There is no need whatsoever to follow others' advice.  But your problems with your husband and his mother seem so deep and complex that I really do not see what advice I can offer.  However, if you do not trust the counselor you are seeing now, you should find someone else.  There is no point in talking to someone whom you do not trust.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter, I am having a terrible problem with my Mother-In-Law and favoritism towards a great-grandchild (who is related) and her sister (who is not related) both born out of wedlock.  My two children are her natural grandchildren, and basically don't exist to her unless it involves this great-grandchild.  My husband and I recently went out of our way to accommodate her by changing our son's 8th birthday gathering from the actual date of his birth to the next evening, because she was busy with her great-grandchildren.  My son (her grandson) pleaded with me that this child and her sister would not be invited since my Mother-In-Law only pays attention to them.  He then asked me, "why does my Mother-In-Law love these two children more than him and my daughter?" This set me back and I told him maybe he should ask her that question one day.  After calling twice to get an answer on what day she could attend, my Mother-In-Law was very rude to me, and threw up constant road blocks during the conversation.  She then mentioned she has to bring the two great- grandchildren with her.  I sighed and told her alright, she then quite coldly told me that her great-grandchild was part of the family too.  I told her I know this child is part of the family, but this was her grandson's birthday.  I was so angry and upset I just told her to please do not come and hung up.  After three times of calling and speaking to my husband (because I was too upset to talk to her) and my husband backing me up, my Mother-In-Law didn't show up, but sent a card from herself and this great-grandchild.  Since then she has not talked to me even when face to face.  I am really tired of this constant favoritism, and it has gotten worse over the years. Now it's
hurting my children.  My daughter who is 12 doesn't want anything to do with her.  My husband is her 3rd child who was not expected or planned, she has made that very clear.  He told me he had to put up with this.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Favoritism is hurtful, whether it is directed towards us or towards our children.  Since your mother-in-law's preference for other grandchildren is so marked, and because it spoils your entire relationship, I suggest that you lower your expectations of her, and refuse to make any plans to especially accommodate her.  You can invite her to special occasions, if you think that is appropriate, but if she does not reply, don't chase her.  If she cancels, then just accept it, without surprise.  If she chooses to be with other family members, rather than with you or your children, say blandly, "That's fine."  The most important thing is to protect yourself from your own exhausting anger.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I've been married for 7 years.  I dated my husband about a year before we got married.  My relationship with his mother was always difficult.  Mainly because she still wanted to baby him and control our lives.  After we got married my husband did not bring all of his belongings to our house.  His mother kept his "good clothes" and other valuables.  She would also take food to him at work so he would be "well fed".  This got so irritating that we came to the brink of divorce in less than a year.  Our solution was to move away to the US, and we have been living here for the past 6 years.  Unfortunately when my daughter was born I had no alternative but to have my in-laws come live with us for 4 months until we could find other childcare options.  This period put a terrible strain on our marriage.  I had a very loud argument with my mother in law about a year ago and have not spoken to her since.  Eventually my relationship with my husband terribly deteriorated.  We no longer have a sexual relationship.  We no longer care for each other.  However, we maintain basic decency for the sake of our child for most part of the week.  After he talks to his mother on the weekend his attitude dramatically changes and he becomes extremely rude and possessive.  I would have gotten divorced long ago had it not been for my child.  I would like raise her in the loving environment I grew up in with both parents in attendance.  What can I do to maintain peace in my home?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a tragic but all-too-common situation.  In-law problems often distort a marriage.  Your best route would be to see a marriage advisor who has experience in seeing what the dynamics are, and who may have suggestions for repairing your relationship with your husband.  Perhaps you could also try to tell him how rejected you feel, and how upset you are by the fact that conflict between you and his mother has become conflict between the two of you.  Much of your success will depend on his willingness to listen, and whether he continues to love you.  I wish you the best.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL and my husband are more like husband and wife than mother and son.  MIL lives with my husband and me.  It's been three years and I can not do it anymore!  I have spent the past three years being respectful and biting my tongue.  I have recently expressed to my husband that I feel uncomfortable living with his mother.  He said that we will get a second house eventually (his mother does not work, and expects us to take care of her for the rest of her life; meanwhile she is young and active and could easily get a job).  How do I express to him how bad it is?  My co-workers have seen me cry at my desk about my MIL.  I can't live with it anymore.  I resent her and have never in my life felt so much anger toward someone.  Even my husband's ex-wife told me that having the MIL move in was the biggest mistake of her life.  My husband does see that his mother is not the angel he thinks she is.  How do I get my husband to see that if we continue live with his mother he'll lose a second marriage over his mother?  I don't want to lose him.  I don't want to make him choose between his mother and me. I do however, feel that he needs to choose one wife and the other.  How can I communicate my need to live alone with my husband without offending him and making him defensive about his mother.  PS - I am not the only family member who says she's more like a wife than a mother to my husband.  Any constructive suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Perhaps you can assure your husband that he need not choose between his wife and his mother, but that you need a private space for your marriage to thrive.  Your husband may see no way of being the good son and, at the same time, drawing boundaries between himself and his mother.  It also seems important for you to address the anger you have towards your mother-in-law.  Your husband may pick up on this, and worry that if he allies himself with you (to draw boundaries between his marriage and his mother), then he may be admitting your anger is justified.  Maybe he worries that it is!  So try to emphasize that you are acting on behalf of your marriage, and not against her.  If he cannot tolerate criticism against her, allow him to think of this in very positive terms.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you deal with a mother-in-law that acts "uppity" all the time?  She always says that she can do everything better than me including cooking, cleaning and raising my child.  She also says that my daughter is, "her daughter."  I am confused if I should stand up to her or just ignore her.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law is trying to undermine you and also to compete with you.  I suggest that you coolly ignore her when she one-ups you: if it does not rile you, she may get less satisfaction from it.  So, without showing offence or anger, just withdraw, and then begin talking about something else.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I'm not even sure where to begin.  I was raised in a loving and happy home.  My husband was not.  We have been married for sixteen years, and it has been nothing but hell with dear old Mil.  Mil's son and grandchildren are respectful, loving, caring individuals, who don't lie cheat or hurt others.  My husband would rather not have anything do with his Mil.  This seems to be all my fault.  I am the capital E in "evil".  I don't understand why.  I have tried to talk to her but she conveniently has been drinking.  Any advice?  The holidays are coming and I'm tired of crying and feeling as though I have failed.

Dr Apter's reply:
The fact that your husband wants nothing to do with your mother-in-law is not your fault.  He may have chosen you, in part, because you were someone who could help him free himself from her.  She may see you as evil, but is there really any reason to see yourself that way?  Try to think about why you feel guilty about this, or why the situation drains you.  Given the information I have at the moment, it seems as though both you and your husband may be better off living lives separate from hers.

 


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