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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband has cancer, and his mother feels that I am not doing enough to take care of him while he is going through his treatments.  Recently, my husband asked his mother to baby-sit our two children (2 and 6) so that I could be with my mother at the hospital (my grandmother was ill).  She agreed to come, but when she got to our house, MIL began yelling at me for being selfish and not taking care of her son.  She wanted to know where my father was, and why he couldn't go to the hospital with my mother, instead of me.  I asked her to leave our house, as she was screaming and yelling at me in front of our children.  She refused, and told me to leave.  I began to gather up the children to leave with them, but she finally left.  A few minutes later, she entered the house again, and stated that she was here to baby-sit her grandchildren, and that was what she was going to do.  I asked her to leave several times, and several times she refused.  I told her that I would call her son, and he would ask her to leave.  She said that she would kill me if I bothered him with my problems.  I called one of her other children, who convinced her to leave our home.  She left a message on our answering machine apologizing - but I'm not able to get past how angry I am at her.  I need to know how to allow her back into our home.  My children love her, and I don't want to block all contact, but I just can't get past the anger and hurt from her words and actions.  Do you have any advice?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think you can look on your mother-in-law's behavior as the result of anxiety.  She is worried about her son.  She feels that she herself does not know how to help her son.  Unable to admit that, she blames you.  For the same reason, she cannot tolerate the fact that you have other people (such as your grandmother) to think about.  If you can have empathy for her, as mother driven nearly mad with worry, then it may be easier to forgive her.  However, her behavior is problematic, and I am not sure you can do anything to improve it, especially when she is in a state of such high anxiety.  You could try explaining to her that people who enter your home must show you some respect, but she may not, at the point, be capable of reflecting on her own behavior.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Is it normal for a 30 year old man to seek approval from his mother regarding nearly everything in his life?  I met my husband two years ago, and we married 8 months after our initial meeting.  We lived together before I ever met his mother, yet upon our initial meeting, he had gone around behind my back and hidden any evidence of my living there.  He says that it was because he didn't want to listen to her and have to explain.  At our initial meeting, she questioned why my car was parked in the garage.  DH explained that it was for much needed parking space (as this was the initial meeting that I had with his entire maternal side of the family).  She made it perfectly clear that she did not like me from day one, and went on to warn my husband to please not marry me.  After the wedding, she was an ever present "force" to be reckoned with.  She would ask very intrusive questions regarding my female medical problems.  She asked what my starting salary was when I changed firms, and how much my bonus was.  Additionally, she wanted to know how much my yearly raise was.  None of which I felt was her concern, and I tried, as tactfully as possible, to tell her so.  Now, more than a year after our wedding, things have escalated to the point that my husband has decided to sever ties with his mother and grandmother.  This is not what he truly wanted to do.  But, he says that he cannot be in the middle of his wife and his mother, who are at each other's throats all the time.  And, that he chose me as his wife, and will always take my side.  I know he feels that I could have handled things differently, and that I should have let some of the hurtful remarks simply roll off.  Although I have no love lost for these women, I feel that eventually he will resent/hate me for his choice to sever ties with them.  I never once asked him to choose.  I simply did not want to continue to do battle with them.  I don't know how to handle this.  I know he wants to have a relationship with them, but feels that he can't because of me.  It is impossible for us to get beyond this.  They have called me a liar, and told my husband that I have ruined their family, simply because I am a more private person than they all are, and because I would not cow down to their every whim.  Please help me.

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a common problem.  It is interesting, however, that you begin your question in one way, and end it in another.  You begin by asking whether your husband's need for a mother's approval is common, and then conclude by explaining that your husband has chosen his wife and is willing to turn away from his mother.  Perhaps you are registering just how difficult this is for him.  This may be the best strategy at the present time.  It is a way of saying, very firmly, there are boundaries in my life, which you have to respect.  The important thing, in the future, will be to let your mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law back into your life, as long as they respect your terms.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How can a woman have the best relationship possible with a tag-team of made up of a difficult mother-in-law and sister-in-law?  My husband and I have known each other for 14 years, and have been married for 2 years.  We are very happy, and love each other very much.  Although I've always enjoyed a good relationship with my father-in-law and the extended family members (aunts, uncles), there has always been a problem with "the two women".  Without getting into 14 years of horror stories, I'll say that both of them, although "courteous" in public, have gone out of their way in private to be mean, rude, cunning, manipulative, sneaky, sly, hateful, envious, jealous, spiteful, etc.  They have acted this way not only to me, but even to my husband at times.  Luckily, my husband and I are the kind of people who do not reciprocate this kind of behavior.  At first, I would beat myself up, wondering what I was doing to make them act this way.  I tried bringing my husband closer to his mother.  I tried being his sister's best friend.  These attempts failed, and subsequently, lots of water has gone under the bridge.  I've never had a "blowout" or even a confrontation with my MIL or my SIL, but my SIL once told me over the phone that we should "stay out" of each other's lives.  These relationships are mostly very icy and stiff.  In all the 14 years, I've never felt truly accepted by my MIL or SIL.  And, in these 14 years, being a warm and loving person, I'm still sad about it.  I think I've resigned myself to the fact that things will never be the way I want them to be.  My MIL and SIL don't express joy in our successes, and don't show an interest in our lives.  Both have actually conspired to omit us from family events.  I feel that my MIL, who was not an affectionate mother during my husband's childhood years (and had a rough childhood herself from what I understand), is distressed to see my husband so loving towards me - love that he was never able to show her.  My SIL, who is suspected of having an eating disorder, and has had one failed marriage, just married her second husband (who was accepted with open arms by my MIL) after knowing him 2 weeks.  I feel that she has always covertly, and not so covertly, behaved in all the worst ways towards me.  I've suspected that her influence has a lot to do with how my MIL treats me.  Since our marriage (and before), their behavior has been more of rivals than of friends.  There's no need for this, but my husband is very good (much better than I) at not feeding into it.  He says that his entire life was spent dealing with these women, and his cure is to simply ignore them.  Now that we are expecting our first child, I'm sad to say that I feel hesitant about letting my child spend time with people who have treated me/us this way over the last 14 years.  I'm sorry to say that I've rarely, if ever, felt any love coming from these two important women in my life.  I do love them in my own way.  But, at this point, and after so many years, I find that last ray dimming so much that I cannot see it anymore.  The nagging issue that has never gone away is: How can I have the best relationship possible with these two family members, who have been so cruel to me over the years, especially now that I'm expecting the first grandchild?

Dr. Apter's reply:
You clearly set high standards in relationships, especially for yourself.  You have described how in the past you have beat yourself up over conflicts, asking yourself what you have done wrong.  Now you ask yourself how you can make this relationship the best possible one.  I suggest you aim a little lower, and ask how you can tolerate this relationship, and protect yourself while you maintain.  I believe that if you simply reframe the question in this way, the answers will come to you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I currently work in my husband's business, which he has taken over from his parents.  As you can imagine, my in-laws and I work really closely.  It was quite a big life change for us both, and we work long hours.  The business is running better than ever before, and we take great pride in it.  The main problem I feel is that my MIL really is a workaholic in the true sense, and has a fixed belief system of the way things should be carried out.  If we do things the way she expects us to, she is either critical or will not speak to us for days.  As you can imagine, it upsets my husband, but he tolerates it because it is his mother.  It also interferes with our marriage, and I am finding it increasingly difficult to bite my tongue.  And, I end up getting really angry inside.  I feel like confronting her, but she is really quite impulsive, and you wouldn't know what she would do next.  Her family knows what she is like, but they accept it.  They don't want to rock the boat (so to speak)!  If you express an opinion and she doesn't agree, you're life can be made he!!.  Then, when it suits her, she will be nice once again, and everyone is expected to forget what happened.  It is a situation that I find very alien, as my mum and dad are, like, my best friends.  Unfortunately, they do not live close by.  Any ideas on how to deal with this?!

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a tough situation.  You have a demanding business colleague who is also a relative, so you cannot leave work to enter a personal life that is totally separate from the workplace.  Also, your family cannot demonize your work colleagues to support you - as sometimes happens among friends and families who gripe to one another about people at work.  Confronting demanding and hot-tempered people is a challenge in any setting, but you can find some way to do it.  You could begin with tact and praise, emphasizing how much you respect her hard work and high standards, but how you feel that, on a particular issue, you take a different view.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am concerned with the difference in how my MIL treats her grandchildren from her two sons.  When we are out visiting her, she makes it obvious that she prefers the two children of my husband's brother.  For example, my son is expected to share his toys, but when he tries to use theirs, he is told to not use up their stuff.  When he tries to sit somewhere, he is told to get up so that his cousin can sit next to her younger brother (even if she doesn't express any interest in doing so).  If his cousins break anything, it is fine.  But my son can't even touch anything that might possibly be broken.  The cousins can take any candy they wish out of the candy dish, but my son's choices are watched.  He has been told to put things back, on the grounds that her husband prefers those candies.  She actually takes a cloth and wipes up anything he has touched.  But, again, she doesn't do the same for her other two grandchildren.  When these kids, all young, have gone out on a ski trip, or whatever, she offers to take the other kids back early so they don't get overtired, but she doesn't mention my son.  In general, she pays far more attention to the other grandchildren than she does to my son when they are together.  My husband, as well as the parents of the other two grandchildren, have noted the difference in treatment.  My husband has been upset over this difference.  However, he doesn't want to say anything about it.  I'm wondering if I should let her know that the difference in treatment has been noted.  Please advise.  I am willing to stay out of it, but frankly it really pisses me off.  My son is nothing but completely well behaved around her, and, I believe, just doesn't deserve the difference in treatment.  At this stage in his life, he is a sweet child who likes to please.  Would you address this, or just let it go?  A side issue is, of course, that she has never been happy with her son's choice in a wife (me).  I guess I can live with that, but I fear that she is taking it out on my son (and will continue to do so).

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think you could bring this apparent favoritism to your mother-in-law's attention, but it will be most effective if this is done tactfully, and if you cite a specific instance.  Try to avoid saying something like, "You always seem to favor the other grandchildren," and instead, try something like, "It was lovely this way you did this, but when you did that I am concerned that you seemed to be harder on/ less generous to/ slight my son."  You could even say that you are sure that she loves your son, and that you know he loves her, but that you are concerned your son might one day feel she prefers the other grandchildren.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DH and I have been married for 7 years.  We have no kids, and have no plans for any.  We're in our early 40s, degreed, and doing well.  That makes us different from the rest of his family, who all married young, had kids, divorced, remarried, etc.  DH and I were very picky, and we waited a long time to find the right person (because we didn't want to go through a terrible marriage and divorce like the rest of his family did).  Also, I'm Catholic - you know how we feel (the Church feels) about marriage, divorce and remarriage.  DH and I think of marriage as a lifelong spiritual bond, and DH's family thinks of it as something you do to have kids, and something to get out of when times get tough.  We hear marriage slammed through jokes and comments, and yet we hear parenthood/kids praised so much.  We know they do this because their marriages are so unhappy, and they figure the only thing they have that we don't have is kids.  They are jealous of everything (our new cars, our vacation, anything and everything).  I just can't understand my MIL being jealous of her own son's good fortune.  We aren't arrogant, boastful, or anything.  MIL tried to compete with me for top place in DH's life a few years ago, but DH handled that with numerous comments that praised me as his top priority and greatest blessing in life, etc.  So, she is still jealous, but she doesn't act out or misbehave as much as she used to.  The problem isn't HER behavior so much anymore, but she has turned her husband (DH's stepfather) and her daughters against us.  BTW, she is a pathological liar, manipulator, etc.  Now, DH's siblings are rude to us, and especially to ME.  I always have to be the one to respond to their attacks, because DH is a wimp, too slow to catch an insult in time to react, and too naive to even know when some insults are thrown.  I'm getting tired of having to defend myself.  Every visit with the in-laws is dreaded.  I think this all stems from an incident 3 years ago when BIL called our house and said that I had said something rude or insensitive at dinner.  I did do that, but apologized after dinner when I realized my remark was rude.  I had already apologized, but he called our house and ripped me to shreds over the phone with DH.  And, wimpy DH comforted and consoled him!  DH and I had a long talk the rest of that evening, and he called BIL the next day and told him that another negative word about me, EVER, and we would never speak to him again.  BIL said, "GREAT."  It is three years later, and there is no contact.  And, I agree - GREAT!  However, I think that MIL and step-FIL were stunned!  This was the first time that anyone in the family had ever made this strong a statement (never, never mess with my wife, or else!).  But, that was when MIL started competing with me, and like I said, DH has SUBTLY put her in her place.  But, now I feel that she is sending her hounds (daughters and husband) out after me in particular.  DH will say nice things to praise me, but when I'm insulted over dinner, time and time again, he's too slow and too weak to react.  I told him that I'm taking off my pretty white gloves and going for their throats next time it happens.  So, NOW he decided that when that happens, he will be firm and stand up for me.  But, the way he wants to do it, like a love-fest ("Oh, I think we should discuss this"), is so wimpy.  They will chew him up and spit him out, and I will have to take on EVERY one of them alone.  I am damned capable of it, but I would rather not have to do it.  I feel betrayed, because DH wasn't willing to do anything until I told him that my gloves are coming off now.  So, is he really protecting THEM from me, or ME from them?  Also, my birthday is approaching, and for the past two years, MIL, step-FIL, and SIL all supposedly "forgot" my birthday for several days.  We didn't play these games with them, and we've already agreed to subtly remind them of my birthday approaching this year.  I have told DH that if they "forget" my birthday again, we're going to start forgetting the birthday of EVERYONE who forgets mine.  DH says that he will confront them about it if it happens again, and he doesn't want to forget them on their birthdays.  So, I feel betrayed still.  They "forgot" MY birthday the last two years, and if they do for the third time, THEN he will "talk it over", instead of doing them EXACTLY the way they did me!  WHO THE HE!! IS HE PROTECTING HERE?  These aren't the kind of people with whom you just "discuss" something.  They will lie, blame, accuse, and wiggle - anything and everything.  They're 65 years old going on 16.  I say that we should just try more distance, and visit less frequently.  We live only 5 miles apart, and we typically visit only every two weeks anyway.  But, that has become so dreaded.  MIL, being the smother type, would like to see us EVERY day.  But, that will never happen, and I know she would start using every tactic imaginable if we tried more distance.  We really need advice, and I really need your opinion on who my husband is protecting and why.  I would NEVER allow a member of my family to treat him the way his family has treated me.  I would have been very forceful and aggressive while protecting my husband.  I feel that he doesn't love me as much as I love him, because I wouldn't want to ever be around someone if they had mistreated him - be it my mother, father, brother, anyone.  I'm beginning to see DH as a stupid, weak, pathetic moron.  I think that's the way they've seen him all along, and I think that they capitalize on it.  Help. I'm losing all respect for a man that I am determined to spend the rest of my life with.  Sometimes, I feel so emotionally betrayed that I want to betray him in the worst way, just to make myself feel like I've gotten even.  Is that why people have affairs?

Dr. Apter's reply:
There is a cluster of problems here, but they are all related.  First, be encouraged to stand up for yourself.  No one, not even a relative, should get away with insulting you.  Second, it is important to tell your husband just how angry you feel, and why.  Perhaps you could explain how upset you are because you fear you are losing respect for him.  You could, calmly, explain that you sometimes feel angry and betrayed, and that these feelings are surprisingly powerful, and that you are concerned that they may damage your overall love for him.  If he tries to minimize your feelings (he may say something like, "That's just how how my parents are/ they don't mean anything by it"), persist in telling him that you are describing your feelings, and that these are too strong to be dismissed.  Yes, I am sure some people have affairs as a means of revenge on a spouse.  But, what you probably want more than revenge is to be understood by your husband and to repair the relationship.

 


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