||My question for Dr.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.