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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for over 28 years.  My husband and I actually spent many of our dating evenings playing cards with my MIL and FIL.  We had lots of fun.  I wanted so much to be an accepted part of their family.  Over the years, and through many disappointments, I've come to the realization that my MIL and FIL don't want to have as close a relationship with me as I do with them.  This revelation has been very hurtful to me.  I've been the one to always invite all the family to my house, entertaining, etc.  I probably did this, I realize now, to gain their approval.  But, that approval never came.  Our relationship is strained.  Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that there is no way for me to please her.  Even when I don't do anything wrong, she comes up with "fantasy" wrongdoings that she believes I am guilty of.  I lost my own mother to cancer when I was less than 30 years old.  I think I was looking especially hard for my MIL's approval, since I lost that female relationship with my mother.  But, I have been only disappointed.  When I tell my husband these things, it hurts him.  He doesn't understand why there is a problem between us.  He thinks it is mostly my problem.  So, I've tried really hard to try to see it his way.  But, I've recently decided to keep my distance from my MIL.  I don't expect too much from her, and I pray that she never needs to move in.  I don't think I could be kind and patient enough with her.  I know that I am keeping this resentment inside.  I don't have any friends to talk to, and have really devoted all of my time to family and family relationships.  I am very discouraged that all my devotion has been for nothing.  Do you have any advice?  Should I confront my MIL?  When I've asked her questions before, I felt like she was searching for words to say, and not saying what was really on her mind.  I don't want to live a lie.  I'd like to be honest and open, but she would rather believe a lie than believe what I have to say.  I feel really undervalued by her.  Thanks for listening.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Many women have similar stories to tell, and I hope others can learn from you.  It seems that you have already understood the hard facts: that your in-laws do not want to have a close relationship, that you value the connection more than they do, and that there is no way for you to please your mother-in-law in ways that will make her love you as you would want.  The next step, I think, is accepting this.  It is difficult to accept this because you have spent so much energy trying to win her love and approval.  You have also invested hope in achieving a good relationship.  I think you husband cannot understand your feelings because he cannot distinguish the degrees of closeness in the way you can.  Perhaps you could confront your mother-in-law by asking her to listen to your story of the relationship, with its efforts, hopes and disappointments.  But if you decide to do this, try to avoid blaming her - instead, just ask her to try to understand you.  There is some chance she will respond, and explain her own feelings.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL was very cruel to me during several key moments in my life.  I am having a lot of difficulty forgiving her.  I have been blessed throughout my life because I have very close and loving relationships with my own parents, siblings, brother and SILs.  I have never seen anyone like my MIL in action, and I just really don't know how to handle her.  My husband won't stand up to her.  In fact, when we were first married (my husband was 32 and I was 30), I had to set boundaries.  My husband wanted his mother to have a key to our house, and he didn't want me to read the local weekly alternative newspaper because his mother might not approve of it.  I suspect that now, ten years later, his mother still has the key to our home.  My MIL's worst behavior has come about since the birth of our daughter.  She called me less than two hours after my release from the hospital (after a grueling labor and delivery by c-section) to scream and yell at me because I did not offer to let her hold the baby when I was rolled out of recovery.  I was still on morphine, and had not seen my baby yet myself.  My husband was there, fully conscious, and he did not offer to let her hold the baby.  But her rage was reserved for me.  She yelled at me so badly that I was sobbing (and the baby was sobbing), and my husband finally terminated the abuse.  I went to her house the next day, even though I was so weak and anemic from complications from the surgery (it did not go well).  She refused to touch the baby!  She ruined my first Mother's Day by snatching my precious baby out of my arms.  This scared my baby, and then it started crying.  I asked for the baby back, and she turned away and ran to the corner, with my child screaming in fear.  My husband had to intervene and physically take the baby away from her.  MIL then ran out of the room in furious tears.  I describe those two instances because those are the only two times I have seen my husband stand up to his mother.  Both of those times MIL was hurting his daughter.  I cannot stand her.  She has never apologized to my husband or me for her outrageous behavior.  I want to leave the state just to get away from her.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law seems unable to direct and acknowledge her violent feelings towards others, whether they are feelings of anger or jealousy.  She then directs them towards you. It is safer for her to blame you for her unsatisfied possessive feelings towards your child than to blame her son.  Perhaps your husband is afraid that her powerful anger will be directed towards him if he stands up to her.  From your description, it seems that your mother-in-law has a number of feelings she cannot acknowledge or control.  Unfortunately, you seem to respond with equally violent feelings, though these are expressed in tears and sadness rather than aggression.  The best way of dealing with such a situation, I believe, is to distance yourself from it, and not respond to her feelings as you would to those of a person whose feelings you respected and valued.  This approach is difficult - but unless your mother-in-law is able to gain control of herself, this could be the only solution.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I'm getting married in 2 months, and I realize that it's normal to feel anxiety.  I love my fiancé very much.  He's really not an issue.  His mother is a different story.  She got divorced 20 years ago, and she never remarried.  She has 3 sons - my fiancé is the youngest.  Her oldest son just married 2 months ago, and his wife is a very close friend.  He is her surrogate husband.  She calls constantly (almost daily) for advice and to talk.  Her middle son still lives with her at 28.  He's her servant, but he lets her pay for food and most of the rent.  I believe that he somewhat deserves that position.  My fiancé is the youngest, and he's her "teddy bear".  She calls him when she's feeling down, when she's crying, and when the eldest disagrees with her.  But, we have a far smaller burden than the other 2 boys do.  That's largely due to the fact that we set very specific ground rules when we moved in together.  We got caller ID.  MIL's not allowed to call after 10, and my family gets equal time.  Things are actually going fairly well - as long as we limit the time we spend with her.  Lately, she has obviously been feeling very threatened, with two sons escaping her in a very short time.  Her behavior has gotten even MORE clingy and needy.  I was able to deal with this and understand it until the latest issue came up.  You see, she's coming into a large amount of money from a settlement.  She's very obsessive about money, status, and influence over her sons.  She's never had much money, and she thinks that means she was cheated in life.  I disagree.  She wants to give all her sons and their new wives some of this money, and that makes me extremely nervous.  We've worked very hard to get to this point with her.  How do we factor in this new HUGE variable?  Should we refuse it?  CAN we?  We could desperately use it, but I'm uncomfortable with handouts and the emotional baggage they carry.  Am I being irrational?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I can't advise on accepting or refusing the money.  But it is important to realize that either strategy could cause problems.  She might feel deeply hurt and rejected if you decline her offer.  She might, on the other hand, expect return payments of attention, love, company and involvement if you accept.  So the important thing is to do what you feel right doing, and to explain your position.  Clearly setting boundaries has so far been effective.  It seems that she accepts these boundaries and is still willing to be generous.  So you have a good chance of sorting it out satisfactorily

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My oldest son recently married a girl who he dated in high school.  They had a ten year courtship before marrying, and they now live in another state.  My husband, our other children, and I have never gotten along with his new wife, nor has she liked us, especially me.  Unfortunately, we voiced our opinions when they got engaged.  Realizing that he would still choose her, I made an honest attempt to repair our relationship and to care about her.  He has been put in the middle constantly because she misconstrues everything that I say and do to be negative.  I know his loyalty should be to his wife, yet I expect respect from each of them, and shouldn't have to constantly defend myself.  He wants me to do more to accept her, yet I don't know what to do.  I want peace in our relationship, but she is not a very warm, approachable person (totally the opposite of me).  What can I do to help this relationship?  I do not want to alienate my son.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I am so pleased to have a question from a mother-in-law!  Your description of your daughter-in-law as persistently negative will probably send shivers of guilt through some daughters-in-law.  My guess is that your daughter-in-law still feels hurt and angry that you did not immediately accept her, and that you voiced your reservations.  But you have a right to speak your mind, and should not be punished for it forever - especially when you are so willing to build bridges.  One step forward would be to talk, first, to your son.  Explain that you respect his loyalty, and have the highest hopes for his happiness.  Explain (even if you have done so before) why you decided to voice your opinions when he got engaged.  Then you could go on to say that you want to have the best possible relationship with both him and his wife.  While you are willing to work to achieve this, you also will need his help.  You could then say that you would like to see what you can do to clear the air with your daughter-in-law.  Your son will have a much better measure of her feelings than you, so you could seek his advice.  Would he like to speak to his wife before you do?  Could he tell you anything about her feelings that may be helpful?  The next step is to approach your daughter-in-law and express regret for having offended her (but not for your feelings or your actions), and express your hope that you and she can build a relationship of mutual trust and respect.  Good luck!

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL makes things up.  She tells my husband that I said things (when I haven't said those things), and she does the same to my husband.  She has been doing this for five years.  Is there any way to make this stop?  And, if it won't stop, how can I keep it from bothering me and coming between us?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suggest that you gently but firmly announce a new rule: whenever your mother-in-law has something to report about you to your husband, then both of you should be present.  You could explain that this will make her complaints far more effective, and that you are implementing this to help you all address problems.


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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