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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My DH has a married younger brother.  He married his wife against the wishes of everyone in the family, except my MIL.  She, for his sake, convinced my FIL to give his blessings.  Since the day my BIL got married, my MIL has launched a strange project.  She systematically downgrades me and my career (I am an IT manager) in front of relatives, while upgrading the younger DIL, who is a stay at home housewife.  She makes comments like, "The older one says she is some manager.  The younger one is a businesswoman - she buys shirts for $6 or $7, and sells them for ten each to her friends."  When all of us have to go someplace together, she checks how many pieces of jewelry I am wearing, what dress I am wearing, etc., and then makes sure that the younger DIL is wearing the same color and more jewelry - petty stuff like this.  I hate to acknowledge it, and yet I cannot ignore because it is so irritating.  The worst issue is that when she is with me, she sings the younger DIL's praises, and when she is with her, she sings my praises, thereby creating a rift between us.  I, at least, had hoped to get along well with the spouse of my husband's only sibling.  I thought this was my MIL's modus operandi - to make herself feel secure.  But, a year ago we had a few weeks vacation at the IL's house, where the BIL, his wife and daughter were visiting too, and I was shocked to find that she never lost an opportunity to praise the younger DIL.  She called my 2 year old son spoilt, and in the same breath she praised their 7 month daughter for good behavior - in front of a family who was visiting us all.  What makes it most unacceptable to me is that I treat her with utmost respect, while she has complained to my husband about how unhappy she is with the younger DIL's behavior towards her.  SIL is arrogant, and never loses an opportunity to put our MIL down.  My MIL seems to be "wooing" the younger DIL at my expense, perhaps because my MIL does not do well, and the BIL lives minutes away from her home, while we are in another country altogether.  When she visits us, she is constantly asking for stuff around the house that she thinks my BIL can use.  She tries to dictate to us how much we should spend on any gifts we give to my BIL and his family.  It is usually an "as much as can be squeezed" approach.  However, the BIL's wife tells me that they have always been told not to spend too much on our family.  She is also a depression patient, and refuses to lift a finger at our home when she visits.  While at her own home or at BIL's, she helps around and certainly does her own chores herself.  Diplomacy and "polite and firm behavior" slides right off her back.  I know from the last 8 years that she only backs down and stops making rude comments if she is afraid of being insulted in return.  However, when my husband and I got married, he told me of her depression and inability to work, and how the slightest things can upset her and make her very ill.  I had promised to treat his mother as my own, which I have done so far.  But I cannot take this any longer.  I have told my husband about the difference in the treatment that I get, but he shrugs it off as my imagination.  How can I deal with the problem without getting him involved or making him choose sides?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is highly unlikely that you will be able to change your mother-in-law's behavior.  From your description, she seems very insecure and prone to envy, so she tries to instill these unsettling feelings in others.  The best strategy is to ignore, as far as it is possible to do so, her praise and/or condemnation of others, including yourself.  When she inquires about your clothes, jewelry or gifts, you could try a stock reply, "I'm not sure" or "I'd have to check that information" - and you could use the same negative, inconclusive feedback when she asks to be given your things on behalf of your brother-in-law.  As for your husband, it is worth trying to focus his attention on the reality of your situation.  When you describe her behavior, be as specific as possible.  So, instead of saying, "She's always doing this," explain that when she said this (very specific thing), you were upset - and then explain why.  You could also tell him that you are deeply upset by his failure to understand what is going on.  That may highlight the importance of facing the problem.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I AM the mother-in-law!  "Ex" that is.  My son and his ex are in litigation over child support.  My ex-DIL has sued my son for more monthly support.  He is livid, his new partner is livid, and I'm trying to maintain a "hands off" stand and provide my grandson, age 6, with some stability, sanity, and a haven from the constant fighting and arguing which goes on between all the other "adults" in his life.  My son is angry and resentful that I have continued to be available for my DIL (as do my parents).  I don't pursue her company, or even initiate phone calls.  But, if she calls for advice or help, I'm available to her.  My son has lambasted me and my parents about our neutral positions on his legal problems and continuing civil attitude towards my former DIL.  He has threatened to refrain from having contact with us if he finds out that we have spoken to my grandson's mother.  His paternal family is shocked that I would have any contact at all with my ex-DIL.  She was born and raised in Europe, and has only lived here since marrying my son 6+ years ago in Germany.  She is still learning our ways, and with my grandson's entry into school this year, she has been particularly anxious and uneasy about it all.  I'm a school teacher.  It makes sense that she would call and ask me questions.  My son becomes enraged when he finds that we've talked.  His new partner won't even speak to me at times because of this, and they have a new baby, my first granddaughter, whom I've seen less that 10 times in the 6 months since her birth (and we live less than 10 miles apart).  I'm extremely distraught over this.  I love my son beyond words.  I love my grandson even more!  But, it is killing me to see my son so angry and vindictive towards his ex.  My grandson will suffer from this, and I warned my son that I'm afraid he will too.  My ex-DIL was a part of this family for years before their divorce, and I accepted her as my daughter from day 1.  Because of their legal turmoil (which I hate, but refuse to get involved in), my son accuses me of being unfaithful/unloyal to him.  I just want my grandson to know that I'll always be there for him.  His healthy emotional life is of utmost importance to me, but it's a slippery slope.  My son tells me that his partner wants nothing to do with his family, and adds, "And I agree with her."  What am I doing wrong?  Am I wrong to maintain a civil relationship with my ex-DIL?  How can I help my son understand that my actions are for the good of my grandson?  After all, if he didn't exist, there wouldn't be a problem.  But he does exist, and I don't want my him to end up hating me or his dad for the way his mother was treated (and my son should understand this because of how he has felt about his own dad in years past!).  I am sorry that this is long and rambling.  I'm very upset about this, and would really treasure some advice!  Thanks!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Divorce is a highly charged process.  People tend to emphasize all the bad aspects of a partner in order to cope with deep feelings of rejection, loss and disappointment.  Unfortunately, your son wants you to view your former daughter-in-law in the same way.  There is no reason you should accommodate him.  Try to talk to him in person.  Explain that your priority is the well-being of your grandchild, and that his former wife is the boy's mother, and nothing will change that.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has a history of having a short fuse and violent temper.  She has slapped adult members of the family, kicked walls, stomped the floor, crashed dishes around, etc.  When my girls were babies, she became enraged at me (because I wouldn't let her take my baby off by herself), and she flung and sort of shoved my 18-month old at me from about 10 feet away across a wood floor.  Another time, she became livid with me (because we were 30 minutes late after a 3-hour drive), and she snatched my 2-year old out of my arms and ran off into the woods.  She was so angry, and I was petrified that she would throw my baby off a cliff into the river.  My husband had to go retrieve the baby while I held my 1 year old.  We haven't allowed my MIL to visit for 4 years, but now she has invited herself for a holiday visit.  My girls are now 8 and 9, but I'm still leery of my MIL's behavior.  Your advice, please!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Do you have any reason to believe her behavior has changed?  Can you ask what steps she has taken to control her anger?  Does she understand that such violent behavior is unacceptable?  If not, then I suggest you do not permit her to visit.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
This may be more of a husband problem than a MIL problem.  But, I can't decide which.  When I met my husband, the middle child of 3, three years ago, I got the distinct impression that he and his mother were close.  I took this as a good thing, as I've heard that a man will treat his wife much like he treats his mother.  However, as time passed, I noticed some mother-son habits that are very disturbing.  He is her confidant for everything.  She only confides and trusts in him, instead of her husband.  She seems very needy and dependent upon him.  At first, I thought that this was a one way situation, until I asked him about it.  He became very defensive and protective of his mother, so I let the issue drop.  This was the only assumption I could make, as she lives at the other side of the country and I had not met her until our wedding.  However, I can no longer look away since our wedding.  She came to visit us, and it instantly became clear that something was not right.  He catered to her every need, and constantly coddled her.  She behaved almost childlike in some ways, and he treated her as such.  But, he also behaved more as a child himself.  He would curl up in her lap on the couch and "cuddle" with her.  He would give her foot massages, and sit next to her and lay his head on her stomach if she was laying down.  Now, I take this as inappropriate behavior from a man of 26 years.  At the wedding, she threw fits because she felt he wasn't spending enough time with her or giving her enough attention.  I was so embarrassed at the reception during the mother-son dance.  They were dancing so close that people were making comments about it.  I've had several people, who attended the wedding, call and ask me if anything "funny" had ever happened in his family, or between him and his mother.  Others have commented that he becomes a totally different person around her.  I've tried to discuss the subject tactfully, as he becomes enraged if I even question his relationship with her.  She has been nice to me, and says that she accepts me because her son loves me.  However, my husband can not stand that I have an issue with their relationship.  To him, she is a saint who can do no wrong, and I am no one to question that.  I have no idea how to talk to him about this, as he won't listen, and believes that there is no problem.  But, this whole situation is driving me away from him and any relationship that I could establish with my new in-laws.  I feel that if it comes down to it, he would choose mommy over me.  That is something he claims would never happen, but his actions show differently.  How should I deal with this situation???

Dr. Apter's reply:
There is very little you can do if your husband does not want to change the relationship with his mother.  From what you say about her behavior at the wedding, it seems that she is likely to punish him (by throwing fits, by expressing great sadness) if he tries to distance himself from her.  So, your first challenge is to convince him that there is a problem.  Try to have specific examples of behavior that shows he is inappropriately close.  Explain that you are not setting out to criticize either him or his mother, but that you are concerned about the implications his bond with his mother may have on the development and continuity of your life together.  I suggest that for the time being, until you have your husband on board, you sort it out with him, not your mother-in-law.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL is extremely controlling, and I am having trouble getting my husband to recognize this.  During every family event, she insists on planning each person's activities for the day, down to which car each person will ride in on the way to dinner, and with whom.  She repeatedly attempts to separate my husband and myself from each other by instructing me to join activities with other members of the family because she "would like some time alone" with my husband.  Most recently, she trapped me in the car alone with her and launched a diatribe, instructing me on the proper way to raise children, and how important it is for the in-laws to be present at the hospital when grandchildren are born.  She also finds it necessary to tell us where we should live, how we should run a household, and how we should act.  She has even gone so far as to confront my mother about why I am so unreceptive to her ideas and philosophies, saying that I had better learn to adjust because she will never change the way she deals with her family.  She repeatedly badmouths the spouses of all of the children in the family, continually remarking about how they are undeserving of her children, and labeling them as very difficult to get along with.  I have spent quite a bit of time around all of them, and it is clear to me that she is the problem in this family, and not them.  It seems to me that she's so afraid to lose her son (my husband) that it's driving her crazy, and the more she thinks she's losing her grip, the tighter she tries to hold on and control our lives.  She is causing so much tension in our relationship, and when this is brought to her attention, she tells my husband that I am the one who needs to do the adjusting since she is the "older lady" in the equation.  Essentially, it will be done her way, regardless of whether she causes so much misery and disagreement that we eventually get divorced.  She is so frustrating that I dread every possible encounter with her, her husband, and their unmarried daughter (who consistently acts as my MIL's mouthpiece).  What should I do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suppose you might try a counterattack.  Be prepared, during family outings, with an agenda of your own.  Then suggest that there be some compromise.  When she utters directives on much larger points (where you should live, for example), then you might try thanking her for her advice, and her concern, and explain that her ideas will be a consideration in your decision, but that you have to make the decision yourself.  Try just repeating phrases like this, without getting involved in an argument.  It will take hard work to break these patterns.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL, as well as the rest of the family, continuously ask me when am I going to have a baby.  My husband and I have been married for 2 years.  We have been trying to conceive for about 6 months now.  I am really getting tired of being asked, "When are you going to have a baby?  You know, you are getting older."  I wanted to know if there is a polite way to answer all of the family members when they keep asking this question.  I don't want to tell them that we are trying because it is none of their business.  How do I answer them so that they stop asking me?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Even people who are generally sympathetic and understanding can be obtuse when it comes to prying into other people's plans for having children.  It is difficult to tell people not to ask - because then you have to explain why.  Try an enigmatic smile, saying, politely but firmly, "That's a VERY personal question."  Good luck, and try not to be too angry when people are blind to their own insensitivity.


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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