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5/11/03
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I'm getting married in a few months, and my future MIL is the stereotypical overbearing, controlling mother.  We are in the middle of planning right now.  Just as an example, she has demanded that we order the cake from her favorite bakery, despite the fact that it will have to be transported over an hour, and is extremely expensive.  She is making her own guest list, and interviewing caterers, despite the fact that we have told her that these are decisions that we will make.  My fiancé recently left for a few weeks, and since he's been gone, she has contacted me several times a day with new dictates on what we will be doing.  My problem is this:  I feel like I need to confront her now before this situation gets any more out of control, but I know that a big part of the reason she behaves this way is because she lost her other son in an accident when he was young.  Also, after the wedding, my fiancé and I are moving almost all the way across the country, and I know that she hates losing him.  He won't be back for weeks, and I don't know how to find a balance between asserting myself and letting her know that this is our wedding, and hurting her by making her feel (even more) that she's losing her son to me.  I don't want him to come home to find WWIII between me and his mother.  But, at the same time, I can't let her set a pattern of controlling, especially not my wedding.  How do I handle this?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I agree that it would be best to confront her now, before this control becomes a pattern.  You could begin by acknowledging her good intentions.  You could say something like, "I really appreciate your excitement about this wedding.  It makes me feel so welcome.  But this is something I thought I would always plan pretty much myself, with my husband-to-be."  When you manage to show her that she's taking too much for granted, try to find some other way of involving her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
What should I do with my future FIL?  I have always desired that when I get married, everyone in both families will get along as much as possible.  That is not going to happen, and I'm not even married yet!  My fiancé's dad starts all kinds of trouble.  My fiancé's mom gave him to his father when he was only 5 years old, and he has lived with his dad ever since.  His father is very manipulative and controlling.  He has filled my fiancé's head with all kinds of nonsense.  When we first started dating, his father was so nice!  I met him and the rest of the family, and we got along well.  When my fiancé and I started getting serious, his father started causing trouble.  He started accusing my fiancé of being disloyal and spending more time with me than with him.  Well, we attend school together about 120 miles away from home, so it's no wonder that we spend a lot of time together.  His father keeps telling him that I'm cheating, and not to trust me.  He also tells my fiancé that men don't have to clean or cook, only women have to do these things.  So, I'm being a "bad" woman because I make sure that we share the household duties.  His dad will tell him all kinds of bad things about me (he doesn't know me from a hole in the wall!).  However, when I talk to him (father), he acts like we're buddy buddy!.  He keeps telling my fiancé that he has to choose between us, and I don't understand why.  My fiancé has never received his father's approval, and I think that he is willing to put up with this in the hopes that his father will eventually come around.  Things have just gotten worse.  I've read all kinds of web pages about how to deal with manipulative people, but nothing has helped.  I've tried to "kill him with kindness", but he keeps dragging my name through the mud.  I try not to take it personally, because I realize that his father would do this to any woman who my fiancé was serious about.  I really need help on how to deal with his father without damaging our (my fiancé and my) relationship.  Please help!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your future father-in-law clearly is anxious about losing his son.  Therefore, he accuses you - the person who, in his mind threatens to take his son away - of being a bad person.  He may also worry about losing his son because he knows he does not have a good relationship with him, and that he himself has harmed the relationship by refusing to give a father's approval.  Yet he wants to keep you "sweet" and unaware of his fear, so he is nice to you.  It is unlikely that you'll be able to handle this alone.  A first move is to get your fiancé's support, to explain the situation to him, and see what he can do to support you.  It will, after all, be a matter of managing the situation, rather than solving it.  And, one important factor is how deeply your father-in-law controls your fiancé

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I'm not a MIL,  I'm just a step-mother-in-law to be.  My husband's son is about to get married to his long-term girlfriend.  They have a little boy of 3.  Both my husband and I have tried to make his son's girlfriend part of the family, but she has often been "difficult", sulking and crying when she wasn't the center of attention or when we talked to her partner, or simply when she was not interested in communication.  For example, she'll yawn as soon as we arrive and say that she's tired.  She rushes meals and plaintively looks at her partner to make it plain that it's time we left.  My husband has hardly seen his grandson more than 5 or 6 times a year since his birth, and she is very hurt by the fact that he was not allowed to hold him for the first five months of his life.  I'm only a few years older than my stepson and his wife-to-be, and I've also been very hurt by her attitude.  She made it quite clear to me that I was totally unimportant to her.  I've tried changing the format of our invitations (small gatherings rather than big family meals, which are a tradition in my family, visits to the park, short evening meetings, brunch).  But, I don't feel that I'm getting anywhere, and I can feel that my husband's hurt and upset.  However, he's not communicating his and our feelings to his son.  Do you think that it would be a good idea for him to let his son know that now that he's getting married, we'd like him and his wife to be even more a part of the family, but that his girlfriend's attitude has been hurtful at times, and we would like to know why.  And, we'd like to see what we can do to improve the situation.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Yes, I think it is now worth trying the direct approach, and I think the person to make the approach is your husband.  His important message is that the prospective daughter-in-law's behavior is hurtful - not that she is rude or bad.  You could both focus on the positive outcome you hope for, and make it clear that this would be easy to achieve.  In all probability, your stepson's girlfriend acts as she does because she is afraid of rejection.  A direct approach will challenge the reality of that fear.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Would you have some ideas as to why my in-laws brag to me so much?  My husband is an only child, and he lived with them before we were married.  It was challenging during our first few years of marriage, because they started out being pretty intrusive.  Although we are quite civil (all of us, them too), my husband and I have finally "trained them how to treat us" (as Dr. Phil says).  But, now, whenever we do see them (not as often as before, due to our own preference), they just about constantly compliment themselves when they talk to me.  It seems a bit aggressive, too.  They brag about how much our dog likes them, about how easygoing their personalities are, and about how well they handled various situations.  I like to compliment them.  I normally like people to feel good about themselves, but when I compliment them, it seems to go right to their heads.  They just heartily AGREE with the compliments!  I avoid them as much as I can (which, although I'm polite to them, surely hasn't gone unnoticed).  We are very busy and working hard, and they're couch potatoes wishing for entertainment.  We feel like we have to meet some of our own basic needs (literally, food, shelter, and clothing) before we help entertain my bored in-laws.  But, do you think their heavy-handed bragging to me has a purpose, conscious or subconscious?  I suspect the latter.

Dr. Apter's reply:
People brag when they feel that other people do not notice their virtues and successes.  Perhaps the best strategy is to let them brag, and join in praising them, and then, when the conversation subsides, say again how pleased you are about whatever they are complimenting themselves on, but then immediately explain that you must be getting on with your own schedule.  Perhaps you could encourage them to "relax", but explain that you really have to do other things now.  In that way, you are emphasizing that they have to entertain themselves.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My wife and I have been married for 15 years.  We have 3 great kids, and are both quite busy in our lives, as well as those of our children.  Over the course of our marriage, we have had quite a few problems with my wife's father and stepmother.  It seems to me that we are either in the dog house, or not.  We are either being talked about (to other family members) behind our back, or not.  My wife has a lot of unresolved issues about her father's divorce from her mother.  One of those being the fact that her stepmother. has not given her any one on one access to her father in the 20+ years since they have been married.  Another is the fact that my wife had to pull out of college after only 2 years because money wasn't put aside for her schooling in the divorce settlement.  Obviously these are just a couple of the issues.  Others include uncalled for comments, guilt treatments, etc.  My wife also feels that her stepmother's children's families and grandchildren are treated differently than ours.  That, I don't disagree with, but I can kind of understand too.  Our kids are to the point that they really don't expect much from them as grandparenting goes.  We dread holidays and birthdays, and try and plan trips to be out of town on them.  We do not discuss this relationship with other family members or my wife's siblings family (which is a hard thing because historically, this family is not as private about matters as we are).  I have made several attempts to discuss our feelings with them.  One was even by myself.  The result seems to be that things get better for a short period, then quickly deteriorate.  I'm sick of the situation.  I am, currently, not speaking with them, and they are not speaking to me.  They obviously feel that I'm to blame for the distance between the families.  My wife doesn't argue the fact that they hate me.  Am I destined to a life of avoiding these people and being treated like this?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a difficult situation, and is not one you are likely to be able to control. Perhaps the best strategy is to develop ways of dealing with your in-laws when they decide that you are in "the dog house".  At that point, you could simply withdraw, and ask them to contact you when they are feeling somewhat more positive.  I would advise against trying to win them over, but waiting for them to approach you in a friendly way.  But, you might decide that the volatility of the relationship is so uncomfortable that you would rather keep distant at all times.  It's a difficult decision, but it's up to you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I recently lost my mother and 13 year old brother in a fatal car accident.  Within weeks of this event, my MIL began to refer to herself as "mom".  She began signing greeting cards that way, leaving phone messages, and always conversing with me calling herself "mom".  This is very upsetting to me.  There will never be a replacement for my mother, and I resent the idea that my MIL has decided that she should now be using this title.  My husband and I have been married for 10 years, and up until the death of my mother, my MIL has always been addressed by me by her first name.  There has never been an occasion where I have referred to her as "mom".  She was fully aware of this, and she reciprocated by always signing her cards with her first name, leaving messages with her first name, etc.  I have had a very tense and uncomfortable relationship with her over the years, and it has not been a secret to her, or anyone else in the family.  I feel that this is yet another way for her to make me feel badly, as it is a constant reminder that my mom is gone.  The first card that I received with her reference to being "mom" was for my birthday.  I felt so sad and hurt that she chose that occasion to introduce her new title to me.  I do not know how to approach her about this issue.  My husband has not been understanding of our conflicts as MIL and DIL in the past, so I have very little confidence that he will step in and help me.  Please give me your advice.  Thank-you.

Dr. Apter's reply:
You could approach your mother-in-law by saying that you are touched by her wish to be a mother substitute, that this shows she acknowledges how much you feel you have lost in the death of your mother.  You could go on to explain that this makes you uneasy, because you want to keep your mother's unique image, and your special relationship with her, alive in your mind, even though she is dead.  In that spirit, you would rather continue on first name terms, leaving that special term "mom" for your mother.  You could then tell your mother-in-law that she can comfort you, but in other ways.

 


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Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
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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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