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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have a very difficult relationship with my MIL.  DH and I have been married for 1 1/2 years.  Before we got married, DH would tell me how much MIL disapproved of us getting married, because she felt that I didn't send her enough gifts.  Despite all that, we got married.  But, right from the onset there was a lot of tension.  She constantly tells her son how bad of a person I am.  She complains that I don't call her frequently, and she complains that I can't hold a long enough conversation with her.  The problem is that, each time I call her, she starts asking for money from me, and wanting me to buy her things.  She would separate what came from her son and what came from me, saying that I should give her stuff from my own pocket.  I found it really awkward.

I would sometimes get her stuff when I felt like it.  The other times, I would openly tell her that I cannot buy her the stuff.  In all my efforts, I would hardly get a thank you.  I spoke about it with my DH several times, but he just said, "That's how she is."

The other issue we had was with the visiting.  We had just bought new sofas.  The day they came, she was around, and she started telling us how to position them in the room.  I, politely, looked for ways to have my view triumph in the end.  After all, it is my house, not hers.  She, then, went on to complain to her son that I wouldn't take her advice.

It's issues like these, the way she speaks to me, sends me angry electronic messages where you can really feel her shouting at you.  It's quite bad, to the extent that even one of my SILs has no respect for me.  She speaks to me like I'm a 5 year old, yet she's about 10 years younger than me.  She's only nice when she wants something from me.

With all that in mind, there have been two incidents where I just couldn't take it anymore, and I told them how I felt.  So, now I think she is feeding more negativity to my DH about me.  At one point he wouldn't speak to me for a full week.  I know this is affecting my relationship with my DH, and would like to change things.  I would want to try and have a better relationship with all of them, without feeling like I am being a doormat all the time.  How exactly do I go about mending things?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a difficult situation, and there are several parts to it.  To begin, I suggest you focus on your husband's behavior rather than on your mother-in-law's.  Can you explain to him that it is disloyal to listen when his mother complains about you?  He can address this without being disloyal to his mother, but he should take responsibility for what he listens to.  "Please don't criticize my wife," he could repeat, calmly, respectfully.

Second, there is no point in you trying to meet her demands.  Whatever you give her will not be enough.  I suggest you simply refuse to engage in any discussion about gifts.  You might try to close the conversation by changing the topic, ignoring what she says, or some version of, "This is not a conversation I can take seriously."  You might suggest that your husband has a direct conversation with her, asking precisely what she thinks you should give her, and why.

Third, it would help to adjust your responses to her: it does not matter that she is dissatisfied with you and what you give her.  Her standards of your behavior are not ones you have to accept.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Is it unkind and selfish of me to want a fresh start, now that my kids are off to university, and I want to spend some time with my DH as a couple?  I have never had any support from my ILs, and have put up with insults from my MIL for years.  I've not fallen out with them, but I choose to keep my distance, which they don't seem to mind.  DH always put off our plans in order to see to them, until it got to the point that we had no plans - no life!

My ILs have had a very active social life with friends and family for many years, and at times have forgotten to ask us to family gatherings that we should have been asked to.  Now, in their early 70's, they have recently had some health problems and my DH is naturally concerned for them.  I don't want to be left completely on my own at home, depressed and lonely, and I fear that I will, if my IL problems don't get better.

I don't want my DH feeling guilty if anything were to happen to either of them.  I would feel guilty too.  But, I do want a life and I don't think it's fair that we should have to put our life on hold any more.  My ILs never felt guilty when they refused us any favors, which were seldom asked.  They could do lots of favors for their DDs though, almost tripping over themselves to do what was asked.

My mum died 3 months after being diagnosed with cancer, when I was pregnant, and only once did they inquire about her.  Nor did they give me any support.  I was just ignored.  I had a hysterectomy 18 months ago.  I want to get my life on track and make up for all the time that I feel was robbed from us as a couple.  I also need a partner to do things with socially.  I have my own health concerns, like needing to get active and lose weight for the sake of my bones and my blood
sugars.  And, I need some support and companionship too.  Am I selfish?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is not selfish to think about and act on what you want for yourself and your husband.  But, this seems like a problem you and your husband should work on together.  Neither of you can prevent your in-laws from falling ill simply by refusing to enjoy your own life.  The needs for companionship and support that you have described are common to most people, and they should not be denied or suppressed.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My son has been married for nearly eight months now.  He just had his first child.  I feel like an outsider.  When I try to talk to him about it, he gets really quiet.  Then I feel guilty.

He spends almost all his time with her family.  I have not been able to baby-sit, though I offered.  His wife had him stay with me while she did the shopping, but her parents have baby-sat several times.

Just recently, my birthday came up, and my family made comments to him about not letting me be part of his family.  He, finally, came up with his wife and baby, but I feel like he just did it out of anger.

We have been so close all his life.  Now I just want to die.  Can you help me?  What should I do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is difficult to know what might be the cause of the reluctance you describe.  I suggest you tell your son in a positive way how much you value contact with him and your grandchild.  Take care to explain how you feel without blaming him for making you feel as you do.  Encourage him to voice any concerns he may have about promoting the bond between you and your grandchild.  Listen to what he has to say with respect.

You could also be very specific about your expectations.  Do you want to see them once a week?  Or once a month?  That's up to you, but make it clear to your son what you expect.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
What advice do you have for me about a MIL who is constantly saying insulting things to me, in front of my DH.  DH always tells me that I am taking what she says out of context, and he never says anything to her.  This has put such a strain on my relationship that I barely go to any family functions on "his" side.  I just can't stand being around HIS mother.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suggest you address this problem with your husband.  If your husband were to say, "Mother, I am very uncomfortable when you criticize/insult/hurt my wife," it is very likely that his mother would stop.  It may be that he tends simply to fall silent; this is not fair on you.  He may be concerned that complaining about his mother's behavior is inappropriate, but he does not have to criticize her.  He simply has to show that her criticism of you makes him very unhappy.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you handle a MIL who favors one grandchild over the other?  My MIL is more attached to my oldest son, and goes out of her way to spend time alone with him.  She offers to pick the oldest up from daycare so he can spend the afternoon at her house.  She's made promises to the youngest (because he does ask why he doesn't get to go) that she'll pick him up next month, or when she has a day off.

Due to where I work, the boys go to different daycares, since the oldest is in school.  The distance to the other daycare is about 30 minutes, so I understand the challenge in picking them both up.  However, my youngest gets upset and starts crying, when he realizes that his brother is at Grandma's and he's not.  I explain the situation, but at 4 years old, he only hears that he didn't get to go.

I finally asked her to not pick the oldest up unless she can get both, or to choose a different day to do something with them.  I don't want the boys to feel as if one is better than the other, and I feel like that's what she's doing.

Should I continue to tell her no (because she continues to ask, even after I say no), and insist that she take them both, if she'd like to see them?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a problem that you may well have to manage rather than solve.  It is very likely that your mother-in-law will deny the favoritism, and will blame you for being critical, or accuse you of imagining things.  But, you might talk to your mother-in-law and say how wonderful it is that she is giving your oldest child special one to one time, and ask that she balances that with one to one time with the youngest.  You could hold to this position firmly, without having to threaten to deny her that special time with the oldest.  Let me know if this works.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mom and DF do not get along.  Mostly, DF has issues with my mom.  My mom owns her own daycare, and offers her services to us for free.  This takes a huge burden off of us financially.  She also takes our son overnight twice a week, giving us some time off.

DF is angry that my mother sometimes disciplines our child with a spank on the hand, when he gets out of control.  DF feels that she should not "spank" him.  Yet, DF feels it is ok for her own mother to do so.

I wish DF would appreciate what my mother does for us, and not only focus on the negative.  I try explaining my point to her; how it is unfair and puts a lot a stress on me with this constant mother vs DF war, but it doesn't seem to change much.  They barely speak, and we are about to get married.  What to do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Instead of trying to manage the problem by speaking to your mother, I suggest you speak to your DF.  You can explain that you value your mother's emotional and practical support, and that you hope that DF, as your partner, will help you express this appreciation.  You can assure DF that she does not have to love your mother, but that you hope that she will treat her with politeness and respectful friendliness.  If DF's behavior towards her improves, then express appreciation for what she is doing for you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL refuses to make amends with me.  Long story short:  She is a narcissistic person, who never takes responsibility for her actions.  She always blames someone else.

It started when she purposely refused to send her GD a baptism gift, because we did not plan the baptism around her.  She lives out of state.  She uses guilt trips and silent treatments as a way to get back at her son.

I finally confronted her, and she refused to make amends.  So, when she did visit, I tried to meet with her to discuss this.  But, she made other plans instead.  What is a DIL to do, when a MIL refuses to try and make amends?

We have completely cut her out of our lives.  It is sad, but all I want is for her to acknowledge the idea that guilt and silent treatments are not the way to better our relationship.  Any advice would be helpful.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Some people have a very limited range of responses, and it sounds as though your mother-in-law is one of those people.  It is difficult for anyone to admit that they are wrong, and a person with narcissistic traits will never do this.  Instead of trying to make amends, I suggest you see whether you could simply move past this.  She is probably greatly offended by your attempt to speak openly about a problem to which she has contributed.  There is no need for you to feel guilty, but allowing yourself to feel guilt when you do not put her needs first is likely to encourage her passive aggressive behavior.  I suggest you try to be friendly and polite while ignoring her (implicit) accusations.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Under what circumstances would it be appropriate to cut family ties?  I have read your book "What Do You Want From Me?" and I understand that in most circumstances there are ways to get along.  However, in my particular circumstance, DH and I found it impossible to maintain relationships with his parents and sisters.  After years of trying to keep the peace, met by equal years of guilt, manipulation, and random attacks from the in-laws (both physical and emotional, stemming from as far back as my husband's childhood), we came to realize that if we continued to have contact with these people, their tactics would only intensify, and one day soon our children would become targets.

The only way to stop the attacks was to cut the in-laws off entirely.  That's what we've done, and we accept the consequences, and understand the magnitude of what we've had to do.  However, I feel guilty.  I also feel compelled to bring it up to DH fairly frequently, e.g., are you OK?  Have you heard from them? etc.  And he doesn't like to talk about it.  He is "done" with them.

How do I forget about them and move on?  I think it's just difficult for me to wrap my head around the toxicity of this family.  I came from a happy family, and these people are not happy.  Thanks for your insight.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I agree that under some circumstances it is not possible to continue a relationship with someone.  It is very difficult for anyone outside the relationship to measure what is simply too much to take.  Your husband has made his decision, and it was clearly a painful one, but for him it may be the best among a range of poor options.  So, I suggest you support his decision, but stay open to the possibility that he may change his mind.  When he does so, hopefully he will tell you, and together you can plan how to reconnect, and how to protect yourselves from the problems that will then arise.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL is a constant problem in my marriage.  She creates a lot of drama, it seems to keep her busy.

We used to be very close, until we made her move out from our home.  After that, it has been nothing but misery.  She has not seen my DD for almost a year.  I have tried to be the bigger person, to mend a relationship for my DD with her GM.

Since we have allowed her back into our lives, she has seen my DD 3 times in a matter of six months.  She lives less than a half hour away.  Not to mention, she has a bit of a drinking problem.  There are other things about her behavior that I do not approve of.  Now she is starting more drama, and I can't take any more.  What do I do?  I love my DH enough to deal with his family, but when can we just be at peace?  When is enough, enough?

Dr. Apter's reply:
From what you say, it sounds as though your mother-in-law may be creating dramas because after moving out of your home, she feels anxious about her connection to you both.  She may be trying to reassure herself by getting your attention as she gets herself into trouble.  Or, it may be that she simply is unable to manage her own life.  If it is the latter, then there is very little you can do other than avoid feeling miserable about her lack of control.

I suggest you and your husband discuss what it is you want from her.  Do you want to visit with her more often?  Or do you want to disengage from her dramas?

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