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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for about four and a half years. I have a 9 years old son who is his child.  I have had a relationship with my husband for about 11 years now.  I am desparate for advice about what to do about, "you guessed it", my loony mother-in-law.  She is in her second marriage.  Throughout our days of courting and being engaged she manipulated my husband.  Before we were married, I lived with my mom and my little boy.  My husband at that stage said that he was not ready for marriage.  My mother-in-law, many a time, would demand to see my son, before we were married, and at one stage when I went to her house without my son she asked my husband, "Who is the mother?  Is she the mother?  Or is her mother the mother of the child?"  Before we got married, she called me an evil B**ch, and told me to get out of her house when I explained to her that her son should pay maintenance for his son.  Throughout our married life, he has complained to her about me and she in turn has "given him advice" about me.  She has managed to "twist the truth", "manipulate him into thinking that I was a bad mother/wife", and has made me sound like a vicious ogre.  In fact, the last time we had a big argument, about a year ago, she manipulated him into believing that we were not "meant for each other", and that he should go out there and find a "soulmate".   We separated for about three months and I moved back to my mom's house.  During that period I went "THROUGH HELL", my mother in law told me telephonically, "I don't want you to take this up the wrong way, but I think that you have a demon."  She is a bit of a religious fanatic.  I have gone through years of her manipulative ways - where she puts a guilt trip on my husband - and makes me look bad.  He, most of the time, taken her side - because she knows how to manipulate him.  She is very cunning and sweet and to top it all now she uses religion.  About a week ago we went to her house.  In the car he explained that we, along with his married brother and sister, had been invited to a lunch in aide of celebrating her birthday.  She is 53.  I, in turn, said to him in the car, that I would not be attending because I had other commitments.  Upon arriving at her house I went to sit in the living room.  She sat outside with my husband and his stepfather.  Suddenly, I heard wailing sounds, and there she stood crying.  I walked up to her to ask her what was wrong, and my husband shook his head at me as if to say, "Don't come near her".  I went through a week of HELL after that with my husband.  He said that I was the most insensitive person he knew.  His mother, once again, had manipulated him into believing that I was bad because I did not go to her birthday.  He said that he would choose his mother over me any day.  I have absolutely had enough of this woman.  I have tried speaking to her nicely about what she is doing.  I have tried ignoring her.  I have tried EVERYTHING.  But every time there is a spot of trouble between my husband and I, he runs to mommy and complains, and she MILKS every bad situation she can.  Please help me.  I am desparate for advice.

Dr Apter's reply:
The problems you are confronting go very deep into the relationship between your husband and mother-in-law.  They are unlikely to be resolved unless your husband truly wants to reassess his mother and his own relationship with her.  The most effective role for you to take at present is to encourage and support your husband, if he should show any willingness to take a stand against his mother.  You could tell him that you appreciate his bond to her and his desire to protect her; but, at the same time, you hope that he will feel strong enough to support you as well.  Perhaps he needs assurance that he does not have to choose between his wife and his mother, but that he simply needs to reposition himself vis-a-vis his mother so that he can also respect his wife's need for appreciation.


My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for 21 years.  When we were first married, my MIL would leave love notes on our door, saying to my DH, "I love you, miss you, want to hug you and kiss you."  I still have the note.  Over the years she has seemed obsessed with him.  Still today, when she comes to our home, which is always without invitation or notice, she focuses on him ... ignoring me.  She is very sneaky, too.  When she calls, she always sounds disappointed when I answer the phone.  When I first met my husband and we would go to his family get togethers, his mother (MIL) would always go around saying that her husband (FIL) always had strange ideas about sex.  I thought this was really strange of her to go around broadcasting this to everyone at picnics, etc.  This was not long before their divorce.  We have four children.  My MIL and FIL were getting a divorce just as my husband and I were married 21 years ago.  My husband adopted my two older children who were 2 and 3 at the time of our marriage.  Just two days after my youngest son moved out (fall of this year), my MIL started calling my husband again ... and she told me to tell him that, "She is sorry she ruined his life."  But she wouldn't tell me what she meant.  She said she will talk to him "alone" sometime.  I don't trust her.  She acts kind of sexual around my husband ... not lady like.  One day, after Christmas, she e-mailed my husband, and here is what the letter said:
"Dear Son, Merry Christmas.  I wanted to e-mail you and tell you how very much I love you.  You mean so much to me.  I was so happy you all came over last night.  Sometimes I feel that I am not a very big part of your life, and I want you to know that I am here for all of you.  I hope you know I have loved you from the moment you were born, and that my love will continue forever.  I know I have made mistakes but I pray that you can forgive me and pray that you love me too.  All I wanted when you were all small was to live long enough to know that you were all grown and able to take care of yourselves and be successful.  You have certainly done that.  Success is measured by the kind of person we become, and you are all that I could have hoped for.  You are such a good and loving person and a great father.  I am so very proud of you and proud to have been a small part of your life.  I am thankful that this wish has come true.  I love you very much.  Now, though, I want much more.  I hope to live as long as XXXX and be able to enjoy all of you for a long time.  I'm sure I will.  Mom"
This woman had 21 years to enjoy us ... but she caused me so much hurt when my boys were small by always paying much more attention to her daughters and other son's kids.  My boys were always left out.  Over the years ... especially the first 10 yrs. of our marriage ... she would come to our house uninvited ... and sit in the other room with my husband, and whisper to my husband so I couldn't hear what she was saying to him.  My husband and I both read this e-mail together ... and he says he doesn't understand what she is talking about.  After 21 years of us being married ... she ironically started this after my youngest moves out.  My father in law once said that he had to tell her to quit rolling around on the floor with her teenage sons ... it just didn't look right.  There is so much more to this story ... but it would take forever.  I told my husband we have to put a closure to this.  He doesn't want to e-mail her ... but I thought maybe we should invite her and "her 2nd husband" over and have an open discussion with them.  How do you think we should approach this???  Do you think her letter sounds normal for a mother to be writing to her 44 year old son ... or am I being over sensitive???  I really could use some input on this.  The last two Saturdays she just popped in uninvited.  She is so focused on DH that it is really sickening.  I really believe her intentions are not "good" here.  Any thoughts on this are appreciated!!!

Dr Apter's reply:
You have a lot to be grateful for: your husband clearly does not return his mother's intrusive (and possibly inappropriate) attachment.  However, I understand that you would like to contain her expression of these feelings.  An open discussion with her could be helpful, but it is also risky.  She may become defensive and suggest that you are criticizing her for loving her son; she may accuse you of being unreasonable and unjust.  It does not sound as though she has enough insight into her behavior to take your point.  It might be better to manage her, rather than to change her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I re-set my relationship with my Mother in Law early?  I was very ignorant about mother-in-law relationships, and gave her money when she was having problems making ends meet with credit card debt.  This event, or my current pregnancy, may have caused the rising tension with my mother in law.  During Christmas, she expressed concern over:  1) my husband's decision to take paternity leave, that this was due to my demands;  2) my decision to ultimately return back to work was viewed as being "bad for the family";  3) no teasing of my husband in her household;  4) that I did not properly thank her for her gifts to me.  As you advise in your paper, it is important for me to empathize with her, and I do.  Her intentions are not at fault, it is her conclusions.  She had given up her career for her own husband and family, but was divorced 15 years later.  Having to find a new career has been extremely difficult.  Hence, her focus remains on her adult children, and she laboriously pampers them on holidays with food, presents, cleaning, serving from morning to late night.  I try to empathize with her, but it is hard on me physically and emotionally.  During this holiday, I helped her wrap presents, peel potatoes, chop onions, wash, etc. to assist her, as she was falling behind on work.  Perhaps, due to pregnancy, I was so tired, and then her verbal jabs made me feel angry and now depressed.  My husband tries to understand, but defends and makes excuses for her.  Sometimes that hurts even more.  I'm always being viewed as practical and tough, but that doesn't mean this doesn't hurt immensely.  Dr. Apter, I would be so appreciative for some guidance here.  Thank you.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law may feel embarrassed by (and resentful of) your generous financial help.  It seems that she is now trying to prove that she is more caring and giving than you, and that you are the ungrateful one.  Perhaps just recognizing this (sadly common) pattern would help ease the pain her behavior causes.  It might also be helpful to remind yourself that you do not need to measure up to her expectations.  She can set what rules she likes.  You can listen politely, and then act according to your own judgement.  As long as your husband backs you up, then his true loyalty lies with you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My father in law passed a way a few years ago.  My mother in law refused to move back into her coop apartment, so for the last 3 years she has been moving from house to house.  My husband has two sisters, he is the middle child.  His mother has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.  She refused to take her medication while living with each of the two daughters, and each time she left their house she was admitted into a mental hospital for 30 days.  During her last stay with the older daughter she became verbally abusive, and the daughter could not take it anymore.  No one wanted to have her live with them.  The older daughter moved out of her two bedroom apt and moved in with her new husband - a one bedroom apt.  The other sister has a husband and three sons in a one bedroom apt.  The only place for her to move was to move in with us.  She has never accepted me.  We have a long history of explosions - all of which my husband took up for me.  He explained that his mother had no place to stay, and since we had a spare bedroom this would be the most logical place - only if I didn't mind.  He assured me that she would take her medicine, and she does.  This was supposed to be temporary, and now it is over a year with his mother living with us.  We argue and never come to a resolution.  He now feels that she should be with us, and I feel she needs to get on with her life.  She is in her early 60's, and we could help her find a room or studio of her own.  He doesn't think she can take care of herself.  She totally cares for herself and cooks when she doesn't want my leftovers.  She has a sharp mind.  When company visits she engages in conversation and is happy.  When it is just us, she mopes around and does nothing to help out, and he blames it on her "illness".  It is uncomfortable and very tense in the household.  I decided that we needed a break, and that the sisters should take turns taking her every weekend.  The first week they came late on Saturday and returned her late on Sunday. After that weekend it was forced, and turned ugly.  It is very depressing to see her day in and day out.  It is hard arguing with my husband constantly and having her see this.  It is stressful not getting the help I used to get when I had a babysitter to help out.  When we are at work, the children come home from school and go wild (little supervision).  My husband thought her watching them would be good therapy for her, however, she never babysat for us before, why would she want to do this now.  She seems to be unhappy.  I am unhappy, confused and feel guilty.  What can we do?


Dr Apter's reply:
It seems time to stand up for yourself, and put your guilt aside.  Sometimes a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law simply have to share a home, but in your case there is no real necessity.  Your husband must accept that your happiness is as important as his mother's.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My grandmother in law drives me crazy.  My husband was raised by his grandmother for twelve years.  Both he and his father lived with her.  We have been married for a year and a half.  I noticed from the get go that she was very domineering.  She tries to control him and our marriage.  What really bothers me is he doesn't seem to mind.  His attitude is: why argue with her, we will just do our own thing.  I agree with this to an extent.  Also, she will ask me to do things for her, such as her laundry, since her 50 year old son now recently moved out.  So, basically, she is alone in her apartment, she is in her mid 80's and in great health.  She asks me to do these things, and realizing that she is old and alone, I agree.  But then she will say things to my husband about me behind my back.  For Christmas, he bought me a diamond necklace.  She told him that he shouldn't be spending that kind of money on me.  She tells us how we shouldn't eat out, but if we do, we should go for fastfood hamburgers.  We never ask her for money.  She is very jealous.  What hasn't helped is my husband.  In the beginning, I would try and defend myself.  He would turn to me, in front of her, and tell me not to talk to her that way.  He is a little better now, but, I know he will always protect her over me.  He says he defends me, but I don't feel it is to the extent that he should.  It's like he wants to protect her more.  He says she is the only one that hadn't run out on him when he was a kid, and that she is old.  But I think she plays on the fact that she is in her mid 80's.  I love my husband dearly, but she drives me nuts.  Any advice?  My father in law moved out recently, and so now anytime she needs something, we are the ones to get the call.  Help!

Dr Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could begin in small ways to refuse her requests for help, and thereby set a precedent for limiting her ability to manipulate you.  If she complains that she is old and alone, you might express appreciation for how well she is doing, and how proud you are of her for being so independent.  Remind her of recent behavior which shows how capable she is.  Then repeat that you are unable to help her this time.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My future MIL IS very nice to me to my face.  We (my fiance and I) gave her an engagement picture, and she still hasn't put it up!  She also told my fiance that my job may cause problems in our marriage (I'm a buyer for a company).  When I bring up wedding plans she changes the story at the drop of a dime.  Future MIL and FIL said, for a wedding gift, they would put a down payment on a home (VERY nice).  So my fiance and I looked at 150 homes.  Once we found one, they said this was not a good time ... uuuggghhhh.  Like, I have extra time on my hands.   I try to be nice to her, but can't take it!   My fiance is so quiet and sweet, and he somehow can't see that his innocent mother is doing this.  He won't even stand up!  She has him thinking it's me.  Please help.  I cant take her.  Tired of Trying.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law's behavior is inconvenient and hurtful, but perhaps you could just work around it.  For example, it may be time to accept that she will not actually be helpful to you (however much she promises), and then you won't inconvenience yourself by acting on what she says.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL is a typical mother, but I wasn't brought up the way she was.  I have an 8 month old son.  She tells me constantly what to do with him (some of which is even harmful), and she wants to adopt him.  I'm scared for him.  She goes to Mexico a lot, and I'm scared she might take him.  She always wants him to stay the night.  I tell my DH, and he's just like, "That's the way she is.  Get used to it."  He's a big mommy's boy.  I don't like my son spending the night away from me.  I dont know why, but my dh gets offended by it, and constantly brings it up, and says I have reasons I'm not telling him.  But I don't.  His mom didn't want anything to do with me 'til I got prego.  She's like this with all the kids, and all the other grandchildren are never brought over to her.  But, I don't do that.  It's still her grandkid.  This woman is driving me crazy, and then she acts like he's not even my child. -- going crazy in El paso

Dr Apter's reply:
You may feel threatened because your mother-in-law seems to have no real relationship with you, and bypasses you as she relates to your son.  But you may also have other worries about her which are difficult to name.  In any case, you should be confident and firm of your own decision as to whether your son should spend time alone with your mother-in-law.  Whatever you decide, stick with it and don't apologize for it.

 


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Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
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Dr. Terri Apter
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