To Help The Red Cross Click Here
Mother-In-Law Mall
A place to find great gifts!
and products related to mothers-in-law and other family members.

Dr. Terri Apter's own web site can be visited at

mother-in-law stories bd10358.gif
Dr. Terri Apter Archives 2/3/01
mother-in-law stories bd10358_.gif

Dr. Apter, Main Advice Research Paper Interview
Advice Archives


Ask Dr. Apter Apter Books

<--Previous Archive        Next Archive -->

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for a year to a great guy.  Generally speaking, I get a long with his family - including my mother in law.  She was very difficult to deal with during our engagement (prone to crying and saying things like, "I'm not ready to lose my son."), but since our wedding she has been fairly good.  I attribute this primarily to MYSELF (although this may sound bad), because I have bent over backwards with my MIL, sending her notes and letters, reassuring her, telling her she'll always play an important role in our lives.  I call her twice a week, and make sure my hubby calls her too.  I praise her openly, and to others.  I make huge efforts with her other kids, and her siblings and their children.  My question or problem is - and this may seem petty - while she is nice to me, she rarely (NEVER) compliments me or recognizes any of my efforts.  I have not heard her say, even one time, that she appreciates the efforts I made, or that so-and-so liked me (I end up getting the positive reinforcement from 3rd party sources).  She compliments her children, especially my husband, but seems to feel annoyed when people compliment me.  For example, I recently introduced her to an aunt of mine, who said to my MIL about me, "Your DIL is a wonderful girl."  She could have agreed, but my MIL responded with, "Well, I think my son is wonderful too."  Dr. Apter, what is going on here?  My MIL is nice to my face, but does she actually have some deep seated insecurity issues regarding my role in her family???  Please advise!  It's becoming harder for me to feel like giving to this person who doesn't seem to appreciate it.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It may be that your mother-in-law feels insecure, but the problem in this unbalanced relationship might be that she sees you as someone who is always ready to admire and care for her, and simply ignores that you also need her response.  My advice is to try to change your role gradually.  Perhaps after the first phone call of the week, you could suggest that she call you later on in the week if she feels like talking.  You could cut down on your compliments.  Perhaps you could ask her advice about something you have bought or made.  In that way you could perhaps explore whether she is willing to return compliments.  But most of all, I suggest your expectations undergo a modification: perhaps you could accept that she will not focus on you and appreciate you as either a close and genuine friend or as a blood relation.  If you accept that, and also ease up on your efforts to please her, then her lack of engagement with you may be less painful.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Beyond the basic gripes between a controlling MIL and me, there is a history of a strained relationship between my MIL and my husband b/c of her controlling nature.  My husband said that, when growing up, it was, "her way or no way."  So, often times it meant battles for my husband to stand up for his autonomy.  He still does.  He is easily frustrated by her.  Her wish was for me to be the link between her and her son (that she never had, of course she would never admit that).  In the beginning of our relationship, I hoped I could be some kind of link.  Instead, I only find myself seeing what my hubby had to put up with, and now join him in his frustration.  She speaks to her children (youngest is 32) in a voice I imagine she uses with the 4 year olds in her preschool class.  She doesn't let them make their own decisions (when she is allowed to be involved ... my husband and 1 sister have successfully detached from her, while one is still enmeshed).  She has taken any life energy from her sweet husband, he is like an ornament sitting around (when she is there), yet very talkative when it is just he, my hubby and I.

MIL gets defensive, she has "prerecorded conversations" where she asks the niceties, and no matter what you say (b/c she is not hearing you anyway) responds, "Oh, that's wonderful."  If she asks someone a question, she often does not let the person finish b/c it is not what she knew the answer was to be in her head (my Mom refers to this as my MIL"s "rhetorical question" ... which is every question for my MIL).

The whole family thinks there is something slightly off, and with a background in psych., I am wondering if she is diagnosable.  I have a schizophrenic neighbor (diagnosed as such), and she calls sometimes. There are times however when I am talking to my MIL and feel as if I am talking to my neighbor b/c the way she is talking ... off topic, unrelated answers, forgetting that something has already been said more than once.  I am concerned for any future relationship with our children. I will not be utilizing her for baby-sitting, and never in a car (very scary ... I don't even do it anymore), nor are meals safe ... plus the house is neat, but completely unsanitary.

What can we do to ensure that she and my FIL (whom I adore) can see their grandkids w/o feeling ousted?  Also, I don't want them to feel put off by my parents having more contact with our kids ... like not telling them?  I don't know what to do there.  I thought I would know what to do, but feel I have finally reached an impasse.  Any advice?

Dr. Apter's reply:
In many respects you seem to need no advice whatsoever.  After all, you and your husband offer one another support in the way you see your mother-in-law.  While your husband is reserved in her presence, he has not been damaged: he is able to be lively and spontaneous when she is not around.   And you seem to have an ability to identify (perhaps with a combination of amusement and annoyance) your mother-in-law's patterns of behavior.   And you have accepted that your mother-in-law is not a suitable person to care for your children.   So you've solved most of your problems yourself.   But your concern for your children's influence remains.   I suggest that you make sure they visit your mother-in-law in the presence of other people.   And then, see how things go.   As your children grow they will probably be able to see for themselves that her powers to respond to what they are really saying is limited.   You can watch to see whether they seem upset by visits with her, or whether they can tolerate them.   She is unlikely to affect their own patterns of thought and response.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have only been married for 6 months, but my husband and I dated for 3 years before we married. We are a very young couple, 22 & 21. The problem is that I would like to cut all ties to my mil. She is a rude, hateful person who has hurt me time and time again, and I can no longer take it. She hurts my husband also, but he says she is still his mother and we should be civil. How can I be civil to someone who hates me? There is no getting through to her about our problems with her. We got along great in the beginning, but when we got engaged it all went down the tubes. We lived across town from my mil, and she would expect us to visit her every night. She would call at least 8 times a day (we had caller id, so sometime we would not answer). She would even call to see what we were having for supper, or to tell us how to shop for groceries! We decided to move about 150 miles away, to further my husband's education at the university. I couldn't wait to get away from her. In the meantime, we were planning a wedding long distance. My parents paid for everything but the groom's supper. Not once did they offer to pay for anything. She would try to do things to ruin the wedding. She would send us nasty emails, saying that it would rain for sure on our outside wedding, and that no one would want to come (although it turned out to be a beautiful day). She didn't even tell me I looked nice at the wedding. I could sit and tell you for days all the terrible things she has done to us. My family is aware of her and her doings, and she treats them like trash also. My husband is very close to my parents. We do everything with them. We stay with them when we go back home (they live an hour away from my mil). They always try to visit us, and we vacation with them also. They are more like best friends to us. I am very lucky to have them. I know this makes my mil jealous. Which makes her hate me and my family more. She repeatedly lies to us, even about simple things. She doesn't even know what her son or I do for a living, nor does she care. She interrupts us when we try to talk to her. And she only wants to talk about herself. The funny thing is that she still has three children at home, so it isn't like she is lonely. My fil just turns the other cheek to her attitude. I want to be there for my husband, and he knows she is wrong and hurtful, but I can't take it anymore. I get sick to my stomach thinking about all the things she has done to us, and I know she won't stop. I wish my husband would just stand up to her! I have told him how I felt, but it doesn't help. He just says he knows but they're family. I say that family shouldn't treat you like that, and I am embarrassed to call her my mil. Even when we do visit them, my stomach turns and I start to get short of breath, because I know I'm in for an attack by her. Should I learn to ignore her and be the better person, or should I push to cut them off? Please help, I'm going nuts!

Dr. Apter's reply:
It's up to you which route you go. If you think you are able to tolerate her, and ignore her slights, then things will be easier for you. Then you can continue to visit your mother-in-law and talk to her without suffering from her behavior and suffering from your own frustration and anger. However, if you decide that such control (which amounts to a kind of temporary deadening of your responses) is not for you, then you will have the task of negotiating with your husband. He will have to understand that you cannot tolerate contact with your mother-in-law, and that he will be able to continue a relationship with her by himself.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have the MIL from Hell! I have been married for 10 yrs now. It was bad before children, but now that she has grandchildren, she has totally lost her mind! My MIL and I have never been close, until finally in 1996, when I was pregnant with her first grandchild (my first child). When I delivered my daughter, I asked her to be present. 6 weeks after my daughter was born, my MIL got all bent out of shape, because she apparently did not think that 9 visits in 6 weeks were enough. We got through that argument, and then when my daughter was 3 months old she went on a rampage again (by this time it was 10 below outside, and my daughter had had 2 ear infections and an upper respiratory infection already that winter). I was not about to take her out. But my MIL expected us to come there. When my husband explained, she basically disowned us and did not speak to us or see our daughter for 8 months, missing her first birthday. With the help of our pastor, we "made up" and had a decent year or so. Last February, she disowned my husband's brother, wife and son for the same reason. At my daughter's 4th birthday party, the whole family was here and my husband's brother, wife and child were shunned by my MIL, FIL and other BIL, and SIL (who still live at home). I was under so much stress that I just decided that for MY son's (turning 2) birthday I would ask my MIL,FIL and the two living at home to come over a different day than the rest of the party goers. That was fine until she said, "Just the mention of that girl's name makes my blood pressure go through the roof." (She blames those 2 boys for her health problems) I proceeded, after 2 minutes of her bashing them, to tell her that I was going to get off the phone, because I did not want to hear it. She went on, still, and started yelling about not seeing her grandchildren (my two) enough! AGAIN! I feel, if she feels she is not seeing them enough (once a week or once every other week) then she can call up and ask to see them more. She feels she should not have to do that. It is our responsibility. We argued for a while, and then she called me back and told me, "Tell (my husbands name) that I love him, but he is no longer part of our family. She disowned my children and us again. My daughter (now 4) adores her and my son loves her. What do I do? Even when we make up, we know that this will happen again, eventually. It always does. Help!

Dr. Apter's reply:
You yourself have identified the real problem: whenever you mend the relationship, it will be broken again. Unless your mother-in-law sees that she herself has a real problem, there is nothing you can do to stop this pattern. She will continue to say she needs to see you or your children often, and then reject you or your husband (and eventually your children will experience this) for not giving her what she wants. My advice is to disengage yourself from this pattern. When she asks you for increased visits, refuse or comply according to your own judgment and your own wishes. When she rejects you, don't try to mend the breach, but when she makes a friendly overture, then you can accept it. The rhythm of closeness and distance will be struck by her. Don't take it personally, and don't expect too much, and remain as neutral as possible.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for six months and have known each other for one 1/2 years.  Before we were engaged, my husband's parents were so wonderful.  I really loved being with them.  Then we got engaged.  Almost immediately his parents became almost abusive.  I tried talking and reasoning with them.  This did not work.  Two days after we returned from our honeymoon, my in-laws stopped talking to us, because we would not tell them how much money my sister and her husband gave as a gift.  They only began talking to us when my father was diagnosed with cancer.  Since then, however, they stopped talking to us again for reasons I cannot even imagine.  When they do see us, they are quite cold and rude.  Given our new marriage and my father's illness, my in-law's support would be nice.  My husband, who works with his parents in the family business, continues to believe that things are better this way.  I am upset because I don't think he sticks up for me to his parents when they are rude and inconsiderate.  He just allows their behavior to continue.  His working with them only seems to make matters worse.  Any advice?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It would of course be nice to have your parents-in-law support, but it may not be possible.  Your husband has decided that, while he can work with them, a close relationship is more trouble than it is worth.  Sometimes family members drive us to this tragic conclusion.  But you have to decide for yourself: are you willing to take the swings and roundabouts of a close relationship in order to have some moral support sometimes; or are you better off saving your emotional energy to deal with your own problems?

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I got married two weeks ago.  His mother had always been against his choice, but he persisted.  Before I agreed to marry him, he had promised that he would not allow his mother to meddle in our marriage, and that the running of the house would be up to me.  But, immediately after we got married, his mother "visited" us and started running the house as if it belonged to her (she is still staying with us).  She has made it clear that she intends to "visit" us often to ensure that I am properly trained to look after my husband.  She rearranged the furniture.  She decided what my husband should wear.  She instructed me how to carry out simple household chores.  I complained to my husband, but he did not think that her behavior was out of the ordinary.  In fact, he agreed with his mother that I did not dress appropriately on one occasion, and told me to change.  I can tell her off and refuse to follow her instructions, but if she complains to my husband and he sides with her, our relationship will suffer.  What is the best solution for both of us before things get worse?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It would be helpful for both you and your husband if you could, at this early stage in your marriage, set boundaries between yourselves and your mother-in-law.  Could you tell your husband how important it is for you to have his support, and how painful it is to hear him side with his mother against you?  Your husband seems to need help in realizing what he is doing, and unable to control the influence his mother has on him.  Perhaps he realized this himself when he promised that he would not allow his mother to meddle in your marriage.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have a typical, not so good relationship with my MIL.  My husband is in the Army, and we have moved three times in the last four years.  Needless to say, I am tired.  My mother in law does a lot for us, but also will use it to manipulate.  Recently, she asked to come visit us in Germany (we just moved there in the last six months).  This time, for the first time, I told her that I just couldn't take a visit because our house wasn't set up, and I just wasn't feeling emotionally able to cope with a 15 day visit from anyone, much less her, whose visits are usually just hellatious anyway.  Well, she got so mad at this that she refused to even call us on Christmas.  His sister got involved in the fight as well, and now she isn't speaking to us either.  Luckily, this time, my husband took my side and tried to defend me.  My husband's father died last year, and I feel his mother is still grieving, but her behavior is just getting harder and harder to deal with.  I'm feeling so sad for my husband, that no one from his family even calls him.  He has done nothing wrong except to stand up for his wife.  His mom likes to say that he, "isn't the son she raised," etc.  The two of them also attacked our 14 year marriage, saying that we "are never happy", which just isn't true.  I feel our relationship with her is declining more every year.  Now we are here, and won't be home for another two years.  I don't want my husband to separate with his family at all.  I just want more respect, as so many wives do.  Basically, she refuses to respect me, and refuses to understand the stresses we face in the military.  She has lived in one place all her life, and just says that we are complainers.  It's been going on forever, but how do I heal this rift?  I could go on and on about all the problems I've had with this woman.  I feel it is hopeless, and that just induces guilt on my part.  What to do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Since it is unlikely that you would be able to change your mother-in-law's behavior, or persuade her to see it from your perspective, I think your best strategy is to accept it.  When she expresses anger, and rejects you or your husband, just tell her that you are sorry she is reacting that way (but don't try hard to avoid her anger - just do what you think best).  You have every right to tell someone you cannot tolerate a visit.  You can also explain (and you seem to have done so) that this is because of your mental or physical state at the time, not because you mean to reject them.  If she cannot accept that you sometimes will have to act against her wishes, and in accord with your own needs, then a close relationship with her will always be difficult.  But things will be easier if you absolve yourself of guilt.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I married 3 months ago.  I am black, he is white.  Before we married, his mother called off the wedding.  She insisted that my husband not buy me a wedding ring, and called me selfish, materialistic and controlling.  Well, my own mother"fixed" the ring situation by letting me have the wedding ring my father gave to her (my father is deceased).  Most recently, MIL called and literally yelled at me for not sending out thank you cards within 2 weeks of the wedding day (even though we were on our honeymoon that entire time!) to her relatives that gave "substantial money gifts."  When I pointed out that relatives and friends on both sides gave similar gifts, and that I would get all of the thank you cards out in the time my husband and I agreed, she blew up even more, calling me irresponsible, rude, inconsiderate, etc.  I was so enraged that I abruptly ended the conversation.  I told my husband I expect an apology from her.  Curiously, she expects one from me.  I know she doesn't like me.  Whether or not race is an issue I am unsure, and I accept it.  However, I do not want these problems to continue, because it definitely drives a wedge between me and my husband.  If I am to apologize, what do or should I say to this woman?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Clearly your mother-in-law feels a great deal of irrational anger towards you.  It may have to do with race, or it may be that she would resent any woman her son married.  It seems a pity to stay at stalemate over an apology.  Perhaps you could contact her when the cards have gone out (or, if they already have, contact her to tell her they have gone out).  Be pleasant, but unapologetic.  If she continues to demand an apology, you could say something like "I'm sorry you've been so upset", or "I'm sorry we had this disagreement."  In that way, you express regret for the bad feelings, without conceding that you have done anything wrong.

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

To See More Books By
Dr. Terri Apter
Click Here.

           Back To The Top - Click Here

Search this site or the web powered by FreeFind

Site search Web search

All advice on this website is for informational and entertainment purposes only.  All responses are from reader submissions unless specifically noted otherwise (such as Dr. Terri Apter advice page).  We do not endorse any of the advice.  We provide it to you as a service.  We can neither guarantee the soundness of the advice, nor make any claims as to the outcome of following this advice.  We provide it for your entertainment only.  Should you choose to follow any of the advice, it is solely at your own risk.  This is not intended to substitute for obtaining advice from appropriate sources and/or professional counseling.  We recommend you consult an appropriate professional, counselor, and/or a trusted advisor before taking any action based on this advice.  B A Squared, LLC and make no representations or guarantees regarding any information dispensed on this site.

Your privacy is important to us.  Click here to view our Privacy Policy.

Copyright 1999 - 2011, B A Squared, LLC.  All rights reserved.  Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of B A Squared, LLC is strictly prohibited.  All materials submitted (written or otherwise) to become the property of B A Squared, LLC.  Submission of any material (written or otherwise) constitutes your permission for B A Squared, LLC to use, edit, reproduce and publish this material (in whole or in part) in any way it deems appropriate, and releases B A Squared, LLC from any and all liability associated with the publication of said material.

CONTACT US: To contact us for any reason, please use the email form on our Help Page which you can get to by clicking here, or email us at