Dr. Terri Apter Archives
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|| My question for Dr.
Please tell me you have advice for those of us married to men
who are only children. My husband is wonderful, but he is an
only child, and my mil's main focus. And to top it off, when
she married my fil his mother had passed away by then, and she never
had to deal with in-laws of her own. Everything has always revolved
around how she wanted things done.
Dr. Apter's reply:
There is no easy way to handle this. Your husband probably
sees his mother as weak or needy, and she may use this to gain power
over him. Suggest that your husband draw up with you a list
of areas or activities or times that you want private, or full control
over. One of you (preferably your husband) should talk to her if she
interferes, but be positive: I suggest saying, "This is something
we want to decide on our own" (rather than "Can't you get a life of
your own and stop interfering with ours.")
|| My question for Dr.
Dear Dr. Apter,
When I first met my MIL, she was on vacation with her daughter and
son-in-law, and I was dating my husband then. She was very cold
to me. I thought then that she was just shy, and since we just
met, we don't know each other. One day, after I arrived at their
vacation home, she took my boyfriend (now husband) for the whole day
hiking without me. I had to go to the beach with her daughter.
I took that as a sign from her that she is afraid to share her son
(mind you, I was visiting them just for two days then). When
I visited her in her country, six months after that, she started making
plans for us, and was feeling very uncomfortable whenever my boyfriend
and I went by ourselves somewhere, such as downtown. When he
wanted to take me to a city two hours away, she said no. One
time she wanted to go hiking with him, and she suggested that I stay
home if I don't want to come with "them". Each time
we go out, the three of us together, she takes the front seat of the
car (she did it even after we got married), and I had to sit in the
back. Last summer, when I got married, she told me I want to
see too much in her country, and that there will always be times when
I come back and see new things. Basically, she wants us just
to stay with her all the time, and follow her bossy orders.
I wanted to take a bath in her bathtub, and she gave me an attitude,
letting me know that she did not like it. Each time we sat at
the dinner table, she gave me dirty, nasty looks. Now I am scared
of her; she might be prejudiced of me, since I am from a different
culture than hers, different religion and different race.
Dr Apter's reply:
Make sure your husband knows how you feel. He may not notice
the ways your mother-in-law tries to put you down. You might
explain to him that while you are going to try to learn to assert
yourself with her, and maintain your self respect, you will need him,
sometimes, to back you up, and to avoid, always, taking her side against
you. I suggest that when she does something that puts you down
(taking the front seat in the car, for example, and telling you to
sit in the back) you could say: "That's fine for now, but next time
I'll sit in the front." And make sure you do take the front
seat on the next occasion, explaining: "This is what we agreed."
If she complains about your going out when you visit her, you could
say, "I want to spend time with you, but I also want to see new things."
After all, you have made a journey and should have some control over
your own actions. I suggest you simply ignore her "looks" if
they make you uneasy. Try smiling back, to show her you refuse
to read her hostile messages. You are her son's wife, and she
has to accept that.
|| My question for Dr.
Is my husband the one with the problem? Is it me?
Or, is it the MIL?
I will make this story as short as possible. My husband and
I have been married for 6 months. Our wedding was planned since
June. My husband and I have been together for four years, and
until now have rarely had any arguments. In October, we found
out that we were having a child. Since the day that we began
planning our wedding, and we announced that we were pregnant, she
just became a B!!!!. 2 weeks after our wedding I had a miscarriage.
She never once was nice and asked how I was. She called the
day that I had a D&C, and I answered the phone. I was still
groggy from the medications, and she said, "I need to check on my
baby boy, and oh yeah, when they took the baby out did they tell you
if it was a boy or girl?" I lost the baby a week before
Christmas. She still gave me maternity clothes and baby items
for Christmas. I was so upset. When my husband and I were
coming home from his parents, I said, "I cannot believe your mother
gave me those maternity clothes & baby stuff in front of your
entire family." He said, "Well, at least we will have
stuff for next time." I will give you a few examples:
She calls our home every morning at 7:30. We have caller ID,
and her call is the same time every day. She knows I have to
be at work @ 7:30. I didn't go to work the other day, and she
called. When I answered the phone, she stuttered for a minute,
and finally asked for my husband. My husband and I normally
meet for lunch. If she knows that I am not going to be with
him, she always comes to eat with him. She continually calls
to invite us to do things with her, and if we tell her that we have
other plans, she always becomes so sick that my husband feels bad,
and we end up having to go & spend the day with her. One
time we went to see her, when she was soooo sick, and later on after
we left, I realized that I left my glasses. We turned around,
about 15 minutes away, and when I walked back into the house she was
on a step ladder painting an extra bedroom. She has told his
family that we are having troubles. Every time that I speak
with my husband's grandmother she tells me, "Put your marriage in
God's hands and everything will be ok. I asked my husband where
his mother was getting this info, and he responded with, "You know
how momma is." If she and I are alone, she will actually
be mean. If my husband or FIL is around, she is sooo nice.
She will compliment me, and try and do everything to be nice.
As soon as my husband or FIL is out of the room, she will just stare
at me and stomp into another room after making a comment like, "At
least you let my son come & see me for a couple of hours this
week." We both work long hours during the week. We,
at least, go & spend a couple of hours with them on Sundays.
The last straw was last week. My aunt saw her in a department
store, and his mom actually told my aunt, "She is soo controlling,
she won't let (my husband) come & see me." She also
told her, "She doesn't take very good care of (my husband) and they
surely do not need children. That is why God took that baby."
My aunt called both of us that afternoon and told us of the conversation.
My husband's reaction, "Well, she probably misunderstood momma."
She has a past of mental problems. Last year she tried to commit
suicide after my husband walked in on her having an affair, and the
hospital recommended a "stay". She checked herself out of the
hospital (after 2 nights in ICU) and hasn't been for help since.
WHAT TO DO?????????????????????
Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law has a problem. She does not want you
to feel secure as her son's wife. Your husband is inclined to
protect her. After all, he loves her and is used to her.
He probably does not realize how outrageous her behavior is.
It may help you to consider how insecure she is in her son's love.
She was clearly unsettled by her son's discovery of her sexuality
(you say she tried to commit suicide after your husband walked in
on her) and she is still trying to find ways of securing her position
as a beloved mother. She has so little confidence in his love,
that she has to feign illness to gain his attention. Perhaps
she is concerned that if you were seen to be worthy of sympathy (because
of the miscarriage), then she would have nothing at all from him.
I believe this fear may be the root of her bizarre insensitivity to
your loss of the baby. Try to explain to your husband how you
feel and why you need his protection in her presence. He could
start by telling his mother that he sees her when he wants to - not
when you "let" him. It is possible that he himself may be using
you as an excuse for seeing less of his mother. This would be
understandable and forgivable, but you should not take the blame from
|| My question for Dr.
My husband and I started dating over two years ago. About
a year into it he joined the military and left for boot camp.
Everything had been fine up until that point with my MIL. She
started to show her true colors when I received more letters from
my husband (then boyfriend) than she, and when he wrote her and told
her I would be the mother of her grandchildren. She immediately
called and asked me how serious we were. I told her he wrote
often about us getting married, and to basically start picking out
wedding dresses, etc. Well, she had planned a trip to the beach
immediately following his graduation. This trip was to be totally
paid for. Then, about two weeks before the trip, she told me
she needed $250 for me to go. I thought about it, and wrote
to my husband (then boyfriend) to tell him I decided not to go.
To be honest, money was tight since he had left. We lived together
at the time, and I was left with all the bills, etc. She knew
this but didn't care. I then went to her and her husband and
explained I was not going and why. Her husband immediately said
they were canceling the trip, since he knew my husband would not go
without me. She did not believe he would not go. He wrote
to her, offering to pay my part of the trip as soon as he got with
us if she would go ahead and take care of it. She called me
at work telling me what he wanted to do. I knew he could not
afford this anymore than I, and she would not let him do that anyway.
Instead, she wanted me to pay her back at a later date, or in payments,
in order for me to go. I declined. She then went on to
tell me that my husband would not go without me, and that she needed
to make the reservations. I told her that was something she
needed to discuss with him. He, of course, would not go.
We were engaged one week after he returned home. I immediately
started plans for the wedding for four months later. She immediately
started picking out bridesmaid's dresses, accessories, etc.
She had a problem with everything from my gold bridesmaid's dresses
(she wanted red), to my invitations and napkins, which listed my name
first instead of his, and used the shorter version of his name, even
though everyone calls by that name except for her, and her husband,
and his two sisters (who aren't allowed to call him by his shorter
name). She had problems with the fact that my Mom was wearing
black (she felt they should dress alike, and that my wedding was not
formal enough for black); the fact my wedding was at 6p.m.,
which was the only time I could get the church; the fact that
my grandmother did all the flower arrangements; the fact that
I did not have a unity candle. She even went to my husband behind
my back offering to pay for a unity candle if we would do it.
I just chose not to have a unity candle. But she felt that,
since she and my husband's deceased Dad had a unity candle, we should.
Most of all, the biggest issue was the reception, being light foods
instead of a sit down dinner. The reason I chose not to have
a sit down dinner was because we had such a short time in the reception
hall. She decided one week before the wedding to take it upon
herself the change the food to a sit down dinner. I had to go
behind her and change it back. Once I called to let her know
this, she then went on tell me that since we wanted to be that way,
she would not pay for my aunt and uncle at the rehearsal dinner, who
were coming from several states away at Christmas time. These
were the only two people in my family who were not directly a part
of the reception. I then told her no one would be there.
We got into a heated argument, where she told me my family was as
strange as my husband has supposedly said, and that my wedding would
be an embarrassment. And, that my huband and I did not know
what we were doing, and refused any help from them. The reason
I refused help is because my MIL has hideous taste
The next big problem was two weeks later for Christmas. Steve
had promised, since we had stayed with his family for Christmas the
year before, that we could go to be with my family this time (which
is in another state). She knew this months in advance, and continued
in front of me to make him feel guilty for leaving, since her Dad
had died that same year, and now he was leaving for Christmas.
We still went. She planned a dinner for us on the 26th.
My husband was having so much fun going hunting with my Dad and brother
he decided to stay another day. He called her on Christmas Day
to tell her we were coming back on the 27th instead. She went
crazy, said horrible things to him, and of course blamed me.
When we did arrive back on the 27th, we went over to her house, where
my husband then told her we were going back to my family on New Year's
Eve since I would be staying with my family for the last month of
his training. She once again went crazy. She asked him
what was so great about where my family lived that made him want to
be there. And she told him that when she and his Dad married,
they married specifically because both of them were from the same
city, and no one's family would be without them on holidays, and that
he should have made that consideration before marrying me. That
is not even rational. She then said he had thrown away his family
for me. I didn't know what to do. I just began to cry.
I told him it was not fair for him to expect me to take such abuse,
and that I was leaving with our without him. When he started
to let me leave, I refused, and told him, he was my husband and he
should stand by me. We both left. She called after we
got home. They argued even more. She wanted us to stay
in town until New Year's day, and for me to travel alone to my parents,
which is a nine hour drive. My husband, of course, did not want
me traveling alone, most husbands would not. We left without
even saying goodbye. She tried to call me at my parent's house.
I refused the calls. All I asked was to be left alone.
We went back to my parent's.
We have been here almost two months. Within the first two weeks,
we got so many nasty messages and emails from her concerning my husband
being a good boy and coming home this Christmas, and how he never
calls or writes. Her husband even wrote a nasty note to my husband
saying that he tormented his Mother, and that he needed to learn to
balance being a husband with being a son. When we asked why
he wrote this, he said she seems depressed every time she talks to
my husband. What can we do about her not letting go? We
actually closed out our e-mail account and start a new one she doesn't
know about. We didn't hear from her for about a month, because
she told his sister she was waiting for him to call and make sure
she was still alive. She finally did call and continued with
him about how he never calls and never talks to anyone from back home.
She puts his grade school aged sister on the line to ask him why he
never sends cards or letters. My husband can hear her asking
her Mom what to say. Yet he keeps a very active relationship
with his other sister (a young teen), who had just called the day
before, and also with his his aunt. She doesn't understand that
he dreads her calls because all she does is complain about him not
talking to family and friends in his home town. She is trying
so desperately to keep him connected to his home town. She tells
everyone we are moving back in three years, which we aren't.
She is now calling and writing to tell us that she can't wait to come
out here. We haven't even been gone for two months. I
do not want her out here. Things are bad enough, but I will
not be mistreated by her in my own home. I mean, her husband
doesn't even speak to me. They are not going on vacation this
year so they can come out here. My husband and I need some time
to ourselves. We don't want them to come. We decided that
he needs to tell them it is not a good time, especially since things
are so bad between her and me. I also don't think it is fair
for her to just tell us she is coming.
Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law is trying to maintain control over her son
and you. I wish there were therapy sessions for in-law problems.
It would help if your mother-in-law could gain awareness of the meaning
of her own actions, and if she could realize how destructive they
could be. In all probability, without any therapy, she will
go on feeling only her pain, and therefore thinking that her actions
are fully justified. Your description of her behavior over the
wedding preparations is almost comical (though I am sure no one involved
experienced it as funny). Her inconsistent and inconsiderate
behavior over money is an attempt to show her power, and to unsettle
you. Her nasty emails are abuse to both of you, and should not
be tolerated. Somehow, you and your husband have to tell her
clearly and forcefully: We want to remain bonded to you, but we are
finding it increasingly difficult under these circumstances.
Perhaps you could also frame this positively: say that you value her
opinion, so her criticisms of you are too painful. You could
also say that you show her respect, and that you need her to show
you respect. Start with obvious ground rules (and it is far
better if your husband can state these, though you can work them out
together): no verbal abuse; visits by invitation only. Offer hope
that these rules may be relaxed when things improve. Be prepared
for sulking, but keep your resolve.
|| My question for Dr.
I am at my wits end. My father-in-law is my main problem,
but my other in-laws make things worse. The problem is, he doesn't
accept me for who I am. My A.D.D. is "a crutch" and an
"excuse for screw ups". My dry humor is insulting. My
hurt feelings are me "holding a grudge", "being negative", or "starting
a fight". I have tried all I can think of, i.e.. ignoring the
slights, calm discussion, outright fighting, etc. My husband
is supportive and has stuck up for me, but naturally he wants to spend
time with his loved ones. The thought of another visit makes
me ill. I've been told he will never understand. This
I don't doubt, since every argument we've had has ended with him getting
an apology (translation: he's proven right). The only reason
that it ends that way is because he pulls the (we both love his son)
trump card. My husband even used that once. I honestly
don't know what else to do. If I could, I would avoid most/all
contact with the whole lot of them. When I think of all the
stuff they've done to me (and my husband before we met) I want to
just tell them off and get them out of my life. I think I could
have a relationship with them if we could all be honest instead of
constantly having to dance to my F-I-L's tune then Maybe we Might
get somewhere. As it stands, I'm left daydreaming about disappearing
to an undisclosed location during their next visit (I wish that I
Dr Apter's reply:
Your in-laws are clearly a great source of misery. You are
generous enough to understand that your husband wants to spend time
with them. One solution could be that he spends time with them
on his own. You could say, "I don't want to step between you
and your family, but at this stage, their visits cause me too much
distress." If, in some circumstances, visits cannot be avoided,
then keep them short, don't spend all your time with them, and do
spend time doing something you really enjoy.
|| My question for Dr.
I have been married for almost two years, and my husband and I
have a wonderful relationship. I have very supportive parents
and come from a close family, and my parents have become good friends
to my husband as well. The only problem in our family life has
to do with his mother: she has a history of not getting along
with people, including other family members. When the family
members discuss the situation, the end result is, "That's just
how she is. We try to keep quiet, and stay on her good side."
I am not used to putting up with someone (especially family, as long
as they are mentally competent) who treats people with such disrespect
and plain meanness. She has had a self-proclaimed (and yes,
it is true) "hard life", having two husbands die, and she is just
entering her 50s. She is, however, rude and nosy. She
asks my husband about our monetary affairs when he calls. She
never phones us (we live in another state and it is long distance)
and we call her each time -- when we call she keeps the phone line
tied up for at least an hour to two hours with depressing stories
and negative talk, saying things about how she never loved my husband's
father, that my husband's youngest brother was unwanted, and that
she sometimes thinks she wouldn't care if she ever saw her "second
set" of kids again. She has sent us nasty emails, did not help
my family out with any of the wedding payments, and has not, since
we were married (including the wedding gift) been generous or a giving
person. She is cinchy with her money, but then gets "offended"
when we send her gifts that she thinks are not good enough, like catnip
tea for her birthday (she actually got offended over this).
I am fed up with my sisters-in-law telling me, "That's just her, and
we try to keep quiet to stay on her good side." I am sick of
the hurt look on my young, wonderful husband's face each time he has
any conversation with her. It causes problems in our relationship
b/c he does not stand up to her, and it forces me to pick up the ball.
I basically have put up with this woman and tried to have a working
relationship with her since I have met her, but she is still at her
old tricks, apparently tricks she had since before I was in the family.
I wrote a letter to her last week explaining my concern for her depression
and her unreasonable acts and unkind words -- how I will not allow
this sort of thing to interfere in our peaceful household, that I
wanted to be honest with her and let her know up front how I feel
about her behavior, that I am here to help, talk or be her friend.
But it is up to her to decide if that is what she wants or not.
I basically treated her the same way I treat other family members,
and I have not heard from her since writing the letter. This
is not unusual, as she has never reciprocated very much with me or
anyone else. But, I am worried she has, again, like the birthday
gift of tea, taken things the wrong way (anything is possible with
this woman, she thinks the world is out to get her). To make
matters worse, she revels in slandering people behind their back.
And many times, other family members are the center of her negativity
and biting remarks, including my husband's father, who died when my
husband was a child. I have let her know I do not condone this
kind of talk, especially when the person is someone I do not know
well enough to form an opinion about/take sides, or they are dead
and unable to defend themselves.
I am just at a loss here as to how to handle this person. She
seems very unhappy, perhaps even in need of medication or a psychologist
for some of the personal trauma that has forced her to react so callously
to those who try to love her. What should I do? I feel
that she is, at this very moment, plotting my demise. It is
a good thing that my husband completely agrees with me, and backs
me up as do any other family members who know her well enough to see
straight through her.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. I'm in my mid twenties,
and this is not at all what I had expected. I wanted so much
to have a good friend in my mother-in-law. It is the way things
are in my own family, and I am so totally baffled by this type of
Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law may be too set in her ways to change.
After all, her family allows her to continue her offensive behavior
(by saying "That's just her way.") You could tell them that
you have more faith in her than they do, and that if you all set reasonable
boundaries, she may actually improve. In the meantime, you could
take steps to manage her as she is. For example, when your husband
phones her, make sure there is something pressing which will make
it imperative to end the conversation long before two hours is up.
When she slanders someone, change the subject to show such talk does
not interest you. When she describes her past sorrows, you could
try saying, "I can see you've been through a lot, and it's very impressive
that you've overcome it." This could be a standard response
which you repeat every time. This has the advantage of giving you
something to say which will not offend her, but which does not encourage
her either. I wish I could offer some magic formula, but in
all probability, you will have to keep up your defenses throughout
her life. Make sure your husband knows how much you value his
support. A good woman friend will have to found elsewhere.
|| My question for Dr.
My husband and in-laws are South American. My MIL's children
are the center of her universe, even though they are adults.
She grew up in a very wealthy family and has never worked. This
is very difficult for me, as I feel as though she competes with me
for his attention. The night before our wedding, she gave him
a large framed picture of herself, my husband, and my SIL. I
got her message loud and clear. She constantly insults me and
lectures me on having an open mind, and how to be a successful wife
(even though she has had 2 failed marriages). She is rude to
me (and also to waiters and waitresses, which I cannot stand).
She is also terribly small minded and bored, and can spend hours talking
about nothing ... i.e., her neighbor's relationship, her friend's
dog, her maid, etc. My husband and I are both educated people
with great jobs, and enjoy discussing current events, politics, languages,
travel, work, etc., but she cannot tolerate anything beyond mundane
gossip. She was recently visiting (she insists on staying for
10 days at a time in our tiny apartment, even though I have tactfully
suggested she might be more comfortable/have privacy staying in a
hotel ... AND I have offered to pay for it, even though she is very
wealthy) and is reading a self help book, which she told me she was
reading to learn to deal with all of the righteous people in her life.
Ouch! The bottom line is that she makes me feel inadequate around
her husband. I have taken pains to find common ground ... from
taking language lessons, to going to lunch with her ... but I think
she wants so desperately for her son to need her that she will do
whatever it takes ... from a temper tantrum (I'm serious, and mortified
... tears and yelling from a 58 year old woman) in a restaurant, to
spending 2 days buying him the "right" toothbrush b/c the one I bought
doesn't suit his needs. He has suggested volunteer work where
she can pour her generosity into a cause that actually needs it, and
her response was that, "Being a mother is a 24 hour a day job.
Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law can be told that parenting a healthy and active
adult is not a 24-hour job. Try to be as insistent as she is.
If she "insists" on visiting, you can counter insist. You could
say, "We are pleased to have you visit, but ten days is really too
long to stay with us." You can keep saying this, and if you
are able and willing to pay for a hotel, simply tell her that's where
she is staying. Of course, this may not be easy. She may
sulk, or criticize, but I hope that if you just hold your ground and
remain calm and unruffled by her protests, she will accept the situation.
As for boring conversation - well, try to give yourself a reprieve.
Sit down and talk to her for an hour, and then phone a friend, or
read a book. Inviting friends around can also dilute boring
family conversation. And I would give up trying to please her.
It sounds as though she does not want to be pleased by you.
You may be encouraging her criticism if you try to please her.
She may give up if you show you are indifferent to it.
|| My question for Dr.
My husband and I do not have any kids yet, but when we do, I do
not want my MIL to take part in their lives (maybe see them on major
holidays, and that's it). She has mental problems, she has a
roommate that has drug problems, and she is very politically incorrect.
Am I wrong in thinking that way? I just don't want my kids exposed
to drugs and racism and all, especially from a family member.
Dr Apter's reply:
You have every right to limit your children's exposure to people
you feel would not be good for them. The drug use of her partner
is a very good reason for keeping them away.
|| My question for Dr.
Is it possible to cut the (umbilical) cord after 36 years?
Sad as it is to say, I've got a 36 year old MAMMA'S BOY, and it's
driving me nuts. She makes it her business to stick her unwanted
nose into all of her (3) kids personal (and very private) lives.
To the point of telling us "in-laws" that we don't know how to do
things the "RIGHT' way, according to her. Her own daughter told
me, "She only hears what she wants to hear, so just ignore her if
she oversteps her bounds". Knowing this, is there any way, (short
of using duct tape) to get her to mind her own business, and shut
up about "our" flaws?
Dr Apter's reply:
Her own daughter has had many years to come up with ways of tolerating
her mother's interference. You have to find your own ways of
managing her. Try making it very difficult for her to hear only
what she wants to hear. Keep saying what you want over and over
again. A broken record tone (repeating the same thing in the
same way, whatever her attempts to deny or ignore it) can be effective.
You could say, repeatedly, "I've already decided how I'm going to
do it." When she speaks about your "flaws", just say, "That's
how I am. It may be different, but it's not wrong." Avoid
defending yourself in any greater detail, because it will just offer
her points for further criticism.