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7/29/01
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you move her out?  When you've tried the many ways to try to get along.  When you realize you made a horrible mistake (when you gave in).  When you can't stand what it has done to your marriage, and you need to set things right.  The problem is having to deal with DW's pouting and WWIII, and the fact they have you cornered by selectively remembering your prior agreement to try to live together with MIL at home, and they forgot the conditions (like time limits and trial periods).  I've thought about leaving, myself, and negotiating my return without MIL at home, but won't that be too drastic?  I'm getting ignored in my current silent period, while they act as if I must have a mental problem, or work related stress, or something.  I wrote to DW stating new boundaries for family visits, and got no response.  I can't take this anymore!  What is the best way to stop this?  Signed, Nice Guy.

Dr Apter's reply:
The best course now is to speak to your wife directly and clearly.  It may be too difficult to list in a way that satisfies you both what your previous agreements and conditions were.  Instead, stick to the current situation.  Make sure that you state your own feelings clearly, and avoid blaming anyone else.  For example, instead of saying that your mother-in-law is intolerable, say that you find living with her intolerable.  Ask your wife's help in sorting out the problem - but to do this she will need to appreciate how deeply you are affected.  Together you can draw up an action list.  However, if your wife does not take the strength of your feelings into account, then this strategy will not work.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My problem is with both of my in-laws.  From day one of our marriage they have tried to control everything, and my husband does not seem to understand my feelings.  We came back from our honeymoon and they had rearranged where I put my things, washed our clothes, and done our grocery shopping.  From then on, whenever we went out of town, my FIL felt the need to clean something in our house, move something, or throw it away.  Once, I purposely hid my car keys, only to come home and find him working on my car, with my keys in hand.  He had to search in our bedroom for them!!  My husband was upset because he knew I "would be upset," but never saw anything wrong with their constant intrusions.  One time, he just came right in the house, and I was sitting in the den in my underwear!  He couldn't understand why I was mad, and had an attitude with me because I asked him to ring the doorbell in the future.  Two years ago we had our first child.  After a difficult delivery for both me and the child, my daughter was taken to the NICU.  They spent two hours up there with her before they even came to see me, and when they walked in the room, their concern was whether or not my husband had eaten.  Thankfully, a year and a half ago we moved two hours away.  But the problems have not ceased.  Now, whenever we visit them or they visit us, they try to take over my daughter.  My FIL comes flying out of the house and grabs my daughter, and when we get in the house, my MIL is all over my daughter.  Until recently (after I complained several times to my husband, and hit him to make sure he noticed), they did not even acknowledge my presence.  She feeds DD without asking me if it is all right, or even if we have eaten.  When she cries out for me, they refuse to let her come to me.  At her birthday parties, you would think (by the videos and pictures) that they were her parents, because they take over.  My MIL asked me, on my daughter's first birthday, if I needed her to bring anything, and I said, "No, I had taken care of everything."  Well, not only did they overdo it in the gift department, but she brought an elaborate cake after I told her I had gotten one.  I could go on and on.  Every time I know I am about to be in their presence, I start stressing out.  My husband has been no help to me.  He thinks that I am overreacting.  Am I crazy?  Or is their behavior over the top?  What can I do?  I have suggested to my husband that I want to say something to them, but he is dead set against that.

DR Apter's reply:
It does not seem to me that it is for your husband to decide whether you speak to your in-laws about their behavior, when it affects you so strongly.  Perhaps you could offer your husband the alternative of letting him speak to them (in your presence) or speaking out yourself.  In any case, it is important to communicate your displeasure to them.  When you do so, be as specific as possible.  Instead of saying, "You're always taking control and pushing me away," you might say something like, "When you did that, I felt that I wasn't allowed to have the control I should have in this situation."  You may have to do this frequently, and your in-laws may sulk.  But if you persist with self confidence and good humor, they may come to respect your reasonable demands.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband's parents don't show their love equally between my DH and his (only) brother.  They don't visit us, make phone calls, or do things with us, but they do things with his brother and his family.  How should we handle this?  We live a few blocks away from his parents.  His mother used to visit, but stopped in 1994!  Now, we get the cold shoulder, but my MIL never fails to tell me when they do things with my husband's brother and family.

DR Apter's reply:
You might try telling your in-laws that you are pleased they enjoy spending time and doing things with your brother-in-law's family.  You could then ask them whether they would not also enjoy spending some time with your family.  If they continue to appear cold and rejecting, you could tell them, without appearing angry, that you are concerned that they do not feel as comfortable with your family.  You could ask them whether they might want to talk this over with you.  It is difficult to know whether they are responding to some (perhaps imagined) rejection, or whether they are angry about something they believe that you should magically know about.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
When do you come to the point where you tell your husband to choose between you or your MIL?  Mine has been back-stabbing and manipulative from day one.  Criticisms about how I was "ruining" her son "by marrying him," to how she thought I was breastfeeding our son wrong (even though she never breastfed), to lying to relatives about things that have been happening (and everything in between).  She has a drinking problem, appears to also be either manic depressive, or just plain psycho.  She once likened herself to being the next Princess Di (whatever THAT meant), and actually sent me a LIST of her friends that could prove her sanity.  She also says she LOVES me because her son loves me.  I just wonder how she treats her ENEMIES!!  My husband grew up with both parents abusing alcohol and each other.  And my husband, being the oldest boy, was the one to "rescue mommy" from his Dad.  So, I see that there is some sick "loyalty issue" going on here.  It has been over 4 years of being pushed to the limit.  My friends and family say I should either give him the ultimatum, or divorce him.  Yes, it is that bad.  I know that he would have divorced ME long ago if I had done even a few of the things his mom has done.  I just cannot figure out why a person would want to continue to "put up" with someone that has made you crazy all your life, and who is now ruining your marriage.  Codependency doesn't even BEGIN to describe this situation.  We have a child, and I REFUSE to allow my child to see her or think that her "way" is acceptable.  I would die first.  HOW do I save my sanity, allow my child grow up in a HEALTHY environment, and get my husband to put us before his Mommy Dearest?  There IS no reconciling with her as far as I am concerned, so what do I do now?

DR Apter's reply:
It seems that the best way to preserve your marriage and avoid your mother-in-law is to tell your husband that you appreciate his loyalty to his mother and do not want to challenge it, but that he will have to conduct his relationship with her quite separate from you.  It is always best to avoid setting out a choice between a wife and a mother, but you can insist that you are unable, or unwilling, to continue to have dealings with her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
When my MIL is around, she is so critical.  I think she would portray herself as a good Christian woman, but she thinks everything my husband, children, and I do is bad.  We are pretty decent people, and both of our sons are good boys that most grandparents would die for!  It really hurts all of our feelings.  What's her deal?

DR Apter's reply:
It is often difficult to account for people's criticisms.  It is also very common for people to focus on their nicer actions and ignore their cruelty when they assess themselves as "good".  Perhaps you could tell your mother-in-law that you find her criticism painful.  You could say that you are sure she does not realize this, because she is, generally, such a kind and generous person.  You could even say that her criticisms hurt you because you value her opinion.  When you speak to her, focus in a specific, recent criticism.  And after you speak to her the first time, keep reminding her, if she criticizes you or your family again, how uncomfortable this makes you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My fiancé and I bought a house together last year.  His parents have sold their house, are building another one (due to quite a bit of rain, they haven't started yet), and are currently living in an apartment.  They decided that, while their house is being built (about 5-6 mos.), it would be best for them to move in with us, now that their apartment lease is up, rather than sign a new lease or go month-to-month.  They are well off financially, so they aren't moving in because they can't afford to stay in the apartment.  My fiancé thought this was a great idea so that they could help with some painting we need to do.  And he "would be in heaven" with his mom there to "show me how to clean and be organized."  I am not messy, nor am I disorganized.  But, of course, he thinks his mother is the "Queen of Clean."  Originally, his parents were only supposed to take one of the bedrooms upstairs, but now his mother has taken over another of the upstairs bedrooms that I was using for my personal office and "my own space", without asking me.  I help my fiancé with his company, so this was basically the only place I had where I could have some private, quiet time by myself.  Although their lease is not up for a couple of more weeks, they have spent almost every other weekday, and all day every day on the weekends for the last 1 & 1/2 months, coming over to our house to move their stuff in.  And now, they have decided to move in a week early.  His mother is very emotional, and uses tears to get what she wants.  For example, his mother has been pushing for me to get my stuff out of my office so that they could "figure out where all of THEIR stuff would go" (she wants to make it into a sitting room).  While we have been working on it, it wasn't done last week when SHE thought it should be done.  So she yelled at my fiancé, who told her we were working on it, but have been busy with work, etc., and to please be patient.  The next morning, she called our house at 8 AM, asked to speak with me, and started crying, saying that she wanted to come over and help me clean "that room".  I told her that, while I appreciated all of the many offers she has given me to clear that room out, that it was something only I could do, as she would not know what things I needed to keep, which were to be thrown away, and which were to be boxed up.  She then said that she could come over and clean the floors, but that she really wanted to come over (all while crying).  My fiancé had already told her that we planned to stay around the house and relax and enjoy the pool all day, so I couldn't say that we had other plans.  So, of course, she was there all day.  Then she wanted us to go to dinner with them.  She always tries to blame the disregard of any type of boundaries on his father, but since we bought the house, she is the one who has always made the comments about how much she misses living in a house and hates the apartment, and how she can't wait to live in a real house again.  She has already rearranged my spices.  I gave her a section of the pantry (which happens to be my favorite part of the house - I really enjoyed having all of my food organized and the shelves set up neatly, like a grocery store!).  And, every time I come home from work, I find that she has been over (after she asked a hundred times, my fiancé finally gave her a key) and has managed to take up more space in the pantry and shove my stuff further down to the end, not bothering to straighten it up.  She now has more space in MY pantry than I do.  She insists on having things in our house her way, and if my fiancé says anything about it, she says, "Well, that's just the way it is, and you're going to have to deal with it."  She has also informed my fiancé that his aunt will be staying with us for a week sometime this month, not even bothering to ask or tell me.  She has made comments to me about her "son not knowing what he wants," and how she's "afraid he's always going to be alone," and that, "some day I'll be gone and he's going to realize all I did for him."  None were said in the context of a discussion, where these statements would be appropriate, causing me to feel like he has said something to her about "us" or has doubts about our marriage, when that may not be the case.  She also takes little jabs at me, both when we are alone and in front of my fiancé  I don't know what do about this situation.  His family is not big on "family meetings," and rarely talks about issues, evidently for fear of upsetting his mother.  My last hope was last week when his father said that maybe they should stay in the apartment, but his mother made a big deal about how they had already told my fiancé that they were coming, and how he was expecting them to be living with us, and that it wasn't forever, anyway.  Oh yeah, she will also be living with us a few days a week AFTER their house is finished, because she doesn't want to leave her current job because of the benefits.  If I were financially able, I would move out into an apartment of MY OWN until they are out of our house, but that is not possible since I am saving for our wedding (which I shouldn't have to do, considering it's my house).  I'm trying very hard to change my attitude and look at the positive side of things, but I'm having a very difficult time!!  Any advice or suggestions you may have on making this situation a little more tolerable or help me cope would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

DR Apter's reply:
It sounds as though you either have to insist now that your in-laws not move in with you, or you put up with constant aggravation.  The first step is to find our where your fiancé stands.  Is he willing to confront his parents and explain that he now realizes the plan for them to move in was a mistake.  He could explain that he wants to help them, and you may compromise on keeping in your home some of what has already been moved, but that the general plan should be changed.  Perhaps both you and your fiancé can remind the in-laws that this is your home and you must set the ground rules.  And as for your mother-in-law's tears: perhaps whenever she cries, you could tell her that you cannot discuss an important issue when she is so upset.  You could say that you want her to be in a position where she can listen to you and take things in.  If her tears cut off negotiations, she may give up on them.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
You might think my case is not as bad as some of the stories you receive since my in-laws live abroad, away from where my husband and I live.  The problem is that my MIL did not receive me well into the family.  She felt very threatened by me from the very first time she met me, so I have been dealing with her very strategically since I met her son (we've been married for two years, and we've known each other for five years).  The two times I spent a longer time with her were when I visited with my then boyfriend, and I stayed in her house for three weeks, and when we got married, I also stayed with her for three weeks.  She did not make me feel comfortable at all when we stayed with her, from cold stares at me at the dinner table, to chilly silences, to controlling behavior and sarcastic remarks.  I have not been back since we got married, but I am bound to go and visit her with my husband if I want to keep harmony in this marriage.  I also don't want to keep my husband away from his mother.  My problem is that I don't feel comfortable going to visit and stay with her at all.  Each time we visit her country, we'd have to stay with her for over three weeks. I will appreciate any advice you might want to offer me on this.  Would it make sense to go for shorter visits, and let my husband stay longer?  But, one week for an international trip is too short for the expensive ticket one pays.  One thing I know for sure, staying with this woman for more than a week is only going to create aggravations for me and make us lose respect for one another.

DR Apter's reply:
It may be best to suggest that your husband visit his mother-in-law himself.  You could explain that you respect his wish to see his mother and to visit her, but that you do not benefit from these visits.  He may accept this, or he may become anxious, worrying that he is being disloyal to you (in traveling alone) or showing disrespect to his mother by not brining you.  But if you show that you are willing to explore his response and to come up with a solution, he may feel more secure.  Sometimes you could accompany him, but stay for a shorter time.  After all, a ticket may be expensive, but the cost to you in staying longer seems high also.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How much is too much influence?  Is it normal for my wife to be afraid to let her mother know that she drinks regular coffee (she's 34 years old)?  Is it normal for her to think that our 4-year-old child was cursed (she had cancer, but was subsequently cured) because her mother received a letter from a nun in Nebraska saying so?  Is it normal for my wife to follow every Catholic apparition or devotion her mother does, without investigating or listening to my opinions about it?  Is it normal for her to threaten divorce if I ever moved out of the city where her mother lives?  Is it normal to have seen five different counselors who have all disagreed with her, even though she picked them for counseling (she just quit the fifth one)?  Or is it just me?  How can I get through?  The only person she listens to is her mother, who she considers to be a living saint (I don't agree).  Signed, About To Throw In The Towel And Start Over Again!

DR Apter's reply:
This sounds far more like a problem with a marriage than a problem with a mother-in-law, even though a mother-in-law is involved.  The important questions to ask are: Can you help your wife overcome her fear of her mother?  Does she want your help?  Is your wife reassured by your opinions?  If the answer to these questions is "yes", then you can help your wife free herself from an inhibiting influence.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I've heard quite often that people tend to marry people that remind them of the parent of opposite sex.  So, in my case, I would marry a man that resembled my father.  Except that my dad and I rarely get a long, and the idea of marrying someone like him truly frightens me.  Do you believe that it is often true that people subconsciously marry others that remind them of their parents?

DR Apter's reply:
People are attracted to another for all sorts of reasons.  Often we fall in love with someone because he or she is so very different from a parent we found difficult.  If someone is attracted to another who is similar to a parent, then it is likely they were very fond of the parent.

 


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