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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL needs help!  I am not the only one who thinks so, either.  Her sisters and brother and also her friends, we have had conversations in confidence about her.  I don't know what she suffers from, but something needs to be done.  At the drop of a hat she changes right before your eyes and starts acting irrational.  I have to say that my last fight with her I told her she needed help.  I was saying it for her sake, but I have to admit also for my own sake, because I can not take it any longer.  I used to feel so sorry for her, but it has mostly always been at my expense, and I have run out of patience.  We all suffer from her, but I am the main target.

She is extremely jealous of my mother because she is well off.  She gets along with my SIL and her parents though, but that is also cuz my husband's brother would not let anything happen for his wife to deal with.  My husband used to try to keep the peace and be respectful, and he has noticed that it wasn't working so he began to speak up.  But, when my husband speaks up he is an a##hole, but when the brother does it it's taken a lot better.  I refuse to go to her house anymore.  I have not been since X-mas eve, and she has not put 2 and 2 together yet, but when X-mas rolls around she will.

This woman has done things to me that are just unreal.  I dropped a gift off for her to pass on to an Aunt since I could not go to give it to the Aunt myself.  I get a call from the Aunt thanking me for a blouse, and I NEVER GAVE HER A BLOUSE!!!  I called MIL and confronted her and she said, "You had better of said your welcome"!  They didn't even like the way we had wrapped the gift we got her in one of those bags with tissue paper.  Since then though I have seen MIL use those bags a lot.  They are so hypocritical.  We were living in her house while our new house was built, which that alone set her off, us having newer things than her.  But I had chosen to quit a job where a man had me lifting heavy windows which I could not do.  She barged into the basement bedroom where we were, and started screaming at me in my sleep, about me quitting the job.  My mother has invited her over for four X-mas's and many other things.  She has NEVER invited my mother over ONCE.  Which is fine, but then she throws it up in my face that they are going out with my SIL's parents.  She has opened my mail, gone through our drawers while we lived there.  One time we had our phone # changed cuz it used to belong to a business before we got it and we were getting 30 calls a day.  When we stopped over there she starts in on us how she's been trying to call but it's disconnected, and accuses us of not paying our bill.  One time she went to the bathroom in my house, and I heard this loud noise of something falling down, and when she came out I asked her what was that noise and she played stupid, "What noise?" she said.  She was even snooping in our bathroom.

This one was good - right after we got our house they came over to go snowmobiling, and proceeded, in front of me only (husband had to run out to work), to put on their MUDDY snowmobile boots in my
living room and went down the hall to the bathroom, and anywhere else they wanted, leaving big footprints of MUD AND WATER behind them.  My MIL stands in the middle of the living room with all their footprints standing out like a sore thumb and says, "Oh, I guess we put our boots on in the living room"!!!!  I was so in shock that a couple of adults aged 50 something would do that.  My FIL has this thing where he hates to take off his shoes, and my rule is no shoes.  One time, we had a party with my family too, and it was so embarrassing, he refused to come in the house, he stayed out in the garage the whole time.

These are just a few out of a thousand.  She calls our house at 5:55 in the morning and I got the guts up to tell her not to do that anymore and I was very clear about it, but the first weekend I was out of town she called to speak to my husband at that hour.  He hates it too, and he just lets her leave a message.

A real sensitive issue, though, we have infertility problems, and my MIL has proven to be insensitive.  She asks us in a room full of Aunts and Uncles what is going on with the specialist.  I had to scream at her at the top of my lungs that it is not the kind of thing you talk about in a room full of people, and she said, "but they are all family," and I screamed back, "I am not going to talk about my husband's sperm and my ovaries in a living room full of anybody no matter who they are."  She agreed, but then does it again.  I am going for invitro in January, and she knows that.  How do I change that around, cuz when I go through that I don't want to deal with her?  Please, all the advice you can give on all of this would be appreciated.

Also ,how do you make someone go for help when they won't, and how do you deal with it if you cannot get them to go?

Why is it that she lets herself get irrational around everyone a little bit, but around me that is practically all I see?

Thank you for taking the time to help me out.  I really need it!!!!

Dr Apter's reply:
You are facing two important questions here: how to handle your mother-in-law's behavior, and how to handle your own anger.  It is unlikely that you can have much effect on how she behaves.  As you say, if someone does not want to be helped, it is very difficult to get them to seek help.  I suggest that you concentrate on controlling the effect her behavior has on you.  After all, you have gone through a lot to gain so much awareness of her motives and methods - you might as well make use of your understanding.  Fortunately, your husband seems to be on your side.  This will be particularly important when you undergo invitro.  Perhaps you could avoid seeing her during this treatment.  If this is not possible, and she wants to talk about it, you could declare firmly (but without shouting) that this is not something you are willing to discuss.  Perhaps your husband could reinforce this by standing beside you and making some gesture of solidarity (such as touching your arm) and repeating exactly what you say (such as, "This is not something we are willing to discuss at this time.")

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am a DIL writing for advice on improving my relationship with my MIL.  My MIL is a very caring person (often too caring), offers plenty of unsolicited advice, is often overly talkative (non-stop babble for hours on end) and is very persistent until she gets her way.  Sometimes she goes so far as to tell others how they feel or should feel.  I try to remain calm in dealing with her by agreeing to the not so important issues while trying not to let her manipulate me as she does her husband and sons.  During a past conflict she told me, "You don't love me.  You never wanted me to come here."  That was not true.  I was looking forward to her (their) visit, because I had just left a stressful engineering job.  So, I respond calmly with, "That's not fair ... only I can own my feelings," but this was the bomb that started World War III.  Her father died when she was a teenager causing her to finish growing up in a house composed of her mother, a younger sister, and an older sister.  She has raised two sons with a husband who seems to let her rule the roost.  She was, and still is, a stay home mom.  The younger son, who I am not married to, is in his early 30's, still lives at home, does not work, and causes much stress for my husband's parents.  We are about to have his parents come from the U.S. to visit us at our home in Europe for 12 days.  Our record for sustaining peace is 3 days.  We have a mini-trip to a nearby country planned for them in the middle of their visit to give us a break.  That still leaves plenty of time for me to practice better methods of avoiding manipulation, and responding to her sometimes childish tactics (or learning to accept her the way she is).  What insights do you have to help me be a better DIL so that I can, one day, enjoy my MIL?  I want to work on this relationship before adding grandchildren to the picture.

Dr Apter's reply:
Although she may not appreciate you, your mother-in-law is lucky to have you as a daughter-in-law.  You are clearly willing to put forth effort to get on with her.  My advice may surprise you because what I suggest is expressing more disagreement even in small matters in which you usually give way.  This will make you feel less manipulated overall - and by allowing yourself to express your real thoughts, you may feel less strain in being with her.  If she sulks ("You don't want me here"), don't take it personally or feel guilty.  Just laugh it off and say something like, "We're delighted you are visiting. I simply have a different take on things."

My question for Dr. Apter is:
In every case I have read, generally, to some degree the husband stands up for his wife if she has MIL problems or the MIL is out of line.  My husband will not even listen to a complaint about my MIL.  He puts her first in every situation.  He breaks his neck to do anything she ask him to do.  She has such a control over him that it is scary.  We live next door to them and this has caused marital chaos.  He refuses to move, and no matter what she dishes out to me (most often when he is not around) he will not believe.  He has made me feel like a mental case.

Dr Apter's reply:
You are certainly not alone in feeling isolated and betrayed by your husband's refusal to confront or criticize his mother.  (For example, see the next question.)  Unfortunately, some men feel a combination of fear of and loyalty to a mother which makes any disagreement or dissention impossible.  It can make the wife "feel like a mental case" because her own needs take second place, and she does not have a real say in the relationship.  I hope you can work with your husband to make him see how destructive his fear and compliance are.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
For 26 years my MIL has literally hated me, and has tried everything and every way to eliminate me from her son's life.  We live next door to them, and my husband has refused to move.  He has always put them first and done exactly what they told him to do.  The sad thing is, I have let this go on just for the sake of staying married.  After 26 years this has weighed on me so heavy that mentally I can no longer take the strain of living next door to them.  When I told my husband this, he told me he was never leaving.  So I did.  ( what are your thoughts on my situation.)

Dr Apter's reply:
If a man's attachment to his mother impedes his ability to value his wife and respond to her needs, then it can destroy a marriage.  Only you can balance your own discomfort against what may have been positive in the marriage - but sometimes leaving this situation does make sense.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
This is going to sound repetitious, but I have a really bad relationship with MIL.  It was civil, then bad, and now it is just unbearable.  She was organizing this wedding for her niece financially, and every other way, and she first wanted my husband and I to be in the wedding.  When my husband said, "NO WAY" she got all mad saying that he thought he was too good for her relatives.  Then she invited us to the wedding.  He replied, "WILL NOT ATTEND".  Well, she got the card today, and she calls me up at home at 7:50 AM Monday Morning to accuse me of faking my husband's signature.  She also claimed that I was jealous of her relationship with my husband.  JEALOUS???  I am disgusted!!!  Do I continue to ignore her accusations?  OR, do I fight back?  My husband says it is best to ignore her completely so that she will get over it.  He knows that, once she needs something, she'll call sounding all "NICE".

Dr Apter's reply:
It may be easier to ignore her accusations than to try to discuss such an insulting charge.  Your husband's support should make this easier for you.  The next decision, it seems to me, is how to behave when your mother-in-law starts being nice.  Perhaps you could discuss this beforehand with your husband.  One important thing to ask yourselves is whether you want to welcome her back, or whether you want to keep your distance.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for about 6 months, and together for a little more than 3 years.  The problem is, in all that time, I still haven't "warmed up" to my MIL.  She is a really sweet person, and she hasn't ever said or done anything to upset me.  I am just very uncomfortable around her.  How do I try to get over this and improve our relationship?

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law may also be uncomfortable around you and unsure of your feelings.  Perhaps you could invite her on some outing which would take you away from the rest of the family - for example, just the two of you could have lunch, or go to a movie or do some shopping.  She would be flattered by the attention and perhaps would be more relaxed and easier to talk with.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Here's my situation.  My husband is the only son for my MIL.  She's been divorced for over 25 years now.  She has a family, but does not talk to any of them.  She doesn't have any friends.  She's only interested to be with her son.  She thinks because she's alone he owes her all his spare time.  She convinced him over the years that that's what he must do, and that's what he does.  My husband and I have been married for just 1 year.  We lived separately from her this first year, but had a lot of problems because she's been very controlling and interfering (even though my husband doesn't share my opinion, everyone else does).  Now she's moving in with us, and I'm very concerned that I'll lose those little bits of time free of her that I cherished so much.  I'm afraid it could be the end of our marriage.  She keeps saying that we've got our nights, and that's enough.  How can I convince her?  My husband is not a help, since he's very influenced by her.  I'm scared that if we don't talk soon it could be fatal.  Please, tell me what you think.

If anyone else has comments or suggestions for me, please refer to my story as "You've got your nights".

Thanks much to you, doctor, and to all who care.

Dr Apter's reply:
It seems to me that you really do not want your mother-in-law to move in with you.  Is there any way this could now be avoided?  Does your husband know how you feel?  If her move in is absolutely necessary, then it would be good to set out firm boundaries.  First, it is not enough to have "your nights" - your whole domestic comfort is important and you should protect it.  Secondly, it is not her place to declare what is "enough" for you.  This is something only you should decide.  So if she is to become a member of your household, you will have to watch yourself and make sure you stand up for yourself.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL is an unstable liar, manipulator, alcoholic, who isn't loyal to anyone in her family.  There are many problems I have with her.  First of all, to my face she is sugar sweet and tells everyone that she likes me more than her own children.  Unfortunately, when I'm not around I can only imagine how badly she trashes me, as I've seen her do to everyone else in her family.  Also, she has told my husband that I'm just like her brother's wife, whom nobody likes, and that he is "whipped."  She is currently on husband #4, and has totally changed her life to be what he wants.  When we first met him she went on and on about how great his children were and how terrible hers were, making snide comments, and giving dirty looks to us.  She constantly complains that we don't visit her, when we are both working part-time and attending college full time.  When we do visit her we are unsure of how she will be.  Sometimes she is actually pleasant, other times she is constantly nagging and being manipulative.  Now that she realizes that nobody likes her husband, because he generally ignores us when we visit and shows no interest in our lives, she wants the family to be close.  It also really hurt me when we got married and her husband didn't come to the ceremony because he had to work, and wouldn't/couldn't take off, because the following week trout season started and he was going fishing.  I have tried to make things better.  At my request during our honeymoon we went out to dinner with MIL and her husband.  I thought it would be a good gesture, since he didn't come to our wedding.  However, he didn't ask us anything about our wedding, our honeymoon, or offer congratulations.  Instead, to pass the night we asked him about his life!  For the first two years of our relationship I was constantly defending his mother and making excuses for her behavior.  Now I totally agree with my husband.  The problem is that I know he needs to love and like his mother, and I do too, but I'm not sure how to accomplish this.

Dr Apter's reply:
You express a poignant dilemma.  I think you can show love for your mother-in-law by simply being with her sometimes and showing respect and tolerance.  You and your husband now see her limitations eye to eye, but this does not mean you are discarding her or her love or yours for her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am like every other woman writing you for advice with respect to my MIL.  My husband and I are of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, which I am sure has played a role in the difficulties I am
experiencing with my MIL.

It is very important to note that my husband's family is from India.  My MIL and FIL marriage was arranged.  I would not say it is a bad marriage, and I think they love each other at some level, but it is a marriage of convenience.  I say this because I am not Indian, and my MIL recently informed me that she doesn't believe in love marriages such as the one I have with her son, and that all marriage are based on
convenience.  My marriage into her family has nothing to do with convenience, believe me.

I believe that the problems I am having with my MIL has less to do with the different ethnic and religious differences, but more to do with her inability to let her son go.  My husband is her second son, and after him she has a daughter.  He is, by far, the closest to her, and they have always shared a special relationship.  But, since our marriage, my husband has seen another side of her that shocks him, and I am sure is very confusing.  She is manipulative and mean.

Last weekend my MIL came for a visit.  We live approximately 8 hours by car from both of our families.  The reason she came was because she was so terribly upset, crying and needed to talk to us.  She even wanted my husband to fly down for a day to talk.  I must mention that I am 9 months pregnant with our first baby, and 2cm dilated.  My husband wasn't about to jump on a plane to fly and see her.  When she got here we asked what was wrong.  "Nothing," she said.  We had to keep probing, and my husband finally said, "Look, you have been calling every day crying.  What is going on?"

Here is what has happened.  My BIL and SIL are also pregnant.  They are 8 months.  They had tried for a long time to get pregnant, almost 5 years with no luck.  When we had considered to start trying ourselves (my husband is in his mid 30s and I am in my early 30's) we asked them first how they felt, and all was okay.  We were lucky that we were able to get pregnant very quickly.  When we told them, we were attacked verbally by the BIL and he hasn't spoken to us since.  So my MIL wanted my husband to try and patch things up.  My husband did try to talk to him but he was verbally abused.  With our baby due any moment, we are not interested in going down that path again.  Not to say that we don't want to patch things up.  We want our children to know each other and be friends.

Next on my MIL's list was the fact that my husband, because he is not nice enough to his father.  When my husband was younger, his mother confided in him that his father never took the time to get to know her and what things are important to her, and that he is a taker, etc.  My FIL traveled for work, so much of my husband's impressions of his father are based on what his mother was telling him.  She doesn't realize what kind of damage to their relationship she caused.  And when my husband confronted her, she cried and said nothing.

Next it was my turn.  We have definitely had our moments in our past.  I have truly gone out of my way to try and fit in with the family.  My FIL even recently told me (as recent as a few months ago) that my MIL did not initially accepted me, and it has taken her a long time to accept me into the family.  That was hurtful to hear (the extra pregnancy hormones didn't help, since I was around 5 months pregnant at the time) but not surprising.  I knew that she wasn't thrilled with me, but I thought that we could build our relationship over time.  I was attacked because I had replied to a few of her emails and answered the phone without properly addressing her.  I thought our relationship was beyond the formalities.  I wasn't being disrespectful in any sense.  But, unfortunately, she thought I was, and has shared this with other members of the family.

This ended up being a huge argument, and she blamed us, since she never wanted to discuss it to begin with.  By this point I am crying.  I am so frustrated with my husband's family, and so is my husband.

This is were I think she is manipulative.  She makes a huge deal about
needing to talk, then refuses to and blames the argument on us.  Or accusing my husband of not being nice enough to his father, after making sure he was well aware while growing up of how she thinks he has failed in their marriage and family.  Or the pressure she put on her
children to have arranged marriages.  She said they can do whatever they want, but at the same time she actively searches for spouses.  Both brothers are married, the oldest was arranged.  The daughter confided in me that she is not so conventional and does not want an arranged marriage, but feels that if she doesn't it would less than ideal in her parent's eyes.  I confided in her what her father told me about not initially being accepted but that now everything is okay so if she wanted to pursue her current love interest (who is not Indian) maybe it would be okay for her as well.  I told her because I wanted to see how much her mother had changed.  She told her mother what we talked about, though I am sure not everything, and that also came out in our discussion this past weekend.  I really wasn't trying to interfere, and I only wanted to be a friend to my SIL and help.  Obviously, I did not help at all and learned a valuable lesson.

I think the ethnic background may have something to do with her attitude towards me, but mostly I think anyone who would have married her son would have had the same experiences.  Note: she didn't treat her other DIL (the arranged marriage) all that well when they first got married.  Even told her after she just got back from the hospital, after losing her first child, that she always wanted her son to marry someone beautiful, but realized that marrying someone with a good personality was better.  On top of losing a pregnancy, she had to deal with my MIL not accepting her either!

What do I do next?  I feel so much resentment towards my husband's family.  When my FIL was sick, I took a week off of work to help out.  When my MIL's dad was on death's door, I flew to India by myself to meet him before he could pass away.  Yet, I get beat up over not properly addressing my MIL in email!?  My BIL thinks I don't do enough for the family.  I dread family visits, but I want our baby to know his father's family.  I would never deny him that right.  So how do I let go of the hurt, disappointment and bitterness?

Thank you for your time.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law's behavior is clearly painful to you - but in another light it could be comic.  You describe it so well!  The first step to letting go of your disappointment is to see that you have done nothing wrong.  She may complain about you, but it seems to me that you have acted generously and thoughtfully on all really important issues.  When she complains about you, I suggest you refrain from apologizing for anything you've done, and say something like, "I see this has upset you.  I'm sorry about that."  In this way, her feelings will be acknowledged, but you won't be admitting to any fault.  It is unlikely that your mother-in-law will change.  Her behavior may in part be shaped by envy - envy of her son's love for you and envy that you have chosen your husband in a way she was unable to.  I think that understanding her problems and keeping some distance and lowering your expectation will go some way towards removing the sting in this relationship.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has been harassing my husband and I for four years straight with mean phone calls, letters, and uninvited "pop-ins".  We've talked to her nicely on many occasions, asking her to respect our privacy and feelings, and telling her that her personal insults hurt our feelings.  She refuses to listen, still insults us, still emotionally blackmails us, and continues to drop by our house despite our requests not to unless she's invited.

My question is this: we are considering cutting her out of our life completely (i.e. no calls or responses whatsoever, and if she drops by, we'll tell her to leave) since she refuses to listen to our requests.  Do you think there will be repercussions in the future, unforeseeable ones?  We've asked her to show us love by respecting our feelings and privacy, but her deliberate ignoring of our requests show us that power, not love, is what she's after.  My husband says that his whole life, she ruined every relationship he had, because she's concerned about control and power.  My husband is fine with cutting her out of our lives.  My concern is that when we have children (we don't yet), she will petition in court for visitation rights or something like that.  I understand that the Supreme Court recently upheld parental rights over grandparent rights, but how strong is that, especially in California where I live?  My MIL has made it clear that, despite our wishes, she will continue to force her will on us and emotionally abuse us no matter what we do.  We feel our only hope is to completely cut her out, but if we do, we want to make sure it won't haunt us in the future, whether legally (with regard to our children), or emotionally.  Since you're a psychologist, have you seen any future repercussions for either the DIL or son if they cut out the destructive MIL?  It seems to be the only solution, since we've tried love, talking, reason, and patience.  Help!  Thanks so much.

Dr Apter's reply:
You may want to cut her out of your lives (and you are within your rights to do so), but it may be easier and less stressful to limit her access rather than deny it altogether.  You could ask her to leave when she comes uninvited, but also put a positive spin on it by saying you do very much want to see her when she is invited.  If she cannot tolerate the control you take of the relationship, then you could explain that you all have a choice between seeing one another and showing one another some respect - or not seeing one another at all.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
To help you understand what I'm going through, let me give you a little background on my mother in law.  When she was seven, her dad died, leaving her already nervous mother to raise three boys and her.  She went to Catholic School, and was so protected by her mother and siblings, and then her husband, that now she knows nothing of life off the farm, and seems to know little of that.  But she thinks she does.  In her mind, she is the queen of everything, and everyone else is only there to cater to her.  Other people's opinions are not only not heard, but are not permitted.  She has never worked a day in her life, until her husband built her a boarding stable to run.  She loves horses, but like everything else, she is scared to even ride her own.

Here's the problem: my husband and my FIL thought it would be a good idea to build a house on their property, because that's where my horses are.  She has since driven me crazy, timing how long I spend inside my own house, trying to decide how I should decorate, and even threatening to throw me out if I didn't do it her way.  This time, while my FIL was putting trim on my window while we were on vacation, she decided my house was not neat enough, so she started putting things where she wanted them, and even remade my bed.  I have won every argument, eventually, with her, and I will win this one too, (the only way to win with her is to take an extremely aggressive stand) but something will happen again, probably the week after I solve this problem.  Everyone has told her she needs to get therapy, but she accuses us of being the ones that need it, and there is nothing wrong with her.  We even said we would go to therapy with her, and she just laughs and leaves the room.  Any suggestions?

Dr Apter's reply:
There have been several questions about what to do when a mother-in-law makes decisions about how a woman's house should be run and how the children should be raised.  (Not all of them have been printed in this batch of questions.)  You are fortunate in that you at least win these arguments in the end.  It could help other visitors to this site if we heard more detail about how exactly you take an aggressive stand and how you feel and how you resist feeling guilty.  Nevertheless, these arguments must exhaust you - otherwise you would not be writing in.  I would guess that if you continue to stand firm, your mother-in-law will in time accept that you win arguments about what you do inside your own house.  She may get tired of fighting losing battles, and it would then be easier for you to win.  In the meantime, you could make careful observations (sometimes difficult in the heat of the moment) to see which of your arguments are more efficient than others.  You could learn from your success.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
This question is about a future MIL, I have been with my boyfriend for 3 years now and his mother never liked me from the get go.  We have had numerous arguments and problems about this, and I don't know what the solution here is.  We have broken up so many times within the first year and a half we were together because she forbid him to be with me, so we snuck around her back and continued on seeing each other, until last August I finally got sick of it and told him to tell her we are seeing each other, but she now only thinks we are just friends seeing each other, and it is so much more serious than that.  She still talks bad about me to him and tells him she doesn't want him to be with me.  I know we will get married, and I am wondering how to handle this now so it can be better later.  He doesn't want me to go over his house, and I don't call his house either.  I want her to know I am serious about her son, but I know she won't like that, although she knows we are going down the serious road.  Should I just do what he says and avoid her all together, like not going to his house?  I am sick of being patient with this.  I don't know if we get married if it will be better.  She is so narrow minded.  PLEASE HELP ME.  I just need some do's and don't's, that's all.  Thanks!

Dr Apter's reply:
It seems that your relationship with your future mother-in-law is complicated by your volatile relationship with your fiancé.  He may be reluctant to confront his mother because he is worried that his relationship with you might end again.  Perhaps you could clarify things with him first, and then when you are both sure, confront his mother.  But if your boyfriend persists in avoiding the issue with his mother, then he may not himself be sure of the relationship.

 


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