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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I appreciate your time and help in this matter.  My MIL has a horrible relationship with me, which she will not admit.  I moved to my husband's very small town, far away from my own family, when we married after college, 5 years ago.  I miss my family, friends, and normal life, but I have tried to make the most of my new home.  My MIL favors my SIL and my brother's brother.  The SIL is probably a lot of the problem also.  I am a very religious person, and feel you must forgive others.  All I want is a relationship with my MIL and the rest of my husband's family.  I have tried time and time again to express this by telling her that I would like to communicate and share my life with her.  But, she just stares at me and says, "I don't see that we have a problem."  This is strange, since we live one mile apart, and she speaks to me on Christmas only!  She even told me not to come to her house again if I felt she didn't like me.  She talks about me to others, and she has NEVER called me.  I need family here, and even when my grandfather died, she didn't call!  She and my SIL plan showers, dinners, etc., for family members, and my husband and I are not invited.  We have not visited his family gatherings but once since we have been married.  They made it so difficult to be there that we just decided it would be easier for all involved if we didn't go anymore.  Not one time has anyone called or expressed that we were missed.  It is almost like they are glad they have run us off from the rest of the family, and they are satisfied that we have no relationship.  I feel like it is all my fault because my husband suffers from not having a family.  I am very successful, and my husband is very successful.  I just can't seem to make her happy.  Do you agree it is a slap in the face when you approach someone ready to forgive them for hurting you over and over, and they refuse to admit there is a problem?

Dr. Apter's reply:
You are clearly prepared to offer her real affection, which she rejects.  That is bound to be painful.  It seems time to lower your expectations and find support elsewhere.  Perhaps it would help, also, to ask your husband how he feels.  Does he want to speak to his mother?  He could approach the problem in a positive way by asking her advice as to how together you could improve this important relationship.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Do you think it is all right to completely cut my MIL out of our lives?  My MIL has done nothing but try to destroy our marriage and happiness.  My husband has finally agreed to keep her away, but I'm worried that he will eventually feel overwhelming guilt, and need to have a relationship with her again.  As for me, I don't usually allow destructive, abusive people in my life, but everyone says you should make an exception for "family".  As a psychologist, do you see long term ramifications for my husband, psychologically or emotionally, if we get rid of his mother?  He seems fine with it, and says she has caused him nothing but grief since he was young.  He says she has played mind games with him his whole life.  I'd happily end the relationship with her, but I know how psycho she is - she won't quit harassing us, ever.  I also don't want my husband to suffer in the future, although he does seem fine with it right now.  Personally, I'd love to keep that terror (MIL) out of our lives.  What do you think?  Any advice would be appreciated.  Thanks.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Expelling a relative from one's life is difficult, and rarely successful.  It could be more effective to try to put some distance between you.  Since you experience the relationship as destructive, it seems important to manage this.  You could waylay your own guilt by leaving the door open, if she happens to change her behavior.  Until then, you could insist that contact be kept to a minimum.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I think that my MIL is jealous of me, and she has no reason to be.  My FIL and I have a lot in common, interest-wise (sometimes I think even more than I have with my husband).  I find him to be a very interesting man.  And, when my husband and I are visiting them, I tend to spend the most time talking with my FIL.  Besides, the rest of my husband's family doesn't really talk with him.  They usually talk to him.  They are very self-centered, and tend to not listen to what he says.  I feel badly for him, because he is a very interesting person, and a man with lots of knowledge and wisdom, but nobody seems to value that.  A while back, my FIL mentioned to me that one of our favorite artists was having an exhibit close by.  Since then, we have been planning a day trip to see a few museums, and we have really made a day out of it.  At that time, my MIL made a snide remark in front of everyone about how she didn't want to end up on the Jerry Springer Show because of my FIL and me.  I could not believe she said that.  I felt so badly for my FIL.  Nobody, including me, said anything to her about that comment.  My husband said she was just joking, but she is the type that uses humor as a defense.  Then, just yesterday, we saw them again and she made another remark right in front of everyone.  My FIL and I were discussing our plans again when she made the comment, "I won't lose my marriage because of an interest in photography."  Again, I was shocked, because she was so blunt.  My FIL ignored her, as did I.  I think it is rude for her to make these types of comments.  I want to confront her.  But, at the same time, if no one else seems to care, I don't want to start anything as well.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems to me that your mother-in-law's comments are so upsetting because they are indirect, rather than because they are too direct.  In this way, one person can interpret her words as a joke, while another takes them to heart.  You could try asking her to say outright what her fears and concerns are.  You could explain that you yourself do not know how to take her comments and want to understand them and, furthermore, that you want to clear up any misunderstandings.  She may be more realistic if she is confronted in this way.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for 3 years.  We have an 8 month old, which is my MIL's 1st grandchild.  And, my MIL insists on planning our child's future by stating things, like the idea that she is going to spend every summer with her, and she is going to play the piano, etc.  And, in doing this, she never asks our permission.  I know that it will be a while before our child will be able to do any of the things that she suggests, but I really feel as if she is interfering, at times, and is a little overbearing.  How can I tell her, in a nice way, to bag off - this is our child?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It might be useful to remark that your mother-in-law's plans are a fantasy.  You could tell her that you understand that these imaginary plans stem from her love and also remind her that the details will have to be worked out with the baby's parents,

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for less than a year, but my domineering and money-obsessed MIL is making me feel that I should never have gotten married in the first place.  She made it a rule for me to visit her every SINGLE Sunday.  I am to go there before 1pm, and not to leave before 7pm.  I grew up in a family that respected my freedom.  And, being an extrovert, I felt suffocated by her demands.  Despite that, I just accepted her rules.  Week after week I went to her house and listened to her gossip about other people, including my SIL (I think she lacks integrity).  I got really frustrated, one day, when she got upset with me when I left a little earlier (at 4pm) to go back home to prepare a proposal for the next day.  I figured that, since she was having an exclusive game with her friends, she wouldn't mind me leaving a little earlier.  I was wrong!  She got really upset and asked, "what is so important" about my job?  She then reminded my SIL and me that Sundays are reserved for her ONLY.  This is so infuriating.  I wasn't out to have fun.  I was doing work, and I only left at 4pm!  Three weeks later, I had a gathering with some of my old friends in the University.  Needless to say, she kicked up a big fuss again.  I cannot imagine living the rest of my life like this.  My MIL is also extremely obsessed with money.  There are just countless examples of her greed.  To name a few:  1. She calls up whenever it's my husband's payday and demands for 20% of the pay.  When we first got married, we asked to cut her allowance by 5%, as we are heavily burdened with bills.  She got angry, and questioned how come a dual-income family like ours can't afford to give her 20% of the pay.  2. She called my husband in his office (the first morning after she came back from a 3 month trip) and asked for New Year's money (she was away on the trip during New Year's).  She even called up my SIL's mother and asked if my SIL gave her any money, and she complained about my SIL's spending habit to her mum!  3. She also likes to specify amounts, and asked for more than what we can afford.  She will ask us if we have bonuses at the end of the year.  And, if we say yes, she will ask for "her share".  We usually give her 20%, but she will say, "Can I have $X,000 more?"  4. We bought an insurance policy which writes us a cheque for a small sum of money every alternate year.  She reminded us that we have not given her HER share of the payback.  And, she even got my SIL to remind us again the next day.  She does not even help with the payments!  We borrowed 3 thousand from her to buy some shares.  When we sold the shares, we returned her the money plus another $2000 more.  She said that was not enough.  She wanted an additional $1,000!  100% interest!  That's better than being a loan shark!  She is driving me nuts!  I do not mind giving her the money.  I just dislike it very much when she keeps asking us for money, when she knows very well that we have barely enough to feed ourselves.  She is effectively saying, "You can starve, but I want my money."  She has more than enough to spend, as all of her 4 sons give her 20% of their pay, plus bonuses, special occasion cash, etc., etc.  I don't think she deserves to be a mother.  She does not even care for her own sons.  She just sees them as financial investments.  I don't know what to do with her.  I just keep doing what she wants me to.  It has come to point where it has become unbearable.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems that, because you are accustomed to living among people who respect your freedom, you have not yet developed the skills for protecting your freedom.  Your mother-in-law's rules do not have to dictate the way you spend your time.  She will kick up a fuss if you resist, but this seems a small price to pay for your freedom, and for generally challenging her right to control you.  I suggest you take charge and tell her when you are willing to come, and for how long, how much money you are willing to give her and when.  She will try to make things very difficult, but she is clearly dependent on you and your husband in many ways and she will in the end accept the conditions you put on the relationship.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
The relations with my ILs has always been difficult.  My husband is their only child.  For the birth of my first child (their first grandchild), my wish was to be alone with my husband, and not to get visits the first week (in order to recover).  My husband did not agree with that, and my ILs were in the hospital (but they couldn't enter the delivery room) for the childbirth.  My ILs remained for one month with us afterwards, although I had to start working again 2 months after the birth, only.  This has been a real nightmare, because they were continuously giving advice on how to handle the child.  Having them around is a real stress for me, because I always have to fight to have them respect me.  My MIL is especially difficult.  She is constantly doing things that I don't want, without listening to me.  I want to stop this from happening again with my second child, but I feel powerless, because my husband thinks that it is good to have his parents around, even at the hospital!  The only solutions I see for the next child are to lie to my husband about the date of the full-term (my ILs live far away - since they work, they have to plan all their visits) and hide somewhere with my child after birth.  But, I don't feel comfortable about this.  In fact, neither my husband nor my ILs have respected me in this story.  Luckily, my husband respects me for all other aspects not involving his parents.  What is your advice?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is sometimes easier to lie than to present a fair and rational argument, but for your long-term well-being, I think it will be useful to take a stand.  Somehow you should persuade your husband to listen to you and to accept your needs.  He may think it is important for family to be around at the birth of a child, but does he not also think that it is important to meet your needs?  If not, you have another problem in addition to your in-laws.  But, hopefully, your husband will come to understand that your wishes matter too.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I do not know if you have ever had a case like mine.  I am not an American, but I am an Asian (where MILs tend to live with their son and his wife).  Although I am lucky that, till now, I did not have to live with her, she still creates problems for me.  She is a widow, and has raised my husband with a huge sense of responsibility.  She is working and earning well.  She raised a family on that income, but now she expects a payback.  My husband does not understand me when I tell him that he does not have to be constantly worried about her 24 by 7.  He gets angry with me, and tells me that she is his responsibility, etc. (she is not in a wheelchair or old, but working and earning).  She tells lies to my husband, and tries to break his relationship with my parents so that, eventually, I will have to do the same.  You have to understand that, in our culture, we are not supposed to run to our parents if we have problems with our ILs, and we are supposed to bear it and try to adjust.  This does not mean that my husband does not love me or does not defend me.  My MIL learned this (that he loves me), so she started in on my parents as the target of her anger and taunts.  She is very sweet to me, but says a lot indirectly.  And, when I tell that to my husband, he says that I have a habit of twisting everything my mother says.  I am stuck.  In a year or so, my MIL is going to come and live with us (till death do us part).  I do not know what to do.  I do not want to get into a fight with her, I just want her to mind her own business.  She is very superstitious, and wants me to believe in those beliefs too.  If I refuse, then there is unhappiness in the house, and fights with my MIL.  And, my husband is stuck between the two of us.  He cannot leave his mother, and, also, he cannot leave me.  But, the situation is getting to be so unpleasant that I do not talk to him about her anymore.  But, the problem won't go away if we do not talk.  If we talk, the only thing we do is fight (my husband and I).  For everything I tell about my MIL, he tells all those lies about my parents (which were told to him by his mother).  I don't know what to do.  Breaking the marriage is not an option (I love him).  The only thing left is to bear my MIL, which is dragging me towards depression.  I live in the USA and am miles away from my friends and family.  This gives my MIL an advantage, because she tells us what she wants us to know (as I cannot clarify the facts with people concerned).  Miles away from me, she manages to wreck my life.  What will I do when she lives with me?  Well, let's hope that she changes, or else life ahead is going to be very unpleasant.

Dr. Apter's reply:
There are other alternatives than the ones you set out.  You see the options as adjusting to your mother-in-law's ways (and being very unhappy), or talking about it and fighting and threatening the marriage you value.  There is a way to talk to your husband without fighting.  He probably gets angry because he feels threatened: he is afraid of being disloyal to his mother and does not want to admit her faults - many of which he probably sees himself but would rather not articulate.  If you could talk to him about your feelings, and explain that you are very unhappy, and that you, too, feel caught between a desire to show respect to your mother-in-law, to honor your own parents, and to live in harmony with your husband.  You could ask his help in finding some way to meet all these needs.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My DH and I are both 28.  We've now been married for 2 of the 5 years we've been together.  From the start, we had problems with his bossy big mom and 26 year old single sister.  His father is rather meek and unsociable.  My MIL and SIL don't have a very good self esteem, and my DH was sort of like the man in their life!!  Unfortunately, because the SIL (and MIL) has a weight problem, I don't think she feels comfortable dating (and it probably doesn't help that controlling MIL discouraged dating through rudeness to potential significant others and guilt trips about time taken away from "the family").  I know it all sounds odd, but my MIL and SILs were very jealous of me, and treated DH more like a possession of theirs.  In the beginning, I was somewhat understanding when MIL/SIL would call DH by an affectionate name (example: if his name was Matt, they would call him Mattie).  This, I suppose, is understandable.  But, in addition, the MIL/SIL have always been a little too close to DH for comfort.  They cling to him and are "touchy/feely".  MIL kisses him on the lips, and SIL is always touching him by straightening his clothes or tapping his knee to music, for example.  It seems that they always find a way to be in contact with him.  When he married me, they acted like jealous ex-girlfriends that he'd broken up with!  As time has gone on, he has felt more and more uncomfortable with SIL's touchiness, and he has discouraged her by pulling away.  So she (thank god) has laid off A LITTLE.  But, I still CRINGE every time his mother kisses him on the lips!  She does it at every greeting/good-bye.  I brought it up once to DH, but we sort of just blew over the subject instead of talking it out.  Is it inappropriate for a mom to continue to kiss her adult son on the lips?  Perhaps it just bothers me more so because she does treat DH as the man in her life (since she is so standoffish to her own husband).  And, she does still act like my DH is 10 by buying him candy and kiddie movies that he never requested.  Should I ask DH not to kiss his mom on the lips?  It just bothers me so much that I can't stand kissing him after she has had her lips on his!!  I think my husband goes along with it because he is just used to it, and he wouldn't want to stir up a bee's nest with MIL, because we have come pretty far with her.  It has been an uphill battle the whole time.  So, I guess maybe this just doesn't seem like a big deal compared to what we've been through with her, but I still can't stand it!  Any thoughts on appropriate/inappropriate affection between mother/son and bother/sister?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could have a straight talk with your husband during which you express your feelings, and also explore his.  You could begin by saying that you have a problem with his sister's and mother's physical affection towards him (rather than begin by criticizing either him or his sisters or mother).  Ask him how he feels about this, and be ready to accept what he says.  Perhaps he likes it, and then you can go on to talk about why it bothers you.  The good sign is that his sisters are toning down their behavior.

 


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