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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter:  My MIL has been stalking my husband and I for three years, ever since we cut off complete contact with her.  Even though we have both firmly and repeatedly told her that we don't wish any contact with her, she still calls my husband at work 3-4 times a week.  We've changed our phone number at home, and we always return her letters unopened (she sends 2-3 a week).  She has never threatened violence, and we don't believe she is capable of that, but my question is this:  Is her behavior normal, and what can we do about it?  She has devoted her entire life to her children, and is beside herself with frustration that her son doesn't want to ever see her again.  Should we just let her "drive-bys" and attempts at contact not bother us?  Or should we be concerned that she has only increased her efforts in the past three years?  Should we just ignore it (although it's difficult), or should we consider something more drastic, like a restraining order?  Please, any insight or advice would be appreciated.  This is the third time I've written in.  Please help.  Thanks.

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a difficult question, and one which you alone can answer, after weighing things up.  Do you think you can find any way of outlining your take on your options in a way your mother-in-law could understand?  Have you tried to explain to her how disturbing you find her constant intrusions?  The problem may be that she sees she is not getting through to you, and so tries harder to make contact.  She has to be persuaded that these efforts are counterproductive, and that less intrusiveness would gain her more contact.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I just want to know that I'm doing the right thing.  My MIL is very controlling, and plays games with her son.  Over 3 months ago my DH sent his father and mother (separately) an email telling them how hurt he was by the way she treats me.  To date (Dec 25), she has not spoken to him or called - NOTHING.  He is so hurt by this.  I'm lost as to what to do.  The FIL is no help, either.  It's like the pink elephant standing in the middle of the living room.  Everybody knows it's there, but nobody wants to go near her (she has all the money).  I refuse to play her games.  I told him today that if he wanted to go, that was fine.  But, until she decides to address the issue, I was going to stay home, so there will not be a fight between us when we get home.  If I was young, I might think twice.  But, I am 40 years old, and this is my second marriage.  This is not the first pain I have put up with.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I love your description of the "pink elephant standing in the middle of the living room" representing a problem which no one can talk about.  Perhaps you could tell your husband that you understand he is hurt by his mother's silence, even though he is also angry with her for hurting you.  Offer him your support in any effort he might want to make towards making contact with her.  But, yes, if you feel safer away from her, then he can make the contact alone.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter:  How do you deal with an explosive, negative MIL with a control problem?  Do things EVER get better?  I got along great with my MIL until we started planning our wedding.  I should have recognized her need for control then!  My husband is one of seven kids, now six (one was killed in a farm accident at age 4).  At the time we were dating, my MIL wasn't speaking to her oldest son (for reasons I still don't know).  We invited him to our wedding anyway, since the rift wasn't between my husband and his brother.  The funny thing was, she started talking to her oldest son again after we forced the issue.  She also insisted that my husband have his other brother as best man, but my husband didn't feel he was as close to him as to three other friends.  After we married, we moved to another state where she couldn't interfere with us.  But, she still tried.  She would insist that we fly home to attend birthday parties for her two younger kids.  And, when we didn't come, she'd lay a major guilt trip on us.  She also has a major jealousy complex over my family, apparently.  She called and chewed my mom out before our wedding.  When we lived out of state and visited here, she would get very upset if she perceived us to be spending any more time with my family than with her.  Anyway, we had a baby, and moved about 1/2 hour drive away from her (and my family), because we have a good relationship with our siblings and my family in general, and we wanted our kids to know their family.  My husband's mother cut all ties with my husband's paternal grandparents (who lived down the road).  He didn't even know who they were until they died.  Now that we live close, she expects us to attend every family gathering. She, or her son who works on their farm, will call and ask my husband to come up and work for a day.  If he turns them down, they hang up on him and give him the silent treatment for weeks.  He helps when he can, but he puts his own job and us (wife and child) first.  Our policy has always been to stick together on issues regarding her.  She likes to be rude to us, and then pretend later that she wasn't.  She never apologizes.  We have agreed that we should hold her accountable for her actions.  The other siblings are in some way dependent on her - one for work, and they are customers of another.  Her daughter used to work for them too, but recently quit.  SIL was bulimic as a teenager.  She still seems to be seeking her mom's approval, even though she's had counseling.  My husband and I are the only ones who aren't dependent in some way, so we've decided to just hold her accountable for her rudeness, and buck her quest to control our lives.  Are we expecting too much, or going about this in the wrong way?  Will she EVER come around??  My FIL never says a word about anything, nor does he challenge her.  He does appear to have more control over their ultimate financial decisions, although she does the books for the business.  People who knew both me and her actually WARNED me about her before my husband and I were married (she's chewed out almost everyone she's come in contact with).  But, I love my husband, and didn't want her to get in the way of our relationship.  Sometimes she's nice, but I just don't trust her.  She's done too much behind my back.  What irritates me the most is when she blames my husband for "not keeping the family together", when she's not respectful of any of her kids' need to be independent.  It also breaks my heart to watch what this does to my husband.  He doesn't talk about it much, but I know he wishes she were more reasonable.  He feels as though he's done well for himself, and that they don't need to support him.  What's really awkward is that my parents are very accommodating and helpful, but they respect our privacy completely.  So, it almost makes it tougher for my husband.  Any advice?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I can't offer advice as to how to manage your in-laws in this case, but it might help your husband if you supported his difficult position - his disappointment at his mother's behavior, his wish to have her approval, his having to take the blame for behavior which, after all, seems more reasonable than that of his mother.  It could help him if you expressed your sympathy with his position, and that you are willing to offer him the appreciation his mother is apparently unable to give.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you get someone to quit pressuring you?  My husband and his mother haven't spoken in two years.  The root of their problem is that they both want control of his life.  This mainly came to light when he wanted to get married.  She disowned him, and told him not to come around again.  His father and sister insist she was just mad, and can't be held accountable.  I feel, if that's the case, she should retract her comments.  Instead, day after day, his father starts with the "it would be nice if you called your mother and made it right for her."  Everyone is worried about her feelings, even though she is the one that did this.  The whole problem is that they all want to control my husband's life.  He wants to make his own decisions (he's in his thirties).  But, if he won't let them run his life, they want nothing to do with him.  He has explained to his father, time and again, that he won't call her.  Unless she is willing to change, he will hold his ground.  All he is asking for is for her not to scream and rant, and not to get everyone in the family to put us on the silent treatment until he conforms.  We have lived in a mostly happy silence for the past two years.  The main problem is his father constantly thinking my husband should "make it up to her", as if he needs to apologize for wanting his own life.  Please tell us what to say when they don't want to hear anything you have to say?  Since they work together, he can't simply avoid him.  He has tried reasoning to deaf ears.  His father only sees her feelings in this.  Please help if you can.  Thank you.

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is really a question for your husband to answer:  Does he want to mend the breach with his mother - or, is life really better with this division?  If it is, then his father will have to accept that.  If your husband would like to make contact again, then he could begin by expressing regret for the breach, or for offense caused - which is very different from apologizing in the sense of admitting he himself was in the wrong.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for two plus years.  My MIL lives far away.  We have had a couple of visits in the time we have been married.  My FIL is quiet and laid back.  My MIL, on the other hand, is very suffocating, overcompensating, and just down right overbearing.  She is a lovely lady, however.  I just can't help the fact that the very thought of having to spend time with her upsets me.  She stayed at my home for 4 days, and I thought I would lose my mind.  She was on top of me the whole time.  I am the type of person who needs my personal space, especially in my own home.  And, this woman has no concept of personal space.  I left for a short while to go shopping, and she wanted to know every detail!  This woman is downright suffocating, and her overcompensating personality is emotionally draining, because you feel like you have to respond every time she over-dramatizes an event or issue (and it is continuous).  We are planning to go out to see her in July.  And, again, just the thought having to spend any extended period of time with her frustrates me.  My husband understands to a certain extent.  But, at the same time, I think he wishes I would take some of the load off of him.  Help!  What can I/we do to keep our sanity without hurting MIL's feelings?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a common problem:  many people experience a state of extreme irritation in the presence of their in-laws, an irritation so extreme that it really does feel close to madness.  It may be that there is no way of accommodating your need for space and your mother-in-law's expectations at the same time.  It may be that whatever way you find of preserving your sanity will cause her some offense  The question to put to yourself, however, is not:  how can I avoid hurting her feelings?  It is:  how can I behave decently enough towards her without losing my mind?  So you may have to plan solo activities during the visits, and accept that she won't like it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My son-in-law is not close to his mother, but he and I have a good relationship.  She recently came to their home on an unannounced visit for seven days.  She has been trying to be a loving mother to him these last few days, which she was not when he was a child.  He is deeply resentful over this new behavior.  She was never a caring mom when he was growing up, leaving him to take care of himself for days at a time.  During this visit, he did what he could to stay away from her.  My heart breaks to see him like this.  This is my first meeting with her today.  I am taking them all out to dinner.  That, most likely, will result in another letter.  What can my son-in-law do to let his mom know her visit was unwelcome, and that he resents this new mothering behavior?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your husband is clearly still angry for the neglect he experienced from his mother as a child.  Her new mothering style now seems to him to be a sham - probably an attempt to make herself feel better, and not much use to him.  However hurt and confused he is, he will have to be the one to sort out his relationship with her now.  The best you can do is offer understanding and support.  You can, of course, also insist that visits be made only with prior arrangement and agreement.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DH and I have been together for almost 6 years - married for 3-1/2, and we have an 11-month-old DD (only grandchild on both sides).  We live within a half-hour drive from the IL's and 15 minutes from my parents.  I have never really liked my MIL.  We are very different, and we have very little in common.  Her personality makes her a difficult person to be around.  She monopolizes conversations, she will change the subject if I'm talking (on those rare occasions when I actually get a word in) even if I'm mid-sentence, and she's manipulative and insecure.  My friends and family who have met her always come away with the same impression.  We have only had two "confrontations" to date, neither were very serious, but both ended in a stare-down and awkward silence.  I'm not the confrontational type, except with my family or DH.  The most recent was a result of MIL disregarding our wishes concerning DD.  DH and I had asked her not to do something with DD because we didn't feel it was safe.  Yet, she continued to do it on several occasions.  The last one was right in front of me (her way of thumbing her nose at me) which led to the confrontation.  She even told me, at one point, that she knew how we felt, and that she was just going to wait for us to leave so that she could do as she pleased.  Needless to say, she has not baby-sat for us since that time.  I recently found out that, following that incident, MIL had the gall to say to DH that she hoped I wouldn't keep them from seeing DD in order to punish her.  She felt that, in the end, I wouldn't be hurting the IL's, I would be hurting DD.  I have never kept them from seeing DD, nor do I plan to.  When I was pregnant, MIL had very little interest in me.  But, she was very interested in the baby.  She would walk up to me, grab my belly and talk to the baby.  All the while, she would not acknowledge my presence.  MIL spent a lot of energy laying guilt trips about how I would favor my family over hers once DD was born.  In fact, she spent my entire shower complaining to everyone about how she would have to make an appointment just to see her grandchild.  Once DD was born, it didn't get any better.  She would snatch DD out of my arms without so much as saying hello to me.  And, if DD was crying and hungry, she would leave the room with DD, in spite of my requests to let me nurse her.  Despite all this, I made a concerted effort to involve MIL in DD's life.  I sent her pictures of DD, called her at work so she could hear DD babbling, invited her over for dinner, and I even brought DD to see her when DH was out of town.  At first, they saw DD about once a week.  But, usually that only happened if we initiated the visits.  However, once the summer hit, the IL's were nowhere to be found.  MIL had 6 weeks of vacation, and she spent it at home and at their cottage (1 hour away).  We never knew when they were home, since they never called to see how DD was doing.  And, they stood me up one day when I was expecting them to come over.  Once summer was over, MIL commented to DH that she didn't get to see DD as often as she would like.  And, she felt that things should change.  It hasn't gotten any better.  In fact, the only way they see DD is if it's a holiday, or if DH calls them.  I have to admit that I don't put forth the effort that I used to, simply because I don't see the point.  It's like they've lost interest in DD, unless they have nothing better to do.  The problem is that when they do see her, they act as if nothing has happened, and they pretend to be these loving, devoted grandparents.  I have a hard time with this, because I know that the second they walk out the door, we won't hear from them until there's nothing good on TV.  They even had the nerve to bail on DD's first Christmas in favor of other plans that came up at the last minute.  When DH confronted his mother, she denied having made plans with us, and tried to get us to rearrange our whole day to accommodate her schedule (incidentally, her "other plans" were a 20-minute caroling party with a few friends - and she told us she didn't think it was right to back out of something that she had committed to).  We ended up having them over earlier in the morning, but MIL watched the clock intently, and they were out the door exactly an hour after they arrived.  They didn't even stay for DD to open her presents.  DH is starting to see for himself how his mother tries to manipulate us.  She has been caught in a few lies, all concocted so she could make us do things her way.  However, as soon as DH sees the IL's, he forgets about it, and literally forces DD on them in order to forge some kind of bond between them.  It is basically begging them to love our DD.  I feel for him, but I have had it.  And, we have agreed that we will no longer initiate the visits with the ILs.  If they want to see DD, they can call and ask.  However, at this point, I would resent having to accommodate them at all (don't get me wrong, I will never stop them from seeing DD, I just won't like it).  On top of that, MIL has been making things worse between she and I.  She recently encouraged an ex of DH's to start calling him at work, undermining me as DH's wife.  The ex invited us over for dinner, and told us that MIL was planning to take a day off of work to spend with her and her newborn DS.  MIL has never done that for DD.  Why should I let them dictate when, how often, and where they see DD?  How should I handle my ILs when they come over and MIL does her song and dance about how DD is growing up so fast and she's missing it?  I find that I am getting angrier and more obsessive about all of this, and I know it's because nothing has ever really been confronted or resolved, and I feel like it's too late to bring up things that happened 9 or 10 months ago.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is difficult to go over old ground after 9 or 10 months.  But your real concern is what might happen in the future.  You could use your experience to recognize requests or behavior that are unacceptable.  Then, when a situation arises, you will know that you have to deal with it - either by ignoring her lies, or insisting that things be done for your daughter according to your wishes.  You can also be firm about her visits, and trust to your own memory of what was and was not said, or what was or was not arranged.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been through a lot of trouble with my MIL.  About a year and a half ago, we had to lay down the law and establish some boundaries that needed to be set a long time ago.  Since then, things have gone better with her when she comes over to visit our two young daughters.  However, we have found that whenever we visit her house, she can't seem to control herself, and does the things that we have asked her not to.  For example, when we walk in, she will bustle around us, trying to take our children's coats off and fixing their hair and clothes.  She then thrusts her arms out in a pushy way, without saying a word, expecting us to hand over the children to her so she can "show them off" (her words) to the other guests.  If we do let her take them, she will place the children in other people's laps without asking us first.  She will make small, critical comments, such as telling me that my older daughter is going to choke if I don't cut her food up into tiny pieces (my daughter is old enough to eat things like pizza slices, whole apples, and regular sandwiches - she has never choked).  She wants to be the one to fill my toddler's dinner plate, rather than letting me do it.  She seems to be hanging on my toddler's every word.  And, if she gets upset about something, as all toddlers do, my MIL is right there, trying to "fix" things, rather than let my husband or I handle it.  One time, recently, she got upset when my older daughter hugged me.  MIL cried out, "Don't hug your mother!  You should be hugging me!"  Needless to say, my husband and I think this is abnormal.  We have also noticed that when either my husband or I are busy with the baby, or using the bathroom, my MIL will grab my toddler and try to force her to hug and kiss my step-father-in-law.  This distresses my daughter, yet my MIL refuses to stop.  We have to physically intervene, over and over.  No matter how many times we tell her to stop doing something, she just tries again during the next visit.  So, my question is:  Why is my MIL able to control herself at my home, but not when she is in hers?  Should we stop going to visit her, and just have her come to our house?  No matter what we say, she seems to be unable to respect our boundaries when in her house.  It is extremely stressful visiting her.  A second part of my question is:  Am I overreacting by being annoyed at certain other things that she does when we visit her?  For example, she insists that my almost-three-year-old use a special baby plate, spoon, cup, and a highchair when we eat over there.  My toddler uses regular utensils and such at home, and sits in a normal, adult chair.  It irritates me that my MIL has to pull out her special "nana" place setting and wants my daughter to use these baby dishes.  Perhaps I am just being petty?  She also brings out toys for young infants and expects my toddler to play with them.  Why does she think my daughter is a baby still?  She is going to be in preschool soon!  Am I right to find this stuff creepy and inappropriate?  Thanks for your help.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law has more self control when she is in your home because she is more restrained.  If her behavior with your children bothers them, then you should certainly avoid visits with them to her home.  If you feel that you are the only one that is bothered by this, then it's really up to you to reflect on whether you want to act on these concerns.  A compromise would be fewer, shorter visits.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How can I improve my failing relationship with my MIL?  Or, in the alternative, how can I cope?  I have known my DH since 1994 (we dated in college, and all during my legal education).  I met my MIL in 1995.  She used to get along with me, and showed an interest in me.  Her behavior turned deceitful after DH moved in with me in 1999.  During the engagement (1999-2001), when MIL would visit, and when DH was always out of the room, she would say rude, unacceptable, critical, and malicious things to me.  I am a fighter, and I can be assertive.  However, if I confront this woman, she would win the Oscar for playing the best martyr.  Prior to the wedding, I tried to talk to my future husband about his mother and how she behaved with me (behind everyone else's back).  I gave explicit examples.  He was astonished, and, of course, did not believe that his darling mother could be so unkind.  However, we made a plan for the future:  The deal was that I would (in front of her) share his mother's criticisms with him at the time they occur - and we would handle the behavior together.  Unfortunately, we have never been able to implement this approach (i.e., she has never gotten me cornered in a room alone with her).  We married in May, 2001, and now the MIL problem COULD WORSEN:  We live 6 and 1/2 hours away from MIL/FIL.  DH is considering a career change, and really wants to move to the same place as MIL/FIL.  Last night, we had a repeat discussion about how his MIL treats me.  He had forgotten the pre-wedding discussion and deal.  Again, he was astonished that there is this "void" between me and his mom.  My husband learned about setting boundaries years ago, but his is not very confrontational, and he is accustomed to the dysfunctional, codependent, enmeshment with his MIL.  His behavior won't change, and I know that I cannot anticipate my MIL's to change.  I fear it will destroy a great marriage if we move to same city as MIL/FIL.  However, for the present, I would like to understand ways that I can try to tolerate my MIL, and absolve my anger and frustration about how she behaves like she is my DH's wife whenever she is around.  She fondles, caresses his upper, inner thigh, and traces his ears like a wife should do.  And, when she visits, she runs around my house in skimpy pajamas (in front of DH, not me - she puts clothes on when I arrive).  I would also like help in dealing with the way she communicates with me in a malicious manner when no one else is around, and how she never talks to me on the phone - she only asks to speak with her son (but, when her son is speaking with her on the phone, she tells him that she loves me and misses talking to me on the phone).  What do you do about a woman who calls 2-3 times a day/night, and never has eye-contact with me (and just truly ignores my boundaries, even when I assert them).

Dr. Apter's reply:
There is little you can do about your mother-in-law's behavior to your husband if he actually likes her behavior.  You could explain to him that you find it upsetting and inappropriate - but if he encourages it, there's little you can do.  In the matter of her behavior towards you:  I suggest that whenever she criticizes you, you tell her: "I'll only listen to that if you say it in front of my husband."  You could repeat this phrase relentlessly.  She may then get the message.


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