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8/17/04
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am new to the USA.  DW is American, and I am in process of applying for residency.  Since getting married 2 months ago, we decided that it would be best to live in the USA.  But, because my wife doesn't earn much, and my papers to work are still being processed, we have had to live with my wife's mom and dad.  It all started off fine, but now things have been getting frustrating for me.  The problem is that DW is a "mamas girl".  When she wakes in the morning, she goes to talk to her mom.  When she gets home from work, she talks to her mom about the work day.  If she is sick, she asks her mom for advice.  She goes shopping with her mom, then asks me to tag along, but they leave me sitting alone in the back seat (she sits in front while her mom drives), and they talk about things that I am not familiar with.  So I feel left out of conversations (my wife says that that's my fault).  I feel like I have no purpose in this marriage, because my wife puts me second after her mom.  Over the last 3 days, I brought this up, and we've had long overnight arguments and somewhat discussions till 3 in the morning, and she doesn't think that she does anything wrong.  Maybe I didn't get my point across well, or was too frustrated, but she denies everything and doesn't see a problem.  I simply want to get our own apartment, but we can't do that yet cause I'm waiting for my work permit to be employed.  Even just a few minutes ago, my wife's throat was hurting.  I was discussing it with her, and what she may do, but she just got up and went to "doctor mom".  Am I being a jealous DH?  Am I irrational?  Or is my wife still stuck to filling the role as a baby daughter to her mom?  I want to get out of this house to our own, but I think that she will just end up visiting and calling her mom every minute.  When we talk about this, she just bring up other problems and faults that I have, and she says that I blame her for everything.  Please help.  I need advice, or some way to get my wife back.  Desperate and Frustrated.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It might be very effective to emphasize your feelings.  There is no need to discuss who is right and who is wrong; but to say to your wife, "I love you, and I want to feel important to you" might send the message you are after.  What you want, after all, is the assurance that your relationship is mutual, and that you and she can exchange daily bits of news and concerns.  She seems to be in a habit of focusing on her mother, and you can tell her that you need her to focus on you.


My question for Dr. Apter is:
After 11 years of marriage to her son, my MIL has never once acknowledged or thanked me for a gift.  Not for Christmas, her birthday, Mother's Day, etc.  My DH pays it no mind, because he's not the one who takes the time to pick out an appropriate, well thought out gift - that would be my job.  I am considering just sending a card for any future occasions.  Is that appropriate?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Yes, you could send a card only.  If you are challenged about this in any way, you could explain that you felt uncomfortable without any feedback from your gifts, and you assumed they were not appreciated.


My question for Dr. Apter is:
MIL is terrible to me.  I come from a household of all girls (besides my father) and my DH comes from a household of all men (besides his mother).  She says rude things to me when DH is not around, and my DH and I fight over her actions.  DH and I just got married 2 weeks ago, and right now have to live with my ILs because our house will not be ready for a while.  Living with her right now is awful.  On my wedding day, she never even told me that I looked nice, would not talk to me on my wedding day, and even started an argument with my mom at the reception.  She is an absolute control freak.  I try to be so nice, but it is so hard.  I am at the point where, once I move into my new house, I probably will not go back to MIL's house again.  At our reception, she introduced another girl there, a friend of mine, to everyone as her new DIL!  How childish!  DH and I are very happy together, why can't she be happy for us?  I don't understand what her problem is.  We got along fine until DH and I got engaged, then she changed her attitude towards me.  I try talking to her about this, but she just says, "Whatever, I don't care," to me all of the time.  She told people before the wedding that she isn't thrilled about having a DIL.  How do I react to her actions, and how do I treat her?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I would treat her civilly.  You can be polite, but I would advise not to try too hard to be friendly.  If you spot an opportunity for a genuine chat, you could tell her that her implicit rejection of you is hurtful - but if you are simple cool and polite, she may come around to accepting you without a confrontation.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
MIL is also my landlady.  Her financial situation is looking bad recently, and DH and I are having to bear the brunt of this.  The house that we live in is in a really nice part of town.  It has a good garden, and really more space than we know what to do with.  Although we love our current abode, recently we've been thinking of moving into a smaller place in a cheaper part of town because we don't think we can continue to live under my MIL's thumb.  As I said before, we've got a nice big garden, but my MIL insists upon employing a gardener to tend to it twice a week.  She doesn't tell us how much she's paying this gardener, but charges an exhorbitant amount to us for his service.  I really think that maybe she's taking a cut of this money herself.  Also, she's always getting the rooms of the house repainted and charging my husband and me for the cost.  Yet, again, we never see how much this is actually costing her, and it seems that she is making a profit.  Most distressingly of all, she fines us for menial infringements of the tenancy agreement.  For example, when we went on holiday for Christmas, a third floor window was left open, for which she charged us $50.  Allegedly, it was part of an agreement that we signed when we moved in.  MIL is also very house-proud and makes regular visits to make sure that we're keeping the house as she would like it.  This makes it difficult to view it as our home, as there's the constant reminder that she has the last word.  It's particularly difficult to try to face this situation with her, as she often launches guilt trips on the both of us, reminding us that she has been "very generous", and that we owe her a lot.  I wish she would be more candid about her financial difficulties if this is the reason for these constant taxes on us, as I think we'd be able to maybe help her rearrange her finances and make wise investments, but she doesn't seem to have much trust in either of us with regards to financial matters.  It would be a real shame to move out of the house that has become home for us, but that seems to be the only thing left to do if we are to have more economic and personal freedom.  What would you advise us to do in this situation?  What would the best way to go about approaching her be?  Do you think that there would be any way for us to keep our home and have a more open financial debate with her?

Dr. Apter's reply:
In-laws and finances are difficult to combine.  Even parents-in-law who try to be generous often have some unspoken expectation about the rate of return.  In this case, I suggest that you think about this in terms of what you would say to any landlord.  If you are asked to pay for a service or a repair, then you should be able to see the receipts for her payment.  If you cannot have a real business relationship with her, then you should not be her tenants.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have dated DF for four and a half years, and I have gotten along very well with his mother.  The issues that both my DF and I have with her is that she tends to do things secretly, and does not necessarily think about the consequences of her actions or how they affect the other members of the family.  A lot of her actions that negatively affect us have to do with my DF's older brother who received an intervention for cocaine and alcohol abuse in one year, and was dropped from his insurance for being obese.  He was told by a doctor that if he did not stop drinking, he would have severe liver problems.  He got a woman, whom he was casually seeing, pregnant.  He got engaged, and now is getting married shortly.  MIL feels the need to include this son in every event, and 9 times out of 10 she will not let the other members of the family know, and his presence usually results in horrible family-wide fights and discomfort.  I have no idea what to do.  After the brother got engaged, I was told that I was throwing a bridal shower for this woman, whom I have never met, in Florida.  We live in the Midwest.  She told me - she did not ask me.  I just feel trapped to do the things that she asks.  I suppose that I feel "guilted" into them.  Can you give me any advice on how to speak to her about these issues?

Dr. Apter's reply:
The best strategy is to learn how to spot these guilt-inducing assumptions and to challenge them.  You might confront her with: "I need to be consulted on that" or "Are you putting this to me as a suggestion" or "That's really something I need to consider.  Let me get back to you, but I really need your help: I need you not to assume that I'll do that."  In all probability, she has got used to these tactics because they have worked for her.  You need to show her that they do not work with you.


My question for Dr. Apter is:
MIL plays favorites with her grandchildren.  When my oldest DD was about two, we went for Mother's Day and she picked up one of my DH's sister's kids and said, "Oh, look at her, she is the prettiest one!"  That threw me into a rage.  She makes me feel like crying!  Then, my DH's other sister had a boy, which I thought would please her, since my DH is her favorite (this is said over and over again at family dinners and functions by all family members), but since that is her least favorite child (another thing that is repeated at family functions), all she could do was talk about how she thinks something is wrong with that child, and how her DD was going to be a terrible mother.  Then my second child came.  She dotes on her like she is just the greatest thing, while completely ignoring my oldest child.  My older DD will say, "Grandma, Grandma," and she will act like no one is talking to her.  She will pick up my younger DD and go on and on how cute and good she is.  She will offer to baby-sit my youngest, but not my oldest.  Aside from just never letting her around my kids and telling her politely that my oldest would like her attention, too, what can I do?  My DH just says that I don't understand.  When I ask him to talk about it, he tells her that I think this and that about her.  What do I do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your older child is probably hurt by her grandmother's preference for the younger one, and I think that is something you could explain to your mother-in-law.  You could also compliment your older child, when the younger one is covered in praise by the grandmother.  But she seems accustomed to having favorites.  Unfortunately, you seem to come in for criticism just because you notice this.  It would be helpful if your husband could be supportive.  You might try, carefully, focusing on your mother-in-law's behavior when you speak about her, and explain to him that you are talking about the behavior, not about how you feel.  But your husband may find it difficult accepting this - after all, he probably feels a bit guilt as a favorite himself.


My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mother is very sensitive when it come to my brother and his new wife.  There have been a few problems in the past between my mom and my brother's wife, but I thought that they had been resolved.  Even though I thought that everything was going well, my mom is upset because she found out that he and his wife are spending so much time out with her parents and not my parents.  They all used to go out together, and now my parents feel left out.  I, personally, feel that she is reading too much into it.  They are all getting along well now, but there have been problems in the past, and maybe that is why they don't always call them to go out.  My brother and his wife do visit my parents, so it isn't like they never see them.  She is also upset because they don't share personal information with them right away.  I told her that it's because her DIL is going to want to share things with her mom first, just like I would share things with my mom first, but to her that isn't a good enough reason.  I don't know what else to tell her to make her feel better about things.  Is she being too sensitive, or should my brother be trying harder to include our parents in his life?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think this kind of sensitivity is your mother's problem, and you can help her by talking about it, and being fair and decent to her - but not by shaping all activities to meet her needs.


My question for Dr. Apter is:
FMIL to be is very dependent on my DF.  She stops by his house, finds any and every excuse to call him, or come over.  She stores things at his house, and would still live with him if he let her.  About a year ago, he asked her to move.  He is 33 years old.  She lays the guilt on very thick, saying things like, "You don't see me enough," through tears.  I feel bad because the reason that he isn't around as much is because he and I are beginning a life together.  I feel personally attacked when this happens.  She expects my DF and his brother to make every decision for her.  She can't even find a gym on her own.  She makes absolutely no decisions on her own.  She expects my DF to call her on the phone every day, and I think that he wants to do so.  DF tells me that it shouldn't matter.  I want to depend on him, and I want him to depend on me, and it is abnormal to have his mother depending on him as well.  I also don't believe that it would be fair to our marriage.  He tells me that he can find balance, and that I won't be affected.  I don't like to be around her, because she is so depressed and negative.  I have a son whom she would like to be a pseudo grandparent to.  He has two great sets of grandparents already.  I am a strong woman, and I suppose it could be because of her very weak personality that I really don't want her to play a very active role in my son's life.  What should I do?  Am I just being selfish?  Why is this irritating me so much?  She is codependent on my DF.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is irritating because your fiancé's mother is manipulating you and her son, and because her son is unable to see how destructive this is.  You do see this, and therefore are rightly concerned about the role she will play in your son's life.  Of course, she is unlikely ever to have the power over your son that she has over her own son - but this is still a matter of concern.  The resistance to her tactics will have to come from her own son.  The best you can do is avoid her as much as possible, and make sure that her dependency does not affect you.


My question for Dr. Apter is:
MIL is very overweight and suffers from obesity-related health problems which, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, limit her physical capabilities (such as balance and ability to carry heavy things like an infant seat with a baby in it).  She broke both her feet when she fell carrying groceries in from the car in a one-story house, and she cannot get on a ladder to change a light bulb, etc.  For this reason, I have worries about leaving the baby with her.  My mother is healthy, has had experience with 5 grandchildren, and I am totally comfortable leaving the baby with her.  DH is concerned that if his mother does not get to keep the baby as often as my mother, that our daughter will be closer to my mother.  I feel as if DH is so concerned with grandmother's balance, and feeling like he needs to protect his mother, that he is overriding the worry that he should feel about leaving our daughter with her.  Am I being unreasonable?

Dr. Apter's reply:
No you are not being unreasonable.  Your daughter's well-being has priority over any notion of grandparent fairness.  You can explain that firmly but calmly to your husband.  You can say that you trust his mother's good will and love, but your daughter needs someone who is fit and agile to look after her.


 


The Sister Knot, Apter
The Sister Knot
Why We Fight, Why We're Jealous, and Why We'll Love Each Other No Matter What


Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
Secret Paths
Women in the New Midlife


Working Women Don't Have Wives, Dr. Terri Apter Working Women Don't Have Wives
Professional Success in the 1990'S


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Dr. Terri Apter
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