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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My FIL frequently offers to give us financial help and to take care of our home improvements.  Unfortunately, this help always comes with strings attached, such as him quizzing me about our finances and treating us as if we cannot manage our money to make ends meet.  But, what is worse is that often he makes commitments to spend money on our home, and then later tells us that we will need to pay for half.  We are both professionals, and we do not need this help.  I have begged DH not to accept it.  DH always wants to accept the help, and is very protective of his father being able to "save face".  I feel that this is my home.  His "help" is intrusive, and it always ends up costing us in the end.  How can I get DH to agree to say, "Thanks, but no thanks," the next time his father offers to help?  We have a fabulous relationship, but this one contentious issue brings out the worst in us.

Dr. Apter's reply:
You have two problems.  First, your father-in-law does not distinguish between help and control.  Second, your husband either cannot identify the problem or is unable to resist his father.  It will be impossible to address the first problem if you and your husband do not work as a team.  I suggest you try to deal with your husband first, to explain to him how you see the problem and what you would like to do about it.  You may need to offer your husband a lot of support, to assure him that in declining his father's help, he will not harm his father, even though his father may be initially affronted.  Then, you can work together to set out what contributions your father-in-law can helpfully make.  It may be that you say very clearly that no financial transactions are appropriate between you at this time.  Whatever you decide, stick to it.  I'm well aware this will not be easy, but it will be helpful to the long-term relationship between you, your husband and your father-in-law.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I just got married this January, after we found out that I was about 1 month pregnant.  We are expecting in August, and are looking very forward to it.  My problem, that I seem to be stressing over from the beginning, is his family, mostly his mother.  His family came to visit from out of the country and stayed well over a month in our one bedroom apartment.  His mother rearranged my kitchen, cooked, cleaned and even did my laundry.  I know that she didn't have any bad intentions, but when asked why she rearranged my kitchen, she stated that she wanted to "get you kids organized".  She has since volunteered to come over from her country to take care of our DD when she is born.  She volunteered this when we first found out, and I was totally against it.  Because I love DH, I agreed to her doing this because it would really help us out money-wise.  Since then, she has stated that she would now like for us to pay her.  I have advised her and DH that if she becomes illegal at all, she will not be allowed to take care of our baby.  She wanted to come 2 weeks prior to my due date and stay with us in our 2 bedroom apartment.  I refused, telling DH that I don't want any of his family staying with us for more than two weeks.  She expected to live with us when she came over, and I refuse.  I am already having a hard time allowing her to take care of our child for a number of reasons.  But, now she is asking for us to pay her.  I don't know how to handle this.  DH thinks that I hate his mother,  I don't.  I just don't have a connection with her.  She doesn't speak my language, she drinks on a nightly basis and she is a big smoker.  I am not comfortable with this.  I need help.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suggest you state your wishes as clearly and calmly to your husband as you have to me.  It is your child, and it is the health of your child and you that you must put first.  Having your mother-in-law stay with you to "help" you when you would rather she not be around, will add to tension and disruption and distress.  Furthermore, the harm to a baby of a smoker in the home is well documented; you could emphasize that as a reason, too.  You can explain that you do not hate your mother-in-law, but that she would not aid your well-being.  I suggest that you make every effort to speak out now and make sure that your needs are respected.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for over 19 years.  I have a wonderful DH.  He is a strong man.  He moved away from his family 25 years ago.  We currently live in a city where his aunt lives.  DH's father left the family when DH was five.  No relationship was continued after that.  His mother was very young, and began to leave town every weekend to visit a man (this went on for several years, although they did not marry).  DH was raised by his GPs, as was his sister.  His mother was there with them Monday through Friday, but worked long hours.  So, his GPs pitched in at all times.  When he was 19, his mother remarried and moved away with his sister (5 years younger).  DH was somewhat on his own.  He moved around a lot, and we were later married when he was 28.  We met when he was 26 years old.  Nineteen years later, I am wanting to finally set boundaries with my ILs.  They, in my mind, are a very difficult group of people to deal with.  Thank-God my DH had the good sense to ensure that we live 1000 miles away.  Even with this distance she has managed to come see to us at least once a year for 19 years.  When she arrives, she cleans, cleans and cleans.  DH had a falling out with his step-dad five years ago, and my SFIL has not spoken to my DH since.  Note, my SFIL has not spoken to his own two DDs in over 20 years, so this is not unusual behavior for him.  Since that time, my MIL arrives alone at my home for a week and cleans as mentioned.  She talks incessantly about all the good deeds that she and her DH have done for elderly family members, friends, etc.  She won't do this in front of my DH, but does it nonstop in my presence.  She has remained silent on what happened between my DH and her DH, and this has caused great pain to my DH.  When it gets a little heated, she cops out and might begin to cry by speaking of relatives who have passed away.  She says that she doesn't feel good, mopes around for a while, and then begins to clean again.  When I say clean, I mean clean, clean, clean.  Of course, I am ready to tell her to go take a flying leap into he!!.  I have not, since I am an IL and since I am not subjected to her on a daily basis.  Distance is the only reason that I have endured any of this.  I do not call her, send her any correspondence, etc.  DH wants their love so badly (mother, sister, stepfather, aunt, uncle, etc.), but he has not gotten along well with them in the past.  Trust me, you wouldn't either.  They are nuts.  The cleaning makes me, my two sons, and DH feel inadequate.  As a matter of fact, everything that she does, and a lot of what she says makes me and my DH feel inadequate.  I am hoping that as time goes on we will see her less and less.  I feel that for me this is a no-win relationship, and I don't want to engage in any type of dialogue much longer.  To make matters worse, she loves her DD with all her heart and finds total perfection in her and my SIL's two children.  My SFIL finds perfection in them, also.  Likewise, my SIL loves them and finds perfection in them.  Finally, his aunt (my MIL's sister), who lives in the same city we do, attempts contact with us so that she can tell us how much money my SFIL has given to family members (he is well-off), what nasty things he has said about us, etc.  I made a point to stay totally away from her.  Do you think it is wise for me to cut off all connection with these people, since they are DH's blood-kin as well as my children's blood-kin.  I have tactfully, but strongly explained to my DH that my anger level can go no higher.  He understands, but I do not want to cause him more emotional pain.  My MIL does love them (the way she knows how to love) and has sent my children many gifts over the years.  I just hate even hearing her voice, or the voice of my SIL, aunt-IL, etc.  Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is very difficult for any of us to know how to handle an intense dislike or irritation for a relative.  You have managed to separate out many different strands in your feelings, and that should help you in addressing the problem.  I think you have to ask yourself whether you can tolerate any visits from your in-laws.  Would it be tolerable if they stayed for a shorter period of time, and if you made sure that you could be out of the house, doing other things, when they visited?  For I do not think you will be able to change their behavior.  On the other hand, you might decide that you simply cannot bear seeing them.  In that case, you will have to tell your husband and ask him to accept the consequences.  Or, you could manage to be away when they do visit.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am new to this web site, but I need some serious advice.  I have been married for 1 year and my MIL is treating me terribly.  DH and I dated for 4 years before getting married, and I spent a lot of time with his mother.  I admit that I should have distanced myself, but I did not have the balls to tell her that I did not want to do things with her.  Here is a breakdown so that you can get a good idea of the situation.  She would call our house early Saturday morning.  If I did not answer, she would call back until I did, or leave a sarcastic message on the machine.  If I picked up the phone, she would want me to go shopping with her, etc.  If I said that I wanted to clean house or anything else, I ended up in a debate, trying to justify why I did not want to go.  I would always go, and it was every weekend that I was with her.  We recently moved into a house.  She pops up, does not call before coming over, etc.  I have set some boundaries, and now I do things with friends and try to stay busy.  She treats me so rudely now, hanging up the phone when I call her, or acting like she is irritated whenever I call her.  I do care about her, but it was like she was trying to have too much control over me.  Now that I have basically cut her off, I am public enemy # 1.  I can't talk to DH about it because he becomes very defensive about her, even though she will treat him rudely if she does not get her way.  She is divorced, and lives by herself.  I just don't know what to do.  I am feeling so uncomfortable.  Please help.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It sounds as though you have already done a great deal to address this problem.  You could take it further by telling her that you do care about her, that you do want a friendly relationship with her, and that to manage this you need her help.  You would like her to understand that you have the option to say "no" to her suggestions about when she visits and when you do things together, that you ask not to be punished by rudeness for declining her suggestions.  You could then give examples of things you do like doing with her.  You could explain to your husband that you admire his loyalty to his mother, and that you are not trying to undermine his love or loyalty; but that you hope he will support your efforts to maintain a relationship that suits you and his mother, not just his mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I actually like my DIL, but at times she makes it very difficult for me to like her!  She can be initially welcoming, but then she will become hostile, uncommunicative and dismissive of DH and me.  She is a different person with friends, and will laugh and joke with them, but not with us.  She is an only child of professional parents, and sometimes when she visits our home, I feel that she does not want to be involved with our family life, and she becomes cold and remote.  Our GD is nearly 3, and a great joy to DH and me, but I feel that we must not confront the issue because our DIL may prevent us from visiting and having outings with the little girl, who, obviously from her greetings when we arrive, enjoys our company.  I am not sure if our son realizes that there is a problem.  We have never broached the subject with him, as naturally he will support his wife.  I feel that if we could understand our DIL's response to us, then we, as the "mature" people, could possibly retrain our behavior in her company.  She is 34 years of age, of corporate responsibility, but only working part-time from home at the moment.  She is an excellent mother and the marriage appears to be very good.  Sometimes, she is confrontational with our son, but he knows how to cope with her and has actually told our elder son that he enjoys "the challenge that she brings"!  Unfortunately, DH and I do not enjoy the challenge!  Sometimes I feel very unhappy after a visit, although I have enjoyed seeing our GD.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It sounds as though your daughter-in-law has mixed feelings about you.  It may be that she herself would find it difficult to express them; but since you clearly have good will towards her, I think it would be worthwhile encouraging her to open up so that together you can solve the problem.  You could do this in a number of ways.  You could ask that you talk to her, explain that you are so pleased when she is friendly, that you are afraid you offend her in some way, because she then becomes cool towards you, and that you seek her help in understanding how you can avoid offending her.  If she denies that she is ever cool or hostile, then you will have to find some other way forward; but, from what you say about her challenging behavior, she might be direct with you.  It is indeed possible that your son does not notice the shift in her behavior; it is very common for women in a family setting to be far more sensitive to subtle changes in mood and manner than are men.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Thinking about my MIL makes me fear for the longevity of my marriage.  I have been married just under two years, and we have an eight month old DD.  The only problem that we have is my MIL.  She was fine until DH and I eloped.  Then, all of a sudden we were asked to remarry"properly".  I was asked to change religions in order for this to happen, and much was said about the christening of our future children.  As a woman in her thirties, I resented the intrusion, and said so.  Things got worse.  MIL decided to live with the marriage, but became clingy.  She said that she didn't want to lose her son, and her answer clearly was to have as much contact as was humanly possible with me.  The son, conveniently, was always too busy.  I, on the other hand, was pregnant at the time, not working, and a "sitting duck", as it were.  She would come over and whine about how little she saw of her son.  When I was six months pregnant, how devastated she was when her other son separated from his wife, because she loved the ex and they were the best of friends.  I have been very honest with her from the start that I think relationships are built over time, and that I don't respond well to the pressures placed on me.  This is mainly ignored.  After the birth of our DD (two weeks after, actually) she started a big argument along the lines of, "Do I have to make an appointment to see my GD?"  To which I replied, "Yes."  After that there was a whole lot of emotional vomiting and I have never forgiven her for placing that pressure on me at a time when I was already stretched to my limit.  The situation got worse again recently when she sent her son an email telling him that she'd had bad feelings lately that he may be unhappy in his marriage and, if that were so, that he needn't feel compelled to stick it out.  "These days," she said, "there is always divorce."  She said that she will understand, and he can come back home.  We were flabbergasted, because we hadn't seen her for ages.  Also, if we were having problems in our marriage, this was not the response from family that we would expect.  After that email, I wrote to tell her that she would not be welcome in our home if she continued to be negative about our marriage, and that her problem was with the fact that she didn't have a close relationship with her son.  I am just the scapegoat.  She responded by saying that I don't realize that her son thinks about her every day, every minute of every day, every second of every minute of every day (I wish I was joking).  Now she is coming back to our house and spending time with our DD (who she, incidentally, used to call by a different name because she preferred it to the one that we had chosen).  The reality is that every time I see her, it produces within me a growing distaste for my DH and my marriage - anything that could possibly remind me of her.  Even though DH is supportive of me (whilst being understanding of her), I still resent him bitterly (because of the fact that there were any problems at all, and that they were not dealt with expeditiously from the outset by him).  Because it was left to me, I have had to, at times, be strict and cold with her - the typical "difficult DIL".  I have had to set, reset, reconstruct and realign boundaries that are constantly being broken.  Finally, I fell in love with and married a man, not a boy.  All of the dramas have been over her not wanting to let go of her boy, and the problem is that this challenges the view I have of him as a man, somewhat.  What do I do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
There are many different problems here, as there often are when any in-law problem arises.  Your mother-in-law seems both willing to accommodate the marriage, in that she changes her approach when you insist that this is how it's going to be (such as declining to change your religion), but she is also highly controlling, as she insists on using her own name for her grandchild rather than the name given by you, the parents.  Her claim that her son loves her totally is of course an attempt to tell you that he does not love you.  Unfortunately, from your description of your feelings for your husband, she seems in danger of succeeding.  I think that your anger has affected your feelings for your husband.  It sounds as though, like many people, he is torn between loyalty and love for his wife and for his mother.  It would be helpful if you could come up with a clear and specific description of a relationship with your mother-in-law that you could tolerate.  Could you list the boundaries that are most important to you, and work consistently to maintain them?  If that could be successful (though I know it will not be easy), you would feel less angry towards your husband.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DH and I have been married close to five years, and throughout this time my MIL has showed undeniable favoritism to my DH's first son.  When DH's first son was born, MIL became a primary caretaker for him.  When he divorced, my MIL became even more involved, since DH had primary custody, and was working.  When we first began dating, MIL took care of her GS's daily needs, bought all of his clothes, and paid for his part-time daycare, etc.  In fact, she was still hand feeding and dressing him at five years old.  MIL became very jealous after some time because my son, who is from a prior marriage and is the same age, became a permanent part of the picture.  She would often yell at him when both boys were being difficult.  Today, DH and I have another son of our own.  He is three, and my MIL basically wants nothing to do with him that requires an kind of emotional investment.  She has arranged to have separate after school play time with my stepson every week (through his mother) and has only once, in the past year, spent one on one time with our son.  That was, BTW, with us asking her to do so, and for only two hours.  I am very angry at this woman, and often do not want to be around her at all.  She tries to do nice things for DH and me, but not for my children (older son and three year old).  DH says that I seek out the negative in her and am paranoid when it comes to the extent to which she will favor my stepson over my sons.  He has confronted her in the past, since during Christmas she would give each of my kids one present, but give my stepson six (not an exaggeration).  It was very painful to sit and deal with this.  DH doesn't seem to want to deal with these issues anymore because he feels that he isn't going to change her, and doesn't want everyone fighting.  I, on the other hand, would like to cut off her relationship with all the kids, since she cannot be fair.  In addition, it weighs heavily on my marriage.  I feel that DH is a weak-minded person for not confronting his mother more.  Please help.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It would clearly be painful for your mother-in-law to be cut off from her grandchildren, and I hope you can find some other way to manage this situation.  It would be helpful if you could speak to her to explain how hurtful and confusing it must be for the other children to witness such clear exhibition of her favoritism towards your stepson  I suggest you have recent and very specific examples of this in mind when you speak to her.  You could explain that this is bad for all the children, even for your stepson, and that it could badly affect the children's relationship with one another.  Ask her if she is willing to help address this problem.  You could explain to your husband that you are concerned about a very specific issue with your mother-in-law.  You can defend your perception of her favoritism with very specific examples.  You could also assure him that in admitting to this problem, he is not being disloyal to his mother; in fact, his support would allow the problem to be addressed more effectively.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My relationship with my ILs has been strained since I met them.  Thankfully, that wasn't until my DH and I had been dating for 6 months.  I guess this story starts way before me.  They have always called DH "dumb", and acted as if he would never be anything but a drunk.  They made his older brother finish school, but they moved and left DH a state away to fend for himself when he was sixteen.  They let him drop out at fifteen because obviously, if he couldn't play football anymore due to an injury, there was no point in wasting his time.  My FIL acted as if DH would not be able to pass his GED test, for god sakes, and made fun of him for studying when he started taking college classes.  They have long paid my brother and SIL's bills, and are on call to keep their children, but they seem to have little interest in my son.  Truly, it seems that the only interest they have at all results from jealousy when his great grandparents, my FIL's mom and dad, interact with him.  MIL has worked really hard to sabotage my relationship with everyone in my FIL's family, but it didn't work because they are wonderful people who can think for themselves.  My question is this:  With another baby on the way, I'm often torn between fighting for equality for my children by either masking the difference in treatment between them and their cousins, or (my least favorite option, since I never had grandparents and my mom and dad are so dysfunctional ((literally a danger: children have been harmed)), completely withdrawing from them and seeing them as little as possible.  The last time that I brought up to MIL how bad she was making my DH feel, DH completely denied caring and said that it was me who cared.  She then worked really hard to make it seem as though I was being hateful to DH's 3 year old niece.  It hit home, too.  She's a great manipulator.  I discussed it with several friends, and it took me about 3 months to realize that she had concocted the whole thing.  She made me hate myself.  I guess that when DH sat there and nodded his head, when I thought he knew me best, it didn't help.  I imagine that everyone else still believes it.  I believed it about myself.  She convinced me at one point that FIL's mom was a conniving witch, too, and when I started to agree with some of the things that she said, she told everyone that I said them.  I have her number now.  But, I don't want to go to war, so I don't think that confrontation is an option.  I hate the thought of her getting her claws into my kids and trying to ruin their lives, too.  If I should approach her and him, how should I do it?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think that before you can see your way through these problems, you should talk to your husband to find out what her wants.  You could admit easily that you are indeed bothered by the ways they treat him.  He may be used to it, and he may feel so divided by love for them and the shame their behavior has caused him, that he does not want to confront them.  But, if you explain that you feel he has been treated very unfairly by his parents, that he has been very lucky to survive such behavior, and that you do not want your children to be subject to the abuse and neglect that he experienced, then you and he may be able to find a way of dealing with his parents and protecting your children.  It also sounds as though you need to protect yourself from their abuse, and you could ask your husband's help with that.  He may be used to their behavior, and may himself have found ways, over the years, to deal with it; but that does not mean you also have to tolerate it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am writing to you out of desperation.  I have a mom who hates my DH in a manipulative sort of way.  No one can see it, but us.  She will make hurtful comments to my DH.  Her DH is sick, and they don't have the best relationship, so she comes over every day during the afternoon.  This interrupts every afternoon that we have.  And, as I said , it is not always a pleasant visit.  We owe her money from when we first got married.  She holds that over our heads and says that if her DH found out that the balance is on the credit card, they won't remain married, and she blames us for the fact that she is broke.  She uses these issues as control, and to come over.  She will never baby-sit the kids or offer any help, yet she is over every day.  So, DH and I have no alone time or any time to ourselves.  If I am going to the zoo , she will say that I wish someone would take me to the zoo.  I can't take it, and it's straining my marriage.  Please help.  DH keeps complaining that it's ruining his life.

Dr. Apter's reply:
In the first instance, I suggest you make a plan of repayment for what you have borrowed from them.  Then, explain to your mother-in-law that you will do the best to sort out the financial matters between you, and there financial matters end.  In all other respects, you are daughter-in-law and mother-in-law.  If you do not wish her to visit, then you have every right to say so and insist that you be heard.  You can be polite about this, while you insist that you have control over your privacy and your daily schedule.  If your mother-in-law does not want to baby-sit your children, then she has that right, too, to decline, but she can stay out of your way.  It would help if you could be assured of your husband's support; after all, if you could put these rules in place, you would both benefit.


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