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2/18/08
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My ILs borrowed a significant amount of money from us to get out of some debts that they are (supposedly) in right now.  They have been paying off the debt for 3 years.  We just learned that they plan to take a vacation trip in the coming months.  I'm about to lose it, because I think they should be paying us off before taking ANY vacations.  Am I out of line for this?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Money is a common cause of in-law problems.  The best way to resolve this conflict is through clarity - each party should be clear what is expected.  Whether or not your in-laws take a vacation while they are still in some debt to you is less important than whether you know what they plan to pay back, at what rate, and whether you trust them to do so. If you are concerned that they are slow in payment because they say they lack funds, and yet have sufficient funds to go on vacation, then you could address the problem by reminding them of what they owe.  It would be much easier to do this if you have your partner's support, so that would be the way to start.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for 38 years.  Periodically, MIL, whom I see for about four weeks a year, makes disrespectful and sometimes very nasty remarks to me when nobody else is around.  In the past I have ignored her comments, but now she is becoming more vocal.  I think she is jealous of me, because her comments are often related to my hair, on which I get a LOT of compliments from other people.  Also, she dotes on my DH, whom she thinks can do no wrong.  One time, she told me she would not be surprised if DH had a girlfriend because of the way I treated him.  I was so shocked by her comment that I couldn't say anything.  I just stared at her.  Later, just to ease any insecurity I felt from her comment, I told DH what she said, and asked him if he thought our marriage was good.  He assured me it was.  He was also shocked at her comment, but he didn't say anything to her.  When I buy something, she often asks why I did that when I have such and such at home.  If I show her something new that I bought, she just looks at it, sniffs, and then looks away.  I've stopped showing her or telling her about any new items.  I feel that, by my ignoring her comments over the years, she feels she can say rude things to me at any time.  So, I need to know what to say to her in the future when she is so disrespectful.  I thought about saying, "Stop talking to me so disrespectfully," or maybe even, "Stop being nasty to me," and then walking away.  But, what do you think?  I'm starting to hate being around her.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think your assumption that your mother-in-law is jealous of you is well-founded.  Focusing on another woman's hair is one sign of anger and envy.  There is little you can do about being attractive and having your husband's love, but it is possible that you would relieve your mother-in-law's antagonism by taking steps, along with your husband, to show her that she is loved and appreciated.  Try to admire something about her; do this in your husband's presence, and then show your mother-in-law that you are encouraging her son to admire her, too.  That's the positive: then, you might want to work with your husband to remind your mother-in-law that unkind or rude comments to you are not acceptable.  It would make matters much easier if he were to say to you, in her presence, "You are the woman for me," or even just, "I really do love you."

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am in a tough situation right now with my MIL.  I had twins a year ago, and, from the beginning my MIL has been very helpful.  She has a really big heart, and is very sensitive, to a fault.  My trouble right now is that I know she is a jealous person.  Sometimes, I will go stay at my parents (they all live in the same town) while my DH works out of town.  I know this bothers her.  I see my MIL and Mother at least once a week.  Sometimes, I see my mom more, but she is my mom!!  DH had a talk with his mom a month ago, and said he doesn't want to hear the word "jealous" anymore, because she uses that word all the time and always asks if we see my parents more.  He also explained that we will not see them every weekend, and we like family time with just the four of us.  He said she apologized and felt really bad, but, ever since then, I have been so mad at her.  It just seems so immature, and I don't have time for this.  Since then, she has made comments here and there, like, "Thanks for including us."  She ALWAYS (like, every time I talk to her) says that I can call her for help, and that she is not doing anything else.  It's like she is in grammar school and getting left out.  She wants to do everything for us - buy us diapers, clothes for the kids, make us dinner, etc.  I know people would die for a MIL like this, but it is tooooo much.  I am feeling smothered.  I am an independent person.  I ask her to baby-sit all the time, and it's like I can't do anything to please her.  I can go on and on.  I am just sick of it.  DH is sick of hearing about it, and I know it's not good to complain to him about his mom.  So, my question is:  Should I talk to her, and how do I do it without her getting totally offended?  PLEASE help me.  I just don't know how to handle this.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law does sound like a good and helpful mother-in-law, but your impatience with her is also understandable.  However, I think your irritation is heightened by your wish to please her.  Just suppose that she does want too much, and that you can never please her: allow her to deal with that herself.  If I have understood you correctly, it seems that she keeps her distance when you ask her to do so, but that she also expresses self-pity.  The best approach is to ignore it, but also to acknowledge her help when she offers it.  If you decide to talk to her about your feelings - and you are the only one who can decide that - then think carefully about what you want to say, what specific points you want to make, and what, specifically you want changed.  Then the conversation can be positive, because you can tell her what you appreciate about her, and what changes would make you appreciate her even more.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I married a divorced man.  Unfortunately, he hid from me the fact that he stayed in contact (mostly by email, since she lives in another state) with his ex.  His ex and his parents hated each other.  His mother is partly the reason for their divorce.  We now have a son who is two.  When I found out that they have stayed in touch, I just asked DH not to provide information/pictures of our son to his ex, since family and friends have told me that she is weird.  I can't control who he talks to.  For some reason, the ex visited the state where his parents live, and they put her up for a week.  DH did not tell me about this, but another family member let it slip.  I suspect the ex stayed there because of the free accommodations.  I am livid with my ILs.  Not only do I think that what they did was disrespectful toward my son and me, they showed the ex photos and information about my son - my one simple request.  I've never had a good relationship with my MIL.  She has no concept of boundaries.  My ILs have a terrible marriage, and fight constantly in front of anyone, including their GC.  I hate being around them.  MIL always "stirs the pot", which is why I believe she had someone she never liked stay in her home - to upset me.  SIL thinks it's because my MIL and I had an argument about my son (my MIL was undermining my parenting) and this was her way to get back at me.  Do I really need to have a relationship with my MIL?  They live in another state.  I want to ask DH, whom I am thinking of leaving because of all the lies about the ex, to just visit his parents without me from now on.  My MIL likes to divide and conquer, and then be everyone's friend.  Now she is telling everyone that he and the ex are friends.  I don't really care if they are.  I just don't want the ex knowing much about my son.  I know it sounds paranoid, but it's a long story about her and children that gives me cause.  HELP!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your sense of betrayal by your husband is understandable, and you alone are the person to measure the harm you think that has done to your relationship.  The behavior of your in-laws is somewhat different.  I often hear women complain that a mother-in-law is friendly with a previous wife.  One reason may be that the former wife does not pose any threat to the bond between her and her son, in the way that, sometimes, a current wife does.  Sometimes, a mother-in-law connects to an ex-daughter-in-law to keep kin together, and sometimes because the two women really have a bond of friendship.  But, your response clearly registers a sense that your mother-in-law is being destructive in this new bond with her former daughter-in-law.  Perhaps you blame your in-laws in some way for your husband's deception.  You may need some time to think this through.  If you remain so upset and angry, you might find it helpful to explain to your husband that you cannot, at this point in your marriage, join him in visits to his parents.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
MIL is CRAZY!  DH, 1 year old DS, and I live several states away from MIL.  Just before our wedding, she borrowed $1000 from us, promising to start paying us at least $20 a month.  It has been over a year, and all we have seen is about $40.  She keeps wanting to buy us plane tickets so we can visit her, but we could really use the money.  We also cannot take time off work to visit.  She now insists that I have taken her son away from her, and that I am keeping my DS and DH away from her.  She also says that it is unfair that my whole family has gotten to see DS, and none of his family has.  The majority of my family live nearby, and we moved up here so my GPs could help us get our life started.  We had just graduated high school, and had 6 months to get a place to live and jobs before our son was born.  My parents scrimp and save to visit or send my brother to visit from across the country.  They can only visit one at a time.  DH also gets angry that his family hasn't gotten to see our son.  I try to explain that it is not my fault that my parents can budget their money better.  My parents do not send over $100 worth of gifts (plus the cost of shipping) for his birthday and again for Christmas and Easter.  They send a couple of items and save the rest to come and visit.  I have tried to tell him AND his mother that she should do this also, but neither will listen.  DH gets overly defensive about it.  We certainly cannot afford to visit her or fly her up here to visit.  What can I do to get her to realize that it is not our fault that she hasn't seen DS?  How can we get her to quit sending huge boxes of gifts and save that money to visit?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a difficult problem: you cannot manage money on behalf of your in-laws.  But, I suggest you set out very clearly what money you want them to repay; you set out the rule that you will accept no presents from them until they are able to clear or at least catch up with the debt; you could then start to put away money for travel - either for them to come to you or you to go to them - and explain what you are doing.  But, without your husband's support this rather complicated but firm approach will not work.  They will pick up on mixed signals.  It does seem sad that they have not been able to see their grandson.  You could explain that you really want to fix this, so that they can meet him, but that you need their cooperation.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I handle a MIL who asks too many questions, way more questions than I've ever been comfortable with?  Once she picks up on the fact that I'm uncomfortable with some questions, she goes about trying to obtain the information in an indirect way.  She wants to keep on top of all we're up to, or not up to.  She always wants to check to see how everything turns out.  She wants to be way more involved than I want her to be.  To me, she is smothery.  She knows that I don't like her handing out advice, so sometimes she goes about it in a roundabout way.  I suppose she does it this way because maybe she thinks it's less detectable to me.  I've almost cut her off from me.  After 23 years I've had all I've wanted of her pushing to involve herself in our lives in a way that's not comfortable to me.  I want her to let us have our own space and to realize that DH and I are all grown up and want to run our own lives and have our own family now, one that is separate from her.  I want her to leave all the raising and mothering of my children up to me also.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is difficult to stop someone who thinks that her remarks are helpful when to you they are intrusive and annoying.  But I think the best approach would be to say clearly, when she asks you an intrusive question, or makes an intrusive remark, "That's private.  I don't want to talk about that," and repeat this, or something like this, calmly, but firmly, and do your best not to express impatience or frustration or anger.  Then try to talk cheerfully about something else, but always, every time, make it clear that you will not answer questions that you find intrusive.  However, it will take a while to break habits established over 23 years, so be patient.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
BF is great, but I have major issues with his mother.  She is always calling him to handle all of her problems and bills.  He constantly sends her money to make ends meet, when all she needs to do is budget better.  Every time we visit her, she has tons of new stuff for her house, and new designer purses.  I can't seem to make BF understand that, at 44, his mother should be getting a grasp on things and learning how to manage things on her own.  We are never able to save money, since we have to help her.  DH tells me that I am selfish and that I do not care about her, but it's not that at all.  Please help me!!

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a deep-seated problem.  Your partner sees families in one way, and you in another.  He thinks he must give his mother whatever she asks for, and he may be very reluctant to challenge her in any way.  My guess is that he would become defensive, and shut down, or even get angry, when you tell him how you feel.  But it is important to have a serious discussion with your partner about your different views about how to treat parents, what to expect of them and what they should ask of you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
BF recently sent his parents an email describing me and my family.  He included a couple of photo headshots.  Our parents are from the same country, and mine married for love, while his had a traditional arranged marriage.  BF is 28, but he's never introduced a woman to his family before.  He's dated women of all races, but kept this secret.  He assumed his parents would be happy for him and pleased with the fact that he'd found a partner that was the same ethnicity and religion.  Instead, they don't approve at all.  His mother has already said many hurtful things about me, without even meeting me.  He went to talk to them face to face about this and stand up to them, but she proceeded to scream and cry, then theatrically storm out.  She said that I look "weird", and that she doesn't like my "cheeks and lips".  She said that my family is too "modern" because my parents had a love marriage and my brother married a woman with a different background.  She said that she regretted raising her son in a "trashy" country.  She said that I looked "overweight".  I am overweight, but that was not visible in the headshot.  Frankly, even if it was, who really cares?  I'm confused and appalled by her reaction.  His father was less combative, but still expressed concerns.  What should I do?  BF says that he's willing to continue to stand up for me, but I'm scared of what our life will be like with them as in-laws, especially his mom.  She seems like a close-minded, irrational, emotionally manipulative person.  He's so heartbroken over this.  BF didn't realize that his parents would act like this.  He's very depressed, and it's making me very insecure, as now I'm afraid that he's going to leave me.  I've had a lot of very painful breakups due to being cheated on, dating men with emotional problems, etc.  I truly love this man and want to marry him.  He's already met my parents and they like him and support our relationship.  What should I do?  Signature:  Dreading My Future MIL

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is clear that your future mother-in-law is terrified that she will lose her bond with her son if he marries.  He probably thought that her objection to other girlfriends was based on background, and he probably is depressed by the discovery that she is willing to deny him any serious romantic attachment.  You might try telling him that you think you can work together to control his mother, and reassure her.  Together, you might be able to show her that she cannot destroy you as a couple but, at the same time, she can be part of your lives.  That is the best outcome, but I cannot pretend it won't be difficult.  Your boyfriend probably realizes that he may lose you, and that is likely to increase his depression.  He may need a lot of support to gain confidence that he can marry, and yet remain a good son.  If you talk to him about this, and show willingness to work this out as a couple, he may respond.  But this is something to assess yourself.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL took me by complete surprise the day she came to visit our newborn son.  Within minutes of her arrival, she pulled the bassinet, that my son was sleeping in, closer to her chair and began rocking it and hovering over him.  When it was time to feed my son, I began breast-feeding him, and she joined us.  She continued to hover over my son, over my breasts, and proceeded to stroke his head while he was feeding from my breast.  She even included my arm in the stroking motion of my son's head.  YUK!  This very night, we found her in our son's room, about to pick him up from his second waking.  This was after we told her that we did not need her help with middle of the night wakings.  Now my son is 15 months old, and MIL continues to cross boundaries, but in different ways.  DH and I do take immediate action with her by voicing our thoughts when she crosses a boundary, or does something against our wishes.  But, she becomes defensive and passive aggressive.  She has another son with 3 children and a wife.  They have not been on speaking terms for many years due to similar circumstances.  I do not want our situation to escalate to this point.  What do we do?  Thank you for listening.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Somehow you have to make it clear to your mother-in-law that she has a choice: she can either respect the boundaries that you set while you have an ongoing relationship with her, or you make things simple and cut ties with her, as her other son and his family have done.  You could tell her that you would be very sorry to lose her, but that you need her to respond to her requests.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
BF of 2 years and his mother refuse to speak English around me.  I let BF know that it made me feel uncomfortable and left out when they do this.  I have repeated this to him for 2 years.  Every time he gets angry and tells me that they've tried, but I either refuse to talk or I am rude.  This is not true.  They both speak perfect English.  I think she does it on purpose.  He feels that I have no right to ask this of them.  I love him very much, but I will not marry him unless this can be resolved.  She is very controlling.  Everyone I've asked feels that they are being rude.  Is it them or me?  Any hope?  Needing Clarity In The West.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is difficult to assess who is being rude in these circumstances, or why, but the important thing is to change things.  If you want your mother-in-law to speak English in your presence then you will need your husband's help.  It would be much easier if he always speaks to her in English, whatever language his mother uses, that would help.  He could gently remind his mother, when you are present, that his mother should speak English.  If your partner does not support you, then it is unlikely any of your efforts will succeed.

 


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