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new difficult developments with MIL-ready to give up

Started by proverbsgirl, March 03, 2016, 02:38:41 am

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Hi, I'm new to this blog but decided to take the time to post b/c I have been searching for insight into my rapidly deteriorating relationship with my MIL and this forum seemed like a great community to find some of what I am looking for.

I will start out by saying my challenges with my MIL have only been occurring within the past year. My husband and I began dating at 16 years old and from the time we started dating I had been very close to his mom (after taking some time to warm-up and get to know her). She is a wonderful woman who loves her family and I do believe that she has, for the most part anyway, always tried to do things to let me know that I am loved, accepted, welcomed, and appreciated by her. My mother and I have never had a great relationship so, even before my husband and I got married, my MIL was the person I would usually go to for advice and support with various things in life. We had a very good relationship of mutual love, respect, and understanding, with little conflict. Now, when my husband and I got married we were not living in our home state, so we had little interference from family for the first 5 years of our marriage. I did not realize at the time how much that distance served to keep the peace and boundaries in our lives and marriage until we no longer had it.

In the past year, my husband and myself (along with our two young kids) have recently moved back near family. It was my idea and from the beginning my husband was against it. He separated from the military and I thought it would be great to move near our parents so that our kids could develop a good bond with their extended family and so that we would have help watching the kids (if we needed it) while we were attending school full-time. Not a day goes by that I don't regret the choice to move back. We have been dealing with stress from the move, kids, school, husband job hunting, and my family, but the issues I am having with his mom as of late have really pushed it over the edge for me. She has always been kind of clingy but lost her husband to cancer a couple years ago and I think that may have caused it to get a little worse. Just a few months after our move she expressed to me that she wanted her son to lead and guide her family (she still has 3 kids at home between the ages of 8-15) and after that I just shut down. I was already feeling overwhelmed at that point b/c of huge changes in our lives in addition to personality differences (I'm very introverted and don't see my family more than once every couple months, she's extroverted and likes to see us weekly) and after that, I admit that I began seeing her as competition and a threat to my position as my husband's partner. I am naturally a jealous person and have always struggled with insecurities, so this is a huge challenge for me.

That being said MIL is constantly doing things that I see as inappropriate and interfering which make me angry with her, causing me to become withdrawn. Examples would be trying to be involved in things like helping my husband shop for a car we were supposed to be looking for as a family, trying to help with our finances, asking my husband to do unnecessary things for her, like call someone about a car she wants to buy when she is perfectly capable of doing it on her own, she has tried to tell my husband we shouldn't help my mom (I do believe she was mostly looking out for us in this instance but it was not her place to say that), along with some other things I don't care to mention right now. We are probably going to be here for at least another few years and I'm so afraid she is going to be asking my husband to find a suitor for his sister before we are able to leave (something he wouldn't do for our own kids). I'm getting ahead of myself but this whole situation has gotten me so stressed and anxious that I am becoming physically sick.

I'm sure I probably sound really petty right now. I realize that she isn't intentionally trying to hurt or upset me and I know she is mostly coming from a place of loss after the death of her husband. Even so, I am having a really hard time handling my feelings towards her and it sucks b/c she really is a sweet person in spite of her flaws (and I know I'm not perfect and can be hard to deal with myself). At this point, I have mostly resorted to avoiding her, b/c I would rather just be frustrated at her alone than to risk interacting with her and snapping (which I have been guilty of a couple times) or addressing this sensitive situation and have her feel like I am being unfair, become emotional, etc. I am not trying to keep her from her grandkids (she watches them twice a week for us while we are in school and is always taking them to do fun things) and I am not trying to keep her from her son (I was always the one to encourage him to call his mom when we lived in a different state). I just want some space to be my husband's wife. And I don't want her delegating unnecessary tasks for him to do during a time when our family is under so much stress and already stretched so thin. Because as harsh as this may sound, he isn't her partner he's mine and I don't want to have to compete for that primary position in his life.

At this point, I just don't know what to do. A very good friend of mine said I should just try to talk with her honestly b/c we did have a very good relationship at one point in time but I really don't trust her to be reasonable and to not take anything I say as a personal insult or something. In addition, I know she thinks her involvement is the best thing for the family, so I don't really trust her to stop doing something that she sees as beneficially I guess. That being said, I know that if nothing is done, things will only continue to deteriorate. Realistically, what can I do? Should I talk to her and hope she'll be reasonable and understanding? Am I being unreasonable here? Should I just leave things as they are until we move a few years from now with the hope that I can talk to her once there is distance? I know that my behavior is hurtful but is what I'm doing now less hurtful than bringing up her deceased husband and saying that it is unreasonable to expect that her son can/will lead her family (she has tons of support outside of us, we have little to none) in addition to his own

Sorry this is so long but I could really use some words of wisdom. Thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read this far and respond. And sorry for any errors this may have, it's after 2am here!

Green Thumb

WOW, PG, a lot of what you describe sounds like boundary issues to me and this would make me very uncomfortable and stressed out also. Meaning it sounds like your MIL has no boundaries and doesn't respect yours. I can see how you would find her behavior intrusive and competition for your husband's attention. I find it odd that she would ask your husband, her son, to be the head of her house with her younger children. Now, I don't know your culture, but in some religions and cultures, the woman is trained to be a follower and not to be able to function without a man. Your withdrawal has added to the problem by perhaps subtly telling your husband that he is not important to YOU any longer. So perhaps he turns to his mother more and more cause she is showing admiration for him. I'd suggest you sit down with your husband and have a heart to heart and confess all that you've told us to him. Do not attack him or criticize him but do share your feelings and how you have withdrawn, right or wrong, but you realize now this is not a good place to be in. See what he says. It is not appropriate for you to talk to the MIL because the chance it might backfire and turn into a hot mess are great, rather it is your husband's job to talk to his mother if any changes need to be made. If she is a manipulative person, she will turn this into how you are the wrong one and you don't need that stress. Please let us know what happens.


Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. She never actually asked him this but has verbally expressed this desire to me a couple of times. We are Christians, although she is a lot more conservative than my husband and I, and is, for lack of a better word, more strict about women being subject to the men in their lives (specifically to their husbands). Thankfully, in spite of all the challenges and stress my husband and I have had to deal with, he and I work very hard to maintain open lines of communication within our marriage. I am very open with him about the things that bother and upset me and, although he doesn't really get it, he does try to understand where I am coming from. In my original post, I said that I was very distant with MIL not husband. That's not to say that I am never distant and upset with him b/c of the stress of this but we try to work through our issues quickly for the most part.

Unfortunately for me, my husband 1) doesn't understand why I can't just ignore her behavior (he chooses to deal with things he doesn't like about his mom by ignoring it rather than confronting it) and 2) truly doesn't believe that confronting her will do any good. I brought it up to him tonight, mentioning that he should be the one to talk to her about these things, and he says it isn't going to help and will only make it to where she is mad and upset at him too. He thinks b/c she helps us with the kids that we should just put up with it during the time we are here, until we are in a position to move. He doesn't agree with his mom but he would rather just be non-confrontational and put up with her for the next few years.


I have found that the best way to address things that bother me is to tell the other person how I feel.  Do not tell them to stop doing things but tell them "when you tell my husband which car to buy it makes me feel unimportant and unneeded".   All of this is true but it comes from  completely different direction from "he is MY husband and this is OUR decision". 

We go through life thinking that the people who are older than us have some kind of magic insight into everything we are feeling and because they are older they should know exactly how they should act.  Totally false.  Age does have predictable effects like wrinkles and hearing loss but nowhere in the list of normal effects is the ability to be able to know how someone else feels.  If you want her to know you have to tell her.  If you keep the discussion on YOUR  feelings, things should be OK in the long run.  Just try to avoid blaming her for your feelings.  Your feelings are your own and you have total responsibility (and control) of them. Contrary to what most people believe no one can "make you happy" or "make you mad" without your permission.  You control your reaction to what others say by how close you are to them.  People who constantly hurt us are usually excluded from our close inner circle. You are just asking her for help with your emotions. If she does not help then your only option is to put her in the category of people whose opinions do not matter, and that is not where you want her to be.

I had a step FIL who tried to convince my DH and myself to lease a car instead of buying one.  Every time we met he would mention it.  He even cut out articles from magazines and newspapers and sent them to us.  This went on for months! Then one day while we were talking he mentioned that his back was bothering him and I suggested that he try a chiropractor because one helped me and it was at least worth a try.  You would have thought I suggested a witch doctor!  He actually said "I wouldn't take my DOG to a chiropractor".  I replied "So now you know how I feel about leasing a car".  Never heard another word (and my MIL cackled!!). 

It sounds like you are going to have to either do something yourself or put up with it.  Your DH has already put your MIL into the group whose opinions do not matter and you doing the same is not completely out of the question.  Don't grit your teeth and resent what she says though!  Take her opinions and put them in the same category where you would put an article on money that you disagreed with.  You would filter through the chaff and retain the parts that you thought relevant and disregard the rest.  Just remember that it is you who is giving her the power to affect your life.  How much power do you want her to have? 

Good luck to you!   
Your mind is a garden your thoughts are the seeds
You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.
Author unknown


Great response, Still Learning! I couldn't agree more!  And good luck to you, proverbs girl. You strike me as a thoughtful, empathetic DIL whose heart is in the right place. That alone is half the battle.

Green Thumb

Still Learning's response is excellent and since PG gave us more information, I am going to add this. PG, it sounds like your MIL is sharing her anxieties with you sometimes. Because she told you, not your husband, that she wishes her son would be head of her household, this sounds more like anxiety talk. So perhaps trying a two pronged approach.

Use your "I" messages, "I feel angry when you tell us what car to purchase." (Not "You make me angry".)

Then try using empathetic responses to MIL when she shares her worries with you. "You have anxiety that there is no male head of household now that your husband has died." "Its hard for you to be mother and father." That will defuse it and then don't take it as gospel, just let it go. Like Still Learning said, you can put her words in the category of one whose opinion doesn't matter.

Sounds like your husband does care about you and he realizes his mother is a bit off and he knows she won't change. There is always a trade off in life and nothing is ever perfect. The trade off of her doing childcare for you is perhaps listening to her "problems" or her interference and suggestions. If you look at it that way, you might take this less personally.


Thank you so much everyone for your wisdom, insight and kind words. Green Thumb, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that she is most likely expressing anxiety. I know that being female head-of-household is something she is very uncomfortable with.

So, just to reiterate, you all would suggest for me to speak with her myself (since my husband probably won't) and explain to her how I've been feeling without coming across as blaming her for anything, and then let the chips fall where they may (either she is understanding or she isn't)?

Stilllearning, I absolutely see where you are coming from but I think I might have a more difficult time only b/c MIL tends to cross over from opinion to action when she can. I think I'm going to take everyone's advice and try to talk with her but if, after speaking with her, she continues to take or attempt to take actions that I find upsetting do you have any suggestions to how to handle her, myself, or both of us then? Am I just going to need to get a counselor to hash out my issues at that point (lol)?


Welcome, Proverbsgirl. I am impressed by your appreciation for all your MIL's good qualities - as a former DIL (sadly, MIL has passed) and a current MIL, it's nice to see.

Your MIL may feel that since she is helping you & your DH with childcare, you should be eager & willing to help with her problems. Perhaps if you set some fair & reasonable boundaries & limits you could reduce the number of times DH gets requests for less than important things. For example, explain your busy schedule and offer 2 DH "help runs" per month (or whatever works for you.) She would have to prioritize and decide what was a real emergency and what was just a need for attention.

Also, if she is needing attention, could you reward her when she backs off? When she is NOT showing signs of demanding, needy behavior you/DH could call or otherwise engage (rewarding her with what she really wants.) If she starts piling on demands/intruding, redirect her and gently end the interaction until next time. Maybe she'll figure out that you both care but are not interested in her intrusions or excessive neediness. We're trying this approach with our DDD (dear disabled daughter) and it seems to be slowly working. It's called ABC behavior modification. Good luck!
Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


PG I am sitting here trying to imagine how your
Quote" MIL tends to cross over from opinion to action when she can"
.  I can't quite see that happening without me saying something.  You must be a lot nicer than I am.

I expect that your displeasure with the situation will surface one way or another.  Perhaps you should tell your DH that you would prefer to talk to your MIL and explain things instead of waiting until she rubs you wrong and you explode. 

Good luck!
Your mind is a garden your thoughts are the seeds
You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.
Author unknown


Your situation reminds me of my sister-in-law.  When her father passed away, she informed my husband (her brother) that her Dad said that "her brother was now the head of the family".  Family included her mother, her sister, herself, her two sons, and of course, her brother.  It did not include me although I was considered an "outsider who could be present" (by this time we had been married over 40 years).  My husband did not "take over" the family reins and there was a lot of anger and resentment, especially toward me.  She expected us to include her in every part of our lives and once, when we did not, well - I became the estranged family member of a smear campaign.  Like you, my husband did not cater to her whims.  Frankly, she seemed to be unable to get on with her own life without someone to "lead" her.  By the way, she divorced two husbands and both of her sons did very little to accommodate her.  She died a couple of years ago (unnecessarily, I might add) due to stubbornness, entitlement and self-centeredness.  In spite of her actions toward me, I really did like her.

I really believe there was nothing I could have done to change the situation (other than divorcing her brother or dying early).  I was an intruder and would never be accepted.  Sometimes, this is just what it is.  By the way, the first person who noticed how I was treated by my husband's family was my own mother.  I felt that if I tried hard enough, was kind enough and always "available" and/or "give-in", then they would come to "like" me.  It never happened.  My only regret is that I tried so hard and wasted so much time trying to "make things right".  Maybe this is not your situation; however, it does appear to me that your husband has a "handle" on things.  So sorry ....

Green Thumb

Only you know this MIL and yourself best. I think what we are all saying is to speak up for yourself in a gentle loving way but with firmness, acknowledge her emotions, and have boundaries. I don't think having a confrontation with her will work. When someone is working from an emotional standpoint, they are usually not rational so us trying to speak with logic and rationality and arguing our point so they "see and understand" our point and then change usually never works. You can't talk to her thinking you will change her, you can only talk to her to do so for your own mental health. So letting go of changing her is first task. I might suggest you and your husband first set boundaries for her demands. The 2x a month idea is a good one, or whatever time your husband has. I would also guess she sees her babysitting as payment for your husband's time -- this is perhaps a natural reaction or thought on her part. I help you, you help me. And lastly, do not take so much of her words in the personal way. It is not meant personally, I would guess. I bet she is just "emoting" and is very needy or very manipulative. Sometimes they are the same thing. What I mean is that when she crosses over into action, it is most likely not meant as a slam towards YOU, she is not thinking of YOU. It is something inside her that she most likely does to make herself feel better about something inside of her. Perhaps she wants to be loved more, be the hero, be in control on something so she feels in control about her being a single parent, be appreciated, or focusing on your family makes her not focus on her family or her personal situation (deflecting). I am being really deep here but if you can try to understand her emotions and motives, you may have more compassion and this will hopefully allow you to stand your ground from a less emotional perspective. If you change your reactions, you change the dynamics. What is it that she triggers in you? My trigger is feeling put down or 'less than' - meaning when I feel this, I tend to get angry.

Be active instead of reactive. Good luck. It isn't ever easy.

PS: In some ways, this is like raising a child. They do "bad behavior" stuff and we just correct them. If they hit us, we have a boundary and we say don't hit me and we stop them. Perhaps thinking of her as a child and having the courage, boundaries to say we have this covered, thanks so much for the advice, we are doing --- blank instead. We don't hesitate to correct our children by setting boundaries but we feel awkward and reluctant to set boundaries with other adults. I know, I am this description.


The women here have given you some excellent advice.  I agree that it's best to start with how you feel.  If the behavior persists, remind her again how it makes you feel.  If she cares about you she won't want to do things that you feel bad about.  I agree that it would be best if your husband could talk to her and enforce boundaries.  It doesn't need to be a confrontation.  A simple and firm no, but in a loving way could be enough.  I feel like your husband needs to understand your boundaries and at least back them up.  If the problems persist even after expressing your feelings and saying no, perhaps it would help to seek counseling. 
Please just don't let things go and avoid addressing the problems, because you don't want to be unkind.  It isn't unkind to decide not to do what someone else wants or expects of you.  You can be assertive without being unkind.  It's when a person holds things in and doesn't express their feelings and allow the feelings to fester, that a person becomes unkind. 
My relationship with my inlaws was never great, but over the years our relationship deteriorated to the point where I could hardly stand to be in the same room with them.  My husband was much like yours and didn't want to address the issues with his parents.  So I endured a similar situation for almost 3 decades.   Eventually I pushed back and hurt my MIL and I will never feel good about that. And now after all these years I just have no desire to spend time with them because my memories of spending time with them are mostly bad.   From your post, it seems like you wouldn't like things to end this way either.  I'm afraid if you let things slide, you will be too angry to address things in a loving and kind way. 
I wish that I would have sought out help decades ago.   It could have prevented a lot of heartache for myself and my MIL.  I also with I wouldn't have taken so much of what my inlaws did and said personally.  Their behavior was a reflection of them, not something lacking in me.  I finally talked to a counselor about my problems with my inlaws but only after I tried to address the issues with them and things did not go well.  My approach was not a good one and my husband was no help at all. 
Do you see how not addressing things can be unkind?  Please don't be like me :(