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When the Son wants to cut off...

Started by pam1, September 16, 2010, 07:58:51 am

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Well ladies, I need some advice again.

I've posted before about the problems with MIL.  The lack of communication with me, the tirades/rants/emotional manipulation to DH.  The gossiping and rumor spreading about every in law that married into the family.  The control over issues that do not concern her.  The hypersensitivity to every perceived slight, the insecurity that she lays at everyone's feet to take care of for her.  The chaos that surrounds every family event and the stress that goes along with it.  The stakes she tries to put on our schedule so high that we exclude everyone in my family to accomodate her.

Basically since our engagement MIL has been on a crusade to CONTROL.  No matter how little the issue is or how big, MIL wants to CONTROL it. 

DH and I are both now exhausted.  I'm tired of thinking about this, I'm tired of having this in my life.  It's nonsense for the most part and none of these issues are so important that MIL or anyone for that matter, should be making a big deal about them.  At the end of the day 99% of these issues are just simply none of MIL's business.

Recently DH and I couldn't made one of MIL's demands.  Extremely short notice, less than 24 hours and we have sick family members at home.  She threw a ginormous fit.  She harassed DH at work, she wouldn't take "no" for an answer, she tried to get DH to change his mind by going through me.  When none of it worked, she started emotionally manipulating DH by saying he won't do it b/c DH doesn't want to see her, doesn't care about her etc. 

DH has had enough.  After that he came home and seriously started talking about cutting her off.  I have not brought up cut off to him, I think that should be last resort.  He's brought it up a few times and now I think he is serious.  I said he probably shouldn't do that and he asked me "Why?  She creates problems all over the place, she makes us miserable, she is a huge pain in the ***, and she is emotionally blackmailing us, she has tried to control our relationships and so much so that we haven't kept up relationships with each other as husband and wife and with your side of the family.  She is our most frequent topic of conversation from how to handle her to how to protect us from these attacks. So why isn't that a good idea?" 

All I could say was "......she's your mother...."  I really can't think of a good reason to stay in contact with her anymore, other than she is DH's mother.  All the bad is outweighing any good so that neither DH and I recognize it anymore.  He is right, bottom line she cause chaos and ill feelings whenever we deal with her.  He has brought it up before and I have talked him out of it but frankly, now I'm tired of dealing with it.  This is their relationship, MIL doesn't want to talk to me, she wants to control me.  There is no way she is going to respond to anything I say (I've tried) and I'm bone tired of this conversation with DH and protecting MIL from the consequences of everything with DH. 

So ladies, what would you say to my DH?  What would you do?
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift


Thanks, Anna. You bring up a really good point.  DH isn't perfect (neither am I, shocking I know)  ;)

He's had trouble communicating since I've known him.  He doesn't outright lie -- but it's not unheard of for DH to shut down, especially when a conversation is an emotional one.  I've heard his conversations with MIL and he ranges from shutting down to anger.  It's hard for him to get his point across.  I have no doubt that MIL takes advantage of that, I've seen her in action.  He is her son and she knows where his buttons are.

But at the end of the day, no matter who has the greatest percentage of fault in their relationship, well it comes to a point where it doesn't matter anymore. This is affecting our marriage and it has for a long time.

What do you do then?
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift


Pam, I can see why you're torn.  However, I think that you should take a step back and let DH negotiate his own relationship with his Mom. 

Maybe he just needs a break.  Let him take some time away from MIL to regroup and re-evaluate the situation.   "Cut off" is such a strong, negative concept.  But it doesn't have to be all or nothing.   And it doesn't have to be "forever". 

In the meantime, maybe your DH could use some help through a counselor.  Because he really needs to enforce his boundaries, so that he can go from "completely cut off" to "this is the behaviour I'm willing to accept".  It's going to be really hard for him, because it sounds like he never learned to stand up to his M when he was a teenager, like he was supposed to.

I think that, at this time, you need to stand by your husband, tell him that whatever he chooses for his relationship with his M, you will support him.  If he gets wiggy over the cut off, remind him that it's okay for there to be some space in ANY relationship, and he just needs some space.

I'm not sure if I'm wording that right.  But you know how you can endure ANYTHING, as long as you know it's going to end?  It's like that.  If he ends up reverting, just because he can't imagine being CUT OFF from his M *forever*, then that's not good.  But if he sees that there will be a possibility of a relationship in the future, he might be more willing to do the work he has to do, to be able to manage a decent / civil relationship.


What is your ultimate goal here? If it's to be done with her no matter what, then the cut off is probably the best option. You've got to stand firm on that or you'll teach her that you're pushovers. It's a final solution, so to speak.

However, if you and DH are willing to have a relationship with MIL if she learns from her mistakes and behaves better, then IMHO one should allow room for redemption (unless the crime is really really horrific.) Perhaps clearly stating what behaviors you will not accept and what behaviors you will reward can give your MIL some guidelines so she can self-monitor her actions?  Pick the biggest issues to work on first; you don't want to set her up to fail (well, maybe you might, I don't know.) That way you don't have to see her or speak to her if she's pulling her shenanigans. If she decides to be reasonable, she can have access to you.

This works for kids, too :)
Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


Thanks Scoop, I'm going to have DH read your post.  You put it well and it's what I've been thinking but can't quite articulate to DH.   Space is something we've been trying to create in order for us to spend more time with my side of the family and us as a couple.  My family rarely sees us, rarely gets any time with us.

Pen, my ultimate goal is to have a good marriage.  I don't want to cut off MIL but that's not my choice it seems.  I've tried for over a year to (gently) set our boundaries with MIL in order for my side of the family to be included.  DH has been trying for the last 6 or so months.  And this is where it has gotten us to -- DH wants to cut her off.   I think he needs to establish better coping strategies.  I don't understand why he lets her call him at work.  Why he stays on the phone with her when she starts in on him.  I don't get it, I doubt I ever will.  But instead of DH changing those things, he is at the point where he just thinks cut off.

DH thinks MIL won't learn or doesn't get it.  I think she does get it but she's playing a game with him right now, it's not important enough for her to listen to his wishes and stop those behaviors b/c in the mean time, she is getting what she ultimately wanted.  His time and attention.

However, as his wife it's hard to watch and I get the brunt of the negativity.  He comes home exhausted by the emotional games.  Every single time this happens (which is frequent) he zones out.  He ignores us at home.  He needs to go by himself to get quiet time to feel better.  Or if I do try to get him involved he's a walking wreck and no one wants to be around him.   I've watched him being cheerful and ready to start the day and one call from MIL erodes his entire behavior and he's back to needing quiet time.

And you know what?  This isn't just on average days, this is holidays and special times too which is often when she throws the biggest fits.  So on a day when it's supposed to be special and we are supposed to have fun and enjoy our kids, I have a DH who is too mentally and emotionally exhausted to connect with anyone in the household.  We do our thing for MIL and I'm often the one heading that up.....and then DH just checks out when it comes to us.

He's told me he knows that he's too overwhelmed and can't cope with dealing with MIL and being a good husband at home to me.  And he won't go to counseling anymore.  So as a wife, what am I supposed to do with that?
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift


September 16, 2010, 10:52:31 am #5 Last Edit: September 16, 2010, 10:56:28 am by Sassy
Scoop and the others have some great suggestions.  Especially about counseling for DH to learn how to set and maintain his boundaries.  And it's true, he may need some space for him to be able to learn that.  If he refuses counseling, then maybe space is the only way he can learn to do that.  To call her bluff.  He faces her anger, realizes it's truly inert energy except for what energy he gives it  and then she has no power over him.  Then maybe he can engage with her again, this time knowing the threat is inert. 

I noticed, especially in the latest post, how much DH willingly engages in the drama.  Using Caller ID for calls, especially when they become multiple, or when they become berating and accusatory, and saying "I'm sorry, I have to go now" do wonders to keep one's self from getting so involved in someone else's drama.  No one can suck a man into 24 hours of ridiculous demands without his FULL permission.  You're right - she's getting his time and attention - because he always gives it to her.  He hands it over on request (or demand).   When he doesn't have to hand it over.  Just because MIL invited him on a roller coaster ride, doesn't mean he has to get on board for every ride around the track.  Or even for one stomach-turning lap (it takes practice to decline the compulsion to jump on board when she waves her arm).

He's exhausted by the games, but he is the one who keeps on playing them, every time she lays down a card  (I'm mixing metaphors but I hope you get the idea).  When the reality is, he can just pass.  That's what it seems he needs to learn how to do. 

What's a wife supposed to do, you ask.  Well, for starters, for those holidays you say you're the one heading it up to involve MIL.  Maybe it's time you rethink partaking in it to that degree.  If you want to spend time with your family, then do it.  That's the only way to do something, isn't it, just to do it (with apologies to tennis shoe copywriters).   Don't wait for MIL to give you a permission slip.  If you're heading up spending time with MIL, maybe you could instead begin heading up time with your side of family.  And, more importantly, heading up time with DH as your husband.  MIL doesn't have the power to make you a better or worse Wife, or a better Daughter or worse Sister - that's up to you.  It really is.  More than you seem to realize right now. If you give that power to someone else that's on you, too.  That's you giving it away.

The book "Emotional Blackmail" might be useful for you.  If you and DH are afraid of the threat of MIL's tantrum if you do something with your family, then understand the threat is only as effective as you and DH allow it to be.  If you decide that yes MIL will throw a tantrum if you go to dinner with your parents, you can also decide that yes, you're going to pass on listening to it.  Again, caller ID is your friend. 


First off - Pen, what a wonderful response!  I know that you have every right to be "once bitten, twice shy" when it comes to DIL's cutting DH's from the herd, but it doesn't come through from you at all. 

Pam - I think that a positive way for you to support DH might be a punching bag in the basement and an Ipod loaded with the some heavy metal tunes.  When he gets into one of these funks, then you can just tell him he needs to go for a few rounds with "his therapist" or whatever funny expression you can think of.  That way, you're informing him that his sulking/funk/whatever is not acceptable to the situation in YOUR HOUSE, but in a funny/positive way and you're providing him with an outlet for his feelings, that doesn't involve TALKING.  Another thing, it prevents you from engaging in the argument - "I can tell when you've spoken with your Mother, you've turned into the beast again" - ragging on MIL and on HIM.


Relationships have general "rules" or boundaries built into them, and whether that relationship is with your spouse, a friend, a sibling, in-laws, or even your own mother, the boundaries are the same.  You don't accept awful behavior from your next-door-neighbor, and you shouldn't tolerate it from your Mother or MIL either, just for the simple fact that they're "family."  It really angers me when people use the "family" tie to excuse awful behavior.  No one, not even family, has any right to treat anyone that way.  In fact, your family should be the very LAST people you'd expect to treat you that way! 

When you know in YOUR heart that you have done everything humanly possible to salvage the relationship with your MIL, and that your DH has done everything humanly possible to salvage the relationship with his mother.....but she simply cannot control HERSELF (not you!)...then the last and only thing you can do is set the one final boundary.       

You have to put the ball in HER court, and give her one last chance to change her ways.  Your DH will have to tell her, point blank, "We are _____ of the way you have _____.  _______ must change or we will _________."  Fill in the blanks as they best suit your situation.  If she can't do that, then the fault is on her, but you gave her the opportunity.  YOU can't change HER, only SHE can change HER...you can only change YOUR reactions to her.  But don't be fooled into thinking she will take responsibility for this...oh no dear, it will most likely be YOUR fault.  Forever.  No "ifs, ands, or buts" about it.  Be prepared.  If your MIL is anything like mine, and she does sound very much like her, there will be hell to pay for both of you and she will make sure that you and DH are scum to the entire family for "cutting his family off."  She may even lie and tell "incomplete truths" to make sure that happens.  And she will most likely sulk, publicly, and make you and DH look like monsters. 

No matter what the boundary you set for her is, it will be a change that will take her out of control and she's NOT going to like it.  Expect some major backlash from her, possibly even the rest of his family.  You are taking away her control, and she's probably going to fight it.   

Remember that the most important step in setting boundaries is to "own the result."  If she can't abide by the boundary you have set for yourselves, and your marriage and relationship, then you must follow through with the consequence, whether that be limiting her time and involvement in your lives, or cutting her off completely.  And believe me she will kick, and she will scream.  But in the end, you will know that you gave her one final chance. 

Boundaries are something everyone struggles with from time to time.  But once you and DH can agree on what is acceptable  and what isn't, you can stand beside eachother and support one another through them.  If your DH feels this way, the best advice I can give you is to NOT act with him, let him handle it in the way he sees fit for himself and his wife & family.  But be there, because he will need you for support.  Then, get yourselves to couples counseling, if you haven't done so already.  It sounds like your MIL has already caused some major damage to your relationship, or you probably wouldn't be here.  Don't give up dear. 



So, I just went back and re-read my post.  I realized that I am still very bitter, and I cam accross as very erm, pessimistic; and I need to work on that. 

I will say this, MILs like yours and mine are the very reason there is a negative stereotype of MILs.  They're not all that way, and not all of our situations end up in cutting the family ties, nor do they have to.  We all, individually, have to assess our "breaking points," and they are all different as some people can tolerate way more than others.  There are women on this very site who have endured years upon years of this behavior without saying a single word, while others tolerated it only a few months into dating before we tolerated it no more. 

But you really are damned if you do, and damned if you don't.  If YOU handle it, then he's afraid of you, or you're abusinve, or you're manipulating him and cutting him from the herd yourself...if you let HIM handle it, you're just manipulating him behind the scenes, and turning him against his own family.  It's all a matter of perception really.  And people will find a way to make any story fit into their beliefs about you when they want to. 

I hope it comes out positively.  Not every situation is fitting for a complete cutoff, but you and DH will have to decide what's right for you and your marriage.  And that should be top on your priority list, even above his mother. 

Sorry again to have been negative.  Just having a crummy day I guess.           


Since your husband has trouble communicating what he needs to his mother (not getting his point across, shutting down, getting angry), I would suggest he write them down on paper.  This would give him the time to clarify his points of dispute with his mom.  Then, when he feels they are as razor sharp as he needs them to be...he can sit his mom down for a face-to-face.  With his list in hand, he can let her know just what he would like for her to correct in regards to their interactions.  This would also give him time to marshal his rebuttal to her objections, and face it, he knows what guns she likes to pull out in a dispute.  Acknowledgment of the fact of "yes, she is his mother" can lead to the fact of "but, I'm a married man now and it is time to let go of the control strings" followed by the "I love you but I will be walking my own path".

It sounds dorky to try, I know...sometimes dorky works.


Quote from: Scoop on September 16, 2010, 12:04:46 pm
First off - Pen, what a wonderful response!  I know that you have every right to be "once bitten, twice shy" when it comes to DIL's cutting DH's from the herd, but it doesn't come through from you at all. 

Thanks, Scoop. My dad's mom was a horrible MIL. As a child I witnessed full-on tantrums and other hateful behavior directed at my mother who had tried everything to have a good relationship with this very angry, needy, narcissistic woman. Needless to say, I knew what not to do when DS married DIL, but I was shunned and scorned by DIL anyway. (Full disclosure - things between DIL and I are a little better now; I'm walking on eggshells hoping we can continue to make progress! She seems to be trying, too.)

As a current MIL and past DIL, as well as having the above experience, I don't knee-jerk on one side or the other :) But, I'm enough of a softie to hope we all can allow for change. Total cut-offs are so final.

Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


I don't have anything to add but I want to applaud all of you. Sending love...
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Well, DH and I have talked quite a bit.  Talked about the space, talked some more about needing time for us and my family.  I think we are doing good, cut off talk has been averted for now.  DH has made quite a few revelations about his relationship with MIL.  And you know, it is his relationship.  I think for a long time I've tried helping out so much that I've hindered his process.  When people get married, their relationships *do* change.  My family and I accepted that my husband comes first now and that's just how it is, that is how married life is.  Anyway, lots of big talks and lots of peace ahead soon, I hope :) 

Anna, I saw your post about gossiping and how that shouldn't be grounds for cut off.  I don't necessarily know if I agree with that, that is ok to gossip and lots of people do it.  I've seen people demoted/fired over gossip, heck *I've* fired people over gossiping.  I've seen gossiping destroy many different relationships, friendships, lovers, marriages.  I guess what I'm saying is that if something is considered harmless, I don't think it would have such drastic consequences in a lot of aspects of life, not just in law relationships. 
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift


Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama