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My mother is a monster-in-law. Suggestions?


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Old 26th December 2017, 5:23 PM   #1
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Question My mother is a monster-in-law. Suggestions?

I met my wife 3 years ago, and although she moved to this country only a couple years before we met, there is no language barrier. I very much enjoy the experience of coming from two different cultures, having assumptions and misunderstandings, but learning from them, and coming up with our own solutions. There are small differences, like how something is typically eaten, to huge differences like the arrangement of a house, but we always find a solution, and even bought a house together last year. The one thing we cannot seem to find a solution for is my motherís behavior, and although I hate to put down my own country, we have the stereotype of ďmonster-in-lawĒ for a reason; It is not uncommon. On the other hand, her family has been nothing but welcoming to me, expecting nothing in return for their hospitality. Itís not fair. Without abandoning my family, Iím not sure how to correct my motherís behavior, or spare my wife from experiencing it.

My mother has always been picky, and quick to criticize others without taking responsibility for herself. A seemingly small detail out of place, or something that didnít go as planned, would inevitably result in blaming someone for it. In her mind, someone was always at fault. In situations that were stressful by most peopleís standards, her mood would escalate to screaming. If someone confronts her about her behavior, she plays the victim. She often deflects these conversations by blaming her childhood, and her verbally abusive parents, or the fact that they died when she was a young adult. She has not accepted personal responsibility for her behavior, nor made any noticeable positive changes as long as Iíve known her.

Growing up as an only child, only my father and I were around her enough to affect, and be affected by her behavior directly. I have plenty of memories of my mother getting angry about something seemingly trivial, blaming me or my father, and typically attacking the other one of us for something unrelated, and then storming out. Logical as I was, I was a child lacking reference points. I saw my irrational mother blame my father for something I couldnít understand, and then storm out. I then would ask my father what happened, and hear ďI donít know. Letís give her time to cool off,Ē which was logically consistent with everything I saw. I didnít know why she was mad, but knew she would be easier to talk to later. I concluded that my fatherís approach, of staying safe without correcting her behavior, was the best approach.

Now Iím 30, with a wife, a dog, a house, and hoping to have kids of our own in a few years. Although Iíve dated a half dozen girls in my life, I can comfortably say that Iíve never been closer to anyone than I am with my wife. Unfortunately for her, this means my mother sees her as part of the immediate family now, meaning that she has revealed her bad side to her. Two decades of living with my mother have prepared me for brushing off negativity, and keeping her blame from affecting me personally. My wife, having grown up in a different family, has not had to develop that defense, and is keenly aware of every negative comment. Just recently, my wife asked me if I noticed that when we go somewhere with my parents, and my mom is enjoying herself, she expresses this by saying ďWhy havenít we gone here before?Ē. Itís a question loaded with regret, and often followed by blame. My eyes went wide as I realized that I had heard that sentence all of my life, and never noticed how negative it was. I was blind to comments like, ďThis place is really pretty, but we should have gotten here earlier. If your father had only gotten breakfast like I thought he was going toÖĒ We once missed an exit on the highway, and even though there were 4 of us in the car, all with smartphones, all perfectly capable of getting GPS directions to our destination, none of us thought to do so. We tensed up, sensing the impending attack that would come from my mom, wondering who was to blame this time for a few ďwastedĒ minutes.

Itís constant negativity. As another example, when my wife and I got engaged, the first person we called to share the good news with was my mom. Instead of simply not answering the phone, she answered the phone by yelling ďNow isnít a good time!Ē before knowing what our topic even was, and as if we should have known that my father was stuck in traffic, and my mother, who had no plans after he got home anyway, was stressed out at that moment. Basic contact with my mother is threatening my wife and my good memories of our own lives. I can usually brush each comment off as it lands, but for my wife, it is a pile on top of her that has grown since the first time she ever met my mother. On my first visit to her country, we stayed with her parents, and I was completely unaware that people who usually didnít, were sharing a bed in order to accommodate me. Nobody mentioned it to me. I felt completely welcomed there. I didnít find out until I started asking about the layout of the house, wondering whose room was whoís. I contrast that with my wifeís first visit to my parentsí house. We had to our 4-6 hour drive (depending on traffic) such that we would arrive after dinner, but before she became tired, so as not to inconvenience her routine. The next day, while my mother stood next to several of her own coats on a chair, she told my wife, ďYou should have brought a coat. Didnít you know it was cold?Ē, without offering a coat.

She treats my wife like an inconvenience, and perhaps she is correct. My mother, surrounded by my father and me, lived in a safe bubble where she could criticize everyone around her without being challenged. Previous attempts to ask her to correct her behavior immediately escalated to screaming, unrelated verbal attacks, and illogical criticisms from her. My wife is desperately trying not to say anything that would enrage my mother, but at this point, even the truth would do that; My motherís behavior is unacceptable, and we donít want to be around someone who acts like that. As an only-child, I donít feel itís an option to cut off ties to my parents. Adding to that point, I would hate to lose my father because the only issue I have with him is that he wonít say anything directly to my mother, thus enabling her behavior. To be honest, I donít blame him for keeping his head down because he lives with her, and has to deal with her a lot more often than we do. Iím constantly balancing having a relationship with my parents, visiting them a few times year, and involving them in my life, with keeping my wife and me safe from that negativity. My mother is barely welcome to be with us as it is, and regarding having a child, my wife and I have already discussed the blunt truth: We would rather our future child go without having a grandma in this country, than letting the child see someone act that way. Although Iím sure it would be perceived as a threat, itís entirely for the well-being of this child that doesnít even exist yet.

Assuming a relationship with a grandchild is possibly the most valuable thing she could be looking forward to, how can I explain that she needs to improve her behavior now if she wants that relationship to be possible? Is that a pointless approach because sheíll only see it as a threat and get defensive? Should I focus on defending my wife now, or is that needlessly making my wife the prime target of my motherís criticisms?

Iíd love to hear thoughts from a variety of sources. Perhaps you or your spouse identify with me or the parents, or maybe youíre a sibling, watching your family deal with this. While responding, if you wouldnít mind, please briefly mention your own situation for some context.
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Old 26th December 2017, 5:55 PM   #2
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Your post is so long...I didn't get to the end...but you need to manage your mother or it could ruin your marriage.

Reduce the time you spend with them

Always back your wife up If your mum attacks her in any way

You backing her up will be the key issue here.
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Old 26th December 2017, 6:18 PM   #3
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One of the hardest things to do is to set boundaries with our mother.

For young married men, it’s often very necessary to do so.

Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Check out that book. It might save your marriage and your sanity.
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Old 26th December 2017, 6:38 PM   #4
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I don't have advice. But kudos to you for recognising the problem - it's the first (and most important) step in making a wise decision.
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Old 26th December 2017, 7:09 PM   #5
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Max, welcome to LoveShack. You're describing some of the classic symptoms for BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). These symptoms include her frequent negativity, always being "The Victim," temper tantrums, and rapid flips between liking someone and devaluing them.

Importantly, I'm not suggesting your mother has the full-blown disorder (only a professional can determine whether her symptoms are so severe as to constitute full-blown BPD). Rather, I'm suggesting she might be a "BPDer," i.e., a person exhibiting strong symptoms, regardless of whether they meet 100% of the diagnostic criteria. If she is, she is not a bad person or a monster -- her problem is not being bad but, rather, being emotionally unstable and immature. Yet, if she really does have strong BPD symptoms, she likely reveals her intense anger only to her loved ones who draw close and trigger her two fears (abandonment and engulfment). The likely result is that only the people who have drawn close to her -- as family members or very close friends -- have seen her dark side.

I therefore suggest you take a quick look at my list of 18 BPD Warning Signs to see if most sound very familiar. If so, I would suggest you also read my more detailed description of them at my posts in Rebel's Thread. And Sal provides a concise and insightful account of what it's like to live with a BPDer for 23 years in his 3/16 post. If those descriptions ring many bells and raise questions, I would be glad to discuss them with you. Take care, Max.

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Old 27th December 2017, 5:24 PM   #6
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You are for sure in a difficult place. I believe, however, that even though you are an only child, your first allegiance is to your wife. You need to protect her. Reading Dr. Cloudís book is a good start and may give you ways to cope. As far as the future child, those borders need to be in place at the very start, beginning with a face to face with her outlining how you expect her to act when around her grandchild. If she cannot do that, then you have decisions to make regarding whether or not you want that negativity to influence your LO. Best wishes.
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Old 27th December 2017, 6:06 PM   #7
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Smile I feel like I know her!

It's like you just described my boyfriend's mother! He is divorced and told me of the struggles he had with his mother and ex wife right from their wedding day. He blames his mom for his marriage ending, but from what he's described, I'd say there was a lot more to it. Anyway, I just met her and his step-dad on Thanksgiving. She and I talked and texted regularly, since they live far away. She told me she loved me and she was so happy her son found me! blah, blah, blah....he was anxious to have them to his home for Thanksgiving but I couldn't wait to finally meet them! He had hopes that this time would be different, that his arents would love me, because his mother and ex never got along. No pressure there! lol Wow, went downhill quickly. She accused me of lying about my faith (Christ-follower), said I was classless and I was just with for him for his money, among other horrible things, none of which are true...Well, being the confident person I am, it stung a little but I am not letting what she thinks affect my life. As long as he loves me for who I am and wants to be with me, which he assures me he does. He is very hurt though, and also, like you, an only child. He said he has put up with her bad behavior for 48 years and he isn't going to take it anymore. He spoke to his pastor about it (and has had years of therapy) and his pastor said that he wouldn't entirely cut them off, but that he would establish clear boundaries. For example, if we drive the 14 hours to visit them, instead of staying in their home, he suggested getting a hotel room and meeting them for activities/dinner, but if she started her nonsense, to cut it short and go back to our room. He has two children who see them once in a while. They are 12 and 17. They told me she is "crazy" and they are sad that they don't have a close relationship with their grandparents like some of their friends, but they can tell she has issues.

My bf hasn't spoken to them since they left after Thanksgiving, although he has tried to call and text, and he is struggling with it, but I think he is coming to terms with realizing her behavior is not his fault (he can be VERY hard on himself) and that putting boundaries in place is a solution that makes sense. I hope this helps. Best wishes!
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