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Troubling relationship with Mother-in-law!

Helsbels
Community Member

Hello, I am in desperate need of advice. My MIL is offended by everything we say and do and makes her upset known by sulking and other unpleasant behaviours - irrespective of the occasion. Her behaviour has destroyed so many special occasions (Xmas, bdays etc) and the build up to any interaction is anxiety-inducing "What's she going to be like today", "what's going to offend her next" etc.

We had such an awful Xmas that we avoided her for a while to calm down and focus on our own lives/little family/marriage. Since Xmas, my marriage has been so strained.

MIL's been emotionally manipulating my husband his whole life and he's on meds and having counselling to help him rise above the guilt she makes him feel when she doesn't get her way. I've been doing my best to encourage him to be confident that her behaviour is not his fault, she will find anything to be upset about no matter how hard we try to please her.

We finally saw her to talk through things. Disaster! She went immediately to the defence (which is natural) and sprouted insults. I told her I'm not comfortable being myself around her because of how offended she gets. In response, she fair dinkum brought up an occasion where she gifted my husband a t-shirt (for which he thanked her) and then she asked me what I thought, to which I replied, "I'd love him if he was wearing a sack" I was cuddling him and smiling at the time.

So much offence was taken, apparently, that the slight was remembered in detail years later. I told her she just proved my point, that I can't be myself and occasions are a stress for us because of how uptight and on our best behaviour we must be lest we offend (We're not like this for anyone else).

Meanwhile, she says some of the most offensive things (eg negative comments about my husband's weight) that really irk me, but I choke that down like a big girl because I don't wish to be combative, rude or disrespectful.

I'm really starting to get stuck between: a) wanting to handle her the same way I'd handle any old Joe Blo who carried on so childishly - which would not be pretty, I can assure you; & b) forging ahead despite the lack of success we've had recently (and in the past) to attempt a more healthy relationship.

What would you do if you wanted a better relationship, but the other person is incapable of rising to the occasion? Or if you had an adult family member carry on like a child at special occasions? My husband and I are on the same page and at the same loss.


13 Replies 13

Croix
Community Champion
Community Champion

Dear Helsbels~

Thanks for coming here, you are most welcome here. I'm afraid the situation you are in is not of your, or your husband's making, but the doing of your mother-in-law. As such she is the only one that could make things more amicable, and that does no sound in the least likely.

If you were strangers you would simply avoid toxic people, unfortunately that is not the case here, while I'm sure you wold be only too happy to minimize contact your husband is not in as easy a position.

Having taken her words and actions seriously all his life it takes a very big mental switch to see her as she really is, unpleasant and controlling. After all she has always pushed his buttons with great skill.

Objectively I'd suppose you still have to have that separation, and if as you say your husband is on the same page, then it should be possible, the basic problem being he may well feel very guilty at choosing you and abandoning her, something that might eat away with permanent effects.

Do you think this is something he can overcome?

Croix

Soberlicious96
Champion Alumni
Champion Alumni

Dear Helsbels,

This may sound harsh, but I am perhaps becoming more 'thick skinned' as I get older ...... and if there was someone in my life that was behaving in such a toxic manner, I would interact with that person as little as possible. Especially if the other person is incapable, or unwilling to make an effort to just be nice.

There is nothing that any of us can do to change another person, but we can certainly change ourselves; who we see, when we see them and how we see them. I don't know if you are a believer of any kind of Higher Power, but I am, and I have found the following prayer .... or 'mantra' if you like to be very helpful:

"God (or whatever you want to say) grant me the serenity to accept the ones I cannot change, courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me!"

There's a lot to be said for detachment with love .... and I say 'with love' because if you detach from someone with any kind of malice, then the hurt tends to remain. Sometimes people do things and say things not because of anything you and or I may do or say, but just because that's the way they are, and until they find a reason to change for themselves, then they just keep going.

I don't know if any of that helps, or even makes any sense but I just know that just because someone is 'family' doesn't mean automatic 'happy ever after'. As the saying goes "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family." Maybe some distance and less frequent interaction will show her that things need to change, much more so that 'sitting down to talk about it' ever will?

Anyway, hope that does help, even just a little. I'll be thinking of you. xo

white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi, welcome

I've had a life of misery with my dominating manipulative mother. A friend of mine suggested I google

Queen witch waif hermit

Then my life changed forever. We cannot diagnose but we can share our experiences.

Google

Beyondblue Topic emotional blackmail likely extreme BPD

That is my assessment following 54 years of trying to work out WHY!

I had a wedding ruined then 25 years later my second wedding was threatened to be ruined 9 years ago. I had to get a court order to have a smooth wedding by keeping her away. Of course my sister and I lost family members and so on.

But...we are free.

Had she sought help it would not have been a problem

I hope I've help.

TonyWK

Helsbels
Community Member

Yes, thank you! I have felt very torn trying to help my husband. After years of suffering severe clinical depression, I'm well versed in recognising toxic behaviour. It's very easy for me to see what's happening and to understand that my own boundaries have been crossed and implement change thusly. But, for my husband, how difficult. All I could do was hold his hand, encourage him to recognise the behaviour and understand his worth and where his own boundaries lay.

He's made great strides in the last 4 months, but it's taken a real toll on us as people suffering from mental health conditions, and as a married couple (I'm also 37 weeks pregnant was really looking forward to a smooth pregnancy for a change)!

It would be much easier for him to visit and remain in touch with his mum than it would be for me. My level of tolerance and respect has diminished so profoundly, I genuinely worry what I might do or say - and I would never forgive myself for going down in history as the woman who called this lady a b@#%! I would never want to give my husband an ultimatum nor restrict his, or the kids' access to her. If they can tolerate her, they can have her!

However, I am sad that this is even a 'thing'.

Thank you, I feel the same. I have behaved so poorly towards myself in the past, mostly by exposing myself to, and valuing, people who were users and abusers - which was really a reflection of what little I thought of myself. In the past 8 years of treatment and cognitive behavioural therapy (which is still ongoing) I have learned so much about my condition, the choices I've made, why I made them and how to deal with them. I've also learned that no one person ever abused me as much as I abused myself and I make a point to value myself and uphold my self worth.

Part of that is completely ridding myself of people who suck the soul out of me. My dad was one of those people. I would rather be alone and happy that surrounded by a@#holes.

That being said, I'm also a very patient and understanding person and I don't think, in my near 40 years, have I come across such a difficult relationship. I am torn between valuing her as having a critical place in our lives (nana/mother) and my instinctive feeling (and maybe impulsive/innate feeling) of wanting to knock her out!

I don't take this lightly; for some reason I feel like this particular toxic person requires some consideration before acting too impulsively - a trait I have been guilty of in my deep dark past.

I'm trying to balance what I know, feel, think etc with some particularly negative symptoms of my mental condition which have dominated my life in the past. Like, is this a measured and thought-out response, or is this a reactive situational response etc.

And, boy, I could use a night where I'm not pondering this till the wee hours.

Thank you so much TonyWK. I Googled MIL troubles and found a post on here where you had provided very helpful comment to another person's MIL issues in 2014+ (it's what brought me here today). I saw your story regarding your mum and I'm so sorry to hear of the struggle. My father has untreated BPD and I've not spoken to him in 3+ years for the same reasons, thereabouts.

If this were any person in my life or my family, they'd have been long gone by now. Unfortunately, I'm suffering vicariously. I don't want to alienate my husband in distancing myself from her, nor make him feel like he's stuck between a rock and a hard place.

My husband is so very important to me, and the stress that occurred in these last 4 months trying to work though all of this together (I'm also studying postgraduate law) had me considering leaving him just to rid myself of the lot of it. I felt really guilty about that, like I'd abandon him in this time in his life, but it was largely due to his inaction and her consistent (daily) phone manipulation. All the while I was sitting here between love for him and fury for her, trying to encourage him to stand up to her, all while being completely impotent to help him or myself in any really productive way (like tell her to bugger off myself). Then I felt like I was bullying him to act. It has been such an awful year.

He has stood his ground with her several times since and I'm so proud of him. But, after Saturday, I'm just not sure I can personally continue exposing myself to her nonsense. That being said, I also worry I'll be unhappily discluded from events and occasions (especially because my husband and children won't be) and whether avoiding her is worth missing out on time spent with my own family.

therising
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi Helsbels

I feel for you and your husband. It can feel torturous when we're tormented by someone day in and day out, even when we're not in their presence.

Outside the square but perhaps you and your husband could begin the process of genuinely/thoughtfully questioning her:

  • The t-shirt issue could have you ask 'What really leads you to feel hurt about this?'
  • If you were to bring a dish to a family gathering and she said 'Why would you bring that?', the question may become 'What is it about this dish that really upsets you?' If she was to respond with 'It's just horrible!' then the following question may be 'Why do you believe it's horrible?' Don't stop questioning
  • If she was to make an offensive remark about your or your husband's appearance, you could ask 'Why does his/my appearance require judgement in this moment?'

In questioning her you are actually challenging her. She won't appreciate the challenge, to look within herself, but perhaps this is something that needs to be done. Sounds like your husband has rarely challenged his mum's behaviour; we're typically taught not to challenge our parents.

Leading someone to become more conscious whilst having them take responsibility for their behaviour is a big undertaking but you could find a number of things may come out of this course of action:

  • Your MIL may learn to question herself before she speaks
  • She may lessen the insults based on being fed up with you questioning her all the time
  • You may all eventually get to the bottom of why she's so often hurt and angry
  • You develop a skill through questioning. The skill: Understanding through investigation. One of the greatest things I ever learned whilst working for a number of years in the care industry is 'All behaviour is a form of communication'. Understanding what she's really communicating and why she's communicating in this way may help you relate to her differently, in turn, changing the relationship

Regarding her son's weight, as an example, what she could be communicating is 'Appearance is important in how you present yourself to the world?' Why she's communicating this may involve conditions that were placed on her throughout her life. Such destructive conditioning may be exactly what lies behind her behaviour. Was she ever taught 'Mental/physical/spiritual well-being is far more important than appearance'?

Getting to know someone who you really don't wish to know is a challenge but it could involve liberation for all concerned.

All the best

Dear Helsbels

Welcome to the forum and thank for posting. I have not heard that phrase, hells bells and buckets of blood, for a long time. Takes me back.

I feel so sad for you and your family. Your MIL is causing so much pain for everyone and there seems no way out. I gather your husband can see how manipulative she is and is prepared to make a stand. My concern is for your children especially if you decide not to visit your MIL. Children do not always tell you when they are upset which I gather may well happen when visiting grandma. At the moment you are feeling particularly vulnerable as your pregnancy is so advanced. And of course once the baby is born you will have heaps to do in caring for your baby as well as your other children.

All this adds heaps to your ability to manage and I can appreciate how much you would like to not have this problem. You have received some great comments from the Community Champions which I hope will help you. You have had no contact with your father for several years for the same behaviour displayed by your MIL. How has it been for you? How do you get on with your mom? Do you have siblings and are they still speaking to your dad?

I ask because I wonder if you can apply the same thinking to your relationship with your MIL. Accepting that you cannot change the way she acts because she is the only person who can make that change I feel is helpful when you or your husband feel guilty. You can ask her questions as therising has suggested though I think this may be a rough road. But you never know.

How far are you prepared to let MIL play havoc in your lives? Is there a point when you will say enough's enough? Perhaps defining this together with your husband will be helpful. Also decide what you are going to do once this point has been reached. It sounds as though you are very close. What is important is that you and your husband are in complete agreement. What I think will not work is for you to cut contact and leave your husband and children exposed to manipulation. Children are vulnerable as your husband has found out. Does he want his children to grow up in the same way?

While talking to her may not achieve much you can at least tell her the new rules (as decided by husband and you). Perhaps saying you will leave every time she starts belittling and abusing you/husband/children and then leaving may have an effect. Losing her audience may make her at least tone down her behaviour. What do you think?

Mary

Hello therising, thank you so much. Yes, this is a direction I have considered, and I think is somewhat doable. The hard thing about it is, as with disciplining children, it's subjective - in that you're only capable of doing what you can in any moment. E.g., when I'm in a happy mood, I have all the patience in the world. But when I'm stuggling at any particular moment, it is difficult to remain calm and 'above' the chaos. It's the kind of balance that has been difficult to master considering my own mental health and my husband's and my day-to-day pressures/responsibilities.

Then, I also wonder about effort vs reward. I have all the time in the world for people who I consider to be deserving. I understand the effort involved in your suggestions and I understand the practicalities of these techniques. However, I am concerned about the mental exhaustion in practicing these techniques and whether it's a) worth the effort and b) possible to be consistent, given my own struggles. It is likely I will succeed in trying one day, but have little patience for it another. This, I think, is my main issue. I'm looking at my mental energy as a wallet of cash - I have enough to comfortably and happily do this, that and that, and where something crops up that was unforeseen (but worthy of the expenditure), that too. But I've reached the point where I'm feeling my efforts with MIL are fruitless and 'wasted'. I have bore my soul to her in the past in an effort to help her understand my sincerity and 'where I come from', and these efforts have consistently backfired. I've felt really hurt that I expressed myself so candidly and have been misunderstood and judged in the negative. I feel I've never been received positively and, thus, I worry that the effort will not be taken positively. 

It's a very difficult situation, mostly because I really am torn between the reality of the efforts already expended vs the lack of progress made in those efforts, and the lack of energy I'm left with to not only live my day-to-day life, but enjoy it and be present in it as well. I'm so exhausted that I'm just going through the motions. No kind of mum or wife I wish to be.

My toddler tantrums sometimes and I give my all to rise above my own stresses and remain calm and firm with him. It helps that he needs me because he's unable to regulate himself, he's 2. Why should anyone need to do this for a grown woman with all the time to fix herself?