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Manipulative Mother-In-Law - Agony Aunt

Ask Anne

Dear Anne

Even if you can't help with my problem, I'll feel better having aired it. My problem is my prospective mother-in-law. She is jealous of my relationship with her son.� I have been with him for 12 years.� She is always trying to fill our diary with days out with her, meals out (for which she doesn't pay), holidays, weekends away (even with just my boyfriend once!). I have supported my boyfriend all this time and not said too much.� He is aware of how I feel though.� The problem is that since his dad died two years ago the problem is now more intense.� She is always reminding all four of her children of their promise to their dad to take care of her and throws it in their faces if she is feeling neglected even though she sees them every day/week. Now she has taken to informing her children there is not much time left and that they should make the most of their time left with their mother (she is 74). All the criticisms I have had to endure over the years and her constant fighting for the attention of her son and his time is taking its toll on me. I love my boyfriend very much but find myself having horrible thoughts about his mother which I feel awful for. Is there a solution for me do you think?� Or should I continue as I have done even though I am growing ever resentful. Hope you can help Thanks. Joanne

Dear Joanne

I'm sorry that you're having to endure the jealous manipulations of your prospective mother-in-law. When people are demanding and criticial as she is it's hardly surprising that you end up thinking bad things about her. So long as you don't carry your unkind thoughts into action there's no need to feel guilty. No doubt your boyfriend does feel sorry for her, and she probably does her best to guilt-trip him into placating her too. One thing you don't say is how he feels about his mother's behaviour. Have you actually asked him?

If he's unhappy about it, then you and he together could work out how you're going to handle this shared problem. It sounds as though nothing he ever does for her is enough to satisfy her. If this is the case, he's going to get it in the neck whether he spends a lot of time with her or not. Therefore, if he doesn't see her so frequently he'll just get a smaller, though perhaps more intense, dose of nagging. Many adult children take this latter option. Alternatively, if your boyfriend's siblings also resent their mother's behaviour, they could decide to tell her en masse that if she carries on emotionally blackmailing them and discounting what they actually do for her, that they might as well do less. If they all decide to set limits, that's probably the best solution.

On the other hand, it may be that your boyfriend is so enmeshed in his family's feelings that he genuinely feels his mother has the right to criticise you and monopolise him. At 74, your mother-in-law may last another thirty years, assuming she's in reasonable health and takes care of herself. But then again, she may not. Another tactic that sometimes works is to volunteer a certain amount of time to her as a kind of pre-emptive strike, and then for the pair of you to ring-fence some private time for each other. Again, it will depend on your boyfriend's response.

I don't know whether you've tried saying to him, I feel hurt when you let your mother criticise me. Are you willing to defend me? or Are you willing to negotiate some time for the two of us to spend together? Making specific requests like this is more likely to get you support than complaining about her, because not everyone will accept criticism (however justified) of their family.

One ray of hope: the first couple of years of widowhood are the hardest. After that she may begin to adjust and develop her independence. However irritating she is, she's gone through the painful, life-altering loss of her partner of many years. Have you tried imagining what that's like? It may help you to raise some sympathy for her.

Meantime, two other points arise. The first is: how are you handling your anger? Do I gather you've just been swallowing it down? This is damaging to your self-esteem and precludes real honesty and openness with your boyfriend. Using the kinds of phrases above will help you express your needs assertively and thus defuse some of that anger. As for the rest of it, why not work your anger off by doing something physical? You might go for a long walk, dig the garden, or even scrub the kitchen floor while secretly imagining it's her face.

But the other point is this. If you've asked for what you want but your boyfriend doesn't value your feelings, is he really the one for you? That's a question only you can answer. Meantime I hope you've got a good support network of friends and that you're self-reliant when it comes to inner confidence. And your friends will hopefully be sympathetic so you can enjoy the luxury of a good moan now and then so long as you're supportive of their moans too. Then you can think of something pleasant. After all, you give up enough time to your ma-in-law. Why give her your mental attention too?

I wish you and all the other people with demanding parents or in-laws - a happy resolution to this. Good luck.Back to Ask Anne

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