Medical Questions > Relationships > Troubled and Abusive Relationships Forum

Mother-in-law Advice?

My mother-in-law is abusive, but thinks she is helpful, when she is really a bully. I try not to fall into her trap, but lately, she has become even more demanding. I do not let her opinions define me and can usually ignore her comments or address them in a polite manner without being pulled into a fight with her. (f.Y.I., my husband is an only child and is still struggling with how to deal with his mother.) I have read the following article and it covers part of the situation: http://ehealthforum.Com/health/profile.Php ?Mode=activate&u=79865&act_key=7b7 9b0972e6b

as I mentioned, the situation has now changed, because my father-in-law has recently retired. I believe her expectations of what their relationship was instantly supposed to be and her insecurities have caused her to bully even more.

When they go out to dinner and he speaks to/or someone speaks to him, she instantly becomes jealous and makes inappropriate comments or obviously kicks him under the table to signal that he should stop talking. Even if it is a man speaking to my father-in-law... In that case, she will loudly say that the only reason this guy is taking to her husband, is because he is gay and looking to pick him up.

If she makes a comment and everyone at the table ignores it, she continues in a back handed compliment which openly conveys her critical opinion of the current conversation, person, etc. If someone (like myself, my husband or father-in-law) makes a suggestion that her comment/action is not appropriate or tries to change the subject, she states loudly that they (the other person) didn't hear what she said or loudly implies they are too dumb to know that she was referring to them. This in turn, usually means that we avoid going out with her, if possible. Which leads to excessive complaining on her part that she is stuck at home all the time, even though she will not go out on her own, except on her "grocery shopping day". (she doesn't drive because she panics easily and her days are very structured and if things don't follow her schedule, she becomes flustered and panics.) if any of the three of us bring up the last "outing" and what happened, she denies it completely... She didn't say that, how could you think she would say or do those things, etc.

It all seems to be a game that she plays to keep control and make people do what she wants. The problem is, that we don't really know what she wants.

Sometimes the things that she fusses about are not rational at all, but there seems to be no good way to deal with her.
Another example, would be just before last christmas. My husband and I went over for dinner. My father-in-law had put up the outside lights that day. As we pulled into the driveway, he was in the process of plugging them all into one another. He realized that he had strung one set on a bush backwards and that there was no way to plug it in without taking them off and redoing it. Now, to be late for the dinner she had prepared brings reoccuring complaints throughout the meal, so he said he would fix it tomorrow. She came out and examined the lights, but she would not let him go in until he had fixed the lights. In the process of restringing the lights, he noticed that the plug was broken. So, he came in for the meal (and complaints about how it was ruined, not that it was, because he took so long.) he mentioned the broken plug. During the rest of the evening, between normal conversations, my mother-in-law would repeatedly interject complaints about the ruined meal or practically cry about what the neighbors must think about the pathetic christmas light display.

Am I correct in thinking this is a bully mentality? Or is it co-dependency, ocd or what?
Any additional suggestions as to what I should do?
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replied October 11th, 2006
Wow.. That's pretty bad. When I was reading about the christmas lights all I could think about was my aunt. She behaved the same way. When my uncle was in the hospital the day before he died we were all standing there trying to hold back tears and he says "it's ok, don't worry, i'll have peace now" then he looked directly at my aunt.. We all knew what he meant.
What can you do? You can do a lot of things but I doubt any of them will help. Confronting her or trying to have a serious mature discussion will probably just waste your time. I think she is too far gone for any reasoning.
I suggest you avoid her as much as possible and when you do have to be around her just smile and nod.
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replied October 12th, 2006
I'm sorry to hear that death was the only time your uncle felt he would get peace. And yes, I do try to limit the time I spend around my mother-in-law. I have found though, that I can sometimes get through to her by quietly but firmly stating what I think, then being patient and then repeating quietly but firmly what I think. Sometimes she stops fussing or ranting... And will appear to think about what I have said. And sometimes it changes her mind and she calms down and at other times she goes right back to her irrational behavior.

It's as though she has some emotional attachment to certain things...Like the christmas lights. The only thing that was important to her was that the lights outside were not perfect. She was so worried about what the neighbors would think or say.

She expects perfection from everyone including herself. It's actually the appearance of perfection that she expects. And if others don't live up to it, she judges them. And expects to be judged if she "fails" to appear perfect.

I know that I can not get her into therapy or even to talk to a priest. Again, it goes back to being judged. But, I think I could talk her into maybe, maybe reading a book. Anyone have any suggestions?
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replied May 15th, 2010
I know a mother who is exactly the type of person you mentioned. I fell in love with a guy and lived with his family for a year. His mother fit this personality type. It took me 3 months to get used to, and even now I do not fully understand. I have theories however..
Feeling out of control in situations during childhood/adolescence/young adult could provoke attention-getting ways of coping and reassurance on their part, especially if they couldn't have the control they wanted in situations that changed their lives.
I know with my ex's mom, she grew up with an alcoholic mother. One night, she grabbed her mothers alcohol drink and smashed it against the wall yelling words of hate in order to get her mom to instantly quit drinking. Turns out, her mother killed herself that night. That really impacted my ex's mom. She never let her sons drink any alcohol or smoke any cigarettes even though she was a smoker. She had good intentions, but would devise plans and force her boys to follow through stupidly just so she could yell at them to teach them a lesson. Her perfectionism was constant and her high maintenance was irrational. She would get everyone else to do her work, and fix things that didnt need to be fixed unless she broke it on purpose, and even strangers she would persuade for them to help her fix her yard.
One month I spent giving her ultimate happiness. I conducted an experiment, and willingly did all of her chores, bed and breakfast, constant encouragement and compliments, everything. the works. It really made a significant difference. However, after one week she was immune to this treatment and demanded it from everyone else in the household. Even to doctors on the phone when she made appointments. I created a monster. So I let down the treatment bit by bit, and kept trying to make her understand that other people have lives and schedules, and that some things aren't socially appropriate. but then she'd smother me in stories (mostly made up because lots of the stories contradicted eachother and were out of character) about how she had been victimized or she was the hero and no one cared. That was one big strand, she felt that no one cared or ever will care. I tried to teach her that, especially through her son. But it wasn't enough nor will it ever be. I just wonder what she has done in her lifetime to not appreciate herself so she can teach others to appreciate her as well. Or maybe Im theorizing all wrong. In any case, these people just need someone with undying love and activism.
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replied April 22nd, 2012
My father in law is so mean... he always yells at me and tells me how to take care of my kids. He calls me names and tells me to hit my kids when they don't behave. They're only 1 and 2. My husband says he doesn't want drama so he doesn't stand up for me. They want me to leave but I have no family around me. I'm afarid they're gonna take my kids if I try to leave. I need help... is this domestic violence? Can I pack some things and show up at the police station on a weekend? I just want to go home.... someone help....
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