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I am trying to balance wanting to help my husband care for his parents and protecting my own mental health. My mother-in-law, in particular, is very demanding and critical. She legitimately has an anxiety disorder, but does not believe in seeking help in managing it. This results in at least 1-2 phone calls per hour, either to my husband, or me, or both, if one of us doesn't answer the phone right away. This is problematic because we live in a very rural area, and our phone service isn't always reliable depending where we are on the property. We check in with her and my father-in-law at least 4 to 5 times a day.


My mother-in-law has also made it clear that she does not approve of me - she did not come to our wedding, and even after 9 years, continues to tell me that I "stole her best friend" when my husband and I got married. She also regularly makes racial slurs (I am Hispanic, my husband is not). These get brushed off as "jokes" or just the way she was raised (in the south). My husband assures me that she loves me - you can love someone and still be abusive. I don't think those are mutually exclusive, but certainly has an adverse effect on my own mental health.



I usually try to help by choosing activities that do not require a lot of interaction with her - e.g. - doing their laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking meals. She still criticizes me, but because there is not as much one-on-one time, it is easier for me to brush it off.



Last night, my husband and I went into town by ourselves. She called 4 times in an hour and thought it was wrong that we went out without taking them with us. Point of reference, we had seen them in person 3 hours prior. Then, we came home and had dinner on our deck. The internet was sketchy, and our cell phones and house phone were not working well for about 45 minutes. During that time, she left several frantic messages and was annoyed that we hadn't picked up even though we had checked in about an hour prior. There were 4 more phone calls within a 3 hour period, to the point where we could not even have our own conversation.



I have talked to my husband about setting boundaries, but he is truly struggling. His frame of reference is a childhood and adulthood trying to please someone who can't be pleased. My own relationship with my parents is completely different, so I sometimes, have a hard time relating. My husband's other two siblings died in their 20s - which, understandably, probably contributed to my mother-in-law's unhealthy dependence and anxiety about her remaining child. However, I am 52 years old and do not think it is fair that we have to tell his mother when we leave the house, what we are doing, where we are going, etc. It is also not fair that we are expected to include them in all our activities. I feel like a teenager again, and not in a good way.



I want to be compassionate, but I also want to enjoy my life with my husband. He and I generally have a very good relationship, but I am starting to feel like the 5th wheel in my own household and marriage.



My in-laws both have some age-related mobility issues, but are both ambulatory, and my mother-in-law still drives. A few months ago, against my advice, they purchased a house that is bigger than mine and are now having trouble taking care of it. I feel like they consistently make choices that cause my husband and I to have added responsibilities. I want them to be as independent as possible for as long as they can, but I also want us to be able to enjoy our own independence.



Thank you for listening.

Much to my suprise I see this kind of question often on this board. It amazes me how many adult children allow a parent(s) to keep control of their lives and put their spouses thru this. This is called" Emeshment" or Emeshed. Unfortunatly I just ended a 30 yr marriage and the #1 problem was my elderly Mother In Law interfering (disrupting was the word she used)with our marriage and my wife NOT standing up to her. These parents do this PURPOSLY, It is vengeful and mean.
Your situation like mine, my wife never established boundries with her Mother. She enabled her Mother by waiting on her even when she was still quite able bodied, as her Mothers situation worsened with age it of course became impossible for her to pull back or set boundaries. Your husband MUST stand up for you to his Mother. If he does not I promise you this will ONLY get worse. My wife sided with her Mother,made excuses for her, told me I had to tolerate it etc. Her Mother knew it and took FULL advantage of it. I finally could not take the abuse from her Mother I had to leave, in 2017. I NEVER stepped back into her Mothers house again. The problem here is your suffering from 2 abusers. His Mother and him not taking a stand is abusive towards you. I will tell you there is NO deeper more degrading feeling and demolishing for yuor self esteeem than living in a daily sitution where the most important person in your life is not on your side.
This buying the bigger house was a purposeful act to suck your husband in deeper. I will tell you my wife inherited the home her parents lived in and for some reason this house was always very important to her. (she did not grow up in it)Now she lives there ALONE. Her children only visit when they absolutly must. She paid a HIGH,HIGH price to get this house and to keep her Mother happy. We did not need it. we had a home and my income would have more than covered a comfortable retirement.
Talk to ANY shrink, priest, rabbi etc. They will tell you the needs of the marriage MUST come first. If your husband is not willing to stand up to his Mom and say "Mom if you cannot treat my wife with reasonable courtesy and respect she AND I will have no choice but to remove ourselves from your life. He will have to be prepared to act on that. Keep in mind the parents situation will only worsen AND our parents are living FAR longer than ever expected. You have only been married for 9 years. You do not mention children. I stayed because we had children. Now that my children are adults they chastise me for staying. Asking Why did you let us stay in this bad situation. Now that they are adults they fully believe we would have been better off getting out of this and leaving their Mother behind if she would not leave. Bottom line your husband is on your side and the two of you are united... or your not. I know all too well there is no middle ground here. If your not united then you must for your own health and well being leave the marriage. Again from experience the longer you wait the harder it is and the harder it is to recover from this and get on with your life. Notice I use words like "must" not "maybe", or you should think about it". I promise you there just is no middle ground here.
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NobodyGetsIt Oct 27, 2020
Dear "lacyisland,"

First of all, I want to say I'm so sorry that your marriage ended because of this type of situation. You're first paragraph said where the problem began and continued to lie. For some reason when we are not brought up with the healthy boundaries of being allowed to be a "separate" individual, it gets more difficult if next to impossible when many years have gone by. It can be done but, it is exponentially more difficult.

I agree with "Taarna's," suggestion for "FarmGirl21" to read "Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. That by far was the most beneficial book I'd ever read as it applies to every type of relationship i.e. friendships, co-workers, siblings etc. (I used it for my relationship with my half sister). Most books just talk about the problem but, never "how to" go about changing it. This one gave very methodical and practical ways to the point I actually put it into action - successfully!

God does say we are to "leave" (our family of origin) and "cleave" (to our spouse) - He said that for a reason. A marriage is between two people; not three, not five but, two.

I'm just sorry that your adult children are upset with you for staying in the marriage for them. I understand your reason for doing so and also, I know from personal experience what they feel. Very tough call to make that's for sure.

I hope you are able to mend the relationships with your children over time and that you will be able to keep moving forward.

Your advice was firm yet, filled with wisdom!
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Oh dear.

As you have already said, the loss of her two other children may be at the root of this. It's no good telling a woman to get off his back, he's a big boy now, when she's been through that horrendous experience.

But, you are equally right to think she could do with some help with this issue, and to think that it's about time there were better boundaries.

Trouble is, it's not you who needs to set them (which you also know) - it's your DH. Would HE consider getting some professional support with this?
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FarmGirl21,
First of all bless your heart. Take a deep breath, you are not alone in this. Many of us have been there. We are the local and primary caregivers for my in-laws, and have been for many years. They have been in AL and Memory Care now for almost 2 years, but the fun never stops. 😅 My MIL has not been my biggest fan either and has said and done many things to me over the 33 years of our marriage. In this caregiving journey I choose to be background support. I realized about 10 years into our marriage there would never be anything I could do to win her approval, so I stopped trying. I consider it my responsibility to support and enable my husband to care for them, so I do a lot of the background work that they have not known I do, because if they did they would reject it because it was my idea. I did the homework on where they would move for care by taking a week of vacation and going and touring and investigating all the care options so that when the crisis happened and my husband and his brother had to make that decision, they would have all the hard work done and could proceed quickly and efficiently. I do a lot of the care and keeping, by helping him manage their clothes, and personal care issues, reminding him of birthdays, and other important dates. I am a person to bounce ideas off of. I research the problems they are facing and present my research and ideas for solutions. In your position I would keep doing the non-interactive things.
I do agree with those who said to stop the verbal abuse. It doesn’t have to be a huge confrontation. My in-laws made cutting remarks to me, about things I did or the way I parented, criticizing our children,friends and family. Nobody in my husbands family had ever dared to say anything and it had become a way of life for them. After getting Godly counsel from a mentor friend, I simply spoke up the next time in the moment. I said “Why would you say that to me? That is very hurtful and I don’t appreciate it.” They tried to say it was joking, and I just said “its not a joke if the object of your ridicule is hurt by it and I am, so please don’t ever say that again.” They were shocked into silence. They did a few other attempts at comments and got similar responses and eventually stopped. be firm. When YOU erect good boundaries it will encourage your husband to do the same. It is important to say it in the moment because they are so used to saying things like that, they will not even remember saying it if you go back later. You need to say it in the moment so they can either “defend” their words, or maybe stop to think about what they said and apologize. This way you don’t have to carry the wound. You can deflect it on the spot.
As far as the constant calling, I would suggest 2 things: set a schedule with MIL on days and times you will check in. Stick to it. Write it down and laminate it and post it at her house as a reminder. Reassure her of your love but tell her that it is overwhelming your ability to perform your life duties and YOU and your DH need more structure so you will have uninterrupted time for her. Tell her your hubby will call in the morning, at lunch and after dinner. If she has things she needs to tell him between those times make a note (get her a notebook or white board.) Then stick to it and don’t take calls any other time. Tell FIL that if there is a TRUE emergency HE can call and leave a message and you’ll check it right away. STICK TO IT. It takes 21 days for a new routine to take hold, so expect bumps along the way. BUT try it for at least 30 days and then reevaluate along the way. Have set days/times that you/your husband will go by there to take care of things they need help with. Maybe Saturday morning and Wednesday evening? Pick 1 day a week to make them a meal and go to their place and eat it together. Make it a big deal that it’s “family dinner day”-it will give her something to look forward to. Maybe once a month have your kids join if they can!
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NobodyGetsIt Oct 27, 2020
Dear "DILKimba,"

Learning to vocalize what isn't acceptable and/or the hurt it causes is most definitely needed at the "very moment" it happens just as when trying to tell a child what they are doing is not right (or even when training a dog - you have to do that too in the moment of their bad behavior otherwise, they have no idea why you're unhappy with something they've done wrong).

Great advice and what a wonderful job you've done with maintaining both your marriage through all of this as well as providing the necessary caregiving responsibilities for your in- laws -- well done!
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It’s very hard to reason with someone who has extreme anxiety. I am sorry that you are dealing with this situation.

There is no excuse for the racial slurs. Simply tell her to never make unacceptable remarks to you again. Feel free to walk away whenever she starts.

Is she condescending towards you? Racial slurs are not the least bit funny. They are offensive. Go ahead and tell her that you are offended by her insensitive remarks.

When she says that you stole her best friend, tell her that he married you because he loved you so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of being without you.

You don’t have to live your life to appease her anxiety. She isn’t likely to change her behavior since she won’t seek mental health help. In other words, don’t jump through a million hoops and make yourself miserable.

Explain to your husband that you feel that he is allowing his mom to manipulate him and that you miss being number one in his life.

I wouldn’t bother explaining anything to her. All that will do is open the door to more unnecessary criticism and cause frustration all around.

It is sad that she lost other children which is even more reason that she should seek professional help because she is struggling coping.

It is perfectly normal to grieve but she does need to learn coping skills or possibly go on medication for awhile.
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FarmGirl21 Oct 26, 2020
Thank you very much for validating my feelings. This was a challenging situation before caregiving entered the equation, and I am hoping to get a better handle on some basic expectations for being treated with respect before this escalates. I appreciate the advice of focusing more on communication with my husband and how this makes me feel.
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Dear Farmgirl21,
My heart goes out to you because I was in your shoes for the first 21 years of my now 40 year marriage. Hubby was the only living child and his mother depended on us for everything just as yours does. I know it just simply verges on mental madness for you and your husband how a parent can expect so much and give only criticism in return. There were 2 key elements to our getting thru that time in our life. There were many more, but these two were what I’d call our foundation. The first was our deep faith and dependence on God and the second was regular counseling (for both of us). We got amazing strength from both of these places. If you have never gotten counseling before, you will be amazed at how you feel when you leave their office literally immediately. It’s like someone rolls a boulder off of your back. Maybe it is because you can sit and unload the hurt inside for an hour or maybe it’s the advice they give but the strength you FEEL after counseling is incredible. Your issues (ie your in-laws) may take time to work through, but your belief system along with one on one (or two if hubby goes with you) with a great counselor will make a huge difference in your ability to cope and your ability to find joy in your life.
God bless you in a big way for hanging in there. You will be blessed for what you do down the road.

Prayers for you on your journey.
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I'm sorry, I forgot to say but ought to have said first of all that it is not right - never mind fair, reasonable, just anything - that you should be expected to brush off racial slurs with a merry laugh and a "what can you do." This is offensive. Tell her you're offended. Don't attack her back, just don't accept it - verbally put up your hand and block it. If DH defends her by trying to jolly you along, ask him how he thinks it makes you feel.

This woman probably does feel affection towards you - after all, you've been making her son happy for almost a decade - and probably feels therefore that her remarks are mere affectionate banter. They're not, and it's not funny. Why should anyone expect to be teased and mocked in their most intimate family circle?

Who else do MIL and FIL have in their life? Friends, social circle, other family?

That she feels unusually anxious to know at all times where he is and what he's doing is one thing. It's a problem, but it's a comparatively simple one with an identifiable root. But the demands she makes on his attention back to her are excessive all the same. When she makes these frantic phone calls, what are they supposedly about? Does she just say "I didn't know where you were" or does she come up with real or spurious reasons for calling?
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FarmGirl21 Oct 23, 2020
Last night, it was that she was anxious because she didn't know where we were - we didn't call to tell her we had gotten home "like we are supposed to"(!)

There also seem to be spurious reasons for calling, including having him come and "check on them" for various non-emergency issues. Last time, it was that she couldn't open a medication bottle. I had already placed all of their medications for the week in a daily dosing container to help track adherence, so I have no idea why she needed to open it right then. My father-in-law didn't even know she had called for help - he said he could have opened it. When she called, my husband wasn't feeling well, so I told him I would go over there instead. She was mad when she saw it was me - she "would have figured it out on her own" if she knew that he wasn't going to come himself.

And no, they do not have a social circle outside of us - suggested activities and outlets are criticized and rejected unless my husband and I are also going to be there. We are the only family in the area. Our son is about 4 hours away, and the rest of the family is about 9 hours away. I am sure it is challenging for them, but I would really like the opportunity to make some connections myself that do not involve them.
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Thank you, Countrymouse - I think it would be very helpful for him to speak with someone. He seems to be getting very depressed (which I can certainly understand). I am trying to make suggestions in a way that doesn't lead him to feel like I am criticizing him as well. He is definitely feeling the brunt of it at the moment. That's the only thing that keeps me from withdrawing completely from trying to help her - I struggle with feeling compassionate for her because I also lost a child (in childbirth), and I also have an anxiety disorder, but I manage mine with professional assistance so that I don't call my poor son and his wife a million times a day (even though there are times when I want to!)

I really appreciate your response!
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Yes, there are lots of family problems with your in-laws. I suggest that you and your husband read any of the "Boundary" books by Townsend and Cloud. They are Christian counsellors and have a lot of good advice on how to handle difficult relationships. You and your hubby may want to consider counselling to help pinpoint the difficult behaviors and specific actions to manage each one.

As for yourself, your MIL is abusive to you - and your husband. Talk about the type of life you want to have together, Decide how much you both want to interact with your in-laws. Start creating that life now. I would suggest cutting back on the phone messages and phone calls - let them go to voice mail. You may have to firmly advise MIL to seek mental health care for her anxiety.., or continue to limit your exposure to her toxic comments and behaviors.
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Farmgirl, one of your answers was SPOT on. You said you get professional help for your anxiety so that you don’t call your son and daughter n law a million times a day!!

If you wouldn’t do it to your son, why would you allow someone to do it to YOU?
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MaryKathleen Oct 27, 2020
Farmgirl, I love Lealonnie1's response. "Don't give up anymore of your self-worth than you already have. If your MIL doesn't like you for who and for what you ARE, she can kiss your lovely Hispanic butt. And never ask you for ONE more thing again, EVER."

I would love to be there when you look at her and CALMLY say. "You can kiss my lovely Hispanic Butt, and do not ever ask me for anything again" and stick to it. Ooh, God, it would make my day.

Remember, your husband is not a prisoner, he is a volunteer. If your husband won't cut the apron strings, maybe you should travel with some of your family members.
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Your husband is saying it's ok for his parents to make racial slurs against you and chalking it off to being a 'joke', after 9 years, which is NOT ok. He's not standing up for you and for me, that would lead to a loss of respect for HIM. Same with refusing to set down boundaries with his parents regarding what's acceptable and what's not. By not telling them to stop calling every 15 minutes, he's telling them it's fine TO call every 15 minutes which is going to become every 10 minutes and then every 5 minutes in short order.

What about when mom & dad can no longer manager the large house they never should have bought? Will DH then do all the maintenance FOR them? Or, will he move them into YOUR house and wait on them hand & foot?

NOW is the time to have a Come to Jesus meeting with your husband BEFORE anymore proverbial poop hits the fan, because it will. Trust me. Your MILs passive aggressive behavior is NOT okay and even thought it's been tolerated up until now, it will no longer BE tolerated and that's the message to send to your husband. And you also need to question HIS plans moving forward with THEIR old age. How does HE plan to handle it? Are YOU to become their care givers and bathe them and toilet them when they are no longer able to? Don't wait till it actually HAPPENS before you're gob smacked with reality. NOW is the time to make a cohesive plan, to know where you stand and to have a roadmap laid out.

Because to me, this looks like a nightmare in the making..........one that's already ongoing, but just the tip of the iceberg. When women like this get older and more infirm, oh my God.............all h*ll breaks loose with their expectations and what YOU 'should be' but somehow 'aren't' doing for her. And after all, you're a good for nothing woman he never should have married to BEGIN with, so THERE! I know from where I speak.......I was one of those wives to a husband who's mother hated my guts for our entire 22 year marriage. He never stood up for ME, either, and I never got over it. We divorced in 2002 and she died at 91 years old, after demanding everything back from me that she'd ever given us as a couple. I piled it all up in the foyer of my house and told the ex he had 24 hrs to come pick it up or I'd donate it ALL to Goodwill. And I was not kidding. He picked it up and I never uttered another word to that witch again.

I hope you and your husband can arrive at a mutually agreeable arrangement where you're both happy with the plan for his parents. Don't give up anymore of your self-worth than you already have. If your MIL doesn't like you for who and for what you ARE, she can kiss your lovely Hispanic butt. And never ask you for ONE more thing again, EVER.

Good luck!
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Frances73 Oct 27, 2020
My mother called her MIL Mrs "Smith" for nearly 50 years. I asked her once why and she said she had never been told any thing else!
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