How do I help my husband deal with a toxic mother?

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My DH is 66, his mother is 87. They have a VERY rocky relationship. He has one older brother (100% MIA) and a younger sister (thank goodness!) who is wonderful. All his life DH was told he was a loser, a terrible child, a trial, a brat, a juvenile delinquent--and beaten on a daily basis--I don't mean a swift gentle spank with an open hand--but a wooden spoon/belt/stick/hairbrush beatings. His older brother told me that in today's climate he and my DH would have been removed from their home and taken into foster care--that's how bad it was. ( His brother is a clinical psychologist, so he is pretty knowledgeable). His parents married way too young (shotgun wedding) and stayed together, for 42 miserable years. I never saw any love or affection pass between them. On our first date, DH told me he knew his parents would eventually divorce and he wished they'd just get on with it (weird 1st date conversation).


Over my own worries that this man could receive and express love b/c of how he was raised, we did get married. His mother hates me. Verbally, has expressed this many times, so I believe her. DH and I have 5 fabulous kids--which she pretty much ignored in favor of her daughter's kids. OK, we rolled with that. MIL is a negative, never-forgiving soul. She can remember in excruciating detail EVERY SINGLE TIME she was maligned, ignored, tormented--whatever. A chronic victim. She's still mad at ME b/c when I had our first baby the nurse wouldn't hand her over to grandma until I had held her. How selfish can one mama be? To want to hold her own brand new baby!? That's what she STILL says about me, 41 years later. I'm intolerably selfish. I could go on and on, but you get the drift.


My DH is so depressed, all the past has come crowding down on him lately and he is feeling very down. He FINALLY started seeing a psychiatrist and that has helped, some. Recently he took lunch in to MIL for Mother's Day. He fed her aging, sick dog a tiny piece of bacon. The dog got much sicker a couple of days and died this morning. She's blaming DH, not the fact the dog was 18, and had been attacked several times, resulting in brain damage. It was the bacon from 12 days ago. At this last visit, I guess his mother became very belligerent and began blaming my DH for ALL the crap she'd dealt with in her life. Said she had to stay in a horrid marriage b/c of him, he was a horrible child and teen and "shredded her nerves and now they'll never heal"---just crazy talk, but this time it really hit him.


Finally he told her he couldn't take her toxicity any more--she kicked him out and said to never come back. He left and came home--and I think if my DH was capable of crying, he would have. In my heart, as bad as I feel for him, I think this is a HUGE breakthrough. He has often treated me the way he treats his mom--very offboard and dismissive. I'm nothing like his mom, and he agrees, but the "female figure" in his life gets short shrift. Therapy has been helping with this. I doubt he really will stop talking to his mother, altogether, but a definite change has occurred. I said to him "Just a thought--when you see Dr G again, bring up this fight with your mom. It's really what is at the core of what's eating at you." He looked at me like I'd grown a 2nd head. "That has nothing to do with ANYTHING." Well, I can't talk to his psych doc, but I am hoping he does bring it up.


He's been really, really down about this. It's like the thing he didn't want to ever lok in the face---he was forced. He said "I was never wanted, never loved. I am really a cruddy person." This, in spite of so much love he's gotten over the years. For one thing, despite MANY health issues and his very introspective and "protective" personality" he has accomplished so much. He's had a great life. I have stuck by him through all the "stuff"--and I can say most women wouldn't have. Our kids are fantastic! So sad, you think by retirement age, you'd have figured somethings out. He's still pretty clueless. My relationship with his mother is that of one person who knows another person but may not make an effort to say "hi" to them if they run into each other in the store. I chose to step out 20 years ago. I don't talk to her, only small talk and when she starts in on me, doing the negative dance--I walk away. Literally and emotionally.


My ?? How do I support my hubby in what I hope is a huge turn about in his relationship with his mom? I don't care if they ever speak again, but I do want him to have some healing--she did SO much damage. I'm not worried she's going to die and he'll be all bereft. She's never going to die. I don't care for her at all--I want my sweet hubby to find happiness and joy with the people who DO love him. In all of this, one thing came out well--he FINALLY believes me when I told him over and over how vicious his mother was to me. He thought I was being "over sensitive".

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Thanks for the replies--Dh just got back in town in time to make his psych apt-he was going to stay at the job and cancel, but the fact he left a job early is telling--he WANTS to see his psych doc. I'm glad and fingers crossed, he brings up this latest drama with mama and TALK about it, not sweep it under the rug.

He does have therapy with this dr. And no, our one encounter with marriage counseling was an epic failure b/c he simply blamed me for everything ( a classic "mom" maneuver). We won't attempt couples counseling again.

Yes, his brother went into psychology to find out why HE felt so effed up. He figured it out pretty quickly. He and DH have been close in the past, but are currently estranged. One thing they do agree on is that their mother's mental illness caused the two of them untold grief.

I am in no way connected to or affected by my MIL. I may see her once or twice a year, but I don't engage her in conversation b/c that is simply setting me up to be slapped back.

Dh had HCV---it became liver cancer 13 years ago. He was fortunate to receive a liver transplant and he did 84 weeks of chemo, to help the HCV go in remission. It did, and he had several healthy years, then the HCV reared its head, but this time DH txed with Harvoni, and was cured. What a blessing!!!

Ok, having set the stage---as a mother wouldn't you think you'd want to be helpful; and supportive of this kind of trauma? She did not so much as give DH a phone call (he was hospitalized twice, expected to die)...he was sick as a dog on chemo...84 weeks, did she send a card or offer any kind of financial help? (We were well over $250K in the hole for all this). NOT. A.SINGLE. WORD. Told a neighbor she just could not handle the stress. Blamed me for giving him Hep C, which of course, I did not.

You just cannot reason with someone so sick. I have known this for years. So, I didn't. DH has been after me for our whole marriage to "work on" being nicer to his mother" mostly out of some sense of guilt, I am sure. Nope, I am cordial. Period. I don't wish her ill, but I also don't think about her much.

Yes, I think he should follow big brother's route. No contact, nothing. After this last episode, he was so burned up---I think he is FINALLY starting to see it's NOT HIM.

I am there for him. As are all our kids. They know grandma is sick. This is no shock to them. I've talked to 2 of our kids about this latest, and they are aware that more will follow--but they have their dad's back. Somehow we'll find out ways to make sure this man know he is worth being loved.

In the midst of all this is the moot point of me being "right" about how mean his mom has always been to me. Seriously, viciously, mean. He NEVER truly believed it until this last "fight". I'm not gloating, it's just very sad.
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Reply to Midkid58
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My heart breaks for you both. I hope your husband does keep his distance from his toxic mother, but I know it is easier said than done.

I agree with just listening to him when he talks about it, keep showing him lots of love and empathy. He really is the walking wounded and probably suffers from severe PTSD from years of abuse and drama.

Tell him how much you and the kids love and appreciate him, without mentioning his mother, just give him that positive affirmation.

I like the distraction idea too - do things together that you both enjoy to create fun and positive memories. Even if he does keep his distance from his mother, it may take a long time for him to feel like he can relax and feel peaceful. He's probably so used to all the drama he's come to expect it.

Sounds like the therapy has helped you too. Any way that he would be willing to go with you? Maybe he doesn't want to talk about his mom right now, but the therapist could help you to strengthen your marriage and grow closer to each other.
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Reply to FrazzledMama
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I don’t know how y’all made it. MIL has done such irreparable damage not only to hubby but to your entire family.

As a 64 year old bonehead it took me until my mom’s dementia crisis to finally SEE the real situation. My parents had very successfully covered up the main issues of their marriage and had me fooled. Granted I left home at 17 and have kept a comfortable distance. I called regularly, knowing mom would answer the phone, and visited once a year (nice visits as a rule).

I had always noticed my parents were adversarial and yeah, I stayed out of it. When mom got dementia the truth ran over me like a semi truck. Everything I thought was true about my family was false; everything false was true.

I recommend you do like my husband and just be sympathetic. It helps me that he’s on my side and he doesn’t offer suggestions, he just gives empathy.

Another trick he uses is distracting me from even thinking about my parents. It’s such a relief. We’ve talked about me seeing a counselor or something but I’ve been unwell (part of my emotional reaction to the drama) so I’ve got to get to the point of being able to talk rationally to someone. Oh! Don’t go overboard on the support, just casually talk about it when he brings it up! Distraction is what I love.

You’re a good person. Keep it up.
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Reply to HolidayEnd
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So the MIA older brother is a psychologist? Your H should take a page from his book and have nothing to do with his mother. You BIL is preserving his psychological health! (Hasn't he recommended that your H do the same?)
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Reply to CTTN55
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Um. This: "I want my sweet hubby to find happiness and joy with the people who DO love him."

You do know that isn't ever completely going to happen, don't you?

And whatever you do, don't gloat, and do NOT say told you so. Not even subconsciously. Wipe all thoughts of MIL and all memories from your mind so that when DH talks about her you are purely, purely listening to him.

When he's - oh woe - saying things like he is worthless and bad, you must disconnect that from *your* thoughts and feelings about his mother. It isn't enough to say "she's horrible and she's wrong." What's important is that the statements cannot be true, not of anybody; but his feelings are true - that is what he feels. You can help him to distinguish between the pain he feels, and the truth about its cause.

Trying to think how to visualise what I mean...

You're on one side of a bridge. MIL is on the other side. DH is on the bridge.

You mustn't get between DH and MIL, because that focuses him on the wrong steps. You must instead get him to turn towards you, so that he's looking in the right direction.

I think that might be easier if you're not longing to punch the woman.

No such thing as huge turn abouts, only small victories. Every time something major happens, in my experience anyway, sooner or later there is a reaction and you're pretty much back where you started.

To look on the bright side... you might have married her golden child. Promise you, that would've been a *lot* worse.
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Reply to Countrymouse
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Your MIL sounds likes someone who is very ill mentally. Why does your husband have any contact with her at all? Certainly she does not deserve his resepect or anything resembling his love. It sounds like he goes to see his psychiatrist and whatever good is accomplished during those visits is destroyed by his seeing his mother. I would absolutely cut off all contact with her. What does he have to lose?
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Reply to Ahmijoy
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