How do you discuss difficult stuff with a person who claims to not be able to handle hard subjects?

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My MIL is a narcissistic drama queen. We moved across country to help manage her health care. Her medications were so out of whack that she was acting goofy and she was in the hospital every month for one illness or another. My husband has been taking the brunt of the work and has done an amazing job getting her back on track and keeping her out of the hospital. Last year, we realized that our marriage was suffering a lot due to the stresses that she put on him. She feigned illnesses and always found something "important" for him to do over at her house. We realized that she was creating drama and that helped us a bit with our approach to her. Since her illness, she has had to retire and doesn't have the social outlet she once had. She has no desire to get out of the house to do things other than shop for food on a RARE occasion. She over exaggerates her health issues and has now taken to making herself sick in order to go to the ER for attention. She is now taking advantage of my husband and trying to force him to manage her personal relationship with her abusive husband by saying that she was in the hospital because she was stressed out from her husbands abuses. When my husband attempted approach his dad, she got incredibly angry and said that she never told him to do that. My husband took her comment as a threat to her health. It's not my husband place and told her that he won't do it anymore. Now she is even MORE angry and has taken to hiding dr appts from him, adding medications without dr visits, not eating and then taking opiates. She has even taken to messing up her own medication dosage. This isn't the first time that she has taken advantage of a situation for her own personal attentions. She's manipulative and frustrating. When my husband tries to approach her and have an open and frank discussion with her, she tells him that she has some kind of illness that makes it so she can't handle stress, which includes having heart-to-heart conversations about relationships. When we DO try to talk to her, she zones out like a freakin' teenager! She has NO problem handling the stress that comes with traveling for a 2 week cruise! We are at our wits end trying to figure out how to talk to this woman. She can NEVER admit that she has done anything wrong. She falls into the "I'm the victim", but she has created the environment herself and refuses to see her part in it. How can we tell her that she's being horrible and that we know she's being manipulative? How can we tell her that she is ruining the last good relationship she has by being manipulative? How does one handle their sanity with a person who believes that they can do no wrong? MIL is 75.

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I think I might be tempted to reply "that must be difficult for you. How are YOU going to handle it"? If she gives some helpless reply, respond with "hmmm" and quickly change the subject". Use that same reply over and over.
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A person with narcissistic personality disorder will never admit they were wrong, apologize for being wrong or anything else like that. You can wait till the cows come home...and it will never happen.

I work for the cruise industry. If she is well enough to take a two week cruise you are d@mn straight that she doesn't need help with every little thing. Cruises are stressful, even for healthy people (planning, executing, packing etc)

You won't be able to fix her. Let her handle her own illnesses, relationship with her husband (why won't he help her?) etc.

No is a complete sentence.

Angel
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Fire, it sure sounds like you understand the dynamics here and know what you have to do. It's just a matter of hanging tough.

My own situation is similar except I stayed put and did not move across the country to care for my folks. If I were there I can see how it would be soooooo easy to get trapped in the daily grind of fixing everything, cleaning, doc appointments and all the rest.

If you think about it, many elders of our parents generation got to enjoy their retirements. Cruises, traveling, time with the grandkids. My folks weren't caregivers for my grandparents, they put them in nursing homes. And keep in mind, most of our grandparents didn't live to be 98 like my parents probably will due to the marvels of modern medicine. My folks have had close to 30 years of enjoyable retirement. It's not fair for us to give up our best years consumed with the nightmare of elder caregiving.

That may all sound a bit hard@ss but it's true. Nothing has steeled my resolve more than reading all the horror stories of lives gone down the drain of caregiver h3ll on this forum.
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If this woman can go on a two week cruise why in the hell are you guys running at her every whim? I don't mean to be snarky but clearly some tough love is in order here.

There have been other discussions on this forum about how we sometimes enable our elders behavior and their refusal to allow outside help. I had to pull back from my folks a little. They don't mind me working my ass off for them but refuse to let paid help in the house.

And if these folks have the funds for a two week cruise it would seem as though they could hire some help and ease up on poor Hubs.
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This kind of manipulative arrangement is often a topic here. If it's any consolation, you're not alone.

I think your MIL is playing her "victim" and "needy" personae for all it's worth. Unfortunately, you have to recognize that attempting to respond on a rational basis to irrational claims and arguments isn't going to address the core problem. Sometimes you just have to work around that core issue.

You and your husband might want to sit down, detail as much as you can the various arguments and complaints your present, and determine if there are concrete ways of addressing them or if they're not the kind of issues that can't be addressed, treated and/or resolved. In other words, sometimes her complaints probably just need to be ignored, unless, obviously, they're medical ones of verifiable concern.

But from your post it seems as though she manages to segue into this explanation as justification for her behavior. It can be hard to sort out which medical issues are real and which are cries for attention.

Sometimes you can provide a witty retort that will stop her, likely by surprise and shock.

One issue to address is that of co-opting your husband to do chores. Suggest she make a list, your husband will look it over when he has time and decide which he can fix or which need to be contracted out. Your husband takes a stand, it will challenge her and she will be mad. But your husband has stated he won't be manipulated into changing his schedule, doing work which could be hired out, or backed through trickery into allowing her to manipulate him.

You may have to think of responses like this for all her actions, as well as stating firmly that you either can't or won't get involved, such as stepping in between the abusive relationship she has with her husband.

Since she turned on your husband, next time tell her that your husband tried to intervene, she countermanded him and denied her statements, and that there is nothing he can do in this situation. Then terminate the conversation and don't give her time to respond.

You'll have to find similar methods of response for all her different charades, and it won't be easy either doing so or dealing with her reactive behavior. Expect that at times she'll be more angry. Think of it as driving on a dirt road filled with potholes and bumps. You never know when you'll hit one.
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Thank you for your response. We have asked her to make a list. It worked for a short time, but then she just quit. The biggest issue is with the hiding of the doctor's appts and her failure to admit she's made a mistake. It's not like we are ever angry with her, but when she acts like she did nothing wrong, that is where our frustration comes out. This family is a very manipulative family. Words are analyzed for any aggressiveness. It makes witty retorts ammunition for future. I have taken to not talking when we are visiting just because I don't want to give them ammunition for the future. I have half a mind to take her out for lunch and when she tries to get nosy or gossipy, just look her in the eye and say, "MIL, this is a very stressful topic. I know that you can't handle stress so we are not going to discuss or talk about anything related to that. If you want to discuss books or the weather, I would be more than happy to talk but any and all family matters are off the table until you have gained the strength and health needed for these tough family topics." I'm not sure that she would get the message, but I would feel like I had done something. On the other hand, she would probably tell her family that I was rude and trying to keep in the dark about my relationship with her son.... when in all honesty...it's none of her business.
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True that Windy!
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I deal with this type behavior so much. The way I handle it is by not making her too important in my mind. So what if she thinks I do something wrong? The world keeps turning and I wake up in the morning. This is not meant to sound snarky, but you have to give someone permission to make you feel bad.

The other thing I do is turn it on her. For example, she'll say her blood sugar reading is too high because I put so much stress on her earlier. I'll say it is more likely caused by that pack of crackers she ate a few minutes back. She has dementia, so it doesn't really stick, but it does back her off from blaming me for something that wasn't my fault.
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LOL @ Churchmouse. LOL Yes. Our next move is to move closer to my family. I have 3 nephews that I hardly ever get to see. There is an inheritance that we are kind of taking care of, so we are a little hesitant to leave right now. But, yes. Leaving the area is our nuclear option. I laugh...I literally laughed when I read that...because we've had that escape plan since the beginning.

On our move down here a year and a half ago, we were 90 miles into the trip with a moving truck (him driving) and our personal car with three cats (me driving) when my husband got violently ill. We ended up spending 10 days in a town I had no idea how to get around in (good thing for Google Maps), with no money (we had budgeted just enough for the move), and hubs in the hospital. He was in the hospital for a total of 7 or 8 days, depending on how you count. I was stuck in a hotel with three cats! It was terrifying. During this stressful time, his family, parents and brother included, had the audacity to question us about how we were going to pay our bills when we got there. They offered no help (we had to beg for $$). His brother had the balls to offer to fly over and drive the rest of the way back under certain conditions. To top it off, they NEVER called to ask how he was doing! I can't believe the selfishness in that family. My parents were ready to drop everything to come help us.

After that ....interesting...encounter, we made sure to have an agreement. If our marriage starts to suffer, we are outta here!
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Write her a letter outlining your feelings and concerns. Do not assign "blame" for her conditions. Then tell her you are no longer going to help her. She has a husband, so let the two of them work things out. If SHE chooses to stay in an abusive relationship, then that is her choice. Get out of her life for now, stay focused on YOUR marriage, and let the chips fall where they may. She will die with or without your intervention. The two of you need to stay healthy for your lives.
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