Ask Alice — Advice for All: Mother-in-Law Getting Under My Skin

When I met my future wife, I quickly realized that she and her mother were very close — like sisters, actually, who talked everything over. I assumed that they’d remain close after we got married, but not to the extent they have.

Published March 26, 2012 6:17 PM
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When I met my future wife, I quickly realized that she and her mother were very close — like sisters, actually, who talked everything over. I assumed that they’d remain close after we got married, but not to the extent they have.

Dear Alice,

 

When I met my future wife, I quickly realized that she and her mother were very close — like sisters, actually, who talked everything over. I assumed that they’d remain close after we got married, but not to the extent they have.

 

After ten years of marriage and two children, my wife still can’t make a decision without first discussing the issue with her mother.

 

Initially, we lived several hours away from her parents, but they retired and moved to a neighboring town and are now five minutes away.

 

Not only are my wife and her mother constantly on the phone; but now, my mother-in-law drops by our house unannounced, using her own key to enter our home. I like to walk around my house in my underwear, but I can’t since I never know if she‘ll pop in. I feel invaded.

 

Also, my wife continues to consult her about every decision we make, even the most basic ones. This includes clothes and household purchases and, especially, how we raise our children. My opinions about these things are less important to my wife than her mother’s.

 

I am usually an easy-going person, but I am rapidly losing my patience. I don’t think that my mother-in-law was part of my marriage contract, and I certainly did not bargain for two wives. I have been getting progressively angrier with my mother-in-law over little things, and afterwards I feel terribly guilty since she really is not a bad person.

 

Do you have any suggestions about how I can change this worsening situation?


— Stuck


Dear Stuck,

 

What you describe is a relatively common problem, but your situation sounds a bit more intense than most. Women and their mothers can often be very close. Married couples have to figure out how to negotiate their lives together — without their parents intruding.

 

Clearly, you and your wife need to make some changes in your relationship for you to feel that you and your wife are the most important couple in your marriage.

I recommend you talk with your wife about what you are feeling and how this situation needs to change. Don’t blame anyone. She may be resistant at first. Explain that you would like to see your relationship grow and become stronger. Tell her that you find it difficult when she asks her mother’s opinion about everything first and often follows her advice even when it differs from yours.

 

Your wife may be unaware of the way she allows her mother’s involvement to impact your daily lives. She may even assume that this is fine with you since you haven’t really told her directly that it is not. Let her know that you are so distressed by this problem that you have begun to avoid coming home because of it.

 

By beginning this dialogue, your wife may realize how upset you are and, hopefully, she will want to respect your feelings. She also will have to deal with her mother’s hurt feelings when she begins to set limits with her.

 

The first limit should be to tell her mother not to come into your home without calling first and asking you if it is all right.

 

I suspect that your wife will need help in order to initiate other limits with her mother. She might consult with a therapist or a close friend whose advice she trusts.

 

If your wife refuses to change anything, you have a serious marital problem. Start by assuming that she is open to listening to you. She may want things to change as well and needs your help to do it.

 

This may be an opportunity for your marriage to grow stronger. Stay calm and be loving, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the result.


—Alice



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