Monday, September 12, 2011

A Story Strikingly Similar to Mine

So I was perusing the internet searching for stories like mine, as I often do, and I happened upon a forum where a group of women have created a space to discuss issues that have come up with their In-Laws. I wanted to take the time to share one post that I found there, because it really spoke to me and the situation DH and I are dealing with currently. In the post, I have separated the poster's own words from something that she herself copied and pasted (though I can't find the source of that original information). The poster's words are in blue, and the information she copied is in red. Bolding for emphasis, mine.

The Motive Behind Clingy MILs Learned in Therapy
Written October 27, 2007
by Black Box

This is what I learned about one type of MIL-DIL-Son/Husband triangle through counselling. It fits my MIL, but not all MILs. However, it's not an uncommon phenomenon.

It was written in response to a post in which someone asked why it was the DIL's responsibility to foster a relationship between her and the MIL, the grandchildren and MIL, and the son/husband and the MIL. Why doesn't the son/husband work to make the MIL/DIL good, rather than the DIL work to make the MIL/son relationship good.

"This is what's hard for these women to understand. Their sons are NOT all that interested in these very tight, very close, very intimate relationships with their mothers. They outgrew the Oedipal phase; the mothers never did. Let's face it: it's very pleasant when your 4 year old son adores you and swears he's going to marry you and be your knight in shining armor. But it doesn't last; it's a phase.

The sons don't take the responsibility for a close relationship with their mothers because they don't WANT them. They also don't want to hurt their mothers, they don't want them unhappy, but they also don't want to talk to them every day and solve their every problem and support all their emotional upsets. They want to move on, but they also want their mother's to be okay with them moving on.

The MILs turn desperately to the DILs to wring out the closeness they long for--or they blame the DILs for the distance they sense. A lot of men shove their wives between them and their desperate mommies. "I got to get some space; make her okay with it". DILs resent both being used as a bridge between mother and son and also to be blamed for a natural phenomenon--sons grow up and grow away. DILs pick up quickly on desperately lonely, clingy, needy women and see what even the MILs may be too ashamed to admit; these MILs (not all MILs), but these MILs have based their emotional lives on their son and are an intrusion into their marriages. DILs sense the same danger to their marriages as they would from any other woman who is determined to get their husbands.

When mothers let go of their sons and don't fancy that there's this 'special bond of closeness' that exists that most mothers and sons don't have, they usually have good relationships with their DILs and their sons. When they can't let go, the men find a way to escape, either by 'zoning out', staying away, lying, or throwing their wives under the bus.

The men DON'T keep up their end of the relationship, because they don't want the relationship their mothers long for. They love her and they want a relationship, but not that kind of relationship. And everyone gets confused by what's really going on because it feels to everyone like a love triangle, without the sexual attraction. You have the jealous spurned woman, the new love interest and the guy in the middle--but no one calls it what it is because it's not sexual. And yet the emotions are exactly the same.

Unless you've been a victim of these desperate MILs, you would pity them. They are generally unloved, left behind women. They don't have healthy partnerships as a general rule. They generally don't have a good support system. They are looking for that that absolute love, trust, and acceptance that everyone wants, they are just looking for it in the wrong place, and they want it on their terms, from the all powerful mother who holds all the cards and the ultimate authority in the relationship (as they had when their sons were little) from a man who can take care of himself and her as well. They generally cannot deal with real relationships with imperfect men and give and take. They have the development of a toddler and a toddler's understanding: black and white, idealized and full of fantasy.

And it's a continuum: some of these clingy, needy MILs are only troubled a little by these misplaced affections, and some are completely immersed and some regress to this when they are stressed or feeling vulnerable.

This doesn't explain all MIL-DIL problems. Their are some disturbed DILs out there, no doubt. This doesn't explain just plain nasty, or mentally ill, or character disordered MILs (altho it can). And doesn't explain those who have very little interest in their families and grandchildren. Or those who have trouble facing the empty nest, but who with a little prodding, do build satisfying lives and healthy relationships. But it does explain one dynamic of the MIL-Son-DIL triangle.

This is what I learned in therapy. I did not learn how to correct the problem without a lot of pain being felt by everyone.

[My MIL is] still at it. She's still savagely criticizing her son (and me, but big deal about me) to whomever will listen... The crying, the complaining, the bitterness, the character attacks, the 'wise psychological analysis' of what's wrong with everyone who doesn't cater to her, the lying, the endless victimhood, interspersed with righteous indignation about what her 'rights' are, the emotional games ("I don't want to talk to you; but I'll talk to the kids'), the manipulations ("I'm going to be in the neighborhood taking a friend on vacation--we live 1,200 miles away--can I stop in for an afternoon? Oh the friend can't come, how come I can only spend one afternoon with MY GRANDCHILDREN, when I've come so far and spent so much are soooo meeeeeean to me.").

She never stops. It's been two and a half years since she's had input from us. BIL and SIL who support her still, have also put some distance between them and her.

She blew it; so why does she keep on doing the same things that put her in this situation? None of us want it to be this way, but also we are not willing to risk having her invade our lives like she did.

The therapist said it was because she doesn't know any other way. She's always solved problems by crying and storming and blaming and using emotional blackmail as punishment. She has no other tools to cope with life's problems other than to present herself as a victim, deny all responsibility and emotionally bully people to acquiesence.

And I would buy that--except she's been told EXACTLY what needs to happen to repair the problem. Step by step. And she rejects it, and continues with more of the same. It's her way or the highway.

We chose the highway; and she's outraged. She doesn't love her son; how could anyone who says such horrible things about him for such a long sustained period actually love him? But she talks endlessly about how much she loooooooves everyone (and how hard she tried to loooooove me, but I wouldn't let her--the poor thing). Love to her is a hook to reel people into so they can take care of her feelings and her life for her. If you really loved your son, would you try to weaken/break other relationships he values: with his wife, his brothers, his inlaws, and even his own children. This is not what a loving mother does; no matter what she says.

I feel terrible for my husband for having a mother like this. He seems to chose to believe that she's not doing these things on purpose, she's just so driven by her despair, that she's pursuing her own agenda, and all the damage she causes is an unintended byproduct.

Except of course, she's been told how to fix things and refuses to do it. And she knows she's causing rifts--she's written me emails about it, trying to get me to feel guilty about it--but I'm not the one running my mouth non-stop (I come here). She knows what's she's doing and if I give in, she'll stop. Funny, I don't believe it. She won't stop until she has run of my house and we are dedicating our lives to her satisfaction. She has not changed ONE thing; she has shown NO remorse; she has not admitted that she did one thing WRONG.

It's more important to be an innocent victim than it is to have a relationship with your son and grandchildren. She's made that clear.

Oddly enough, she's not happy with the choice.

It's exhausting. My MIL demonstrates that she will only (and just recently after like two years) accept the call DH's cell phone and don't send crap all the time in the mail and the don't invite yourself over uninvited boundary. She can't handle the don't talk badly about people behind their backs, don't criticize, don't diagnose and meddle, don't keep asking when you've been told 'no', and don't use us to play victim boundary. Probably never will. And we probably won't ever has anything but the most restrained and distant relationship.

When she proves it's safe for us to come closer to her, we will do so--but she has recently proven that if we get too close she will try to bite (but last time only accomplished a nip; however, it tells you what you need to know).

It's too bad, it's unnecessary, and she screwed herself over good; sadly, she screwed a lot of other people over in the process. We'll see at Christmas if it's safe to take another step forward, or if we have to back off some more. 

After reading all of this, I was really struck by the similarities between my story and this woman's. It really got my wheel's-a-turnin' and I've developed a couple new theories about my husband's unhealthy relationship with his NM. I'll be happy to share them with you, Dear Reader.


  1. That's my mom. She has her own way of seeing things, and if you say anything different, she will not hear you. That's why you can tell her how to fix it, and she refuses to even try. It wasn't what she wanted to hear, so she didn't hear it. It's incredibly sick and twisted. It is impossible to make sense of the nonsensical, and she is utterly nonsensical. It's a question of respect. They expect to be respected but do not give respect themselves, and then are baffled when they receive no respect. Crazy making.

  2. Judy - Your comment hits home for me because I've had so many conversations with DH where the points you've just made were at the crux of it all. You're right, their mentality is so sick and twisted - with his NM, it's her way or the highway, and everything else gets swept under the rug. I can't wrap my mind around how anyone could possibly ignore, hurt, or abused their child the way she has ignored, hurt, and abused hers. It's not something I think I'll ever really understand. You know what though? I'm pretty sure I don't want to.

  3. Right on the money...that's for sure! I'm definately going to be sharing this post with my husband. With very few minor exceptions, it perfectly describes his mother.

  4. EFIL, I think it's so, so scary that there are so many mothers out there who fit this description. How is it possible???

  5. Wow, thanks for posting that and sharing the forum. That also sounds like my MIL. She has driven away everyone from her life - her husband, her two children, her siblings, and her friends. It is so sad but she did it to herself.

  6. Sheesh...all these women seem cut from the same cloth. It's a wonder how they make it through life at all.

  7. *SHIVERS* I could have written this post!

    HOLY CRAPOLA! I recently cutoff the MIL. For these exact behaviors. Wth is wrong with these she-devils? I will have to post my last confrontation. The first 3 were face- to- face but she would just do the cry and say how she just wants the best for everyone and twist our words. So....this time I sent an email to everyone in the immediate family of enmeshed/ brainwashed SILs and whipped/exhausted resigned FIL. Hard to twist what I say when it is everyone!

    Admittedly, it is more of a letter calling her out on her general behavior but she has no doubts about what I think of her is covert relational aggression and abuse!

    THANK YOU for posting this!

  8. Anon - I'm glad this was a useful post for you. I would be very interesting in reading the details of your last confrontation in a post. It really never ceases to amaze me how many NMs are out there. And we know they double as NMILs and try to make life hell for the women their sons marry. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.