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My mother-in-law is terrible to my wife! Should I say something or stay out of it?

Tagged as: Family, Troubled relationships<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (27 July 2016) 3 Answers - (Newest, 28 July 2016)
A male United States age 41-50, anonymous writes:

My 73 year old mother-in-law has always been manipulative. Back when I was dating my wife 20 years ago she would guilt trip her into coming to visit for months at a time and bribe her with gifts to stay if necessary. That really hurt our developing relationship with me wanting to get to know my new love better and my wife feeling compelled to see her mom who she rarely saw as they lived on opposite coasts.

Now that my m-i-l is getting older she is also losing some of her faculties and the neurologists believe she may be developing dementia. In addition to her old behavior she is now also becoming mean and manic/depressive. Despite her having a very nice income she is constantly broke because of poor decisions and she actually lost her house last year. She lived in our vacation house rent-free for 6 months before we were able to find an apartment for her.

My wife and her sister keep trying to work with her (social workers, doctors, etc.) but she has enough moments of lucidity that she can seem charming, warm, and in control (plus she lies!) often enough that casual acquaintances don't realize how precarious her living situation is and how poor her mental state is. Some doctors have realized and referred social workers, but those are shown the door in favor of others that she "gets along with" better. She is already taking meds (first Paxil and now Wellbutrin) for her bipolar behavior but I don't see where they are helping.

We keep asking her for power of attorney and she often agrees, but she always changes her mind at the last moment. She says things like: "I am still in charge and you guys can't do away with me yet!" when it is clear that being lucid even 2/3 of the time is just not enough. Her neurologist said: "We all have bad moments, but losing your house... that's a little beyond that" but yet he didn't do anything saying that her brain scan and other tests showed early onset dementia.

I have come to accept things as how they are going to be. It is much harder for my wife to accept. What really upsets me is that my m-i-l calls/texts/emails/argues with my wife when she gets into her manic states. When they visit they will sometimes also get into terrible shouting matches. One time my wife packed to spend the weekend with her (she lives about an hour from us) and came back home within 3 hours (including the 2 hour roundtrip drive) because of the demands and abuse heaped on her.

My m-i-l expects my wife to shower her with praise, cow to her demands ("You *WILL* do such and such...!), loan her money (despite her having more disposable income than we do), take her places, and otherwise cater to her. Same with my wife's sister. They take turns being abused and they have been trying to compare notes and lean on each other.

What made me write this post is that today my m-i-l sent me a series of texts in which she said that:

1. My wife used to be so pretty but is fat now. I think my wife has gained weight but is still lovely.

2. My wife is a terrible housekeeper and we live in a sty. Maybe true, but that is also an insult to me and trust me when I say m-i-l's house is not immaculate.

3. My wife yells and cusses. Well, when she is upset by m-i-l she does, yes.

4. My wife steals from people including her and will go to hell for it. The example she gave me is a missing COLANDER!

5. My wife is an alcoholic. Probably true, but part of the reason my wife drinks is to cope.

6. We need a better car so she is going to give hers to us and make all the payments for us. This seems nice on the surface, but I find it terribly insulting.

7. She loves me like a son and hates that I have to live with her daughter. I don't know what to say to that!

I am speechless. I did not respond. Is there an element of truth to all of it? Perhaps. Every lie has a kernel of truth. However, it is my wife who I still love very much that she is talking about and she is silly to realize that I would not be an ally in tearing down my wife. We have our own problems here. We were in a bad car accident recently, and so on. I cannot stand when m-i-l goes off the deep end (once a month or so - usually when she spends her bank account down to zero again on frivolous stuff at the expense of bills) and just spews all of this hatred at us because we won't loan her money, cater to her, etc.

I managed to get a used washer and dryer for her from a neighbor (hers are in storage at present and she doesn't have enough control of her finances to pay someone to move them for her) and I was going to drop them off to her this weekend but when she does/says things like that I just... I dunno what to do.

My wife gets very upset for a week or two but then forgives her mom - and then the cycle repeats. I am sick of it! Should I say something to defend my wife? Overall, I have read that getting between a mom and daughter is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, my wife is having problems with blood pressure and other issues (physical and mental) as a result. When her mom stayed with us my wife's blood pressure was up 40 points the entire stay before dropping to normal when she left. I feel this has to stop one way or another. What can I do?

View related questions: alcoholic, money, she lies, text

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A female reader, aunt honesty Ireland + , writes (28 July 2016):

aunt honesty agony auntI totally agree with Honey Pie she talks a lot of sense. Please get the help for your wife that she needs, drinking alcohol is not the answer to her problems, and if she is over weight it might be best that you both take on a healthier life style. It will help with her blood pressure as well if she has a healthier lifestyle towards food and alcohol.

I cannot imagine what you and your wife is going through, it must be a terrible time for you both. I do have sympathy for you. But you do need to try and be strong. Support your wife. Be nice to your mother in law. Some day she will not be here anymore. Remember to live your life, go out, be active. Keep visits short and sweet and remember that your mother in law probably needs someone as well. It is probably a very scary and lonely time for her also. I wish you all the best.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (27 July 2016):

Honeypie agony auntI agree with Sage,

IT IS hard to deal with someone with not only some kind of bipolar/manic/depressive disorder but then adding onset dementia? MUCH harder.

SUPPORT your wife the best you can. Remind her that, this is her mother's ILLNESS talking.

Keep visits short and sweet. IF she 5 minutes in starts to be abusive or go into tirades. LEAVE.

Also perhaps consider help for your wife, if she DOES have issues with alcohol. I get that the alcohol FEELS like it "helps" deal with her mom, but in reality, my guess is it exacerbate things instead. Have her see her doctor if possible.

Counting to 10(or 30) when dealing with an outburst from the MIL might also help. It sounds silly, but your wife screaming back at her mom? not helping.

Don't accept the car from the MIL. It will only be a NEW bone of contention and ammo for some more fights she will try to start.

You two are doing good in NOT enabling her with "loans". KEEP that up no matter how much she fusses. IF possible suggest to your MIL that her bills are paid through her bank and then whatever is left.. well, she can do whatever with.

Spend time with your wife LIVING life too, go out together, go for walks, hikes, sightseeing, museums (doesn't have to cost much) but try NOT to make your life revolve around the MIL.

And really, if there are DAYS your wife can't/won't deal with her mom, let her turn off the phone and you two get out of the house.

My paternal grandmother got hit hard with dementia when she hit 82, after the death of her lover of 55 years. It was almost overnight that she "lost" her mind. Didn't remember my dad, didn't remember to eat, turn of the lights, all kind of things. Thankfully she was NOT a "mean" old lady, but given that she was always a mild, well mannered, sweet person - the person that showed up after the dementia/sorrow hit her was really rude. My dad didn't recognize her personality at all. I know it was hard for my mom and dad to deal with her, and they did hire a nurse/home help - whom thankfully my grandmother adored. And they did their best to remember her for who she USED to be and to not get too upset when she was having bad days.

I know that doesn't compare to the horror of your MIL, consider that she basically have brain-damage. However DON'T let your life revolve around HER, her MOOD and TANTRUMS.

Be kind to each other.

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A male reader, Sageoldguy1465 United States +, writes (27 July 2016):

Sageoldguy1465 agony auntThis really IS, officially, something between only your M-i-L and your wife..... HOWEVER, you DO have a role in the whole matter.....

And, that role is to be a great husband/partner/friend and supporter of your wife in HER predicament.

It's difficult for you (and would be for anyone!) to see your wife mistreated BY HER OWN MOTHER (!)... but be assured that she has endured her Mother for this long... she is going to have to endure it until her Mother passes....

Remember that you can attract bears far better with honey than you can with vinegar.... Give BOTH of 'em lots of love!!!!!

Good luck....

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