Going home for the holidays is a time to reconnect with family and loved ones for joy and happiness. Unless you don’t like your in-laws. Then it’s a living hell that will never go away. The old adage, “fish and visitors stink after three days” couldn’t ring more true when your in-laws are constantly judging, rolling their eyes, or giving you grief about everything you’re doing wrong. I can empathize. I’ve had thirteen years of growing anxiety with my mother in law before I finally took action and stood up for myself.
I discovered that many of you are experiencing a problem I am all too familiar with. We had Mollie Gross on Semper Feisty’s Radio Show, and she relayed that one of the top three concerns military women write to her with is how to deal with mother-in-laws who hate them. That’s when I knew I needed to share my personal experiences.
Why are there so many mean mother-in-laws out there? It seems like it’s a reoccurring theme in our military community. I think part of the problem stems from young love. I was nineteen when I met my husband and his mother thought I needed her guidance and tutelage to make my way in the world. When we finally wed, I was twenty-five and had made my way successfully in the world, all without her help, thank you very much. It didn’t matter. She was the first born of six and a teacher, so I believe part of it came inherently to her. To make matters worse, she didn’t do well reading social cues and her perception of situations were flawed from reality.
For years I questioned why she couldn’t accept me and why I couldn’t make it work. I never had problems getting along with anyone else. I adore her first husband, my husband’s father. I loved his second wife and all of her family. I just couldn’t wrap my head around what was going wrong. Was it because he was an only child? Was I not good enough? I’m well educated, thoughtful and caring, and a good mother. What am I doing wrong? I finally got to the point where I became physically ill when she called, sent an email or even worse, when I knew I had to see her in person.
Then our lives took an unexpected turn. My husband and I had experienced a loss families should never go through. Just six months later, my husband deployed to Afghanistan where he was dealing with fierce, daily combat. In his absence, I was raising a toddler, getting my master’s degree and handling pregnancy woes once again. Eventually I brought our beautiful daughter into the world while he was still deployed. It was a time filled with a lot of emotions and stress.
I was always on my guard when she called or emailed, but I wasn’t prepared for what she was going to do next. She said something so mean and insensitive, that I was done. She knew everything that we had gone through and still had no grace for our situation. I was no longer going to take her constant picking, demanding, guilting and judging.
When my husband came home, we talked with a counselor to learn how to deal with her. We brought in all of the emails and relayed stories of our communication problems. Without officially diagnosing my mother-in-law, the doctor relayed she believed her to be a narcissist; someone preoccupied with their own issues issues of power and vanity, never being able to understand someone else’s perspective. Validation. Finally, I knew it wasn’t something I was doing. She would always want and demand more; nothing would ever make her happy.
Now I’m not saying that your mother in law is a narcissist, but she could be. If you’re like me and have been dealing with the mental abuse from your MIL, another family member or friend, I highly recommend the book, Emotional Blackmail: When People In Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. Our doctor gave it to us as a way for us to understand her underlying issues.
The counselor helped us create some very good boundaries with consequences for her if she didn’t abide by them. We did it as a team and she wasn’t successful in her attempts to divide us. We forced her hand, asking her to seek counseling as the first step in making amends. We’ve met with her therapist and she is helping her realize how her actions affect others around her. Is it perfect? Not even close. But it’s a start. And I no longer fear the abusive emails, situational encounters, or playing on my emotions. It’s been several years since we’ve laid the law down and our lives are all the better for it.
Christmas is just around the corner and most every year we go home. For those of you who are in a situation similar to ours, the holidays should be a time of celebration, but often they’re not. If you want to give yourself the ultimate Christmas present, I highly recommend seeking counseling with your partner to learn how to deal with these manipulative people.
There are a lot of free and anonymous ways to ask for help. I highly recommend connecting with MCCS One Source. They can provide you with counseling, up to eight times for free off-base, with the option for more sessions. Another possibility is using Tricare for a referral. You don’t need to ask your doctor, just call 1-888-TRIWEST (1-888-874-9378). Please note that marriage and family counseling, or personal counseling will not negatively affect your Marine’s career.
Take charge of your life’s happiness and emotional well-being. It’ll be the best decision you ever made and hopefully bring back happy holidays to your home.