Monster In Law

Dear Dharma,
I am having issues with my mother-in-law.  I really wish it wasn’t like this as I’m a loving and welcoming person. I’ve always wanted the big happy family where the in-laws and immediate family share holidays, birthdays and special milestones, with no need to race from family to family every holiday.  However, I have found myself very disappointed over the last 6 years with any plans that involve celebrating with both mine and my husband’s families.
I feel like it’s his mother who is the stem of the problem. My family has shared many holidays with them, but his family still want us to themselves the very next day for their own celebration. I don’t have any problem celebrating with his family, but I also don’t feel it’s fair for my family to share their holiday with them one day and not be invited to share in the celebrating the next day.  They have their other son’s in-laws over for holidays but have never once invited my family.
We have bent over backwards to try to find an equitable arrangement, going so far as to split Christmas day, but this led to constant phone calls from his mother asking when we would be there, even though the arrangements were very clear to all.
I get that managing your time with both families is important but I feel like she ruins every occasion.  I hate seeing my husband so torn and his mother’s antics are taking a toll on him. He is such a kind soul, non-confrontational, and would do anything for anybody. The last thing he wants to do is to hurt or disappoint his mom so he just does what she wants so he doesn’t have to deal with her being upset. When she gets upset it gets nasty and goes on forever – it actually frightens me to think how possessive she might be once we start our own family!
Most recently, his mother did something that pushed my buttons and unfortunately I blew up, letting her have it.  My patience is done and these issues are affecting my marriage.
She is now involving my husband in our argument, though she says she doesn’t want to put him in the middle. By no means would I ever put this on him – it is his mother and he has every right to have a relationship with her regardless of mine and her relationship. The last thing I want to see is my husband upset or caught between his wife and his mom.
My mom has suggested “I eat a crow” and apologize – “forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness but for your own peace!”  I do not forgive her at all and even though I am not saying I am blameless, she is the one that needs to acknowledge all her wrong doings over the years. If I expected that I’d be dreaming!
My question is how do I write an apology email that is short and to the point.  I want to try to make things better for my husband so she stops taking this out on him. I don’t forgive her and if I were to apologize to her right now it would not be much of an apology, but I want to do something to move on for my husband’s sake. Even if she doesn’t acknowledge me at least this could possibly make things better for him and at least he would know I tried. Please help!
Crow Eater
Dear Crow,
I have a feeling this is going to be a hard sell, but… you know the problem here isn’t your MIL, right?  I mean, she’s a problem, no doubt about it, but she’s not your problem.
Do you know why she behaves this way?  Because she can.  Because with your sons silence, he has said her behaviour is a-okay.
Years and years of pushing everyone around has created the perfect storm for her.  No one dares stand up to her, otherwise it gets “nasty”.  She will always have things go exactly her way, because no one wants to “hurt or disappoint” her by calling her out on her crap. Funny, non? That she’s got everyone convinced, primarily your husband, that to set boundaries and make the tantrums unacceptable would be considered hurtful or disappointing?
Well done, mom!  Way to bully yourself to the top and make a spineless jellyfish out of your son.
Oh wait though… that’s your husband, isn’t it… 
Have you picked up yet on who your problem actually is?
I know you don’t want anything to do with this way of thinking, but you are going to have decide between the scenario you wish for and the scene that’s right in front of you.  You say your husband would do anything for anyone – care to put your money where your mouth is and ask him to grow a pair?
Because that’s what is required here to make a difference.  You standing up to her isn’t going to work, as you’ve discovered – it just gives her even more power to make you the bad guy and work your husband against you.
I understand how frustrated you must be, dammit, I’m mad too!  Except you’re mad at her, and I’m mad at him.
If she’s so needy to have your husband in her life, don’t you think that if he stood up to her and explained what the new world was going to look like, that in the end she would have no choice but grow the eff up?  She might not like it at first, and I bet it would damn near kill your husband if mommy dearest were mad at him, but if he can just breath through it and get to the other side of the tantrum, it might be worth it.  She might realize that being nice is the price she must pay to have any family at all.
In my experience, bullies sit down when others stand up.  Unfortunately most people are usually too beaten down by the bully to test this theory.
However, if MIL has completely destroyed her son and there’s not a hope in heck he will do the right thing (and, by the way, you do him no favours by condoning the way he accommodates his mother over his wife) then you are going to have find some strong coping mechanisms to get you through the rest of her life.
In either case, and to your question, writing an apology isn’t the worst thing if it’s the first step in maybe getting things on track with your husband.  You wanted short and sweet, so here’s what I’ve got:
I wanted to take a moment to apologize for my poor behavior the other day.  I am hopeful we can put this incident behind us and start finding ways to work together for the sake of our families.   However, if there are any reasons you are not interested in doing this, perhaps we could discuss that too.
Sincerely (cough)
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  • Friend of the Crow says:

    totally agree wiht dharma – the problem is the husband. so what if she’s mad, what’s she going to do, ground him, take away tv for a week? the only power his mama has over him is what he gives her,but he’s been under her spell for his whole life. it may take a while for this message to sink in.

  • Anonymous says:

    Its time to grow a pair and demand that he does too! A husband should ALWAYS have his wife’s back…..

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