Mother-in-law is dominating figure

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am a 35 year old woman and going through a depressing phase of my life. I have been married for over 10 years now and have two young sons. I have known my husband since our school days and we were good friends for about 4-5 years and then our friendship transitioned into a relationship from which he eventually backed out in fear of his mother. But eventually not any significant reasons known to me proposed me later for marriage for which I also agreed as I was in love with him. To me most probable reasons for him proposing me 1. he felt guilty towards me 2. He eventually thought me best suitable out of the proposals he received for marriage and as he knew that I loved him might have thought me to be submissive to him and follow him blindly for whatever he says.

After marriage as we are in India and my husband being only son, we lived in his parent’s house. Here in India that if you are an only son then your parents house is yours. So was the impression of my husband and he does not even have an ambition to build his own house and not even intention of leaving his old house with which he had his emotional attachments,

my mother in law is the dominating figure in the house. Though she was loving superficially but always thought me as secondary. My husband never dreamt of anything wrong against her and also is closed to hear anything which goes against her. Even if he heard the same at times did let it go eventually in her favour only. She also was very possessive for my first son and treated him like her own son and always tried to overpower my relationship with my son. She never cared about what I wanted for him and did always opposite of what I advised. She was greedy and expected gifts on various events from my parents, pestered me by telling the things and the names of retailers so that I can instruct my parents accordingly.

I was a total different personality and never liked to take such favours from my parents but as I wanted my husband to be happy, i also instructed my parents accordingly all the time though against my wish. But still always she took out one or two flaws every time which was communicated to me by my husband and she always pretended to be satisfied at first instance.

Apart from the above, these people are very self-centered and most of the times keep boasting of the things from their past and also seem to repeatedly be in their history only without bothering about whether I would be interested or not.For them me, my family all remained secondary. Even after knowing the same, my husband expected me to come out with my best behaviour and respect for him and his family and I was constanly scrutinized and notified for the devaitions unexpected by them. And more I was pointed, more i devaited.

Now My mother in law was chronic asthma patient and met her end in 2008 after hospitalization of over a month. During the phase of her hospitalization, my husband was dedicatedly looking after her and spending the nights with his father. I also played as much active role as I could play in her illness with my two little kids. Till the time she was in hospital and got critical, my husband strated crying almost every day while singing or listening to old sad songs and also expected the same response from me in the same dramatic manner. This he used to do earlier as well thinking that she would die some day occasionally.

Ultimately she expired and my husband started the guilty game saying we would have done better and all that. Somehow he started getting himself engrossed in his office work and whenever he found time after work, he cried in my presence or absence both for over any year. He also shifted to his father’s room for over six months and never felt the need to be back in our bedroom unless I insisted.We solemnised our marriage though on weekend whenever we got the chance to do the same. On his other aspects, he never changed his little interest like watching movie, celebrating his birthday etc. though he cried later remembering her.

Then comes the same dramatic sister in laws, they also visited us and enjoyed food etc. but everytime they came, cried after having a sumptuous meal remembering their mother. All of my father in law, sister in law and husband discussed her for over a period of one year and cried and appraised her and themselves without caring for my presence.He even pasted her photo collage and personnaly wrote poems on her departure on the walls in every room. He also tried to make sure that my elder son who otherwise as well was attached to her remembers her fondly. Though I never ever saw him teaching my son about appropriate behaviour towards me.

He though seemed to be be very sensitive towards his own feelings but I never had the feeling of the same kind of sensitivity towards me when it came to my parents or my kids.This irritated me further.

Eventualy, the bubble of my patience burst and I started getting irritated with every mention of her but my husband never missed to mention her in every relaxed talk between us. He sometimes pretended to be behaving like her. My behaviour made him something eveident about my irritation and later during some fighting session, I also mentioned it openly to him that I feel that he doesn’t love me and is only obsessed with his mother and sisters.He though retaliate to my remark but also accapted the fact and promised me to work on that. The frequency has gone down though since then after repeated episodes of my anger and depression outburst. But he still never misses to mention her atleast once whenever we are together in relaxed mood.

Now even when I have shared almost every feeling of me towards his mother and he knows that I do not relate to her on the same platform he does and he has also acknowledged that understanding but he still keeps relating our lives with her life and stating her examples and he feels nothing wrong in that remembering his mother as he doesn’t want to let her go. But this over attachment of his is now making my life worse and I feel that I am not being loved by him till date post marriage and his behaviour has also strengthen my belief that he is immature to handle this relationship. He though tells me whenever I am depressed that he loves me but doesn’t seem to let go of his mother come what may. May be he is adamant or only want to prove to the world that he is the best son.

Now I have become very irritating and even a small unexpected or critical remark from him depresses me for over few days and has also become evident to all. It is even impacting my relationship with my kids as I am not myself anymore as I was earlier a fun loving person and now it takes a toll on me to laugh in that house which seems to me more of a cemetry than the house.

I want to come out of my depression but surroundings are not favourable. I still love my husband and believe that he loves me though not the most in his life. He will never move out of this house because of various reasons including his comfortability and the location preference.

Please guide me on what should I do to save my marriage and also come out of my depression which is becoming chronic day by day. On a single remark from him, my depression gets extended for over 3-4 days before I am normal again. In that time, I dont feel like talking to anyone else and if try getting normal than even a minor thing or event depresses me again instantly.

Please help

A: I am so very sorry that you are in such pain. It was very hard to be always second in your husband’s consideration and affection while his mother was alive. It must be even harder to feel that you are competing with the spirit of his mother now that she is dead. I don’t know how to make sense of the over-attachment of this family to her. I do know that you will never “win” in a direct competition with her influence and her memory.

You do have another choice. You can’t make your husband let her go. But you can decide that she won’t have so much power over you. You don’t have to join your husband in making your family’s life a tribute to a woman you didn’t even like.

Every time you feel irritated, sad, or depressed, you are letting her win. You could instead decide to focus your attention on your children and your own parents and your own friendships. You could let yourself be relieved that your mother-in-law can no longer interfere in your relationship with your sons. Most important, you could find that happy, fun-loving person who still is deep inside of you and let her out again.

I know it won’t be easy. Your husband may feel that being happy is disrespectful to his mother’s memory. Agree with him that it is sad that he no longer has a mother but remind him that his sons deserve to have a good mother now. Let him know that you respect his feelings but that you are letting her go so that your boys have the mother they deserve. Remind him that the children do have another grandmother and this may be a time for them to get to know her better. Be polite when the sisters-in-law come but don’t let their drama become your problem. Find a way to be respectful but a little detached. Some people in situations like this find it helpful to pray or think about other things in their minds so they don’t get pulled into the drama.

I think it would be very sad for you and your children if you continue to be depressed to show your husband how much he has hurt you. He probably will never completely understand. I hope you can instead use your anger to fire up some energy in yourself. Use that energy to live the life you want for you and your children. Let your problems with your in-laws go.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Oct 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Mother-in-law is dominating figure. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/10/19/mother-in-law-is-dominating-figure/