Mother Disrespects My Husband

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My mother has never been able to be nice to my husband. She often says mean and hurtful things to him, or when she says them to me and he defends me she accuses him of “attacking” her.
The relationship has not been good, and since we have gotten married it has gotten worse. As expected, now that we are about to have a child in less than two months, it has become even harder.
At a recent holiday event, my mother ignored my husband completely. She pretended as if he were not there. When I confronted her about this behavior, she denied it; then later said it was because she was angry about a decision we had made (to drive to his parents house); then later denied it, and so on. After a fight between her and I ensued, and I told her that whether she likes him or hates him she must AT LEAST treat my husband with respect. I also told her that I would refuse to speak with her until she apologized to him. Four days and many hurtful emails later she sent him an email which read only: I’m sorry I ignored you on the holiday.
The sad part is that no one was expecting a sincere apology, because she believes in her heart that she had every right to treat him that way. She also was humiliated that I told her to apologize, because that would mean admitting responsibility.
I don’t want my child to see her treat its father this way, and I don’t want my child to think that this behavior is acceptable to give out or receive. What should I do?

A: You’ve made a good start. You drew a boundary and stuck to it. It sounds to me like your mother may be competing with your husband for your time, attention, and love. Is it possible that she feels there isn’t room in your heart for both of them? If so, the problem to address is her insecurity. I wonder if the situaiton will get better or worse once your child is born. Sometimes the desire to be part of a grandchild’s life makes someone like your mom start to behave. But if she is worried there isn’t enough love to go around, she may compete with the child too.

If you think she’s insecure, try to work on that problem directly. Make sure to give her attention when she is doing things right. Give her random “I love yous.” Catch her and praise her whenever she is doing something right. Reassure her that you can love both her and your growing family.

If, on the other hand, she’s just one of those mean-spirited people who targets others, keep doing what you started. Make it clear what you will and won’t accept and mean it. Don’t argue. Arguing implies you can be talked out of something. Simply state clearly what is and isn’t okay. When she acts up, leave without further comment. You’ve already told her what’s unacceptable so engaging in yet another conversation about it only gives her attention for the wrong thing.

I hope your mother responds. Life is too short. She has the opportunity to have a loving relationship with a daughter, her son-in-law and their children. What a shame if she can’t appreciate that.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jan 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Mother Disrespects My Husband. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/01/08/mother-disrespects-my-husband/