It seems to be a common belief that girls will marry a man who is just like their father. And while this may be true for many, I was certain that it wasn't true for me. In fact, my husband, with his white-collar job and mild-mannered, non-confrontational personality, is the polar opposite of my dad: a blue-collar man with a mouth like a sailor who isn't afraid of anyone or anything. There's one thing, however, that they both have in common: their view on family. They both believe that no matter how many times someone kicks you while you're down, if they're family, you keep coming back. And it's this prerogative, which has been so deeply ingrained in two of the most important men in my life, that has landed my husband and me in a therapist's office on more than one occasion.
Each of us wanted the other to react in a way that simply does not align with who we are, and neither of us could find a way to compromise.
While it's true that she could be worse, I think my mother-in-law is pretty awful. I find her to be unapologetically manipulative, selfish, and inept at communicating. And as I've watched my mother-in-law manipulate (or try to, in later years) my husband, it's never failed to make my blood boil. Even more upsetting to me is that my husband admits that he's aware of her tactics, but allows her to get away with it because "she's my mother." It's caused some pretty epic brawls between us over the years. Things finally came to a head last year after I expressed disappointment in her decision not to come to our child's baptism, and she told a series of lies about the things I said to her. It seemed to me like an attempt to pit my husband against me, and I was done.
Although I never told my husband that he couldn't continue to have a relationship with his mother or allow her to have a relationship with our children, he was upset that I was willing to write her off. After all, in his mind, family is family no matter how badly they treat you. He reminded me that my own dad would agree with him. But from my perspective, my own dad had been as badly treated by his mother as my husband was. To me, they were both acting like fools, and I wasn't budging.
I walked into our appointment ready for battle.
Any conversation that centered around his mother quickly escalated. My husband was upset at my willingness to cut her out of my life. Instead, he wanted me to forgive, forget, and move forward. I was upset that he wasn't angry enough with her after the lies she had told about me. I wanted him to be as angry as I was. I wanted him to defend me — his wife, mother of his children — and punish her. Each of us wanted the other to react in a way that simply does not align with who we are, and neither of us could find a way to compromise. Instead, we would lose entire evenings to these dead-end fights, and it quickly became exhausting. It was time for some real help, so we made an appointment with a therapist.
I walked into our appointment ready for battle. I had a handwritten list of reasons how this woman had slighted her own son over the years followed by a second list of how she had slighted me and the children. I included the fact that we were now spending a considerable amount of money to sit down with a professional to talk about this woman; money that could be better spent on our children. It was game on.
I got the outcome I had wanted, but much to my surprise, I just felt sad for my husband.
I'm not sure what kind of wizardry our therapist used on me, but I soon found myself noticeably calmer than when I had walked in, and my lists never left my purse. There wasn't going to be any battle. Ultimately, the therapist gently talked to my husband about breaking patterns and not putting so much effort into such a one-sided relationship. He stressed that too much importance was being placed on my mother-in-law and the last thing we should be doing is fighting over her because she certainly doesn't seem to place as much importance on us. He validated my feelings as well as my husband's, and suggested that my husband step back and let his mother work to rebuild their relationship. As we left, my husband apologized for not respecting my feelings and told me that I had been right all along.
Although I initially resented both the reason and the need for it, going to therapy was one of the best things we could have done for our marriage.
I got the outcome I had wanted, but much to my surprise, I just felt sad for my husband. I knew that some part of him was hoping for a happy ending, and I knew that his mother wouldn't put much effort into their relationship. In spite of our therapist's strict orders that he have no expectations as far as his mother is concerned, my husband would have them anyway, and I knew that he was in for yet another dose of disappointment.
In the days since our appointment, my husband has gone back to our therapist to work out some of his own issues stemming from his mother. I've offered to go back with him should he ever need or want me there, but so far he hasn't taken me up on it. He's kept his word and hasn't tried to force his mother on me, and as far as I can tell, she hasn't put much effort into building their relationship. Thankfully, he seems to be handling that hard truth much better than I expected. Although I initially resented both the reason and the need for it, going to therapy was one of the best things we could have done for our marriage.
As a matter of fact, the only mistake we made in terms of going to therapy was waiting so long to do it.