My Mother-in-Law's Behavior Was Unforgivable—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, I've been married for 22 years and did everything for my mother-in-law, to the point my own mom got jealous. I told my mom that I have only one mom and for her to never worry about me replacing her. Well, my mom passed away two years ago, and I got a call from my mother-in-law one night. She told me I owed her $2,000.

She thought because my mom passed I would come into some money. I told her she never gave me $2,000. Then I asked her why she was calling me at a time like this. I've just lost my mom. She said: "I don't care about your mom dying!!!"

That was two years ago and that was the last time I ever talked to her. I told my husband, and he seemed to not care about what she said. But that was my mom, not his. Am I wrong for not speaking to her? She tried to say sorry, but something like that said about my mom is unforgivable!

I miss my mom every day. My mom told me to deal with her with a long-handled spoon a long time ago.

Anonymous, Unknown

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two women arguing
Family argument. Stock image. A woman has asked for advice on whether to speak to her mother-in-law again. Getty Images

Release Any Expectations Of Having A Healthy Relationship With Your Mother-In-Law

Jennifer Bohr-Cuevas, Long Island- Based Licensed Clinical Social Worker

As a clinical social worker, I have treated many clients that identify their mother-in-law as their chief complaint. Having a toxic mother-in-law is a challenge, to say the least. They are self-absorbed, controlling, without boundaries, and downright nasty.

It sounds like you have made every effort to include her in your life. You may need to remain emotionally and physically distant from your mother-in-law. However, reintroducing her into your life could have the benefit of easing tensions with your husband and the family unit. I caution you to release any expectations of having a healthy relationship with your mother-in-law. Toxic people rarely take ownership of their bad behavior.

I have shared the following tips with my clients in your situation. The first is to maintain your emotional distance. Do not give her access to your inner self as she could use it against you. Secondly, invite your spouse to join you in creating and enforcing non-negotiable boundaries. A united front with your spouse is key. Third, Try to abate conflicts and triggers. If you argue with your mother-in-law, the objective should be to reduce, resolve and move on. Finally, don't go out of your way to please her. Understand that you will not be able to. It is OK to worry about your own happiness. Develop a support system that will help you cope with the negative dynamics.

Do As Your Late Mother Suggested And Keep Her At Arm's Length

Dr. Bahjat Balbous, psychiatrist at Euromed Clinic Dubai

I am so sorry for your loss and also for the stress this current situation is causing you. It sounds like your mom could see a mean side to your mother-in-law. Perhaps rather than being jealous, she was actually inadvertently trying to protect you by warning you to keep her at a distance.

I wonder why you have "done everything" for your mother-in-law, as you put it. Is it because you feel you should, due to family dynamics, or because she is demanding? The insensitive phone call certainly paints a picture of someone who is uncaring about the feelings of others and is self-centered.

I would suggest that it is not your husband [who] doesn't care but rather he does not want to get involved as he risks upsetting his mother and perhaps the fallout of this in the wider family circle is too great for him.

If your mother-in-law apologized, I would suggest that for the greater good, you graciously accept. Do not mistake me, I am not telling you to restore your former relationship with her or continue the selfless actions you believed you undertook in the past, rather just placate her by acknowledging she is sorry and assure her that you too want to move on.

Then, I would do as your late mother suggested and be pleasant but keep her at arm's length. After all, she is not your mother so let your husband deal with her rather than you yourself. As for the monetary issue, I would ignore this and if she continues to ask for money that she feels she is owed, ask her to present the bills/invoices she paid on your behalf and assure her you will happily reimburse her for the costs she has incurred.