Tipping-point

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user19570

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Tipping-point
« on: February 18, 2019, 10:03:09 PM »
I’ve been married for 21 years now. The first few were great and at the same time very trying, as we learned that my wife suffered greatly from continual cycles of guilt, anger, shame and an inability to be intimate or comfortable with closeness.

The therapist at the time suggested it could have been bi-polar but given the rapidity of the swings between happy and extreme anger, that didn’t quite fit (I am convinced she’s BPD). What we did learn was that being away from her emotionally abusive mother (NBPD) and sister’s (BPD) daily calamities calmed things and removed her from their daily mental manipulation and games. We moved countries and got a lot more stability back for those first 10 years, even with her mother visiting briefly every year or so, to see the young kids.

In the meantime, as a couple with two kids and no nearby family, we battled through the typical hardships of juggling work, time and finances, plus her explosive rage as best we could. The kids and I learned to not argue back, ever, and to tread lightly and not say things that would risk triggering her.

Then her father died, and on his deathbed confessed that he had not wanted to survive and deal with the mother any further and this was his way to get out… but at the same time he made my wife promise that she’d make sure the mother was looked after (another massive guilt trip perfectly laid).

My wife was furious that her mother had committed such torment and pain on the family their whole lives and particularly on the father, going so far as to call her a monster and not wanting to be near her.
That lasted a year before she brought her over to visit us and to try “patch things up with her mother and see if they could learn to be close”. She stayed with us for three months and my wife battled her way through letting her guard down and trying to be close to her mother and learn to understand her. As a family, the kids and I did not protest or interfere in this time for her to try make amends with her mother.
Unfortunately, this has continued for the last 10 years. Every year, my wife flies her mother over to stay with us for 3 more months to spend time with her and give her a better quality of life in her old age.

At each subsequent visit, I can see her mother getting bolder and more comfortable in how she manipulates my wife through guilt, playing the victim, passive aggressive behaviours and trying to pit family members against each other. At each visit my wife has become more tightly bonded to her mother, become massively defensive and protective over her, feeling more and more guilty that she isn’t able to spend enough good time with her as she gets old and may never live up to be a good enough daughter. With each visit, I feel my wife slip further away from me (and even the kids). Coincidentally, it also seems that we have recurring relationship issues with her deciding it is over, usually about the time her mother is preparing to leave or just after she’s gone back home after her long stay.

I’ve watched our teenagers grow more distant from her mother (their grandmother) and start avoiding her, saying she acts creepy and messes with their heads and don’t like how she affects their mother. Over the last four years, I have found myself actively avoiding her for those 3 months that she is here, hating how she takes my headstrong wife and turns her into a child again; angry, confused, lacking self-esteem, distant and acting like everyone’s out to get her. It feels like her mother is actively disassembling our family.

I can’t openly discuss any of the effects related to her mother with her, or she goes ballistic and will smash doors and scream and swear about how others just can’t seem to understand that she is just trying to learn to be close to her mother.

Anyhow, her mother left this weekend, after a very tense 3 months where I managed for the first time to have a frank conversation with her mother about her visits and how the length of these stays effects the family and our relationship. It was tense after that, but my wife had acknowledged that she should perhaps have taken the time to understand the children’s and my feelings before imposing her mother on us every year, so things became as normal as possible for the remainder of her stay, albeit awkward. No shouting or screaming, just my wife feeling guilty that she wasn’t giving her mother enough of a good time and her mother acting like the kids and I hate her.

As her mother waived goodbye, my wife burst into tears and sobs (first time that’s happened on a departure) and since then hasn’t talked to me of the kids for three days now.

It feels like my mother-in-law has managed to form a bond now with my wife that makes her the protector and at any cost, she will now defend her mother against all the imaginary attackers out there (an aside, her mother has no friends as she alienated them all years ago and her remaining siblings avoid her as best they can). She seems to be able to disarm my wife, then brings back all her personal insecurities, anxieties and hollowness, making her feel lost without her mother.

I love her and have tried to not take things personally over the years, to be strong and consistent for the kids and to not judge or interfere in her family dynamics but feel that we have reached that tipping point where I can’t take another year of the pain this inflicts on me and the depression and self-doubt it causes. I see the kids now furious at her for playing these sulking games and (in their words) “choosing her mother’s feelings over theirs”.


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StayWithMe

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Re: Tipping-point
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2019, 12:35:34 AM »
I don't have much sympathy for your wife.  She is a wife and a mother as well as a daughter.  So she deprived 3 people of healthy relationships of significant proportions.

When my mother moved her mother to where my parents lied, my father had to put her out.  She refused to stop smoking while my parents were non smokers.  I heard from my mother's friend that she openly defied m parents by smoking on the staircase which faces my parents' bedroom.  I think it's interesting that I didn't hear this from my mother.

I am wondering when as a society that we will stop giving people undying deference and priority when they so actively don't deserve it.  I hope that your children are old enough to make sense of their unfortunate relationship with their mother and grandmother.

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notrightinthehead

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Re: Tipping-point
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2019, 06:55:33 AM »
While I am all for respecting the life choices an adult makes, they do have consequences.  Some of them unpleasant.  So far, your wife's choices on how she deals with her mother seem to have had not been met with resistance from your side.  And now you have reached a point where you need to have some changes.  How about you start implementing some boundaries. For example, you could say, mother in law can stay for 2 weeks. After that she has to move to a hotel. If not, you and the kids will find alternative accommodation. Or you could tell your wife, if she screams and smashes doors, she is free do so, but you and the kids will not stick around to watch that spectacle. Or you will call the police out of fear for the safety of the kids and yourself.
Maybe it is time for you to take some time out and have a good think about what kind of behaviour you are willing to accept and what not. Then decide what you will do when the undesirable behaviour happens and implement it without fail. That way, you would be modelling adult, responsible behaviour for your wife. With time, she might pick up on it and use it when she deals with her mother.  But even when she does not, your kids will learn that they do not have to accept every transgression of boundaries, that they can stand up for themselves in a healthy way.
Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.  Nelson Mandela

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user19570

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Re: Tipping-point
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2019, 09:13:16 PM »

Thanks for your responses.

I agree with what you say about my part in establishing boundaries and it pains me that I did not take a firmer position in our relationship from the beginning, but love is blind and I genuinely felt I could slowly help her overcome many of the behaviors. At this stage, it has had a major impact on me and after a breakdown and a T that helped me see it all a bit more clearly, I do not have the mental strength to stand up to her in even a relatively small thing like talk about her behavior, let alone boundaries around them.

We pulled things together again last year after her mother left and our relationship was once again the cause for her sorrow, anger and not being able to be with her mother anymore, and that at least felt like we got somewhere and the kids started opening up and looking happy again. Unfortunately with her mother visiting again, that has all been undone and in her eyes she sees the kids and I as just out to make her mother's time with us as unpleasant as possible and not caring that she may not have many more years left...

The hurt and pain she inflicts is tremendous, coming from the person I hold closest to me, but like her mother, she does it because we are the close family and are expected to be there to take it. We do. The kids and I are stoic and keep those feelings or betrayal and pain inside.

The fact that my wife has resorted to ignoring and avoiding the kids and I (in the same house) since her mother left has really hurt us and in some way re-framed where she prioritises her mother and her own feelings.

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StayWithMe

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Re: Tipping-point
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2019, 11:45:02 PM »
Now, I'm curious, what other options does your therapist put on the table for you.  My mother is a harridan so I keep her out of my life.  I don't think her influence on me helped my first marriage.

Some people will say that you should put the family that you created first. 

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user19570

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Re: Tipping-point
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2019, 12:31:35 AM »
I agree that in my eyes, I feel my immediate family (and their mental well-being) come first, then related family, but not at the expense of the immediate family.

I genuinely think that is how she feels and even thinks she is acting, whereas she is really now trying to develop a closer relationship with her mother; one she never had because of the abuse, neglect, perpetual shame and guilt. I think she desperately needs her mother to show that approval and pride, yet I think her mother knows that and is playing with that weakness.

(An aside, but to put her childhood into context; her mother always kept large dogs (rottweilers or german shepherds) and trained them to protect her and follow her commands. She also treated the dogs better than the children, establishing a pack order where the dogs were at least equal to her father, and above the children. The dogs would dictate (allow) the children near the mother, or on the furniture, if the mother allowed it, but she would also at times allow the dogs to threaten and bite the family... then laugh and act as though it was a funny little mishap.)

On the T options covered, here are the main ones we put forward:

a) support & communication. I focus on addressing the 50% that I can control, irrespective of the way she behaves and aim through that to counter the overall mood in the household and encourage more open communication. I like that idea and would prefer this approach. but I also know that we cannot have any conversation that is about her or could in any way be construed as being critical. We don't have open communication, we have carefully managed communication.

b) define the boundaries. As with the above, if I felt I could have a constructive talk with her to define what is acceptable and where those lines are, I would. I just don't have the mental strength to open up such a can of worms and over the years, we (the kids and I) have learned that during an episode you cannot hold any position without it escalating significantly, and once she's calmed down (usually next day) you cannot broach that topic at all, or is will start again.

c) distance. I either take some temporary time away to give myself time to regroup my thinking and get Out of the FOG, or I commit to making it a permanent move. At this stage I think this is the only one that is realistic. It is not easy, given the complications of shared mortgage, kids (one in final year of high school), pets and the sheer costs associated with any kind of physical separation.

My T also suggested for me to address the learned helplessness, self-doubt through counseling or clinical hypnotherapy.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2019, 12:33:36 AM by user19570 »