"He Lets His Mother Rule Our Lives and I'm Sick of It"

Listen in as one real-life couple works through a major crisis in their relationship with the help of a marriage therapist.
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THE COUPLE

Kim: 32, stay-at-home mom
Rob: 41, real-estate developer
Married: 5 years
Kids: Nick, 2; Dylan, 1

THE COUNSELOR

Martin Novell, Los Angeles, California

THE BACKGROUND

Kim thinks her mother-in-law is too intrusive and demanding. She wants Rob to set firm boundaries. Rob insists his mom is just old-fashioned. He wants Kim to show her more respect. They can't stop arguing about it.

KIM

Rob won't say no to his mother and it's driving me insane. She shows up unannounced all the time and is always interfering. She asks me incredibly personal questions -- "How much do you spend on clothes each month? What medications are you taking? When's the last time you made my son his favorite chicken dish?" -- and if I complain to Rob, he tells me I'm being too sensitive. On top of that she insists we have a family dinner at her house every Tuesday, and he gets annoyed if I want to make other plans. Since we've had children, the situation has gotten totally out of hand. She'll call and say, "I want to come see my grandchildren tomorrow at noon." When I remind her that it's their nap time and ask her to come in the morning or late afternoon, she'll say, "Let me check my schedule." Then she'll call Rob and insist that noon tomorrow is the only time she can make it, and he'll say, "Come on over. The boys can nap some other time." He's not the one who has to deal with them when they're cranky and exhausted from having their schedule disrupted! But when I get mad, he accuses me of being inflexible and of being disrespectful to his mom.

Well, nobody seems to respect me, including my husband. I feel like I always come second with him. We've been arguing about this stuff more and more, and his mother has picked up on the tension. A few weeks ago, on the phone, she told me, "Rob works so hard. You need to stop stressing him out." I snapped at her, saying she was a big part of the problem, and she called Rob and said I'd been really rude. That led to a huge fight between Rob and me, and I wound up spending three days at my parents' house with the kids. Rob got me to come home by promising he'd speak to his mother, but he never followed through. We're barely talking to each other now, and when we do it turns into a screaming match.

ROB

I love Kim but I don't feel I should have to choose between loyalty to her and to my mom. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Both of our parents immigrated from Iran and Kim and I were both raised in the United States, but my parents are a lot more old-fashioned than hers. In Iran it's traditional for the husband's mother to play a major role in his household. The daughter-in-law is supposed to defer to her. I don't ask Kim to do that, but I wish she could be a little more accommodating. She comes from a family where you're free to do and say whatever you want. In my family that kind of attitude is considered shocking.

KIM

Come on! He's making it sound like I'm rude and out of control when all I'm doing is standing up for myself. When I first met Rob, I thought he was an enlightened, modern guy. Before we got married we agreed that we wanted a relationship based on equality and mutual support. That's what my parents taught me to value, and I thought he felt the same way. But it turns out that he really wants things to be like they were for our parents, back in Iran. He was brought up to think that the husband is the boss, the husband's mother is sacred, and the wife is there to make everybody else's lives easier.

ROB

That's not what I think! But I do think it's important to respect your elders. That has nothing to do with being Americanized or non-Americanized. And Kim doesn't seem to appreciate that I work 60-hour weeks to make life easier for her. I hate it when I come home tired after a long day and she starts whining, "You've got to do something about your mother!"

Frankly, I'm not a confrontational person, with my mother or anyone else. To me it's easier to say yes and make some adjustments than to risk hurting the other person's feelings.

KIM

I'm usually very polite to Rob's mom. I answer her prying questions even when I want to tell her to mind her own business. I don't snap at her when she comes over and wakes up the kids right after I've gotten them settled down. But if I say, "I'd prefer that you didn't do that," she'll call Rob and claim that I'm disrespectful. And the worst thing is that Rob always believes what she says. He apologizes for my behavior instead of standing up for me.

ROB

One thing Kim never considers is how my parents see her -- as someone who's making life tough for their son. My dad's upset about it, too. He was talking about helping us buy a house, but now he's having second thoughts.

KIM

Look, I'm not going to kiss up to anyone for money. I'd rather be broke and independent than let somebody else tell me how to run my life. That's not good for me as a person and it's not good for us as a couple.

ROB

I'm not saying Kim has to let my mother control her life. I just want the two women I care about most to at least be able to get along.

KIM

Until Rob tells his mom to back off, that's not going to happen.

Continued on page 2:  The Counselor's Turn

 

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