"His Mother Is Tearing Us Apart"

Will John and Kathy's marriage be able to survive his out-of-control mother?
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Her Turn

"She's Constantly Trying to Drive a Wedge Between Us"

"My mother-in-law is the most demanding, intrusive, and irrational woman I've ever known," said Kathy, 34, a third-grade teacher from Baltimore who has been married for five years and has two young daughters, Julia, 2, and Emily, 14 months.  

"Barbara is a troublemaker. She has always been jealous of my relationship with her son, and she's constantly trying to drive a wedge between us. If John doesn't return her calls promptly, she blames me. She thinks I withhold her messages, but in fact John is slow to call back because their relationship is so troubled. What's more, Barbara expects to be included in all family events. And she doesn't make it easy to be with her: She becomes indignant if we decline her dinner invitations, acts defensive if we ask her not to smoke in front of the girls, and goes ballistic if we ask her not to bring her dog over. She's a nightmare, and the sad truth is, she's tearing us apart.

"I've called John 'two-faced' because he criticizes Barbara behind her back but won't stand up to her in person. He calls me a nag if I encourage him to have more contact with her. If he phoned every week instead of once a month, maybe she'd be less difficult.

"If only John and I could communicate better. I let my anger build until I can't take it anymore, and then I dump on him. He screams and takes out his frustrations by pounding furniture or throwing things. Afterward, he'll give me the silent treatment and sleep on the couch until he has cooled off. We're so angry with each other that I can't even remember the last time we made love.

Their Background

"I grew up in a blue-collar family, the youngest of six children. Dad worked in construction; Mom was a homemaker. When I was a toddler, my 5-year-old sister drowned in a neighbor's pool, and her death changed the family. Mom coped by going to church every day, Dad by drinking too much. He was verbally abusive to my mother, and their fights kept me awake at night. My siblings quarreled a lot, too, but I got along with everybody. I was the one who was always trying to 'fix' everyone else's relationships.

"I met John when I was 26. He tended bar at the restaurant where I was a waitress. I had just graduated from college and was job hunting; he was a graduate student in architecture. I was drawn to his classic good looks -- wavy black hair, deep brown eyes, a chiseled jaw, and a sexy smile. On our first date, a picnic in a park, John and I discovered how much we had in common: We each had had less-than-ideal upbringings, were the first in our families to attend college, and enjoyed hiking, camping, and biking.

"John was more worldly, intelligent, and witty than the other guys I'd dated. But what I liked best about him was his ability to discuss his feelings. He told me that his grandparents raised him until he was in ninth grade, when his mother reentered his life. His father wasn't in the picture at all. 'Mom is crazy,' John said. 'Our relationship is on again off again, and right now it's off.' I was touched by his candor. He was the first man with whom I shared my family secrets, and I confessed how scared I was by my father's alcoholic rages.

Continued on page 2:  Her Turn, continued


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