Question: Dear Luise: My ex-mother-in-law is driving me crazy. I was either dating or married to her son for 15 years and we have three children together. We have been divorced for 3 years and he has been remarried for a year and a half. My ex MIL and I grew closer over the years, but as a result, she now confides in me about everything regarding my ex. I get a blow-by-blow account of every move they make, and am now spending sleepless nights due to her constantly telling me how badly the new wife wants a baby. To make things worse, I’ve never met the woman and my ex is now deployed to Iraq for a year. My overbearing ex MIL is planning to bring the new wife town to meet my kids. I think this is something that the ex should have taken care of before he left, but that aside, I feel like this constant involvement in the details of their life is going to drive me completely nuts. I’m reluctant to express this to my ex MIL as she is a bit unstable and has a tendency to cause a lot of ruckus in the family when she is upset. Please help! Ex-DIL
Answer: Dear E. It seems to me that your last sentence defines your position. People like that may appear very helpless but they often control those around them with an iron fist because everyone fears setting them off.
Since you two became close in spite of your ex-MIL’s limitations, I think your only chance is to tell her that you “NEED HER HELP.” Explain that you simply can’t deal with any more data about your ex or his new wife. Tell her that you want to continue to be friends with her but you will have to keep them out of your conversations. Let her know that you want to share news of your kids with her and to hear what’s going on in her life over and beyond the two who are taboo.
In addition, perhaps you might want to make it clear that you feel your ex should introduce his wife to her stepchildren. If she feels she must carry out that function, let her know that you do not want to be part of that occasion. You may need to tell her that you don’t see yourself as part of the “one, big, happy family” concept. If that were true, you wouldn’t be divorced.
You don’t have to explain why you are taking that stand. Just let her know that hearing about her son’s new life is too difficult for you. Best to refuse to get into it beyond that point or she will probably want to debate it with you, endlessly.
Tell her that you need to have her respect your request and that for your own well being you will have to end any and all conversations with her where those boundaries aren’t honored. Interrupt her and say something like, “I can’t do this, Mom…remember? Can we talk about something else? Otherwise I need to hang up, now.” And be sure to remind her, (over and over, if necessary), that it’s not about her, it’s about you.
Then, stick to it. If she thinks you don’t mean it, all is lost. Tell her it’s nothing personal, but you are too stressed to continue being privy to their lives. Let her know that it is actually none of your business and it’s already way past the time for you to move on and focus on your own life. Blessings, Luise