I Feel Stupid Competing with my MIL

Question: Dear Luise: I hope this is not the most stupid or awkward question you ever got. I am an Indian, and in India we live in joint families which means once I am married we live as a whole family with my in laws. My MIL is wonderful and I love her to death, my husband has never seen his dad, and his mom means the world to him. My husband has a weird relation with his mom, we have been in Dallas, TX for the last 4 years and my MIL is in India. He talks to her almost everyday, if not at least 3 times a week. Now my MIL is coming to visit us, and the last time she did visit us she looked great, she had lost all this weight and she had a whole makeover. And this time for some stupid reason I am SUPER nervous, & insecure. I want to look the best ever, I want to like lose the 15 lbs I have always wanted to. And I feel it’s so STUPID… I am competing with my MIL…. Please help, I don’t know why am I feeling like that, and what can I do? S.

Dear S. I doubt that there is such a thing as a stupid question. At least I haven’t seen one in the years I have had my website. Whatever we are struggling with is of substance or we wouldn’t be struggling with it.

Your MIL was your husband’s first love. I remember when my DIL finally told me that when she met me and saw my son and me together…she said to herself, “OK, I can be number two!” We both laugh about it now but she was pretty intimidated by the depth of our relationship. (If you go to my home page and read my bio, there’s a picture of us together there…he’s my Webmaster.)

The answer is that there can be two Number Ones. Your MIL had and still has her place in your husband’s life and heart but you are just as important in a different way. You could never give him what she did, which was life and a safe and loving upbringing but you can give him what she can’t, which is a life partner…someone to parent with and grow old with.

He’s no longer her “little boy.” They both have a memory of that but to continue in the adult world they must move past it to being friends and equals…(sometimes not an easy transition.) She is his past and present…you are his present and future. Perhaps jealousy is normal. Why not? Both of you hold him in deep regard, and he feels the same way. What causes pathology is the need for exclusivity in either mother or wife…or worse yet, both. In the ensuing battle for supremacy, the guy often has to choose and usually it’s all down hill from there.

What I was impressed with in your question was your ability to see yourself so clearly. Do you know how rare that is? We can usually work our way through anything we can define and confront. Denial is what messes with us and stops progress.

My son emails me daily and sometimes we Skype. It’s a stream of consciousness that keeps us current and feeling mutually supported. He lives in Hawaii and I live in Washington State, so email is a great puddle-jumper. His wife emails me as often and I get to have the daughter I never had. I keep my husband, who is 97, posted on everything that is going on with them, even though he can’t remember most of it for very long anymore.

Your husband wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his mother…but his life would probably be empty and without purpose without you. Take a deep breath and get how irreplaceable you both are and then l look in the mirror and laugh at and with yourself. You’re wonderful! Blessings, Luise

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