Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mother Shit

I just returned from our marriage counsellor. The funny thing with marriage counselling is that I go into the session thinking I want to talk about one thing...and we end up talking about something else entirely. I wonder how much of the things that drive me crazy would go completely unrecognized if I didn't have an hour to fill every second week. And would that make me happier? Or ultimately drive me mad...
In any case, we ended up talking about my husband's family. These people are crazy. The kind of crazy that looks, at first glance, like normal. As in, "I can't believe how nice your family is. They're so...sane." That's what I said to my husband the first time I had dinner with his family. Compared to my family of alcoholics and artists (often the same thing), his family seemed like the Brady Bunch. The kind of people who could wrap up any dilemma in a half-hour, including commercials. Admittedly I wasn't exactly great at recognizing "sane" having never seen it up close in my entire life. I was, however, an optimist. And completely unversed in dysfunction that wasn't readily apparent. Alcoholics at least offer up the advantage that they're clearly crazy. Drinking vodka at 8 a.m. out of a coffee mug is hard to ignore.
But then I got to know my husband's family. And it slowly (I mean s-l-o-w-l-y...over years and years) became clear that these people were dangerously crazy. For years, I thought it was me. Growing up with alcoholics made me something of an expert in accepting blame for pretty much anything that has been/is/might go wrong. So I took the blame...something my husband was happy to facilitate. I was too sensitive. I tried too hard. Expected too much. Didn't have a sense of humor. Couldn't just accept people. I worried too much. And on and on.
So I spent a decade trying to dance on broken glass while juggling plates over my head and trying not to get hurt. And I failed miserably every single time.
And then came the day when I learned of my husband's affair. I curled into a ball and shut out as much of the world as I could. I had noticed how much his affair partner (the one I knew about at that time) was like his mother: cold, critical, cruel. Fat. (Immature of me, I know. But she was!) And yet, like with his mother, he couldn't seem to extricate himself from her though he could barely stand to be in the same room as her.
All Freudian analysis aside, it was a bizarre situation that ultimately gave me the freedom to distance myself from my husband's mother. I allowed myself to lick my wounds, free from her criticism and cruelty. (I had said to my husband that, given my fragile emotional state, he took his chances putting the two of us in the same room. His desire to keep her ignorant of his adultery overshadowed his desire to be the dutiful son with the dutiful wife.) And though much of my life sucked at that time, the fact that she was only marginally in it was a bright spot.
Fast forward to today:
My husband, having since confessed a sex addiction that he and a band of supporting psychologists/psychiatrists agree is rooted in his mother's cruelty, criticism and ultimately non-existent nurturing, wants me to spend "Family Day" (a fabricated Canadian holiday that most families seem to spend trying to find childcare for their children) with his mother.
Wha??? I want to scream. This isn't, of course, the first time he's asked me to bury the hatchet...and not in her back, though that's an invitation I might accept.
My incredulity comes from the fact that, in my estimation, he allowed her to bully and badger me for years, has asked me to accept her poor mothering as the catalyst for an addiction that brought me to my knees, and now just wants us all to get along. And by "get along" he means allowing her to behave like a petulant toddler while the rest of us sigh and chalk it up to, "well...that's just mom."
As I'm forever writing on this blog, I know I'm in charge of my own emotions...and expecting him to change simply because I don't like this part of him is an exercise in futility. The relationship between a child and his/her mother is a complex one, frequently more complex the deeper the dysfunction.
Unfortunately though, this feels like yet another abandonment by him in a relationship marked by abandonment. Yeah, yeah...the past is the past. I know. But when the past keeps on sneaking up on me and biting me in the ass, then it quickly becomes the present. And I would prefer a present in which my husband stops sacrificing me on the alter of his mother.
I've been sacrificed quite enough, thank-you.


  1. Great stuff Elle. Thanks for the follow. There is this great blog to add to your links we love. :)
    And here is a toast to kicking infidelity's ass. You go.

  2. are you and I long lost sisters with twin husbands?? seriously....

    1. I think there's a lot of us sisters out there! :)


    2. I know this post is old, but it left me open-mouthed. I, the product of an emotionally and physically abusive father and regular screaming matches between my parents. When I met my WH, I was amazed at his “Leave It To Beaver” family, as I called it. Of course, he was the one who turned out to be a lying, cheating coward. Now, post-discovery and post-lots of therapy, I’ve come to the realization that his family was/is way more toxic than mine. Selfish, gaslighting mother and all. Which I had not seen coming at all. I guess when you’re an expert at making a beautiful facade...

      Have you made any progress on this issue in recent years? Any pearls of wisdom? Have spent a lot of time in IC and MC learning boundaries and accepting him being him (minus the lying/cheating part), but his lack of initiative in ending his mother’s manipulation has been a huge issue for me. I try to stay in involved and set firm personal boundaries, but it seems whenever she manipulates him, it never fails to impact us as a family (we also have a child).

    3. Sayonara,
      My husband began to set his own boundaries with his mother, mostly because of being in therapy and finally recognizing just how toxic his family was. I created a relationship with his mother and the rest of the family based entirely on what I wanted/when I wanted it. I no longer did anything out of a sense of duty. My husband had little choice but to accept that.
      And it worked. My mother-in-law occasionally tried to guilt my husband into certain behaviour but my husband could recognize it for what it was. And he and I were able to respond as a team rather than fighting over it. Still drove me crazy sometimes. And then, when my mother-in-law got sit, my husband fell back into the "she's not so bad" camp, which I completely understand. She died not long after she got sick and I was able to support my husband through it because he'd come to a "yeah, she was toxic but she was my mom" conclusion.'s really up to your husband to get completely clear on the dynamics in his own family and how that's affected him and, therefore, you and your child. If he won't do that, then you can't convince him. Is he in therapy? Sounds like he needs it.

    4. Oops, my post should read, “I try to stay uninvolved.” Thank you, Elle, for sharing your experience (and also for making this blog to begin with). Yes, he is in individual therapy. He’s still often in the “she’s not so bad” camp without her being ill -makes excuses for her behavior, etc. But our therapist has to remind me sometimes that I am further down this road than he is, having been in my own therapy for a couple years before D-Day. And he’d never realized anything was wrong, where I’d always actively strove to be unlike my parents and free from their control. (Ironically, the silver lining in this is that I’ve begun to really appreciate that my parents communicated directly with one another, albeit in unhealthy ways.) I guess it’s a work in progress...

  3. Maybe the opposite type of mother can be as bad. I had the MIL who thought the sun shone out of her son, not her daughter as women didn't count. The kind who totally obsesses over every detail of her son's life and who would have laid down her life for the male members of her family. During the start of my husband's initial affair with his ex girlfriend I was working very long hours, studying for an advanced degree and looking after our daughter while he absorbed himself in his sports and hobbies. His mother had to be at our house every weekend without fail and I had to be the dutiful daughter in law, any attempt to discuss this met with a brick wall. She has been gone for many years now but I still feel resentful and consider her to be part of our growing apart. My mother and family background was complicated and haphazard but at least I was free from pressure or emotional blackmail.

    1. Anon,
      Absolutely. A lot of posters on this site note that their MIL blame them for pushing their beloved sons into affairs. Incredible, huh? Any dysfunctional parent can wreak all sorts of havoc.
      I hope you've taken this opportunity though to recognize how you've bought into their family dysfunction by over-functioning (advanced degree while raising kids and working??) and allowing him to under-function. Time for him to grow up and for you to relinquish some control and learn self-care. It's hard (really hard. I speak from experience) but I promise you much of the resentment will dissipate once you begin putting your own needs at the top of the list. Self-care isn't about being selfish -- it's about keeping yourself safe and not agreeing to things that make you feel resentful. Simple, once you get the hang of it. Not to mention, you're modelling really important skills for your own daughter.


  4. This is why my in-laws will not be told. MIL would probably find a way to blame me for my husband's porn addiction and real-world cheating.


  5. That's funny, I've never been really close to my in-laws until we moved across country to be near them after my h's affair with a woodchuck. My in-laws were on my side and told my h to find a way to fix what he broke. I guess I'm lucky where that is concerned.



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