The Ex And The Mother-In-Law

12 Sep

Friends and FamilyDear LetterBalm: My husband and I were married for 15 years and had three kids before he had a long affair with a former colleague several years ago. When I found out, it almost wrecked our marriage. It took a lot of therapy and tears, but I forgave my husband, and he hasn’t seen the woman again. But she’s kept in close contact with my mother-in-law since the affair. My mother-in-law knows this is hurtful to me, but she continues to welcome the woman into her home and spend time with her (but stopping short of holidays and family gatherings). My husband has talked with his mother and asked her to curb the friendship, but she shows no sign of doing so. She mentions the woman at every opportunity and seems to revel in my discomfort. What can I say to her to make her stop?


What kind of relationship have you had with your mother-in-law throughout your marriage? Has she always taken such cruel glee in making your uncomfortable? It’s one thing if she and your husband’s former flame develop a friendship; it’s quite another that she parades it in your face. You can’t control friendships, so don’t try to figure them out. Perhaps your mother-in-law is genuinely fond of this woman and regards her as a stand-in for you. Perhaps she wishes her son had married this person. Yes, these are painful thoughts. But consider that you and your husband have remained together, and he is loyal to you. In essence, you have won. Ms. L.B. advises a tactic that is difficult but effective (and, therapy may help): Don’t react when your mother-in-law brings up the woman. Be cheerful, change the subject and be unfailingly kind to her – your true thoughts about her remain private. Your husband’s mother is an emotional bully. Disarm her with your disinterest. She can’t reach you if you don’t react. Work up a few benign statements modeled along these lines:

  • How lovely that you’ve been able to do some traveling/go to lunch in the city/do whatever with Aggie, Mildred. The weather has been perfect for this, hasn’t it? Now, about dinner. How can I help?
  • So Aggie and you had brunch in your garden? Well, I must say it is a beautiful place. Your hard work and talent have made it so. Thank you for having us over today for a barbecue. I won’t be able to take my eyes off your rhododendron bushes.
  • So you and Aggie have joined a gym? Tom and I have recently begun tennis lessons. Can you imagine at our age? But it’s never too late to start a new sport.
  • You and Aggie cook together? Well, I hope she can keep up with you, Mildred. You yourself have said that I’m a good cook, but even I find you’re way ahead of me – your silver cake, as just one example.

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