To be worried about MIL(13 Posts)
Mil and Fil have been married 40 years and have a son (who I am married to) and daughter, who they see rarely and have a difficult relationship with. Fil is 15 years older than Mil and they married when she was 18 and he was 33.
Now Fil is in his late 70s, fit and well. Everyone sees him as a big cuddly man, but I have always found him grumpy and rude.
Lately Mil has confided some things in me which have worried me. Things like how he doesn't allow her financial access and moans if she asks for money to buy anything. He doesn't like her doing anything without him and will use emotional manipulation if see tries to do anything. They hardly leave the house and it's making mil depressed but she doesn't know what to do. Her sister invited her to stay but he wouldn't allow her and cried when she tried to go. He also accused her of wanting to go to talk about him with others and seems paranoid that she bad mouths him. She says he won't leave her alone, even if she has a shower he stands in the bathroom. He has always been controlling but it ramped up after he retired and had nothing in his life but her. He publicly jokes about her, everyone else laughs along... Things like the outdated wife/sexist crap which I think people excuse because of his age. He is also snappy with her and occasionally shouts.
She doesn't want to leave him but is unhappy. My DH has a difficult relationship with both of them and I am closer to his mum than him, and I don't know how to advise her. I feel I have to tread carefully because she is defensive of him in the most, but I feel like she is telling me these things because she wants help. Wwyd?
I guess because he is all she has ever known and despite his behaviour she does love him and reasons that some of his behaviour comes from a place of love and over protectiveness.
That’s not over protectiveness it’s awful controlling behaviour.
Yes I know that, but I'm not sure she fully sees that. Or of she even wants to see it...
I think you have to give her some information & then let her make her own decisions.
Be careful tho. He might ramp up control...isolate her more, etc.
There are probably very good reasons his children have issues.
Talk to Women's Aid.
Poor bloody woman, what a nightmare for her. She’s damned either way. The prospect of starting again in your 60s after a marriage that’s consumed your entire adult life must be terrifying. I can completely see why she doesn’t want to leave.
Not a lot you can do sadly if she's not prepared to leave him.
Yeah I don't think her leaving is an option she would consider but that she confided in me shows she knows it's not right. It's hard because I rarely get her alone to talk, even on the phone he listens in or makes her use the speaker.
I think the reason she has told you is she realises it's not right - that's a good first step
Can you talk to her about different kinds of abuse and maybe show her some stuff online from women's aid? About financial abuse and control etc
I guess if she doesn't want to leave yet then there's not much you can do but support her, and listen to her, and let your house be an escape for her.
If she ever did want to leave she would need a lot of practical and emotional and possibly financial help. I guess she wouldn't ever have done anything for herself - made any decisions, paid a bill or anything as she was so young when they married, she has never had the chance to act as a normal adult and it must be completely overwhelming. What would you be prepared to do to help her leave? Could she stay with you for a bit? Would you help her find somewhere new to stay etc
Honestly, as soon as I saw the ages they were when they were married at the top of your post I was bracing for him to be controlling.
This is coercive control, and if she's been subjected to it since she was a teenager there will be a huge amount of brainwashing/conditioning in play here.
Do not try to tell her what to do or think or feel about it. Ask questions to get her thinking herself, and maybe reflect non-judgementally to give her space to open up (e.g. If she describes an incident "oh, I'd be really upset if that happened to me... How are you feeling about it?")
Don't criticise him, because she'll most likely pour her energy into defending him rather than having space to reflect on what you've said. It will probably also make her feel judged ("well, if DIL thinks he's so awful she must not think much of me for marrying him...").
There is a useful page on the Women's Aid website about how to support someone who is in an abusive relationship (which is what this is - it's coercive control).
It is very, very common for domestic abuse to escalate like this when the abuser retires.
You can't fix this for her, or fly in and save her, which I know is hard. Aim to be someone she can trust and rely upon, and to keep communication open - because abusers work hard to isolate.
If you increase your own knowledge of how coercive control works - the dynamics driving it, rather than a list of symptomatic behaviours to spot - it will help you to support her.
Women's Aid can help with that, but so can the Freedom Programme. You don't have to be in an abusive relationship to go on their courses. They are information not therapy, and open to all women.
If you ever reached a point where she might be receptive to attending the Freedom Programme herself, it could be what helps her find a way to cope or free herself. They will never tell her to leave him (and nor should you) and they won't judge her.
If you had attended the course yourself, it would possibly be an easier way to raise it with her in the future - "I went on this interesting course, I wondered if you might find it useful..." Kind of thing.
When I started the course the first time (and I was in an abusive relationship) I didn't understand why I had been referred to them or why I was there. I was convinced it wasn't relevant to me and was all a big misunderstanding. And then I listened and realised they were describing my life. Which was a huge shock - and some women aren't ready to hear it yet and don't come back to finish the course until much later, if at all. So be prepared for that.
But they said at the beginning they weren't telling us what to do or to think, and they weren't judging us or our relationships - they just wanted to share information with us so we could see if any of it was useful and then decide for ourselves what to do with it.
That's how it needs to be framed for your MIL too. She's lived her whole adult life with someone controlling her, so she will be very tuned in to any experience of other people seeming to do the same. You need to be different. You need to be someone who is not telling her what to do - either explicitly or manipulatively.
Show her that away from him, things would be different. But be aware, if you've lived that much of your life being controlled and prevented from learning how to be independent, the idea of existing in the world alone and without control to contain you can be absolutely terrifying and insurmountable. She may never feel able to leave, and may miss him and return if she does.
All of these things are normal reactions to abuse.
You can speak to Women's Aid in 0808 2000 247
Do you have support yourself for coping with this?
Is it possible to talk to her sister about this. If this has been going on all her married and has become worse of late, then her confiding in you is a cry for help. Assuming, the sister knows her better than you perhaps she can help.
That's the link for the part of the Women's Aid website I referred to above.
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