QUESTION: After a marriage of 10 years, I’m about to give up. My husband stops by his mother’s house on the way home from work. She has never liked me and even criticizes me to my face. She tells my husband things she doesn’t like about me and when he gets home he scolds me. By now, I guess I should be used to it, but I’m not.
We do not have children but we do have a couple of dogs we’re both fond of. What does one do with a mother-in-law who seems to constantly be causing trouble? My feeling is if I do leave and get a divorce, she’ll celebrate and she’ll win. Although I’ve seriously had it, I’m not certain about what I can and should do.
~ Bitter Wife
Dear Bitter Wife,
I sympathize with your situation and know that this type of triangulation in any relationship is unhealthy and it’s unfair to the one who feels ganged up on by the other two. It’s easy to be angry, feel victimized and react defensively. What’s not easy is to look deeper and see what is really going on, to search for what needs are being met by the behavior and find out how to address those for everyone concerned.
It is my belief that difficult situations are like the gravel in the oyster, there is a pearl forming, a pearl of wisdom for which some day you will be grateful. First, let me point out that despite your husband’s mother never liking you, your husband married you. So he does have a mind of his own. Trust that though your husband may feel caught between two very important women in his life he chose you.
I don’t recommend ultimatums in this situation. I recommend something that may be difficult for you to do but can be very powerful and transformative. I want you to take a few minutes everyday and send your mother-in-law love! If that feels too difficult try sending green light from your heart to hers whenever you think of her. Try to find some compassion for this woman who may be so unhappy and needy that she has to disparage another to feel good about herself. If you can get to a genuine place of love and forgiveness within yourself I guarantee circumstances outwardly will transform.
Jesus said love thine enemies, this is the love I am asking you to practice. Remember your mother-in-law’s words of criticism reflect on her and her lack of generosity. If she were deeply happy in her own life she could be more generous with her love. So don’t take her unkindness personally. As to your husband, I do believe when you do the work around his mother that you will see a change in him too. Their emotional make up and patterns may be similar and for now just be kind to him and again send him love whenever you think of him or are near him. Tell him you love him and that his unkind words hurt you. Keep your communication simple and from the heart; do not be drawn into an argument.
This is being very honest and vulnerable, but isn’t that what intimate relationships are all about? This situation is a wonderful opportunity for you to take control of your experience and just simply be and practice love no matter what others think, feel or say. When we don’t respond the way people expect us to and the drama cannot continue, we free others to look within and assess for themselves if they want to continue to act the way they are acting. Trust me, this can change your world and save your marriage.
Taking the high road is a challenge and in staying true to your goal of practicing unconditional love you will need a trusted friend to support you. Choose wisely as most people are quick to go the route of blaming and making people right and wrong. Find a spiritual counselor. If you find within six months that this route is not achieving the changes you wish then it may be time to take a different tactic. You will have to be the judge of what feels right.
Always remember you are worthy of deep and lasting love, but you must be and practice that love first. You will find that giving love feels just like receiving it. Astounding but true; try it and see for yourself.
Dear Bitter Wife,
There are two ways of looking at this. First, you have a right to be happy. You have a right to be appreciated. You have the right not to be bullied or unfairly criticized and belittled at the hands of anyone. Most especially from those you love, and who should love, support and respect you, it’s hard when we see ourselves as the victim of an unfairness to see any other possible solution than what appears the most readily obvious. Namely, leaving that situation.
But I sense a reluctance to go, quite possibly because you do love your husband. So you have a clear choice: to go or to stay. Each has its own challenges. If you decide to stay there are two things you can do. The one is pro-active, the other is spiritual.
The pro-active choice involves seeing a family mediator. I have seen miracles wrought through the process of mediation that is the result of just being able to talk it out with the other person in a safe environment. A trained and licensed mediator is fair and impartial. He or she helps all parties to get the core divisive issues on the table in a non-threatening way and sees that both parties deal with them in a positive, respectful and fully open manner until a mutually crafted solution or resolution is achieved. This may even be a great process to have your mother-in-law go through with you. Just something to think about.
The other is a spiritual approach. Ernest Holmes once said that life reflects back to us what we think into it. This being the case, all we need to do to change a situation outside of us is to change our thinking about it inside of us. Once we change it in our minds, the outer reality of our experience changes to match our thinking; i.e. to match our consciousness or belief about it.
Affirmations are a great way to make these changes. Here is one you can try: “I am respected, honored, loved and cared for by my family. I respect, honor, love and care for them. Our relationship is always one of perfect harmony, goodness and happiness.”
Yes, it may feel odd, even ridiculous, at first saying this because what you have experienced in the past has not reflected this. But say it often anyway, and especially whenever you feel challenged. You will begin to see little eye-opening positive changes and, with continuing persistence, you will eventually see the changes and the good you desire for your happiness.
Anthony Kelson, RScP
QUESTION: One of my best friends, whom I’ve known for over 40 years, just passed away. His family decided not to have a memorial service. In this past year, I’ve experienced this with two other friends who have passed on. Perhaps because I was raised with always having a service for the deceased that I’m sad about there not being services for these people. I believe there should be [a service] so family and friends can have closure.
Although a small group of us got together to celebrate our friend’s life, it’s not the same as having a nice service with a member of the clergy, music and sharing.
What do you think a family should do when one of their loved ones passes?
~ Sad Friend
Dear Sad Friend,
Well, given the field I’m in, I think there should always be a funeral or memorial service. Such a service gives people a chance to mourn and may help toward acceptance and closure. But there have been people in my own congregation who have opted not to have a service. And if no service is what the remaining loved ones want, we as a church can’t “force” the bereaved to have a service.
I think we are going through a very “unreligious” time in our culture, a time when even some of the religious don’t want to be an “inconvenience” to others when they die. I wish more people saw the value of a funeral or a memorial service, but right now the “zeitgeist” or spirit of the times is anti-service and I believe such a feeling is related to the anti-religious climate of our times.
I’m sorry, and I agree with you. But you and I are currently in a minority position, and I think we simply have to get used to the fact that our times are not like our parents’ times. And more is the pity.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman,
Dear Sad Friend,
I believe you are correct. The funeral is not called a life cycle event for nothing. When life is over and a soul has departed, a moment is called for to reflect on the life of the loved one, what s/he meant to this person and that person, his/her family, friends, the world around. The accomplishments of the person are brought out as well and what the sum of this life was as a whole.
People need to share anecdotes and stories with each other, thereby having one final opportunity to know this person a little better.
Jewish tradition around death and burial has very prescribed, well thought out and practical ways of honoring the deceased, supporting the loved ones left behind and bringing all present to a better place.
After the funeral, which is prescribed to happen in no more than 72 hours after the death of a person, usually the group joins the family at one of the family homes. Then for seven days and nights (excluding holidays and the Sabbath), the family stays at that home with their door open to visitors. The community comes with foods for the family and to share.
There is an agreement as to when the service will take place in the evening. All are informed and when at least 10 are there to support the mourners, the evening service is recited together as a community so that the mourners can say the special prayer that they are obligated to recite on behalf of the deceased, the mourner’s kaddish. This prayer can only be recited in community, as the mourners need to feel their presence while they recite.
When a person dies, losses occur, worlds change. These losses must be acknowledged and felt. If they are not, they become part of the un-experienced emotions that reside inside and come out in more unhealthy ways like disease, overeating, taking drugs and possible hiding from life altogether.
Too bad that the wisdom of these practices is not more widely observed. We have only each other to comfort in times of sorrow. The world is so much more kind when we are “there” for one another.
Rabbi Janet Bieber