Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I’m At My Wits’ End With My Fiancé’s Mother”

From the forums:

villtremaine

I’m having serious issues with my future MIL. My fiancé and I are in the middle of wedding planning and my parents are paying for the entire thing (rehearsal dinner included), but FMIL threw a hissy fit saying she wanted to invite more guests, the food wasn’t right, etc.

Well, that finally just ended after my mom threatened to not invite her or the family. And recently now, my fiancé cannot go to Christmas Eve with them because he is working late, and she threw a fit about that, blamed me, and is now having all the relatives call us saying how upset and disappointed they are.

This has been an ongoing thing with issue after issue for the last year since we got engaged. I am at my wits’ end with her and I am about to tell her that, if she doesn’t stop this nonsense, she can say goodbye to her future grandkids. But I don’t know if I am being overly harsh or what I am supposed to do.

I have been cordial, I have sat down one-on-one with her, and my fiancé has sat down with her and tried to work out the issues, but it’s like a cycle of drama and pettiness now that I want to stop getting sucked into. My parents WOULD NEVER start this kind of crap. So any advice/experience would be great. — Already Tired of My FMIL


Your FMIL sounds very difficult, and she is no doubt trying to establish some control as her son prepares to marry and start his own family (regardless of whether or when you have kids, you two as a married unit will be a new family). I can imagine that, for some mothers, seeing their sons begin to prioritize another woman to the effect that they no longer come home for every holiday can be jarring and sad. Of course, YOU aren’t responsible for your fiancé not spending Christmas Eve with his family, but you and your FMIL and everyone else knows that at some point you will be at least partly responsible for a change in tradition or for your husband’s presence and attention to be elsewhere when it would normally be with his family/mother. That’s simply what happens when two people get married and suddenly have twice the extended family to accommodate as well as a desire to establish their own traditions and sometimes do their own thing. For a control-freak mother, which it sounds like your FMIL is, this new normal can be devastating. Too bad for her. And, unfortunately, too bad for you (and your fiancé).

So, what can you do to help smooth the transition and make life with your in-laws a little easier? Well, for one thing, you can cool it with the threats. Your mother threatening to disinvite the mother-of-the-groom to her own son’s wedding is AWFUL. Honestly, that sounds as awful as anything you’ve claimed your FMIL has done or said. And your threat to keep her away from future grandkids is really terrible, too. You don’t disinherit someone for life and keep her away from grandchildren because she’s throwing a few hissy fits as she fights to establish some semblance of control over something the other mother has 100% control over.

What you CAN do is establish some boundaries while also being inclusive in your wedding planning. I understand that your parents are paying for everything and so that entitles them to much more control and decision-making than anyone else, but that imbalance must feel particularly acute for the other set of parents, particularly for a control freak like your FMIL sounds to be, and particularly if they would also like to contribute to the wedding but either cannot afford to or were made to feel like a financial contribution from them wouldn’t be welcome. (I have no idea if this is the case, but if it is, it could explain the behavior.) At any rate, it would be a sign of good will if you gave your FMIL one or two small plans she could be in control of, like choosing a song for the mother-son dance, maybe picking out a guest book, and/or making a list of some combination of family members she’d love to have grouped together for professional photos, for example.

It sounds like your FMIL really wants to be a part of the planning. She’s digging her heels into the ground over things like the number of guests and the food because she’s trying to establish some kind of ownership over something, especially when your parents essentially get ownership over the whole shebang. Give her a few little things to be “in charge” of and she might relent a bit over the bigger things that shouldn’t be her concern.

Finally, speaking of whose concern is what, hand the reigns back to your fiancé when it comes to dealing with his mother and family. You shouldn’t be fielding heated phone calls from them or dealing directly with the hissy fits. All of that should be your financé’s job. When your FMIL calls you, let it go to voicemail. If she leaves a message that requires a response, tell your fiancé to reply to her. If she emails you, forward the email to your fiancé. If she calls or emails your mother, instruct her to forward those messages on as well. Establish NOW that your fiancé is the point-person when it comes to relations between his family and the family the two of you will be establishing, just as, I assume, you are the point-person between you two and your family.

If it turns out that your FMIL’s behavior is just the tip of the iceberg and nothing you do to try to ease this transition for her helps and she only gets nastier, THEN you may have some justification for withholding future grandkids from her. But I still wouldn’t make threats about people who don’t even exist yet. Your life with your in-laws is very, very new, and you don’t yet know where the road with them will lead or where the road toward parenthood will take you, either. There may be a point that their support is needed, and you don’t want to start alienating them now, before you have any idea what life a few years from now might be like.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

27 comments… add one
  • becboo84

    becboo84 December 21, 2015, 10:03 am

    Given that I have a very difficult relationship with my own mother, I tend to really empathize with LWs who are having challenges with either their mothers or MILs. However, LW, once your mother actually threatened your FMIL to disinvite her to the wedding, I really lost all sympathy for you, given that I assume you gave your mother your blessing in doing that. Totally unacceptable! Also, by the sounds of it, your own mother might be a little overbearing as well if she’s having that much control over the guest list.

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      SpaceySteph December 21, 2015, 10:13 am

      Yeah, that made me so uncomfortable when I read it in the forum, too. It does seem like the FMIL is being cut out of wedding planning completely because she isn’t ponying up the cash. What the mother did is completely inappropriate and that the LW approves of it is even worse. Like manipulative mother, like manipulative daughter.

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        Texas T December 21, 2015, 2:23 pm

        I am so happy that I am not in your situation. And no it was NOT the right thing to do in threatening your mother in law BUT I can understand it to a point. So people please dont bash her. Sometimes extreme situations invoke extreme responses. I think both she and FMIL probably know that they have over stepped. Maybe start fresh with her by giving her some things to do as Wendy said and then keep fiance as a point of contact. Kindness mixed with firmness usually does the trick.

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        SpaceySteph December 21, 2015, 3:08 pm

        Nothing in her letter indicates to me that she thinks she has overstepped. She’s thinking of upping the ante. So yes, I think a little bit of “bashing” if that’s what this is, is necessary, for the LW to understand that these outsized responses to her FMIL are making the situation worse, not better.

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        Ele4phant December 21, 2015, 3:43 pm

        Dude her *mother* threatened to disinvite the mother of the groom. Barring abuse, you just can’t disinvite the grooms parents, even if they’re being a huge pain in the ass. Why is her mother even inviting or disinviting people – even if she’s paying for it it’s not *her* wedding, she shouldn’t have that authority.

        And even though she didn’t do it *thinking* about threatening access to future grandchildren is way over the top and way vindictive. And like the LW could even do it, those kids will be just as much her husband’s as hers, she can’t unilaterally make decisions about who her children can and cannot see. Does her fiancé know what she and her mother have been up to?

        I don’t doubt that this mil has been a problem, but I doubt she’s the only weddingzilla with control issues in this situation.

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        Texas T December 21, 2015, 4:12 pm

        I am thinking if that threat got issued then fiance had to have given the ok. If not, and he had been my fiance threatening to cut out my family, I would just cut him out and throw a break up party.
        But they BOTH have overstepped. BOTH need to reign it in and play their roles and support the man they both love. Salt doesnt get you anywhere. Not with families and not when giving advice to a woman who is clearly stressed and had her boundaries stepped on.

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        Ele4phant December 21, 2015, 4:23 pm

        Agree to disagree, I think sometimes when you get advice that stings a little, it can stop you in your tracks and get you to take a good hard look at what you’ve been doing.

        And there’s a difference between advice that critical and constructive, and *advice* that’s just insults. I don’t think anyone has insulted the letter writer, just advice that is telling her she is way outta line.

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        Ele4phant December 21, 2015, 4:32 pm

        And if the mil wrote in, I think people would be just as firm as they are with the LW. As you say, they both seem to be out of line.

        But the MIL didn’t write in, the bride did.

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      • Monkeysmommy

        Monkeys mommy December 23, 2015, 6:49 pm

        My inlaws actually paid for our wedding, and my mil pretty much did the same thing- since my mom wasnt paying for the wedding (however, she was paying for the 3,000 cross country flights for my family, my dress, hair, makeup, ect), she got ZERO input. The wedding ended up being an extremely sore point, to the degree that my mom and MIL do not speak six years later.

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      Sketchee December 21, 2015, 11:17 pm

      I think one thing to be clear on, neither mother is in charge of the guest list. The LW and her fiance are. Sure they can delegate tasks, ultimately it is their wedding and their call. There may be some stipulations involving the financing, however those need to be reasonable. And ultimately it’s neither mother’s call, it’s the couples. =)

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  • avatar

    RedRoverRedRover December 21, 2015, 10:46 am

    Yet another reason why it’s better if you can pay for your own wedding. Seriously, it makes all of this so much easier, because then the mothers (or fathers) can see that it’s the two of you doing what you want, and not their “competition”. For our wedding we of course made some concessions to our parents, for things that we could do that weren’t a big deal. But we ran the show.
    .
    And as to withholding grandkids, that is a nuclear option. If you’re seriously at that point already, then I don’t know how you’re going to handle having to see this woman for the rest of your life. Which you’ll have to, unless your husband is ok with you cutting her out. And is he ok with you giving this threat to his mother? Have you even asked? Withholding grandkids should be for when the situation is physically dangerous for them (drugs, history of sex abuse or other physical abuse, etc), or emotionally dangerous (verbal abuse, extreme favouritism as we saw in another thread recently, etc). You don’t just do it because you’re sick of her trying to have some input on your wedding.
    .
    Calm down a bit, follow Wendy’s advice. Throw her a bone, and let your husband be the go-between. I wouldn’t suggest letting her group family for photos though, because if I’d let my MIL do that, we would have been there for hours. We would have had every extended family member in there. Don’t give her anything to do that could vastly increase time or money expenditures.

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  • avatar

    ron December 21, 2015, 11:58 am

    Basically what Wendy said and what I said on the forum.

    Wendy had an excellent list, which unfortunately I can’t point you to, of things to discuss with your future husband, before you decide to get married. I just sense that there are a lot of things you and he have yet to discuss and agree upon. Your letter shouts the need to discuss how the two of you deal with both sets of parents. Also there seem to be money issues. If your family has a lot more money than his, then that carries built-in ways of thinking for both of you. You were raised to think of money differently. You seem to accept your mother’s equation that money equals power over others. You and future husband both seem to think that YOUR wedding is something for somebody else to pay for 100%.

    My big takeaway from all this is that you and future husband have a lot of talking to do about money, kids, and how to deal with parents. I would never have married someone who could seriously consider threatening that my parents could never see my children. Why would you think you can unilaterally make such a decision and such an extreme threat? And to do so over an issue like wedding planning, is just bizarre. Admittedly, neither I nor my wife were that into what sort of wedding we wanted, so this all seems a lot more trivial to me than I I’m sure it is to you and the mothers.

    Okay, bigger bottom line. I suspect neither set of parents really wants this marriage to occur and I have my doubts that you and future husband are ready. Do you want a marriage or a wedding? It sounds like you are more concerned about the wedding, because you’re leaving a lot of stuff that’s crucial to whether or not your marriage will work on the table, and preparing to die on the wrong bridge.

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    zombeyonce December 21, 2015, 12:12 pm

    It sounds like the fiance may like controlling women. Sure, the FMIL sounds super controlling, but the LW also sounds like she may be heading toward becoming a bridezilla as well, and carrying that into other areas of their lives like future kids.
    .
    LW, you said that your parents would never pull this sort of thing, but you said just before that that your mother had threatened to disinvite the FMIL, which is seriously on the same level as the things your FMIL is doing. I think you need to look at this from a perspective other than your own to get some clarity and maybe some distance. Just because you like your mother and she’s paying for the wedding and doing what you want her to do doesn’t make her better than your FMIL.
    .
    My bet is that your FMIL perceives you in almost the same way that you perceive her: way too controlling. It’s one freaking day of your life, you can let some things go. If they are deal-breakers for you, find another way to give your FMIL some agency in this situation like Wendy suggested. If you’re as controlling as you come across in your letter, I have a feeling you read the part about letting her pick out the guestbook and thought, “But she’ll get something I don’t like!” and not even want to let her do something so small. It really doesn’t matter, LW. If you end your wedding day with all your limbs and married to the man of your dreams and no one died or was maimed by someone’s (read: your FMIL, your mom, or even you) angry outbursts, it was a successful wedding and that’s all you need.
    .
    Yes, your FMIL is in the wrong. But so are you and your mother and you need to see that to make your relationship with your in-laws work. And your relationship with your in-laws will have an effect on your relationship with your fiance, whether you want it to or not.

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      SpaceySteph December 21, 2015, 12:34 pm

      “Just because you like your mother and she’s paying for the wedding and doing what you want her to do doesn’t make her better than your FMIL.”
      SO true. It’s not really that your mother is less crazy, it’s that she’s YOUR kind of crazy. It’s a lot harder to recognize our own brand of crazy.

      I was going to recommend the same in the forum, to give the MIL something to do, but I figured there was probably nothing so trivial that the LW would be willing to let it go. Try to see this from your MIL’s perspective– your mother threatened to disinvite her from her own son’s wedding. How would you respond to such a thing? I’m sure not “politely.”

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        RedRoverRedRover December 21, 2015, 3:32 pm

        I also have to wonder… did the LW’s mom even check with the LW’s fiance if it was ok with him to not have his mom invited???? The fiance barely gets mentioned here. Is he ok with his mom not at his wedding, is he ok with his mom not having access to his kids? Because the LW and her mom are throwing these threats around which have huge impact to the fiance and his relationship with his parents. Has he agreed to all this crap?

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        Ele4phant December 21, 2015, 3:57 pm

        Seriously – I know if I threatened to disinvite his mother from our wedding – no matter how much of a pain she was being – my husband would not have married me.

        If the fiancé knows and is okay with it he’s either a huge doormat who grew up with a very strong willed mother and is now marrying a strong willed woman; or there are other legitimate reasons to keep his mother at arms length. But if there are bigger issues, the LW didn’t mention them. Whining about not getting input into the wedding doesn’t typically call for getting cut out of your son and his children’s lives.

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        zombeyonce December 21, 2015, 5:53 pm

        I REALLY want to hear from the LW to see if the fiance knows all this is going on. I think that would give us a better understanding of the relationship dynamics at play here.

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        Simonthegrey December 24, 2015, 9:35 pm

        This. I have a great MIL and a good relationship with her. However, there was stress a couple Christmases ago between my husband and another family member not too long before out wedding. It never even occurred to me to not invite this person, despite what they did. It was my husband’s family and his call, and he wanted to extend the olive branch/invitation.

        If I had decided to uninvite someone – especially his MOTHER – to the wedding, there would have been NO wedding.

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    Ele4phant December 21, 2015, 12:13 pm

    Your MIL sounds frustrating – but you and your mother aren’t coming out of this looking that great either.

    Your responses have been utterly disproportionate. Your mother threatened to disinvite her from her SON’s wedding? You threatened to cut her off from her grandkids?! That’s way outta line.

    And to be honest, she should be able to voice her opinion about the wedding, even if she’s not paying a cent. It’s her child’s wedding too. Your wedding is about you, but it’s also about joining your families together and aknowledging that. If she’s making demands you can’t afford, that’s one thing, if she’s asking for things you can but just don’t want to, that’s another. Not to say you have to include everything she wants – but a little inclusion goes a long way.

    And as for the invites, if you there are way more invites on your side than on your grooms, that’s a bunch of bs. If things are so lopsided to your family, you and your mother need to make some cuts on your side so your husband can extend more invites on his.

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      zombeyonce December 21, 2015, 12:16 pm

      Your point about possible lopsided invitations is really important. Just because one side is contributing more or all of the money doesn’t mean that they should get to hog what sounds like a limited number of seats.

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  • Raccoon eyes

    Raccoon eyes December 21, 2015, 12:17 pm

    Yeah, Im with Wendy and the others on this- you are picking the wrong hill to die on here and truly choosing the way unnecessary nuclear reaction when dismay or chiding should do.
    *
    Im sure that there is a HUGE background to this, blah blah. But seriously, from the information you have provided, you sound way too black-and-white- and coming from me, a very Black and White person, that is saying a lot. Look, no one gets a 100% peachy-keen MIL (at least in my experience), and I personally have quite a doozy of a mother, with whom I STILL at the age of 35 have trouble making and enforcing boundaries with (because she bulldozes through them without even acknowledging their existence, but that is not the point here), but you need to be only foster a cordial (even if only on the surface-level) relationship with this woman. Set the boundary (nicely), reinforce it when necessary (also nicely), then direct to fiance. All without threatening to cut off contact with as-yet-unborn-offspring.

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      RedRoverRedRover December 21, 2015, 3:34 pm

      Hahahaha was that a reference to your raccoon eyes? Nice!

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      • Raccoon eyes

        Raccoon eyes December 21, 2015, 9:30 pm

        Ahaha!! I didnt even think about that! But I will totally claim I did! Wait, no, that doesnt work… 😉
        *
        Raccoon Eyes = funny to me because my Honey often refers to me as his raccoon or my durn raccoon blood or somesuch, since I am easily distracted by shiny things, namely glittery nail polish, jewelry, and stuff with sequins on it.

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    keyblade December 21, 2015, 1:51 pm

    WWS.

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    saneinca December 21, 2015, 3:15 pm

    Your MIL seems to be a big pain in the you know what.

    She also seem to be targeting you for every frustration she has – blames you for her son not coming to Christmas dinner ? Also fights with you over guest lists and food choices for your wedding ? That sucks

    Sounds like she is a drama queen and an alpha female who is used to get her own way too much. Now that she cannot boss over you and the wedding, she seems to be unraveling.

    However, I would say don’t use the threat of not letting her see the hypothetical grand children. As tempting as it is to try any tactic to shut her up, that is a bit of a cheap shot. (You can still do it though when the times comes 🙂 )

    But for now reduce your interaction with her. Let your fiance talk to her about wedding plans and whatever suggestions she makes can be considered on a case by case basis from now on. Oh, and any idea that costs money, just tell your fiance that is MIL’s responsibility to pay for it and up front.
    You don’t want another drama trying to collect it afterwards.

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      Texas T December 21, 2015, 4:17 pm

      See I am with you. No LW and her mom were not on the right side in giving those threats but MIL sounds like an alpha female who is pissed that her son now has a center of his universe who is not her. Boundaries need to be reinforced without threats of such magnitude and ALL through the fiance.
      I have run into this kind of MIL before in my first marriage (yeah we got divorced). If she didnt like how our home was being run she had something to say and try to do about it. If she didnt like what I had to say she manipulated it to her son and pitted us against each other… or tried anyways. And when she didnt like what I had to say about future children and their rearing she tried to overpower me in conversations with her experience.
      Now I am very lucky to have the future in laws I have. I do not pity you LW. I am wishing you lots of luck.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark December 25, 2015, 12:15 am

    Eh, considering how fucked up ALL the women are in your husband to be’s life, it’s a small miracle he doesn’t just up and turn gay. Seriously. Drama. Drama. Drama. All of you need to fucking cool it and — you know — grow the fuck up. Seriously. It astounds me EVERY DAMN ONE OF THESE mother-in-law letters is largely just the daughter in-law being, well… bitchy as hell. No wonder so many mother-in-law’s hate the women their sons stupidly marry. What a petty lot so many of you seem to be on here lately…

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